NABOKV-L post 0006078, Fri, 20 Jul 2001 12:32:40 -0700

[Fwd: Brodsky's Translation of a Nabokov Poem "Demon"

From: Galya Diment <galya@u.washington. edu>

While updating my article on Brodsky's and Nabokov's autobiographical
writings for a re-publication, I came across Brodsky's 1979 translation
Nabokov's 1924 poem which (translation, that is), for some reason, has
been widely mentioned at all. (After searching through many sources,
on Nabokov and Brodsky, I found just one reference in an interview with
Volkov from which I am quoting below.) "Demon" appeared in _The Kenyon
Review_, in their first issue after a 9-year hiatus in publication -- 1
(Winter 1979): 120. It's there next to a publication of one of Nabokov's
letters to Wilson which is, unlike the poem, cited in Juliar's
bibliography and other sources. I will reproduce both the original and
translation below -- but here is Brodsky's reaction to what he had been
asked to do from an interview with Solomon Volkov (in Russian) several
years after the publication of the translation:

"I had very mixed feelings about it. First of all, complete disgust for
what I was doing because Nabokov's poem is of very low quality. He, in
general, in my opinion, never materialized as a poet... I was against
idea but they kept insisting..."

Brodsky's feelings about Nabokov as a poet are also expressed in "A Poet
and Prose" from _Less Than One_: "Some, like Nabokov, for example, have
tried to the very end to convince themselves and those around them that
even if they were not primarily poets, they were poets all the same."

Here's the translation -- the original is below:


Vladimir Nabokov

Where have you flown here from? What kind of grief d'you carry?
Tell, flier, why your lips do lack
a tint of life, and why the sea smells in your wings?

And Demon answers me: "You're young and hungry,
but sounds won't satiate you. So don't pluck
your tightly drawn discordant strings.

No music's higher than the silence. You were born
for strict, austere silence. Learn
its stamp on stones, on love, on stars above your ground."

He vanished. Darkness fades. God ordered me to sound.

Translated from the Russian by Joseph Brodsky


Otkuda priletel? Kakim ty dyshish' gorem?
Skazhi mne, otchego tvoi usta, letun,
kak mertvye, bledny, a kryl'ia pakhnut morem?

I demon mne v otvet: "Ty goloden i iun,
no ne nasytish'sia ty zvukami. Ne trogai
natianutykh toboi nestroinykh etikh strun.

Net vyshe musyki, chem tishina. Dlia strogoi
ty sozdan tishiny. Uznai ee pechat'
na kamne, na liubvi i v zvezdakh nad dorogoi."

Ischez on. Taet noch'. Mne Bog velel zvuchat'.