Thursday, February 5, 2015

Patchwork with Tyutchev

Photograph of Fyodor Tyutchev by Andrei Denier (1864) / Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I don’t often translate nineteenth-century Russian poetry, but since the Tyutchev poem that follows is one of two key intertexts for Timur Kibirov’s “Historical Cento” («Исторический центон»), from a 2009 book I’ve been translating, I decided I needed to make my own English version of it. That way, I could lift the pertinent pieces from Tyutchev for my Kibirov translation.

‘Cento’, by the way, is a term that was new to me but which I learned that Dr. Johnson defined as a “composition formed by joining scraps from other authors.” So says the OED, which also gives the more general definition for ‘cento’ of a “piece of patchwork; a patched garment.” Kibirov’s other patches, besides the lines from Tyutchev, come from Blok’s infamous revolutionary romp “The Twelve.” Quite a pairing!

Anyway, if you’re going to make patches, you’ve got to have cloth to cut from. Here’s one of mine:

With your impoverished settlements
by Fyodor Tyutchev

With your impoverished settlements,
With your most meager natural gifts,
My native realm of sufferance,
You are the realm where Russia lives!

You can’t be grasped or noticed by
The proud outsider’s fleeting gaze:
It misses hidden lights that shine
Within your humble naked scapes.

All over you, my native land,
Bearing the burden of His cross
In peasant’s rags, our holy King
Meandered, blessing all He saw.

August 13, 1855

Translated from the Russian by Jamie Olson

(See below for Tyutchev’s Russian original.)

In case you’re curious, here are the first two stanzas of my translation of Kibirov’s cento, which might give you a sense of where he’s going with his ostensibly post-Christian pastiche:

All over you, my native land,
blessing each place, dressed in white,
a crown of roses on his head,
walked, I’m sad to say, not Christ.

No. Christ, of course, also wandered
through this Russian hell of ours,
but—never doubting for a second—
we said, “He doesn’t meet the standard!
He’s much too crucified for us!”

So who, you might ask, is not too crucified for Russia? I’ll give you a hint: he doesn’t wear white, but waves a red flag. 

Yep, you guessed it.