Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Mikhail Lermontov, the poet

Lermontov wrote a number of narrative poems. These are well-suited to be read in translation. At least the translator can communicate the story, even if the poetry is lost. Charles Johnston has translated three good ones in Narrative Poems by Alexander Pushkin & Mikhail Lermonotov, all from 1837 to 1841:

The Tambov Lady – a gambler stakes his wife,
The Novice – a monk flees a monastery,
The Demon – Lucifer falls in love with a Georgian princess.

I've read that The Demon is often considered to be the greatest Russian poem. No way to judge that in translation, but here's a sample from Johnston:

He wandered, now long-since outcast;
his desert had no refuge in it:
and one by one the ages passed,
as minute follows after minute,
each one monotonously dull.
The world he ruled was void and null;
the ill he sowed in his existence
brought no delight. His technique scored,
he found no traces of resistance –
yet evil left him deeply bored. (Stanza II)

Pechorin, from A Hero of Our Time, could have said the same thing.

Lermontov's, anyone's, lyric poems lose a lot in translation, but Lermontov's wikipedia entry includes Vladimir Nabokov's version of Lermotov's "The Dream." In English, it's a perfect poem. Otherwise, I have not read his lyrics - any recommendations?

Also posted at the Russian Reading Challenge.

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