Batyushkov's Poem Madagascar Song

The output of Konstantin Nikolayevich Batyushkov (1787-1855) was comparatively small, but includes poems of great charm. His 'Madagascar Song' below is modelled on pieces by Évariste Parny, and thus a purely imagined place. Neither Parny nor Batyushkov ever visited the island, or indeed knew much about it. It's an example of Batyushkov's attempt to bring some of the sweetness and melody of European verse into Russian.

translating Batyushov's Madagascar Song

The poem was modelled on those by Évariste Parny (1753-1814), who was born on the island of Réunion (i.e. east of Madagascar). Perny's work was popular in Russia, though rather variously regarded in France. He was a soldier and a government administrator, which allowed him to travel through France's colonial empire.

Ultimately became a member of the Académie Française, but remained anti-clerical, indeed rather pagan: some of his poetry was banned after his death.

The poem brings a welcome splash of sultry exoticism to Russian nineteenth century verse. We need to know that кошниц is an old-fashioned word for basket.

Russian Text

Мадагаскарская песня: Стих

Как сладко спать в прохладной тени,
Пока долину зной палит
И ветер чуть в древесной сени
Дыханьем листья шевелит!

Приближьтесь, жены, и, руками
Сплетяся дружно в легкий круг,
Протяжно, тихими словами
Царя возвеселите слух!

Воспойте песни мне девицы,
Плетущей сети для кошниц,
Или как, сидя у пшеницы,
Она пугает жадных птиц.

Как ваше пенье сердцу внятно,
Как негой утомляет дух!
Как, жены, издали приятно
Смотреть на ваш сплетенный круг!

Да тихи, медленны и страстны
Телодвиженья будут вновь,
Да всюду, с чувствами согласны,
Являют негу и любовь!

Но ветр вечерний повевает,
Уж светлый месяц над рекой,
И нас у кущи ожидает
Постель из листьев и покой


The poem is written in iambic tetrameters, rhymed AbAb:

Как сла́дко спать в прохла́дной те́ни,    4A
Пока́ доли́ну зной пали́т    4b
И ве́тер чуть в древе́сной се́ни    4A
Дыха́ньем ли́стья шевели́т!    4b

A TTS Audio Recording: Opening Stanzas

Other Translations

There are no other translations readily available online.

English Translation

How sweet to sleep in this cool shade
while valley scorches in the heat:
the canopies are barely swayed
as leaves are to my breath's repeat.

Come, gather wives, and with your hands
extend an easy circle here:
with soft, long words he’ll understand
sow gladness in a kingly ear.

Sing a song that’s soft and sweet,
and weave a basket of the hay,
when maiden, sitting in the wheat,
can scare the greedy birds away.

For heart can understand a song
however tired the spirit be.
And from afar that woven throng
of wives arranges pleasantly.

Be quiet, slow, be passionate:
so will the body live again,
as feelings everywhere relate
so move the leaves and breath in men.

The night air on the evening blows,
bright months upon the river pass:
we’re lying here as temple shows
a peaceful bed of leaf and grass.

References and Resources

1. Mirsky, D.S., A History of Russian Literature (Knopf 1926 / Vintage Books 1958) 79-83.

2. Bristol, E., A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P.) 100-2.

3. Pilshchikov, I.A and Fitt, T.H., Konstantin Batiushkov: Life and Work. Extended article in English.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.