Russian Golden Age and Romantics poetry translation series, 1/?
Welcome to a new poetry translation series where I go back into the nineteenth century, earlier than the Silver Age. I will try to show the differing style in my translations, by making them sound more like the English nineteenth-century poetry that was written at nearly the same time.
Of the three Tolstoys and one Tolstaya involved in the Russian literary scene, A. K. (Alexei Konstantinovich; 1817-1875) remains my favourite, and seemingly the one least known in the West. (The others being Tatiana Tolstaya, her grandfather Alexei Nikolaevich Tolstoy the author of Buratino and Aelita whom I mentioned before, and of course Leo who was the second cousin of A. K.; Leo and A. N. are related to each other, but in somewhat complicated ways.)
Count A. K. was a courtier and diplomat, as well as a poet, dramatist, novelist and satirist; he was part of the collaborative pseudonym Kozma Prutkov, whose plays and epigrams gave rise to some of the most enduring, and funniest, lines in Russian literature. His own poetry tended towards the lyrical side, often in imitation of traditional epic sagas. This one, however, is more of a psychological poem, and it caught me such that I filed it away long ago.
I would not say that the fiery and unrequited passions I had as a teenager were not “real love” — I resented it when this was assumed to me, and them being different than what I feel now does not make them any less real and valid. But I will say that I damn well love loving like a grown-up.
The passion passed, and now its fiery vying
No longer troubles my heart, ruled by head.
But I cannot not love you, even for trying:
All that’s not you is vanity and lying,
All that’s not you is colourless and dead.
My blood no longer in rebellion roils
Without call or right to rage and pain.
But I can’t sink into life’s petty coils:
My love, my friend, even with no jealous spoils,
The same love as it were, still will remain.
Like so, when nature’s frowning heights are sources,
From overhanging cliffs a torrent torn
Out from the land of storms and thunder’s forces
Would the same waters bear to valley’s courses
And, deep and peaceful, flow farther on.
Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoy, 1858;
translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016
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