Translating Yazykov: The Rhine

Nikolay Mikhaylovich Yazykov (1803-46) was a major poet of the Russian 1820s, inferior only to Pushkin and Baratynsky in stylish accomplishments. Like them, he was a master craftsman, but his verse is harder, more forceful and more skillfully controlled. Many pieces are tours de force, and have a cold crystalline splendor, where any feeling for subject takes second place to the intoxicating rhythms and sheer nervous energy.

His first poems appeared in 1822, shortly after which he went to the university of Dorpat in Germany and began turning out the riotous Anacreontic verses that celebrated student life. Yazykov was not in any way an intellectual poet, however, and though he was idolized by the Slavophils, that fame did not extend to the Idealists, who found the work fatally empty of ideas. Yazykov’s health was never good, and, weakened by the Dorpat excesses, began to fail early. By 1835, the man was a permanent invalid, wandering from one health resort to another is search of cures for his dyspepsia and gout.

translating Yazikov's The Rhine

This poem, The Rhine of 1840, with its extended catalogue of Volga tributaries, is one of the great triumphs of Russian verbal art. It is also, of course, a purely intellectual exercise: Yazykov has no real sympathy for nature or its inhabitants.

The Rhine: Russian Text

К Рейну

Я видел, как бегут твои зелены волны:
Они, при вешнем свете дня,
Играя и шумя, летучим блеском полны,
Качали ласково меня;

Я видел яркие, роскошные картины:
Твои изгибы, твой простор,
Твои веселые каштаны и раины,
И виноград по склонам гор,

И горы, и на них высокие могилы
Твоих былых богатырей,
Могилы рыцарства, и доблести, и силы
Давно, давно минувших дней!

Я волжанин: тебе приветы Волги нашей
Принес я. Слышал ты об ней?
Велик, прекрасен ты! Но Волга больше, краше,
Великолепнее, пышней,

5. И глубже, быстрая, и шире, голубая!
Не так, не так она бурлит,
Когда поднимется погодка верховая
И белый вал заговорит!

А какова она, шумящих волн громада,
Весной, как с выси берегов
Через ее разлив не перекинешь взгляда,
Чрез море вод и островов!

По царству и река!.. Тебе привет заздравный
Ее, властительницы вод,
Обширных русских вод, простершей ход свой славный,
Всегда торжественный свой ход,

Между холмов, и гор, и долов многоплодных
До темных Каспия зыбей!
Приветы и ее притоков благородных,
Ее подручниц и князей:

Тверцы, которая безбурными струями
Лелеет тысячи судов,
Идущих пестрыми, красивыми толпами
Под звучным пением пловцов;

10. Тебе привет Оки поемистой, дубравной,
В раздолье муромских песков
Текущей царственно, блистательно и плавно,
В виду почтенных берегов, -

И храмы древние с лучистыми главами
Глядятся в ясны глубины,
И тихий благовест несется над водами,
Заветный голос старины! –

Суры, красавицы задумчиво бродящей,
То в густоту своих лесов
Скрывающей себя, то на полях блестящей
Под опахалом парусов;

Свияги пажитной, игривой и бессонной,
Среди хозяйственных забот,
Любящей стук колес, и плеск неугомонной,
И гул работающих вод;

Тебе привет из стран Биармии далекой,
Привет царицы хладных рек,
Той Камы сумрачной, широкой и глубокой,
Чей сильный, бурный водобег,

15. Под кликами орлов свои валы седые
Катя в кремнистых берегах,
Несет железо, лес и горы соляные
На исполинских ладиях;

Привет Самары, чье течение живое
Не слышно в говоре гостей,
Ссыпающих в суда богатство полевое,
Пшеницу — золото полей;

Привет проворного, лихого Черемшана,
И двух Иргизов луговых,
И тихо-струйного, привольного Сызрана,
И всех и больших и меньших,

Несметных данников и данниц величавой,
Державной северной реки,
Приветы я принес тебе!.. Теки со славой,
Князь многих рек, светло теки!

Блистай, красуйся, Рейн! Да ни грозы военной,
Ни песен радостных врага
Не слышишь вечно ты; да мир благословенный
Твои покоит берега!

20. Да сладостно, на них мечтая и гуляя,
В тени раскидистых ветвей,
Целуются любовь и юность удалая
При звоне синих хрусталей!

Poem structure

Yazykov's poem is written in quatrains rhymed AbAb:

Я ви́дел, как бегу́т твои́ зе́лены во́лны: 5A
Они́, при ве́шнем све́те дня, 4b
Игра́я и шумя́, лету́чим бле́ском по́лны, 5A
Кача́ли ла́сково меня́; 4b

A TTS (text to speech) recording of the first five stanzas is:

English Translation

I’ve watched your emerald waters in their sport,
that through the morning light of day,
would noisily and brilliantly cavort
to rock me in their gentle sway

I’ve seen your richly painted tapestries,
your wide slow bends and great expanse,
your poplars and your dancing chestnut trees,
the vines that clothe the mountain flanks.

I’ve seen your mountains with a lofty tomb
where former heroes are interred:
there strength and chivalry had sumptuous bloom:
how long ago all that occurred.

You’ve heard of Volga lands I answer for?
These are her greetings, kindly meant:
while you are grand and beautiful, she’s more
imperially magnificent.

5. A deeper, faster, wider, fuller blue!
nor are her surfaces so weak
as break in torrents at a storm like you
in which the whipped up waters speak.

She’s more tumultuous: in bursts of spring
you cannot see where banks have been:
and those vast distances the wide floods bring
leave seas and islands in between.

And like the river is our empire’s course:
she is the mistress of herself.
With waters from their glorious Russian source
come notices of solemn wealth.

All through her hills and mountains, fruiting valleys,
to the Caspian waves are hers
like greetings brought to noble tributaries
of princes and their followers.

There is the Tvertsy where smooth water sees
great spreads of vessels, thousands strong:
they mill about in resonant and striking ease,
as does a swimmer’s varied song.

10. Greetings from the Oka River’s heady spate
across the length of Murom sands.
She’s notable there for brilliant, regal state
through this most venerable of lands.

Here are monasteries, bright cupolas
reflected in clear water depths:
across quiet surfaces the soft peals pass
as cherished centuries elapse.

Though Sura the beautiful is lost in thought,
half hidden in her forest veils,
in fields she is of shining silver wrought
beneath the spread of fan-like sails.

Sviyagi is playful, pagan, ever turning
to worries for her household’s sake:
and in her waterwheels a restless churning
hum that working waters make.

Greetings from the far Biarmia lands,
from rivers of the icy queen:
Wide and deep the gloomy Kama stands,
its stormy currents fierce and keen.

15. The Katya, with flinty shores and leaden vault
through which the screeching eagle floats,
has iron and timber, mountainous heaps of salt
all carried on gigantic boats.

Greetings from the Samara, hardly heard
above the incessant merchant’s noise.
They load their boats with that full wealth transferred
from golden fields their wheat enjoys.

Greetings from the dashing Cheremshan,
with double Irgiz lands on call,
and from the quiet and freely flowing Syzran
sections: rivers large and small.

Flow on with your uncounted tributaries,
illustrious river of the north:
greeting the most glorious contemporaries:
prince of rivers, flow on forth.

So may you shine the same, be undeterred
by rain or storm or enemy:
despite their songs no conquest has occurred
when shores remain at peace and free.

20. It's well to dream and walk beneath the shade
of spreading branches, stop or pass.
May love and youth with sweet exchanges made
clink ringing blue-filled glass with glass.


1. Mirsky, D.S. A History of Russian Poetry. (Alfred A: Knopf, 1926) 107-9/Vintage 1958).

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.