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И скучно и грустно

January 21, 2010
И скучно и грустно, и некому руку подать
В минуту душевной невзгоды…
Желанья!.. что пользы напрасно и вечно желать?..

А годы проходят — все лучшие годы!

Любить… но кого же?.. на время — не стоит труда,
А вечно любить невозможно.
В себя ли заглянешь? — там прошлого нет и следа:

И радость, и муки, и все там ничтожно…

Что страсти? — ведь рано иль поздно их сладкий недуг
Исчезнет при слове рассудка;
И жизнь, как посмотришь с холодным вниманьем вокруг, —
Такая пустая и глупая шутка…

January 1840

Amphibrachic 5/3/5/4, aBaB.  From the fairly obscure (Rozengeim) to the extremely familiar.

Here is John Pollen’s 1891 English translation of the poem:


How weary! how dreary! with no friend to ease the heart’s pain
In moments of sorrow of soul!
Fond desires!  But what use the desire that is ever in vain?

And o’er us the best years roll.

To love.  But the loved one?  ‘Tis nothing to love for a space;
And for ever Love cannot remain.
Dost thou glance at thyself?  Of the “has been” remains not a trace,

And all gladness and sorrow are vain.

The passions?  Ah! sooner or later, their malady sweet
Will vanish at reason’s behest;
And life—when the circle of cold contemplation’s complete—

Is a stupid and frivolous jest.

It’s easy to find things to complain about with this translation, as indeed with nearly every translation, especially of poetry, especially into verse.  I think “But the loved one?” is a poor rendering of Но кого же? in terms of style, meaning, and perlocutionary force, and the rhyme in the title is too singsongy.  But the main thing I think when reading a nineteenth-century translation of a nineteenth-century poem (even if half a century after the original) is how hard it would be to create a translation now that could sound anything like “Lermontov would have sounded” if he had been writing in English in 1840.  If I tried, on top of every other problem, I’d either sound like I was using anachronistically modern language, or like I was poorly faking obsolete constructions, or entirely bloodless.

I particularly like the way Pollen handles the last stanza, especially “Ah! sooner or later their malady sweet/ Will vanish at reason’s behest.”  The meaning of ведь is lost, but it reads much better than a clunky alternative with “after all” or a tag question.

Notice the Russian poets Pollen lists as the best and how he gives his own name.  The dedication of the collection reads “To the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, to whose example and kind words of encouragement the author traces the source of his Russian studies, this little effort is gratefully dedicated.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. February 14, 2013 7:28 pm

    Reblogged this on Label It This and commented:
    Getting into the mood for the poetry and tea gathering tomorrow.

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