Nature’s Embrace.

Patrick Wang kindly offered to send me his new book, Nature’s Embrace: The Poetry of Ivan Bunin. I was thrilled by the very idea — I didn’t think anybody but me (and Russians, of course) appreciated Bunin’s poetry! — and said “sure,” and today the book arrived. It’s a very handsome blue paperback with over a hundred poems; I looked for one of my favorites, Спокойный взор, подобный взору лани, and there it was, pleasingly rendered as:

That peaceful gaze, the way a doe will gaze,
And all that I had loved in it so dearly,
I still had not forgotten in my grieving,
But nowadays your image is a haze.

And there will come a day—when grief will lessen,
When all the reminiscing fades to blue,
Where there is neither happiness nor gloom,
And there will only be forgiving distance.

And here’s a lovely bit from “Lucifer” [Люцифер]:

Here’s Eden, Lebanon. The dawn burns crimson.
The snowy peaks — like silk. On slopes the herds
Flow through the caves.

I wish more people would take time off from being economists and movie directors to translate Russian poetry!


  1. I am puzzled by that first translation, since the first stanza has a rhyme scheme, ABCA, but the second does not. Is this reflective of something in the Russian original?

    Incidentally, I was acquainted with Patrick Wang in college, although I certainly didn’t know him well—merely a friend of a friend.

  2. He’s treating lessen/distance as a sort-of-slant rhyme, which is fine with me — I much prefer that to the horrors that translators perpetrate when they try to preserve rhyme at all costs.

  3. PlasticPaddy says

    The form of this poem would be very hard to realise in english, because it is essentially abba caac with additional alliteration/assonance of a,o and l (the b and c rhyme syllables both have l and the a and c rhyme syllables both have a). I think the translator gives an idea of the sound without losing too much of the sense.

  4. Exactly, which is what I try to do in my own translations.

  5. PlasticPaddy says

    Your image in my grief i can’t recall
    But what i loved in you is still so clear,
    Your doe eyed look, tender but without fear
    Brought peace once, but there is no peace at all

    Until the day when grief is tamed by sleep
    When happiness and sadness fade and pall
    And memories are stripped away and fall
    Into the blue and all-forgiving deep.

    This probably gets more of the rhyme but throws away more of the sense…

  6. In English, your metrical competition might be Joyce’s “I Hear an Army,”

    with its ABAB’ rhyme scheme: the A rhymes being complete, the BB’ rhymes being assonances. Joyce having been Joyce, this poem is eminently singable in settings by (at least) Samuel Barber and Brian Byrne.

  7. Oh, and

    I wish more people would take time off from being economists and movie directors to translate Russian poetry!

    at the time Vikram Seth wrote The Golden Gate in Onegin stanzas he was a Stanford graduate student in economics. In the poem he pays graceful explicit homage to the diplomat-translator Sir Charles Johnston.

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