“It cripples, does our dull emotion” (“Мы перед чувствами немеем”), Yevgeny Yevtushenko

RUSSIA 1

Yevtushenko wrote this when he was twenty-three, in 1955. Describing the sclerosis of Soviet public intellectual life in this way a few years earlier would have got him into serious trouble. Perhaps the most notable feature of the poem, however, is the pessimism he displays that things can really change – only a year before the twentieth Party Congress, which promised much, but ultimately delivered little.

This was fiendishly difficult to translate. The metre is simple enough – an iambic tetrameter – but I could find no way to avoid the padding of “perforce” and “of course”. I took a considerable liberty with “snigger” – but perhaps it bears some of the sense of the cravenness of which the poem is so sharply critical.

 

It cripples, does our dull emotion,
we’ve learned to bury it perforce,
of art of living we’ve no notion,
the way to die eludes, of course.

You’ll find degenerate’s best evaded
and scoundrel’s not the wisest friend,
for, having hostile house invaded,
you’ll take a shot and meet your end.

So, should we let rip with the trigger –
or, hoping for nice cup of tea,
our pieces not load with a snigger,
leave guilty footprints as we flee?

And there, as our breath we are catching,
excusing ourselves we’ve conspired,
and glance back while we’re despatching
revolver into pond unfired.

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Мы перед чувствами немеем,
мы их привыкли умерять,
и жить еще мы не умеем
и не умеем умирать.

Но, избегая вырождений,
нельзя с мерзавцами дружить,
как будто входим в дом враждебный,
где выстрел надо совершить.

Так что ж, стрелять по цели – или
чтоб чаю нам преподнесли,
чтоб мы заряд не разрядили,
а наследили и ушли?

И там найти, глотая воздух,
для оправдания пример
и, оглянувшись, бросить в воду
невыстреливший револьвер.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

3 thoughts on ““It cripples, does our dull emotion” (“Мы перед чувствами немеем”), Yevgeny Yevtushenko

  1. In the first line I would have kept the direction of the verb the same: “We’re numb before our own emotions.” Why did you choose to make emotions singular, by the way?

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