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I've Come to You with Greetings by Afanasy Fet

The poem 'I've Come to You with Greetings' was written when Afanasy Fet (1820-82) was 23. It's a young man's declaration of love to an unknown recipient, perhaps to no one at all. The feelings of youth and joyful creation evoke those of the awakening spring.

translating Fet's I've Come to You with Greetings

'I've Come to You With Greetings' is one of Fet's best known and best loved poems, where the apparent simplicity of his approach finds an appropriate subject. Note the sound repetitions in the audio recording. Unfortunately, these create real problems for the translator, as do the trimeter and wholly feminine end-rhymes.


Russian Text

Я пришёл к тебе с приветом...

Я пришёл к тебе с приветом,
Рассказать, что солнце встало,
Что оно горячим светом
По листам затрепетало;

Рассказать, что лес проснулся,
Весь проснулся, веткой каждой,
Каждой птицей встрепенулся
И весенней полон жаждой;

Рассказать, что с той же страстью,
Как вчера, пришёл я снова,
Что душа всё так же счастью
И тебе служить готова;

Рассказать, что отовсюду
На меня весельем веет,
Что не знаю сам, что́ буду
Петь — но только песня зреет.

1843



The TTS (text to speech) recording is:



Analysis

The poem is a little unusual: iambic trimeters, with an extra opening unstressed syllable and all the end-rhymes feminine:

Я пришёл к тебе́ с приве́том, u u - u - u - u 3A
Рассказа́ть, что со́лнце вста́ло, u u - u - u - 3B
Что оно́ горя́чим све́том u u - u - u - u 3A
По листа́м затрепета́ло; u u - u - u - 3B

Previous Translations

Under the title 'Spring', Ruverses have six translation of this poem. C.M. Bowra's reproduces the feminine rhymes Fet uses throughout:

I have come again with greeting
To tell that the mom shines brightly,
And the heat of sun is beating.
Stirring the young leaves lightly:

To tell you of woodlands stirring,
Of the brakes and branches waking:
Every bird its wing is whirring
And its thirst for spring is breaking:

But the effect is a little contrived or overdone, (and I'm not sure what 'mom' should be. ) The rendering by Babette Deutsche and Avraham Yarmolinsky has sensibly converted the poem to iambic tetrameters:

I come again with greetings new,
To tell you day is well begun;
To say the leaves are fresh with dew
And dappled in the early sun;

To tell you how the forest stirs
In every branch of every brake,
And what an April thirst is hers,
With every whistling bird awake;

Unfortunately, the new/dew rhyme is arrived at with some inversion of normal word order. The version by Rupert Moreton also has its contrivance problems: his last two stanzas are :

To declare as I’m returning
That I haven’t lost my ardour,
That my soul no less is burning
And I’ll serve you all the harder.

To declare that from all angles
I am blown by windy bellow,
That I know not how song’s tangles
Will develop — it will mellow.

Literal Translation

The literal (Yandex) transcription is:

I came to you with greetings,
To tell you that the sun has risen,
That it 's a hot light
The sheets fluttered;

Tell them that the forest has woken up,
The whole woke up, each branch,
Every bird roused up
And full of spring thirst;

Tell that with the same passion,
Like yesterday, I came again,
That the soul is still the same happiness
And I'm ready to serve you;

Tell that from everywhere
I feel like I'm having fun,
That I don't know myself, that I will
Sing — but only the song matures.

I've Come Again With Greetings: English Translation

If we dispense with feminine rhymes altogether, we could write conventional tetrameters like:

I’ve come again with greetings, say
the sun has risen, warm and bright,
and with the ardor through the day,
the leaves are freshly sheaved with light.

To tell you too the forest stirs,
the very leaves and branches sing,
and every whistling bird concurs
that each is thirsty for the spring.

And with that passion as before,
as yesterday I came to you
with that same happiness, but more
in service to you, straight and true.

It is a joy that’s everywhere,
though whence it comes I’m not so sure
but know that singing in the air
will only deepen and endure.

That avoids the very un-English nature of feminine rhymes throughout and the tendency to stress the first of the opening two unstressed syllables (i.e. turn the trimeter into into a tetrameter), but it doesn't convey the singing quality of the Russian. Perhaps some half-way house would be best:

I have come to you with greetings,
to say the sun's about and bright,
that the brimming warmth is meeting
leaves now fluttering in the light,

To tell you too the wood is stirring,
that the leaves and branches sing,
and, with every bird concurring,
all are thirsty for the spring.

To once again affirm with passion,
as yesterday I came to you
that happiness is in the fashion
as is my service, warm and true.

A joy that's everywhere distilling
what I myself have come to feel:
to have this song around be willing
to stay and deepen and be real.

This is an early poem, but Fet's idiosyncrasies are already evident, notably his preference for heavy end-rhymes. That being so, a case could be made for feminine rhymes throughout:

I have come to you with greetings,
to say the sun is up and brightening,
that the brimming warmth is meeting
a glitter in the leaves now lightening.

To tell you too the wood is stirring,
the leaves and branches now are singing,
and, with every bird concurring,
await what spring itself is bringing.

To once again affirm with passion,
as yesterday I came with feeling
that happiness is in the fashion,
and to your service I am kneeling.

A joy that's everywhere distilling
the laughter that I feel enduring:
to have this song around be willing
to sing itself and stay maturing.

But have to say I intensely dislike the contrivances here, which shows all too well what troubles the Russian feminine rhyme creates for translators.

Useful Reading

1. Gustafson, R.F. Imagination of Spring: The Poetry of Afanasy Fet. (Yale 1966 / Greenwood Press 1976)