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Puskin's Bound for Distant Native Shores


This now famous poem was written on November 27, 1830, but not published until 1841, after Pushkin's death. This page looks at achieving a neatness of expression in translation, without Romantic excess.

alexander pushkin bound for that distant native shore translation

Over the identity of the woman there is contention, some believing she is the figment of Pushkin's imagination, others identifying her as a Mme Riznich, with whom Pushkin has a brief affair, at Odessa in 1823. Mme Riznich did indeed return to Italy. Some parts of the poem may thus be true, but with Pushkin imagining the rest, that the woman would still want to write.

Russian Text

Для берегов отчизны дальной...

Для берегов отчизны дальной
Ты покидала край чужой;
В час незабвенный, в час печальный
Я долго плакал пред тобой.
Мои хладеющие руки
Тебя старались удержать;
Томленье страшное разлуки
Мой стон молил не прерывать.

Но ты от горького лобзанья
Свои уста оторвала;
Из края мрачного изгнанья
Ты в край иной меня звала.
Ты говорила: «В день свиданья
Под небом вечно голубым,
В тени олив, любви лобзанья
Мы вновь, мой друг, соединим».

Но там, увы, где неба своды
Сияют в блеске голубом,
Где [тень олив легла] на воды,
Заснула ты последним сном.
Твоя краса, твои страданья
Исчезли в урне гробовой —
А с ними поцалуй свиданья…
Но жду его; он за тобой…

1830


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Poem Analysis

The poem is in simple iambic tetrameters, rhyming A b A b:

Для берего́в отчи́зны дальной 4A
Ты покида́ла край чужо́й; 4b
В час незабве́нный, в час печа́льный 4A
Я до́лго пла́кал пред тобо́й. 4b
Мои́ хладе́ющие ру́ки 4C
Тебя́ стара́лись удержа́ть; 4d
Томле́нье стра́шное разлу́ки 4C
Мой стон моли́л не прерыва́ть. 4d

Previous Translations

Ruverses have five renderings, the opening stanzas of which I reproduce here. They suffer from various problems: indifferent verse (2), lack of (4) or contrived rhyming (1,3), histrionics (5), and cliché expression (all):

1. Babbette Deutsch

Abandoning an alien country,
You sought your distant native land;
How could I stop the tears at parting
When sorrow was beyond command?
With hands that momently grew colder
I tried to hold you, wordlessly
I begged that our farewells, our anguish,
Might be prolonged eternally.


2. A.S. Kline

Bound for your distant home
you were leaving alien lands.
In an hour as sad as I’ve known
I wept over your hands.
My hands were numb and cold,
still trying to restrain
you, whom my hurt told
never to end this pain.

3. A. Z. Foreman

Bound for your distant homeland's shore
You left behind a foreign clime
How long I wept before your eyes,
That unforgotten, grievous time.
Hands growing colder as they tried
To hold you back with me a spell,
My cry prayed you and heaven not
To break the anguish of farewell.

4. Anthony Phillips

For distant shores of homeland
You left this alien land;
In that never-forgotten hour, that time of grief
I wept long before you.
With hands turned to ice
I tried to keep you with me;
My cries begged you to postpone
The dreadful anguish of parting.

5. Hon. M. Baring

Bound for your far-off native shore
From alien lands you went away;
I shall remember evermore
The tears I shed upon that day.
My hands grew colder as they tried
To keep you from forsaking me;
“End not,” my soul to Heaven cried,
“The parting’s dreadful agony!”

Preferred Translation

Bound for far-off, native shores,
you left the alien land you knew.
What sad, remembered hour would cause
those endless tears I showed for you.
My hands grew colder as they tried
to more forestall your leaving me,
and terribly I moaned and cried
you more extend my earnest plea.

How bitter then was that last kiss
with which you tore yourself away.
Now to our gloomy land comes this
far summoning, where you say:
some promised day as you may please,
below that sky’s unchanging blue,
we’ll kiss beneath the olive trees,
my friend, and kindle love anew.

But there, alas, where that far sky
is vaulted with such brilliant blue,
are shaded ways where also lie
the other night that bid adieu.
You fell asleep, and so were gone
all pain and beauty. In that urn
are coffined kisses, kissing on . . .
to me, still promised their return.

Translation Points

There are four points worth making.

1. First is that difficult ending, literally 'I'm waiting for them: they're promised me.' That makes Pushkin sound rather peevish. I have avoided this unfortunate note by adding 'kissing on' and damping down the peremptory tone.'

2. There are many small departures from a word-for-word rendering, both to evade the difficulties of previous versions and the unyielding nature of the rhymes available in English.

3. I've tried to make the poem build in intensity, from the factual and unpoetic first stanza to something more.

4. Emotional restraint. In many ways, Pushkin is still an eighteenth-century poet, placing neatness of expression above Romantic freedom and power. My rendering is therefore rather quieter than the Ruverses examples.

References and Resources

1. Анализ стихотворения Пушкина для берегов отчизны дальной. Brief article in Russian.