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Внимая ужасам войны

February 27, 2010

This English translation is by Mme. N. Jarintzov from her 1917 Russian Poets and Poems: “Classics” and “Moderns” with an Introduction to Russian Versification. Here is the original Russian:

Внимая ужасам войны,
При каждой новой жертве боя
Мне жаль не друга, не жены
Мне жаль не самого героя…
Увы! утешится жена,
И друга лучший друг забудет;
Но где-то есть душа одна —
Она до гроба помнить будет!
Средь лицемерных наших дел
И всякой пошлости и прозы
Одни я в мире подсмотрел
Святые, искренние слезы —
То слезы бедных матерей!
Им не забыть своих детей,
Погибших на кровавой ниве,
Как не поднять плакучей иве
Своих поникнувших ветвей.

Jane Harrison, in her introduction to Jarintzov’s book, writes that Jarintzov rebels against the orthodoxy that one must translate into one’s native language, and “if violence be done, it is the alien idiom that must suffer” (v).  Instead, in this book, “[t]he translator’s object is, not to create English, but to carry over Russian,” a praiseworthy method even though it produces some “slight contortions” and “some few words and phrases that no English hand would have written” (vi).

I’m not sure I see any such words and phrases in this particular translation.  If Jarintzov produced any unidiomatic English, it was either caught by some editor or is invisible to me against the backdrop of English written 93 years ago on the other side of the Atlantic.  (I do want “bleeds” instead of “is bleeding,” but this could be poetic license – I take it the same way I take “poetic” inversions in word order.)  Where she does stay strikingly close to the Russian is the meter, which she emphasizes by writing out what iambic tetrameter with masculine and feminine rhyme looks like in long and short signs.  Considering how rare feminine rhyme is in English poetry, she makes her effort sound quite natural, though it means relying on lots of “-ing” forms and a rhyme of “soever” and “ever” (close enough to the same thing to be bad form). Using a conjunction (“nor”) as a rhyme was also frowned on, I think.

The sense of the poem seems quite close on first reading, but as in any translation that preserves meter and rhyme, meaning has to give.  The poet presumably does learn of war casualties by reading about them, but the word “reading” isn’t in the Russian.  The Russian жена becomes both wife and lover in English, and then a general “love” that lacks the world-weariness of Увы! утешится жена.  Next we see a fine example of one phrase compensating another: “ever” is much drier than “до гроба,” and “someone else” drops the concept of “душа,” but as if to make up for these parts of the sentence, “grief/ Will torture with remembrance” spells things out more than “помнить будет.”  The rhyme-words “sneers” and (in the last line) “yet” are there for no other reason than to rhyme.  “Unhealing” seems added, and we have “in life” for “в мире” instead of “in the world” perhaps just so “the” would be unnecessary.

In other words the semantic differences are minor but numerous.

Does reading the translation give the same impression as reading the original?

It’s hard for me to say what I would have thought of the translation if I had read it as an English poem without knowing Nekrasov’s poem.  The first 12 lines strike me as almost as effective as the original.  Lines 13-15 about mothers fall a little flat – is it just the loss of the exclamation point, or the sentence ending mid-line?  Worst of all is the last couplet, where the weeping willow image does not do nearly as much for me in English as it does in Russian.  The final “yet” doesn’t help.  Beyond that, I really want the translation of “не поднять” to involve “can” – it’s not just that they never do lift their branches, it’s that they aren’t able to.  Shifting from singular ива to plural “willows” lowers the emotional temperature a bit, as we see a type, instead of one willow/mother.  And just the fact that it takes 12 English words to do the job of 8 Russian words takes away from the spareness of the simile in the original, while keeping its grandness.

[UPDATE 4/30/13: I now see that Jarintzov mentions help from “the young English poet, Mr. Wilfrid Blair” and singles out this poem as one which he greatly improved.]

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 30, 2013 8:06 am

    Does Harrison say anything about Jarintzov’s life? All I can find out about her online is that she was born in 1870 — there’s not even a death date available! (I might add that Яринцов is a vanishingly rare Russian surname.)

    • April 30, 2013 10:44 am

      I accidentally resurrected a three-year-old post here by adding a tag, so I don’t remember Harrison’s intro very well, but looking at it again, neither Harrison’s preface nor Jarintzov’s own introduction gives much biography. Some clues: Harrison signs off from “Newnham College, Cambridge,” and Jarintzov’s dedication reads “To MY SON, To MY ‘ENGLISH MOTHER,’ To HELEN THOMAS, LUCY THOMPSON, FLORENCE CROCKER, VIVIAN EDWARDS, To “MR. CORNFLOWER,” AND To ALL MY OTHER ENGLISH FRIENDS, who, on various occasions and in various degrees, but with invariable interest, so delightfully helped me in many problems of translating the Russian poems.”
      The introduction also makes it sound like she has lived in England for some time and has many English friends, but doesn’t consider herself a native speaker and had help from English poets to revise her translation. She has strong opinions, given in lovely detail, about translation and the canon!
      At the end of her introduction she enthusiastically welcomes the February Revolution, which happened as the book was coming out.
      Here’s the book if you’re interested in more.

    • April 30, 2013 10:55 am

      I don’t see a death date or any other information online either, but it looks like this 1917 book was the last thing she published, and for one reason or another she never produced the promised second volume of “moderns.”

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