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Alexander Pushkin: Winter Morning


Winter Morning is a straightforward but evocative piece of Pushkin's maturity. The simple delights that winter brings are described with some relish, the scene enhanced by the poet's unnamed companion.

pushkin winter morning translation

The poem, which has been much translated, calls for good craft skills, but also some decision as to how contemporary we make the rendering. Winter Morning was written in 1829, making it contemporary with work by our our Romantic poets: Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth, etc.

Pushkin's style owes much to the 18th century, however, seeking apt word choice and neatness of expression. It is probably best to keep that neatness in translation but avoid the abstractions popular with our 18th century poets.

Russian Text

Зимнее утро

Мороз и солнце; день чудесный!
Еще ты дремлешь, друг прелестный —
Пора, красавица, проснись:
Открой сомкнуты негой взоры
Навстречу северной Авроры,
Звездою севера явись!

Вечор, ты помнишь, вьюга злилась,
На мутном небе мгла носилась;
Луна, как бледное пятно,
Сквозь тучи мрачные желтела,
И ты печальная сидела —
А нынче… погляди в окно:

Под голубыми небесами
Великолепными коврами,
Блестя на солнце, снег лежит;
Прозрачный лес один чернеет,
И ель сквозь иней зеленеет,
И речка подо льдом блестит.

Вся комната янтарным блеском
Озарена. Веселым треском
Трещит затопленная печь.
Приятно думать у лежанки.
Но знаешь: не велеть ли в санки
Кобылку бурую запречь?

Скользя по утреннему снегу,
Друг милый, предадимся бегу
Нетерпеливого коня
И навестим поля пустые,
Леса, недавно столь густые,
И берег, милый для меня.

1829


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Analysis of Poem 'Winter Morning'

The poem is in simple iambics, rhymed AAbCCb:

Моро́з и со́лнце; день чуде́сный!     4A
Ещё ты дре́млешь, друг преле́стный —     4A
Пора́, краса́вица, просни́сь:     4b
Откро́й со́мкнуты не́гой взо́ры     4C
Навстре́чу се́верной Авро́ры,     4C
Звездо́ю се́вера яви́сь!     4b

Previous Translations

The ever-useful Ruverses has five renderings, of which I give just the opening stanza:

1. Andrey Kneller

Cold frost and sunshine: day of wonder!
But you, my friend, are still in slumber —
Wake up, my beauty, time belies:
You dormant eyes, I beg you, broaden
Toward the northerly Aurora,
As though a northern star arise!

2. Alexander Shaumyan

Frost and the sun; a splendid morning!
My dear friend, you still lie dormant, —
It's time, my beauty, rise in cheer:
Ope your eyelids lulled by night
To the splendor of the northern lights
And like the northern star appear!

3. Irina Zheleznova

Snow, frost and sunshine — lovely morning!
Yet you, dear love, its magic scorning,
Are still abed... Awake, my sweet !
Cast sleep away, I beg, and, rising,
Yourself a northern star, the blazing
Aurora, northern beauty, meet

4. Cecil Maurice Bowra

Miraculous morning! Frost and sun!
But you, delightful friend, sleep on.
’Tis time for beauty to bestir.
Open your soft and drowsy eyes
To greet the Dawn in northern skies,
A northern star to welcome her.

5. Vyacheslav Chistyakov

Hard frost and sunshine — a day of pleasure!
You are still drowsy at your leisure —
It’s time, my beauty, ope your eyes!
Let you get free of blissful dreaming,
To meet the North Aurora, deeming
The Star of North, let you arise!

All but number 4 employ the feminine rhyme, though generally with approximations (1-3) or some contrivance, straying from the sense (5). All are very acceptable, I'd have thought, though the feminine rhymes bring their usual problems.

English Translation of Pushkin's Winter Morning poem


Frost and sun: entrancing blend
with you asleep, my lovely friend.
It’s time to put that beauty forth,
and open wide those sleepy eyes
towards the north aurora skies:
become the lodestar of the north.

Last night, recall, a snow-storm blew:
a murky sky, wind howling through.
The pale dun moon but barely rose
but gave the clouds a gloomy hue,
and sadly you were sitting too.
Come, look at what the window shows.

The snow, beneath the deep blue skies,
is as a sumptuous carpet lies,
each feature sunlit and precise.
And, darkly through wood’s thin screen
of frost, a fir-tree gathers into green,
as river glints beneath the ice.

The whole room holds an amber sheen,
and, adding to this cheerful scene,
the stove puts out a crackling sound.
But from this couch and dreamy eyed
it's time for us to take a ride:
let’s have the mare and sledge brought round.

My dear friend: gliding through the snow,
we’ll have the whole contraption go
as fast as horse will take us, see
in empty squares the fields arranged,
the densest forests vastly changed,
along the riversides still dear to me.

Poetic License: Departures from the Literal Sense


Rhyme always brings some distortions as they did to the poet's initial thoughts in composing the work. Only by some fluke will literal meanings renderings of rhyme words in Russian also rhyme in English. Indeed contemporary translation tends to avoid rhyme, when the rendering becomes more faithful to the sense but less pleasing to read. Some middle position is often best, something rhymed but not too far from the original sense. How far is, of course, disputed by practitioners, but perhaps we could say that the translation should have some of the charms of the original.

My reasons for the departures from the literal in the rendering above are:

Frost and sun: entrancing blend

There is no 'blend' in the Russian, but the word is implied and allows the happy phrase 'lovely friend' in the next line.

The pale dun moon but barely rose

'Rose' does not appear in the Russian. Луна, как бледное пятно, means 'the moon is like a pale spot'. My excuse is that the verb adds to the threatening nature of the storm, and gives us the neat stanza concluding 'what the window shows'.

is as a sunlit carpet lies,/each feature glistening and precise. (an earlier version)

'Precise' is the most questionable departure in the whole rendering, and is, of course, introduced to rhyme with 'ice'. The Russian here is Великолепными коврами,/ Блестя на солнце, снег лежит;: or 'Magnificent carpets / Glistening in the sun, the snow lies'. The 'precise' is a long way from 'magnificent', but here I've stressed another feature: the crystal-clear air. A way round the problem is to write: 'is now a sumptuous carpet, lies / with features sun-lit and precise.'

But on this couch so dreamy eyed

Again, there is no 'dreamy eyed' but the Russian Приятно думать у лежанки (It's nice to be thinking on the couch) suggests repose.

The principle behind these departures? They should give us more attractive verse, and enhance or bring out what is already latent in the poem. That does not mean that we're entitled to make irrelevant 'additions' or 'improvements' to the original.

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.