Don’t leave your room. This is better left undone.
You’ve got cheap smokes, so why should you need the sun?
Nothing makes sense outside, happiness least of all.
You may go to the loo but avoid the hall.
Don’t leave your room. Don’t think of calling a taxi.
Space consists of the hall and ends at the door; its axis
bends when the meter’s on. If your tootsie comes in – before
she starts blabbing, undressing – throw her out of the door.
Don’t leave your room. Pretend a cold in the head.
What could be more exciting than wallpaper, chair and bed?
Why leave a room to which you will come back later,
unchanged at best, more probably mutilated?
Don’t leave your room. There might be a jazzy number
on the radio. Nude but for shoes and coat, dance a samba.
Cabbage smell in the hall fills every nook and cranny.
You wrote so many words; one more would be one too many.
Don’t ever leave your room. Let nobody but the room
know what you look like. Incognito ergo sum,
as substance informed its form when it felt despair.
Don’t leave the room! You know, it’s not France out there.
Don’t be an imbecile! Be what the others couldn’t be.
Don’t leave the room! Let furniture keep you company,
vanish, merge with the wall, barricade your iris
from the chronos, the eros, the cosmos, the virus.
Joseph Brodsky, 1969/1970
(first published in the 1990s: first in the Novy Mir magazine, then in the last collection Brodsky edited himself: Peizazh s navodnenium: Landscape with a Flood)
Notes on this poem
‘Informed its form’ is both a fairly literal translation and (a rather unsatisfactory) substitute for a lost pun: the original second line says ‘Why should you need the sun (solntse) if you smoke Shipka?’ Both Solntse and Shipka were brands of Bulgarian cigarettes. I decided against attempts along the lines of ‘You read The Guardian, why should you need the sun?’, Brodsky being a Russian chain smoker rather than a British liberal.