The latest issue of qarrtsiluni has my translations of three famous poems by Mandelstam. Longtime LH readers will have seen them before, but now you get to hear me reading them in Russian and English (click on the audio thingie at the top of the page—they’re introduced by Dave Bonta, the editor); it took some daring to allow my rusty Russian to be heard in public, but I figure it’s more important to share my understanding of how the poems are to be read than to spare myself embarrassment. Needless to say, if native speakers have corrections more specific than “Ha, you sound so American!” I’d be glad to hear them. Anyway, my thanks to Dave; it’s an honor to be chosen for the qarrtsiluni translation issue, and I look forward to reading the other poems (a new bunch will be appearing each day).


  1. That’s just so good. It makes a hell of a difference, in both languages, being able to hear them as I read along; I can appreciate the Russian too, which I could never do simply from reading it. Can’t you ask your stepson how to wire up sound here? You should be reading to us every day, Language.

  2. If you were wired up, we could hear your nightly book readings – it would be an audio addition to the daily reading of Pepy’s Diary…

  3. Good idea, Paul.

  4. Thise are wonderful translations, Stephen, and I’m glad they’ve led me to find your fascinating blog.

  5. hear, hear, it shouldn’t be difficult, we want more.
    Your Russian phonology is excellent, the twang is hardly discernible.
    If I were nitpicking, I’d say your mid-line stresses are a bit too hard (strong) to a Russian ear.
    In Insomnia, when you read Куда плывете вы, I hear the soft mark between v and e, which shouldn’t be there, but then it’s a very difficult phonetical point, consonants that come before softening [j] in я/ю/ё (ya/yu/yo). I remember how struck I was by Mayakovsky’s observation that летите (leteatea) sounds like летьитье (letyityi). (‘How to Make Poetry’)

  6. and the blooming oriole appears here again, without making it clear what she is there for. Remember the discussion of Bunin’s Book? I googled and googled trying to find out about its symbolism and couldn’t find anything good. I think Russian poets used it just for the sound of the word EE-vol-gah.

  7. Yes, it’s a wonderful word. And thanks for the reassuring comment about my pronunciation!

  8. narrowmargin says

    I swear I can hear Dave Bonta say you were born in 1851! Tell us, LH, about your conversations with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky!

  9. Love your translations and your voice.
    Your Russian is very good. It’s charming. Your “ye” is a bit stiff, and some soft consonants are just a bit harder than necessary (in “длительность”, for example), but the overall – very impressive. And artistic, too.
    Thank you.

  10. Boy, it does sound like I said “1851”! Geez. Reading, always a problem.

  11. Медуница – lungwort is a difficult word there.
    Maybe replace pulmonaria with melissa, a different plant altogether, but it’s a herb with the name that evokes honey? Just to avoid the unpleasant evocation of ‘pulmonary diseases’?

  12. If I wanted to use a different plant altogether, I’d go with “honeysuckle,” which is better than “melissa,” having the right number of syllables and a more transparent evocation of honey. But I don’t want to use a different plant altogether; it’s one short step from that to doing “imitations” a la Lowell. Which have their place, but that’s not what I want to do.

  13. Nice readings, both in Russian and English. After comments from Russians, you don’t need me to tell you how good your accent is.
    I had never heard “Orioles” recited, and realized from your reading that I had been accenting trostnika in the last line wrong, on the first syllable rather than the last.
    NB to m-l, if you’re listening: this shows the limitations of the method I outlined of determining Russian accentuation from meter – as well the dangers of solitary practice.
    (Unaccented syllables in the first strong position in a line are fairly rare: it happens in this poem only here, I think).

  14. marie-lucie says

    AS, I haven’t listened yet, but I plan to do it.
    I know about the dangers of “solitary practice” reading aloud, which is why I haven’t tried to practice Russian that way. I feel secure with Spanish, because the spelling system is so rational in dealing with stress (and also by now I know quite a lot of vocabulary from contacts with native speakers with whom I converse in Spanish). Itlian is different because even though I understand Italian fairly well, written Italian is full of words and forms of doubtful accentuation. I get by reading Italian aloud by guessing the stress from French, Spanish and Latin cognates and trying different ways of stressing if needed, or just skipping the form. Still, in spite of the doubts, reading Itlian aloud is more useful to me than reading it silently. German is pretty straightforward from that point of view too, if I am able to analyze the complex words correctly. But for Russian I don’t have the help of known cognates as in the Romance language ( know, so I don’t read much Russian.

  15. their food: time, pulmonaria, mint…
    their food: eternity, melissa, mint…

  16. I like ‘time’ there because it makes a wordplay in English with ‘thyme’, if it’s permitted to read/hear it that way…

  17. But the wordplay is utterly irrelevant to the poem, and thus very annoying. I wish it could be avoided, but it can’t.

  18. John Emerson says

    I hope this project continues. I’ve had the feeling for a long time that if I could read Russian Mandelstam might be my favorite poet, but translations have been disappointing except in flashes here and there which just tantalized me. These are the best, in my opinion.

  19. What John said.

  20. These are great, Hat!
    I have a translation from Sutzkever which is going to be posted there too, in the next few weeks-months, and I look forward to any comments you have.

  21. Let me know when it’s posted.
    I have submitted a translation of Mandelstam’s longest poem, “Нашедший подкову,” to Two Lines; if it gets published, I’ll mention it here. And in general, I too hope I will do a lot more translations.

  22. That’s a wonderful poem. If you haven’t already, you might have a look at Steven Willett’s version in Arion vol. 9.2.

  23. if it gets published

    I take it that it did not?

  24. It did not.

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