I wanted to bring jamessal’s mom a house gift when I arrived for the wedding, and I knew she loved Mandelstam, so I asked which poem she’d like me to translate for her. She requested “Бессонница. Гомер. Тугие паруса,” one of my own favorites; I’d wanted to translate it for a long time but never been able to come up with a decent rendition of the first line, so I hadn’t done anything with it. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to tackle it, so I spent the bus ride down working on it. I put down a literal “Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails” for the first line and figured something better would come to me later, but it never did. Since I like most of the rest of what I came up with, I thought I’d present it here in its present form (thus at least partially appeasing the hordes who keep clamoring for more Mandelstam) and see what people think. I’ve tried to preserve something of the majestic hexameter rhythm (though not the abba rhyme scheme), but the first line remains a rhythmless stub. So my first question is, can it survive as is, with the ellipses serving as silent placeholders for the missing feet, or do I need to pad it out with phrases like “with the wind” that aren’t in the Russian? And my second question is about the rendering of the final word, изголовью ‘(to the) head of the bed’: does “bed’s head” sound OK, or do I need to replace it with a less awkward-sounding if less accurate word like “bedside”? Any and all commentary is, of course, welcome. (The Russian is below the cut. I know there’s more repetition in my English than in the original, but Mandelstam used repetition freely, and it seemed better than semantic padding to make the rhythm work.)
Insomnia… Homer… taut sails.
To midpoint have I read the catalog of ships:
That long, that drawn-out brood, those cranes, a crane procession
That over Hellas rose how many years ago,
Cranes like a wedge of cranes aimed at an alien shore—
A godly foam spread out upon the heads of kings—
Where are you sailing to? If Helen were not there,
What would Troy be to you, mere Troy, Achaean men?
Both Homer and the sea—everything moves by love.
Who shall I listen to? Homer is silent now,
And a black sea, a noisy orator, resounds,
And with a grinding crash comes up to the bed’s head.
Бессонница. Гомер. Тугие паруса.
Я список кораблей прочел до середины:
Сей длинный выводок, сей поезд журавлиный,
Что над Элладою когда-то поднялся.
Как журавлиный клин в чужие рубежи—
На головах царей божественная пена—
Куда плывете вы? Когда бы не Елена,
Что Троя вам одна, ахейские мужи?
И море, и Гомер — всё движется любовью.
Кого же слушать мне? И вот Гомер молчит,
И море черное, витийствуя, шумит
И с тяжким грохотом подходит к изголовью.