Avar Cranes.

A couple of days ago I watched the pre-release “book launch” event hosted by Globus Bookstore for Irina Mashinski’s new English-language book The Naked World — she’s a wonderful poet whom I met at a reading in 2014 (see this post), and now that the event is on YouTube it’s worth a watch (it features Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk, among others), but what drove me to post is a mention of Mashinski’s English translation of a famous Soviet song, “Журавли” [Cranes]. (The site I just linked has many versions in languages from English to Vietnamese.) It was popularized by the Russian version recorded by Mark Bernes in 1968, but the original lyrics were written by Rasul Gamzatov in Avar, and since we recently discussed Avar in another thread, I thought I’d post the original (also available at Avar Wikipedia). The first stanza:

Дида ккола, рагъда, камурал васал
Кирго рукъун гьечӀин, къанабакь лъечӀин.
Доба борхалъуда хъахӀил зобазда
ХъахӀал къункърабазде сверун ратилин.

In the canonical Russian version:

Мне кажется порою, что солдаты,
С кровавых не пришедшие полей,
Не в землю эту полегли когда-то,
А превратились в белых журавлей.

And in Irina’s translation:

Sometimes I think that soldiers, who have never
come back to us from the blood-covered plains,
escaped the ground and didn’t cross the River,
but turned instead into white screeching cranes.

You can hear it sung in Avar by Zainab Makhaeva here. And for those who know Russian and want to try to figure out how the original works, there’s a useful online Avar-Russian dictionary (e.g., the first word, дида, turns out to be an oblique case of дун ‘I’).


  1. I just commented on a message by D.O. and got a weird error message and my message did not get posted. I was replying to D.O. at Multicultural London English, about coinage.

  2. It got posted and I answered, than your reply disappeared and I deleted my reply as well. I propose not to continue in this thread. 😉

  3. Stop deleting your damn comments, people. It drives everyone crazy, especially me!

  4. David Marjanović says

    sung in Avar

    A high-pressure language.

    “Speak forcefully”, says the Klingon Language Academy. They barely have an idea…

  5. You notice the Klingons haven’t tried to invade Dagestan…

  6. From the verse, not included in the song in Russian

    Не потому ли с кличем журавлиным
    От века речь аварская сходна?

    Is it not why Avar speech is like crane’s call?

  7. languagehat: I didn’t delete my answer, I got a weird error message upon posting it, as I said. Something like “Your message was rejected”.

  8. Cranes of course is a song about war dead. But reading the poem and especially the full version, I get the impression that this topic was grafted on it. Yes, it begins with “soldiers” and “blood-soaked fields”, but how the author, who clearly didn’t die in the war and who actually didn’t serve can think about joining the cranes? If you ignore the first 2 lines (a big ask, I know) the rest of the poem is clearly about all dead, not only those who died in war. And their relationship with the leaving. And the verse about Avar language sounding like crane’s call even suggests that it is about Avars only. I don’t want to imply that someone did something wrong. Just share my impression.

  9. D.O. There’s this poem about General Vazov whose cavalry defeated the Russians at the end of WWI in Dobruja which goes something like “brothers, why have you betrayed us”. Brothers being the Russians. I don’t think ordinary Bulgarians were quite that sentimental towards the Russians at that point.

  10. I am not sure what general Vazov and his military success has to do with the poem of Avar poet Gamzatov and a Russian song by Gamzatov-Grebnev-Frenkel-Bernes ostensibly about WWII.

  11. D.O. Not sure either. I am stoically ambivalent as to what is happening. Probably some server shit. What are you guys doing? I’m bored.

  12. Jen in Edinburgh says

    Is this running on wordpress now? On another site where I comment (is that allowed?) comments sometimes turn up for a second and then vanish into moderation – usually without gaining direct replies, which are threaded there, but occasionally someone who was around at just the right time has referred in another comment to what x said below, only what they said is now invisible.

    Except that this replying to a comment which then vanishes thing happened first to hat, and I would think he would still see comments in moderation…

  13. January First-of-May says

    Previously on LH.

    (I thought the lyrics looked familiar, so I checked on Google and found that comment. At least it was just a comment; I was worried there’s been a full post on that poem.)

    [EDIT: darn, mixed up the tags again. Fortunately I noticed within the edit window.]

  14. David Marjanović says

    It is possible to send a published comment into moderation retroactively here by editing enough links into it, for example.

  15. Previously on LH.

    Thanks for that; I had forgotten about that interesting thread (5+ years might as well be a previous lifetime as far as my aging brain is concerned). And yes, thank goodness there wasn’t a full post on the poem!

  16. According to Wiki (and million other sites quoting all one another) Gamzatov wrote a poem about jigits (who originally featured in Cranes as well) turned upon death into cranes and recognized as such by their beloved. It was translated by Grebnev as well. And I cannot find it. How that even possible?

  17. Avar has one of my favorite flash-in-the-pan alphabets – from 1928-1938 it had a Latin alphabet that looks like someone’s first conlang (or, not to insult conlangers in the comments, my first conlang).

    From Omniglot, another opening of a Rasul Gamzatov poem:

    Noļ maꝗiļ viҳana, ꝗalda ļuq-ļuqun,
    Ꝗurda kvеr çvan unеv, bida vеⱬⱬun dun

    I was lucky enough to pick up a dictionary using this orthography a few years ago. Makes you wonder if any of the lead type with the necessary characters still exists.

  18. That looks like almost the opposite, or sideways, of _my_ first conlang. Terry Pratchett, secret language of the Thieves’ guild, more than 20 years ago.

  19. So, I was a teen, and I thought: what would a language composed mainly of sibilants sound like, but plausible? That’s before I encountered the theories of there not being things such as vowels and consonants. I don’t have my notes, but IIRC I used a lot of lateral consonants and few vowels. And it was a topic-focus language. Is that still current as a term?

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    Бернес пел моих «Журавлей». Я растерялся и не мог в ответ ничего сказать. Песня была выше моих одобрений. Бернес спросил меня: «Расул, ты не будешь против того, если слово «джигиты» заменю словом «солдаты»?
    Мне казалось, что слово «джигит» придает стихотворению национальную окраску. Но, услышав песню, понял, что слово «солдаты» вносит в нее новое значение,
    Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20180204165953/http://www.gamzatov.ru/articles/articles37.htm

  21. Denis Akhapkin says

    In English by Mark Almond: https://youtu.be/NG2qsaVLims

  22. PlasticPaddy says

    The site imwerden.de has downloadable pdf for all 12 1968 issues of Novyi Mir. So you could find the Russian version of the Urtext there…

  23. Dear LH, thank you for this post! – I had never seen (or heard) the Avar original before. Fascinating.

  24. PlasticPaddy, thanks, but it was an early, circa 1948 poem, not the Cranes that was published in 1968.

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