Alexander Pushkin: Monument

The Monument is one of the Pushkin's better-known poems, and vies in celebrity with Derzhavin poem of the same name. Both of course descend from Horace Ode III.30, and present the translator with formidable problems if something accomplished and convincing is wanted.

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The Monument stanza is written as three hexameters and a concluding tetrameter, rhymed as 6A 6b 6A 4b poem. That is a perfectly natural stanza in Russian, but much less so in English. Added to this are the proper names that Pushkin weaves in, which have to be included to give the ode its wide-ranging power.

Russian Text

Exegi monumentum

Я памятник себе воздвиг нерукотворный,
К нему не заростет народная тропа,
Вознесся выше он главою непокорной
Александрийского столпа.

Нет, весь я не умру — душа в заветной лире
Мой прах переживет и тленья убежит —
И славен буду я, доколь в подлунном мире
Жив будет хоть один пиит.

Слух обо мне пройдет по всей Руси великой,
И назовет меня всяк сущий в ней язык,
И гордый внук славян, и финн, и ныне дикой
Тунгуз, и друг степей калмык.

И долго буду тем любезен я народу,
Что чувства добрые я лирой пробуждал,
Что в мой жестокой век восславил я Свободу
И милость к падшим призывал.

Веленью божию, о муза, будь послушна,
Обиды не страшась, не требуя венца,
Хвалу и клевету приемли равнодушно,
И не оспаривай глупца.

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Analysis of Poem Exegi monumentum (Monument)

The poem is in simple iambics, rhymed AbAb:

Я па́мятник себе́ воздви́г нерукотво́рный, 6A
К не́му не заростет наро́дная тропа́, 6b
Вознёсся вы́ше он главо́ю непоко́рной 6A
Александри́йского столпа́. 4b

Previous Translations of Exegi monumentum

The difficulties become apparent if we look at the Ruverses renderings. I give just the first stanza of each:

1. Avril Pyman

A monument I've raised not built with hands,
And common folk shall keep the path well trodden
To where it unsubdued and towering stands
Higher than Alexander's Column.

2. A.Z. Foreman

I've reared a monument not built by human hands.
The public path to it cannot be overgrown.
With insubmissive head far loftier it stands
Than Alexander's columned stone.

3. Babette Deutsch

I have erected a monument to myself
Not built by hands; the track of it, though trodden
By the people, shall not become overgrown,
And it stands higher than Alexander's column.

4. Boris Leyvi

A monument, unforged, I for myself erected.
A common path to it will not be ever lost,
And its unheedful head reigns higher than respected,
The known Alexandrian Post.

5. Anatoly Berlin

Not made by human hand my pillar-like creation,
The people’s path thereto will never disappear,
Like Alexander’s post that rises over nations
My Monument will certainly endear.

6. Dylan M. Thomas

I have erected a monument to myself
Not built by hands; the track of it, though trodden
By the people, shall not become overgrown,
And it stands higher than Alexander’s column.

7. Cecil Maurice Bowra

I’ve built my monument, but not with hands I made it;
Where the crowds flock to it, no grass shall ever grow.
With an unruly head it soars, and in its shade it
Leaves Alexander’s Pillar low.

8. Ivan Panin

A monument not hand-made I have for me erected;
The path to it well-trodden will not overgrow;
Risen higher has it with unbending head
Than the monument of Alexander.

The problems are the following. Nos. 6 and 8 don't rhyme, or sufficiently closely (1, 3). Nos. 1, 3, 5 and 6 do not respect the 6664 stanza form. Rhyme has caused the sense to be bent a little in Nos. 4 and 7. The verse in itself is defective in all except nos. 1, 2, and 7, and even here it's not particularly convincing or attractive. The overriding problem is the style, which has to be imposing for the ode, and which the hexameter will achieve if phrased properly.

English Translation of Pushkin's Monument

I've raised a lofty monument beyond good cause
of human hands, nor can its path be overgrown.
Its high, rebellious fountainhead out-soars
what Alexander built in stone.

My name shall echo through the Russian world, be heard
in every tongue that our vast motherland accepts.
In this Slavs, Finns and Tungus grandsons have concurred,
in friendship with the Kalmyk steppes.

For all eternity, I shall be loved by them.
My lyre has given their every cherished feeling birth,
nor would my free voice in an iron age condemn
the abject fallen of the earth.

I will not wholly die when soul is in the lyre.
Beyond this world of ashes and corrupting pain
I stand more glorious when world beneath the moon expire
but still one poet there remain.

Attend God's word alone, my muse. But Him obey.
Fear not men’s viciousness, nor seek the poet's bay.
For you, sustained above all praise and censure, stay
untouched by what the foolish say.

Working at Drafts

No translation comes easily. Everything has to be worked at. My first draft of the opening stanza was:

This monument here made is not the repertoire
of human hands, nor shall its path be over-grown
to men. With high, unruly head it soars, will far
out top that Alexander’s own.

Not too promising. Then came:

The monument here made was not of human cause;
nor can the path to it be lost or overgrown.
But with its fine, rebellious head it over-soars
what Alexander calls his own.

Then came the inversion:

I've raised a monument not built of human hands,
where common path to it cannot be over-grown.
For far beneath its high, rebellious head there stands
than columned Alexander's stone.

And then:

The monument I've raised reflects no manual cause,
nor can the common path to it be overgrown.
Its high, rebellious fountain-head out-soars
what Alexander made his own.

And thence to the version above. Note that this not a word-for-word exercise. Just as Pushkin found what he wanted to say by writing verse, so we have to reverse the process and find what Pushkin is saying by extending and improving our verse renderings. The whole stanza is knitted together with strong alliteration on c: cast, cause, etc.

References and Resources

1. Mirsky, D.S., A History of Russian Literature (Knopf 1926 / Vintage Books 1958) 83-102.
2. Bristol, E., A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P.) 109-15.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.