Friday, June 12, 2009

Translating Pushkin

Famed Russian writer Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837) wrote a poem that I'm going to spotlight this week. It demonstrates the challenges of translating poetry. I'll include the first three verses of several versions. What's your favorite?


I still recall the wondrous moment
When you appeared before my eyes,
Just like a fleeting apparition,
Just like pure beauty’s distillation.

When I languished in the throes of hopeless grief
Amid the troubles of life’s vanity,
Your sweet voice lingered on in me,
Your dear face came to me in dreams.

Years passed. The raging, gusty storms
Dispersed my former reveries,
And I forgot your tender voice,
Your features so divine.


I can't forget this blessed vision,
In front of me you stood my love,
Like instant moment of decision,
Like spirit beauteous from above.

Through languor, through despair and sorrow,
Through clamor and through restless space,
I heard your voice from night till morrow
And dreamt and dreamt of darling face.

The years of storm compel surrender,
Dispel and scattered dream of mine,
And I have lost your voice so tender
And face so heavenly divine.
Translated by Balanchin.


I remember a wonderful moment
As before my eyes you appeared,
Like a vision, fleeting, momentary,
Like a spirit of the purest beauty.

In the torture of hopeless melancholy,
In the bustle of the world's noisy hours,
That voice rang out so tenderly,
I dreamed of that lovely face of yours.

The years flew quickly. The storm's blast
Scattered the dreams of former times,
And I forgot your tender voice,
And the features of your heavenly face.


A magic moment I remember:
I raised my eyes and you were there,
A fleeting vision, the quintessence
Of all that's beautiful and rare

I pray to mute despair and anguish,
To vain the pursuits world esteems,
Long did I near your soothing accents,
Long did I your features haunt my dreams.

Time passed. A rebel storm-blast scattered
The reveries that once were mine
And I forgot your soothing accents,
Your features gracefully divine.


I recollect that wondrous meeting,
That instant I encountered you,
When like an apparition fleeting,
Like beauty's spirit past you flew.

Long since, when hopeless grief distressed me,
When noise and turmoil vexed, it seemed
Your voice still tenderly caressed me,
Your dear face sought me as I dreamed.

Years passed; their stormy gusts confounded
And swept away old dreams apace.
I had forgotten how you sounded,
Forgot the heaven of your face.
Translated by Walter Arndt


Yes! I remember well our meeting
When first thou dawnedst on my sight,
Like some fair phantom past me fleeting,
Some nymph of purity and light.

By weary agonies surrounded,
`Mid toil, `mid mean and noisy care,
Long in mine ear thy soft voice sounded,
Long dream'd I of thy features fair.

Years flew; Fate's blast blew ever stronger,
Scattering mine early dreams to air,
And thy soft voice I heard no longer -
No longer saw thy features fair.
Translated by Thomas B. Shaw

You can find more Pushkin poems here.

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