“Don’t go with dull tread…” – K. Pavlova

Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translations, 3/?

I learned of the existence of Karolina Pavlova (1807-1893; nee Janisch) only four days ago, and immediately realized that there had been a gap in my life before. As a home-schooled child, she already knew four languages and helped her father, a professor of physics and chemistry, with astronomical observations — yet her husband squandered her inheritance and, after her marriage broke down, he was found with many banned books and scandalously exiled, to her shame. Her poetry was highly respected by A. K. Tolstoy, and Goethe approved her translations of his poetry when he saw it. But other contemporaries mocked and harassed a woman writing poetry so much that she was forced to leave the country, finally settling in Dresden and rarely visiting Russia.

It was Valery Bryusov (who has appeared in the Silver Age series) who drew attention to Pavlova’s works again and republished her poetry, so for a while her work influenced Silver Age Symbolism. However, she remains shamefully understudied. Even Wikisource has only a few of her poems entered, with many more as merely links under construction.

This poem caught my eye with its edged bite. For those who, like me, need to know the rhythm of a poem and may get disoriented without establishing it first, the way a musician may get disoriented not knowing where the tonic is — this is in iambic trimeter.

***

Don’t come with dull tread here
To that grave of fate’s resting
In which all life’s storm testing
Has silent now laid.

I’ll spurn your fruitless tears,
Your hymns and flower posies.
What use two tears, two roses
Now for a fleshless shade?

Karolina Pavlova, March 1851;
translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016

Love And Friendship – E. Baratynsky

Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translation series, 2/?

Evgeny Baratynsky (sometimes spelled Boratynsky in both alphabets as that was the spelling in the original Polish of his family name) (1800-1844) was a contemporary of Pushkin who strove to write differently than Pushkin did. He was a close friend of Pushkin and Anton Delvig during their army service at the time this poem was written, as each of them strove to develop his own voice in poetry. His poetry lacked the striving for social justice seen in many other poems at this time when the Decembrist revolt was in the air. He was shy and poor at showing off while others were developing an effective image in self-promotion. However, Pushkin greatly admired his lyric gifts, as did the Symbolists when they rediscovered him.

In this translation I’ve had to use a few more terms and constructions anchored to older modern English than Baratynsky actually uses in the older modern Russian of the original. But I will allow this compromise as it gets at some of why the Golden Age of Russian poetry (1810s – 1840s) feels different from the much later Silver Age (1880s – 1920s). Its message still remains applicable.

Love and Friendship (An Album Inscription)

Friendship and Love they split, in speaking,
But how’d one tell apart the twain?
Both equally we all are seeking,
But one we’re told to hide again.
Vain is that thought! Deceit is erring!
Friendship may be so blazing, caring,
Moving the blood, clenching the heart,
And though it hide its dangerous flaming
Yet with a maiden fair, its naming
From Love can fain be told apart.

Evgeny Baratynsky, 1818 — beginning of 1819; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016

“The passion passed…” – A. K. Tolstoy

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

At Evening – A. Akhmatova

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series (occasional) – 40/?

Deciding to re-awaken this dormant series last night, with a short poem from Anna Akhmatova’s 1914 collection “The Rosary.” It took me some time to “wake up” the translation skills (which to me feel like a combination of writing poetry and solving sudoku or crosswords). I am still not quite happy with a few of the word choices I made while trying to keep the rhythm (and compromised the rhythm slightly — the middle lines of the first verse should have feminine rhymes). But Akhmatova’s poem captures a sentiment I’ve felt myself: “At last, for the first time, you are alone with the person you love” — and he turns out to be, well, not seeing you that way.

At Evening

The music rang midst orchard trees,
Laced with such sorrow unreleased.
On ice-lined plates, a oyster feast
Smelled fresh and sharply of the seas.

He told me, “I’m a loyal friend!”
And touched my dress’s silk and lacing.
How little like any embracing
Is touch when coming from that hand.

So one pets kittens, or a bird,
So does one look at riders dashing.
Under the light gilt of his lashes
His calm eyes only laughter hold.

While fiddles sing their mournful tune
Past the smoke spreading on the ground:
“Bless and thank heavens for the boon –
Time with your love alone you’ve found.”

Anna Akhmatova, 1913; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya,
October 2016.