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  #11  
Unread 05-16-2022, 11:54 AM
David Callin David Callin is offline
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Thanks Carl. (Sorry, I'm monopolising you here with my ignorance.)

I was going to ask about the iambic tetrameter. The only book of Russian poetry I have on my shelves is a Charles Johnston translation of Eugene Onegin, and that is in iambic tet. (I thought he translated it rather well, whatever Nabokov says. But he would know better than me.)

So I was wondering why you hadn't chosen that as your medium. A sense of adventure, perhaps.

Cheers

David
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  #12  
Unread 05-16-2022, 02:58 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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No, David, I’m an unadventurous translator. I wasn’t clear: Pushkin’s favorite meter was iambic tetrameter with alternating masculine and feminine rhymes, as in Onegin. That became the gold standard for Russian poetry. In this poem, however, Pushkin was imitating Dante—at least formally—and so wrote in IP. Other verses he wrote in IP include a few sonnets and a Shakespearean play, Boris Godunov. He used iambic hexameter (based on the French alexandrine) for some of his most elevated and serious verse. I’ve been tempted at times to translate hexameter into pentameter because English is a more compact language, and it would help take up the slack. But as I said earlier today in a different thread, hexameter turns out to have a completely different flavor—more leisurely and elegant—and I feel that’s essential to the experience.

Carl

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 05-16-2022 at 05:43 PM.
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  #13  
Unread 05-16-2022, 09:09 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Carl,

Thank you for pointing out that Russian poetry, post-Pushkin at least, alternates masculine and feminine rhymes. I hadn't known that, but it's also true of French poetry for several centuries up to about the early C20th, when it starts to break down. I don't know enough about other European traditions to know where you see it - not in German or in Italian, I think, at least not as a rule, and I don't know about Spanish or Portuguese - but it adds another level of difficulty and of music by the same token.

Cheers,
John

Update: I did some googling and was told that it's common in German and Hungarian. So, here it is in a ballad by Heine, the opening song of the Dichterliebe: https://www.oxfordlieder.co.uk/song/830 ; and here it is in a ballad by Goethe: https://www.google.com/search?q=der+...ome&ie=UT F-8 My gut tells me you see it especially in German ballads. BTW "the magic month of May" is an awful translation for "the wondrously beautiful month of May."

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-16-2022 at 09:17 PM.
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  #14  
Unread 05-17-2022, 03:46 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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Hi, John. German and Hungarian—fascinating. The Goethe is a great example (though I don’t read German). Russian culture in the late 18th and early 19th centuries gravitated towards Paris. The upper classes spoke French, sometimes to the neglect of Russian. So I think the alternation of masculine and feminine rhymes was borrowed from French verse. In this particular poem, it was grafted onto Dante’s hendecasyllable, which is all feminine. The alternation is harder to do in English, so translators often drop it. I try, because I like the “music,” but in this case I failed to combine it with terza rima. Pushkin wrote one other poem in terza rima—more obviously based on the Inferno. I haven’t attempted it, but I think there must be a circle in hell where translators are forced to produce English tercets.

Carl
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  #15  
Unread 05-17-2022, 04:22 AM
Joe Crocker Joe Crocker is offline
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Hello Carl

I had a v quick read through and I think this has a lot going for it. I'd like to come back to it.

I thought s2 didn't feel quite right. The teacher is "very meek", and also "majestic" and the two things don't quite go together. And "shabby" is a bit close to "grubby", which she definitely isn't. How about

An unassuming woman, plainly dressed
who had a nonetheless majestic poise,
was there to strictly guide our early steps.

Joe
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  #16  
Unread 05-17-2022, 07:23 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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Thanks, Joe. I agree that “meek” and “shabby” and “majestic” don’t mix very easily, and I like your revision, but I think I’ve come about as close as I can get to the original words. To complicate things further, there was no woman in charge of Pushkin’s school, and most scholars seem to think she represents the Orthodox Church or the Christian Middles Ages in contrast to the ancient world of the marble statues—very attractive to a young poet, but “demons” from the point of view of Christianity. I need “meek” because it’s a Christian ideal, but why would Christianity be “shabby”? In fact, it’s a mild rendering of the original word, which can also be translated as “wretched.” Maybe it’s something like how I felt sitting in the pew as a kid. I’ll continue to ponder it and will look forward to your further thoughts. Anything like this that you stub your toe on I'd like to know.

Carl
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  #17  
Unread 05-17-2022, 02:07 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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First off, I admire anyone who knows Russian as a second language. If I had not been such a lazy student I wouldn't have dropped Russian in college. I see you live in St. Petersburg. Stay safe--which I guess is a stupid thing for someone who lives in an arsenal posing as a country to say.

What I experience with this translation is something I experience with so many translations here. I like the crib more than I like the finished work. I've heard before, of course, that Pushkin suffers more than most in translation, but in the crib the modifiers are used with more selection. Just one example:

The crib has

I forgot myself in front of them.
My youthful heart beat within my chest; a chill
ran over me and stood my curls on end.

and the translation has

Before them I’d forget myself and feel
a shiver stand my hair on end and run
all through me, heart pulsating with the thrill.

Right off, the translation is passive. Then "[M]y youthful heart beat within my chest," which, admittedly is to be expected, is translated as "feel/a shiver stand my hair on end."

Because I do not know Russian I will stop there. Perhaps Pushkin is supposed to be so puffy? I prefer the starker version but I'm open to learning.

Thanks
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  #18  
Unread 05-17-2022, 05:18 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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I appreciate your input, John. No, Pushkin isn’t puffy. He isn’t lean either. He’s just right. It’s interesting that you and David both prefer my crib. He calls it “essence of Pushkin.” It does avoid puffiness, but it loses too much of what I love about formal poetry. As an example, here’s Archibald MacLeish’s “essence of Shakespeare,” distilled from Sonnet 116:

“The ‘marriage’ of true minds is not to be impeded; love which is really love does not change because it meets with change; true love is the fixéd mark by which all men are guided; though time may alter the beloved face, love will not alter with time; if all this is untrue then no man ever loved.”

It’s lean and precise, but would it be admired after four hundred years?

MacLeish continues: “Within the poem, and in the words of the poem, we accept these statements as composing one of the noblest affirmations of the worth of human love our literature affords. But taken out of the poem, taken as themselves, they are nothing but assertions: and assertions, moreover, of a doubtful truth and a questionable beauty.” Shakespeare’s words, “unlike words in prose, go past in patterns of repeated and modulated sound. They go past not as the leaves blow by a window, but as surges go by at sea with their resembling crests, their constant intervals.”

That’s what I love about formal poetry and why free verse is alien to me. It’s why I groove to baroque music, and atonal music leaves me cold. But don’t give up on me yet. I liked David’s “Ten Grams.” Now I’ll read some of yours.

Carl
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  #19  
Unread 05-17-2022, 10:05 PM
John Riley John Riley is online now
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I don’t understand how what MacLeish says about a work in English connects to a work translated from Russian, or how it’s an issue of non-met or met poetry. Make it met if you choose, but make it good met. I know enough to be able to detect when unnecessary syllables have been shoved into a met poem to keep the meter regular. It is the constant temptation. I’ve experienced it myself and it’s something far too many met poets aren’t disciplined enough to avoid. I’m an amateur, but it seems to me to be one of the fundamental determiners of a good as opposed to a mediocre met poem. With all due respect, comparing the crib to the finished piece it appears, at least to me, to be happening here somewhat. That is all I meant to point out and hope you will find it helpful.
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  #20  
Unread 05-18-2022, 02:38 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is offline
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John, there is puffiness in my translation. If it was obvious to you, that’s bad and something I wanted to know. I thought you and David were suggesting I might do better with free verse translations, hence my use of MacLeish to defend metrical. Puffiness (I like that word) is a constant problem in metrical because English is a more compact language, and extra words are sometimes needed to take up the slack and for rhymes. I try to minimize the puffiness or at least mask it well, but I think you and David are right that there’s too much of it here. Now I need something to bring down the swelling. I appreciate your pointing it out.

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 05-18-2022 at 04:00 AM.
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