08 November 2010

Tuesday Poem: Now My Love Is Not The Same, by Sergei Esenin, translated by Tim Jones

Now My Love Is Not The Same

(to Kliuev)

Now my love is not the same.
Ah, I know, you grieve, you
Grieve that pools of words
Have not spilled from the moon’s broom.

Mourning and rejoicing at the star
Which settles on your brows
You sang out your heart to the izba
But failed to build a home in your heart.

And what you hoped for every night
Has passed your roof by once again.
Dear friend, for whom then did you gild
Your springs with singing speech?

You will not sing about the sun
Nor glimpse, from your window, paradise
Just as the windmill, flapping its wing
Cannot fly up from the earth.

Tim says: Sergei Alexandrovitch Esenin (or Yesenin), 1895-1925, was a Russian poet of peasant origin who lived and worked in the period before, during, and after the Russian revolution. Well-known and much-loved as a poet in Russia, his work has received less attention than it deserves in English-speaking countries, where he may be best known as the ex-husband of Isadora Duncan.

In the final year of my BA in Russian, which I completed in 1995 at Victoria University, having started it several years before at Otago, I translated 15 of Esenin's poems into English, and wrote an essay about him, as my final-year project. The translations are still pretty rough about the edges, but I'm keen to get them out into the world: I did this a little bit last year in the Esenin Translation Project on LibraryThing, and from time to time, as I tidy them up, I will publish some of those translations here.

I'll say a little more about Esenin, his writing, and the poetry of the time as I do so.


The "Kliuev" of the dedication refers to Esenin's near-contemporary, poetic mentor, and (according to some biographers) lover Nikolai Kliuev (or Klyuev), one of the earliest peasant poets to gain some measure of acceptance in pre-revolutionary St Petersburg. The essay I wrote to accompany my translations notes:

Kliuev and Esenin began to perform together in public, dressing in idealised peasant style to flatter the expectations of their audience. Esenin took to accompanying himself on an accordion; although the tal’ianka and garmonika are important motifs in his poetry, his skill in playing them lagged behind his skill in writing about them.

An "izba" is a Russian peasant hut.


Helen said...

I never knew that about you Tim! Great work on the translation :-)

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Helen!

Helen Rickerby said...

Cool! Translation of poetry is such an art - well, translation of anything literary. Were you going for a literal translation, or one which matched the original in tone or structure? My fav bit is 'for whom then did you gild/Your springs with singing speech'. Don't suppose it had all those Ses in Russian?

Vespersparrow said...

Tim, lovely translation of Esenin's poem, one I happen to love. It's a gift to be able to pull one language through the delicate membrane of another, and make a poem drawn from such a complex world as the Russian tongue into a poem that sounds like it was born into English--very difficult. Thank you for posting this, Tim.

m said...

beautiful work, tim

Tim Jones said...

Thanks, Helen, Vespersparrow and Madeleine.

Helen, I did a literal translation first, and then a freer translation based on that. My lecturer was disappointed that I didn't do a rhymed translation: Russian poetry is usually rhymed, but with all its regular declensions and conjugations, it provides many more opportunities for unforced rhyme than English does.

I think that many of the free translations I did are still too close to the Russian originals to work fully as English poetry, but that alliteration was indeed not present in the original - though it's still fairly close to a literal translation. Russian has plenty of 's' sounds, though the Cyrillic 's' looks like our 'c'.

Vespersparrow, I'm pleased to hear you know Esenin's work! Have you read it in the original, or in translation - and if the latter, are there translations you particularly recommend?

Madeleine, that's a lovely blog you have!