Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Translation of Poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, "Накануне годовщины 4 августа 1864 г., "On the Eve of the Anniversary of August 4, 1864"

 Elena Denisieva  With Her Daughter Elena; Only About Three Years After This Photograph Was Made, Both of Them Were Dead

Федор Тютчев


Накануне годовщины 4 августа 1864 г.

Вот бреду я вдоль большой дороги
В тихом свете гаснущего дня…
Тяжело мне, замирают ноги…
Друг мой милый, видишь ли меня?
Все темней, темнее над землею —
Улетел последний отблеск дня…
Вот тот мир, где жили мы с тобою,
Ангел мой, ты видишь ли меня?
Завтра день молитвы и печали,
Завтра память рокового дня…
Ангел мой, где б души ни витали,
Ангел мой, ты видишь ли меня?

August 3, 1865




Literal Translation


On the Eve of the Anniversary of August 4, 1864


Now I wander along the highroad

In the quiet light of the expiring day . . .

I feel bad, my legs feel rooted to the spot . . .

My dear friend, do you see me?

All is growing darker, darker over the earth –

The last reflection of the day has flown off . . .

Here is that world where you and I lived,

My angel, do you see me?

Tomorrow is a day of prayer and sorrow,

Tomorrow is the memory of that fatal day . . .

My angel, wherever your soul might be hovering,

My angel, do you see me?



Literary Translation/Adaptation by U.R. Bowie


On the Eve of the Anniversary of August 4, 1864

 So here I am, I wander highroad weary,

In quiet light of day as daylight dies . . .

So sick at heart, my legs can hardly bear me . . .

My dear friend, do you see me, hear my sighs?


Darker grows the dimness, and sheer dark envelops earth—

The final glint of daylight just flew off to some elsewhere . . .

This is the world where you and I once lived with joy and mirth,

My angel, do you see me, are you there?


Tomorrow is a day of prayer and grieving,

Tomorrow is the memory of that fatal, dreadful day . . .

My angel, is your soul still there, awake, or unperceiving,

My angel, can you see my anguish, my dismay?



Translator’s Note

(From Wikipedia)

The poem above is dated August 3, 1865, exactly—as the title reveals—a year and a day before the anniversary of Elena Denisieva’s death. In 1850 Tyutchev began an illicit affair with Denisieva (1826-1864), who was over twenty years younger than him. She remained his mistress until her death from TB in 1864, bearing him three children, two of whom died within less than a year after their mother’s death, also of tuberculosis. After the children’s death in May, 1865, the poet wrote as follows in a letter: “I began not a single day without a certain sense of amazement, the way a person continues to go on living, although his heart has been ripped out and his head cut off.”


Tyutchev’s love poems that came out of the affair, the so-called “Denisieva Cycle,” are considered among the finest love lyrics in the Russian language.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Translation of Poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, "Слезы людские, о слезы людские," "O TEARS OF HUMANITY"


Fyodor Tyutchev



Слезы людские, о слезы людские,
Льетесь вы ранней и поздней порой…
Льетесь безвестные, льетесь незримые,
Неистощимые, неисчислимые, —
Льетесь, как льются струи дождевые
В осень глухую порою ночной.

Autumn, 1849

Translation by U.R. Bowie


O tears of humanity, humankind’s tears,

Flowing in early times, flowing for years…

You flow in obscurity, flow on invisibly,

Never exhaustibly, ever innumerably –

Flowing the same way that rainwater streams

In desolate autumn through nocturnal dreams.



Translation by Peter Tempest

Tears of humanity, tears of humanity,
flowing eternally early and late…
Flowing invisibly, flowing in secrecy,
ever abundantly, ever unceasingly —
flowing as rain flows with autumn finality
all through the night like a river in spate.



 Translator’s Note

According to I.S. Aksakov, “once, on a rainy evening in autumn, Tyutchev returned home by hired droshky, almost wet through, and said to his daughter, ‘j’ai fait quelques rimes [I’ve composed a few verses].’ While they were helping him out of his [wet] clothing, he dictated to her the lines of his charming poem, ‘Tears of humanity.’” See two-volume collection of Tyutchev’s works, Moscow (Nauka Publishers), 1965, Vol. 1, p. 383.


Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Translation of Poem by Fyodor Tyutchev, SPRING THUNDERSTORM, Весенняя гроза



Fyodor Tyutchev



Весенняя гроза


Люблю грозу в начале мая,
Когда весенний, первый гром,
Как бы резвяся и играя,
Грохочет в небе голубом.

Гремят раскаты молодые,
Вот дождик брызнул, пыль летит,
Повисли перлы дождевые,
И солнце нити золотит.

С горы бежит поток проворный,
В лесу не молкнет птичий гам,
И гам лесной и шум нагорный –
Все вторит весело громам.

Ты скажешь: ветреная Геба,
Кормя Зевесова орла,
Громокипящий кубок с неба,
Смеясь, на землю пролила.

Date of poem: 1828, later revised at beginning of 1850s



Literal Translation


Spring Thunderstorm


I love a thunderstorm at the beginning of May,

When the first spring thunder,

As if frolicking and playing,

Rumbles in a light blue sky.


The young peals of thunder rattle,

The raindrops drizzled, dust flies,

Pearls of rain are hanging,

And sunshine gilds the threads.


From the mountain runs down a nimble torrent,

The clamor of birds in the forest goes on unceasingly,

And the clamor of the woods and sounds on the hillside

Keep merrily seconding the thunder claps.


You’ll say: empty-headed Hebe,

While feeding Zeus’s eagle,

Laughing, a cup seething with thunder

Poured out from heaven over the earth.




Literary Translation/Adaptation by U.R. Bowie


Spring Thunderstorm


I love in early May a cloudburst,

When spring’s first thunder, meek and humble,

As if at play, in storms unversed, 

Through azure skies vents muted rumble.


The callow peals of mumbling thunder,

Then spits of rain strew errant dust,

And liquid pearls hang rapt with wonder,

As sunshine gilds wet threads nonplussed.


From mountainside a swift stream flows,

The forest birds cheep-twit and chatter, 

The woods and hills in clamor’s throes

Keep jocund time with thunder’s clatter.


While feeding Zeus’ eagle, beaming

Playful Hebe, steeped in mirth,

Took cup with din and bedlam teeming,  

And, laughing, poured it over Earth.




Unmetered, Unrhymed Translation by Frank Jude

A Spring Storm

I love May’s first storms:
chuckling, sporting spring
grumbles in mock anger;
young thunder claps,

a spatter of rain and flying dust
and wet pearls hanging
threaded by sun-gold;
a speedy current scampers from the hills.

Such a commotion in the woods!
Noises cartwheel down the mountains.
Every sound is echoed round the sky.
You’d think capricious Hebe,

feeding the eagle of Zeus,
had raised a thunder-foaming goblet,
unable to restrain her mirth,
and tipped it on the earth.



Early Variant (1829)

Люблю грозу в начале мая:

Как весело весенний гром

Из края до другого края

Грохочет в небе голубом!


С горы бежит ручей проворный,

В лесу не молкнет птичий гам,

И говор птиц, и ключ нагорный –

Все вторит радостно громам!


(Second stanza of final variant is missing; third and final stanza here—I have not typed it out—is identical to fourth and last stanza in final variant.)




Translator’s Note

So what’s the best way to translate a poem in Russian that has meter and rhyme in the original? My method is to try getting meter and rhyme into the new poem in English. But since some time in the early twentieth century, many have denigrated what they consider the old-fashioned way of meter and rhyme in poetry. I understand what they are saying. Meter, and especially rhyme, can stand over the translator with a whip, forcing him into making changes that often pull the poem away from its original semantic meanings. I find rhyming to be the biggest tyrant of all.

 That’s why I include the fine translation by Frank Jude above. Although his method of translation (no rhymes, no meter) is diametrically opposed to mine, in my opinion he has done a good job of rendering Tyutchev’s famous poem into English. By throwing off the chains of meter and rhyme, he, for the most part, is able to keep the translation closer in exact meanings of words to the original. I would suggest only one change, easily made. Give Hebe her laughter (which is in the original) by rendering the final line as follows: “and tipped it, laughing, onto Earth.”

U.R. Bowie




A Note from Annotations to the Poem in Two-Volume Set of Tyutchev’s Works (Nauka Publishers, 1965)

 In Greek mythology Hebe is the goddess of eternal youth, serving as cupbearer at meals for the gods of Olympus. She is often depicted in paintings as caressing Zeus’ eagle and bringing him nectar (ambrosia) in a goblet. In both art and poetry of the early 19th Century the image of Hebe is widespread. In the present poem Tyutchev allows himself something of an arbitrary variant of the myth. The poet depicts his Hebe not as bearing a cup full of ambrosia, the drink of the gods, but a cup teeming with thunderclaps. This suggests that Hebe here has taken on the function of Zeus’ eagle, who is frequently depicted squeezing a bolt of lightning in his claws.



Wednesday, March 31, 2021

DUNKIN DNTS, from Bobby Goosey's Book of Highly Sensical Nonsense


Dunkin Dnts

(An Example of the Logic of Abbreviation)

 Some words are too long; they take too long to say. On account of we take too long to say words, we lose valuable time. Big words should be made shorter. One example of the logic of abbreviation: the word “doughnut” should be contracted to “dnt” (pronounced dunt). Here’s how it works. First, we put in an apostrophe for the “u,” leaving the word doughn’t. Then, grunting a strenuous ugh, we can push out three more unnecessary letters: “ugh,” get it? Leaving us with the word “don’t.” But we don’t want don’t to mean doughnut, do we? Because “don’t” already means don’t.

 This problem is easily remedied. The “o” in our abbreviated don’t represents the hole in the doughnut, and since that hole contains nothing but empty space, we can easily dispense with the letter “o,” leaving us with the ideal shortened form of “doughnut,” namely dnt (pronounced dunt). Notice how much faster you can say the word dnt, instead of doughnut.

 If we all start using the word dnt right now, soon everyone will be saying it. The word doughnut, being superannuated and unnecessary, will disappear from the language and not be missed. I had a delicious glazed dnt for breakfast this morning, although normally I prefer chocolate cake dnts. My big sister likes sugar dnts most of all, but my little brother does not like dnts; he says, silly he, that dnts don’t taste good. He likes jellers (jelly rolls) and crmps (cream puffs). But my little sister likes everything: jellers and dnts and crmps, and even vegetables like trnps!

 See how much time it saves you to say shorter words! Start eating dnts instead of doughnuts today! Need to buy some fresh ones? Best place to go is Dunkin Dnts.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Translation of Poem by Nikolai Aseev, "Хор вершин," "CHOIRS IN THE HEIGHTS"


Levitan, "Spring in the Alps," 1897


Николай Асеев



Хор вершин


Широкие плечи гор –

Вершин онемелый хор,

Крутые отроги

У самой дороги –

Времен замолчавший хор.


Высокие тени гор . . .

С беспамятно давних пор

Стоят недотроги

У самой дороги –

Затихший внезапно спор.


Когтистые ребра круч,

Катящие шумный ключ.

Туманные кряжи

Завеяны в пряже

Вот здесь же

Рожденных туч.


Что каменных гряд полоса,

Должна быть и песен краса,

Чтоб в небо вздымались,

Как каменный палец,

Один за другим голоса.


Source: The Penguin Book of Russian Verse, edited by Dimitri Obolensky, 1967, p. 328-29.





Literal Translation


Choir in the Heights


The broad shoulders of mountains.

The gone-mute choir of summits,

The steep escarpments

Right by the roadside.

The fallen-silent choir of times.


The tall shadows of mountains . . .

From time immemorial

Stand touch-me-not

Right by the roadside,

Abruptly hushing their argument.


The clawed ribs of slopes,

Which pour forth a noisy spring,

The hazy ridges

Are wrapped in the yarn

Of rain clouds that are born

Right here on this spot.


That the strip of rocky ridges

Must be also the beauty of songs,

So that like a stone finger

They soar up into the sky,

The voices, one after the other.






Literary Translation/Imitation by U.R. Bowie


Choirs in the Heights


Mountains so broad in the shoulders,

Choirs of summits gone mute in their boulders.

Escarpments that rise up way high on the steep,

Right by the roadside they loom there in sleep,

The choirs of time that won’t sing in their boulders.


Shadows of mountains stand tall and refined,

They’ve stretched high, they loom there from time out of mind.

They cringe back, they’re shy and eschew touchy-feely,

Right by the road they play touch-me-not-really,

Then hush and fall silent, to strife disinclined.


The ribs of the slopes that at hazy sky claw,

They urp out a spring that flows burbly-guffaw.

Right here in this heaven dark rainclouds are born,

They blow through the ridges in mistness adorned,

And winnow escarpments all fleece and scrimshaw.


The stripes and the strips of the ridges in rockiness

Sing out their pure rhythms, excelling in cockiness;

So steeped in pure beauty, the voice of those songs

Soars high up in sky, where it hovers and longs

For the stone-finger ridges, scaberulous pockiness.



                                                                            Nikolai Aseev


Translation by Samuil Marshak of Robert Burns, "Is There, For Honest Poverty," translation back into modern English by U.R. Bowie


Роберт Бёрнс (Robert Burns)

Честная бедность


Год издания: 1969 г.

Перевод С. Я. Маршака





 Кто честной бедности своей

 Стыдится и все прочее,

 Тот самый жалкий из людей,

 Трусливый раб и прочее.


При всем при том,

При всем при том,

Пускай бедны мы с вами,

Богатство -

Штамп на золотом,

А золотой -

Мы сами!


 Мы хлеб едим и воду пьем,

 Мы укрываемся тряпьем

 И все такое прочее,

 А между тем дурак и плут

 Одеты в шелк и вина пьют

 И все такое прочее.


При всем при том,

При всем при том,

Судите не по платью.

Кто честным кормится трудом,

Таких зову я знатью,


 Вот этот шут - природный лорд.

 Ему должны мы кланяться.

 Но пусть он чопорен и горд,

 Бревно бревном останется!


При всем при том,

При всем при том,

Хоть весь он в позументах, -

Бревно останется бревном

И в орденах, и в лентах!


Король лакея своего

 Назначит генералом,

 Но он не может никого

 Назначить честным малым.


При всем при том,

При всем при том,

Награды, лесть

И прочее

Не заменяют

Ум и честь

И все такое прочее!


Настанет день и час пробьет,

 Когда уму и чести

 На всей земле придет черед

 Стоять на первом месте.


При всем при том,

При всем при том,

Могу вам предсказать я,

Что будет день,

Когда кругом

Все люди станут братья!







                                                                 Literal Translation


                                                                   Honest Poverty


One who his honest poverty

Is ashamed of and so forth,

Is the most pitiful of persons,

A cowardly slave and so forth.


   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Though you and I be poor,


   Is a stamp on a gold [coin],

   While you and I

   Are the gold!


We eat bread and drink water,

We clothe ourselves in rags,

And lots of other so forth,

While meanwhile some fool and some cad

Are dressed in silk and drink wine,

And lots of other so forth.


   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Judge not [a person] by dress,

   He who honestly feeds himself by his labor,

   That’s who I call the aristocracy.


Take that lout—he’s a lord by genealogy.

To him we have to bow.

But even though he’s supercilious and proud,

A blockhead is still a blockhead!


   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Although he’s dressed in gold braid and lace,

   A blockhead remains a blockhead,

   Even wearing medals and ribbons!


A king his lackey

Designates a general,

But no way he can designate

Anyone to be a decent fellow.


   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Awards, flattery

   And so forth

   Cannot replace

   Intelligence and honor

   And all such so forth!


The day will come and hour strike

When intelligence and honor

Will have their turn all over the earth

To stand in first place.


   Notwithstanding all of this,

   Notwithstanding all of this,

   I can predict for you

   That there will come a day

   When all over

   All people will be brothers!





                                                         Literary Translation/Adaptation by U.R. Bowie


                                                                    The Honorable Poor


A man who’s poor but honest poor,

Yet cowers in shame, and so forth,

Pathetic is he, full of rot at the core,

A coward, a slave, and so forth.


   Be that as it may in the wet month of May,

   Be that as it may on a horse that says “neigh,”

   Though you and I be poor,


   Is a stamp on a coin of pure gold,

   While you and I,

   We’re the gold!


We eat our bread and water drink,

We clothe ourselves in rags, not mink,

And such and so and so forth,

While meantime scoundrels, low-down cheats

Drink wine and sleep on silken sheets,

And so on, such and so forth.


   Be that as it may in the moist month of May,

   Be that as it may on a day making hay,

   You can’t judge a man by the clothing he wears,

   If a bloke earns his way by the sweat of his brow,

   He’s a grandee by gum, and a man of affairs!


Of manor born a lord, but a lout,

To him we needs must bow and scrape,

He’ll preen and he’ll swagger like all get-out,

But he’ll still be a great-big dumbbell ape!


   Be that as it may in the dank month of May,

   Be that as it may on a rain-sodden day,

   Although he’s outfitted in gold braids and lace,

   He’ll still be a moron, a woebegone drudge,

   Though in ribbons and medals encased.


Let’s say a king his lackey base

Promotes to be Supreme Marshmallow,

But notwithstanding his power and grace,

He can’t make a toady a decent fellow.


   Be that as it may in the warm month of May,

   Be that as it may as we stray and then pray,

   Lickspittle fawning befitting a twit,

   And such and so and so forth,

   Cannot be a match for pure honor and wit,

   And all of that so on and so forth!


The day will come, the hour strike

When through the world and on this earth

Pure wit and honesty, belike,

Will merit their true worth.


   Be that as it may in the bright month of May,

   Be that as it may on a Mayday that’s gay,

   I have for you a prognostication:

  The day will come when brotherhood

  Reigns o’er all God’s creation!





Tune - "For a' that, and a' that."


Is there, for honest 
That hangs his 
head, and a' that?
The coward-
slave, we pass him by,
We dare be 
poor for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Our toils obscure, and a' that;
The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
The man's the gowd for a' that!


What tho' on hamely fare we dine,
Wear hoddin gray, and a' that;
Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,
A man's a man, for a' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Their tinsel show, and a' that;
The honest man, though e'er sae poor,
king o' men for a' that!


Ye see yon birkie, ca'd - a lord,
Wha struts, and stares, and a' that;
Though hundreds worship at his word,
He's but a coof for a' that:
For a' that, and a' that,
His riband, 
star, and a' that,
The man of independent 
He looks and laughs at a' that.


A king can make a belted knight,
A marquis, duke, and a' that,
But an honest man's aboon his might,
faith, he maunna fa' that!
For a' that, and a' that,
Their dignities, and a' that,
The pith o' 
sense, and pride o' worth,
Are higher ranks than a' that.


Then let us 
pray that come it may -
As come it will for a' that -
That sense and worth, o'er a' the 
May bear the gree, and a' that;
For a' that, and a' that,
It's comin' yet for a' that,
That man to man, the warld o'er,
Shall brothers be for a' that!

Robert Burns