DISTORTED SIMILARITIES. Russian translators and their own opuses translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
Russian translators and their own opuses translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
Listen to the soundtrack “Distorted Similarities (Verdi, Field, Massenet)” performed by Asya Lazar Ardova (piano) on the page ardSOUND of ardisonata.net.
Mikalojus Čiurlionis (1875-1911). Sonata of the Stars (Allegro) and Sonata of the Spring (Andante)
Reflected in the spheres
Of solar space.
Are ringing and thus rising
The spread of stems.
The spectral fields burst out
Plasmatic lightening’s blazing,
But all the lines crossed
Create the magic draft
Of letters never moved —
That's all on thy behalf.
Translated to English by Asya Ardova
Mikhail Kuzmin’s cosmological poem Verses of Art manifests the birth of a word as the start of the Universe, resounding as some creed of poets-translators reconstructing new, yet unknown galaxies on their native language’s ground.
Imperial Public Library and Alexandrinsky Theatre (right to left), Nevsky Prospect, St.Petersburg. Litography by P. S. Ivanov after V. S. Sadovnikov’s watercolour, 1830ies
My article-serial is opened with three poets-translators — Vasily Zhukovsky, Mikhail Lermontov and Mikhail Kuzmin — representatives of different cultural trends, whose outlook nevertheless was bred up mainly by Petersburg — multi-cultural and multi-lingual city.
Orest Kiprensky. Portrait of Zhukovsky. 1815
Zhukovsky used to say: “Translating prosaic texts you become its author’s slave, while translating poetic composition you become its author’s rival.”
The moment Zhukovsky's name is pronounced, some incredible forces start acting around. The world is suddenly being turned to a stage with miraculous scenery. The thirst for fantastic unreal events is getting increased. And this absorbency in narration is great and sweet.
Zhukovsky was the first to break borders between mentalities and epochs. Vivid attitude to mind and hence to the word are the features peculiar to his poems. The area he is acting is the whole world through the prism of ballads, legends and fantasies. The cultures he presents are separated from each other, but they are mutually clear on the sensual level.
Zhukovsky accept foreign language as something heartfelt, confidential though yet unknown, strange, but simultaneously imparting spiritual freedom to the Russian speaking man. And all this because he managed to expose iridescent, many-sided deepness of the purports and senses in the verses describing far lands.
Castle in the Alps on the way between Italy and Austria
Zhukovsky's translations are his own roles, most vivid and complicated, but neither masks and nor embodiments, for the role of a narrator is never left by him. Moreover, the foreign author he translates also becomes his hero. Compassion to his heroes (even unreal ones) is in his poetic nature.
I'd like to adduce my English translation of an excerpt from Zhukovsky's poetic elegy “The Slavyanka River” (1815), describing the Pavlovsk Park near Petersburg – most picturesque and expressive landscape park in the world (laid out in the middle of the 18th century by the Scottish architect Charles Cameron). The Pavlovsk Park has been inspiring the poets since the time of Zhukovsky:
The Slavyanka River
Verses by V. Zhukovsky, translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
Alone on Slavyanka bank I'm standing ….. all is still...,
And sweetest spirit flashed through pensive grove,
The water’s sleeping at the old tower-mill,
The air is filled with summer glow,
Apollo’s face is shedding gleam.
And entering the Sylvia I hear,
The voice a-mingling with the birch-trees rustle,
It sounds both lively and unreal.
Is it again my mind’s sweetest dream?
Or sullen vision of the ruined castle?
It’s far and near, like the sunrise beam…
(1814 – 1841)
Lermontov’s auto portrait, 1834
Lermontov's translations are the true reflection of the original's spirit. He seems to act as the kind of advocate, the author's producer on the world of poetic stage.
Lermontov accumulates the details, occasionally omitted by the original. Discussing Lermontov's destination, his fate, it's worth to mention that he was the poet of most perfect style. Translating Byron's Hebrew melodies, Lermontov was the first to make the Russian language sound with Judaic expressiveness, and this is the evidence of his taste — his thirst, but not only for Byron, but also for the rhetoric might peculiar to the Hebrew language. Lermontov penetrated into the core of Byron's expression and approached his own skill to King David's spiritual fleshy might.
Pushkin wrote once: “I'd like to leave some Biblical obscenity to the Russian language. Talking of our primordial language, I would have denied European airs and graces, so as the French finesse. These features do not act in the Russian language. Utmost natural clarity of notions is inherent in it.”
Drawn by progressive romantic tendencies and altogether being self-hypnotized by the spirit of Israel, Lermontov raises the question of the Jewish people struggling for their self-determination and mere existence in Spain of the 17th century. This is Lermontov's poetic drama “Spaniards”, that is akin to Walter Scott's “Ivanhoe” and Eugene Scribe «La Juive».
Charles de Beaumont (1821–1888). In the Rye.
Story of Moses from the drama “Spaniards”
Verses by M. Lermontov , translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
Tonight I went to Rabbi:
The Moon was rising,
And the fog was setting.
Lo! All quite of a sudden
I saw the armoured gang,
Awaiting for the coming caballero.
The young man was courageous,
The gangsters pursued him,
But all quite of a sudden they took flight.
What frightened them – my shadow?
Thanks God! I rescued caballero –
He was wounded.
I recognized him –
'Twas the boy, that saved me –
once – from the bloody inquisition.
I asked his name,
“Fernando,” - was the answer,
And then he passionately whispered:
“Fernando is my name,
And nothing else I know, Moses,
The other things are sleeping in my breast.
But looking at your face,
I feel the joy awaking in my heart,
I feel enormous strength
To pierce my body through!
Aren't you my father, Moses?
Sarcastic features were the other side of Lermontov's romantic nature. The poem-quatrain “My Prayer” is written as the response to the sentimentalism and its founder Samuel Richardson (1689—1761), author of the famous “History of Sir Charles Grandison”, which all the female population of Russia was sighing for that time.
Verses by M. Lermontov , translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
Oh, save my face from beauty spots,
From girls – most ignorant of love,
From tender friends, and all above –
From old dames, inventing plots.
(1872 — 1936)
Nikolai Kulbin. Portrait of Mikhail Kuzmin, 1912
Both Aubrey Beardsley (1872 –1898) and Mikhail Kuzmin manifest modernity through utterly classical manner. Their garish costumes are made by the same good old tailor as Walter Scott's and Turgenev's solid suits.
Aubrey Beardsley. Siegfried
Meanwhile bearing this similarity to preceding classic and romantic trends, modernists perceive the objects they admire as a bit distorted by the inner psychology shedding through the outer garments... as some tribute to fashion.
Kuzmin treats his English confrere most reasonably, imparting explicative hints to Beardsley's phrases. Responsibility for the original author sheds from out of Kuzmin's translations.
Verses by M. Kuzmin , translated to English by Asya Lazar ARDOVA
What should I do with you, my sweetest song?
Your happy end is seen in starting point —
Good brides and bridegrooms greeted by the throng,
And dead man’s dead and deadly soiled.
In classic novels all the words are clear,
The end is crowned with the bold dot.
Who is Armand, and who’s the widow, dear?
Whose daughter is Eliza? — all is thought.
My story’s light and easy, but for hint —
Of no structure actually at all.
It’s wringing water from a flint,
Like magic call.
Touched readers! Do not look
For tears on my face.
The blot completes my book,
Instead of dot to place.