Autumn by Nikolay Karamsin

Nikolay Karamsin (1766-1826) is an important poet, though probably not much read today. He devoted the second half of his life to a monumental History of the Russian State, but was also responsible for introducing an age of sensibility, indeed for creating the Russian literary language of the nineteenth century, {1-3} which Pushkin was to perfect.

Karamsin was schooled in Moscow, and joined the the Preobrazhensky Regiment of the Guards in St. Petersburg. In 1789 he embarked on an eighteen month tour of of Germany, Switzerland, France and England, meeting and interviewing of its celebrated writers. Back home in Russia, his translations from Sterne and Macpherson (Ossian poems) were published by The Moscow Journal, and then his own poetry. In 1801 he married Elitsaveta Protasova, whose family were prominent Freemasons, and Karamsin's views gradually became less based on sentiment and more allied to monarchism and conservatism.

Karamsin popularized the nature poem with private meditations, but his more than 150 poems include odes, epistles, elegies, songs, tales and epigrams.

translating Karamzin's Autumn

Many of Karamzin's meditations are on man's place in the world order, but his work gradually become more stylized and distant in manner. Karamzin also experimented in prosody: the piece translated here is written in dactyls without rhymes, successfully given coherence nonetheless.

Russian Text


Веют осенние ветры
В мрачной дубраве;
С шумом на землю валятся
Желтые листья.

Поле и сад опустели;
Сетуют холмы;
Пение в рощах умолкло —
Скрылися птички.

Поздние гуси станицей
К югу стремятся,
Плавным полетом несяся
В горних пределах.

Вьются седые туманы
В тихой долине;
С дымом в деревне мешаясь,
К небу восходят.

Странник, стоящий на холме,
Взором унылым
Смотрит на бледную осень,
Томно вздыхая.

Странник печальный, утешься!
Вянет природа
Только на малое время;
Все оживится,

Все обновится весною;
С гордой улыбкой
Снова природа восстанет
В брачной одежде.

Смертный, ах! вянет навеки!
Старец весною
Чувствует хладную зиму
Ветхия жизни.


The TTS (text to speech) recording is:

Prosodic Analysis

The poem Autumn is in unrhymed dactyls (- u u ):

Ве́ют осе́нние ве́тры    - u u – u u – u
В мра́чной дубра́ве;    - u u - u
С шу́мом на зе́млю ва́лятся     - u u – u u – u u
Жёлтые ли́стья.     - u u – u

По́ле и сад опусте́ли;    - u u – u u - u
Се́туют холмы́;    - u u -
Пе́ние в ро́щах умо́лкло —    - u u – u u - u
Скрылися пти́чки.    - u u - u

Previous Translations

Evelyn Bristol has an excellent rendering, reproducing the line lengths, feminine line endings and dactylic metre. I give her first two stanzas:

Winds of the autumn are blowing.
  Through the dark oak grove.
Eastward the yellowing leaves fall
  Noisily scattered.

Empty are gardens and grain fields.
  Hills are in mourning.
Songs in the forest are ended.
  Birds are departed.


The poem is in dactyls throughout, and all lines are feminine, i.e. end on an unstressed syllable. Neither feature is unusual in Russian verse, but most decidedly so in English. The best known poem may be Tennyson's 'The Charge of the Light Brigade':

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
   Rode the six hundred.

For shaping purposes, I suggest we make the even lines masculine and end them with pararhyme.

We also need to know what the following means.

Смертный, ах! вянет навеки!
Старец весною
Чувствует хладную зиму
Ветхия жизни.

A literal translation is:

Mortal, ah! withers away forever!
An old man in the springtime
Feels the cold winter.
of the old life.

Bristol has:

Mortals, alas, fade forever!
Men old at springtime
Feel in themselves the chill winter —
Ancient in lifetime

Very probably, {4} Karamsin is expressing the old truism that, while nature that fades through the winter months is renewed in the spring, man knows that his declining years will not be so renewed.

English Translation


Winds of the autumn are blowing,
  in the dark oak groves,
falling to earth are the rustling
   wraiths of leaves.

Now fields and gardens lie empty,
  the far hills complain,
forests are bereft of singing:
  occupants flown.

Last of the geese in the village
  flap southwards away,
wheeling in widening circles
  across the sky.

Wisps of grey mist are curling,
  through valleys drift,
with smoke from the village entangled,
  rising aloft.

Wanderer sees from the hilltops
  thick levels of mist;
pale seeming the fields of the autumn:
  languid, distressed.

Let then the wanderer be solaced.
  All withers to naught
for only the briefest of moments:
  soon life's relit.

Soon is the springtime returning:
  so proud smile shows,
nature is once more adopting
   her wedding clothes.

But mortals must wither forever:
  those old in the spring
know that perpetual is winter,
   in life's sad song.


1. Bristol, E. A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P., 1991) 84-88.

2. Mirsky, D.S. A History of Russian Literature. (Alfred A: Knopf, 1926/1958) 62-66.

3. Николай Карамзин — Осень: Стих. Text and commentary.

4. Analysis of the poem "Autumn" by Karamzin. Text and notes in Russian.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.