Looking up something else online (the Russian craze a century ago for Nat Pinkerton novels and stories, which enterprising Russians started writing themselves—there’s almost nothing online about Pinkerton, surprisingly, and the best thing I found was under 1907 here: “For almost two decades Pinkerton is one of the most famous detectives in the world, seeming to be active in every country in Europe and the Americas as well as China, Japan, and several in Africa and the Middle East…”), I ran into an amazing site run by Chris Lovett, who has not only translated Konstantin Vaginov‘s best-known work, the novel Kozlinaya Pesn’, but put his translation online with a long, informative afterword about Vaginov’s life and work and a detailed set of notes (which is where the Pinkerton reference turns up). I look forward to making use of it (and, of course, the Russian text) when I get around to the literature of the ’20s. The one thing I can’t figure out is why Lovett called his translation “Satyr Chorus” when the Russian title straightforwardly means “goat song,” and refers (as he himself acknowledges in his afterword) to the original (or at least apparent) meaning of tragedy (Greek tragos ‘goat’ + ōdē ‘song’). “Goat Song” would be a great, punchy title; “Satyr Chorus” is flabby as well as inaccurate. But hey, gift horses and mouths.
Incidentally, the name Vaginov has initial stress (VAH-ghee-nuff); it was changed from the excessively Teutonic Wagenheim (or rather Вагенгейм) when WWI broke out. I presume if the family had been English they would have made it Wagoner.


  1. the other day i’ve tried to translate Blok, actually it was the election day
    Predchuvstvuyu tebya, goda proxodyat mimo,
    Vse v oblike odnom predchuvstvuyu tebya,
    Ves’ gorizont v ogne i yasen nesterpimo,
    I molcha jdu, toskuya i lyubya.
    Ves gorizont v ogne i blizko poyavlenie,
    No strashno mne, izmenish oblik tu
    I derskoe vozbudish podozrenie,
    Smeniv v kontse privuchnue chertu.
    O, kak padu! I gorestno, i nizko,
    Neodolev smertelnuya mechtu!
    Kak yasen gorizont i luchezarnost’ blizko,
    No strashno mne, izmenish oblik tu.
    I precall you, years are passing by,
    Presee you always the same in my mind.
    All horizon is in the flame
    Unbearably crystal clear
    And I wait for you silently,
    Lovingly and longing.
    The horizon’s in the flame
    And the appearance is getting closer
    I’m scared though,
    You would change your forms
    You would excite insolent suspicions
    Having changed in the end the habitual features.
    Oh, how will I fall! So miserably, lowly
    I won’t be able to overcome the deadly dream.
    How clear is the horizon
    And the light beams are coming nearer
    But scared I am,
    You will change your nature’s face.
    i recalled the poem from my memory, so there could be mistakes, should have looked it up, but i don’t have my book of Blok’s collected poems with me and couldn’t find the poem online
    i don’t know how to say predchuvvstvuyu – maybe it’s better to be pre-feel or just predict, or oblik or luchezarnost’ – beamodowning? 🙂
    would love to know other translations of the poem
    i forgot V. Soloviev’s excerpt cited by the poem, it was ‘i strashnui son jiteiskogo izgnaniya?soznaniya?(i forgot the word)..tu otvergnesh’ toskuya i lyubya’

  2. A. J. P. Crown says

    Tragedy (Ancient Greek: τραγῳδία, tragōidia, “goat-song”) is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure…
    A lot of people don’t know about tragos and goat, or indeed that it is delightful to keep goats, which is in itself a tragedy. I cannot understand why George Orwell would have kept only one, though; that is a small tragedy, goats being flock animals. I have written something about caprarchy. It still needs a lot of work, though.

  3. A. J. P. Crown says

    Oh, God, I give up. I suppose I ought to check these things with the preview button. Sorry.

  4. Kron: I fixed it for you with my hattic magic.
    read: Here‘s a translation of the whole poem; Constantin V. Ponomareff gives a more literal translation of the first half in his book In the Shadow of the Holocaust & Other Essays: “I sense Your coming. The years pass by—/ I sense Your coming always in the same guise.// The whole horizon is on fire, and clear beyond endurance./ I wait in silence, in yearning and in love.// The whole horizon is on fire, I sense You’re near,/ But I am terrified that you will change your guise.”
    “Precall” and “prefeel” are not English words. Predchuvstvuyu is a hard word to translate; you can use a simple verb like “sense” that loses the pre- aspect, or you can use a circumlocution like “I have a premonition/feeling that…”

  5. thank you very much for your response, Languagehat, and for the links on Vaginov
    yes, i know precall presense are not real words, just like to invent new words when i don’t know how to say things
    i liked radiance and guise, but, really, poems can’t be translated exactly like they sound
    do you feel the original Blok’s poem and its translations convey exactly the same feeling? but maybe it’s just my English that can’t sense that for now
    i try to translate from Russian into English to learn English, that feels more like straightforward, i’d try to translate from my language, Mongolian, if i’ll master English enough for the task, someday, though never could translate into Russian which I know very well, imo
    do you know V. Soloviev’s poem cited? i recalled it’s not strashnui, but tyajkii son and not otvergnesh’, but otryakhnesh’, still can’t recall the other word

  6. И тяжкий сон житейского сознанья
    Ты отряхнешь, тоскуя и любя.
    Those are the last two lines of this poem.
    do you feel the original Blok’s poem and its translations convey exactly the same feeling?
    No, not at all. That’s why I prefer reading poems in the original if I can.

  7. Google offers several pages with Blok’s original: a couple are bilingual and some have an epigraph.

  8. i can’t type cyrillic so it’s always a problem to search in Russian
    never read the complete poem before, kinda disappointed that it was a love poem, but it says nezdeshnii, nezrimui, so it’s ethereal enough for me 🙂

  9. A circumlocution with ‘presentiment’ might be better. Nabokov translates Pushkin’s «Предчувствия теснили грудь», ‘presentiments constrained her breast’, then in the next stanza for «Предчувствий горестных полна» gives ‘with sorrowful forebodings filled’.

  10. Excellent finds—thanks, fiosachd!

  11. I would love to read something translated from Mongolian, even if the sense isn’t exact.

  12. really? here what i’ve tried to translate
    a little poem of my friend
    өвөл өөдгүй, хүйтэн, хөлдүү
    өөрөө би цэвдэг, жиндүү
    өрөөлийн “хайр” дутуу, тарчиг
    өнгөрөх цаг доголон.. гажиг
    жавар тачигнана, ташуурдана, жамтай
    жаран урсана, улирна, хэмнэлтэй
    бусдаас “хайр” горьдоно, шална, гуйлгачин
    буцааж үл хариулна, татганана, гуйрамчин
    Winter’s nasty, cold, frozen
    Me myself is freezing, frosty
    Other’s love is partly, scarce
    Passing time is limp…perverse
    The wind is blowing, biting, ruling
    The century is flowing, frequent, rushing
    Asking for ‘love’ – others – a beggar
    Reciprocate can not – stingy – a miser.
    it doesn’t convey imo half of the meaning of the original words, for example gor’dono means not asking, but hoping for something as if it was something to eat, as if a dog would look at you hoping for food, shalna means something like blackmailing, jaran means not time but a 60 yrs period which is counted as a century, unit of time in our calendar etc etc all other words mean not exactly what it sounds meaning in English, i just can’t translate it
    your corrections of mistakes in my English are very welcome
    sorry, some letters does not display correctly letters Ө, Ү ö, ü
    övöl öödgüi, khüiten, khöldüü
    ööröö bi tsevdeg, jindüü etc.

  13. read: try for all your transliteration needs 😉

  14. Russian does not have those letters ö, ü
    thanks anyway

  15. David Marjanović says

    So өөдгүй means “nasty”? “Excruciating” perhaps? It sounds like it :o)

  16. dang, ‘letters do not’, i do so many mistakes, please, feel free to correct my mistakes whenever there are mistakes
    өөдгүй is something nasty, lower, өөд means basically the direction ‘up, upper,’ гүй is without, not, so when combined it’s something not up, not good, just bad

  17. Oh, that was fun, Read. Thank you.
    There was a teacher from Mongolia in my teaching practicum class, but I never heard her speak the language. I did look up the country on a map and saw a few populated valleys at a high altitude. So I got an idea of a cold, beautiful, and remote place with strange tents.
    The poem… At first I was trying to fit it into a genre, like maybe nature poems, but it didn’t fit smoothly into anything. After reading a few times I saw the meaning was alternating between cold climate and cold emotions.
    Then looking at the original poem, and trying to look at Lukas’s Cyrillic letters (easier to understand than wiki!) I saw the first and last words were very similar in sound in each pair of lines. Also perhaps the rhythm is similar between lines 1&3 and lines 2&4.
    So, then I wondered about the sound of the words in Mongolian. I think the poem is interesting on many levels of meaning and sound, but only the meaning part can be translated to English. The explanation made the poem more interesting–to know how Mongolians think about time in 60-year increments for example.
    I wondered about Passing time is limp…perverse. “Perverse” can have a somewhat sexual meaning, and “limp” can be very sexual–both of them together means…? I wasn’t sure if that meaning was in the original. I suppose it depends on how one passes the time.
    I looked up the Mongolian alphabet too and was very interested to find out it is a cousin to Arabic, having descended from the common ancestor of Aramaic.
    The direction of the writing was reversed when it came into contact with Chinese:

  18. ooh, it’s great to know that you are interested in how Mongolians think, Nijma 🙂
    so probably like everybody else, just in Mongolian
    and it was interesting to follow your thoughts..
    dogolon means limp, i think it was written without any other hidden sexual meaning, gajig means abnormal, but i did not know how to fit the word abnormal into the poem, so it became perverse, also used the word without thinking of any sexual context
    but it’s so great that my translation provoked your interest, the poem is not published anywhere, it’s just my friend’s writing just for herself and her friends, but i really think her poems are great
    i don’t dare to translate Mongolian classics for example
    Your observation about parallels between nature and one’s emotional state is very accurate, almost all our poetry, old folk songs’ lyrics are constructed that way
    thanks again for your comment

  19. When I read the poem I wasn’t thinking about if the writer was a man or a woman, but it is interesting to know a woman wrote it. Do men and women think/write about emotion differently?
    The folk music sounded very interesting and I found some Mongolian music. This I think is not folk, but the design of the stage and costumes are very interesting, also the hats. At about 5:28 there is a crawl with the Mongolian vertical language, but I think the 2007 is upside down (?) Here is some folk music, very short excerpts (they want to sell you something) but I love it–it’s all about grasslands. This is a complete folk song with the words translated, also written in Cyrillic and transliterated for English speakers so you can see the pronunciation.

  20. do men and women write/think differently about emotion? Mongolians? if lyrical poets i wouldn’t tell the difference, perhaps
    about the links, the first clip is the long songs, words are stretched very long, usually those are ceremonial praisings, the first singer is from Mongolia, the second one is from Inner Mongolia and the concert is Inner Mongolian
    the second link is also Inner Mongolian and my guess is the artists are required to change their names to Chinese or the recordings are not genuinely Mongol, but anyway sound pretty familiar
    the third clip is a folk song “A bamboo whip”
    so a soldier sings ‘if i only had a whip i would go swinging it from my finger, if there were no laws i would go to my birthplace Yargait’
    during Manchu empire Mongolian soldiers were recruited for 25 years and would spent their term somewhere distant, so the soldier is homesick and his wish about having a whip is kinda absurd, coz surely all horse riders have whips, it’s more like a wish for freedom
    hope this helps, it’s nice to talk to you, Nijma

  21. Thank you so much, Read. Mongolia is so far I’m sure I will never see it except through the eyes of others.

  22. The Mongolian poetry reminds me a little bit of the Scandinavian skalds. A lot of English poetry only rhymes at the end of the line, but the skalds had several forms of poetry that used internal repetition of consonants in different patterns. The skaldic poetry isn’t very interesting now though, because it was mostly based on details of stories about their gods that everyone knew back then.
    When the Viking religion changed to Christianity, the form of the poetry could not be adapted. Also the skalds were often counselors to rulers, since they heard what the common people said and could bring rumors to the king without getting in trouble. But when the religion changed, the counselor was often a monk sent from Rome.

  23. marie-lucie says

    the skalds had several forms of poetry that used internal repetition of consonants in different patterns.
    This is exactly like Old English poetry (as in Beowulf), where there was at least alliteration of initial consonants in each line of verse.
    When the Viking religion changed to Christianity, the form of the poetry could not be adapted.
    Strange, since there are some well-known Christian poems written in Old English in the traditional manner. It is more likely that the skalds did not convert and therefore lost their status, and the new, Christian generation did not learn the skaldic poetic tradition which was associated with the old religion.

  24. Yes, I agree with marie-lucie about the skalds.

  25. John Emerson says

    Somewhere I read that Charlemagne had some of the old Frankish poetry written down, but that later generations of monkish librarians destroyed it. Alcuin’s was indignant at his monks’ and novices’ habit of dabbling in the old epics.
    There’s a tendency to lump Old Norse poetry, Old English poetry, Old French epic (Roland), Old Spanish epic (the Cid), and Old German epic (the Nibelungenlied), but to me the difference is enormous. The former two are older, with deep historical roots, and are elaborately-worked, whereas the later came much later and do seem to have (cliche alert) a naivety and simplicity to them. I think of the first two as thinly-Christianized pagan classics, and the latter three as a kind of recovery of something lost or repressed.

  26. There is some syncretic and Christian skaldic poetry, isn’t there? Which might lend more weight to the incompatibility being social rather than formal.

  27. Apparently Lee Hollander’s The Skalds that everybody references is now out of print, but here is an interesting site that in spite of its heathenness has some links to academic skald database.
    The translator has the poetry incorrectly written in half-stanzas though–there were very strict rules for how many syllables in a stanza and which consonants and vowels had to match.
    The database–here are some kennings:
    A kenning is a phrase that substitutes for a
    noun, like “ship of the desert” for camel. The skalds weren’t into adjectives or even verbs, it was all about nouns and nesting one kenning inside another.

  28. There is some syncretic and Christian skaldic poetry, isn’t there?
    Yes, indeed, and it’s all in Lee Hollander’s 1945 book (in translation) which is out of print. Plus there’s an online database, so far mostly in Old Norse. I’ve posted some bullet points from Hollander’s introduction as well as some links to the database and a few other poems I found–more at my URL.
    Oh, and Hollander does use Beowulf in his examples, and in a nutshell, he says the skalds were an example of preliterate poetry–sort of a Scandinavian Homer, I guess, and the poems were preserved in writing later by monkish Christian types.

Speak Your Mind