The Scythe, the Swath, and the Hired Men.

Alexander Anichkin (aka Sashura) at Tetradki has a wonderful post comparing three versions of a passage from Anna Karenina, giving the Russian followed by translations by Constance Garnett, Pevear/Volokhonsky, and Nathan Haskell Dole. I agree with Sashura that the Garnett is the best, which pleases me; I’m always defending Connie against the rote attacks leveled by people who believe the hype surrounding newer translations (which always start out attacking her, since she got there first and is still very popular). If you can deal with her slightly antiquated prose style, she’s a fine translator, accurate and conscientious (she checked with her authors to verify fine points when she could). But the fun is in the detailed choices the translators made, occasionally misguided — I particularly like Dole’s “my brother” for нашего брата (наш брат, literally ‘our brother,’ is used to mean ‘people like us, our sort,’ and it’s so common an expression that if you’re not familiar with it you really shouldn’t be translating Tolstoy), but the most hilarious error is definitely P/V’s “look at the hired men!” for “А вишь, подрядье-то!” (Garnett, as usual, gets it right with “But see the grass missed out!”; Sashura has a good, detailed explanation of the Russian word подрядье).

Comments

  1. Thanks! It’s only because I was scything myself that I noticed.

  2. You were scything yourself?! That’s gotta hurt.

  3. err, how do you say it? I myself was scything?

  4. David L says:

    Even for someone who knows no Russian this is fascinating. Garnett’s choice of “disconcerted,” rather than “embarrassed” or “confused,” seems much the best at capturing the feeling of someone who knows he’s being watched and judged.

    PV’s description of the grass as ‘low’ instead of ‘short’ sounds bizarre to me. On the other hand, their expression “he’s doing his best” is a more idiomatic English phrase than “does his best for himself” or “trying it for himself as hard as he can.”

    “But see the grass missed out” sounds awkward to me. Are the observers saying “look at how much grass he’s missed” or something along those lines?

  5. Sashura: I myself was scything is clearer in writing, but there’s nothing wrong with I was scything myself; Hat is just tweaking your finger. In speech, the two meanings are distinguished: the one you intended has sentence stress on myself, whereas the one Hat (pretended to) understand does not.

  6. err, how do you say it? I myself was scything?

    I was just being silly. JC explains it well; there was nothing at all wrong with what you wrote.

  7. “But see the grass missed out” sounds awkward to me. Are the observers saying “look at how much grass he’s missed” or something along those lines?

    Yes. As Sashura explains, the Russian word means ‘a patch of grass missed by the mower at each end of where he was swinging his scythe,’ and since we don’t have a word for that in English, you have to paraphrase. In modern US usage, we’d say “But look at the grass he missed”; “the grass missed out” is UK, though I’m not sure whether it’s current usage.

  8. I liked ‘disconcerted’ best too, but because I am not a native speaker I decided not to judge it.
    The grass missed out, I agree, is awkward. In the original Russian, the muzhiks are just pointing at the row of mowed grass, without specifying what’s wrong with Levin’s mowing. It could be messy, or some may have been left behind.

  9. But doesn’t подрядье specifically mean grass that didn’t get mowed?

  10. Michael L. says:

    Those unfamiliar with proper scything technique are in good company. I’m reminded of Pushkin’s well-known comment on Batiushkov’s poem “Vyzdorovlenie” (which begins, “Как ландыш под серпом убийственным жнеца/Склоняет голову и вянет…”). Pushkin notes, “Не под серпом, а под косою: ландыш растет в лугах и рощах — не на пашнях засеянных.” One wonders what Kol’tsov would have said about all of this.

  11. The way I understand podryadye, it is the edge, the end of the swaying movement of the mower. The scythe, as it cuts the grass, carries a mop of cut hay to the left, and when it sways back to the right the grass neatly drops off on the left edge, leaving the long row behind the mower. It is then left to dry and raked up by others, usually women, and later put up into piles for storage. These days it’s done in one day or two, and the hay is rolled up into bales, approximately 200 kg/400pounds in weight.

  12. pod – is under, ryad is row, so podryadye is ‘under the row’, end of the row, edge of the row.

  13. As someone who never even held a scythe in his hands, I want to opine that because for Levin the handle was too high, he could not to mow the grass close to his line of walking, leaving behind a strip by his side.

  14. Bathrobe says:

    The master, sure, does his best for himself!
    He’s the owner, never fear, he’s doing his best!
    The master is trying it for himself as hard as he can

    I’m not sure what the meaning is supposed to be here. Logically, it would seem that as he’s scything his own property he’ll do the best job he can. He’s doing his best doesn’t necessarily convey that nuance to me. “Doing his best” sounds like an excuse — he’s trying hard but can’t do any better, whereas the context suggests to me that he’s not going to do a shoddy job on his own property. Is that the correct meaning here?

  15. Bathrobe says:

    Behind him he heard voices
    Voices were heard behind him
    Voices were heard behind him

    Garnett’s version is more natural in English — always avoid the passive! — but implies that he heard every word. The other two versions are in the style of the ‘omniscient author’, suggesting that voices ‘were heard’, but not necessarily by Levin himself. Presumably, of course, he would have heard and understood what was being said.

    What is the story with Tit, Titus, and Sef?

  16. Bathrobe says:

    Finally:

    It sounds natural enough to me to say “Look, you missed out a bit there” or even “Look, you missed out on a bit there”. “You missed a bit there” is equally ok.

  17. (Bathrobe)
    “does his best for himself!”
    yes, that’s how I understood it, again Garnett comes out best. Thanks for pointing at this bit as well.

  18. (Bathrobe) “Behind him he heard voices” – I can’t agree more. Russian tends to use more passive forms but it doesn’t require passive in translation.
    “Look, you missed out a bit there” – Here, I think, Tolstoy simply conveys the colloquial speech of the peasants. It can mean both the missed grass and the general messiness of Levin’s mowing. I remember being told that the trick is have the scythe lay out the hay neatly, longwise so that it can dry better and be easy for the rakers to be turned, picked up and then stored in a стог (haystack).
    It’s not dissimilar to what modern farmers do on their tractors or gardeners on their ride-ons with largish lawns.

  19. Tit – Titus – Sef
    oh yes, I was waiting to ask about this too. Tit was a common Russian peasant-merchant class name in those days, presumably from the Eastern Church’s early preachers and saints, not Roman emperors. But why change it?

  20. Maybe Seth was a common name for peasants (or whatever the UK equivalent of peasants was in Dole’s day, 1852 – 1935), and he thought “Sef” was somehow an equivalent of Tit? Or maybe he thought Tit had unfortunate connotations in English and needed to be changed?

  21. Anna JP Phylactic-Shock says:

    When I first had a garden and a mortgage, and therefore couldn’t afford a lawnmower, I tried scything. It looks so easy but it’s a knack that takes time to acquire – I never did, and I wish I’d had Sash’s description twenty years ago. Sashura puts out lots of blogs in English and Russian, all of them very much worth reading. In particular, I recommend The Normandy Photo Journal, and in a side column at the top you can find a list of the others.

  22. Tit had unfortunate connotations in English and needed to be changed?

    That’s surely true for the P/V translation at least. I would have a lot of trouble reading it any other way.

  23. Titus
    When going through the list of Shakespearean names for a baby, the Titus problem was first pointed out to me. From flame to fire, as we, Russians, say. (из огня да в полымя)

  24. Thanks, Anna JP, your photography is even greater.

  25. I re-read AK last year and that passage has lingered in memory. I didn’t quite understand “подрядье” — thanks to Sashura for making it clearer. But what does “бывало” at the end of the passage refer to? To a period, it seems to me, that is firmly in the past, something that used to happen but not anymore. Does it mean “before 1861, under serfdom” and refer to барщина?

  26. That’s what I assumed; the novel takes place shortly after emancipation, so I figure he’s saying “back in the bad old days they’d beat us for that.”

  27. Titus itself has no such problems, because it has the PRICE vowel because English spelling rules, even though the vowel is short in Latin.

  28. John, it’s the tight-ass problem I am alluding too. As in Titusville PA, the birthplace of oil industry.

  29. Ah. It would never occur to me to merge TRAP and STRUT.

  30. Re бывало, I read it simply as ‘it happened’ or ‘we’d had it’ without necessarily the reference to serfdom but to the general brutality of rural life. A sloppy mower could easily get a punch or a smack on the communal field.

  31. Bathrobe says:

    It would never occur to me to merge TRAP and STRUT

    Not even as schwa?

  32. Like John, it would never occur to me to hear Titus as “tight-ass” (which can’t possibly have schwa as far as I’m aware).

  33. In AusE, BATH (as in arse) and STRUT differ only in length, so that’s natural for an Aussie.

  34. oh, how do you say it then?

  35. BATH = PALM is [a:], whereas STRUT is [a]; thus carp and cup differ only in length. (Not true in my conservative AmE, where PALM is [ɑ], BATH=TRAP is truly [æ], and STRUT is a slightly fronted version of [ʌ].)

  36. Huh. I assumed that the “tight ass problem” was a reference to anxiety about using the name “Tit”, not a problem with “Titus” itself.

    But even if one speaks a variety of English in which “Titus” is a homophone of “Tight Ass”, is that really a problem in the context of reading a Tolstoy translation? Would anybody read “Titus” and snigger to him- or herself, “He’s named Tight Ass!” (If so, surely one has only oneself to blame for sniggering in that situation.)

  37. Bathrobe says:

    so that’s natural for an Aussie

    Not at all. I personally would never merge them (length difference is significant). I think the relevant issue is not so much one concerning the quality of the vowel; it’s more whether the vowel could ever be destressed and replaced with an indeterminate one. If there are no examples of this in English then there is no reason to consider that ‘tight-ass’ might somehow be modified to ‘tightəs’. But if it were possible, the quality of the vowel would be irrelevant.

  38. Bathrobe says:

    OK, let’s go back to the original comment.

    It would never occur to me to merge TRAP and STRUT

    The main problem for me is that the pronunciation of the two words is:

    /’taitəs/ vs /taitæs/ or /taita:s/.

    There is no vowel for STRUT in ‘Titus’, i.e., it’s not pronounced /taitʌs/. Therefore, it’s not a merger between /æ/ and /ʌ/.

    To get a merger, all you would need to do is destress the ‘ass’ in ‘tightass’. Since this is not usual, then this is not a possible merger. But it’s a merger between /ə/ and /æ/, not /ʌ/ and /æ/.

  39. Yes, I had the same problem with JC’s comment.

  40. What can I say? For me the second vowel in Titus is unreduced and therefore STRUT. Not hugely different from CommA, I grant, but distinct nonetheless. “We called him Tortoise because he taught us” doesn’t work for me, but only because I’m rhotic, not because the vowels clash.

  41. I’ve heard jokes about “Titus” sounding like “tight ass” (mostly during the weeks in high school when I was carrying around a copy of Titus Groan). However, like John Cowan I personally have an unreduced STRUT vowel in the word.

  42. Bathrobe says:

    like John Cowan I personally have an unreduced STRUT vowel in the word

    Phonological dialect differences strike again!

  43. George Gibbard says:

    Aha! I never use an unstressed variant [əs] for [ɐs] ‘us’, although I’ve noticed older people doing so, including Steven Colbert. Meanwhile in Titus I would have [ˈtɐjɾəs], never [ˈtɐjɾɐs]. As for unstressed object pronouns, I notice my stepmother using [ðɛm] (born Chicago, 1944) in contexts where I (born Ann Arbor, 1979) would have to have [ðəm]. An entirely different issue is the Greek ending -on, as in criterion: [-an] in the US vs. [-ən] in Britain.

  44. George Gibbard says:

    I am aware of a stupid tradition of making fun of preachers who say [ˈdʒizɐs] instead of [ˈdʒisəs].

  45. George Gibbard says:

    oops, [ˈdʒizəs] for the supposedly ‘correct’ version.

  46. George Gibbard says:

    and possibly [ˈdʒiˌzɐs] for the version northerners deprecate. I think [ɐ] must have a secondary stress and [ə] must not.

  47. @Sahura: “A sloppy mower could easily get a punch or a smack on the communal field.” Sure but if it’s a communal field (or a meadow, rather), the punch would come from a fellow peasant. “За это нашего брата по горбу” implies that the kicker wasn’t one of “the fellows” but perhaps an overseer working for the master. In this context, Levin is the master so he can scythe as he pleases – unlike the peasants. For the contrast to work, either the men should feel they are not the true owners of communal property, or they should be hired hands, formerly serfs.

  48. An entirely different issue is the Greek ending -on, as in criterion: [-an] in the US vs. [-ən] in Britain.

    You might want to recheck your sources for that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard criterion with [-an] in the US (or elsewhere, for that matter); my own experience (and memory of it) doesn’t mean much, of course, but both M-W and AHD mention only the [-ən] pronunciation, so I think I’m pretty safe in asserting it is the standard US one.

  49. I haven’t noticed other Americans using an unreduced vowel in the last syllable of criterion. Of course a lot of them use criteria as a singular. There is definitely a similar US-UK difference for the last syllable of python, though. Weirdly, colon and condom seem to go the other way, with schwa in the US and an unreduced vowel in the UK.

  50. I haven’t noticed other Americans using an unreduced vowel in the last syllable of criterion. Of course a lot of them use criteria as a singular.

    So do a lot of Brits, judging by the warning in the Concise Oxford (“it is a common mistake to use criteria as if it were a singular, as in a further criteria needs to be considered“).

  51. George Gibbard: “Secondary stress” is just another way of saying “unstressed but unreduced”, at least in English.

    Keith Ivey: My father, born in the Irish ghetto in Philadelphia in 1904, said condom with STRUT and schwa, which seems to be historically correct.

  52. Rodger C says:

    I’ve sometimes heard phenomenon with unreduced -on, but I think that’s probably via the influence of the other o in the word, and/or to avoid a difficult pileup of nasals.

    I tend to use a reduced vowel in -on to reflect omicron and an unreduced one to reflect omega, but I suspect that’s just some unaccountable notion I picked up.

  53. Bathrobe says:

    I’ve sometimes heard phenomenon with unreduced -on

    My usual pronunciation.

  54. Bathrobe says:

    Oops, no, not my usual pronunciation. But yes, I’ve heard it, too.

  55. That pronunciation always makes me think of “Manamana.”

  56. George Gibbard says:

    I think I learned [kɹɐjˈtiɹiˌan] from my mother, and I never realized this was not the majority pronunciation. It seems to fit a general pattern: neon, Krypton, eon, moron, omicron, Lebanon, Huron all end in [ˌan] around here, as well as the previously mentioned python and phenomenon.

    Possibly, my mother got it from her mother, a Latin professor who spent almost her whole life in Indiana and Michigan. She had definite prescriptive ideas about pronouncing things, for example when I was little she told me not to pronounce dinosaur to rhyme with more, although I don’t recall exactly how she wanted it to sound.

  57. I say phenomenon with final LOT, but criterion with final schwa.

  58. I say neon, Krypton, eon, moron, omicron, Lebanon, Huron, python, phenomenon all with LOT, but criterion with schwa.

  59. +1 on all but python, which is schwa, perhaps due to Monty Python (which of course is BrE).

  60. David Marjanović says:

    Titus itself has no such problems, because it has the PRICE vowel because English spelling rules, even though the vowel is short in Latin.

    …I only just noticed it’s short in German against pretty much the same spelling rule. In this one case, and not many others, the Latin teachers appear to have had a stronger lobby…

    From flame to fire

    Out of the frying pan and into the fire?

  61. That’s the English equivalent, but Sashura was literally translating the Russian (из огня да в полымя), which has a nice native Russian form полымя in place of the usual пламя ‘flame,’ which is borrowed from OCS.

  62. Escaping goblins to be caught by wolves, as they say in Middle-earth.

  63. Wikipedia lists Amazon, hexagon, melancholy,[68] octagon, paragon, pentagon, phenomenonA2, pythonA2

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