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Mayakovsky's Our March


Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) is now chiefly remembered for his prose play 'The Bedbug', but was the author of celebrated books of poetry, appearing first as the avant-garde rebel and then the unofficial poet laureate of the Soviet Union. Mayakovsky was born to a forest ranger who brought his family to Moscow in 1906. The young poet became a communist agitator, was arrested on three occasions and spent six months in solitary confinement at Butyrki Prison. He enrolled in an art college, and began associating with Osip Brik, a wealthy patron of the avant-garde, whose wife became the object of Mayakovsky's unhappy love poetry. After the Revolution, Mayakovsky produced posters for the telegraph agency ROSTA, and with Brik's assistance founded the LEF in 1922. From 1924 Mayakovsky made annual trips to Paris, and also visited Cuba, Mexico and the USA. His love for a Russian emigre woman in Paris was unrequited. In Russia he was obliged to join the government-sponsored RAPP, and in 1930, disillusioned with the Soviets, and life in general, Mayakovsky committed suicide. {1}

mayakovsky our march translation

Mayakovsky's early work expresses the resentment felt by the working classes towards the bourgeoisie, but also his unbridled love for gambling and the low life. He also celebrated the Revolution, becoming famous for 'Our March', the poem below. He genuinely hoped his poetry had social benefit, paving the way to a better future, and that poetry naturally merged with political propaganda, in time extinguishing the early lyrical phase. {1}

He was well known, tens of thousands of people attending his funeral. Mayakovsky was indeed canonized by Stalin, who said: 'Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our time. Indifference to his poetry is a crime.' Pasternak saw this as Mayakovsky’s second death, but was a political death only. To many he remained a great poet of love and loneliness. {2}

Mayakovsky cultivated a larger-than-life figure, complete with outrageous figures of speech, soaring fantasies and vulgarities new to Russian poetry, and is credited with freeing its forms with free verse and inexact rhymes. He sympathized with the lower classes, but did not identify with them, remaining to the end his own brawling and flamboyant self.

Russian Text

Наш марш

Бейте в площади бунтов топот!
Выше, гордых голов гряда!
Мы разливом второго потопа
перемоем миров города.

Дней бык пег.
Медленна лет арба.
Наш бог бег.
Сердце наш барабан.

Есть ли наших золот небесней?
Нас ли сжалит пули оса?
Наше оружие — наши песни.
Наше золото — звенящие голоса.

Зеленью ляг, луг,
выстели дно дням.
Радуга, дай дуг
лет быстролётным коням.

Видите, скушно звезд небу!
Без него наши песни вьем.
Эй, Большая Медведица! требуй,
чтоб на небо нас взяли живьем.

Радости пей! Пой!
В жилах весна разлита.
Сердце, бей бой!
Грудь наша — медь литавр.

1918


The TTS Audio Recording is:



Prosody o 'Our March'

Бе́йте в пло́щади бу́нтов то́пот!   - u u - u u - u - u - u 5A (10) 5
Вы́ше, го́рдых голо́в гряда́!   - u - u u - u - 4b (8) 4
Мы разли́вом второ́го пото́па   u u - u u - u 3A (7) 4
перемо́ем миро́в города́.   u u - u u - u 3b (7) 4

Дней бык пег.   - u -     2c (3) 2
Ме́дленна лет арба́.   - u u - u -     3d (6) 3
Наш бог бег.   - u -     2c (3) 2
Се́рдце наш бараба́н.   - u u - u -     3d (6) 3

Есть ли на́ших золот небе́сней?   u u - u u - u - u     3E (9) 5
Нас ли сжалит пу́ли оса́?   u u - u - u u -     3f (8) 4
На́ше ору́жие — на́ши пе́сни.   - u u - u u - u - u     3E (10) 5
На́ше зо́лото — звеня́щие голоса́.   - u - u - u u - u -     6f (9) 5

Зе́ленью ляг, луг,   - u u - -     3g (5) 3
вы́стели дно дням.   - u u - -     3h (5) 3
Ра́дуга, дай дуг   - u u - -     3g (5) 3
лет быстролётным коня́м.   - u u - u u -     3h (7) 4

Ви́дите, ску́шно звёзд не́бу!   - u u - u u - u     3I (8) 4
Без него́ на́ши пе́сни вьём.   u u - - u - u -     3/4j (8) 4
Эй, Бо́льшая Медве́дица! тре́буй,   u - u - u - u u - u     3J (10) 5
чтоб на не́бо нас взя́ли живьём.   u u - u u - u u -     3I (9) 5

Ра́дости пей! Пой!   - u u - -     3k (5) 3
В жи́лах весна́ разлита́.   - u u – u u -     3l (7) 3
Се́рдце, бей бой!   - u - -     3k (4) 3
Грудь на́ша — медь лита́вр.   u - u - u -     3l (6) 3

Naturally stressed syllables are shown as - , unstressed as u. Numbers in () are the syllable counts for the line. Number following the () suggest a metre for the second version: 5= pentameter, 4= tetrameter, 3= trimeter, 2= dimeter. See explanation below.

Previous Translations of 'Our March'

Ruverses have three renderings. I give the first two stanzas of each:

1. Dorian Rottenberg

Beat the squares with the tramp of rebels!
Higher, ranges of haughty heads!
We’ll wash the world with a second deluge,
Now’s the hour whose coming it dreads.

Too slow, the wagon of years,
The oxen of days — too glum.
Our god is the god of speed,
Our heart — our battle-drum.

2. Cecil Maurice Bowra

Tramp squares with rebellious treading!
Up heads! As proud peaks be seen!
In the second flood we are spreading
Every city on earth will be clean.

Pied days plod.
Slowly the years’ waggons come.
Speed’s our god.
Hearts are beating a drum.

3. Joseph Freeman

Beat on the street the march of rebellion,
sweeping over the heads of the proud;
we, the flood of a second deluge,
shall wash the world like a bursting cloud.

Days are a bright steed.
Years drag glum.
Our great god is Speed!
Our heart a bellowing drum!

Starting the Translation


Let's first establish the rhymes by writing simple abab quatrains:

Beat through the squares with high rebellious tread,
have heads in long high ranges seen:
wash world by deluge led,
earth's cities then are clean.

The days concede
that slowly years will come.
Our god is speed:
hearts beating with the drum.

What gold’s more bright than ours?
Bullets but the wasp's sting.
Our songs are mighty powers.
True gold lies in our voices. Listen! Hear us sing.

Green meadows make your mark,
Days, cover up the past.
Rainbows, show your arc,
the years as horses cast.

Ignore the boring heavens,
we sing our songs below.
Big Dipper: make concessions,
alive to the stars we go.

Drink with joy! And sing!
Spring’s spilling from our veins.
Heart fight well, and bring
drum's breasts to our campaigns.

Completing the Translation of the Mayakovsky Poem


Some lines are hardly English, of course, and we have neglected the extra syllables. Suppose we adopt the system outlined in the prosody section, where the last number indicates the line length suggested by number of syllables. The first line of the poem has (10) syllables, suggesting 5, a pentameter. (Бе́йте в пло́щади бу́нтов то́пот!   - u u - u u - u - u - u 5A (10) 5 ) And so on. We can then write something like the following.

Tramp through the squares with high rebellious head
arrayed as loftiest mountain seen:
wash all the world, by deluge led,
to leave our new formed cities clean.

While days concede
that slowly years will come,
our god is speed:
hearts beating with the drum.

When gold is heavenly endowed as ours
the bullets are but faint wasp's sting.
Our songs are weapons, mighty powers,
and gold our ringing voices. Hear us sing.

Green meadows: make your mark,
Days: cover up the last.
Rainbows: bend your arc
of years as horse flies past.

Ignore reactionary heaven's command:
alone sing songs beneath the lights.
Of you, Ursula Major, we demand
live passage on and through to starry heights.

And so rejoice! We drink! We sing!
The spring comes spilling from our veins.
Heart be strong in victory, and bring
breasts thrilled as cymbals on the new campaigns.

If this better than our starting version? Only in a few lines, unfortunately. The poem is a popular one, but dangerously close to bombast, so that extending the line length with something so vacuous only makes matters worse. It seems better to use the stressed syllable count as a guide to line length and write a slightly improved version of our first stab.

Beat through the squares with high rebellious tread,
hold heads as topmost mountains seen:
have earth to deluge fed
and wash our cities clean.

The days concede
that slowly years will come.
Our god is speed:
hearts beating with the drum.

What gold’s more bright than ours?
The bullets merely sting.
Our songs are mighty powers.
In ringing gold we sing.

Green meadows: make your mark,
Days: cover up the last.
Rainbows: bend your arc
of years as horse flies past.

Ignore the reactionary heavens:
alone stay songs below.
Big Dipper: make concessions,
alive to the stars we go.

Drink with joy! And sing!
Spring’s spilling from our veins.
Breast: fight well, and bring
heart's cymbals to campaigns.

References and Resources

1. Bristol, E., A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P.) 230-33.

2. Ruverses introduction.