Outrageous fortune in Russian II

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November 20, 2014 by AK

I’ve looked up “яростная судьба” in different cases and unearthed three other instances of its use in poetic translation, none of them as appropriate as Lozinsky’s. “Средь диких дум о яростной судьбе” (prepositional case) is found in Georgy Shengeli‘s 1930s translation of Byron’s Lara, corresponding to “In wild reflection o’er his stormy life.” The Russian word “судьба” can mean “fortune”, “fate”, “lot”, and in a narrow sense, “life” as in “his life was shaped by a string of unfortunate coincidences.” Shengeli knew what he was doing, as an accomplished poet and translator, but it’s not clear from his text whether Lara is looking back at his turbulent past (as he is) or meditating upon his future misadventures.

Byron comes up again in a search for the instrumental case, “яростной судьбой”, in Vladimir Lugovskoy’s (1901-1957) translation of Prometheus. This time, the rendering is not nearly literal: the Russian expression refers approximately to “deaf tyranny of Fate”. “Rage” is of suspicious relevance here. “Deaf tyranny” suggests Fate’s insensitivity to its pawns’ actions and entreaties, which the poet in the next paragraph took for granted.

Back to the original genitive, “яростной судьбы”. I have come across another remarkable instance of its use: “Тот не умен, кто мнит ценой смиренья // От яростной судьбы себя спасти…”  Literally, “He is not wise who fancies to save himself from outrageous fortune through humility…” The original is a sonnet by Boccaccio, XXXV in the standard index of his poems (not to be confused with Petrarch’s sonnet XXXV), and the translator is Yury Korneyev (1921-1995). The curious fact here is that no “raging” or “furious” is found in Boccaccio’s poem. “He has little sense who trusts to bar Fortune with prayers or tears” is the literal meaning – a remarkable statement from a Christian author.


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