Saturday, July 08, 2017

Dark Eyes

Dark Eyes
(A traditional Russian folk song translated by Greg Pavlik)
The eyes so black, passionate eyes
Fiery eyes, so beautiful!
How I love you - how I fear you!
You know I saw your eyes at the witching hour!

I cannot explain your deep, deep darkness!
I see a mourning within you for my soul,
I see the flame of triumph within you:
it consumes my sorrowing heart.
It does not make me bitter, it does not make me sad,
This my fate, my consolation:
All that is good is a gift from God,
And I sacrifice it all for those fiery eyes!

Original Russian by the Ukrainian poet and writer Yevhen Hrebinka.
1.
Очи чёрные, очи страстные,
Очи жгучие и прекрасные!
Как люблю я вас, как боюсь я вас!
Знать, увидел вас я в недобрый час!
2.
Ох, недаром вы глубины темней!
Вижу траур в вас по душе моей,
Вижу пламя в вас я победное:
Сожжено на нём сердце бедное.
3.
Но не грустен я, не печален я,
Утешительна мне судьба моя:
Всё, что лучшего в жизни Бог дал нам,
В жертву отдал я огневым глазам!

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The river floes break in spring... take 2

Alexander Blok
The river floes break in spring...
March 1902
translation by Greg Pavlik 



The river floes break in spring,
And for the dead I feel no sorrow -
Toward new summits I am rising,
Forgetting crevasses of past striving,
I see the blue horizon of tomorrow.

What regret, in fire and smoke,
the lament of the cross,
With each hour, with each stroke -
Or instead - the heavens’ gift stoked,
from the bush burnt without loss!

Original:

Весна в реке ломает льдины,
И милых мертвых мне не жаль:
Преодолев мои вершины,
Забыл я зимние теснины
И вижу голубую даль.

Что сожалеть в дыму пожара,
Что сокрушаться у креста,
Когда всечасно жду удара
Или божественного дара
Из Моисеева куста!
 
Март 1902
Translators note: I updated this after some reflection. The original translation used the allegorical imagery that would have been common in patristic writing and hence Russian Orthodoxy. For example, I used the image of Aaron's rod in lieu of the word "cross", which appears in Russian (креста). The rod of Aaron was commonly understood to be a type of the cross in traditional readings of Old Testament Scriptures. Similarly, the final line of Blok's poem "Из Моисеева куста" literally translates to "from Moses's Bush". In my original translation, I rendered the final line "from the bush of Moses, the Mother of God". Since at least the 4th century, the burning bush was interpreted as a type of Mary, the Theotokos (or God-bearer) in the patristic literature (see for example, Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses). In Russian iconography there is even an icon type of the Mother of God called the Unburnt Bush. While the use of "rod" and "Mother of God" allowed me to maintain the rhyme pattern (rod/God in place of креста/куста) of the original poem, it created a awkward rhythm to the poem, especially in the final line. It also added explicit allusions to patristic images that are not explicitly present in the original poem, perhaps fundamentally altering the author's intention. A neat experiment but also one that I think ultimately failed.

The new translation returns to a more literal translation without allegory: "
креста" means simply cross and that is how the poem now reads. The final line has been abbreviated from my original translation, though somewhat less literal - "Из Моисеева куста" is now rendered as "from the bush burnt without loss" rather than the literal "from Moses's bush" or the more awkward original translation "From the Bush of Moses, the Mother of God". The new translation I believe captures more closely the original meaning and manages to maintain at least the rhyme pattern of the original (now cross/loss in place of креста/куста). Overall, this is far from a perfect translation but I think it is an improvement.
One final comment about Blok himself that perhaps illustrates why I am still conflicted about the changes to final line: Blok was a master of the Symbolist movement in Russian poetry, wherein he worked unconventional rhythms and rhyming into his poetry. On that score, I feel somewhat more at liberty to ignore the meter of the original and attempt to express something of a musical quality in English. However, Blok was also deeply influenced by the great philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, a proponent of Sophiology in the Russian intellectual tradition. This led to him writing many of his early poetic compositions about the Fair Lady, Sophia the embodiment of Wisdom. It is with this in mind that I feel some regret at removing the reference to the Mother of God, a human embodiment/enhypostatization of Divine Wisdom.

Friday, April 14, 2017

We're All In This Thing Together

This song pretty much summarizes everything I've learned to be true about life after nearly five decades of living...

Well my friend, well I see your face so clear
Little bit tired, a little worn through the years
You sound nervous, you seem alone
I hardly recognize your voice on the telephone

In between I remember
Just before we wound up broken down
We'd drive out to the edge of the highway
Follow that lonesome dead-end roadside sound

We're all in this thing together
Walkin' the line between faith and fear
This life don't last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Well my friend let's put this thing together
And walk the path that worn out feet have trod
If you wanted we can go home forever
Give up your jaded ways, spell your name to God

We're all in this thing together
Walkin' the line between faith and fear
This life don't last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

All we are is a picture in a mirror
Fancy shoes to grace our feet
All that there is is a slow road to freedom
Heaven above and the devil beneath

We're all in this thing together
Walkin' the line between faith and fear
This life don't last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The river floes break in spring...


Alexander Blok
The river floes break in spring...
March 1902
translation by Greg Pavlik 


The river floes break in spring,
And for the dead I feel no sorrow -
Toward new summits I am rising,
Forgetting crevasses of past striving,
I see the blue horizon of tomorrow.

What regret, in fire and smoke,
What agony of Aaron’s rod,
With each hour, with each stroke -
Or instead - the heavens’ gift stoked,
From the Bush of Moses, the Mother of God!

Original:

Весна в реке ломает льдины,
И милых мертвых мне не жаль:
Преодолев мои вершины,
Забыл я зимние теснины
И вижу голубую даль.

Что сожалеть в дыму пожара,
Что сокрушаться у креста,
Когда всечасно жду удара
Или божественного дара
Из Моисеева куста!
 
Март 1902

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Why I am a Dostoevskyan Humanist

An explanation in 5 parts, by reference to the works of those who were not.*

'Lo! I show you the Last Man.

"What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?" -- so asks the Last Man, and blinks.

The earth has become small, and on it hops the Last Man, who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable as the flea; the Last Man lives longest.

"We have discovered happiness" -- say the Last Men, and they blink.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one's neighbor and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes for pleasant dreams. And much poison at the end for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Everyone wants the same; everyone is the same: he who feels differently goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

"Formerly all the world was insane," -- say the subtlest of them, and they blink.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their derision. People still quarrel, but are soon reconciled -- otherwise it upsets their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

"We have discovered happiness," -- say the Last Men, and they blink.'
Friedrich Nietzsche: Thus Spoke Zarathustra



The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb, Hans Holbein

Now, did He really break the seal
And rise again?
We dare not say….
Meanwhile, a silence on the cross
As dead as we shall ever be,
Speaks of some total gain or loss,
And you and I are free
Auden, Friday’s Child

“Wherever an altar is found, there is civilization."
Joseph de Maistre

“All actual life is encounter.”
Martin Buber, I and Thou

* model for composition stolen gratuitously from an online challenge.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Something Amiss

Looks like this curious non-review of the novel Laurus seems to have been referring to "Brahmins" as "Brahman" - I suppose republished to correct the mistake:

​Russian Brahman by Alan Jacobs | Articles | First Things

www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/russian-brahman
First Things
Russian Brahman. by Alan Jacobs April 2016. Laurus by eugene vodolazkin translated by lisa hayden oneworld, 384 pages, $24.99. Eugene Vodolazkin's ...

​Russian Brahmin by Alan Jacobs | Articles | First Things

www.firstthings.com/article/2016/04/russian-brahmin
First Things
Russian Brahmin. by Alan Jacobs April 2016. Laurus by eugene vodolazkin translated by lisa hayden oneworld, 384 pages, $24.99. Eugene Vodolazkin's ...

Whatever his problematic grasp on Hindu concepts, it's obvious Jacobs knows little to nothing about the tradition of Russian yurodivy, which makes this review overall kind of silly at best. Interested readers can refer to the hagiographies of Xenia of Petersburg or Feofil of the Kiev Caves Lavra to become acquainted with some of the conceptual background to the novel, both published by the monastery press in Jordanville, NY in English. As a complement the Pavel Lungin movie Ostrov is worth watching carefully - the film is based partly on Feofil, though like the life of St Xenia, it explores the theme of vicarious repentance. (It was not until the third time I saw the film that I fully grasped it - the visuals are stunning and in many respects a distraction.)

On a similar vein, the reviewer seems to be unaware of the standard - far too standard to be universal in fact - Eastern Christian view of the spiritual life: purification, illumination and theosis. This is particularly strong in the present tense Eastern Orthodox tradition with the popularization on the compendium of texts on prayer from the patristic and medieval eras known as the Philokalia, so there should be no surprise that it is echoed by a Russian Orthodox novelist writing about a fictional early Russian spiritual figure. These are themes that recur in entirely secular Russian literature as well as, for example, the surrealist Vladimir Sorokin. Mistaking normative Eastern Christianity with Hindu/Dharmic spirituality seems like a fundamental error that even a high school student would have avoided. I am astonished by this given the relative popularity of the Way of the Pilgrim, which contextualized the Philokalia in 19th century Russian spirituality explicitly. This, I fear, provides an acute illustration of the siloing of intellectual life in America these days (if not a somewhat obvious poverty).


All of that aside, what continues to trouble me in general is the fact that most of the reviews of Laurus that I've seen have been oriented toward theological critiques - endorsements or arguments revolving around the reviewer's reading of what the author might want us to think about religion. And yet it is obvious that Vodolazkin did not write a religious apologetic (Jacobs invokes Karamazov, which is simultaneously a religious argument and a humanistic work - but Laurus is anything but the former). Laurus deserves a review as a work of notable - even great - world literature: which is to say first and foremost an exploration of what Vodolazkin is attempting to accomplish as a writer and what that has produced as a work of literature. The lack of serious analysis is particularly puzzling given the devices Vodolazkin uses to deal with language, identity, personality, relationship, and - yes - time. We could do with a few less sermons and a bit more thought.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Nativity

Shadows flicker against the wall
within the cave it is perpetually night
(I find my vision gets dimmer with age
- when we are alleged to see more sharply -
in the low light of a single candle flame
it is getting much harder to read
year by year)
there is a form I barely am able to perceive.
I wonder if it is better here than the open air
where my eyes would surely be closed against the sun
where all forms find their origin in the one.

2015