Tyutchev at 25

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February 15, 2006 by AK

Fyodor Tyutchev is customarily ranked half a notch below Pushkin and Lermontov in the Russian literary tradition — along with Afanasy Fet (Foeth), the last of the Golden Age of Russian poetry. Ask the wise, and you may hear that Tyutchev was a great mind taking the line from Pascal, which I do not doubt. I have tried to come up with a rhythmicized translation of a Tyutchev poem that shocked me when I heard it (never having paid attention to its printed text) and continues to be one of the most piercing bit in the Russian rhymed corps I am familiar with.

Insomnia

The clock’s inexorable strokes,
Night’s wearisome narration!
A language strange alike to all
And clear to everyone like Conscience.

Of us, who could ungrieving heed
Midst universal silence
The muffled plaints of Time,
The oracular, the parting voice?

We fancy thus: the orphaned world
Has fallen to unswerving Doom,
And we, in strife, by all of Nature
Have been abandoned to ourselves:

Our life in front of us is standing,
Ghost-like, upon the edge of Earth,
And paling into gloomy distance
With our companions and our age,

And lo, a new and youthful breed
Has risen ‘neath the sun,
And we, friends, and our times, have been
Oblivion-covered long.

But seldom, in a somber rite
At midnight’s hour
The funerary voice of iron
Chances to weep for us.

It might be a better idea to link the original “voice of metal” to “the iron tongue of midnight” to parallel the link to Derzhavin’s On the Death of Prince Meschersky, which begins with “Word of times! Ring of metal!” referring to time as measured by the striking clock.


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