Twins – F. Tyutchev

Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translation series, 8/?

Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-1873) spent most of his career as a diplomat, much of it in Germany, and wrote poetry on the side, not valuing it as more than a hobby. It was only later that his lyric gifts were appreciated. His poems reflected his complicated life (he had both wives and mistresses, and seemed to dearly love them). He also struggled with depression recurrently throughout his life. This poem expresses his attitude towards both issues.

Twins

There are two gods for mortal creatures,
Two twins that we call Death and Dream
Wondrous alike in many features —
One gentler, one would grimmer seem…

But other gods are also twain.
The world knows no lovelier pair,
And hearts who yield to their charms fair
Will not know of more desperate pain.

Their bond is tight, not chance, not wild.
Only on fateful days are we
Charmed by their secrets and beguiled
By their persistent mystery.

And who, when flooded by sensations
When blood would freeze and boil inside,
Has not known of your joint temptations,
Twin sisters Love and Suicide!

Feodor Tyutchev, c. 1850, first published 1886; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016

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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.

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