Tuesday, 1 May 2012

The prosody of Russian poetry

The guy who lives next door to me likes love songs by 90s US boybands. I know this because he sings along to them at high volume late at night or absurdly early on Sunday mornings, mispronouncing half the words. Occasionally this is loud enough to wake me up, at which point I lie for a while in bed, debating the merits of turning the other cheek and why it is that I am still capable of getting so angry at things like this. Eventually I yell "замолчи" (zamolchi - shut up) and then "shut up", since English is the international language of shouting. If this doesn't work I jump out of bed and bash the wall several times with my fists, which isn't recommended, since the building is alarmingly flimsy and every time I do things start falling from the ceiling. By this point I am normally laughing and he usually shuts up, so everything is ok.

In my more awake moments, I think I should be more considerate of his attempts at karaoke, since the way he feels about the Backstreet Boys is probably the way I feel about Russian poetry. He loves the way the lyrics sound, and I think the prosody of Russian is beautiful. Listening to Russians recite poetry, or really just speak Russian at all, is like listening to a song. It's one of the things that attracted me to Russian in the first place. One the other hand, since my accent is not terribly good, I'm sure I would cause Russians exquisite pain if I were to recite poetry at them. At Christmas my school had a "talent show" of the type I abhor, where overly-jolly administrators bully participants into ritually humiliating themselves in front of an embarrassed audience. A couple of people decided to recite Pushkin, so I watched the Russian teachers to see how they would react. Several of them spent the time wincing whilst rubbing their eyes, and one had her head in her hands. Russian is only beautiful when spoken by Russians, I guess. Or maybe they just feel the same way I do about talent shows.

Anyway, I don't think you need to be able to understand the words to appreciate the sound [in fact, since one of the parts of the brain that responds to rhythm and is involved in emotional reactions to music is the cerebellum, a part of the brain we share with, for example, reptiles, there is a possibility that crocodiles would also like Russian poetry].

So here are two of my favourite Russian poems, one by Lermontov, and one by Pushkin. They are both fairly short, which makes them easier for me to remember. Learning poetry is a good way to learn vocabulary, since everything is easier if it rhymes. Plus then you have something to recite at tram stops to save yourself from death-by-boredom whilst waiting for your tram to show up. Translations into English obviously not done by me.

Lermontov - Парус

  Парус by ayearinmoscow

Белеет парус одинокой
В тумане моря голубом!...
Что ищет он в стране далёкой?
Что кинул он в краю родном?...

Играют волны - ветер свищет,
И мачта гнётся и скрыпит...
Увы, он счастия не ищет
И не от счастия бежит!

Под ним струя светлей лазури,
Над ним луч солнца золотой...
А он, мятежный, просит бури,
Как будто в бурях есть покой!

A single sail is passing, white
In blue and oceanic haze.
What does it seek in foreign seas?
Why has it left its native bays?

The waves are playing. Wind is wailing
Against the bending, creaking mast.
Oh no, it seeks no happy future
And does not flee a happy past.

The azure waves roll out beneath it,
The solar gold above it glows,
And yet this rebel begs for storms
As if a storm could hold repose.

Pushkin - Я вас любил

  Я вас любил by ayearinmoscow

Я вас любил: любовь ещё, быть может,
В душе моей угасла не совсем;
Но пусть она вас больше не тревожит;
Я не хочу печалить вас ничем.
Я вас любил безмолвно, безнадежно,
То робостью, то ревностью томим;
Я вас любил так искренно, так нежно,
Как дай вам Бог любимой быть другим.

I loved you; even now I must confess,
Some embers of my love their fire retain;
But do not let it cause you more distress,
I do not want to sadden you again.
Hopeless and tonguetied, yet I loved you dearly
With pangs the jealous and the timid know;
So tenderly I love you, so sincerely,
I pray God grant another love you so.

1 comment:

  1. You have no idea how much respect I now have for you after reading that. It is so refreshing to know that there are still people in the world that can truly appreciate and learn from Russian poetry the way you apparently have. Thank you. I think I may just read all your other blog entries now haha :)