June 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 preoccupied with Pascal’s questions, which I do not doubt. I have tried to come up with a rhythmicized translation of a Tyutchev poem that left a lasting impression when I heard it recited (despite having read it before) and continues to be one of my favorites among the Russian poems I am familiar with. This, as usual, is a work in progress.
The clock’s invariable strokes,
Night’s wearisome narration!
A language strange alike to all
And clear to everyone like Conscience.
Of us, who has ungrieving harked
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 is standing there before us
Ghost-like, upon the edge of Earth,
And paling into gloomy distance
With our companions and our age,
And a new and youthful breed
Has risen ‘neath the sun,
And we, friends, and our times
Have long been covered in oblivion.
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 Tyutchev’s 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.