Aug 6, 2009


it is not often apparent how translation affects poetry. below, Рождественский романс by joseph brodsky, in two english translations. i know which one i like better.

Moscow Carol A Christmas Ballad
In such an inexplicable blue,
Upon the stonework to embark,
The little ship of glowing hue
Appears in Alexander Park.
The little lamp, a yellow rose,
Arising--ready to retreat--
Above the people it adores;
Near strangers' feet.

In such an inexplicable blue
The drunkards' hive, the loonies' team.
A tourist takes a snapshot to
Have left the town and keep no dream.
On the Ordynka street you find
A taxicab with fevered gnomes,
And dead ancestors stand behind
And lean on domes.

A poet strolls across the town
In such an inexplicable blue.
A doorman watches him looking down
And down the street and catches the flu.
An old and handsome cavalier
Moves down a lane not worth a view,
And wedding-party guests appear
In such an inexplicable blue.

Behind the river, in the haar,
As a collection of the blues--
The yellow walls reflecting far
The hopeless accent of the Jews.
You move to Sunday, to despair
(From love), to the New Year, and there
Appears a girl you cannot woo--
Never explaining why she's blue.

Then in the night the town is lost;
A train is clad in silver plush.
The pallid puff, the draught of frost
Will sheathe your face until you blush.
The honeycomb of windows fits
The smell of halva and of zest,
While Christmas Eve is carrying its
Mince pies abreast.

Watch your New Year come in a blue
Seawave across the town terrain
In such an inexplicable blue,
As if your life can start again,
As if there can be bread and light--
A lucky day--and something's left,
As if your life can sway aright,
Once swayed aleft.

trans. Alexey Vernitsky
In anguish unaccountable
the steady ship that burns at dark,
the small shy streetlamp of the night,
floats out of Alexander Park
in the exhaustion of dull bricks.
Like a pale-yellow, tiny rose,
it drifts along, past lovers' heads
and walkers' feet.

In anguish unaccountable
sleep-walkers, drunkards, float like bees.
A stranger sadly snaps a shot
of the metropolis by night;
a cab with squeamish passengers
jolts loudly to Ordynka Street,
and dead men stand in close embrace
with private homes.

In anguish unaccountable
a melancholy poet swims
along the town. Beside a shop
for kerosene, a porter stands,
round-faced and sad. A ladies' man,
now old, lopes down a dingy street.
A midnight wedding party sways
in anguish unaccountable.

On Moscow's murky south-side streets
a random swimmer sadly floats.
A Jewish accent wanders down
a yellowed melancholy stair.
A fragile beauty swims alone
from New Year's Eve to Saturday,
exchanging love for bitterness,
unable to explain her grief.

The chilly evening floats above
our eyes; two trembling snowflakes strike
the bus. A pale and numbing wind
slaps reddened hands. The honey-gold
of evening-lamps flows out; a scent
of halvah fills the air. The Eve
of Christmas holds the pie of heaven
above its head.

Your New Year's Day floats on a wave,
within the city's purple sea,
in anguish unaccountable--
as though life will begin anew,
and we will live in fame and light
with sure success and bread to spare;
as though, from lurching to the left,
life will swing right.

trans. George Kline

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