Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry Selected and Translated by

Overview

Vladimir Nabokov was hailed by Salman Rushdie as the most important writer ever to cross the boundary between one language and another. A Russian emigre who began writing in English after his forties, Nabokov was a trilingual author, equally competent in Russian, English, and French. A gifted and tireless translator, he bridged the gap between languages nimbly and joyously.

Here, collected for the first time in one volume as Nabokov always wished, are many of his English ...

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Overview

Vladimir Nabokov was hailed by Salman Rushdie as the most important writer ever to cross the boundary between one language and another. A Russian emigre who began writing in English after his forties, Nabokov was a trilingual author, equally competent in Russian, English, and French. A gifted and tireless translator, he bridged the gap between languages nimbly and joyously.

Here, collected for the first time in one volume as Nabokov always wished, are many of his English translations of Russian verse, presented next to the Russian originals. Here, also, are some of his notes on the dangers and thrills of translation. With an introduction by Brian Boyd, author of the prize-winning biography of Nabokov, Verses and Versions is a momentous and authoritative contribution to Nabokov's published works.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSLATIONS OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV

"It was Nabokov's gift to bring paradise wherever he alighted."—John Updike, The New York Times Book Review

"As entertaining as Rabelais, as dependable as the O.E.D. What Nabokov has done is to throw a bridge between Russian and American culture, a bridge built out of his all-informative commentary and agonizingly honest translation."—The Virginia Quarterly Review

Los Angeles Times

In ''Verses and Versions'' we have not only a sampler of the problems and possibilities of literary translation, as demonstrated by someone who wrote and translated in three languages for more than 60 years, but also an authoritative contribution to Nabokov''s literary legacy...this is a book, part of the oeuvre, that true Nabokovians will want.

— Alexander Theroux

Booklist
Consider this essential for translated Russian literature collections.
Los Angeles Times - Alexander Theroux
In 'Verses and Versions' we have not only a sampler of the problems and possibilities of literary translation, as demonstrated by someone who wrote and translated in three languages for more than 60 years, but also an authoritative contribution to Nabokov's literary legacy...this is a book, part of the oeuvre, that true Nabokovians will want.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE TRANSLATIONS OF VLADIMIR NABOKOV

"It was Nabokov's gift to bring paradise wherever he alighted."—John Updike, The New York Times Book Review

"As entertaining as Rabelais, as dependable as the O.E.D. What Nabokov has done is to throw a bridge between Russian and American culture, a bridge built out of his all-informative commentary and agonizingly honest translation."—The Virginia Quarterly Review

Booklist

Consider this essential for translated Russian literature collections.

The Barnes & Noble Review
In addition to writing Ada and Pale Fire and Lolita, thus bringing us some of the last century's most rewarding novels in English, the fascinating and fabled Vladimir Nabokov was also a prolific (though characteristically contentious) translator from his native Russian. His translations of Pushkin -- which embodied what his editors call a philosophy of "absolute literalism" -- put him at the center of 1960s debates about translation, which included, as a counter to Nabokov's attempted literalisms, Robert Lowell's "adaptations." Indeed, Nabokov had a very distinct philosophy of the translator as both an absolute servant and counter-genius to the work at hand, and of all things he seems to have prized rendering both jauntiness and rhyme across languages -- perhaps with less regard to spoken rhythm or flowing syntax. At over 400 pages, the book offers a chance to revisit a wide array of Nabokov's translations in the text, gathering his English renditions of poetry from Pushkin to Mandelstam and beyond. Russophiles will be happy to see the actual Russian of each lyric on a facing page, and may understand the role of each Russian poet better than those who are more drawn to Nabokov because of his English novels. Interspersed throughout are little snippets of Nabokov's recognizably resounding bombast. The perfect translator, Nabokov writes, "should have genius, style and wit....should be absolutely honest, should not bypass difficulties...should be of the same sex as his author. He should be paid princely sums for his work. Blunders should be punishable by heavy fines; trimmings and omissions by the stocks." --Tess Taylor
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151012640
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 11/28/2008
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.60 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977), Russian-born poet, novelist, literary critic, translator, and essayist was awarded the National Medal for Literature for his life's work in 1973. He taught literature at Wellesley, Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard. He is the author of many works including Lolita, Pale Fire, Ada, and Speak, Memory.

Biography

Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Nabokovs were known for their high culture and commitment to public service, and the elder Nabokov was an outspoken opponent of antisemitism and one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Kadets. In 1919, following the Bolshevik revolution, he took his family into exile. Four years later he was shot and killed at a political rally in Berlin while trying to shield the speaker from right-wing assassins.

The Nabokov household was trilingual, and as a child Nabokov was already reading Wells, Poe, Browning, Keats, Flaubert, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Tolstoy, and Chekhov, alongside the popular entertainments of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Jules Verne. As a young man, he studied Slavic and romance languages at Trinity College, Cambridge, taking his honors degree in 1922. For the next eighteen years he lived in Berlin and Paris, writing prolifically in Russian under the pseudonym Sirin and supporting himself through translations, lessons in English and tennis, and by composing the first crossword puzzles in Russian. In 1925 he married Vera Slonim, with whom he had one child, a son, Dmitri.

Having already fled Russia and Germany, Nabokov became a refugee once more in 1940, when he was forced to leave France for the United States. There he taught at Wellesley, Harvard, and Cornell. He also gave up writing in Russian and began composing fiction in English. In his afterword to Lolita he claimed: "My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody's concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses -- the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions -- which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way." [p. 317] Yet Nabokov's American period saw the creation of what are arguably his greatest works, Bend Sinister (1947), Lolita (1955), Pnin (1957), and Pale Fire (1962), as well as the translation of his earlier Russian novels into English. He also undertook English translations of works by Lermontov and Pushkin and wrote several books of criticism. Vladimir Nabokov died in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1977.

Author biography courtesy of Random House, Inc.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Vladimir Sirin
    1. Date of Birth:
      April 23, 1899
    2. Place of Birth:
      St. Petersburg, Russia
    1. Date of Death:
      July 2, 1977
    2. Place of Death:
      Montreux, Switzerland

Read an Excerpt

THE ART OF TRANSLATION

(I: “A FEW PERFECT RULES”)

I thought I might say a few words about this pathetic business of translating, and I thought I might compare the various types of translators to the various types of teachers. I should warn you that I am not a teacher of any language myself—in fact there is a kind of iron curtain painted green, or let us say a green velvet curtain, between Goldwin Smith Hall where I teach literature and the remote Morrill Hall, where the Russian language is taught. But since in my literature classes I am constantly faced with the problem of translating Russian and French into English, I think I have a fair idea of the difficulties an expert in language encounters.

I am not speaking of the difficulties that the student encounters when taught to say, for example,—this is one of the nicest tongue twisters I could invent: Vï´karabkavshiesya vï´hoholi okoléli u koléblyushchegosya kolokololitéyshchika—the martins that had scrambled out died a beast’s death at the hesitating maker’s of church bells.

Translation is a controversial subject. In one camp, we have the scholar, the artist, the reader. In the other camp we have the ill-paid drudge, who translates as best he can, the cautious humbug, who does not know the foreign language and cannot write his own, and the publisher who does not give a damn for such niceties and always prefers an adaptation anyway.

Can we do without translators? Can every educated man know at least five foreign languages besides his own?—and as well as his own,—that is the point. English, mainly because of its poetry, obviously heads the list. French and Russian compete for second place. Italian, Spanish and German come next—which makes in all six languages that a man must know in deep and exquisite detail in order to enjoy Shakespeare, Flaubert, Tyutchev, Dante, Cervantes and Kafka. And there are other languages, other great poets in those languages.And what about Latin, what about Greek? How then can one do without translators?

I know of one old gentleman now dead, head of a Slavic department in a great university not necessarily in this country who could not utter or write a single Russian sentence without making a mistake, and whose translations from the Russian, published under his name, were written by anonymous natives. This is the common ground where the incompetent teacher and the incompetent translator meet—the man who for years conceals the treasure of his ignorance and lives in solecism as others live in sin.

Three grades of evil can be discerned in the queer world of verbal transmigration. The first, and lesser one, comprises obvious errors due to ignorance or misguided knowledge. This is mere human frailty and thus excusable. The next step to Hell is taken by the translator who intentionally skips words or passages that he does not bother to understand or that might seem obscure or obscene to vaguely imagined readers; he accepts the blank look that his dictionary gives him without any qualms; or subjects scholarship to primness: he is as ready to know less than the author as he is to think he knows better. The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public. This is a crime, to be punished by the stocks, as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.

The howlers included in the first category may be in their turn divided into two classes. Insufficient acquaintance with the foreign language involved may transform a commonplace expression into some remarkable statement that the real author never intended to make. “Bien-être general” becomes the manly assertion that “it is good to be a general”; to which gallant general a French translator of Hamlet has been known to pass the caviar. Likewise, in a German edition of Chekhov, a certain teacher, as soon as he enters the classroom, is made to become engrossed in “his newspaper,” which prompted a pompous reviewer to comment on the sad condition of public instruction in pre-Soviet Russia. But the real Chekhov was simply referring to the classroom “journal” which a teacher would open to check lessons, marks and absentees. And inversely, innocent words in an English novel such as “first night” and “public house” have become in a Russian translation “nuptial night” and “a brothel.” These simple examples suffice. They are ridiculous and jarring, but they contain no pernicious purpose; and more often than not the garbled sentence still makes some sense in the original context.

Compilation copyright © 2008 by Estate of Vladimir Nabokov, Brian Boyd, and Stanislav Shvabrin Introduction copyright © 2008 by Brian Boyd

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be submitted online at www.harcourt.com/contact or mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

CONTENTS 

Introduction by Brian Boyd xix

I. NABOKOV ON TRANSLATION 1

The Art of Translation

(I: “A Few Perfect Rules”) 2

Pity the Elderly Gray Translator 12

The Art of Translation

(II: “A Kind of V Movement”) 14

On Translating “Eugene Onegin” 16

One Day, Exuberant and Gallant 18

II. NABOKOV: VERSES AND VERSIONS 21

MIHAIL LOMONOSOV (1711–1765)

On Mihail Lomonosov 22

from??? ?? ?????? •????? 23

from The Hotinian Ode 23

from ??????? ??????????? ? ???????? 24

from A Brief Manual of Rhetoric 25

from ???? ‚??????, ??????????? ????? 26

from Peter the Great, a Heroic Poem 27

GAVRILA DERZHAVIN (1743–1816)

On Gavrila Derzhavin 29

???????? 32

I’ve set up to myself a monument 33

NIKOLAY KARAMZIN (1766–1826)

On Nikolay Karamzin 34

from „?? ????????? 36

from Two Similes 37

VASILIY ZHUKOVSKI (1783–1852)

On Vasiliy Zhukovski 38

from ????? 40

from The Bard 41

from ‘??????? 42

from Svetlana 43

from Thekla (F. Schiller) 46

(You ask) where may I be 47

????? ? ???? ????? 48

Voice from Another World 49

from ? ???? 50

from To Goethe 51

Lord Ullin’s Daughter (Campbell) 52

“???? ? ??? ???? 54

Oolleen and His Daughter 55

KONSTANTIN BATYUSHKOV (1787–1855)

On Konstantin Batyushkov 58

‘???? ?????????? ??????????? 60

Advice to an Epic Poet 61

?’? ???????, ??? ?????? 62

Do you recall the cry 63

A later parody (Political) 63

VILGELM KYUHELBEKER (1797–1846)

On Vilgelm Kyuhelbeker 64

from “????? ??????? ?????? 66

from Destiny of Russian Poets 67

ANTON DELVIG (1798–1831)

On Anton Delvig 69

??????? 70

To Pushkin 71

ALEKSANDR PUSHKIN (1799–1837)

On Aleksandr Pushkin 72

from ????? ????????? 74

from To My Aristarch 75

from ‘?? (???????) 76

from The Dream 77

‚????????. ??? 78

Liberty: An Ode, 1817 79

From Notes to “Vol’nost’”/Liberty 86

from ? ™???????? 88

from To Shcherbinin 89

from ?????? ? ‹?????? 90

from Ruslan and Lyudmila 91

??????????? ????????? ???????? 92

from The Bosom Friend of Magic Ancientry 93

?????? 94

Little Bird 95

„???? 96

The Demon 97

?‘?????? ??????? ?????????? 98

A lonely sower of liberty 99

Of freedom eremitic sower 99

from …?????? ??????, ????? ?????? 100

from Eugene Onegin, Chapter I 101

?? ‚???????? 104

Epigram (On Vorontsov) 105

from –????? 106

from The Gypsies 107

? ‚????????? 110

To Vyazemski 111

«‚? ??????? ????????? ???» 112

Deep in Siberian mines 113

????? 114

The Angel 115

To Dawe, Esqr. 116

To Dawe, Esqr. 117

from ???????. ?????????? 118

Dedication to the Long Poem Poltava 119

????? 120

The Upas Tree 121

?? ???????? ? «…?????? ???????» ?

«??????? A????????» 124

On the Illustrations to Eugene Onegin

in the Nevski Almanac 125

‡????? ???? 126

Winter Morning 127

«? ??? ?????: ?????? ???, ???? ?????» 128

I worshipped you. My love’s reluctant ember 129

Note on “Ya vas lyubil” 130

I loved you: love, perhaps, is yet 131

Ya vas lyubíl: lyubóv eshchó, bït’ mózhet 132

I you loved: love yet, maybe 133

«—?? ? ????? ???? ?????» 134

The Name 135

?? ????????? 136

Epigram 137

’??? 138

The Work (Trud) 139

from „???? ? ??????? 140

from A Small House in Kolomna 141

from ??? P?????????? 142

from My Pedigree 143

from ‘????? ?????? (‘???? II) 144

A scene from The Covetous Knight 145

?????? ? ‘?????? 152

Mozart and Salieri 153

??? ?? ????? ???? 174

A Feast during the Plague 175

from ?????? ??????? 194

from The Bronze Horseman 195

«???? ??? ????, ????!» 196

’Tis time, my dear, ’tis time 197

«‚ ??? ??????? ??????» 198

During my days of autumn leisure 199

«. . .‚???? ? ???????» 200

The Return of Pushkin 201

€? ?????????? 206

I value little those much-vaunted rights 207

from ??????????? ????? ????? 208

from The Pedigree of My Hero 209

«? ???????? ???? ???????

?????????????» 214

Exegi monumentum (“No hands have

wrought my monument”) 215

Exegi monumentum (“I’ve set up to myself

a monument”) 216

EVGENIY BARATÏNSKI (1800–1844)

On Evgeniy Baratïnski 218

from ”???????? 220

from Finland 221

from ???? 222

from Feasts 223

«‘?????????? ?????????» 224

To His Wife 225

«?? ??? ??, ???!» 226

What use are ye, Days! 227

«‚?? ?????, ?? ?????!» 228

Ideas and nothing but ideas! 229

FYODOR TYUTCHEV (1803–1873)

On Fyodor Tyutchev 230

‘???? 232

Tears 233

‹????? ????? 234

Nightfall 235

Silentium 236

Silentium 237

«„??? ?????? ? ???? ???????» 238

My soul would like to be a star 239

“????????? 240

Appeasement 241

from –?????? 242

Blest is the mortal who has stayed 243

«????? ??????? ?? ??????. . .» 244

The Journey 245

The Journey 246

The crumbly sand is knee-high 247

????? 248

Through the azure haze of the night 249

‘?????? 250

Dusk 251

‘???? 252

Tears 253

«‘????? ???? ?? ????????? ??????» 254

The Abyss 255

????????? ?????? 256

Last Love 257

«…??? ? ????? ??????????????» 258

Autumn 259

«??? ?????? ?? ????» 260

She sat on the floor 261

«?????? ???? ??? ??????» 262

The sky is overcast 263

«“??? ?????? ?? ??????» 264

[Russia] One cannot understand her with

the mind 265

ALEKSEY KOLTSOV (1809–1842)

On Aleksey Koltsov 266

«—?? ?? ?????, ????????» 268

Why do you sleep, little peasant . . . ? 269

MIHAIL LERMONTOV (1814–1841)

On Mihail Lermontov 272

???? ? ?????? 278

The Sky and the Stars 279

????? 280

The Angel 281

†?????? 282

The Wish 283

from ?
• 284

Farewell 285

????? 286

The Sail 287

????????????? 288

Thanksgiving 289

??????? 290

My Native Land 291

‘???? (€? ?????) 292

Imitation of Heine 293

“??? 294

The Rock 295

‘?? 296

The Triple Dream 297

The Triple Dream 298

AFANASIY FET (1820–1892)

On Afanasiy Fet 300

«€?????? ??????» 302

When life is torture 303

Alter Ego 304

Alter Ego 305

‹??????? 306

The Swallow 307

NIKOLAY NEKRASOV (1821–1877)

On Nikolay Nekrasov 308

«’?????? ????? ???????? ?? ?? ????» 310

A heavy cross is her allotted burden 311

«‚????? ?????? ?????» 312

As I hearken to the horrors of war 313

from ?????, ??????? ??? 314

from Red-Nosed Frost 315

???? (from ???? ?? ???? ???? ??????) 316

Russia (from Who Can Be Happy in Russia) 317

ALEKSANDR BLOK (1880–1921)

On Aleksandr Blok 320

?????????? 322

The Strange Lady 323

?????? 326

Again, as in my golden years 327

?? ???????? ?????? 328

The Railroad 329

from ???? ? ????? 332

All is disaster and loss 333

«???? ?? ???? ????, ?????? ? ??????????» 334

You were truer than others 335

VLADISLAV HODASEVICH (1886–1939)

On Vladislav Hodasevich 336

???????? 340

The Monkey 341

??????? 344

Orpheus 345

«?? ????, ?? ???? ????? ?? ?????» 348

Poem 349

from «?? ????? ?? ??????????????» 350

Years have from memory eroded 351

OSIP MANDELSHTAM (1891–1938)

On Osip Mandelshtam 352

«‡? ???????? ???????? ???????? ?????» 356

For the sake of the resonant valor of ages

to come 357

BULAT OKUDZHAVA (1924–1997)

On Bulat Okudzhava 359

‘?????????????? ?????? 362

Sentimentál’nïy románs 364

A Sentimental Ballad 365

PROGRAM NOTES (VARIOUS)

Side I

Evgeniy Grebyonka

Dark Eyes (Óchi chyórnye) 367

Mihail Lermontov

«‚????? ???? ? ?? ??????» 368

I Come Out Alone upon the Highroad

(Vykhozhú odín ya na dorógu) 369

Nikolay Nekrasov

The Peddler’s Box (Koróbushka) 370

Ivan Makarov

The Yoke-Bell (Kolokól’chik) 371

Apollon Grigoriev

Two Guitars (Dve gitáry) 372

Mihail Matusovski

Moscow Countryside Evenings

(Podmoskóvnye vecherá) 373

Anonymous

Along the Petersburg Highway

(Vdol’ po Píterskoy) 374

Side II

Dmitriy Sadovnikov

Sten’ka Razin and the Princess

(Knyazhná) 375

Maria Konopnicka

As the King Went Forth to War

(Kak koról’ shyol na voynú) 376

Aleksandr Pushkin

For the Shores of Your Far Country

(Dlya beregóv otchízny dál’noy) 377

???? 378

Night (Noch’) 379

Nestor Kukolnik

Doubt (Somnénie) 380

III. FRENCH TO ENGLISH

RÉMI BELLEAU (CA. 1528–1577)

from Avril 384

April 385

HENRI DE RÉGNIER (1864–1936)

Odelette 388

Passing of Youth 389

Notes 391

Permissions Acknowledgments 425

Index of Poets 427

“???????? ???????? ? ?????? ????? 429

Index of Titles and First Lines 435

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