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