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  #1  
Unread 02-27-2022, 01:05 AM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Default Variant II (an excerpt from Alexandre Galich, 1918-1977)

Variant II

On that day the skies were breezing merrily,
But the hearts were squeezed by terror's hand:
“Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Foreign tanks are on our native land.”

Now, as thunder amid idle merriment,
By a larynx' shot, a barrel's blurt:
“Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Our own tanks are plowing foreign dirt.”

Some immediate remarks reflecting the critique:

“Sky breezing airily” was indeed a double tautology, but why can't the sky breeze?
It can breathe: Pushkin, Eugene Onegin, Canto IV, sonnet 40
Уж небо осенью дышало [Literally: The sky was already breathing autumn]
In James Falen's rhymed metric translation: The sky breathed autumn, turned and darkled

“idle” is added to close up the gap between “merriment” and “indolence”,
“our own [soil]” → “our native [land]”,
“recoiled soul” → “squeezed heart”,
S2L2 is now more parallel in 'imagery' to the original, featuring “larynx” and “barrel”,
the rhymes “hand – land” and “blurt – dirt” are cleaner than in the previous draft.


As I've mentioned, though, if anyone is interested to take part in this discussion: I'd like to address some general aspects of poetry translation and its criticism.

Nabokov famously asked “What is translation?” and answered: “On a platter / A poet's pale and glaring head” and two lines later concluded that it is “profanation of the dead”. Apparently there are two ways to profane.

The one usually accepted by professional translators into English is to accurately translate words. I was once present at a seminar, workshopping translations (from one cult-like figure in the 20th century Italian poetry) of 2-liners, which had no rhythmical or rhyming structure, and were grammatically correct but purposefully senseless. Yet, the seminar meticulously discussed how precisely each English word agreed in connotation with its Italian counterpart. When I asked, “How does it matter?” all agreed that it doesn't – and continued.

Translations of classical English poetry into Russian often result in good Russian poems closely reflecting the rhythmical and rhyming features of the original. Formally speaking, professional translations in the opposite direction also result in good modern English poems; the problem is: modern English poetry is vers libre, and captures none of the values of the original – just the words. Frankly, this approach feels as an insult to Russian poetry lovers. That the Chechen leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, is not one of them is the translators' good luck; otherwise their pale heads would be quite literally delivered to him on a platter.

Many amateur translators of Russian poetry resort to another way of profaning the dead: by attempting to fully reconstruct their beloved originals in (what they hope is) English language – resulting in something which is unlikely to be recognized by connoisseurs of English literature as a good (classical or modern) English poem. I am trying to follow this approach.

Someone said that a translator of prose is a slave, while a translator of poetry is a competitor (or something to this effect). A poetry translation can be judged as a good vs. not-so-good poem in the target language, and it can be judged as a translation vs. not-so-much a translation. But in my view these two aspects are completely disjoint. A poetry translation can be 'incorrect' no more than the original can.

Furthermore, in judging to what degree a poem is a translation, it is often pointless to focus on individual words or the notorious 'imagery'. Instead, imagining what the author would have written should (s)he be writing in English, i.e. reconstructing the author's 'laboratory', the 'method', would be, I think, much more faithful to the original.
For example, the critiques of my initial submission pointing at the missing dove, or the name of the town, or the lump in the throat, as well as the 'held-back tears' not present in the original, seem to me rather misplaced.
It should be understood that perhaps a half of the specific word choices and images of the original were prompted by rhyme and rhythm constraints, and in this sense are accidental, not quintessential to the poem. Consequently there is no reason why they should necessarily be present in the translation, and why other words and images (especially parallel ones) cannot be added - that is, unless the translator is primarily concerned with individual words.

This brings up the question of what is indeed quintessential to the original. I believe, this is something subjective, i.e. depending on what this translator finds in the original and wants to preserve. (In particular, there is no such a thing as the ultimate translation.)
However, at least speaking of Russian poetry, a universally quintessential aspect of it is the sound. As a striking example, I can recall an episode recorded in the book Conversations with Joseph Brodsky by Solomon Volkov. They discuss Tsvetaeva's poem written on the German occupation of Czechia: Tsvetaeva 'returns to the Maker her ticket for life' ending with: На твой безумный мир / Ответ один - отказ
[To your insane world / There is only one response – rejection].
Volkov asks to what extent the emotional tension of a poem comes from genuine inner torments of the poet, to what Brodsky replies (rather cynically, and I hope only in part truthfully) that of course it is reflective of the author's real life experiences, but in the end of the day it is all about the three 'o': Ответ один - отказ.

In any case, it is not about the meaning of individual words.

%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%
[The initial post starts here]

This is not what I originally planned for my first thread, but events in Ukraine brought to mind the lines written by poet, bard, and dissident Alexander Galich https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_Galich_(writer)
during the Soviet occupation of Prague in 1968:

On that day the sky was breezing airily,
But from freezing cold our souls recoiled:
"Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Foreign tanks are plowing our own soil!" (if it is unclear: German tanks...)
. . .
And again, as thunder amid merriment,
Through the tears held back and thoughts' turmoil:
"Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Citizens, our homeland is in peril!
Our own tanks are on a foreign soil!"

Literally:

The sky was in dove-like clarity,
But the hearts were cramped from cold:
- Citizens, the Fatherland is in danger!
Citizens, the Fatherland is in danger!
Tanks are entering Tsarskoe Selo! (a town near St. Petersburg)

Again, again - by thunder amid idleness,
By a lump in the throat, by a bullet in the barrel: (not "trunk", thanks to Julie for this correction)
- Citizens, the Fatherland is in danger!
Citizens, the Fatherland is in danger!
Our tanks are in a foreign land.


..Было небо в голубиной ясности,
Но сердца от холода свело:
- Граждане, Отечество в опасности!
Граждане, Отечество в опасности!
Танки входят в Царское Село!
. . .
Снова, снова - громом среди праздности,
Комом в горле, пулею в стволе:
- Граждане, Отечество в опасности!
Граждане, Отечество в опасности!
Наши танки на чужой земле!

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 03-11-2022 at 06:56 PM. Reason: Variant II
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  #2  
Unread 02-27-2022, 03:23 AM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Based only on the fact that I've never seen a blue dove, I am guessing that the literal crib's "dove-like clarity" is meant to evoke the sky's bright whiteness, rather than the blue of a "clear" sky in English. I miss crib's the ironically romantic dove and heart imagery when I read the first stanza of your verse translation, which you've chosen to make only about wind and cold.

In the second stanza, the literal crib's "By a lump in the throat, by a bullet in the trunk" is far more visceral than your "Through the tears held back and thoughts' turmoil." (That said...having just looked up ствол at WordReference, I think "by a bullet in the trunk" seems less apropos than "by a bullet in the barrel," evoking the barrel of a gun. The reverse lookup confirms that the barrel of a gun would be a legit reading of "barrel" here.)

The sonic impact of this excerpt's three rhymes (abaab acaac) is greatly reduced when you trim them to two, especially with the final line of each stanza turned into an identity rhyme ("soil") instead of a variation: (abaaB abaaB). The point of the end of S2 seems to be that Russia's own tanks are all occupied elsewhere, thus leaving this town defenseless. Changing the second "soil" to something else would give you the opportunity to emphasize the distance between the two sets of tanks.

The AIRily/PERil/MERriment rhyme is far more slant than anything you've complained about in others' poems. Just sayin'.

I hope some of these thoughts are helpful.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 03-01-2022 at 08:51 AM. Reason: Evidence of my having been an asshole removed. Now no one will know....
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  #3  
Unread 02-27-2022, 03:59 AM
Matt Q Matt Q is offline
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Hi Alexander,

Like Julie, I think your translation loses a fair bit from glossing/changing the original's imagery. The symbolism of the dove, for example is lost -- and for me the image that replaces it is more general, less interesting. A soul recoiling is very different from a cramped heart. Cramp suggests clenching, recoiling suggests pulling away or flinching back. The symbolism of the heart is different from that of the soul (at least, in English). I'd say that there's quite a difference between "idleness" and "merriment". "tears held back" is something of a negative image, and absence of something, whereas "a lump in the throat" is positive, visible. "Thoughts in turmoil" is abstract compared to "a bullet in the trunk/barrel", and also very different in meaning: here something is cut from the poem.

The translation also seems unnecessarily different from the original. It would be easy enough, I think, to stay closer to the original, at least with the opening. E.g.

The sky was dove-like in its clarity
But hearts were cramped from freezing cold

[Edit: OK, that's IP, not trochaic, but still, I think it'd be doable]

best,

Matt

Last edited by Matt Q; 02-27-2022 at 06:38 PM.
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  #4  
Unread 02-27-2022, 08:24 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Alexander, I think you are trying to write in trochaic meter here, which is not impossible in English, but is much harder (and rarer) than writing in iambic meter. "Turmoil" is pronounced with the stress on the first syllable, so it is a wrenched rhyme (as well as a slant rhyme) with "recoiled," which is stressed on the second syllable. Trochaic meter would require us to stress "on" and "but" in the first two lines, yet such words don't usually take a stress, so the reader may assume you are starting with an anapest, and then later realize that you meant them to be stressed. It is usually a good idea to make your meter absolutely clear at the start, so that the reader doesn't start in confusion. "Amid" takes the stress on the second syllable, so it also interferes with the trochaic meter if you want it to be totally regular. More importantly, Julie and Matt rightly point out that you have sacrificed a lot of meaning to your meter. "Breezing airily" does not sound natural in English, and it certainly has no suggestion of the peacefulness and calm of a dove. "Merriment" seems quite far in meaning from "idleness."

Susan
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  #5  
Unread 02-27-2022, 08:51 AM
Joe Crocker Joe Crocker is offline
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Julie
Quote:
Based only on the fact that I've never seen a blue dove, I am guessing that the literal crib's "dove-like clarity" is meant to evoke the sky's bright whiteness, rather than the blue of a "clear" sky in English. I miss crib's the ironically romantic dove and heart imagery when I read the first stanza of your verse translation, which you've chosen to make only about wind and cold
Many (many) years ago I learned a little Russian. It seems to me there is a sort of pun going on in the first line. 'Goluboy' is Russian for 'Blue', and 'Golub' is Russian for Pigeon or Dove. So there is an element of clear blue sky in there. On the other hand, I may talking out of my arse. (And it doesn't really impinge on your critique)
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Unread 02-27-2022, 04:27 PM
Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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I stand corrected! And....
https://www.color-name.com/pigeon-blue.color
I'm still inclined to think that the "clarity" has more to do with brightness than with cloudlessness, though.

Last edited by Julie Steiner; 02-27-2022 at 04:29 PM.
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Unread 02-27-2022, 11:59 PM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Joe, you are more than right. The Russian голубой (=light blue) originates from the name of the bird, the gray dove. So, in effect Galich says "the day was clear". One can indeed construe that "голубиный" (an adjective made from "dove") adds an association with "the dove of peace", but that would be a white doe. What seems more relevant here, "clear skies" in Russian is a cliche for "peaceful times"; instead of I wish you know no war in your lifetime, one can say: I wish you see only clear skies (as opposed to bomb-raining ones). So, the main message of L1 is that it was a clear, peaceful, [summer - June 22, 1941] day.

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-28-2022 at 02:59 AM.
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Unread 02-28-2022, 02:55 AM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Julie, thanks - I've changed "trunk" into "barrel" in my literal translation.

But - no: the point of S2 is not that the tanks left the native land defenseless.
The distance between the tanks is 27 years, and it didn't take many to subdue a civic uprising in Prague. The seemingly paradoxical point of Galich's poem is that he uses the same patriotic language when his country is invaded and when his country is the invader - in either case, it is his Fatherland that is in danger.

I am confused by what you are saying about rhymes. The rhyming scheme in either stanza is AbAAb, where A is actually dactyl (3-syllable, - u u) and "b" is masculine.
It is true that свело and село have more consonance than just the rhyme, but it a lucky accident, not a part of the structure. But how is the sonic effect of rhymes "reduced" from using the same "b" in both stanzas? It adds a constraint, not removes any. (In the actual poem it probably would make no sonic effect at all, because the positions of the two stanzas are remote.)

About the rhymes per se: I realize myself and agree with you that airily - peril and merriment - peril are 'slant': first of all, because the first in each pair is daclyl and second trochaic, but there are further differences too. Namely, the vowel sounds in airil and peril are not quite the same - but very close (Google-translate doesn't even report any difference: ˈerəlē - ˈperəl ); merim and peril only "half-rhyme" because of "m" isntead of "l" - but this is the only difference: even the unstressed vowels are the same.

What confuses me though is your remark that I complained elsewhere about less slant rhymes. What I was complaining about was my inability to hear any (but one: decor-before) rhyme in the sequences
panes/within/reflection/darken/wines
side/timeless/vastness/lead
decor/winter/tender/rear/before

I though a rhyme is first and foremost the coincidence of last accented vowel sounds of the lines (that's why I boldfaced them). It would be only a very weak rhyme if this is not supplemented by coincidence of the consonants following the vowels, or some other similarities, the more the better. Sometimes people use something like "panes-pines" where for a change the consonants agree rather than the vowels, but to my experience this works only as a refreshing experiment when it is surrounded by several perfect rhymes. So, I didn't even suspect that there were any attempts at rhymes in those 3 sequences - until several people started mentioning how they like or dislike 'them'. Frankly, it feels like "the King is naked" moment: could anyone educate me on what is going on here?

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-28-2022 at 02:57 PM.
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Unread 02-28-2022, 04:19 AM
Alexander Givental Alexander Givental is offline
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Hi Matt,
Thanks for the comments and the variant. The poem is a song (and longer one), and these excerpts are indeed set in trochaic pentameter with the rhyming scheme AbAAb, where A is dactyl and b masculine. So, regardless of other details in your variant, what did you plan "clarity" and "cold" to rhyme with?

About "idleness" vs. "merriment" - you might be right that the latter is too distant from the former. There is however the following interesting detail: the Russian праздность (idleness) has the same root as праздник (holiday) and праздновать (celebrate). So, by association, "merriment" might not be that far - depending on how important was the accurate meaning "idleness" for the author. (If you think of what the poem is about, it is quite possible that the "idleness" in the sense of "indifference" and consequently "lack of action" could actually be important - and that's why I am saying that you might be right.)

On the other hand, in order to judge about the significance of various elements of the original, let's imagine how it was designed. The key message is in the paradoxical "patriotic" call:
Граждане, Отечество в опасности!
Наши танки на чужой земле!
So, Galich needs rhymes to "опасности" and "земле". He finds "праздности", whatever the exact meaning, as a strong contender; he opts for "стволе" - completes it into "by a bullet in the barrel" and makes a parallel clause "by a lump in the throat". I am not sure what the latter means in English, but in Russian the idiom "to have a lump in your throat" means "to fight tears". The problem with this line, especially with the part about the barrel is that it doesn't make sense. Both images are of something stuck (in throat, in barrel) but that would mean: the patriotic call that one fails to say loud. So, I think, Galich skillfully resorts here to some dramatic phrase of secondary relevance (to the whole message), whose senselessness remains unnoticed (people would perform the song not ever thinking what exactly was meant here) until one starts translating it to another language.

It is somewhat similar in S1. Galich opts for "ясности" (clarity) as a rhyme for "опасности" leading to "peaceful blue skies" ("dove-like" essentially means "blue"). The second line then depicts the contrasting emotion of horror caused by the news of the war. Could you explain how "recoiled soul" is really different from "cramped heart" as a description of this feeling of horror? (I could say "recoiled heart" if you think it is more appropriate, but I didn't manage to find any non-medical use of this term online). Note that "свело" (cramped) is a rhyming word and was selected at least partly just to rhyme with the name of a famous town (though of course I can't know which one was selected first).

Last edited by Alexander Givental; 02-28-2022 at 03:04 PM.
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Unread 02-28-2022, 04:45 AM
W T Clark W T Clark is offline
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Two very quick points.
Firstly, the superiority of "cramped heart" to "soul recoils" lies for me in context. That "cramped heart" has a visceral quality, that its concussive c's and t's suggest crampedness, while "soul recoils" has a weight of vowels that suggests movement and lightness, not in keeping with the meaning at all. Also that "soul" at least in English has been used so much that it has lost much of its power, or charge: so that a phrase such as "soul recoils" strikes one as just an airy poeticism, while cramped heart has a violent reality about it.
Secondly, if there is some punning relation between dove and blue, then why not try to create something similar in English: "the bluebird sky" for instance.

Hope this helps.

P.S: "lump in the throat" has the same connotations in English as in Russian.
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