UP OR DOWN.

Anatoly Vorobey’s latest post provides an excellent illustration of the mind’s way with language. There’s a poem by Bella Akhmadulina called Прощание (“Farewell” or “Parting”), with a musical setting by Andrei Petrov (you can hear it sung here by Valentina Ponomaryova), whose first stanza is:

А напоследок я скажу:
прощай, любить не обязуйся.
С ума схожу. Иль восхожу
к высокой степени безумства.
[And finally I'll say:
farewell, don't oblige yourself to love (me).
I'm going out of my mind. Or I'm rising
to a high degree of madness.]

Now, the expression “С ума схожу,” which I’ve translated idiomatically as “I’m going out of my mind,” literally means “I’m coming down from (my) mind,” so that “С ума схожу. Иль восхожу/ к высокой степени безумства” is a nice play on words: “I’m coming down from my mind/ or going up to a high degree of madness.” (You could try to reproduce the effect in English by saying “I’m going out of my mind or into a high degree of madness,” but it would sound forced.) But Anatoly—an extremely good reader who frequently ponders questions of language—just realized this; for many years, he says, he was irritated by the “or” in the third line: “I’m going crazy or I’m becoming mad,” what sense does that make? He writes “I completely failed to get [the play on words], because I took сходить с ума as an idiom and didn’t hear in it the literal sense of сходить [i.e., to go/come down, descend].” I imagine we’ve all had similar experiences.

Comments

  1. Farewell, and I want you to know:
    you’re freed from the duty to love.
    I’m losing my mind here below
    or rising to madness above.

  2. Nice! (It’s the new Noetica!)

  3. Wow! Great observation, and a wonderful translation. Yes I must admit that I dearly love the song and didn’t sense the juxtaposition of going up / going down *verbs*. But the “or” never irritated me because the juxtaposition between the lowly and the sublime is still born out by the rest of the two lines (the “down” part uses self-deprecating and almost vulgar language, while the “up” part is very refined and very proud).
    Thanks for this New Year gift and, Happy New Year all!

  4. one of my favorite! i tried to translate it too, once on fb, it must be was full of mistakes though, but fb just eats everything, have no idea where the link is cz cant locate it myself after all that conversion to this stupid timeline thing
    i liked more and the line caused the translation, the “i staikoyu naiskosok uhodyat zapahi i zvuki ..”
    reminded me how once i fainted, so it felt exactly like that, must be it feels like that when one is dying too

  5. What, has Noetica been the victim of a revolutionary outrage, that he should be thus exploded?

  6. No John, I survive unexploded. I saunter yet in the light.
    You want the full sixteen yards? Well, I had trouble finding an accurate text (is this one complete and correct?). And I’m not sure of some of the meanings (especially in stanza 3, for which I would welcome advice). But here goes:
    FAREWELL
    Farewell, and I want you to know:
    you’re freed from the duty to love.
    I’m losing my mind here below,
    or rising to madness above.
    You loved me? You took just a taste
    of ruin; no matter, but still –
    You loved? You destroyed me with haste.
    Destruction, but done without skill!
    Brutality fumbles … not right!
    Forgive you? Your body is left
    to saunter, and see the white light,
    while mine’s of all substance bereft.
    The small works of life I perform;
    my arms though fall weakened away.
    Like flocks unattended, forlorn,
    each fragrance and sound’s gone astray.
    ПРОЩАНИЕ
    А напоследок я скажу:
    прощай, любить не обязуйся.
    С ума схожу. Иль восхожу
    к высокой степени безумства.
    Как ты любил? Ты пригубил
    погибели. Не в этом дело.
    Как ты любил? Ты погубил,
    но погубил так неумело.
    Жестокость промаха … О, нет
    тебе прощенья. Живо тело,
    и бродит, видит белый свет,
    но тело мое опустело.
    Работу малую висок
    eще вершит. Но пали руки.
    И стайкою, наискосок,
    уходят запахи и звуки.
    At least I keep to an eight-syllable line; and the original rhyme scheme is preserved, with the pedantically exceptionable exception of “perform/forlorn”.
    Meh.

  7. great translation, Noetica!
    about the third stanza
    here i paste what i did, just word for word, so it doesnt sound any correct meter or rhythm and maybe it sounds too awkward in english, in the parentheses are the words that are omitted in russian, but they are there, as a part of the meaning of the phrase, so if the meaning is clear those words can be just omitted too
    ПРОЩАНИЕ. Farewell

    A напоследок я скажу:
 прощай, любить не обязуйся.
 С ума схожу. Иль восхожу
 к высокой степени безумства.
    And as an afterword I’ll say: farewell, don’t feel obliged to love. Am I descending from my mind. Or ascending to the highest degree of madness.
    Как ты любил? Ты пригубил
 погибели. Не в этом дело.
 Как ты любил? Ты погубил,
 но погубил так неумело.
    How did you love? You tasted just a bit of destruction. It doesn’t matter. How did you love? You destroyed (me), but you did destroy (me) so clumsily.
    Жестокость промаха … О, нет
 тебе прощенья. Живо тело,
 и бродит, видит белый свет,
 но тело мое опустело.
    Cruelty of missing the point…Oh, you won’t be forgiven. The body is still alive, it wanders, sees the white light (belui svet- the world), but the body mine is all empty.
    Работу малую висок
 eще вершит. Но пали руки.
 И стайкою, наискосок,
 уходят запахи и звуки.
    A little work the temple (bone area) still performs (the pulse). But the hands are fallen. And as a flock, diagonally, all the smells and sounds are going away.
    sorry, it doesnt sound anything like a poem, the translation, in russian it’s beautiful, thanks for reading!

  8. more like cruelty of missing the target, not the point, meaning not killing at once, but leaving it to die as Noetica says, that, bereft

  9. Novetiknoidika says:

    Read, thanks. That fills in some detail.
    Of course I should have noticed that LH linked the proper version of the poem. In some places it’s quite different, with repetition of the first stanza instead of a fresh fourth stanza, and so on.

  10. Нововведение says:

    So perhaps:
    Brutality fumbles … not right!
    Forgiveness? This body’s alive:
    it saunters, and sees the white light,
    but empty! Of substance bereft.
    Seems it is not clear from the Russian whether one body is spoken of, or two that are to be contrasted.
    And perhaps:
    The temples still pulse, and perform;
    but my arms, they fall weakened away.

    I suppose pulsing, or throbbing with life at all, has to be assumed. Then there is the inevitable choice to be made between arms and hands, right? Well, a collapse of the whole arms contrasts better with the throbbing in the preceding line, and suggests a more apt neuropathology.
    For the rest, what can I say? Get a Russian with a English-versification cortex grafted on. My particular thing is to rhyme where the original rhymes, with the same scheme. Anyone else? “Insomnia” redux, anyone?
    Мех?

  11. translating too literally is like deprecated, i know, i read the recent translation thread
    i dont aspire for translation of the poem poetically, the verb tenses must be are all messed up, the difference between pali-padali-upali for example is very clear for me in russian, but in english it is not so and choosing between arms and hands too, pogibel’ is more like death and dying than destruction maybe, visok the temple is singular there and in russian it sounds more like determinedly, one usually shoots not both temples, so it’s not viski, but the temple in english is first a structure and so on, so it’s just a crude podstrochnik
    nice that some details are clearer, N, and i hope to read many different versions too

  12. Do you think the poem is meant to evoke and answer Pushkin’s famous “Ia vas liubil, liubov’ eshche but’ mozhet…”?
    Both address the lost beloved with the same sentiment and perhaps with the same purpose (“I’m still in love with you, can’t you feel sorry for me and change your mind?” — though of course that never works in real life.)
    And one is more inclined to feel that Akhmadulina really meant it.
    I always suspected that, despite the protestations and the lovely poem, Pushkin was moving on to his next conquest before the ink was even dry….

  13. Noetica, welcome back and many happy returns of the season. The words are the words of Jacob, but (alas!) the meter is the meter of “I am monarch of all I survey / My right there is none to dispute / From the center all round to the sea / I am lord of the foul and the brute”, which by association of ideas (not meter) leads to “In the faraway kingdom of Salamasond / Yertle the Turtle was king of the pond”. Translators, treasoners.

  14. And when we part, | I will say then:
    Farewell, that you still love me do not say.
    I will into despair | descend,
    Or will ascend, foresaking all despair.
    Look what I found in Dante’s Paradiso (descend-ascend):
    Tu proverai sì come sa di sale
    lo pane altrui, e come è duro calle
    lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale.
    ‘You shall learn how salt is the taste
    of another man’s bread and how hard is the way,
    going down and then up another man’s stairs.
    Ты будешь знать, как горестен устам
    Чужой ломоть, как трудно на чужбине
    Сходить и восходить по ступеням.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Noetica, Bonne Année! I am glad to see you are rejoining the Hattery, in full form too. Looking forward to your renewed participation.

  16. The one up / down verse which instantly comes up in my mind may not be a profound poetry, but a great rythm to move your body to :) It’s called exactly like that, Al subir, al bajar
    … Tomo el ascensor sin respirar
    Al subir, al bajar,
    Siento el corazón que se me va
    Al subir, al bajar.

  17. Hey y’all, does iambic tetrameter sort of work for this poem? I used Novotnik and Read’s translations (and other comments) and took a shot at it:
    A postscript just to say: Goodbye,
    Love shouldn’t be an obligation.
    Now I am falling from my mind –
    Or is this madness elevation?
    What was that love of yours? You took
    A small bite of destruction…. Well….
    That love of yours destroyed me — look!
    You might have made a cleaner kill.
    How cruel it is to miss the mark!
    There’s no forgiveness. Living on,
    The body wanders, sees the light,
    But all that was in mine is gone.
    The pulse works feebly in the brow;
    The hands have dropped, their labor ceased.
    All smells and sounds are leaving now,
    Obliquely, like a flock of geese.

  18. O, well crafted! Adelfons, you spur me to try for pentameters (my native Doric). Coming soon.

  19. O, and of course I forgot:
    Yes, Happy New Year to all!

  20. Elizabeth Kendall says:

    This is great. I, who learned Russian orally, always loved to say “skhozhy suma,” or “sashla suma” because it sounded so strange and idiomatic. Very glad to have it parsed, via a wonderful stanza.

  21. great, now if to try the translated lyrics on the melody, how those fit, Sa’s first stanza is the most singable imo
    the postcript and geese only seem as if like problematic in A’s translation, to me, those are not in the original first of all, it’s rhyming with ceased so needs to be there, but as if like a bit too merry for the final thought that one would think, no?
    naposledok is not something written, it sounds something like as if on occasion to say something afterwards, one word and it gets to be explained by four-five!
    otherwise everything sounds very like the original, in feeling, thanks!

  22. Yes, the “geese” bit was too much, but I liked the image and the Ringoesque flourish. I’ll try the last verse again. Thanks!

  23. read, thanks,
    I’m up against a deadline but will try the rest later.

  24. That “geese” line is a perfect illustration of how a translator can fowl up.
    First line revised:
    And lastly I’ll just say: Goodbye
    Last verse, gooseless:
    The pulse works feebly in the brow;
    The hands have dropped, they’ve had their day.
    And all the smells and all the sounds
    Obliquely rise and flock away.
    Better? Suggestions? I don’t like “they’ve had their day”…. What about this:
    The pulse works feebly in the brow;
    The hands have dropped and ceased their art.
    And like a flock all smells and sounds
    Now rise obliquely and depart.
    …Maybe that’s no better.
    Novakita, good luck with the pentameter! Seems you’ll have to use some extra or high-dollar words to add so many feet.

  25. oh l love when people are receptive to my suggestions :)
    and i like the emoticon doesnt change into a yellow face automatically
    i like the art version, she uses rabotu maluyu ( little work) and vershit (as if in to decide fates and destinies, to sorcer something like feeling of doing something, the court decision etc) a bit like similarly to hands ceasing their art

  26. but the thing is, in english it could sound as if like a parodie like, the language seems is very sensitive to something like a too high-minded vocab and rhyming, no? cz i can’t trust to my sensing the exact emotional weight of expressions in english
    so that’s why maybe you doubt your art version, saying it’s maybe not better than the first one, though to me it sounds close to the original

  27. Good thoughts, read. Thanks. To the modern ear, I think, poems in such strict forms often do sound either “high-minded” (pretentious, amateurish) or like parodies. I assume this is also true in languages other than English. Is it?

  28. No, I think English has gone much farther in the direction of jettisoning formal structure than other languages (to its detriment, I might add).

  29. LH, I am conflicted about this, loving equally (for example) Whitman and Dickinson. I wonder also if you think America is most to blame for this jettisoning — William Carlos Williams striving for natural speech rhythms, the “variable foot,” etc…. I’m more than ambivalent…. Americans (to judge by my students) seem to have trouble recognizing forms, structures, in poetry or in music, and and even seem to resent them…. But this could be an endless discussion. Cheers.

  30. i think i definitely like the art version, with obliquely departing
    and even though my english is poor i think i can sense all the things as if like that, onionesque, pretty sharply, so it doesn’t sound like that and the first line also sounds good, with lastly
    i should try to sing it next :)

  31. Notorioso says:

    I’ll do pentameters all in good time.
    Meanwhile:
    Obliquely, like a flock of geese.
    That “geese” line is a perfect illustration of how a translator can fowl up.
    Ah, A. So arch! Mention of geese can be like mention of bananas; it requires effort to take them seriously. “Obliquely” is itself problematic, but I LOVE the pun:
       O, bleakly! like a flock of geese.
    And you didn’t even draw attention to it for us. Such restraint! Ninja translation of a high order.

  32. this is the best, VP is so beautiful there
    another favourite and very difficult to translate too, MT!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNo368YaW1E

  33. Read, that song really is beautiful. Sounds like fado! Let’s translate it!
    La Valentina looks like my ex-wife’s therapist, which is neither here nor there but just goes to show, as Chuck Berry says, you never can tell. (They were both unmusical, the ex and her therapist.)
    And speaking of Chuck Berry and formalism, dig “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOIe-At7DNw
    The meter is common ballad/hymn meter, but Berry rhymes a-b-a-b (mostly) while saying something that’s actually worth saying. Rare enough, right? And you can dance to it.
    Peace y’all.

  34. LH, I am conflicted about this, loving equally (for example) Whitman and Dickinson.
    Oh, I love them both too, and WCW was one of the twentieth-century greats—but he wasn’t in any sense jettisoning formal structure, just trying to create new ones more suited to American speech, as was Olson. Unfortunately, to poetasters and wannabes it looked like “whee, you can write down whatever you want in broken lines and it’s a poem!” and pretty soon it all went to hell. As TSE said, “No vers is libre for the man who wants to do a good job.”
    Chuck Berry is also one of the twentieth-century greats. Check him out at Newport in 1959 with a backup band consisting of Buck Clayton, Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, and Papa Jo Jones. Now, that’s what I call American music.

  35. Trond Engen says:

    he wasn’t in any sense jettisoning formal structure, just trying to create new ones more suited to American speech
    Conversely, or probably the same thing, he was trying to use the natural rhythm and tone of American speech for poetic effect. I’m no avid reader of highbrow poetry, so this is probably another banal observation, but when on rare occasions I’ve taken the effort to work with someone’s free verse, and found it enjoyable, I’ve been struck by how every single word is important for sound and rhythm, and how this sets the mood for the reding of the words.
    “whee, you can write down whatever you want in broken lines and it’s a poem!”
    Since there’s no objective measure of poetic quality, and since what works for one reader won’t work for another, there’s plenty of room for charlatans and poseurs, be it among poets, critics or mere readers. It was much simpler when everybody could agree on the quality of the formal structure, and whatever the poet used it for was a matter of taste.
    But this is not new. Also ancient poetry lent itself to charlatanery, although then it was the highly artificial language applied in order to fulfill formal structures, which itself was elevated beyond mere convenience into a poetic domain of its own. Here’s a glimpse from Old Norse poetry:
    (From Pétur Knútsson: Intimations of the Third Text. An enquiry into intimate translation and tertiary textuality., PhD dissertation. Det Humanistiske Fakultet, Københavns Universitet, 2004)

    Icelandic dróttkvætt does not, and
    probably never did, lend itself to instant comprehension. It is quite clear that only practised poets and connoisseurs would understand some of the skaldic verses at first hearing. They typically show a bewildering degree of displacement of clause-elements, so that the meaning has to be unravelled slowly, like untying a complicated knot. There is some indication that many of the verses had to be learnt first, and then unravelled. This seems to be the case in the Tale of Sneglu-Halli, the burlesque story of an Icelandic skald at the court of King Haraldur Sigurðsson of Norway (ÍS III:2206-2231). In one short episode Halli pays a visit to King Harold of England, who was to fall later that same year at Hastings. Halli is granted audience by the king and asks to be allowed to recite a drápa, or
    heroic poem in the king’s praise. This is granted, and when the poem was finished, the king turned to his skald, who was accompanying him, and asked how good the poem was. The poet said he thought it was good’ (ÍS III:2228). The king then asked Halli to stay, but Halli declined and said that his boat was leaving. The king replied that since Halli would be leaving before anyone had a chance to learn the poem he would be paid for his offices in the same transient vein: silver coins would be poured over his head, and he could keep whatever stuck in his hair. Halli accepted, but asked first leave to go out and empty his bowels. ‘Do as you wish,’ said the king. When Halli returned he had tarred his hair and fashioned it into a plate. ‘You are a tricky customer,’ said the king; but he kept his word, and the coins were poured over Halli who thus received a generous reward. But this is not the end of the story. Halli had to resort to further cunning in order to secure himself a place on the first ship to leave, for the poem he had composed about the king was in fact a string of nonsense, and he couldn’t afford to stay and teach it to anyone.

    (This passage is quoted as evidence for mutual intelligibility between ON and OE, but that’s another matter.)

  36. David Marjanović says:
    Halli had to resort to further cunning in order to secure himself a place on the first ship to leave, for the poem he had composed about the king was in fact a string of nonsense, and he couldn’t afford to stay and teach it to anyone.

    Heh. :-D

  37. LH and Trond, thank you both from the bottom of my heart. Great stuff.

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