May 21, 2004 by AK

It was a poem, actually

Translate a poem, word by word, into another language and see if it still makes sense. If it does, that’s a good sign for the original thing; not a necessary or sufficient condition of its goodness, but a sign of hope. I’d expect Aaron Haspel to concur.

This poem was originally written in Russian and is typical of its author’s early work. I tried to keep the odd parts odd; ‘name’ and ‘to name’ in the first couple of lines are a poorer approximation that ‘appellation’ and ‘s’appeler’.

Animals have no name:

who told them to name themselves?

Uniform suffering

is their invisible lot.

The bull, conversing with nature,

retires to the meadows;

over his beautiful eyes

white horns are shining.

The river, like a plain-looking girl,

lurks amidst the grasses,

laughs, then sobs,

having buried her legs in the ground.

Why is she weeping? why grieving?

What ails her?

All nature has smiled

like a lofty prison.

Every little flower

is waving a little hand;

the bull is shedding grey tears,

walks around pompous, barely alive.

And on the barren air

a light bird is circling,

for the sake of an old, old ditty

toiling with her tender throat.

Before her, waters are beaming,

the wood is swaying–the great wood–

and all nature is laughing,

dying every moment.

UPDATE: I missed a whole stanza, unintentially–it’s now back in.

And the author is…

Nikolai Zabolotsky

1929, Leningrad


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