ukrainian cityscape
Photo by Ilya Cher on Unsplash

Farewell to Old Gods* by Nina Kossman

It is said that something strange happened when Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich, also known as Holy Vladimir, although he was quite far from being holy, made a decision at the council of the boyars in 987 to baptize Kiev. Strange sounds were heard across the city, which was not especially big in those years, as though invisible musicians were playing on unseen instruments, and when the music subsided a little, there was the sound of many feet, and hundreds of mouths shouted into the air incomprehensible yet strangely familiar words. It seemed as though a noisy crowd, invisible to the human eye, was leaving the city. The townspeople swore that they had heard the music, which began to play at the palace, then subsided a little when an invisible crowd was walking through the city, and again resumed at the city gates. There were screams again, and then, already outside the city gates, again the stamping of feet, the din, the whistling, the shouts of farewell...and silence. The townspeople who witnessed this strange phenomenon said that it was nothing more than a procession of pagan gods leaving the city—Perun, Dazhdbog, Stribog, Simargl, Mokosh and their numerous admirers were saying goodbye to the city where they had been worshipped: Vladimir, who had built a temple for them and ordered all the people of Kiev, as well as his wives and concubines (he had 300 concubines in Vyshgorod, 300 in Belgorod and 200 in Berestove) to honor the pagan gods, had turned away from them, and there was nothing Dazhdbog, Stribog, Simargl, Mokosh and their retinue could do but leave the city forever.

*Old Slavic gods


Nina Kossman is a Moscow-born poet, playwright, writer, painter, and translator of Russian poetry. Her short stories and poems in English have been published in journals in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Among her published works are three books of poems in Russian and English, two volumes of translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s poems, two collections of short stories, and a novel. For Oxford University Press, she edited the anthology Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths. Her writing has been translated into Greek, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish, and she is the recipient of a UNESCO/PEN Short Story Award, an NEA translation fellowship, and grants from Foundation for Hellenic Culture, the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation, and Fundación Valparaíso. She lives in New York.

Author's note

From Nina Kossman's introduction to Gods and Mortals: Modern Poems on Classical Myths (Oxford University Press, 2001): "If we think we now know the answers, it is because the questions were first posed in antiquity. If we now see far, it is because we stand on the shoulders of tradition. Myths belong to us as much or as little as the imagery of our own unconscious: the deeper we dig into our psyches the more likely we are to stumble upon an ancient myth. Our ancestors are us or we are our ancestors: the texture of our bones is passed on, along with the texture of our dreams. And perhaps it is because the myths echo the structure of our unconscious that every new generation of poets finds them an inexhaustible source of inspiration and self-recognition."