To Delvig (Дельвигу), Alexander Pushkin

Anton Antonovich Delvig (1798-1831) was a poet, journalist and close friend of Pushkin. They were contemporaries at the Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo. Pushkin wrote this in 1830, the year before Delvig’s death.

It’s a wonderful poem. Ian Mac Eochagáin (to whom I’m indebted for clarifying a couple of points) says of it: “You really get the sense of Pushkin mourning a partner in crime, the passage of years, and still trying to sound lofty and acerbic and not tawdry.”

There were some particular challenges. The first stanza of the original refers to Киприда, Феб и Вакх румяный – “Cypris [Aphrodite], Phoebe and ruddy Bacchus”. It proved beyond me to accommodate all three deities, though I confess I’m quite pleased with my solution. Likewise, finding a rhyme for Phoebe was impossible.

Derzhavin was the grand old man of Russian poetry – Salieri to Pushkin’s Mozart.

Our births, for we are too like brothers,
Took place beneath the self-same star,
And ruddy Bacchus and the others
Our fate have fiddled from afar.

We both appeared bright and early,
The races, not the market, graced,
Derzhavin’s tomb, ’midst hurly-burly,
Was where we idle rapture chased.

From adolescence we were pampered.
And being filled with lazy pride
In truth we really were not hampered
By thoughts of children’s rights denied.

But you, O carefree son of Phoebe,
Would not betray your lofty art
To cunning traders, those who would be
The judges of your noble heart.

Oh yes, they’ve scolded us, the scribblers,
We’ve heard ourselves by all maligned:
We’re glory-hunters, boozy dribblers,
Whose glass enflames our reckless mind.

But yet your word, so strong, so soaring,
Is taunted by some parodist,
Your verses, richly hope restoring,
Are chewed by toothless journalist.


Мы рождены, мой брат названый,
Под одинаковой звездой.
Киприда, Феб и Вакх румяный
Играли нашею судьбой.

Явилися мы рано оба
На ипподром, а не на торг,
Вблизи Державинского гроба,
И шумный встретил нас восторг.

Избаловало нас начало.
И в гордой лености своей
Заботились мы оба мало
Судьбой гуляющих детей.

Но ты, сын Феба беззаботный,
Своих возвышенных затей
Не предавал рукой расчетной
Оценке хитрых торгашей.

В одних журналах нас ругали,
Упреки те же слышим мы:
Мы любим славу да в бокале
Топить разгульные умы.

Твой слог могучий и крылатый
Какой-то дразнит пародист,
И стих, надеждами богатый,
Жует беззубый журналист.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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