Beethoven – I. Severyanin

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 51/?

In 1934, Igor Severyanin published a collection called “Medallions,” which was sonnets dedicated to people. These ranged from heroes of bygone ages, to great men and women, to his contemporaries including those he knew personally, like Bryusov, Blok, and Akhmatova. Some of them are not sonnets of praise; the one to Boris Pasternak is hilariously scathing, and the one to Arthur Conan Doyle has a fair criticism. Which I hope to get to some time.

But I will start with Beethoven. In the first verse, the easy way into the translation would be to rhyme “moon” and “tune.” That would have been the easy way. I was repelled by the easy way. The pun on “scores” is not in the original, but I had to make it more challenging for myself, too.

Beethoven

Embodying the disembodied all
In sonatas to the silver moonlight pure,
You, lone, found an eternal tune secure
In the measureless losses of the soul,
Frozen in foam of the Ninth wave’s roll
Eternally thus now you shall endure
As monument to those winged for sure
Whose spirit rushes beyond mind’s control.

You crafted Egmont and wrought Leonore,
Now ripe to praise you are the human scores
Crawling from holes of vanity mundane.
Upon your light, they goggle their eyes blind.
The world is with you. In return, in kind,
Your deafness rings, contemptuous in vain.

Igor Severyanin, 1927; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 13, 2019.

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