Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0024776, Thu, 7 Nov 2013 02:12:57 +0000

Re: [QUERY] Pushkin in LRL

The fact that you can’t find the poem in Verses and Versions, that Nabokov didn’t dare offer a version, makes his point: it’s a poem whose magic is particularly impossible to render in another language. The translation at the link you provide is reasonably accurate, or only meekly inaccurate, but of course it falls woefully short.

Brian Boyd

On 7/11/2013, at 10:43 am, Jansy Mello <jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US<mailto:jansy.nabokv-L@AETERN.US>> wrote:

JM: Yah pom-new chewed-no-yay mg-no-vain-yay - Please, could a fellow Nabler inform me about the lines copied above? V.Nabokov mentioned the first lines of one of Pushkin's famous poems but he didn't inform which one it was [LRL, The Art of Translation]
C. Kunin: Odd transliteration - ja pomnyu (I recall) chevo'dnoye mgnove'neye (a wonderful moment).[ ]
Koen Vanherwegen: It is, in normal transcription "Ja pomnyu chudnoye mgnovenya" which translates as something like "I remember a wonderful moment"
Alex Bews ("this is the first line of "K***", one of the most famous Pushkin's poems, wirtten in 1825, dedicated to his great love, Anna Kern)

Jansy Mello: Thank you, Carolyn, Koen, Alex and Victor (off line).Your information was wonderfully complementary.

I couldn't find its translation by VN in "Verses and Versions" (Victor sent me a link with an attempt at translation by someone else : http://www.pushkins-poems.com/push03.htm ). Curiously, this special and famous poem, among the various translations of Pushkin's poems, his EO, letters and short-stories to the Portuguese, remains untranslated.

V.Nabokov's observations, in LRL (The Art of Translation), illustrate part of the difficulty that any translator has to surmount to reach a satisfactory result and his final paragraph is tauntingly evasive: "'I was confronted for instance with the following opening line of one of Pushkin's most prodigious poems: Yah pom-new chewed-no-yay mg-no-vain-yay
I have rendered the syllables by the nearest English sounds I could find; their mimetic disguise makes them look rather ugly; but never mind; the "chew" and the "vain" are associated phonetically with other Russian words meaning beautiful and important things, and the melody of the line with the plump, golden-ripe "chewed-no-yay" right in the middle and the "m's" and "n's" balancing each other on both sides, is to the Russian ear most exciting and soothing — a paradoxical combination that any artist will understand.
Now, if you take a dictionary and look up those four words you will obtain the following foolish, flat and familiar statement: "I remember a wonderful moment." What is to be done with this bird you have shot down only to find that it is not a bird of paradise, but an escaped parrot, still screeching its idiotic message as it flaps on the ground? For no stretch of the imagination can persuade an English reader that "I remember a wonderful moment" is the perfect beginning of a perfect poem. The first thing I discovered was that the expression "a literal translation" is more or less nonsense. "Yah pom- new" is a deeper and smoother plunge into the past than "I remember," which falls flat on its belly like an inexperienced diver; "chewed-no-yay" has a lovely Russian "monster" in it, and a whispered "listen, "and the dative ending of a "sunbeam, "and many other fair relations among Russian words. It belongs phonetically and mentally to a certain series of
words, and this Russian series does not correspond to the English series in which "I remember" is found. And inversely, "remember, "though it clashes with the corresponding "pom-new" series, is connected with an English series of its own whenever real poets do use it. And the central word in Housman's "What are those blue remembered hills?" becomes in
Russian "vspom-neev-she-yes-yah," a horrible straggly thing, all humps and horns, which cannot fuse into any inner connection with "blue," as it does so smoothly in English, because the Russian sense of blueness belongs to a different series than the Russian "remember" does.
This interrelation of words and non-correspondence of verbal series in different tongues suggests yet another rule, namely, that the three main words of the line draw one another out, and add something which none of them would have had separately or in any other combination. What makes this exchange of secret values possible is not only the mere contact between the words, but their exact position in regard both to the rhythm of the line and to one another. This must be taken into account by the translator.
Finally, there is the problem of the rhyme. "Mg-no-vain-yay" has over two thousand Jack-in-the-box rhymes popping out at the slightest pressure, whereas I cannot think of one to "moment." The position of "mg-no-vain-yay" at the end of the line is not negligible either, due as it is to Pushkin's more or less consciously knowing that he would not have to hunt for its mate. But the position of "moment" in the English line implies no such security; on the contrary he would be a singularly reckless
fellow who placed it there. Thus I was confronted by that opening line, so full of Pushkin, so individual and harmonious; and after examining it gingerly from the various angles here suggested, I tackled it. The tackling process lasted the worst part of the night. I did translate it at last; but to give my version at this point might lead the reader to doubt that perfection be attainable by merely following a few perfect rules."
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