…..'A sense of humour lends you poise, it gives you balance and it helps you to bend without breaking'…..

(HH Pujya Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda)

Menoloopal Minor - just a wee gripe

I love poetry.  Not all poems of course. That would be indiscriminate and just plain silly.

The act of poetry though.  The discipline of the lexical, the lure of the lyrical. How the words themselves can mean nothing until put next to others in order to lever from them more than they ever intended.

Used well, even prose can then become poetic.

Another love I have is of languages other than my own.  At school French was compulsory. We could also opt for a second.  I would have loved dearly for it to have been Russian, but that was not on offer.  Spanish yes, (and I even think Esperanto was at that time!), Italian or German.  I opted for the latter.

To this day I struggle with French.  It never grabbed me.  German was okay and I could still manage a shopping trip if I had to.

After school though, after Nigeria, when settled into life in Edinburgh, I finally got to study Russian.  I was a great one for 'night school' and undertook higher exams in Modern History, English and Russian. Two years. Loved it.

Why? Russian history fascinated me.  I had also been reading and re-reading Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsyn and Chekov.  I adored Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff. There was a notion that I would one day take up the manuscripts of these writers and read them in their mother tongue. That I would one day play the 3rd concerto... you know, the dreams of puberty and all that.

By the time I got to Russian lessons this had matured rather and was more about getting to grips with how language informs culture - and a small hope of at least managing some poems in Russian.

What's the gripe? In search for a certain poem which had been tugging at my mind, I came across a site dedicated to this subject.  There are many of course, but we don't see them all. This one had an approach that was quite appealing, the listings are easy to negotiate and there are quite reasonable bios on the poets. There are forums and active promotion of new and current poetry.

Slightly annoying though, are the 'readings', which play automatically when a poem is selected. Very stilted and adding nothing to the experience.  For me anyway.

The key gripe - and it is really only a quibble because it is subjective - is the translation given on the site for Boris Pasternak's poem NIGHT. I went hunting for it because I was looking out my window early enough to see stars before dawn and there was a flashback to one of the verses.  The book of Pasternak's works, for whatever reason that happens, would not come to hand from my shelves.  (Why does that happen...?)  Hence the online search.

I knew the title so did not have to go mad trying to read endless verses in order to find it.  That said, having gone straight to the page, I read what was there and did not think it the same poem!

Thus we find one of the dreadful things which can come about with translation; that of the translator turning the words into something they want to read and thus losing much of what the poet intended us to read. This is the ultimate 'poetic licence'! Of course, having found this and despaired at the mundanity of the translation - forcing it into rhymed iambic pentameter - the book 'reappeared' on my shelves! Tsk.

Going straight to the page, I reveled in the translation of Michael Harari and revisited the Russian. Rusty now, almost to dust, but enough to appreciate how faithful the translator was to the original, not seeking to turn it into an 'ease-of-access' item. Certainly Pasternak had a rhythm, but not necessarily rhyme. That freer flow may be lost a little in the translation, but the accuracy of description is not. I then returned to the online version. Still don't like it.

So, dear reader, how about a little exercise?  Will you share this with me?  Please click the link to NIGHT and read that online version. Come back tomorrow, where you will find the Collins Harvill version I believe is a truer 'voice'.  

It's not compulsory.  Just something to talk about!  &*>


  1. We are not fans of poems or limericks here on the hill...
    fur use though.

  2. I'm not familiar with the poem, but didn't enjoy the Poem Hunter reading much. Awaiting the other version with interest.

  3. Russian! Cool.
    I've sung in Russian, French, German, Italian, they'd have a tutor in to help us during choir rehearsals. I quite enjoyed it!

  4. I see what you mean about the translation. The version you posted above reminds me somewhat of the Beat poetry of Ginsburg and Kerouac which I have always enjoyed.


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