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Russian Poems: Nekrasov: Home

Nekrasov never forgot his early days of destitution, and comments on man’s exploitation of man appear constantly: as money-lending (Vlas), forced marriages (On the Road) landowner indifference (A Dog Hunt), neglect of estates (The Forgotten Village), arrogance of officialdom (Reflections at the Grand Entrance), back-breaking labour (On the Volga) or relations between the social classes (Who Can Be Happy in Russia?).

translating nekrasov's silence

To the genteel, book-buying public, Nekrásov’s harrowing observations were not welcome, but he spoke the truth. Growing commercialism and industrialisation were destroying the Romantic attitudes of the land-owning classes, and a new St. Petersburg society was happily parading a wealth born of enterprise, profiteering and speculation.

Nekrásov’s business dealings could be decidedly shabby, but in this he was merely following the times, adopting attitudes that it would have been dishonest not to portray in his work.

Professional writers first appeared in Russia of the 1840s, moreover, no doubt hacks of the worst sort to the ‘superfluous classes’ of land-owning aristocrats, but catering for a new readership of clerks, minor officials and legions of the partially educated. Nekrásov’s themes, and his rough-hewn style confronted what his social betters had hitherto chosen to ignore.

Critical opinion is probably as divided today as it was in Nekrasov’s time. But to his admirers, Nekrásov is incomparable, writing with intense humanity, often with biting satire and savage invective. In addition, and unappreciated at the time, he was also able to incorporate colloquialisms and slang into his verse, compose in loose ternary measures, and carry off such incongruous matters quite naturally. The verse has little of the subtlety of Tyútchev and Fet, but no doubt contemporaries of Wordsworth also missed the grace and polish of Augustan verse. Readers today will also remember Eliot’s 'The Wasteland', which incorporated matter not formerly the province of poetry. Indeed Eliot claimed, as a consequence of his reading of Baudelaire and others, that the Modernist way was to make poetry out of the hitherto unpoetic. That in essence was Nekrasov’s achievement, seventy years before Eliot’s experiments.

Russian Text


Родина

И вот они опять, знакомые места,
Где жизнь отцов моих, бесплодна и пуста,
Текла среди пиров, бессмысленного чванства,
Разврата грязного и мелкого тиранства;
Где рой подавленных и трепетных рабов
Завидовал житью последних барских псов,
Где было суждено мне божий свет увидеть,
Где научился я терпеть и ненавидеть,
Но, ненависть в душе постыдно притая,
10. Где иногда бывал помещиком и я;
Где от души моей, довременно растленной,
Так рано отлетел покой благословенный,
И неребяческих желаний и тревог
Огонь томительный до срока сердце жёг…
Воспоминания дней юности — известных
Под громким именем роскошных и чудесных, —
Наполнив грудь мою и злобой и хандрой,
18. Во всей своей красе проходят предо мной…

Вот тёмный, тёмный сад… Чей лик в аллее дальной
20. Мелькает меж ветвей, болезненно-печальный?
Я знаю, отчего ты плачешь, мать моя!
Кто жизнь твою сгубил… о! знаю, знаю я!..
Навеки отдана угрюмому невежде,
Не предавалась ты несбыточной надежде —
Тебя пугала мысль восстать против судьбы,
Ты жребий свой несла в молчании рабы…
Но знаю: не была душа твоя бесстрастна;
Она была горда, упорна и прекрасна,
И всё, что вынести в тебе достало сил,
30. Предсмертный шепот твой губителю простил!..

И ты, делившая с страдалицей безгласной
И горе и позор судьбы её ужасной,
Тебя уж также нет, сестра души моей!
Из дома крепостных любовниц и псарей
Гонимая стыдом, ты жребий свой вручила
Тому, которого не знала, не любила…
Но, матери своей печальную судьбу
На свете повторив, лежала ты в гробу
С такой холодною и строгою улыбкой,
40. Что дрогнул сам палач, заплакавший ошибкой.

Вот серый, старый дом… Теперь он пуст и глух:
Ни женщин, ни собак, ни гаеров, ни слуг, —
А встарь?.. Но помню я: здесь что-то всех давило,
Здесь в малом и в большом тоскливо сердце ныло.
Я к няне убегал… Ах, няня! сколько раз
Я слезы лил о ней в тяжелый сердцу час;
При имени её впадая в умиленье,
Давно ли чувствовал я к ней благоговенье?..

Её бессмысленной и вредной доброты
50. На память мне пришли немногие черты,
И грудь моя полна враждой и злостью новой…
Нет! в юности моей, мятежной и суровой,
Отрадного душе воспоминанья нет;
Но все, что, жизнь мою опутав с первых лет,
Проклятьем на меня легло неотразимым, —
Всему начало здесь, в краю моем родимом!..

И с отвращением кругом кидая взор,
С отрадой вижу я, что срублен тёмный бор —
В томящий летний зной защита и прохлада, —
60. И нива выжжена, и праздно дремлет стадо,
Понурив голову над высохшим ручьем,
И набок валится пустой и мрачный дом,
Где вторил звону чаш и гласу ликований
Глухой, и вечный гул подавленных страданий,
И только тот один, кто всех собой давил,
Свободно и дышал, и действовал, и жил…

1846

Previous Translations

Ruverses have Oliver Elton's elegant rendering. The opening lines are:

Home

Behold it once again, the old familiar place,
Wherein my fathers passed their barren, vacant days!
In muddy revels ran their lives, in witless bragging,
In little bullying ways, in gluttonies unflagging;
The swarm of shivering serfs in their oppression found
An enviable thing the master’s meanest hound;
And here to see the light of heaven I was fated,
And here I learned to hate, and bear the thing I hated;
But all my hate I hid within my soul for shame.
And I at seasons too a yokel squire became;

No doubt the diction is a little dated now, but this is a much smoother version than mine below.

Analysis

The poem is written in hexameters, rhymed aa bb cc, etc. This is not an unusual measure in Russian, but much less easy to handle in English. My solution has been to write hexameters with broken and changing rhythms — not attractive of course, but I hope effective:

И вот они́ опя́ть, знако́мые места́, u-u-u-u-u-u- 6a
Где жизнь отцо́в мои́х, беспло́дна и пуста́, u-u-u-u-u-u- 6a
Текла́ среди́ пиро́в, бессмы́сленного чва́нства, u-u-u-u-u-u-u 6B
Развра́та гря́зного и ме́лкого тира́нства; u-u-u-u-u-u-u 6B
Где рой пода́вленных и тре́петных рабо́в 6d
Зави́довал житью́ после́дних ба́рских псов, 6d
Где бы́ло суждено́ мне бо́жий свет уви́деть, 6E
Где научи́лся я терпе́ть и ненави́деть, 6E
Но, не́нависть в душе́ посты́дно притая́, 6f
Где иногда́ быва́л поме́щиком и я; 6f
Где от души́ мое́й, довре́менно растле́нной , 6G
Так ра́но отлете́л поко́й благослове́нный, 6G

We should not read too much into TTS (text to speech) recordings, but the opening 18 lines are clearly unlike the easy-running verse of Pushkin and his circle:



Translation

Home

So here they are again, the scenes of former days
still witnessing my fathers' unprofitable, bragging ways,
that fruitless intemperance, gluttonous buffoonery,
that filth, debauchery, and mindless tyranny:
how many of his trembling, wretched peasants found
themselves more poorly treated than their master's hound.
But there, in God's good light, I was to bow to fate,
accept injustices, and learn to bear that hate
in silences, deep hidden in my soul for shame.
10. For was I not a squire, or so in time became?
Then, readily corrupted, how quickly would I cease
to look to my own self for inward states of peace.
My childish soul was filled with premature desires,
and, by those sins, the heart was deeply scorched by fires.
The simple days of youth, that should be fond recalled
and comfortably, with senses marvellously enthralled,
descended to black thoughts, as, under anger's sway,
they trooped before me and in triumph made their way.

This is the dark, dark garden, the path where bushes thin
20. to show a figure walking dejectedly within.
And yet I know, my mother, why those tears would flow,
who had destroyed your life: how well, how well I know!
But why give in this way to brutish ignorance,
supposing life would change, and for the better hence?
Or, worse, accept that fate, put faith in simple trust,
with not a word demurring, as a peasant must?
Your soul, I do know this, was not dispassionate,
and sought the loveliness that is a woman’s state:
and yet you chose endurance, intending that your death
30. forgive the one at fault in your final breath.

And you in turn, and mutely suffering the same
sad fate, that all-too dreadful, loathsome grief and shame,
you too, my sister-soul, in turn have been displaced
by kenneled dogs, by peasant mistresses disgraced.
Hounded out, indeed, accepting of a lot
that never featured love: one thing he hadn't got.
You, following as you must, your mothers' own vile fate,
were set, as was your mother, in her coffined state
with a cold, strained smile while he, the guilty one,
40. and trembling now, shed tears: it couldn't be undone.

Here is the old grey house, now empty of all sound
of lackeys, servants, women, yapping dogs around,
none of the degradation he forced on everyone,
both high and low. No sooner had the heart begun
to find a solace in my nanny's words than she
would soothe away the pains of day's despondency.
How long would I remember her, the very name
calls up the reverences I held for her, the same
unthinking, all-too-harmful kindness I would find
50. turn to melancholy malice in my mind.

And in that angry youth, which I could not control,
there were no memories to mitigate or please the soul
but all was tangled up with sins of early years
and with a curse occasioning such bitter tears.
Here, in this very place a curse was laid on me,
and irrevocably thereafter would be destiny.
So now with strong repugnance, I must gaze on round:
to see the shadowed forest felled, the one place found
to give me cooling shelter from the summer's blaze.
60. In burnt-up fields I see the doltish cattle graze,
hanging their heads vacantly above what streams there were.
But not in this dark leaning house will now recur,
the sounds of drink and coarse, unbridled revelry,
but only a muffled hum of suppressed misery,
the fruit of crushing subjugation, where only he
walked breezily alive in his large liberty.

What's to be done: polish up or leave the 'faults' as more faithful to the original? Nekrasov's verse is not always too accomplished, particularly in the difficult hexameter, but more work is probably needed.

Illustration

'Holy Rus' by Mikhail Nesterov 1901-06 Russia Museum. Mikhail Nesterov (1862-1942) came from a strongly patriarchal merchant family, trained at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture,and then entered the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. He supported himself with magazine and book illustration until, in 1889, his 'Hermit' was purchased by Pavel Tretyakov and the artist was able to visit Austria, Germany, France and Italy. Nesterov joined a right-wing nationalist party in 1905, survived the Revolution and purges of the 30s to be eventually awarded the Stalin Prize and then the Order of the Red Banner of Labour.

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