September 5, 2003 by AK

Lame pretence at poetic translation

I’m feeling bluish today — it must be the weather (not really, but it’s an excuse). I’ve sketched a translation of two poems by a Russian author who is among the dearest to me — Konstantin Waginov (pronunciation hint: it’s actually Wagenheim russified). I don’t believe in translating poetry at all — other than word-by-word, literally. I’ve kept a semblance of rhythm but no rhyming. Waginov treated rhyme as an optional element of prosody. His first book was titled “Essays at combining words by means of rhythm”. These two poems come from the second collection that he didn’t live to see in print, “Zvukopodobiya”, i.e., “Semblances of sounds” or “Sound-semblances”. His late poems sound simple but aren’t lucid.

Waginov wrote three novels and died while working on a fourth. His first, and the best known novel, is Goat-Song (i.e., tragedy), also translatable as Satyr Chorus. I’ve spotted two translations of it available online: Satyr Chorus by Chris Lovett, and The Tower by Benjamin Sher.

Waginov died of TB in 1934 in Leningrad.


In heightened sorrow

On Nature’s roofs

Musicians are dancing

In rings.

Down below, monkeys,

Deaf to the rhythm,

Are jigging and whirling

Dully and languidly.

But the same movements,

But the same doubts –

As though, as though!

Across towns and hamlets

They howl,

Sweetly and tenderly

Humoring themselves.


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