Alexander Pushkin - Autumn

Translated Poem: A Selection from Pushkin’s “Autumn”

Okay, so, whatever our differences may be, Alexander Pushkin and I have at least this one thing in common: our favorite season is fall.

That is, осень, or osen’, in Russian.

Let Tyutchev have his spring … what’s not to love about the leaves turning gold, red, and orange — the air turning crisp and cool — apples and squash everywhere — deliciously gloomy rainy days — and, you know, pumpkin spice?

Though Pushkin obviously didn’t have pumpkin spice lattés to look forward to each year, he could certainly appreciate the natural beauty of the season, as evidenced in his poems. And while many look at spring as the season of poetry, the best time for poetry, for me — and for Pushkin as well, it appears — is between September and December!

Since I’m still not really in poet mode (увы!), I thought maybe I’d leapfrog off of Pushkin by attempting a translation of one of his verses on autumn (ура!). And not just any translation … but a poetic one!

See, previous translations on this website have been awfully literal. I haven’t even attempted to preserve rhythm or rhyme. But then I started reading Florilège, a collection of poetic translations of Pushkin’s “Я вас любил…” provoked and collected by Douglas Hofstadter. It was amazing to me how the translators managed to carry over the rhythm, the rhyme, and the meaning.

So, obviously, I needed to at least give it a try.

The poem we’re working with today is a one-octave excerpt from Pushkin’s longer poem “Осень” (you know that word!). The reason I chose it, of all the other octaves available? Simple. It was in my book:

Alexander Pushkin - Осень - Autumn
Painting by Vitaliy Belousov…isn’t it gorgeous?

Here’s the plain-text version (you can listen to it here, from 1:03-1:50):

Унылая пора! Очей очарованье!
Приятна мне твоя прощальная краса —
Люблю я пышное природы увяданье,
В багрец и золото одетые леса.
В их сенях ветра шум и свежее дыханье,
И мглой волнистою покрыты небеса,
И редкий солнца луч, и первые морозы…
И отдалённые седой зимы угрозы…

And here is my translation. The original is written in iambic hexameter with a rhyme scheme of AbAbAbCC, where capital letters are feminine rhymes (last syllable unstressed) and lower-case letters are masculine rhymes (last syllable stressed). For the sake of my sanity, I’m not even going to attempt to preserve the masculine/feminine difference, nor other subtleties of sound.

I am also allowing myself the luxury of near-rhymes because I am, after all, a beginner:

Autumn (excerpt)

A dreary time! And yet — enchantment for the eyes!
How dear to me your parting grace, your farewell gifts —
I love the rich decay of leaf and countryside,
The forests all decked out in gold and crimson tints.
Within their halls a fresh wind stirs about and sighs,
The heavens cloak themselves in rolling folds of mist;
How rare the sun, the morning frosts that do not stay,
With grizzled winter’s stormy threats still far away …

Whew! If you can read the original, you can see there’s still much left to be desired in my translation. In order to maintain the meter I had to add some words, and in particular I had to get creative with the last four lines. Pushkin seems to present those lines as a list of all the things “within [the forest] halls” … so it’s really more like “within their halls [are] the rustle and fresh breath of wind, the heavens covered in rolling mist, the rare sun’s ray, the first frosts … and the far-off threats of grizzled winter …”

I considered as an alternative to the closing couplet this line: “I love the morning frosts, the rarer golden ray, / With grizzled winter’s stormy threats still far away …” It seemed more faithful to the wording (just in reverse order), but there was something I didn’t like about its sound in context.

The final word in the “gold and crimson” line also gave me trouble. For some reason I kept thinking bliss, although it sounded silly. Then I thought, oh, maybe shifts … which could mean either a kind of clothing or a change. Ha, so clever! Except that also seemed odd, particularly because when you wear a shift, it’s difficult to claim you’re decked out. And these trees are dressed to the nines, it seems to me. So what about the other near-rhyme tints? Makes sense — it’s a word for color. Except tints tend to be pale colors, and these are not.

So I went back to bliss. Then tints. Sigh. -_-

What do you think — blissshifts, or tints (or something else)? What other opportunities might I have missed?

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