Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sappho. Equal to God.

Vikenty Veresayev
Portrait by Sergey Malyutin, 1919.

Sappho's 'Equal to gods' is one of my all time favourite poems in Russian.

The polymath Vikenty Veresayev (1867-1945, wiki here) fell in love with Greece in 1910, when he travelled there. By that time he was an established realist writer and a practising doctor.

Veresayev isn't widely read these days but his name is well known, not least because quotes from his novels and essays are frequently used in Russian language text books. So precise, if not stylistically exiting, was his language.

Here is the Russian text (from here):

Богу равным кажется мне по счастью
Человек, который так близко-близко
Пред тобой сидит, твой звучащий нежно
                                                                 Слушает голос
И прелестный смех. У меня при этом
Перестало сразу бы сердце биться:
Лишь тебя увижу — уж я не в силах
                                                                 Вымолвить слова.
Но немеет тотчас язык, под кожей
Быстро легкий жар пробегает, смотрят,
Ничего не видя, глаза, в ушах же —
                                                                Звон непрерывный.
Потом жарким я обливаюсь, дрожью
Члены все охвачены, зеленее
Становятся травы, и вот-вот как будто
                                                               С жизнью прощусь я.

Но терпи, терпи: чересчур далёко
Все зашло…

And here is an English poetic translation (from Sappho: A Poem of Jealousy. 29 translations.)

To me that man equals a god
as he sits before you and listens
closely to your sweet voice

and lovely laughter — which troubles
the heart in my ribs. For now
as I look at you my voice fails,

my tongue is broken and thin fire
runs like a thief through my body.
My eyes are dead to light, my ears
pound, and sweat pours down over me.
I shudder, I am paler than grass,
and am intimate with dying — but

I must suffer everything, being poor.

Translated by Willis Barnstone (first version, 1965)

There has been a long argument about the last bit. One school of scholars says that it may not even belong to the poem. Others insist that it is a wonderfully integral part of it, indispensable. 

Another great lover of Greek poetry and symbolism was of course the great poet Osip Mandelstam who started writing at the same time as Veresayev was falling in love with Greece. Veresayev's translations of Sappho came up in a super-thread on Languagehat two years ago. 

The video below is a musical version of the poem from the cult 1976 album by David Tukhmanov 'On the Wave of My Memory' (Russian wiki here: "По волне моей памяти"), sung by the vocal group of the Sovremennik (The Contemporary) orchestra. Solo by Natalia Kapustina.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...