Elegy – K. Ryleyev

Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translation series, 6/?

Kondraty Ryleyev (1795-1826) may be one of the most tragic figures of nineteenth-century Russian literature. Raised in genteel poverty, he managed to acquire a first-class education — which led him to have liberal ideas far ahead of their time, and so he turned his rhetorical talents to the organization of the 1825 Decembrists’ Revolt. When that failed, he was among the five sentenced to hang as ringleaders — he had volunteered to die alone, taking the blame for all of them. At their hanging, three of the ropes, including Ryleyev’s, snapped at the drop, and they survived…and were condemned to die a second time. He allegedly said, “Cursed country, where they don’t know how to hold a conspiracy, to judge a trial, or to hang you!”

He was married to Natalya Tevyasheva, the daughter of a landowner for whom he had worked as a tutor, and had two daughters, just toddlers at the time of his death. Even before his death, the Tsar assigned his wife two thousand rubles (a huge sum in those days) and later, a pension.

This poem is relatively simple and predictable compared to the complexity of other lyric poets of the time, and follows a very similar structure to the later A. K. Tolstoy poem we saw in this series: a sort of Thesis-Elaboration-Analogy that seems to have been as common in Russian love poetry as binary form in Baroque dance.

Elegy

My wishes have at last been granted,
My longtime dreams have now come true.
The pain with which my heart was branded
And my pure love is now with you.

In vain I caused you fear and trouble.
My passion has now found reward.
I’ve come alive for joy redoubled
And grief like dim dreams disappeared.

So, when east burns at the dawn hour,
Sprinkled with the relieving dew,
After a night’s cold, the cornflower
From wilting rises to bright blue.

Kondraty Ryleyev, 1824-1825, first published 1861; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016.

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