Saturday, January 16, 2021

Translation of Poem by Fyodor Sologub, Федор Сологуб, "Высока луна Господня" "High in the sky is God’s moon" DOGS IN RUSSIAN LITERATURE


Федор Сологуб



Высока луна Господня.

          Тяжко мне. 

Истомилась я сегодня

          В тишине. 


Ни одна вокруг не лает

          Из подруг. 

Скучно, страшно замирает

          Всё вокруг.


В ясных улицах так пусто,

          Так мертво. 

Не слыхать шагов, ни хруста,



Землю нюхая в тревоге,

          Жду я бед. 

Слабо пахнет по дороге

          Чей-то след.


Никого нигде не будит

          Быстрый шаг. 

Жданный путник, кто ж он будет, —

          Друг иль враг?


Под холодною луною

          Я одна. 

Нет, невмочь мне, — я завою

          У окна. 


Высока луна Господня,


Грусть томит меня сегодня

          И тоска. 


Просыпайтесь, нарушайте


Сестры, сестры! войте, лайте

          На луну! 


<Не позднее 24 февраля 1905 года> *





Literal Translation

God’s moon is high.

               I’m wretched.

I’ve languished today

               In silence.


No one around, not a single friend

               Is barking.

Everything around sinks into

               A tedious, fearful hush.


On the bright streets so empty,

               Streets that are dead,

No steps are to be heard, not a crunch,



I sniff the ground anxiously,

               I anticipate woe.

Someone’s spore along the road

               Gives off a faint scent.


No one nowhere is awakened

               By a swift step.

The wayfarer expected, who will he be,

               Friend or foe?


Beneath the cold moon

               I’m alone.

No, I can’t stand it—I’ll howl

               At the window.


God’s moon is high,


Sadness torments me today

               And anguish.


Wake up, break

               The silence.

Sisters, sisters! Howl, bark

               At the moon!



                                               Literary Translation/Adaptation by U.R. Bowie

High in the sky is God’s moon.

               I feel bad.

Today is a day with blank misery strewn.

               Silent and sad.


No one around, not a mutt, not a bitch

               To go yip-yipe or bark.

All is so tedious, all a dank niche,

               Full of stagnation, dark. 


Streets that shine bright with their emptiness,

               Streets that are dead.

No crunching of steps on the iciness,

               Naught but an onerous dread.


Anxiously sniffing the ground,

               Expect trouble and woe.

Somebody’s print of a foot nowhere bound,

               Faintly reeking of snow. 


A sudden swift step in the gloom,

               No one wakes up and peers.

Could he be bearing my ultimate doom,

               Two-legged walker who traffics in fears?


Under the cold and the drear of the moon

               I’m alone, life is foul.

Everywhere anguish and agony loom. 

               By the window I’ll howl.


High in the sky is God’s moon,

               O so high.

I languish in misery, aggrieved in the gloom,

               Why, o why?


Awaken all canines, you borzois and hounds,

               Loft all your wails out of tune.

Sisters and brothers, yelp out yowling sounds;

               Keen at the sky and the moon!






Dogs in Russian Literature

 In the poem translated above, Fyodor Sologub lends his own pessimistic view of life to the dog who narrates. Personally, I doubt if any dog could get that overburdened by depression, but who knows? In the Russian original the dog (final stanza) cries out to her “sister” canines. This is more a matter of grammatical gender than actual gender of the dogs, since the word собака (sobaka) is grammatically feminine. In my translation I’ve broadened the appeal to “sisters and brothers” among the canines.

 Offhand, I can’t think of another poem featuring a Russian dog narrator, but there must be others. As for dogs in Russian prose fiction here are a few. In Nikolai Gogol’s “Notes of a Madman,” the crazed protagonist listens to two dogs having a conversation in the street. Ivan Turgenev’s sentimental story, “Mumu,” features a peasant named Gerasim and the dog he loves. Anton Chekhov wrote a long story featuring a dog, “Kashtanka” (name of dog again is the title of story), who becomes a circus performer, and, of course, one of Chekhov’s best, and most well-known stories is “Lady with a Dog.”

 Ivan Bunin’s story “The Dreams of Chang” is mediated through the mind of a dreaming, sometimes intoxicated dog.  Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Heart of a Dog, is a satire on Soviet life during the New Economic Period. The dog in the story has a human pituitary gland and human testicles grafted on to him and becomes a less than exemplary member of society.

 Lev Tolstoy features dogs in several of his works. War and Peace has depictions of hunting dogs in brilliantly rendered scenes describing Russian landowners on the hunt. In the part of the novel describing the exit of French troops from Moscow and their long, excruciating trek back home, a mongrel dog appears. He accompanies the Russian prisoners forced to march with the French, including the central protagonist Pierre Bezukhov. This mongrel attaches himself to the peasant philosopher, Platon Karataev. Levin’s hunting bitch in Anna Karenina, Laska, is probably the best-portrayed dog in all of Russian literature. After reading descriptions of Laska, some readers have suggested that Tolstoy himself must have been a dog in some previous incarnation.









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