Translating Tiutchiev's Silentium: Musicality

Victor Borisov-Musatov. Pool 1902

The Pool by Borisov Musatov 1902  (177cm x 216cm) Tempora. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow {1}

Victor Musatov (1870-1905: Borisov was added later) was born in Saratov, Russia. A childhood injury made him a humpbacked, and his health was never good anyway. He was also plagued with money troubles till the last years of his life, when his work began to sell. From Moscow's Imperial Academy of Arts he moved to the same in St. Petersburg, and then back again. In 1895 he enrolled in Fernand Cormon's school in Paris, studying for three years in the city but returning in the summer months to Saratov. The painting of his French contemporaries fascinated and influenced him, notably that of Pierre Puvis de Chavannes and Berthe Morisot. {1-2}

Borisov-Musatov returned to Russia in 1898 and was almost immediately overcome by its 'fin de siècle' world-weariness, from which he escaped into  a half-illusory world of the 19th century nobility, their parks and country-seats. Part of this was based on the estate of princes Prozorvky-Galitzines Zubrilovka and part on Musatov's imagination. The Pool depicts the two most important women in his life: his sister, Yelena Musatova and his fiancée (and later wife), the artist Yelena Alexandrova. Borisov-Musatov gradually abandoned oil paintings for the mixed tempera, watercolor and pastel techniques that he found more suitable for the subtle effects he was trying to create. The unconscious was being evoked by conscious composition, which became progressively more etherial and shadowy. The murals commissioned for private houses had many analogies to musical composition, and in this Borisov-Musatov and his followers resembled the French Nabis group.{2-3}

Tyutchev: Silentium


Silentium is a well-known poem that anticipated Symbolism. The Russian is:


Молчи, скрывайся и таи
 И чувства и мечты свои -
Пускай в душевной глубине
 Встают и заходят оне
 Безмолвно, как звезды в ночи,-
Любуйся ими - и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймёт ли он, чем ты живёшь?
Мысль изречённая есть ложь.
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи,-
Питайся ими - и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей -
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
 Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их оглушит наружный шум,
Дневные разгонят лучи,-
Внимай их пенью - и молчи!.. {1}

* Latin for Silence.

And machine code translation:


  Shut up, hide and hide
  And your feelings and dreams -
  Let it be in the depths of the soul
  Get up and go ona
  Silently, like the stars in the night, -
  Admire them - and be quiet.

  How can you express yourself to your heart?
  How else can another understand you?
  Will he understand what you are living?
  The thought that is uttered is a lie.
  Blowing up, disturbing the keys, -
  Eat them - and be quiet.

  Only to live in yourself,
  There is a whole world in your soul
  Mysterious and magical doom;
  They will be deafened by outside noise,
  Daytime disperses the rays, -
  Listen to them with a whip - and be silent! ..


The piece is written in iambic tetrameters, generally rhymed aabccb, though lines 4 and 5 end in feminine rhymes and are a little irregular. Strictly, they should be scanned as:

Вста ют и (stressed word missing) за хо дят о не 4B
Без молв но, (stressed word missing) как звез ды в но чи,- 4C

but perhaps can be read as:

Вста ют и за хо дят о не 4b
Без молв но, как звез ды в но чи,- 4c

Otherwise, the poem is regular:

Мол чи, скры вайс я и та и 4a
И чувст ва и меч ты сво и - 4a
Пус кай в ду шев ной глу би не 4b
Вста ют и за хо дят о не 4B
Без молв но, как звез ды в но чи,- 4C
Лю буйс я и ми - и мол чи. 4c

Как сер дцу выс ка зать се бя? 4d
Дру го му как по нять те бя? 4d
Пой мёт ли он, чем ты жи вёшь? 4e
Мысль из ре чён на я есть ложь. 4e
Взры ва я, воз му тишь клю чи,- 4f
Пи тай ся и ми - и мол чи. 4f

Лишь жить в се бе са мом у мей - 4g
Есть це лый мир в ду ше тво ей 4g
Та инст вен но-вол шеб ных дум; 4h
Их ог лу шит на руж ный шум, 4h
Днев ны е раз гон ят лу чи,- 4i
Вни май их пен ью - и мол чи!.. 4i

Fédor Ivánovich Tyútchev


Though Tyútchev professed to see his poetry as a pastime, it has a distinctly metaphysical flavour, where nature is a process, something that extracts order from chaos, as do the Greek myths he sometimes incorporated, and the German philosophy he read. Man's psyche, or 'soul' as he called it, is one of vague troubles, inarticulate aspirations, dilemmas or even perversities. The psyche is aroused at dubious hours and in abnormal states: in insomnias at night, in dreams or over storm-ridden seas. The nighttime sphere gradually emerged in his  thinking as the primordial chaos in the myths of antiquity. In Silentum, the abyss of the ineffable is not the outer world but inside. {2-3}

The nature poems reflect a spontaneous love for the earth, which is expressed in direct statements. Many poems express no more than moods and aimless meditations, often at the turning points of the seasons: spring brings elation, joy and promise, the autumn brings melancholia and reflection. The style throughout is elevated -- solemn and rhetorical in the earlier pieces, with some eighteenth-century relish for pointed comment, but later less formal. All the work was musical, and much is to a consistently high standard, though of course reactionary to liberal opinion in the late pro-Slavic poetry. 'Silentum' anticipated Symbolism. {2-3}

Final Translation

As in the Autumn Evening, Tiutchev's musicality is what we have to aim for:


Be silent, hide yourself, conceal
the things you dream of, things you feel:
As the stars in motion, let
these marvels from ascension set.
Let depths of soul then stay unheard.
In awe reflect without a word!

The flowering heart is not divined
so can some other know your mind?
Or say what you are living by
when words once spoken are a lie?
The water’s clouded when it’s stirred,
so drink the spring without a word:

So live within your self’s control:
a world is centered in your soul:
a world of strange enchanted thoughts
that noisy flare outside distorts.
By day’s hard glare be undeterred
take in those songs without a word

References and Resources

1. Tiutchev, Fedor. Silentium.
2. Bristol, E. (1991) A History of Russian Poetry. O.U.P. 126-9
3. Mirsky, D.S. (1958) A History of Russian Literature. Vintage Books.132-6

Audio Recording


1. The Pool (1902) by Victor Borisov-Musatov , Public Domain,
2. Wikipedia writers (2018). Victor Borisov-Musatov
Sarabianov, D.V. (1990) Russian Art. Thames and Hudson. 241-2.