Monday, October 22, 2007

Happy Birthday, Ivan Alekseyevich

Иван Алексеевич Бунин (Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin) was born to a once-wealthy but impoverished land-owning family in Voronezh, Russia, on this day in 1870 (it was Oct 10, Old Style).

He was a poet, short story writer, and novelist. He wrote poetry first, including the collections "Под открытым небом" (1898 Pod otkrytym nebom, Under Open Skies) and "Листопад" (1901 Listopad, November (Leaf-fall)), and then short stories, the most famous of which include Господин из Сан-Франциско, Gospodin iz San-Frantsisko, The Gentleman from San Francisco) Антоновские яблоки (Antonovskiye yabloki, Antonov's Apples), Сосны (Sosni, Pines), Новая дорога (Novaya doroga, A New Road), and Чернозем (Chernozem, Black Earth), won him great acclaim.

But after 1905, things became darker in Russia and in Bunin's work. His first novels, Деревня (1910, Derevnia, The Village), and Сухдол (1912, Sukhdol, Dry Valley), written before he left Russia after the Revolution, portrayed a decaying countryside which destroyed the image of idealized peasants and garnered more criticism in his native country than praise.

Works written in exile in France include his diary, in which he attacked the Bolsheviks, Окаянные дни (published in 1920, Okayannye Dni, Cursed Days); Жизнь Арсеньева (1933, Zhizn Areseneva, The Life of Arsenev) - first in a projected but unfinished trilogy, Митина любовь (1925, Mitina Lubov, Mitya's Love), Тёмные Аллеи (1946, Tyomnyye Allei, Shadowed Paths) written during the Nazi occupation, and Воспоминания (1950, Vospominaniya, Memories and Portraits). As a translator Bunin was highly regarded. He published in 1898 a translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's The Song of Hiawatha, for which he was awarded the Pushkin Prize in 1903 by the Russian Academy of Science, to which he was elected in 1909. Among Bunin's other translations were Lord Byron's Manfred and Cain, Tennyson's Lady Godiva, and works from Alfred de Musset, and François Coppée.

Bunin was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1933, but he had become an unperson in the Soviet Union: not only were his books not to be found, his name was unspoken and certainly unwritten.

Here are a few of his poems with my quick translations:

Неуловимый свет разлился над землею,
Над кровлями безмолвного села.
Отчетливей кричат перед зарею
Далеко на степи перепела.

Нет ни души кругом - ни звука, ни тревоги...
Спят безмятежным сном зеленые овсы...
Нахохлясь, кобчик спит на кочке у дороги,
Покрытый пылью матовой росы...

Но уж светлеет даль... Зелено-серебристый,
Неуловимый свет восходит над землей,
И белый пар лугов, холодный и душистый,
Как фимиам, плывет перед зарей.

The elusive light spills over the earth,
Over the roofs of the silent town.
And before the dawn the quails' clear cries
Can be heard from across the steppe.

Not one soul is about - not a sound, not an alarm...
Untroubled dreams keep the sleeping oats...
Head tucked, the falcon sleeps on the hillock,
His tousled feathers covered in dull, dusty dew...

But light is in the distance now... Silvery green,
The elusive light covers the earth,
And white steam off the meadows, cold and sweet
Like incense, wafts before the dawn.
* * *


Под небом мертвенно-свинцовым
Угрюмо меркнет зимний день,
И нет конца лесам сосновым,
И далеко до деревень.

Один туман молочно-синий,
Как чья-то кроткая печаль,
Над этой снежною пустыней
Смягчает сумрачную даль.


Under a sky leaden like death
The wintry day fades into murk;
There is no end to the piney woods
And any villages are far away..

Only fog, milky blue,
Like someone's gentle grief
Thrown over this snowy emptiness,
Softens the twilit distance.
* * *

Все лес и лес. А день темнеет;
Низы синеют, и трава
Седой росой в лугах белеет...
Проснулась серая сова.

На запад сосны вереницей
Идут, как рать сторожевых,
И солнце мутное Жар-Птицей
Горит в их дебрях вековых.

More forest, and more. The day darkens,
Blue grows beneath, and in the meadows grass
With frosty dew grows pale...
The gray owl awakens.

To the west the line of pines
Stretches like an army of guards,
And the sun, smoldering like the Firebird,
Burns their ancient wilderness.
* * *
Не видно птиц. Покорно чахнет
Лес, опустевший и больной,
Грибы сошли, но крепко пахнет
В оврагах сыростью грибной.

Глушь стала тише и светлее,
В кустах свалялася трава,
И, под дождем осенним тлея,
Чернеет темная листва.

А в поле ветер. День холодный
Угрюм и свеж - и целый день
Скитаюсь я в степи свободной,
Вдали от сел и деревень.

И, убаюкан шагом конным,
С отрадной грустью внемлю я,
Как ветер звоном однотонным
Гудит-поет в стволы ружья.

No birds can be seen. Subjected,
The forest withers, emptied and ailing;
Mushrooms are gone, yet in the copses
Lingers still their strong damp scent.

The thickets grow more still and bright,
Grasses tangle in the bushes,
And, moldering under autumn rains
Dark leaves turn ever darker.

But a wind is on the field. A cold day
Both gloomy and fresh - the whole day
I range across the open steppe
Far from village and town.

My horse's steps are a lullaby,
And in a pleasant melancholy
I hear the wind's single unchanging note,
Singing and piping into the barrels of the gun.

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At 1:38 PM, October 23, 2007 Blogger Languagehat had this to say...

Nice renderings! I left some detailed notes in a comment on the LH thread where you linked to this post.

At 1:52 PM, October 23, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Thanks. I stole some of your comments, by the way, to improve these translations.


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