Pushkin: To The Sea (From Russian)

This may be thought of as Pushkin's locus amœnus poem, and it was an absolute pain in the ass to translate. Seriously. Not because the language is hard, or even because of the (today) opaque allusions, but because of the resonances of language. Pushkin's gift is the ability to phrase an idea in such a way, and in such a context, that the Russophone reader somehow just feels that this is the natural way to say it. Much as Shakespeare constructed phrases (not merely obvious ones such as to thine own self be true, the fault is not in the stars, doth protest to much, to be or not to be, one fell swoop, star-crossed lovers but also words many English speakers use every day such as good riddance, laughingstock, what's done is done, hoist by one's own petard, seen better days, strange bedfellows, a sorry sight) that, by dint of talent and a hefty amount of luck, became part of the English semanticon, so too did Pushkin make much of the Russian phrasebank in his own image. One example from this poem is властитель дум "master/potentate of (one's) thoughts/ideas" a term which in modern Russian is now used to describe the dominant intellectual influence either on a person or on an age.

To The Sea
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original Russian

Unfettered element! Farewell
Before me now one final time
You roll again that skyblue swell,
And sparkle with a pride sublime.

Like an old friend's regretful sigh,
Like calls of fare-you-well through tears,
Your summoning sound, your sounding cry,
One final time now fills my ears.

Oh yes, my heart's desired reach!
How often I in twilight went
Quiet and dark along your beach,
Wracked by a sacred deep intent1

Dear were the answers you would send,
Dim primal sounds, the chasm's call
The silences of eveningfall
And those impulsive flights of wind.

The humble sail of fishers' slips,
With the protection of your mood,
Bravely amid your watertips,
But you, a Titan unsubdued,
Roll rough and drown a herd of ships.

'Twas not my luck to leave the night
Fallen on this dry stirless shore,
To greet you, raptured into light,
And make my grand poetic flight
Across your crests forevermore

You called... I was enthralled aground. 
Vainly my heart in shackles strained.
By spells of potent passion bound
Beside the beaches I remained.

What's to regret? Toward what far shoal
Could I my madcap voyage chart?
In all your open wilds, one goal
Could still have power to strike my heart,

One cliff...that sepulcher of glory
There a chill slumber in the west
Whelmed memories of a mighty story...
There was Napoleon felled to rest.

There rested he in tribulations.
And, after him as thunder, rolls
Yet one more genius of the nations,
One more commander of our souls2

Leaving the world his wreath forever
He vanished, grieved by liberty.
Seethe! Sound! Blow wild with angry weather.
He was your one true bard, O Sea. 

In him your spirit wrought its mark,
In your own image was he framed
Like you was potent, deep and dark.
Like you, an element untamed.

The world's a void. Now in that cold
Whither, O Sea, would you with me?
In every land one fate takes hold: 
Each drop of virtue is patrolled
By technocrats...or tyranny3

So, Sea, farewell. I will recall
Your august splendor all my years.
Long shall your boom as evenings fall
Sound and resound within my ears.

To woods and hushful wastes, away
Imbued anew with you, I bring
Your gleam and shadow, cliff and bay,
And your dear waves' blue rumoring. 

1: A reference to Pushkin's plan (which ultimately never materialized) to escape Russia and head for western Europe via the Baltic. This idea is also alluded to in stanzas 6 and 7.
2: A reference to the poet Byron, who had died at Missolonghi earlier that year (1824.)
3: The original says "enlightenment" instead of "tecnhnocrats." The latter word didn't exist in Pushkin's time. Here Pushkin was using an instance of the old Romantic idea that "enlightenment" seen in western Europe as a herald of liberation was nothing more than tyranny in new garb. Pushkin's experience of this had to do with the way in which modernization and reform were being and had been implemented in Russia, being used to entrench power rather than challenge it. 

The Original:

К Морю
Александр Пушкин

Прощай, свободная стихия!
В последний раз передо мной
Ты катишь волны голубые
И блещешь гордою красой.

Как друга ропот заунывный,
Как зов его в прощальный час,
Твой грустный шум, твой шум призывный
Услышал я в последний раз.

Моей души предел желанный!
Как часто по брегам твоим
Бродил я тихий и туманный,
Заветным умыслом томим!

Как я любил твои отзывы,
Глухие звуки, бездны глас,
И тишину в вечерний час,
И своенравные порывы!

Смиренный парус рыбарей,
Твоею прихотью хранимый,
Скользит отважно средь зыбей:
Но ты взыграл, неодолимый,-
И стая тонет кораблей.

Не удалось навек оставить
Мне скучный, неподвижный брег,
Тебя восторгами поздравить
И по хребтам твоим направить
Мой поэтический побег.

Ты ждал, ты звал... я был окован;
Вотще рвалась душа моя:
Могучей страстью очарован,
У берегов остался я.

О чем жалеть? Куда бы ныне
Я путь беспечный устремил?
Один предмет в твоей пустыне
Мою бы душу поразил.

Одна скала, гробница славы...
Там погружались в хладный сон
Воспоминанья величавы:
Там угасал Наполеон.

Там он почил среди мучений.
И вслед за ним, как бури шум,
Другой от нас умчался гений,
Другой властитель наших дум.

Исчез, оплаканный свободой,
Оставя миру свой венец.
Шуми, взволнуйся непогодой:
Он был, о море, твой певец.

Твой образ был на нем означен,
Он духом создан был твоим:
Как ты, могущ, глубок и мрачен,
Как ты, ничем неукротим.

Мир опустел... Теперь куда же
Меня б ты вынес, океан?
Судьба людей повсюду та же:
Где капля блага, там на страже
Уж просвещенье иль тиран.

Прощай же, море! Не забуду
Твоей торжественной красы
И долго, долго слышать буду
Твой гул в вечерние часы.

В леса, в пустыни молчаливы
Перенесу, тобою полн,
Твои скалы, твои заливы,
И блеск, и тень, и говор волн.

1 comment:

  1. God damn, pal, you're a real pro in linguistics.