Thursday, 10 June 2010
poems about translation 6: Nabokov on Pushkin, and related snippets
Just saw that the Rossica Young Translators' Prize for translation from Russian to English was recently awarded to Leo Shtutin. The texts translated by this year's entrants are here. It's a great initiative (though I found the website a bit frustratingly designed) and let's wish it much success in promoting translation from Russian.
It seemed like a good moment to look up Nabokov's ironic poem about translating Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. The first four lines of this poem are so well known that I had forgotten it didn't stop there:
On Translating Eugene Onegin
What is translation? On a platter
A poet's pale and glaring head,
A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasites you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:
I traveled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose--
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.
Reflected words can only shiver
Like elongated lights that twist
In the black mirror of a river
Between the city and the mist.
Elusive Pushkin! Persevering,
I still pick up Tatiana's earring,
Still travel with your sullen rake.
I find another man's mistake,
I analyze alliterations
That grace your feasts and haunt the great
Fourth stanza of your Canto Eight.
This is my task--a poet's patience
And scholastic passion blent:
Dove-droppings on your monument.
For another opinionated discussion on whether poetry translation is possible, see this recent conversation between Ilya Kaminsky and Adam Kirsch on the Poetry Foundation website.