Dressing Gown Farewell

Jim Dine, The Woodcut Bathrobe, 1975. Courtesy of Museum of Modern Art.

Forgive me, dressing gown! My friend in idle bliss,
Comrade of leisure, a witness to my secret thoughts!
With you I knew a life monotonous
But peaceful, where the noise and glitter of the world
Could never touch my dreaming mind.
Upon the field of fads and fashion
Where Tsar Caprice enslaves his thralls,
What callow student of the art of living
Avoided falsehood? In salons a serf,
I am a king in my own place,
No need to follow others’ lead
Like some poor slave indentured to a villain,
In servitude beleaguered day and night,
Who tastes of paradise when he is free from bonds;
So I, removing worldly livery
Together with the yoke of vanity,
Revived when I put on my dressing gown,
And reconciled once again with my abandoned home.
When I was with you, vanity avoided me,
And dreams and reveries caressed me.
By my hearthside, where the crimson flames
Did flicker bright in evening hours,
Reflection, silver-tongued friend,
Enlivened my deep languor’s dream.
Awakening shades of bygone days
That crowded round in gloom transparent;
Or when on wings of dreams I journeyed
Through mists of times as yet unknown,
The distant drawing near, I lived a far off life
And, blending artifice with truth
I painted castles in the air.
Just as my body in your pliant folds
Escaped the tailor’s tyranny,
So did my mind enjoy free range
In company of memory and hope.
In those sweet days of happy inspiration,
When verses flowed unceasing from my pen
And rhyme, that foe of simple pleasure,
That whip-like scourge, indulged me;
How often, rising out of Morpheus’s arms,
I went straight to my desk, where tenderly the Muse
Awaited me with an epistle or a fairy tale,
A fancy whispered to me yesterday.
My household garb was to her liking:
Her greeting, flouting social codes,
Was warm, she favoured my informal attitude.
My verses flowed, quite easily and freely,
My writing flew, a light-winged jest,
My smile untouched by labour’s traces.
How pitiful the Muses’ hapless suitor
A stranger to the dressing gown’s delights.
A devotee of fashion, dressed up like a doll
And flushed with decorous excitement,
Comes to his study as if entering a ball.
His colours rouge and powder-white;
In aromatic ink he dips
His quill, and drafts a madrigal.
Some mincing grace in her boudoir
May favour him with artificial smile
For demonstrating in his verse
His florid style and his muse well-coiffed;
But I prefer to follow that immortal slob
Anacreon, that friend of Bacchus and of beauty,
Who drank and sang while in his dressing gown;
The Muses’ favourite, by the graces softened
Disposed to gaiety alone,
He brushed with immortality in play.
I’ve no pretense to equal him in glory,
But still in indolence with him I can compete.
Like him, I love insouciant charms,
Like him, I love my idle, peaceful dreams.
But soon this quiet life will disappear,
And worries, cares will close in all around,
And you, my dressing gown! my dearest friend,
Forgive me! Your disloyal friend will leave you.
I’ll push my way among the servants of the crown,
Succumb to this alluring bait.
What will await me on this path, where mist
Prevents us separating truth from lies?
Where can a blind and callow man
Wind up? Where does this journey end?
How can I go before the tawdry throne
Of hired goddesses who toss
Their gifts from urns capricious
Among the crowds of worshipers
That swarm before them swinging censers?
A stranger to pretense, coercion’s foe,
From youth a connoisseur of quiet joys,
I cannot follow her commands.
Compared with all the practiced grace
Of craftsmen trained in artifice,
My every step betrays my awkwardness.
I’m still a novice in the pliant arts:
To be at once all things, and nothing,
To bend my neck with ready smile
Into the golden but yet heavy yoke;
Upon this field where enemy ranks
Are occupied in ceaseless battle,
Where enmity’s triumphant, I will leave
A mark, perhaps, of useless bravery,
Mayhap a trace of shameful failure.
O dressing gown, forever welcoming!
Accept me, then, in your embrace
In you I shall again find pleasure.
Accept me with the dreams and idleness
That used to crown my spring with flowers.
Bring back the treasure of my former bliss;
Grant me the joy alone with you,
My passions calmed, my soul at peace,
Unblushing in the presence of my private judge
To find my former self within myself.
Rekindle in me, by coercion cooled,
My passion for the muses’ service,
And then my genius, free of bonds,
Will waken sleeping inspiration.
O, let me live my former life again,
And, born anew in magic ecstasies
Of pleasant dreams, let me forget
All I have seen in wakefulness.

21 September, 1819, Ostafevo

Prince Piotr Viazemsky (1792-1878) was a prominent player during the golden age of Russian poetry, and a close friend of Pushkin. Dressing Gown Farewell was written at the Viazemsky family seat in Ostafevo, near Moscow.