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  • Writer's pictureDanielle Hayden

A Russian poem

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Update: This blog post was originally published weeks before the attack on Ukraine. Please excuse any perceived insensitivity.

I've been learning Russian for a little while now and recently I started trying to read Russian poetry. My attempts are...feeble, at best; I don't understand many of the words I am reading. But regardless of my fluency level, I was able to appreciate this one. I've only read a handful of Russian poems so far but I look forward to finding more like this. It's funny though--I wasn't even searching for poetry when I came across this Pasternak poem. I had pulled a book of tattoo scripts from my shelf that I hadn't looked at in years, and this poem was in there, used as an example in the Cyrillic section.

Февраль (February)

Февраль. Достать чернил и плакать!

Писать о феврале навзрыд,

Пока грохочущая слякоть

Весною черною горит.

Достать пролетку. За шесть гривен,

Чрез благовест, чрез клик колес,

Перенестись туда, где ливень

Еще шумней чернил и слез.

Где, как обугленные груши,

С деревьев тысячи грачей

Сорвутся в лужи и обрушат

Сухую грусть на дно очей.

Под ней проталины чернеют,

И ветер криками изрыт,

И чем случайней, тем вернее

Слагаются стихи навзрыд.

-Борис Пастернак (Boris Pasternak)


Translation of the above poem [translation by Sasha Dugdale]:

February. Get out the ink and weep! Sob in February, sob and sing While the wet snow rumbles in the street And burns with the black spring. Take a cab. For a coin Be carried through church bells, the chirp of tyres To a place where the torrential rain Is louder still than ink or tears Where, like charred pears A thousand rooks break from the bough Fall to puddles, cast their parched cares Into eyes of melted snow. There gaps open black in the snow’s expanse And the crow-pocked wind throbs And the surest poems come by chance Wrought from sobs.

A different translation of the Russian poem [translated by A.Z. Foreman]b. I've blogged before about translation. Poetry can be especially challenging to translate, and interpretation varies--sometimes widely:

February. Get ink. Weep.

Write the heart out about it. Sing

Another song of February

While raucous slush burns black with spring.

Six grivnas for a buggy ride

Past booming bells, on screaming gears,

Out to a place where rain pours down

Louder than any ink or tears

Where like a flock of charcoal pears,

A thousand blackbirds, ripped awry

From trees to puddles, knock dry grief

Into the deep end of the eye.

A thaw patch blackens underfoot.

The wind is gutted with a scream.

True verses are the most haphazard,

Rhyming the heart out on a theme.

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