Night flowers

Translated Poem: Afanasy Fet’s “I’ll say nothing…”

Ever had feelings for someone, and you just couldn’t work up the nerve to tell them? Or worse, you tried to hide that you liked them at all?

Today’s poem, written by the 19th-century Russian poet Afanasy Fet, expresses that feeling with poignant simplicity and elegance.

I tried to preserve as much of that tone as possible in my translation (at the bottom of this post), but whether or not I was successful — you must be the judge.

Have a listen to the original first …


Я тебе ничего не скажу… (1885)

Я тебе ничего не скажу,
И тебя не встревожу ничуть,
И о том, что я молча твержу,
Не решусь ни за что намекнуть.

Целый день спят ночные цветы,
Но лишь солнце за рощу зайдёт,
Раскрываются тихо листы
И я слышу, как сердце цветёт.

И в больную, усталую грудь
Веет влагой ночной… я дрожу,
Я тебя не встревожу ничуть,
Я тебе ничего не скажу.


Like many classic Russian poems, it has also been set to music. Here’s a version set by Tatyana Tolstaya, with lovely violin and piano:

Translating this poem with rhyme and meter comes with a particular challenge, because it’s not your usual iambic tetrameter à la Pushkin. No. It’s anapestic trimeter.

Now, if you were an A student in English and still don’t know what that means, you cannot be blamed! Basically, the rhythm of each line is supposed to go like this: da-da-DA, da-da-DA, da-da-DA

(You know, like a cantering horse! Or King Arthur’s coconuts!)

On the other hand, it has only masculine rhymes (stressed on the last syllable), which are easier to do in English, and the rhyme scheme is abab cdcd baba.

The rhyme scheme proved most difficult to preserve in the final stanza, where two lines repeat (but in reverse order), and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to follow the sense AND the rhyme without making it awkward and complicated. (Whereas the original reads very simply.) Then it happened again when I realized I’d completely forgotten to translate a line in the second stanza, and it threw off everything.

(facepalm)

Eventually I remembered you can’t save everything. So — fare thee well, literal meaning.

sacrifices-must-be-made

Anyway, here’s my translation, as it stands so far:

I’ll say nothing whatever to you,
I’ll not trouble you with it one bit,
And of thoughts harped upon all day through,
I don’t dare give the tiniest hint.

All day sleeping, the night flowers curl,
But when dusk past the grove drops and looms,
In soft silence the leaves all unfurl
And I hear how my heart itself blooms.

Yet at night comes the chill, I admit,
As my aching breast shakes… and I, too;
I’ll not trouble you with it one bit,
I’ll say nothing whatever to you.


Has Fet got it right, or what?

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