Balmont’s Ozymandias.

Via Anatoly’s parody, I discovered Konstantin Balmont‘s 1890s translation of what is probably Shelley‘s most famous poem, “Ozymandias“:

Я встретил путника; он шёл из стран далёких
И мне сказал: вдали, где вечность сторожит
Пустыни тишину, среди песков глубоких
Обломок статуи распавшейся лежит.

Из полустёртых черт сквозит надменный пламень,
Желанье заставлять весь мир себе служить;
Ваятель опытный вложил в бездушный камень
Те страсти, что могли столетья пережить.

И сохранил слова обломок изваянья: —
«Я — Озимандия, я — мощный царь царей!
Взгляните на мои великие деянья,
Владыки всех времён, всех стран и всех морей!»

Кругом нет ничего… Глубокое молчанье…
Пустыня мёртвая… И небеса над ней…

I like it a lot — it’s not “faithful,” but it carries across what’s vital — so I thought I’d pass it along.

Comments

  1. Steve Reilly says:

    Interesting. I can’t read Russian but it looks like he regularized the rhyme scheme into a Shakespearean sonnet. Those last two lines are considered rhymes in Russian, right?

  2. Nope, it’s ABAB CDCD EFEF EF.

  3. Looking at GT, it does seem quite faithful to me.

  4. Well, it all depends how you look at it. It’s not one of Lowell’s “imitations,” to be sure, but Shelley doesn’t say anything about “rulers of all times, lands, and seas” or the skies above the dead wilderness.

  5. I am in no position to comment on Shelley’s sonnet, but Balmont’s version is somewhat archaised and poeticized, to what purpose I’ve no idea, but find it annoying.

  6. I can easily imagine finding it annoying, but for whatever reason I don’t.

  7. Shelley’s vocabulary and syntax are archaic and poeticizing too, which was pretty standard for him and 19C poetry generally. For example, his ode “To a Skylark” begins “Hail to thee, blithe spirit! / Bird thou never wert”, some two centuries after the fall of the second person singular. Specific instances in “Ozymandias”, at least from a 21C American perspective:

    visage for face;

    the use of survive transitively to mean ‘outlive’, now used (I think) only in legal or quasi-legal language, which causes moderns to not understand the syntactic role of its object “the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed [them]“;

    the use of mocked to mean ‘created, crafted’, though mockup is still in use, and Shelley is punning on the modern sense ‘made fun of’ as well.

  8. the use of mocked to mean ‘created, crafted’, though mockup is still in use

    Is this a form of ‘make’?

    The AHD notes only the meanings of ridicule and imitate for mock. It lists mockup but without an etymology.

    Skeat knows ‘mock’ only as the AHD knows it.

  9. marie-lucie says:

    The English verb mock is attested much later (1500′s) than the French verb moquer (1200′s “to joke (about s.)”), soon used only with the reflexive pronoun in se moquer de ‘to mock (s.)’ (TLFI). The French verb also has the derivatives moqueur ‘(person, tone of voice, etc) mocking’; cf oiseau-moqueur ‘mockingbird’) and (la) moquerie ‘act or result of mocking’. Possible cognates in related languages are Venitian mocar ‘to mock’ and Piemontese moca ‘(jokingly distorted) face’ (as in ‘to make a face’). A link with Greek moko is considered improbable.

    The TFLI gives the origin of the [mok| stem as ‘obscure’, possibly from a root *mokk-. Geminates in the middle of a word often had emotional overtones in Latin and Germanic.

    It seems to me quite likely that the English word was originally borrowed from French and later evolved into another semantic direction: there is apparently no trace of a meaning ‘create’, etc in French, and the Italian dialectal forms seem hardly compatible with this meaning.

  10. Yes, I should have said ‘imitate’ rather than ‘create’; that was a brain fart. In addition, the ‘make fun of’ sense is actually older. Mock is common Western Romance, but without a known etymology. Quoth the OED:

    Anglo-Norman moker and Middle French mocquer, moquer (late 12th cent. in Old French in sense ‘to make fun of, tease’; late 13th cent. in construction soi moquer de ‘to attach no importance to, despise, scorn, spurn, ignore’; 1509 in Middle French as estre mocqué in sense ‘to be deceived, deluded’; French se moquer (de) probably < an expressive or imitative base form (see further Französisches Etymol. Wörterbuch s.v. mokk-).

    Compare Old Occitan mochar (14th cent.), Italian regional (Venice) mocar ‘to mock, speak useless words’, also Spanish mueca ‘mock, jest, mockery’ (1514), ‘grimace’ (16th cent.), Portuguese moca ‘derision’ (18th cent.), Italian regional moca ‘unnecessary talk’. Compare also (< French) German sich mokieren (1703), Swedish mokera sig.

    A connection with classical Latin exmuccāre ['to remove slime from' esp. 'a penis'] is now usually rejected, as is a possible Germanic etymology [they don't say what it was].

    As for mockup, it’s just a nominalization of mock up ‘create an imitation of’.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Merci JC.

    As for mockup, it’s just a nominalization of mock up ‘create an imitation of’ … and “imitate” is the operative word, rather than “create”.

    Correction: Since it is not possible to copy and paste from the TLFI, I think I wrote the wrong definition for the Venitian form. JC’s is the correct one.

  12. Actually, it is possible, depending on your browser. I have no trouble in Google Chrome.

  13. marie-lucie says:

    JC, Thanks, I have heard good things about Google Chrome. I will have to investigate whether I can use it on my (now ancient) computer. (I am trying to avoid buying a new one).

  14. Balmont’s version is in Alexandrine, probably the perfect meter for rendering ancient inscriptions into Russian. It’s not that archaizing for the 1890s – definitely not unduly so: I don’t see any Church Slavonicisms, the principal device for that in Russian. Shelley’s original is also less archaic than, say, lines 5-10 of Keats’ Ode to the Nightingale or stanza 4 of Byron’s “Stanzas to Augusta” or his lamentations in “Fare thee well”.

    Bryusov seems to have followed up on Balmont’s Ozymandias with this “Esarhaddon” (Ассаргадон).

  15. Stefan Holm says:

    FWIW there is a Swedish verb mucka (dialectal mocka) meaning ’protest’, ’oppose’, ’quarrel’, ‘carp’ and particularly in the common expression mucka gräl, ‘provoke a quarrel’. Swedish Academy’s Wordbook compares with Danish and Norwegian mukke, says that it probably comes from Low German mucken, in turn from a Gmc root *muk(k), related to Latin mugire, ‘bellow’, and Sanskrit mojati, ’provide a sound’, ultimately onomatopoeic.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    SH, that seems plausible. Many fights start with one person making insulting jokes about another.

    a Gmc root *muk(k), related to Latin mugire, ‘bellow’

    French mugir is a direct borrowing from Latin, and its use is rather literary, but the bellowing of a cow is described by the verb meugler (OF mugler). French cows say meuh not “moo”. The TLFI relates meugler to the Latin derivative mugilare, but the natural evolution of this word would be more likely to be muiller (and OF had mullier). Mugler, later reformed as meugler, probably to make it more onomatopeic, looks like a learned formation from mugilare.

    The verb has a less ancient variant beugler, also onomatopeic, perhaps influenced by the word bœuf ‘ox’.

  17. Listening to these cows, I have to agree that meuh is an excellent representation of what they are saying. I’ve often thought that the inherited English representations of animal sounds are very inferior to their counterparts in other languages. German kikikeriki is much more like a rooster’s crow than cock-a-doodle-doo, which is absurdly over-specific.

  18. French cows say meuh

    Do they have discernible dialects? As in, say, langue de boeuf and langue de vache?

  19. marie-lucie says:

    langue de vache

    “Dialects” (as discussed a few years ago on the BBC), I don’t know, but just like different breeds of dogs have different barks, it is possible that different breeds of cows have slightly different meuhs.

  20. There was a cow pastured near Verdun whose dialect was particularly influential; she was known as the “muse of the Meuse.”

  21. marie-lucie says:

    Meuh!

  22. “muse of the Meuse.”

    That’s risible.

  23. Balmont translates “Look on my works ye mighty . . . ” but he doesn’t manage to capture the ironic ambiguity of “. . . and despair.”

  24. “And despair” in Shelley’s original is important. Without it the poem is merely about the futility and emptiness of Ozymandias’ arrogant boast. “And despair” shifts the focus to all the mighty of this world: it’s they who should despair, not because they will never be able to emulate Ozymandias’ works (as Ozymandias thought), but because their efforts to do so will come to naught just as Ozymandias’ works have. “And despair” transforms the poem from a not very interesting particular instance of the arrogance of power to a universal generality. Perhaps this is latent in Balmont’s translation, but Shelley drives the point home forcefully with an unforgettable verse.

  25. Horace Smith’s companion sonnet is not as well known as Shelley’s (although I actually like it better). Smith is much more explicit about the fact that the creations of the modern world can be just as ephemeral as those of ancient Egypt, ending the poem with a post-apocalyptic scene:

    In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
    Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
    The only shadow that the Desert knows:—
    “I am great OZYMANDIAS,” saith the stone,
    “The King of Kings; this mighty City shows
    “The wonders of my hand.”— The City’s gone,—
    Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose
    The site of this forgotten Babylon.
    We wonder,—and some Hunter may express
    Wonder like ours, when thro’ the wilderness
    Where London stood, holding the Wolf in chace,
    He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
    What powerful but unrecorded race
    Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

  26. I like Smith’s poem too, but I feel like it’s something I could have written myself. No chance of that with Shelley’s! Taking the two together makes clear the difference between someone who can make verses and someone who is a poet.

    I had the idea at one time of exhibiting a quadrature of Shelley’s Ozymandias, Smith’s Ozymandias, Lazarus’s New Colossus, and a fourth poem to be written by myself. Two poets, two versifiers. :-) Of course, in order to do that, I have to actually finish the durn thing. I would say “Watch this space” but I’d feel like a hypocrite.

    Here’s “The New Colossus” for those of you who don’t know it, or know only a small part of it:

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
    With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

  27. “Smith is much more explicit about the fact that the creations of the modern world can be just as ephemeral as those of ancient Egypt, ending the poem with a post-apocalyptic scene”

    For me, the Sheeley poem is much better, precisely because it doesn’t mention specific places and doesn’t make the point about the ephemerality of modern civilization explicitly–it rises to a transcendental, universal level.

    The idea of the wolf (an exterminated creature in England) in the City (Smith apparently was a banker) is a nice touch.

  28. Back to Balmont. I re-read it several times and see now that the most unfortunate feature is his use of poetic cliches — вечность сторожит пустыни тишину, бездушный камень, пустыня мёртвая, ваятель опытный. It also has an unfortunate feature of giving away the punchline (which might or might not be Shelley’s problem too). We are already told in the first stanza that there is a desert with a lot of sand and eternity is standing watch-guard over its silence. Well then, what’s unexpected in the conclusion?

    On the other note, both Shelley and Balmont write that “its sculptor well those passions read
    which yet survive”. That is, the empires are crushed, but the art persists. Ars longa, vita brevis. But also that we apparently are able to communicate and understand passions of people after so many centuries when almost all the material things disappear (we still need at least a “shattered visage”). It is a surprisingly optimistic message, but it seems to be almost completely subsumed by the larger narrative about arrogance of power.

  29. This is too explicit:

    Желанье заставлять весь мир себе служить;

    Shelley tells us more about what goes on in Ozymandias’ mind by involving us in the dynamic between the ruler and the sculptor.

    “Ars longa, vita brevis. . . . It is a surprisingly optimistic message, but it seems to be almost completely subsumed by the larger narrative about arrogance of power.”

    They are complementary.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Taking the two together makes clear the difference between someone who can make verses and someone who is a poet.

    That’s exactly what I thought after reading the two. Smith’s description and the final image are good, but they would be just as good as prose.

    the wolf in the annihilated city

    This image called back a personal memory. I am not terribly fond of jewelry, but some years ago I bought a metal brooch in a gallery store, which was almost an illustration of that final image: the background suggested a nightscape of skyscrapers, with a moon, and the foreground showed three tiny wolves, running through the darkened and probably doomed city. I was very fond of that brooch, which I kept on the lapel of my favourite jacket, but one day it disappeared – probably stolen from the jacket after I had taken it off and hung it up in someone else’s house. I did not realize the loss right away, and so it was gone for ever.

  31. @Bill W: To me, the name Ozymandias fixes the statue’s location immediately; I don’t see the generality you do in Shelley’s version. The fact that the location is otherwise specified may also be why I don’t like Shelley’s first line very much. Actually, I don’t really care for the last three lines either. “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” is very powerful, and I always thought the poem ought to end on that line. It’s no surprise by that point in the poem that there’s nothing else to be seen around the ruined statue.

    @marie-lucie: That sounds like a wonderful brooch. My wife does is not very interested in jewelry either, but a piece like that is something she would really appreciate. I’m so sorry you lost possession of it.

  32. marie-lucie says:

    Thank you, Brett.

  33. We are already told in the first stanza that there is a desert with a lot of sand and eternity is standing watch-guard over its silence. Well then, what’s unexpected in the conclusion?

    wouldn’t expect to find an old well, a quaint oasis, some holdover from the times gone by? At least some night spirits? Deserts are full of life, especially after sundown. So the conclusion of total nothing-ness isn’t 100% expected.

  34. That would be much, much better ending! The empire crumbled, no great deeds are visible, but life goes by. Ozymandias is not only failed to build an enduring state, but even its destruction was not a big deal. Definitely, a missed opportunity. But, alas, вечность сторожит пустыни тишину, does not allow for any of these nice things you mention.

  35. No one seems to like Shelley’s poem, but I think it’s superb.

    “We are already told in the first stanza that there is a desert with a lot of sand and eternity is standing watch-guard over its silence. Well then, what’s unexpected in the conclusion?”

    The first stanza focuses in on the ruins: it situates them in the desert but doesn’t say anything about a lot of sand and eternity. The final couplet zooms out to survey the whole landscape and puts the ruins in a broader perspective, where they are diminished to the point of vanishing.

    “Life goes on” would be a cheap and sentimental way to end this poem. D.O. hit on a key point, though: all that remains of Ozymandias is the sculptor’s art–his ability to capture in stone Ozymandias’ fatuous arrogance. This point isn’t made by an explicit statement, but rather by focusing on the shattered visage itself, which brings back to life the the dynamic between the sculptor and Ozymandias. In the sculptor’s handiwork, Ozymandias’ passions outlive both the sculptor and Ozymandias himself (“the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed”). As discussed above, “mocked” is pointedly. ambiguous.

    “In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
    Stands a gigantic Leg,”

    This is almost unintentionally comic.

    “Владыки всех времён, всех стран и всех морей!” Balmont has wasted this line, which corresponds to “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”, with fluffy filler. You would have thought that someone with Balmont’s facility (and his facility at writing verse is probably exactly why he doesn’t stand up to his contemporary Mandelstam–but who does?) could have given us something to at least come close to Shelley’s line.

  36. Speaking of Balmont, this poem is kind of corny but fun:

    Я мечтою ловил уходящие тени,
    Уходящие тени погасавшего дня,
    Я на башню всходил, и дрожали ступени,
    И дрожали ступени под ногой у меня.

    И чем выше я шел, тем ясней рисовались,
    Тем ясней рисовались очертанья вдали,
    И какие-то звуки вокруг раздавались,
    Вкруг меня раздавались от Небес и Земли.

    Чем я выше всходил, тем светлее сверкали,
    Тем светлее сверкали выси дремлющих гор,
    И сияньем прощальным как будто ласкали,
    Словно нежно ласкали отуманенный взор.

    А внизу подо мною уж ночь наступила,
    Уже ночь наступила для уснувшей Земли,
    Для меня же блистало дневное светило,
    Огневое светило догорало вдали.

    Я узнал, как ловить уходящие тени,
    Уходящие тени потускневшего дня,
    И все выше я шел, и дрожали ступени,
    И дрожали ступени под ногой у меня.

  37. No one seems to like Shelley’s poem, but I think it’s superb.

    Oh, so do I, and I think most people (at least poetry fans) agree; it’s natural that the dissenters are more likely to speak out.

  38. I do like Shelley’s poem. Lines 2 through 11 are amazingly put. However, I think the opening line is almost wasted, and the last three are weak. Smith’s “which far off throws// The only shadow that the Desert knows” I find to me a much more concise and evocative way of describing the flat emptiness of desert. (Also, I just cannot read “boundless” with the stress on the second syllable to make Shelley’s second-to-last line scan.)

  39. The equal of the Leg is to be found in the Rats. Stuffed owls remain stuffed whatever the century, but neither Smith nor Grainger really count as such, because their good-bad poems are written by people who really can’t do much better.

  40. Rodger C says:

    @Brett: It’s called an inverted foot.

  41. “boundless” with the stress on the second syllable

    No need for that! Even in fairly strict iambic pentameter, it’s typical to find a trochaic substitution at the beginning of the line (“Stand in the desert” and several others) or as in this case after a caesura, a “sense-pause”. More flexible kinds of blank verse, like Shakespeare’s, can even tolerate five trochaic substitutions for special effects, like Lear’s “Never, never, never, never, never.”

  42. ‘Smith’s “which far off throws// The only shadow that the Desert knows” I find to me a much more concise and evocative way of describing the flat emptiness of desert. ‘

    The flat emptiness of the desert is really irrelevant to the Smith poem. The sestet shifts to post-apocalyptic Britain, presumably not seen as an empty desert, and Smith doesn’t take the opportunity to draw a contrast between the desert environment of the ruined statue and the environment in which the hunter finds the ruins of London.

    In Shelley’s poem, the desert environment takes on symbolic weight, but only after he has focused on the statute. The introductory lines place the ruins in the desert, but the vast emptiness of the desert environment isn’t described at that point. (And the first line serves to distance the subject, without trivializing it too much by specifically mentioning Egypt. This could be the Assyrian or the Babylonian or, as the poem ultimately implies, the Roman or British or any other imperial venture, too.) It’s only in the final three lines that the point of view expands to take in the panorama of the enormous, flat wasteland surrounding the ruins–in my view, a perfect close.

    ‘I just cannot read “boundless” with the stress on the second syllable to make Shelley’s second-to-last line scan.’

    It’s a trochee, not an iamb, and it’s very effectively introduced to break up the underlying iambic pattern. Other examples: “Stand in the desert”, “Tell that its sculptor”, “stamped on these lifeless things”, “Look on my works”, “Nothing beside remains”, “Round the decay”. Smith does this, too: “Stands a gigantic Leg”, “I am great Ozymandias”, “Nought but the leg”, “Wonder like ours”, “holding the wolf”. If you read these as iambs, the result is ludicrous.

  43. My comment about “Boundless” was meant partially tongue in cheek. However, since we’re discussing it now…

    Obviously, a significant degree of flexibility is needed when following iambic patterns. Trying to force, “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun,” into the strictly metered rhythm sounds silly. Yet deviations like these, especially involving one-syllable words, do not break up the flow of the lines. However, some changes of meter are much more stark. I find it hard to quantify this, but I just can’t read it as anything other than, as Rodger C says, an inverted foot.

    The question then is whether this works, poetically. I don’t think Shelley’s “boundless” is especially bad, but the disruption, especially coming at the beginning of a sentence, is very severe, and I don’t feel it adds much the poem. There are other examples where breaking up the expected stress pattern is more successful, in my view. Near the end of Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant shifts the stresses of the lines several times, cleverly calling attention to the poem’s final advice about how to face death.

  44. Sorry, I didn’t mean “at the beginning of a sentence,” but rather “immediately after a comma.”

  45. That comma is there precisely to mark the caesura, which as I say is a standard place for an inversion, being a sort of lesser line beginning.

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