Back to Russian, and I’m afraid this is rather specialized, but when I gotta know, I gotta know. So: in Mandelstam’s poem “Чуть мерцает призрачная сцена,” he writes “Из блаженного, певучего притина/ К нам летит бессмертная весна” [Iz blazhennogo, pevuchego pritina/ K nam letit bessmertnaya vesna] “From [the/its] blessed, singing pritín, immortal spring flies to us.” Now, pritin is apparently an obsolete word and isn’t in most bilingual dictionaries. Dahl defines it as “a place to which one is attached or confined, limit of one’s movement”; you can say a tree has a pritin, meaning it’s taken root, or an animal doesn’t have a pritin, meaning it’s wild or free, and “the sun’s pritin” is an obsolete phrase meaning ‘zenith.’ In military use, it refers to a sentry post.

So my questions to Russian speakers are: 1) are you familiar with this word, and if so do you consider it obsolete or just unusual? and 2) what do you think it means in this context? Steven Broyde, who’s usually very accurate, translates it as “cozy shelter,” which seems like overinterpretation to me, but what do I know?

The only other place Mandelstam used it is in his translation (“Мой шаг звучит поутру рано,” not online) of this wretched poem [“Früh klingt mein Schritt”] by Max Barthel, a “proletarian poet” of Germany whose 1920 book Arbeiterseele Mandelstam was presumably assigned to translate to keep him occupied and out of trouble in the mid-’20s (when he became unable to write poetry of his own). Barthel writes “Ein Stern strahlt noch,/ In sich verloren,” “A star shines still, lost in itself” (whatever that’s supposed to mean); Mandelstam renders it (pleasing himself, if not the author, who had spent time in Russia and might actually have seen the translation) “Еще дрожит/ Звезда в притине,” “A star still shivers v pritine,” which I guess is “in its confines” or “at its post.” Incidentally, Barthel, like Phil Jutzi, made an indecently hasty transition from Communism to Nazism as soon as the weather changed in 1933. He managed to stay out of the Soviet zone after the war and lived until 1975. I have no idea how his work is regarded, if anyone still reads it.

Update (April 2020). I discovered the first link was dead, and when I replaced it I discovered that the version I used has notes, and the one for “притина” says “Притин — высшая (полуденная) точка движения солнца, здесь — верх блаженства” [Pritin: The highest (midday) point of the sun’s course, here meaning the height of felicity]. So there you have it.


  1. tolkovui slovar’ Dal’a says БЕСПРИТИННЫЙ, беспритульный, бесприютный;
    – при чем нет поста, притина, в значении военного караула, часового.
    i’ve never heard the word, it must be an archaic word meaning post, priyut, some place to belong?
    i think it was used in the poem meaning priyut, shelter

  2. Dan Milton says

    The name Thomas Barthel was familiar to me as an ethnologist considered an authority on Mayan inscriptions and mysterious rongorongo script(?) of Easter Island.
    Sure enough, he turns out to be the son of your Max Barthel.

  3. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen or heard the word before.

  4. A.J.P. Crown says

    Neither have I.

  5. I remember this word from the Russian classics, but unfortunately do not recall the work or even the author; I always thought it used to mean a sentry post. I certainly file it as archaic, just like many words that I read only in the works of the 19th century. But even then, it sounds *both* archaic and unusual.
    To answer your second question: Before reading the Dahl’s gloss I would say that I have no clue as to the meaning of this word in the poem you quote.
    Note that all examples that Dahl gives are either noun.dat + притин, with both positive and negative assertions (дереву притин, зверю нет притину) or locative with the preposition на (солнце на притине). Mandelstam’s use of the locative with the preposition в feels interesting to me (not at all weird, strange or incorrect, just interesting).

  6. The word seems commonly enough used of the origin of the pivot axis and the longitudinal axis (where the pivot pin is fixed through the scales of the handle into the tang) of the blade of a folding knife.

  7. A quick search turned up an article with an analysis of the poem: Омри Ронен. Похороны солнца в Петербурге.
    It states that «“притин” — край, предел, особенно полуденный, а также зенит».
    Another interesting source is the classics section of the Moshkov’s library; the following Google request yields a few interesting references:
    притин intitle:Классика
    You may also try it without the intitle: part. While noisier, it discovers two interesting examples, one by Tarkovsky and another by Brodksy.

  8. Many thanks, L. Fregimus; Omry Ronen is one of the very best Mandelstam critics, and his works are hard to find, so I’m glad to know about this one (and of course the other links you found). From Ronen’s definition it would seem the line means something like ‘from its blessed, singing limit’; as I suspected, Broyde was overdoing it with his “cozy shelter.”

  9. Bill Walderman says

    I think that pritin may be an astronomical reference to the zenith but the reference doesn’t really make strict sense from an astronomical point of view. I suspect that M. is referring to the vernal equinox, the point where the sun crosses the celestial equator in the spring. This occurs in late March, of course–a time when Russia is still in winter conditions. The contrast may be between the vernal setting of the opera on the stage–apparently Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice (hence the reference to the choruses of the shades in the second line and Melpomene’s dance)–and the cold weather outside, and between the Russian and Italian languages.

  10. marie-lucie says

    I know very little Russian, and the word seems to have a wide range of meanings, but the mention that a wild animal is without a pritin makes me think of a dog, sheep or other animal tethered to a post stuck in the ground, which allows it to move but only within a restricted circle. It seems to me that the other, much wider meanings could derive from this plain everyday one, including both the restricted range of motion available within one’s own space (eg for a sentry) and the idea of a central pivot (as in the old conception of the heavens), and other related images and metaphors.

  11. “Tethered range”? “Radius”.

  12. Aha, the vernal equinox—brilliant! Do any native Russian speakers think that works as at least a prominent subtext?

  13. Bill Walderman says

    I was thinking that M. might be referring to the fixed position of the vernal equinox on the celestial sphere. (Of course, it isn’t fixed because the phenomenon of precession–the wobbling of the earth on its axis–moves the equinox around the celestial equator over the course of 10,000 years, and the celestial sphere is just an imaginary sphere.)
    What about the Gluck connection–do any of the commentators find references to Orfeo ed Euridice in the poem? There seems to be a dramatic spectacle sung in Italian going on inside while outside it’s simply frightful. “Teni” are the shades or spirits of the dead, aren’t they?

  14. Bill Walderman says

    And in the translation of the Barthel poem, “zvezda v pritine” may be a rendering not of “in sich verloren” but of “zu seinem Joch . . . erkoren”: the fixed position of the star in the celestial sphere.

  15. A.J.P. Crown says

    Will we be returning to our focus on the lighter side of language?

  16. “orbit”?
    The Hermetica talks about “circles”: “The mind who is god, being androgyne and existing as life and light, by speaking gave birth to a second mind, a craftsman, who, as god of fire and spirit, crafted seven governors; they encompass the sensible world in circles, and their government is called fate.” (Corpus Hermeticum I) [seven governors: Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn]. The notes also refer to “the seven ‘pole lords of heaven'”.
    From Asclepius: “Pure philosophy that depends only on reverence for god should attend to these other matters only to wonder at the recurrence of the stars, how their measure stays constant in prescribed stations and in the orbit of their turning; it should learn the dimensions, qualities and quantities of the land, the depths of the sea, the power of fire and the nature and effects of all such things in order to commend worship and wonder at the skill and mind of god.” For “orbit”, the index also lists “circle, circuit, course”

  17. “What about the Gluck connection”
    That would make sense. As well as the chorus of shades (the Chorus of Blessed Spirits), there’s a reference to harp(s) (very prominent in Gluck’s opera) and “green meadows” (probably the Elysian Fields where Orpheus meets Eurydice in Act 2).

  18. marie-lucie says

    It seems to me that “pritin” means at once the confining line (orbit, circle, etc), the enclosed space inside it, and the pivot in the middle, all of which have spun metaphors and metonymies.

  19. Never heard.

  20. Victor Sonkin says

    I’ve never heard the word, even though I’m familiar with the poem; apparently I didn’t pay attention. (Unfortunately, the Russian corpus search is currently down, and I can’t check other occurrences, if any.) I’d guess that ‘pritin’ means, loosely, ‘zenith’ in your second quote, but it should not be taken very literally, as Mandelshtam was notoriously creative in his choice of words; one recalls the famous story about the Aonids chosen purely for the concentration of vowels in the word (“who the hell are the Aonids?”).

  21. And in the translation of the Barthel poem, “zvezda v pritine” may be a rendering not of “in sich verloren” but of “zu seinem Joch . . . erkoren”: the fixed position of the star in the celestial sphere.
    I’m sure you’re right. Well spotted!
    I think the opera is definitely Orfeo ed Euridice (which I believe was performed in Petrograd around the time the poem was written).

  22. Another triumph for LH the blog. I’m just an observer today, but really doubt that this conversation could have taken place anywhere else.

  23. Bill Walderman says

    If you tuned in to the Met’s broadcast last Saturday you heard Gluck’s Orfeo. (I heard snippets in my car.)

  24. The NY Mets play opera in the off-season?

  25. I heard the broadcast as well!

  26. I bet opera wins. The Mets are a crappy team.

  27. Hey now. There will be no badmouthing the Mets in this forum. Except by me.

  28. Like Charles Dudley Warner, I prefer to cudgel my own jackass.

  29. A.J.P. Crown says

    Do they have baseball in your state, Emerson, or is it just Garrison Keillor in wintertime?

  30. Twins won their division, thank you very much!

  31. A.J.P. Crown says

    I don’t remember any Twins ever winning a World Series. I was living in NY in 1986. That was an experience.

  32. I was living in NY in 1986. That was an experience.
    It was indeed! If you were among the masses thronging the streets of the Village in wild celebration after the final out of the sixth game, we may have run into each other.

  33. A.J.P. Crown says

    I was. i lived at 169 Sullivan Street in the Village at the time. Another great time to be in the Village was when Italy won the World Cup.

  34. I was living in Jordan when Jordan won the Arab world’s soccer championship. We stayed after Arabic class to watch the final game, but there was so much celebratory gunfire we didn’t dare go out for some time after the game. I was quite concerned about being so late after class, since reputation is everything for a woman there–my friends could not even be 20 minutes late getting home from their jobs–but I needn’t have worried because the whole country was freaking out.

  35. 1988 and 1991, as I remember. My son was exactly the right age to watch the series with.

  36. A.J.P. Crown says

    There was much celebratory gunfire in Little Italy too.

  37. The Jordan game (in 1999) was amazing. The new King, Abdullah, sat on the 50-yard line, or whatever that is called in soccer, wearing a red and white jersey with the number 99 on it, with his son sitting next to him. His father king Hussein had been quite the soccer player and 99 was his old number. King Hussein was known for having “great legs” even if Arab men are not supposed to show their legs, and the photo of that team with the late king in the midst of it was a favorite Arab screensaver at the time. Every time there was a goal, the King jumped out of his seat with both hands high in the air. Then the whole Jordanian team would run over to the sideline and bow to the king.

  38. it discovers two interesting examples, one by Tarkovsky and another by Brodsky.
    I wrote about the Tarkovsky example here; the “Brodsky” one (on this page) turns out not to be by Brodsky but to be a Russian translation of Derek Walcott’s “Italian Eclogues (for Joseph Brodsky).” The passage in question is from near the end of Walcott’s section V: “I am lifted above the surf’s missal, the columned cedars to look down on my digit of sorrow, your stone…” The Russian has: “Я взмыл над псалтирью прибоя и кедро’вой аркадой,/ в книгах кладбищ твой камень, притин моей скорби…” The translation is by Andrei Sergeev, and I can’t imagine how on earth he got from “my digit of sorrow” to “притин моей скорби.”

  39. This word (притина) sounds vaguely familiar, although I didn’t know its meaning until I read this post.
    Disclaimer: my vocabulary of Russian language isn’t as good as English, although I like to think I can speak both fluently.
    //Immigrated from Belarus at age 11.

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