Nikolay Karamsin (1766-1826) did not write great poetry, but reformed the literary language of Russia, facilitating the poetry of Pushkin and his circle and thus making possible
the Golden Age of Russian verse.
To understand Karamsin's achievement we have to look at his predecessors. Lomonosov (1711-65) had reconciled Church Slavonic and colloquial Russian. Church Slavonic was to be divided into five layers of formality, and these blended appropriately into three styles: high, middle and low. Odes were written in the high style, epistles in the middle style and comedies in the low style. Many foreign words that were popular in Russia at the time were to be excluded. Derzhavin (1743-1816) wrote with a Baroque complexity, ruggedly magnificent at best, but inimitable.
Karamsin merged the high and low into the middle style, and wrote with a simplicity and directness that verged on the conversational, albeit the conversation of well-bred gentlemen at ease in their clubs and at home with friends.
Karamzin also made popular the 'poetry of sentiment'. All poetry, being an art form (at least before
late Modernism), engendered emotion, but the poetry of sentiment made the overriding sentiment the subject of the poem. Karamsin's 'Merry Hour'
continually reiterates how hard this world is, and how wine gives us some temporary relief from its sorrows and vexations.
These are not profound observations, but the
charm of the poem lies in its pleasing expression.
Братья, рюмки наливайте!
Лейся через край, вино!
Все до капли выпивайте!
Осушайте в рюмках дно!
Мы живем в печальном мире;
Всякий горе испытал —
В бедном рубище, в порфире —
Но и радость бог нам дал.
Он вино нам дал на радость,-
Говорит святой Мудрец,-
Старец в нем находит младость,
Бедный — горестям конец.
Кто все плачет, все вздыхает,
Вечно смотрит сентябрем —
Тот науки жить не знает
И не видит света днем.
Все печальное забудем,
Что смущало в жизни нас;
Петь и радоваться будем
В сей приятный, сладкий час!
Да светлеет сердце наше,
Да сияет в нем покой,
Как вино сияет в чаше,
The TTS (text to speech) recording is:
Karamsin's 'Merry Hour' is a simple little poem in iambic tetrameters, rhymed AbAb:
Бра́тья, рю́мки налива́йте! 4A
Ле́йся че́рез край, вино́! 4b
Всё до ка́пли выпива́йте! 4A
Осуша́йте в рю́мках дно! 4b
Karamsin is not a celebrated poet, and I do not know of any previous translation.
Such a simple piece doesn't need extended discussion. The only question is whether we write in trimeters or tetrameters. Trimeters are suggested by the simplicity of the piece. A machine code translation of the first two stanzas is:
Brothers, pour the glasses!
Pour over the edge, wine!
Drink every drop!
Drain the bottom in glasses!
We live in a sad world;
Everyone has experienced grief —
In poor rags, in porphyry —
But God also gave us joy.
Nonetheless, I'd suggest we use tetrameters, for several reasons. The Russian is in tetrameters. Though trimeters can give the 'unadorned accent of truth', they are fiendishly difficult to rhyme convincingly. And the tetrameter, additionally, gives us the line space to write decent if not exactly telling verse:
Brothers, fill the glasses, fill
them to the over-brimming top;
then raise and empty them until
the cup is barely left a drop.
How soon the world's enjoyment flags,
for sorrow's known in every reach.
Some live in porphyry and some in rags,
but God apportions joy to each.
For happiness He gave us wine:
it is the wisdom sages send.
The old will earlier youth divine,
and poor attain their sorrow’s end.
Those who on sadness only dwell,
and claim September’s come to stay,
have lost the art of living well,
and see no light but dark all day.
Let's disregard each saddening thing,
and how confusions overpower,
embrace sheer happiness and sing
of this pure sweet and pleasing hour.
Let all our hearts to gladness pass,
that peace be then a shining boon,
the wine to glitter in the glass
where it is silvered by the moon.
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. Text of the poem "Merry Hour" by Karamzin. Весёлый час.
Russian poem translations on this site: listing.