Authors: Anna Akhmatova
Poetry of Anna Akhmatova
Translated by Andrey Kneller
Kneller, Boston, 2013
All rights reserved
“…The intensely personal lyricism of
is tinged with the note that was destined to become her imprimatur: the note of controlled terror. The mechanism designed to keep in check emotions of a romantic nature proved to be as effective when applied to mortal fears. The latter was increasingly intertwined with the former until they resulted in emotional tautology, and
mark the beginning of this process. With this collection, Russian poetry hit “the real, non-calendar twentieth century” but didn’t disintegrate on impact…”
The Keening Muse
“Poetry is what is lost in translation” Robert Frost
“Poetry is what is gained in translation” Joseph Brodsky
A poet, by definition, is a translator. He takes the seemingly incomprehensible ramblings of the Muse and transforms them into a language that can be understood and enjoyed by his audience. One can argue that something is already lost in this process. No matter how good the poet, the audience won’t experience what he undergoes in his interaction with the Muse. Or, as another Russian poet,
Fyodor Tyutchev, writes in
: “A thought once uttered is untrue.” (as translated by V. Nabokov)
This is a challenge for all translation in general. Translating poetry from one language to another often becomes a game of telephone, where one whispered message gets passed down the line, before it is finally revealed, usually with accumulated inaccuracies. The Muse’s message gets lost somewhere in-between and what is left is a mere frame, in which the original can hardly be discerned. This experience leads people to say that one should avoid translated poetry altogether. If you subscribe to the absurdity of this logic, all poetry is doomed to fall short as it will never capture the essence of feelings and experiences.
I would like to propose a different approach. Bad translations should be disregarded, no less than bad poetry. Readers should be wary of them as art collectors are wary of forged paintings. Translators of poetry need to be held to a much higher standard than simply relaying the general message. Their work must retain as much semblance to the original as possible; in particular, translating rhyming poetry into blank verse should not be acceptable. The same principle should apply to rhyming translations that greatly distort the content, meaning and images of the poem for the sake of sound. Beyond this, good translations should effectively relay idioms, references and allusions in a way that doesn’t make them appear strained.
With this collection, I hope to show that such translations are possible. Great Russian poets, like Anna Akhmatova, deserve this much. And should I fall short in my attempts to reach the set standard, I would only be happy if another translator takes up the task and does it better than I.
Table of Contents
Думали: нищие мы, нету у нас ничего,
как стали одно за другим терять,
Так, что сделался каждый день
Начали песни слагать
О великой щедрости Божьей
Да о нашем бывшем богатстве.
12 апреля 1915
We thought: we’re poor and don’t have anything,
But as we started to lose one thing after another,
So much that each day became
remembrance day, -
We began to write songs
About God’s immense generosity
And the wealth we once had.
April 12, 1915
Твой белый дом и тихий сад оставлю.
Да будет жизнь пустынна и светла.
Тебя, тебя в моих стихах прославлю,
Как женщина прославить не могла.
И ты подругу помнишь дорогую
В тобою созданном для глаз ее раю,
А я товаром редкостным торгую -
Твою любовь и нежность продаю.
I’ll leave your
white house and your quiet garden.
May life become all bare and filled with light.
I’ll glorify you with a verse so ardent
More than a woman could’ve glorified.
As you recall your dear beloved’s eyes
In heaven you yourself have fashioned,
I’m trading with the rarest merchandise -
I’m selling off your tenderness and passion.
Так много камней брошено в меня,
Что ни один из них уже не страшен,
И стройной башней стала западня,
Высокою среди высоких башен.
Строителей ее благодарю,
Пусть их забота и печаль минует.
Отсюда раньше вижу я зарю,
Здесь солнца луч последний торжествует.
И часто в окна комнаты моей
Влетают ветры северных морей,
И голубь ест из рук моих пшеницу...
А не дописанную мной страницу -
Божественно спокойна и легка,
Допишет Музы смуглая рука.
So many stones were cast that I don’t cower