Russian Poems: Nekrasov: The Pedlars

On the basis of his 1840 volume of verse, which showed no promise whatsoever, Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov gave up his studies at St. Petersburg University and turned to literature, which prompted his bullying squire of a father to immediately sever the allowance. For three years, Nekrásov lived in direst poverty, experiencing at first hand what was to be a constant theme of his work: the sufferings of Russia's oppressed classes. But by 1845, through an astonishing amount of hack journalism, commercial acumen and genuine critical taste, Nekrasov had become the principal publisher of a new literary school, which in time brought out all the leading names of Russian literature in the mid-to-later nineteenth century. His own verse improved, and found enthusiastic support from Belinsky and other leading critics. In 1847, Nekrasov acquired the Sovreménnik, which had been Pushkin's journal, and soon turned a valetudinarian relict of the aristocracy into a splendidly paying affair and the principal literary review in Russia. Surviving the hard times of reaction, it became the rallying ground of the extreme left, for which was closed down the following year in the panic that followed the first attempt on Alexander II's life. Two years later, Nekrasov took over the Otéchestvennye zapíski, where he remained the owner and editor of the most radical journal in the country until his death.

translating nekrasov's pedlars: see how many goods I pack

'The Pedlars' or 'See How Many Goods I Pack', is one of Nekrasov's most popular pieces, and has indeed acquired a life of its own, having been set to music as a genuine folk song. The sequence in fact ends unhappily with the pedlars being murdered for their takings, but illustrates the unsentimental values of peasant life.

Russian Text

Слова Николая Некрасова

«Ой, полна, полна коробушка,
Есть и ситцы и парча.
Пожалей, моя зазнобушка,
Молодецкого плеча!

Выди, выди в рожь высокую!
Там до ночки погожу,
А завижу черноокую –
Все товары разложу.

Цены сам платил немалые,
Не торгуйся, не скупись:
Подставляй-ка губы алые,
Ближе к милому садись!»

Вот уж пала ночь туманная,
Ждет удалый молодец.
Чу, идет! — пришла желанная,
Продает товар купец.

Катя бережно торгуется,
Все боится передать.
Парень с девицей целуется,
Просит цену набавлять.

Знает только ночь глубокая,
Как поладили они.
Расступись ты, рожь высокая,
Тайну свято сохрани!

«Ой! легка, легка коробушка,
Плеч не режет ремешок!
А всего взяла зазнобушка
Бирюзовый перстенек.

Дал ей ситцу штуку целую,
Ленту алую для кос,
Поясок — рубаху белую
Подпоясать в сенокос —

Всё поклала ненаглядная
В короб, кроме перстенька:
«Не хочу ходить нарядная
Без сердечного дружка!»

То-то, дуры вы, молодочки!
Не сама ли принесла
Полуштофик сладкой водочки?
А подарков не взяла!

Так постой же! Нерушимое
Обещаньице даю:
Опорожнится коробушка,
На Покров домой приду
И тебя, душа-зазнобушка,
В божью церковь поведу!»


The poem is written in regular iambic tetrameters, rhymed AbAb, where the feminine rhyme has a second syllable (but isn't stressed, i.e. doesn't turn the line into a pentameter). The result is a ballad-like rhythm, which suits the folk-tune style that Nekrasov was fond of.

«Ой, пол на́, пол на́ ко ро ́буш ка, 4A
Есть и си́тцы и пар ча́. 4b
По жа ле́й, мо я́ заз но́ буш ка, 4A
Мо ло де́ц ко го пле ча́! 4b

Вы ди, вы ди в рожь вы со́ ку ю! 4C
Там до но́ч ки по го жу́, 4d
А за ви́ жу чер но о ́ку ю – 4C
Всё то ва ́ры раз ло жу́. 4d

Це́ ны сам пла ти́л не ма́ лы е, 4E
Не то ргу́й ся, нес ку пи́сь: 4f
Подс тав ля́й-ка гу ́бы а ́лы е, 4E
Бли ́же к ми ́ло му са ди́сь!» 4f

Вот уж па́ ла ночь ту ма́н на я, 4G
Ждёт у да́ лый мо ло де́ц. 4h
Чу, и дёт! — приш ла́ же ла́н на я, 4G
Про да ёт то ва́р ку пе́ц. 4h
Ка́т я бе́ реж но тор гу ́ет ся, 4I
Всё бо и́т ся пе ре да́ть. 4j
Па ́рень с де ви́ цей це лу ́ет ся, 4I
Про́ сит це́ ну на бав ля́ть. 4j

The concluding verse has six lines:

Так пос той же! Не ру ши мо е 4A
О бе ща ньи це да ю: 4b
О по рож нит ся ко ро буш ка, 4A
На Пок ров до мой при ду 4b
И те бя, ду ша-заз но буш ка, 4A
В бож ью цер ковь по ве ду!». 4b

Even a TTS (text to speech) recording conveys some of the rhythm:

Nikolay Alexéyevich Nekrásov (1821-72)

Nekrásov was an editor of genius, getting the best from his contributors, finding the talent, encouraging, supporting and guiding their efforts through the perilous waters of state censorship, and still making money through the most ingenious of business novelties. Yet this leader of exemplary opinion was anything but honest. All attest to the man's hard-hearted, rapacious and unscrupulous nature. The social reformer also gambled lavishly, made no secret of pursuing the pleasures of women and dining out, and snobbishly hob-nobbed with his social betters. To save himself and his Sovreménnik, the unapologetic hypocrite also composed and read in public a poem praising Count Muraviëv, the most brutal and determined of reactionaries. Turgenev, Herzen and other principled radicals hated the man with a vengeance, but Nekrásov remained undeniably popular with his co-workers and the masses, his funeral being a noted public event.

Nekrásov was not a careful craftsman, and, though he was an excellent critic of others' work, had little capacity for his own. Nekrásov's work is prolific but very mixed. It was not so much lapses of taste, said his critics, but of no taste at all, of not being concerned with such matters. Nekrásov has none of the tact, balance and luminous sense of limits that inform the work of Pushkin, Turgenev and Tiutchev, and the dangerous facility he acquired in his years of hack journalism allowed him to mechanically churn out verse on anything he pleased, as and when the need came to him. What most drove him to hold forth were the monstrous sufferings of the poor, with whom — his own life-style notwithstanding — he genuinely sympathised. He identified personally with his subjects, moreover, and almost alone among the great Russian poets, could enter into the peasant's hopes, sufferings and rough good humour. Many of his pieces have the genuine air of folksongs. At his best, Nekrásov is incomparable, writing with intense humanity, often with biting satire and savage invective. 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.

Critical opinion is therefore still divided over Nekrásov, between those who despise his style (which concerned him not at all) and those who value the searing frankness of his views (which he saw as the obvious truth). He was undoubtedly the greatest civic poet of the second half of the Russian nineteenth century, and there are poems that only he could have produced: Who Can Be Happy in Russia?, Frost the Red-Nosed, and the piece translated here.

See my free translation of Red-Nosed Frost for more details.

English Translation

The ballad meter in English is the iambic 7 syllable line arranged as rhyming pairs, i.e. 4a 3b 4a 3b stanza, but is too short for translation here. It seems best to ignore the extra feminine line and employ the tetrameter, which is the 'singing' line in English:

See how many goods I pack:
fine braid and cotton for your hair.
Pity me and do not lack
what these manly shoulders bear!

Until the night-time fills the skies,
within the rye I’ll wait, and show
how dark will be those dark, dark eyes:
everything I have must go.

Think what prices I have paid:
don’t be cautious, do what’s right.
Your lips will make a fine brocade:
come, my sweet, and snuggle tight.

The night assumed a foggy cast,
but on the jolly fellow fares:
The long-awaited comes at last,
and now the merchant sells his wares.

How carefully, carefully Katya trades
apportioning what soon is lost,
but then that care in kissing fades:
he bids her name her highest cost.

She only knows the night is deep,
and what there happened so befell
her where the springing rye would keep
her secret hidden, none to tell.

How easy now to bear the load,
the strap marks do not hurt the skin:
in all I offered her she showed
a preference for that turquoise ring

So not the chintz or coloured scarf,
the shift, or any useful thing.
She wouldn’t wear for hay’s behalf
the girdle made for harvesting

It was the ring, for all I pressed
her, she’d have nothing of my fare.
'Why flaunt myself with all the rest
if one I want is nowhere there?'

So girls no better than they ought
will stoop to play their silly tricks:
I it was sweet vodka brought,
but she who still refused my gifts.

So you, unyielding one, now wait,
take all I promised, all my wealth,
flaunt the treasures that you hate.
I come to Pokrov, not in stealth,
but celebrate your soul's estate:
I'll lead you to the church myself.


'The Fair' by Ivan Seminovich Kukilov 1910. Kukilov was born to a rural peasant family that had recently moved to Murom, where he met Alexander Morozov and was encouraged to enrol in the drawing school at the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. He then moved to St.Petersburg, worked as an assistant in Morozov's studio, took classes at the Imperial Academy of Arts, and, from 1901 to 1902, together with Boris Kustodiev, helped Repin paint his monumental 'The Ceremonial Meeting of the State Council May 7, 1901' for the Mariinsky Palace.

References and Resources

References can now be found in a free pdf compilation of Ocaso Press's Russian pages.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.