Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Somehow, A Georgian Accent Fits this Song

When I was a kid, I liked the English version of this song. However, since I learned the Russian lyrics, I can't listen to this:

without cringing. As they say in Physics, "not even wrong":

You rode on a troika with sleigh bells,
And in the distance lights flickered..
If only I could follow you now
I would dispel the grief in my soul!

By the long road, in the moon light,
And with this song that flies off, ringing,
And with this ancient, this ancient seven-string,
That has so tormented me by night.

But it turns out our song was futile,
In vain we burned night in and night out.
If we have finished with the old,
Then those nights have also left us!

Out into our native land, and by new paths,
We have been fated to go now!
...You rode on a troika with sleigh bells,
[But] you've long since passed by!

[Translation by the Pitt Slavic Department]

Although the English Lyrics are in no way faithful to the original, there is a similar feeling of pathos, albeit in a completely different context.

If you really need to hear it with a Russian accent, here is Dyatlov and Pogudin's version, which is closer to the tempo I first learned:

Eхали на тройке с бубенцами,
А вдали мелькали огоньки...
Эх, когда бы мне теперь за вами,
Душу бы развеять от тоски!

Дорогой длинною, погодой лунною,
Да с песней той, что в даль летит звеня,
Да со старинною, да с семиструнною,
Что по ночам так мучила меня.

Да, выходит, пели мы задаром,
Понапрасно ночь за ночью жгли.
Eсли мы покончили со старым,
Так и ночи эти отошли!

В даль родную новыми путями
Нам отныне ехать суждено!
...Eхали на тройке с бубенцами,
Да теперь проехали давно!

I was thinking about one of Ilya's comment on my Bout posts. Russians take an awful lot of pride in the richness of their arts and language. Certainly from my point of view Russian classical music and literature is more complex and more illuminating of the human experience than pretty much anything Americans have yet produced.

And yet, I would rather live here than there, and I've done the traveling to make that more than an idle statement. It seems that the dictum that one must suffer for art applies to cultures as well as individuals. Voluminous output of great art is often a band-aid on a wounded culture. Art constitutes the dreams of a culture, and a society or a person without dreams would not be fully human. But the difference between a medicine and a poison is the dose. Dreamers who don't get their head out of the clouds often wind up following some pretty nasty pieces of work. That's how cults, either of religion or personality, are born.


vince said...

That was always one of my favorite songs, and I always thought it had kind if a "Russian" beat to it, if that makes sense. I like the two Russian examples you give, and I think they do have more pathos.

While not a linguist, I would think that literal translations often miss the actual purpose or meaning of a song, and modifying the lyrics to include metaphors and cultural references appropriate to the language/culture does more justice to a song. This might be true as well to poetry and fiction.

John the Scientist said...

To a certain degree, Vince, but I think the English version of this song goes above and beyond. It's basically a different song set to the same tune, yet you can see they were trying to touch the original meaning.

I don't like my former Russian teacher's translation much (from my Intensive Summer Russian at Pitt) - his English is not good enough for poetry. I may try a hand at modifying it sometime.

The first line of the chorus is something like:

"Along the long road, the weather is lunar."

That phrase about the cold steppes looking moon-like in the snow is quite poetic, and trasnlating it as "in the moonlight" kills the original.

I'd probably translate it something like:

"As we go along the way, the weather's lunar gray"

or something similar.

John the Scientist said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ilya said...

I admittedly have no skill in poetry translation, but I guess because the second version has more commonly sung "дорогой длинною, да ночью лунною" in the first line of the chorus, I would think something like

"Our way is long by night, the moon is shining bright"

could work. It sounds rather awkward, when I try it, though...

I first heard Those Were The Days well into my twenties, and while it makes me proud that a Russian melody merited plagiarization, it is such a sucky variation, especially when you can truly appreciate the original.

But as it happened with your Бут thesis, John, I cannot agree more with your summary here. I think I might start quoting you...