STARODUB.

In this thread Sashura convinced me to finish Astafyev’s short novel “Стародуб,” which I first rendered “The old oak” (which is what it looks like it means: стародуб [starodub] = старый ‘old’ + дуб ‘oak’) but was informed by MOCKBA that it actually refers to a flower, “an ephemeral spring yellow anemone (wind-flower), Adonis sibirica.” (You can see some nice pictures here.) I’ve now gotten halfway through; it’s a good story, and I’m glad I decided to go ahead with it. But I now realize how impossible it is to translate the flower’s name, and hence the title, in the context of the story; you’ll see why when you read the passage in which it’s introduced (original Russian below the cut; Faefan [a peasant form of the name Feofan = Theophanes] is the hunter who rescued the maimed child at the beginning and raised him as his own, “Stumpy” is my rendition of the name the villagers gave him, Култыш):

Once Faefan took Stumpy by the arm and brought him to a bare-topped hill that had worked itself free, egglike, of the taiga underwood at the mouth of the Izybash. Here the hunter showed the boy a flower with such a shaggy and aromatic stem that it seemed all the forest smells had soaked into it.
Starodub [Oldoak]!” said Faefan with unusual gentleness, and told his adopted son about how, long ago, there appeared in those parts a stern and steadfast people who did not bow their heads before anything. They had come from a place where oaks grew, where there were apple, pear, and cherry trees and no forests of Siberian pine or larch. They gave their own names to everything, and they named the most curative and beautiful flower in honor of their most beloved tree, the oak. In that way, this fragrant yellow flower became a constant, deathless remembrance of their own region, lost forever. The generations came and went, people died, those who had oppressed and been oppressed for their devotion to the old faith disappeared, but each spring, all over Siberia, the staroduby blazed up with their clear fire and dropped their seeds, so that the earth would never stop flowering, so that the heart of man would be filled with its juice and spirit/smell, and the memory of the region that gave birth to him would never decay.

It would be great if this flower were named “oldoak” in English, but since it’s not, there’s no way to render that passage without the kind of footnote or parenthetical explanation one hates to encumber fiction with.


The Russian:

Однажды взял за руку Култыша Фаефан и отвел на лысоглавый угор, что яйцом выпростался из таежной шубы в устье Изыбаша. Здесь охотник показал мальчонке цветок с таким мохнатым и духовитым стеблем, будто все лесные запахи впитались в него.
— Стародуб! — непривычно мягко произнес Фаефан и рассказал приемышу о том, как в давние-давние годы появились в этих краях суровые, ни перед чем не гнущиеся, стойкие люди. Они пришли оттуда, где росли дубы, где росли яблони, груши, вишни и не было кедрачей и лиственниц. Они всему дали свои названия, и самый целебный и красивый цветок назвали в честь любимого дерева — дуба. Так цветок этот желтый и духмяный сделался постоянной, неумираемой памятью о родном, навсегда потерянном крае. Сменялись поколения, умирали люди, исчезли те, кто притеснял и кого притесняли за приверженность к старой вере, но каждую весну зажигались ясным огнем по всей Сибири стародубы и роняли семена, чтобы никогда не переставала цвесть земля, чтобы сердце человека наполнялось соком и духом ее и не истлевала в нем память о том крае, который его родил.

Comments

  1. The one species of Adonis native to the British Isles is called “pheasant’s eye” because it’s red, like the spot around the eye of the pheasant. According to Wikipedia, the name pheasant’s-eye has been extended to other species in the genus, even if they’re not red. That’s a good example of the way that many plants have been given (by fiat) quite artificial “vernacular” names in English, often just translations of the Latin name. In my opinion, for example, the showy blue flower “Kalm’s lobelia”, Lobelia kalmii, deserves a better name.

  2. It’s a beautiful passage and a wonderful translation, which must have been difficult. So few elements, and such a complex entanglement of flower, soul, and people.
    I don’t see how the relationship between духовитый, духмяный, and дух could be rendered so simply in English.
    I don’t know how память could be translated either. When he talks of “clear fire,” it reminds me of a an eternal flame, but where you translate it “remembrance” and “memory” I can’t think of much better.

  3. I think that in a hypothetical English translation, Faefan would just say, We call it an oldoak-flower, and there will be no need for footnotes then. The relationship with old-order people will be left too (so I assume that my guess, about a name being transferred from a more modest Adonis vernalis from the oak-groves of Russia’s South, withstood the test).
    I still remember where I first saw the Siberian anemone (which my geobotany circle instructor reverently called by its scientific name Adonis rather than simply a windflower), and fell in the love with this tale of being loved, and dying young, without ever realizing then that there was also seduction and bloodstains in the legend. Maybe I should have mentioned Adonis on rio Wang when talking about the circles of the Pioneer Palace? Or about the bravado of being supposedly ready for the KGB torture and the Gulag camps?

  4. Plants and birds and animals are so vexing. The fact that 桐 /kiri/ and 藤 /fuji/ are, in English, “Paulownia” and “Wisteria” respectively is a real millstone around the neck of Classical-Japanese-in-English.
    I’m not sure that in cases like this you couldn’t get away with just calling it “oldoak” (or “old-oak” to be less in-your-face about the word coinage). It would be harder to justify inventing a new word for “rose” or “coconut” or whatever, but it doesn’t seem like this plant even *has* a common name in English. A “Note on botanical terminology” at the start of the book (which needn’t be comprehensive, could just outline your general approach and point to a rigorous glossary at the end) would satisfy me as a reader that you had done your duty as a translator.
    On the other hand it’s interesting how the need to use the word “Siberian pine” in English (it doesn’t seem to be in the Russian) is actually a very helpful signpost for readers like me who are only dimly aware of which kinds of trees grow where in Eurasia: oh, right, we’re talking about two entirely different climates here, one more temperate and one more Siberian.

  5. Er, to clarify: (1) “windflower” seems to be used for other flowers as well, so I don’t see it as a great choice on its own; and (2) the “Siberian” part of “Siberian pine” doesn’t seem to be explicitly in the Russian, so I’m assuming it’s a plant whose name in Russian is a single word (not mentioning Siberia) but which is known in English as “Siberian pine”.

  6. Lucy Kemnitzer says:

    If I came across the flower without any introduction I’d have called it “some kind of exotic buttercup/ranunculus thing.”

  7. I don’t know about elsewhere, but certainly in Europe the windflower is Anemone nemorosa, aka wood anemone. They are all over the woods and forests in a carpet for several weeks in the spring.

  8. Vesla: a good example of the way that many plants have been given (by fiat) quite artificial “vernacular” names in English, often just translations of the Latin name. In my opinion, for example, the showy blue flower “Kalm’s lobelia”, Lobelia kalmii, deserves a better name.
    Ridiculous. I don’t know what you mean by fiat, if anything it was the scientific Latin that was imposed by fiat, but there’s nothing to stop you starting your own language or providing a new set of names for the ones you object to.

  9. John Emerson says:

    Edward Shafer spent his career spotting things of this type in Chinese poetry. If you read about a “cold cicada”, for example, it’s not a cicada which cold, but a type of cicada. There’s also a kind of hawk whose name looks like a kind of wind, *feng, the full name of which which I’ve unfortunately forgotten. All kinds of thing that look like poeticisms or descriptions in Chinese poetry are actually the names specific species, minerals, flowers, resins, etc.

  10. I think that in a hypothetical English translation, Faefan would just say, We call it an oldoak-flower, and there will be no need for footnotes then.
    Excellent point, and if I were to translate the story that’s definitely how I’d do it.
    the “Siberian” part of “Siberian pine” doesn’t seem to be explicitly in the Russian, so I’m assuming it’s a plant whose name in Russian is a single word (not mentioning Siberia) but which is known in English as “Siberian pine”.
    Exactly right; a кедрач [kedrach] is a forest of what is known in English as Siberian pine (though the base word кедр [kedr] also means ‘cedar,’ and like our word is borrowed from Greek κέδρος).

  11. What is the deal with Russians and flowers?
    (I just read Zhivago for the first time.)

  12. “There’s also a kind of hawk whose name looks like a kind of wind, *feng, the full name of which which I’ve unfortunately forgotten. ”
    I remember Schafer dinning into our heads the differences between falcons and hawks and how much difference this could make in the imagery of a poem.
    “All kinds of thing that look like poeticisms or descriptions in Chinese poetry are actually the names specific species, minerals, flowers, resins, etc.”
    It’s probably ture for all languages, and especially for flowers. i remember a hilarious piece eyars ago called “Love and the Language of Flowers” or something on that order that just went throguh the normal and quite loopy names of various flowers to dsicuss difenrent aspects of love. I was in tears by the end.
    As for problems in translation – oyu already get this kind of thing within english. British flowers we have no familiarity with have odd names – cowslip, cows-lip? – (of course that one is familiar, just under a more sensible name). And I wonder what a British reader would make of skunk cabbage or inside-out flower, or even poison oak.

  13. I like giving local plants Russian names myself, it indeed feels as a part of keeping in touch with the roots. Internalizing the strange world of nature. My favs are thimbleberry -> наперстника grouseberry-> тетеревика or alpine false wintergreen -> горная зимолюбка

  14. It’s to avoid Ambiguities like “cold cicada” that the official Common Names of Birds and other Wildlife are nowadays generally Capitalized, as in Red-winged Blackbird; red-winged blackbird and red-winged black bird would each mean Something Else.
    Linnaean names of both Species and other Taxa are also Capitalized, with the Exception of the Specific and Subspecific Epithets, thus we belong to the Genus Homo and the Species Homo sapiens (sapiens), not homo sapiens (sapiens) nor Homo Sapiens (Sapiens).

  15. Love and the Language of Flowers
    Not really the same thing, but the Language of Flowers as love symbols that was all the rage of Europe in the 18th and 19th Centuries is based on a sort of Turkish equivalent of Cockney rhyming slang (selam). A major power in introducing it was Lady Montagu, though, as Lane points out, she was proceeded by du Vignau. Specimen of a Dictionary.

  16. Err, preceded.

  17. Reminds me of when one of Haruki Murakami’s Russian translators rendered “spider monkey” (クモザル, lit. “spider monkey”) as обезьянтул, thinking that Murakami had invented a fantastical beast that’s a combination of a spider and a monkey (обезьяна + тарантул).

  18. Thanks MMcM! Same flower rhymes link in Google books for those whose networks disallow archive.org like mine does.
    So which flower is sari? Is it a wild lily like Russian saranka?

  19. I used the Internet Archive for those who can’t get Google Books. I guess there’s no winning.
    They aren’t all flowers there. Sarı is just ‘yellow’, I think.
    Wikipedia’s Language of flowers links to a page that I’m not sure gets that Les fleurs animées was a satire of all this, as, of course, BibliOdyssey did.

  20. Sure enough, wiki page has our signature anemone for the hopes lost. And a few other yellow flowers.
    I’m still cross at these guys for breaking a toilet bowl in my flat which they rented for pittance, but anyway theirs is the best contemporary reference for the Russian flower divining: white rose for the first meeting, red rose for love, yellow rose for parting ways

  21. I think that in a hypothetical English translation, Faefan would just say, We call it an oldoak-flower
    or even simply starodub (doob?). Either way it’s probably best – and safe – to introduce the original Russian name, because, first, Astafyev himself gives it a long description and explains how it came to have that name, and second, because the name of the flower plays with other words and its symbolism ties the whole story.
    Kedr, Siberian pine/cedar, is the source of pine nuts, a snack on its own and giving delicious twist when added to soups, salads and baked dishes. My Siberian relatives used, as a special delicacy, to send cones which me and my grandmother in Moscow peeled to get the nuts. I see them now in shops, expensively priced and marked, to my surprise, as ‘made in China’.

  22. Cedars are revered in the Bible (and it’s interesting that a cult of cedar, just as the cult of anemone, emerged from the mountains of Lebanon) and perhaps it’s not surprising that many regions settled by exiled fundamentalist sectants have their own “designated cedar species” … evergreens of various types which do not have much common, biologically, with the cedar of Lebanon.
    In Siberia, the “folk cedar” is a pine, and in the Rocky Mountains, it’s a juniper tree (after which the Mormon stronghold of Cedar City UT has been named).
    There is a lovingly landscaped park in Israel, Neot Kedumim, devoted to the botany of the Bible, every plant with its plaque with a quote. Interestingly, the kalaniyot anemone (easily the most beloved wildflower of Israel) isn’t among the plants of Neot Kedumim … far too pagan to be mentioned.

  23. In the US it seems that the various “folk cedars” are all in the cypress family: some in the genus of junipers, others in the genus Thuja. If you buy “cedar” at a lumberyard, I believe it is Western Red Cedar a.k.a. Thuja plicata.
    Plants named in the Bible: In some cases scholars are still uncertain as to what’s what. The Rose of Sharon is the famous example.

  24. Thanks, Ø! The Rose of Sharon is one more example of too-good-a-name-to-give-up, transferred to many flowers of different lands in the post-KJB times.
    The other example which surprised me more when we visited Neot Kedumim is the sycamore. The name designates much-beloved plane tree species in the US, but apparently it is used for an oak species in the British Isles, while the “original sycamore” is a not-so-mighty variety of a fig (which the plaques in the park identified with a quotation making it clear that it wasn’t the best fig fruit in the Israelites’ opinion)

  25. (Not oak but maple, I think.)

  26. More yellow plants questions!
    A recent discussion on Poemas del río Wang
    blog
    , ponders the origin of Spanish amarillo. One suggestion was that it is related to It. amarellino “peach” (is it really?) or to Middle Latin form amarellus “bitter” (botanically peaches and bitter almonds are very close relatives btw) … also on the web sources link it to Arabic anbar “amber”, or to Greek ἀμαρύσσω (Latin amarysso) meaning “to sparkle”?

  27. marie-lucie says:

    Latin amarellus is a derivative of amarus ‘bitter’ (hence Spanish amaro, French amer, among other descendants). The semantic link between ‘yellow, reddish, bright’ and ‘bitter, bad’ also exists in some Native American languages. The root for such words (not the same as the Latin one) is also often used in the words for ‘copper’, since raw copper (nuggets of which are found on the ground in some places) has an acrid smell. In other languages, ‘bile’ is the prototype of bitterness. The bad smell or taste seems to be the original meaning, the colour term results from a later evolution, from the visual appearance of the bad-smelling or bad-tasting substance.
    Peaches are not bitter, and they are not always yellow, but the almond-like nut inside the pit contains a small amount of cyanide, as do bitter almonds, which are bitter because of it.
    I have not tried to verify the etymologies, but I doubt that Arabic anbar is involved, since the very common assimilation of n to m before b would have occurred in Latin (as for instance in imbibere ‘to imbibe’ from in-bibere, literally ‘in-drink’). The sequence -mb- would have remained in the descendant languages, which would all have preserved the stem ambr- not amar- for the words for ‘yellow’ if they derived from the Arabic word.

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Actually, the English word “yellow” is related to the word “gall” meaning ‘bile’ (as in “gallbladder”), as well as to the word “gold”, and the Italian “giallo” (pronounced ‘jallo’, meaning ‘yellow’) derives from an old borrowing from the Germanic ancestor of “yellow”, “gall” and “gold”.

  29. Thanks, Marie-Licie! Studiolum also shared a link to Hispanoteca where they argue against the “amber hypothesis” because “MB’s”, even when they are lost in Castellano, would have been preserved in Portuguese:
    lamer, en portugués lamber, paloma, en portugués palomba
    The link between “yellow” and “bitter”, through the notion of bile, isn’t surprising to me at all. It exists in my native Russian too. But the proto-Indoeuropean root “ghel” for yellow / green / sometimes gray has so many “color” branches that it makes me think that the color came first, and taste later. In Russian alone, there are both Slavic words желтый, зеленый, золото, зола (yellow, green, gold, ash) and borrowed words from other IE languages from Greek to Farsi (хлор green [gas], жердели yellow [apricots]).
    So it surprises me that the meaning would travel from taste to color, rather than the other way around. And most words for basic colors are remarkably durable in language evolution. It would have required a special circumstance IMVHO for the Latin word for yellow to be replaced? Although again there is a surprising example in my own language, where a word for “red” ended up completely substituted in ca. XIVth c.

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