Back in December I posted about the wild-and-woolly early poetry of Pasternak; I’ve continued reading him in order, and having finished the masterpiece My Sister, Life (1922), I want to focus on the last two stanzas of the last poem in that amazing book, “Конец,” “The End” — of both the book and the love affair it recounts, that blazed up in the summer of 1917 and fizzled out in the fall. (Not that the first stanza is any easier; how do you translate “разгуливать,” in the very first line?) Here is the original:
Познакомь меня с кем-нибудь из вскормленных,
Как они, страдой южных нив,
Пустырей и ржи.
Но с оскоминой, но с оцепененьем, с комьями
В горле, но с тоской стольких слов
Here’s a transliteration, with stress marked only when it’s not on the penult:
Poznakóm’ menyá s kém-nibud’ iz vskórmlennykh,
Kak oní, stradói yuzhnykh niv,
Pustyréi i rzhi.
No s oskóminoi, no s otsepenen’em, s kóm’yami
V gorle, no s toskói stol’kikh slov
Note the complex pattern of assonances: -KOM menya, s KEM-nibud’, -sKORMlennykh, -KOMinoi, s KOM’yami; straDOI, pustyREI, s tosKOI, STOL’kikh… Here’s a literal translation:
Introduce me to someone from those raised,
Like them, on the harvest labor of southern fields,
Wastelands and rye.
But with the bitter taste, but with the stupor, with the lumps
In the throat, but with the pangs of so many words,
You get tired of being on friendly terms.
That doesn’t sound like poetry, and it’s not meant to; the only poetic translation I’ve been able to find, by James E. Falen, renders those stanzas:
Acquaint me with one who was nurtured, as they,
By the labors of southern fields,
Of wastelands and rye.
But this bitter taste, this stupefied heart, these lumps
In the throat, the anguish of words. . . .
One longs for an end.
That rolls along more mellifluously, but it’s still not really poetry, to my taste, and the last line is just ridiculous, corresponding to nothing in the Russian. Here’s a couple of English stanzas that, while having nothing to do with the original semantically, attempt to give some idea of the sound play:
It’s as common as camping, or as cormorants,
Like a knee that straddles your knees,
It’s a ray of the sea.
Not as communist, not as some paynim, as companies
Quarterly, not as coy stalks; as love
You stay all too sweet.
I can knock that doggerel off in a few minutes, but I couldn’t English the poem in a million years. Pasternak boils down the resources of Russian too idiosyncratically and completely; there’s not enough that can be carried over in the leaky bucket of translation.