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Monday, March 27, 2006

I'm Not in the Situation Room, But ... 

It is surprising just how many Russian poets have taken the time to translate Shakespeare, almost as if he were really an important Russian poet who happened to write in English. There are whole shelves of translations.

Today I came across a new translation of Sonnet 116 ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds / Admit impediments") by Vera Tarzaeva. You can read it here. This is an extraordinary feat, but a few lines made me realize just what the translator of poetry is up against. Two lines:

It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.


Любовь – звезда: послушен ей штурвал,
Как ни была б дорога далека.

(Love is a star: the helm obeys it, no matter how long the road.)

This, of course, is a flat, unfair re-translation of the Russian, but you can see that there is quite a lot missing. The point of "Whose worth's unknown" is passed over completely and the road is sort of an extra. (You should probably avoid adding things to a poem that you are translating.)

Now here are the same two lines in a version by Sergei Shestakov:

Любовь – звезда, что из пределов горних
Судам заблудшим выправляет путь.

(Love is a star which from lofty regions Corrects the path of stray ships.)

—where the star is rather more proactive than it is in the original.

In the version of A. M. Finkel

Любовь - звезда; ее неясен знак,
Но указует путь чрез океаны.

(Love is a star; though its sign is unclear, It shows a path through the oceans.)

the unknown worth is there but, again, the star itself is doing the navigating.

Marshak's version is well-known:

Любовь - звезда, которою моряк
Определяет место в океане.

(Love is a star, by which the sailor determines his location in the ocean)

Sometimes simple is good.

But interestingly enough, Kuzmin's version (you have to scroll down a bit):

Звезда морей, чья высота ясна,
Но чье значенье ведомо едва ль.

(Star of the seas, whose height is clear, But whose meaning hardly known.)

is closest to the original, similar in sound, yet very free.


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