Nòt, viàl, lampiù, botéga.

Valentina Gosetti, who writes the “unapologetically multilingual blog” Transferre (“The idea is to encourage poetry in translation for the preservation and the promotion of minority languages”), has a post Alexander Blok in Dialèt Bresà that begins:

Here is another of my translations (or better, trapianti, transplantations) into Dialèt Bresà, my native dialect, a non-standard variety of Italo-Romance. This time I have taken up a new challenge: I have decided to translate a very well known Russian poem written by Alexander Alexandrovich Blok (188o –1921) in 1912, his very famous ‘Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека’.

A quick note on one of my lexical choices: for the Russian word ‘аптека’, which literally means ‘pharmacy’ or ‘drugstore’, here I have chosen the more general word ‘botéga’, meaning ‘shop’ in Dialèt Bresà. I have decided to do so because the sound of this word is very similar to its Russian counterpart, and, more importantly, the stress falls on the same syllable. This permitted me to imitate the rhythm of the original version, especially its widely known opening line.

I wonder if she realizes that аптека [apteka] and botéga are etymologically the same word (as is bodega), Latin apotheca ‘storehouse’? Here’s the Bresà version; I’ll send you to the link for the original and links to a couple of translations into English:

Nòt, viàl, lampiù, botéga,
En ciarùr stras e ‘nsensat.
Va avanti e vif amò vint agn –
L’è semper chèla. S’en va mia föra.

Te möret – e là töt che ricumincia amò
E töt che turna ‘ndré, come ‘na olta
Nòt – co’l sò crispì de giasöi söl canal,
Lampiù, botéga, viàl.

Her reference to the “widely known opening line” is so true that when Trevor Joyce sent me the link, I knew immediately what the Russian poem was simply from seeing the Bresà version of the line as the e-mail subject. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    The author provides 4 versions by other translators

    ecco la versione poggioliana:

    Un melanconico riflesso
    — strada lampione farmacia —
    è fu sarà sempre lo stesso —
    non c’è più scampo: così sia.
    e vita e morte, e bene e male
    ritrovi ad ogni crocevia:
    è notte — ghiaccio sul canale —
    strada lampione farmacia.

    ecco la versione di ripellino:

    Notte, strada, fanale, farmacia,
    una luce assurda ed appannata.
    Pur se ancora vivrai venticinque anni —
    sarà sempre così. Non c’è rimedio.
    Tu morirai — comincerai di nuovo,
    e tutto riaccadrà come una volta:
    gelido incresparsi del canale,
    notte, farmacia, strada, fanale.

    segue poi la proposta di Carnevali:

    Notte, fanale, strada, farmacia,
    luce assurda, appannata.
    Vivessi ancora un quarto di secolo,
    non cambierebbe nulla. senza scampo.
    Muori e rinasci ancora,
    e tutto sarà uguale come prima:
    freddo incresparsi del canale, notte,
    strada, fanale, farmacia.

    sergio Pescatori (1981) propone quanto segue

    Notte, strada, fanale, farmacia,
    un’assurda luce sbiadita.
    e per quanti anni la sorte ti dia —
    così per sempre, senza uscita.
    Norrai; poi ricomincerai daccapo,
    e tutto sarà ancora uguale:
    notte, un brivido sul canale gelato,
    farmacia, strada, fanale.

    He then comes up with his own:

    Notte, strada, lampione, farmacia,
    demente luce tramortita.
    Trent’anni avessi ancora in vita mia,
    tutto sarà eguale. Non c’è uscita.
    Muori — ricomincerai tal quale,
    e tutto tornerà, senza eccezione:
    la notte, il gelido incresparsi del canale,
    la farmacia, la strada ed il lampione

    He argues, for example that Blok was at least ten years before the absurdists and besmyslenni is not used to translate “absurd” (I actually like demente ). I don’t know why his last line is not
    farmacia, strada, lampione
    Because for me the Blok is an invocation and that works better without the e and articles. In his opening line the translator left them out, anyway. I do not feel able to express an opinion on the dialect version. Naively crispì de giasöi looks better than gelido incresparsi for ljodnaja rab’…

  2. I don’t know why his last line is not
    farmacia, strada, lampione
    Because for me the Blok is an invocation and that works better without the e and articles.

    I agree.

  3. Thank you for this commentary, I really appreciate it. I am very glad that you note here the etymological link between аптека [apteka] and botéga. Now that I read it, I am thinking ‘of course!’. It was an instinctive translation choice and a very different response to the original text, if compared to two existing versions of the same poem in Bresà by Fabrizio Galvagni (we had a sort of public -very friendly – “tenzone” about it some years ago, see link at the end). I only discovered his versions after I had completed mine. Can send you all the versions via email, if interested.

    This was my poor attempt to read it in (my very basic) Russian for an English-speaking audience. At the end I also read my transplantation in Bresà: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Bi5dhEuMdI
    Would be interested in your feedback.

    And these are the versions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ulWJtyG2jis

    Despite what I say at the end of this video, I now think I might have been more faithful than Galvagni, thanks to the ancestry of the term аптека. You made me realise that sometimes our subconscious etymological memories can guide our translation choice better than our blinding rationality… There’s something to lear there in terms of the endless editing impulse that every translator knows so well. Perhaps, at times, it would be better to go with the flow.

    Thank you!

  4. January First-of-May says

    Because for me the Blok is an invocation

    Invocation or not (and it might well be one), the last line definitely deliberately echoes the first line. OTOH, this effect might be tricky to translate into languages where none of the four words are monosyllabic.

  5. I can’t help but think of “anyone lived in a pretty how town”.

  6. “sun moon stars rain”… good point about the monosyllabic words. From this point of view Bresà (or Bresciano) is easier if compared to Italian.

  7. Very interesting! Many thanks for this to Valentina and Language Hat. I was very much impressed by Valentina’s reading the Bresà version in both videos. It just sounds right, for reasons I have yet to explain to myself. Curiously, Galvagni went for fanal (I’m clueless about the proper diacritics here) and Valentina went for botéga – why not use both if they are akin to Blok’s original words in sound and provenance?

    I guess mia means “no” or “not” while amò stands for “more” or “again” – is that correct?

    Incidentally, I checked for Portuguese translations and saw that Augusto de Campos also chose fanal for фонарь: “Noite. Fanal. Rua. Farmácia.” A much younger translator, Robson Ortlibas, used botica (!), an archaic term (the stress is on the penultimate syllable): “Noite. Rua. Botica. Lanterna.” For some reason, all the translations and discussions of this poem in Portuguese avoid lampião: it can be lanterna, lâmpada, fanal, even sinal, but never lampião.

    One minor correction: Valentina misprounounced четверть when reading the original. The stress is on the first e while the second e is roughly the same as the first, only unstressed. No ë in this word.

  8. Valentina says

    Thank you very much about your kind feedback about my reading and translation of Blok’s poem in Bresà, Alex. [and I’ll remember that pronunciation of четверть :)]

    Fascinated about the choice of botica by Robson Ortlibas. Thanks for letting us know about it. I had no idea!

    Ah, and fanàl is used by Galvagni to mean фонарь, although fanàl is not really a streetlamp but more of a headlight. But the sonority is hard to resist and the etymology is there too.

  9. @PlasticPaddy: Бессмысленный means devoid of meaning or purpose while assurdo is contrary to reason and common sense. It’s not that the street lamp is a self-contradiction – rather, there’s no meaning in the light it emits. If ‘nsensat corresponds to insensato, it should be a good fit (assuming the reader ignores the secondary meaning of insensato, “devoid of life, unconscious”).

    It’s ледяная рябь, ledyanáya ryab’. Someone observed that Blok’s sonority is based on the ah vowel. I’m not sure if it’s generally true but in this case, we have two a’s and and two я’s coloring this ripple. I’m not even sure what it’s supposed to mean, honestly — does it refer to ripples on the surface of the canal’s ice-cold water, or does it imply that the canal is frozen but the ice surface is uneven, as if rippled?

    This cold canal, by the way, gives the poem an unmistakably St. Petersburg vibe. Not a place you’d want to move to.

  10. PlasticPaddy says

    Thank you Alex. That was a really bad boob on lednjaNAja, I do not remember hearing the word spoken and did not look it up ????. Also it would be a tongue twister for me, because in Irish palatalisation is mostly on both sides, so I would say ljednjaNJAja or ljednaNAja (maybe Russians also say the last one). I thought it also might be a momentary static impression that burned into Blok’s mind, so the ripples are frozen in time. Re bessmislenniy I liked bez + misl’ corresponding to de+mente.

  11. lednjaNAja
    One “n” too much – it’s ledyanaya.

  12. PlasticPaddy says

    I seem to have a problem with this word and will avoid it in future ????.

  13. it’s ledyanaya.


    In a word, панят это нэвазможна.

  14. PlasticPaddy says

    I will revise more. Already ljedjaNAja is coming twice for each ljedaNAja and I expect to do even better.

  15. Although мысль and смысл are obviously related, the former refers to thought and the latter to meaning or sense – as in “common sense,” not in “sixth sense”. Blok has бессмысленный (spelled безсмысленный before the 1918 reform): бес-смысл-енн-ый, meaning-less, sense-less. Безмысленный, без-мысл-енн-ый, is a different, less common word: thought-less.

    A weakly related thought. Joyce wrote in a 1914 poem: “The crazy pierstakes groan.” I recall “crazy” glossed as “senile” rather than “mad” (and Joyce has “the senile sea” in the next line). I suspect that demente would also make the reader think of someone losing his wits due to old age.

  16. January First-of-May says

    In a word, панят это нэвазможна.

    This joke is actually a pretty good example of what it feels like when your allophones are their phonemes.

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