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"Like the Tail of a Comet": Dauenhauer on Translating in Advent.

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Dec. 13th, 2005 | 03:06 pm
posted by: seraphimsigrist in advent_daily

I would like to commend to your attention the poem by
Boris Pasternak "Christmas Star" which I posted on my
journal today :
I should like to call it to your attention including the
good many of you on my friends list who may have been
distracted by what might be called a side issue in the
posting... with a smile...
It was translated by my friend the poet Dick Dauenhauer
and the thing of it is that he translated it over a period
of I think three years using the Advent Season.
So what I think to post here is his notes during Advent
over these years...
He is Eastern Orthodox, as of course was Pasternak, and
some references are to Eastern liturgics, but that need
not be offputting...when Orthodox or any people...put aside
their superiority complexes then they need no inferiority
complex either nor need there be any discontinuity...as
Orthodox theologian Olivier Clement said of visiting
Taize by Orthodox Christians. It is when the details of
a particular tradition are presented with some purpose
of boasting or seduction over this or that peculiarity
that the thing becomes embarassing...with Dick there is
none of that. Well excuse the excursus to the side
and now if you will join me in the Advent journey of
the translator including in this section ,and ending with,
a fine new poem of his own please click to the right just
about here.
RICHARD DAUENHAUER on Translating Pasternak in Advent

Part One: December 2003

December 5-8, 2003. Draft of verses 1-5

December 14. Draft of verses 6-8

December 15, Final notes and thoughts

At the start of these notesthanks to some friends for their help and inspiration:

to Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist) for ultimately inspiring it all by putting me on to the Brodsky Christmas poems, and for subsequent encouragement via email, and for shrinking me under his electronic confessional stole;

to Andrei Adaryukov for help on cemetery synonyms in stanza 4 and their emotional impact;

to Lydia Black for help with tiny lamps and windows and for the image of welcoming light in stanza 5.

to Andrei Adaryukov for help on cemetery synonyms in stanza 4 and their emotional impact;

to Lydia Black for help with tiny lamps and windows and for the image of welcoming light in stanza 5.

I have liked Pasternaks Christmas Starfor years, and thought of translating it, but never got to it. Recently, my interest and energy have been renewed, via the Brodsky Christmas Poems, suggested to me by Bishop Seraphim (Sigrist) a year or so ago. At a University of Alaska-Southeast English department Christmas literary tea Friday, December 7, 2003 I read the English and a colleague, Nina Chordas, read the Russian of Brodskys Star of Nativity.This got me going on the Pasternak again. I came home and started, and have been doing a stanza or so at night, slogging through the Russian at bedtime, and waking in the morning with solutions. This also jump-started my own poetry again, in the midst of a winter slump, described below.

I like the many poems of Pasternak where he plays with themes of eternity and time. It seems to me there are parallels with Orthodox hymnology. From Nativity, the birth in time of the timeless one,etc. From Circumcision, On his mothers side 8 days old, and on his fathers side eternal.I have a longer paper in progress on Pasternak and Pentecost, and the evolution of the spiritual dimension in his poetry from the youthful poems of 1917 to the Zhivago cycle and the poems written shortly before his death.

Here are notes for the verses thus far. Im using slant rhyme, and an irregular accentual rhythm, as Pasternak does so well. For some reason, I almost always rhyme my Rilke translations, but almost never Pasternak. Likewise, I almost never rhyme my own poetry, but play with accentual and syllabic rhythms linked by assonance, but no end rhyme. In my own poem that follows, I commit to end rhyme and Pasternakian slant rhymes.

I like the rhythm of Pasternaks Christmas Star,combined with the outrageous assonance and rhyme, especially in stanza 4. Stanza 3 was hard for me, and I had to look up most words in the dictionary. But at least they were there, which is not the case in stanza 5.

I like the images throughoutunusual images; domestic, ordinary, ho-hum,and the dramatic breakthrough of the Incarnation and eternity into daily life, and our growing awareness of this. (One of my biggest complaints about the spiritual direction of some of our church leadership at the moment is their disconnect between liturgy and everyday life.) Pasternak is brilliant in his insistence on the link between spirituality and daily life. It seems to me that T.S. Eliot also works with this theme in his poem The Journey of the Magi,with its litany of physical discomfort on the journey, and ending with the spiritual discomfort of the person who experiences an awakening and finds him or herself no longer at easeand in the words of the Beatitudes, among the poor in spirit.The breakthrough of divinity into everyday life can create a discomfort all its own. Stanza 7 concludes with the whole universe alarmed by this new star.

I began to think about T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) and how he was a contemporary of Boris Pasternak (1890-1960). Pasternak translated Shakspeare into Russian. I do not know if he read or translated Eliot; I must look into this. I am not arguing for influencehere, but the world views in The Journey of the Magiand Christmas Starhave much in common. It is also interesting to note that both poets published major collections in 1922.

In stanza 4, I like Pasternaks use of positive and negative space, the inversions of color, the presumably dark tombstones against the snow, in contrast to the bright stars in the dark sky; the images of emptiness and waiting, things dormant, from the summer cart in winter to the bodies in the graves. My question for Andrei and Lydia was the difference between pogost (glossed as a village cemetery) and kladbishche. Is pogost smaller, a graveyard, even boot hilland the other more generic? Andrei reports that podgost is more local and folksy, with emotional associations of ghosts and spooky things, whereas kladbishche is more urban, clinical, impersonal, and generic.

In 5, I had lots of vocabulary questions. V okontsepresumably in a window of some kind. I get the image of a small window. Is it like a ticket counter, or a port hole? Ploshka was not in my regular dictionary, but I have a multi volume Russian-Russian dictionary I bought in Beijing several years ago, and it came to the rescue with a description of a saucer-like container with liquid grease and a wicklike a lampada. So, my question is, is this just for illumination, like a seal oil stone lamp in an igloo, or is this actually a lampada, in which case I could translate votive lamp,but I dont want to unless the image is religious. Ive used nightlightfor now. Lydia reports that it is for illumination only, not a votive light. Her image is of a tiny speck of light from a small window indicating a warm welcoming dwelling.

In 6, the dead of winter imagery suddenly shifts to a summer harvest fire, with more outrageous assonance and rhyme: rhyming God with arson, (Boga, podzhoga), and linking both with fire and haystack (v ognye, stog). I wish I could pull this off in English, but God and arson dont rhyme, even if the incarnation is setting the world on fire. Here Pasternak uses likethree times in a row (kak), whereas he often uses the instrumental case to express comparisons.

In 7, more synonym problems for me: stog and skird both glossed as haystack.Such words always remind me of the words of a socio-linguist friend, David Margolin, who denies that synonyms really exist, arguing that if two words really meant the same thing, there would only be one word.

In 8 more Pasternakian outrageous rhyme: chtó-to (something) and zvezdochyóta (astrologers). This must mean something to the magi, a connection emphasized by rhyme. In translation, both for the assonance and meaning, I use the English word lureinstead of callor invitation;I hope this is ok.

* * * *

Notes to my poem, Translating Pasternak..

This morning,(December 8, 2003) a line came to me: Return to poetry as prayer.The biographical context of this is my current personal situation regarding spiritual life on our local parish and diocese, where I am troubled by a resurgence of clericalism, nominalism, and conservative fundamentalism. I cant stand it any more. After yesterday, Ive pretty much decided to start staying home; to read, listen to music. etc. And especially, to keep my spiritual sanity, I need to spend more time with poetry as a temporary substitute for going to church.As Fr. Alexander Menwrites, these are ideally not mutually exclusive activities, and they rarely have been for me, but now for me, here and now locally, they are mutually exclusive. It shouldnt be an either/orbut for a while it will be. Although for a time one may be unable to attend church, I believe that in the end the assembly at the Lords table is anything but contradictory to poetry, as Father Menknew and showed us.

[See the essay A Credo for Todays Christianin Christianity for the Twenty-First Century. The Prophetic Writings of Alexander Men, where he writes (p 73) A Christian sees that the Christian vocation can be realized in everything: in prayer, work, creativity, in active service and moral discipline.In the same book, see also the essay Faith and Its Enemies,where he lists Boris Pasternak (and T. S. Eliot) among those writers prominent in the defence of spiritual values(p. 63).]

From this line, I started a poem, and as other lines kept coming, I chiseled it out, working with a set rhyme scheme, which I rarely do. I finished a first draft in two hours, which is amazing for me. I had the happy and headyexperience of how a translator of a fine poet can be brought along into that greatness as if riding on the tail of a comet. It is called Translating Pasternak,and I include the working draft on the following page.

Richard Dauenhauer

Translating Pasternak

We are His poem. (Eph. 2:10)

The season of Nativity again.

This time: return to poetry as prayer,

not putting trust in princes, sons of men,

but refuge from complacency, rather;

response to imageshow old is new

from Psalms to Ferlinghetti, Pasternak

the insights, inspiration, here and now.

Respond as they responded to the knock

of wording from eternity in wait

for human life through cooperation

and consent, the word to integrate

and nurture, through compassion, meditation.

Its time to give myself a Christmas gift,

my promise to myself to translate Pasternak,

his Christmas Starfor starters, waiting list

of thirty years accumulated clock

ticking off my last creative life,

never finding time enough for poems.

I learn anew how each time I derive

new energy from this, expanding time

as poetry breaks through to other worlds,

translation, like the tail of a comet,

pulled by the gravity of uncommon words

through which I navigate by lexicon

to struggle with and feel his poetry

jazz-like rhythm, assonance, outrageous rhyme.

His poethostage of eternity

and prisoner of time.

December 8, 2003
(the rest tomorrow)

Boris Pasternak.

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