syncategorematic: (libyan sibyl)
( Jul. 29th, 2012 11:07 pm)
I guess I'm on a kick of translating Vysotsky's car songs, then, after "Song of Two Beautiful Cars" yesterday (or maybe I am just building up my next submission to the Wysotsky Group). Actually, I've meant to translate this one for a long while now, as I love the extended metaphor in it, particularly after the tempo and tone change. 

The Horizon
 
They've swept it clean so there will be no tracks to trace.
Come with your catcalls now, your shaming and outcrying:
My tape is the horizon, and the world's end is my race;
I must be first to the horizon line! 
 
 Not everyone approved this bet's unusual terms.
 Reluctant shook the hands when it was sealed.
 The terms are these: to drive the highway, with no turns,
 And just the highway, never turn or yield.
        
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles
        As I drive parallel to parallel wires. 
        But every so, in front, a shadow's flitting -
        Someone in black, or some black cat or kitten.
        
I know more than once they'll stick it in my wheels today,
I'm guessing as to what and how I'll be beguiled.
I know where a wire will stretch across my way
And where they'll intercept me with a smile.
 
 But my dials are ablaze - at such a speed as this
 A sand grain has the power of a bullet,
 And so I clutch the wheel, to shudders in my wrists,
 To make it before they reach the bolt and pull it! 
        
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles,
        As I drive on, straight up towards the wires.
        Hurry and make the nuts a little more tight,
        Else they will raise the wire right to throat height.
 
The tarmac melts below, the fuses are on fire,
My throat goes dry, the climax now too close for its bearing,
And with my bare chest I break the blocking wire -
I live! Take off the mourning bands you're wearing! 
 
Whoever drove me to this cruel bet and deal
Had been a dirty calculating fighter.
I'm high with racing thrill, but, however I feel,
On slippery turns I'm braking all the tighter.
        
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles,
        Ahead or overhead, to spite all wires,
        Just calm the losers, in that moment near
        When out on the horizon I'll appear! 
 
It draws no closer still, my horizon finish line.
I didn't break the tape, though I'm done now with the wire.
The cable didn't snap across my neck and spine,
Though from the trees they shoot still at my tires. 
 
It hadn't been the cash that led me to this race -
"Don't miss it," they had asked me, "Understand it,
"Find out if there's a limit, there beyond the world's face,
And can even horizons be expanded?"
        
        My spinning crankshaft spins along the miles
        My treads, I will not let the shots defile...
        But my brakes fail and - what do you find?!
        I overshoot, the horizon's left behind! 

- V.Vysotsky
 1971



Quite interesting video of a painting by a fan named Herbert Goering (sp? his name is in Cyrillic) showing what he thought of when he heard that song. I like it.

Notes: What I translate as a wire stretched across the road is in the original sometimes a cable and sometimes a rope or hawser; I decided to use a wire as it's easier to rhyme and, from what I know, commonly used for these kinds of purposes. English uses "wire" for a bunch of different meanings that Russian differentiates; thus, the line about "ahead or overhead" wires is my own, where he lists three different words: "to spite hawsers, cables, (electrical) wires."

The actual ending cry in the second-last line after the brakes fail is "coda!" I am not sure whether he used it just to rhyme, as it is a rare word outside of music in discourse --- and doesn't rhyme with much in English. Traduttore - tradittore, oh well.
Since I haven't done a Vysotsky translation in a while, and since my procrastination efforts are tireless, here, a translation of one of my favourites.  It was fun to do the wordplay on car terms (yes, I tossed a few more car model names in to help the rhyme, and the original had "spark plugs" but I think that is too awkward to be easily singable in English) and I've always found the meaning quite poignant. 

Burning tires on the tar
Without tracks or laws or bans,
Out from city nightmares, cars
Rush beyond to autobahns,
Lumbering as tanks they go,
Lincolns, Fords and Maseratis,
Benzes, Citroens, Renaults,
Elegant Mustangs and Bugattis...

Like they know sparks are worth it, this game.
Like blood feud on the cities this will be declared.
Hurry, pray the ignition won't flame,
Carburetors, and whatever else they have there...

Limousines on limousines,
You can't see the road, even:
Like two inkspots, in between
Two exquisite cars are weaving;
Like a chain is their connector
(And the weakest link will tear) ---
Accelerators and injectors
Will find nothing to do there.

As if they know --- sparks are worth it, this game ---
They'll just make it out, settling every affair!
Or perhaps he will sing her her name
On the klaxon, or whatever else they have there...

All this jam of cold machines
Their hot anger at you hiding.
Hear me, pale gray limousine,
Do not lose her from your highbeams!
Up ahead the road will split ---
Now, more risk, more faith now, go!
Or you'll miss her --- that was it ---
Oh, pale gray, you were too slow!

They had known sparks are worth it, this game ---
And now what can the signals and billboards still blare?
Or --- a load off his back maybe came,
Off his hood, or off whatever else they have there...

No, it branched, a shutting door,
Lanes apart, and you're not here.
Could it be that never more
Could split highways bring us nearer?
This one's merging, one more way!
And in seventh, on the metal,
The great limo, pale and gray,
Forgot to hit the braking pedal...

So then meeting is just empty dreams?
Or is this the blood feud on the cities declared?
And the tires went bouncing, the beams,
And the hearts... or whatever thing else they have there...

- V. Vysotsky

1968


Video, as always: 
Additional notes:

In my dialect of Canadian English, "ban" does not actually exactly rhyme with "autobahn" --- at least, I learned enough German that this influences my pronunciation of the latter --- but the possibility was too tempting, so I ignored this.

Vysotsky mentioned a lot of foreign car makes that at the time, most of his listeners in the Soviet Union would have never seen: Ford, Lincoln, Selena (sp? which long browsing on Wikipedia made me totally unable to identify, unless he refers to the defunct Italian manufacturer Serenissima), Mustang, Mercedes and Citroen. Ironically enough, although I live in the West, the only time I have seen a Maserati, a make I added, was in a Moscow car dealership.
I don't think I've translated a Yuri Vizbor song before; he has a somewhat more mainstream-bard temperament than the songwriters I usually translate, as he has somewhat less sophisticated melodies. But this song is kind of stuck in my head today. I'm not sure why, but the last four lines make me tear up a little. 

I am teaching to play the guitar now,
To a guy on an icebreaker crew.
As the ice shatters under the bow,
Sasha grips the frets tighter anew.
I have gotten a stubborn apprentice,
He is tugging the strings with his soul:
On his table a telegram sent is:
"I've stopped loving you. Bye. And don't call."

Right along among bergs rolling ramming,
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see:
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

My guitar skills are not very mighty, 
And the frets send me fretting at times - 
I had learned from the local teen fighters 
In Moscow yards lined with poplars and limes. 
But to Sasha I'm god, as I'm claiming:
Without music he's now a lost man. 
Vizbor Yosich*, he weirdly named me, 
Showing me his respect as he can. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

Oh, the iceman's harpoon so long-ranging 
Has a treacherous stroke to be sure. 
And the seven worn strings that need changing 
Are now left as protection and cure. 
He says, "Nitpicking, this, anyhow, 
So she made a mistake in her mind..." 
I go teach folks to play the guitar now, 
And I'm learning from folks to be kind. 

Right along among bergs rolling ramming, 
Smiles a lady in the snapshot we see: 
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am, 
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.
New Igarka, Los-Dudinka, ma'am,
And the strange foreign village Tiksis.

- Yuri Vizbor

*the proper respectful title for Vizbor would have been Yuri Yosifovich, or Yuri Yosich in short - Sasha using his last name as a first name does make for a weird name.

Video, as always:
Given that Rachmaninov has been showing up in my musical life from several different directions lately, I've been thinking of a scene I never forgot from Natalya Sats's memoirs, "Sketches of My Life".

Natalya Sats (1903-1993) was the director of the Moscow Musical Theatre for Children (and according to the Russian Wikipedia, the world's first female opera director). She helped Sergei Prokofiev produce the famous children's musical story "Peter and the Wolf" (and apparently when the famous radio play of "Alice in Wonderland" that involved Vysotsky's songs, was discussed, she accused the studio of "corrupting children with Vysotsky's mostrous songs --- see, I can like both of them despite this).

She was the daughter of the composer Ilya Sats, who was best known for composing the children's musical "The Blue Bird," and she herself received a musical education.

From the surrounding paragraphs, this scene must have happened when she was about eight years old (translation by me; apparently an official translation of that book exists, but I haven't been able to find it; the tense shifts are in the original, and I think capture the child's perception of the event):

Once I was home all alone. I sat readng. The doorbell rang and I opened the door. There stood a tall thin man in black, clean-shaven, severe-looking.

"Is Ilya Alexandrovich home?" he asked me in a grim voice.

"He'll be coming soon," I replied, feeling that this was someone special, and I grew a little frightened.

He came in, took off his hat, then his leather gloves --- each finger separately. He put his gloves in his hat. He wiped his feet, even though it was dry outside. He took off his coat and hung it up. His movements had some kind of stony formality, and his face, too, was of stone. No, he can't be one of the actors.

The dry man in the stiff collar didn't smile to me; his mouth was tightly locked, you can't talk to him. He was very cleanly shaven; he had little hair on his had, and a very high forehead. He seemed somehow completely separate, like an island. Tilting his head, he followed me to Papa's office --- he seemed to feel cramped under the low ceiling of our apartment. I offered him a chair, then shut Papa's door and stood pondering on the other side. What if Papa won't come for a long time? What will I do with this stranger?

Our Papa always has his tie and everything all askew; the "island" has everything very straight, with many buttons on his suit jacket which are all precisely buttoned.

I stood there, not knowing what to do. And then suddenly from Papa's office I heard an entire orchestra, a much bigger one than the one I had heard under the stage of the Theatre of the Arts. How astounding! Papa's old upright piano couldn't possibly sound like that!

The sounds insistently demanded some truth; they would unite in the most powerful chords I have ever heard. They raced apart and merged back together with unearthly speed. These sounds, like some unknown current, snatched me up and carried me away --- nothing of the mundane usual was left around me, just those sounds around me and in me... Was this tall man a wizard?! Did he have twenty fingers?

We were not allowed to open the door when there was music playing. Respect for the arts, for musicians, was instilled in us almost from birth. But on that forever unforgettable day, when I suddenly felt so wonderful and so frightened, I slightly opened the door and saw the stranger sitting at Papa's piano, playing. There he was, big, straight, stony-faced, only his fingers moving; his hands were huge, soft, strong, he orders them, and they...they sing in the sweetest voices, they light up the sun, they destroy foes... They could do anything, these wonder-working hands! It's interesting that he is somehow grayish-yellow, dry, all made of corners, and his hands are young, soft, completely different from the rest of him. Oh! He is going from middle C to the A of the second octave above it --- almost two octaves with one hand!

He is playing something like a polka. My feet start dancing despite me, and my mouth is smiling. How hard it is to stand by the crack of the door while this polka is playing! But it gets more amazing the further it goes: it is as if a hot wave floods everything inside you, and you feel like it's now a holiday, to everyone's joy.

Now he is playing something else: one huge someone and many little ones; a giant and some amazingly quick little elves! The Wolf and many Red Riding Hoods? They are so quick that one can't tell at all who will win.

How, how could ten simple fingers play like that! What a miracle, what marvellous luck that must be!

Perhaps he is just pretending to be so wooden, so that no one could tell from his face how good he is, but when he is playing, he can't hide that...

A bell rang in the front hall. It was Papa. Without saying a word, he quickly took off his coat, buttoned up all the buttons of his suit jacket, quickly fixed his tie, even smoothed his moustache, and went into his office. Ours was a one-story home, a "breeze-through", Mama called it; of course, Papa had heard that music even outside, and had understood who had come.

The amazing man greeted Papa, polite and friendly, and said, "I really like your polka from "A Man's Life," while the music to "The Blue Bird" is simply charming."

Such a man is saying that to my Papa? I am filled with pride.

But why did they shut the door? And the most important thing in the world right now was that the "amazing one" play again. No, he keeps on talking, and not playing. His voice is gray, only on one or two notes, even when he is saying nice things.

I was shocked how one could play at times so softly and tenderly, at times so forcefully, like great bells. My playing was always somehow in the middle: a little louder, a little softer, well, just ordinary. Now Papa's music is playing in Papa's office, and I...for the first time in my life I am mad at Papa! I so want the other one, the big one, to play again.

About twenty minutes later the stranger left --- he must have valued his time --- but what a completely new world had opened to me!

I had thought that my Papa plays the piano better than anyone --- because I hadn't heard anyone except him! But now...! How could I have possibly imagined that a musician's fingers could obey his will so well, could run about so, could sing like the sweetest of singers, could sound like a hurricane, a storm, a war... How did he make our little old upright piano say so much, say something so important that it couldn't even be said with words!...

I sat by Papa. He was in a good mood.

"Papa, you won't be angry? He plays the piano better, so much better, than you. Why is that, Papa?"

Papa answered warmly, without the slightest hint of being insulted, "Because he is Rachmaninov. Sergei Vasilyevich Rachmaninov. He is a wonderful composer, but he is also a great pianist, a genius at the piano. I play the piano to tell people what I have to tell them, to help them understand the play, the show. I play to feel my music better. But Sergei Vasilyevich has unlimited command of the piano. Why, did he play long without me?"

- Natalya Sats, Sketches of My Life, 1985.
I've been toying around with a few Okudzhava songs now, and I like this one.

[Error: unknown template video]
The Prayer of Francois Villon

While the Earth keeps spinning, while the light shines on,
Lord, I pray, give to everyone that of which they have none:
Give you a mind to the wise ones, a horse to the cowardly,
Give money to the lucky... And don't forget about me.

While the Earth keeps spinning, Lord, thine is the power and will,
Give one who longs for power, power unto his fill,
Give rest at least till sunset to those who give generously,
To Cain himself give repentance... And don't forget about me.

I know you can do anything, I believe truly, you are wise,
As a soldier slain on the field believes that he lives in Paradise,
As every ear believes you that the words you whisper are true,
As we all keep on believing, knowing not what we do.

My Lord and God Almighty, my beloved green-eyed God,
While the Earth keeps spinning, and she herself finds it odd,
While she still has enough of time and of fire to see,
Give out a little to everyone... And don't forget about me.
- Bulat Okudzhava
This is apparently Okudzhava's most-covered song.
I have gone reading about musical settings to Russian poetry, and found myself toying with how I would translate these two poems by Nikolai Gumilev (founder of the Russian Guild of Poets and the Acmeist movement in poetry, and one-time husband of Anna Akhmatova and father of her son).

The first one was called by the critic where I sourced it "key to all of Gumilev's poetry", advice from an experienced poet to a young one in the performing arts. And it casts a chilling irony when one knows that Gumilev was himself shot by the secret police in 1921 for alleged involvement with a conspiracy after an informant named him.

(I am not completely pleased with my translation, as it has too many consonant clusters to be easily singable, although Gumilev did not write it as a song lyric. It proved surprisingly difficult for so many easy rhymes --- but the Acmeist motto was "All the right words in the right order" so I've got to try to keep the right words as much as possible.)

THE MAGIC FIDDLE
(Link has music by V. Dashkevich, called 'the Mozart of Soviet cinematography',
performed by Elena Kamburova)

My dear boy, you are so happy, ever merry, bright and smiling,
Do not ask for this sweet fortune that has poisoned worlds away.
You don't know, you don't know, you don't know what is this violin,
What dark horrors lie in store for one who dares begin to play!

If a player's hands commanding take the violin and bow,
Peaceful light is gone forever from the eyes that make that choice.
Rabid wolf packs wander, hungry, on the roads where fiddlers go.
Fiends and demons love to listen to the fiddle's regal voice.

Ever, ever must these strings go on and sing and cry and wail,
And the maddened bow must leap and dance all through the nights and days,
Under sun and under snow, under blizzard, under gale,
Even when the west is burning, even when the east's ablaze.

You will tire, you will slow, you will stop for just one note,
And the power will be gone from you to breathe or make a sound,
And the wolves in rabid bloodlust will at once lunge at your throat,
And their claws will crush your ribcage as their teeth will drag you down.

Then you'll know the cruel mockery of all that sang around,
And your eyes will see the over-late but overwhelming fear,
And the mournful cold will wind around your body like a shroud,
And your friends will bow their heads then, and your bride will burst in tears.

Go on, boy! You will not find either joy or treasure here!
But I see that you are laughing, there are sunbeams from your eyes.
Here, take the magic fiddle, face the monsters others fear,
And go die a death of glory, the dread death that fiddlers die!

Nikolai Gumilev (1886-1921), 1910

Gumilev was fascinated by Africa, and had visited it four times, but this poem, one of his most famous, is not about Africa, not really.

THE GIRAFFE
(Link has music written and performed by Elena Vaenga.)

Today I can tell that your gaze is especially sad
And your arms are especially thin as they clasp round your knee.
Listen, I'll tell you how far, far away, on the shores of Lake Chad,
An exquisite giraffe wanders free.

He has been created so languid and graceful and slim
With dapples in magical patterns adorning his hide,
So only the moon in her beauty compares with him
As she shimmers and breaks on the crystal lake's rippling tide.

He looks like the many-hued sails of a ship from afar.
He floats in his gallop as birds do in joy of their flight.
I know that the earth sees much wonder when at the first star
He hides in a cavern of marble to wait out the night.

I can tell of mysterious lands and of laughter and bliss,
Of the maid black but comely, of the passioned young chief on the plain...
But you, for too long you've inhaled the weight of the mist,
You do not believe there is anything other than rain.

And how can I tell you of the scent of the grasses that play
Beneath slender palms, and how tropical gardens there lie...
You're crying? Just listen... on the shores of Lake Chad, far away,
An exquisite giraffe wanders by.

Nikolai Gumilev, 1908
I first shared that song in 2008. Now it haunts me again, and I'm trying to do it better.

[Error: unknown template video]




A stranger star shines in a stranger sky.
We are torn from home again tonight.
Once again between us cities lie
And strange airports and runway lights.
Here we have fog and rain and more,
Here we have cold dawns and cold sunrises...
Here on paths untrodden, unexplored,
We will meet new plot twists and surprises.

Hope guides us through this earthly stuff
And luck is reward for our daring,
While even one song is enough
If it sings of home and of sharing.

Trust me, from afar, from over here,
Many details vanish from our view.
Thunderclouds part and disappear.
Hurts seem meaningless and seem untrue...
We must only learn to watch and wait,
Must be calm and stubborn on what matters,
So that life will send us, soon or late,
Her rare telegrams of joy a-flutter...

Hope guides us through this earthly stuff
And luck is reward for our daring,
While even one song is enough
If tales of home it is sharing.

And I still remember just as clear
All the things we didn't finish singing...
Weary eyes I know and hold so dear...
Moscow winter snowstorms wildly spinning...
Once again between us cities lie,
As before, life forces us apart.
A stranger star above us in the sky
Shines as hope's memorial in our heart.

Hope guides us through this earthly stuff
And luck is reward for our daring,
While even one song is enough
If it sings of home and of sharing.

- Sung by Anna German
got home at 5 am. woke at 11 am.
and read that amy winehouse had died.
she’s joined jimi, janis, jim and kurt (sadly apropos…it’s the 20th anniversary of “nevermind”) in the 27 club.

- Amanda Palmer, http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/8010579522/amy-take-a-bow

That made me think of Vysotsky’s song “Of Fateful Dates and Numbers”.

You’re a true poet if your life was tragically done,
And best if you’d a sense of proper timing.
At 26,
one stuck his head beneath a duel gun,
One into a hotel room noose went climbing.

And 33 was Christ; he was a poet, and he told:
“Kill not; for if you do, I’ll always find you.”
They nailed down his hands, so he won’t try anything bold,
Not write so much, and just do much less minding.

The number 37 always sends a chilling breath
To clear my brain with clarifying fear.
At that age was when Pushkin picked the duel of his death
And Mayakovsky sunk lead by his ear.

We’ll pause at 37; seemed at that treacherous age
God’s coin flip judged if you can defy it.
Here Byron and Rimbaud both also wrote their final page...
But poets today apparently pass by it.

The duel didn’t happen, or was cancelled or postponed.
At 33, got crucified, but mildly.
At 37, even gray, speak not of blood and bone,
Does not besplatter temples quite so wildly.

“No, pansy poets today won’t shoot,” the psychopaths go talk,
“They haven’t soul in their little toe.”
Hold your blood lust! On tiptoe on a knife edge poets walk,
And slash their bare souls bloody as they go.

“Pretentiously” has 13 letters, that unlucky word,
So cut the poet down a size, it’s clear.
The lucky cuss gets stuck on the tip of the stabbing sword,
An upstart that the higher-ups would fear.

I pity you, believers in all fateful codes and dates!
Like harem concubines, go pine in style.
Our lifespans have increased now, and so perhaps the fates
Of poets...have moved back a little while.


- 1971, Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980)

The irony is that Vysotsky himself went a lot like Cobain, Winehouse and Joplin: disorders brought on by alcoholism and drug abuse. But he died at age 42. Wikipedia claims that Yesenin died at 30, not 26 no matter how you twist calendar reforms, but the original mentions the Hotel Angleterre, which makes it unequivocally a reference to Yesenin.

There is a lot of wordplay in the original that I had to completely re-derive from first principles. The original plays on the fact that the Russian word 'long-necked', длинношеее, does have three e's at the end in the neuter gender nominative case (all are pronounced and syllabic) and has the connotation of something like 'pretentious' or 'presumptuous.' The pun on soles and souls does not happen in the original, but was way too good to pass up.
I will bury the seed of a grape in the warm sunlit ground,
And I'll gather the grapes from the vine and bow down before,
And with love in my heart, I will gather my friends all around -
Or else why do I live on this beautiful earth evermore?

Come, my friends, to my feast, let us join in receiving and giving.
Tell me true to my face what you're hearing of me in your lore.
For the sins I have done, may the Lord up above be forgiving -
Or else why do I live on this beautiful earth evermore?

In a dark scarlet gown my Tali will come and sing to me.
In a black-and-white cloak I will kneel to her on the floor,
And I'll weep, and I'll die from the love and the sorrow all through me -
Or else why do I live on this beautiful earth evermore?

And when sunset comes down, casting shadows of gold all about,
May again, like a dream, I see three signs passing before:
The blue eagle, the white buffalo, and the sun-golden trout...
Or else why do I live on this beautiful earth evermore?

- Bulat Okudjava


Apparently my current Internet connection won't load Youtube videos. I will edit the entry to include a YouTube link later. Astra loved that song; I first heard it in her rendition on guitar.

I translated it last week, for something to do on the bus. If the guild does manage to schedule a cabaret, I want this to be one of my songs.
I was born a useless bugger, like the Ginger Man I’d run,
And however daddy struggled, with me nothing could be done –
Out comes what’s bred in bone, try to change it, try in vain,
And in me it keeps on growing, crawling out against the grain.
All the family kept trying, but no peace with me they know:
Out on the laundry line like a tightrope I would go.
With the stagelights I was drumming in my dreaming every night,
And I knew the time was coming when my name will be in lights.

And such music out of me comes ringing high,
And the merry gears whirl and hum,
And like crazy swallows skyward winging fly,
In the air the hats and bonnets come.
And the laughter chimes above the streets of town,
And when I hear for me the encores go,
To the street like to the stage I’m coming down:
I’m an artist, I can’t live without this show!
I’m an artist, I can’t live without this show!

Like a merry-go-round, childhood rolled by untold,
Some big business some have founded, others simply growing bald.
Like some starlings in migration, our fates parted from that yard.
They say I gotta have foundation, growing up and growing hard.
But when muses come enthralling, you cannot grow old and gray:
At my birth the stage was calling, and on stage I’ll die someday.
I don’t need another route, all I’ve wanted has come true:
Up the curtain, I come out and begin my show anew!

And such music out of me comes ringing high,
And the merry gears whirl and hum,
And like crazy swallows skyward winging fly,
In the air the hats and bonnets come.
And the laughter chimes above the streets of town,
And when I hear for me the encores go,
To the street like to the stage I’m coming down:
I’m an artist, I can’t live without this show!
I’m an artist, I can’t live without this show!
- Mikhail Kochetkov


I thought of this song last night, and as I translated it today (a fairly free translation), it made me cry.

There seem to be no videos on YouTube of Kochetkov singing this particular song (he is a bard and a film actor as well). An arrangement performed, I understand, by the actor Efim Shifrin is here, including the refrains and the second verse:


[Error: unknown template video]
syncategorematic: (sophia - curlty and in a good mood)
( Oct. 20th, 2010 10:38 pm)
I just recently discovered this song, and found myself having a hell of a lot of fun translating it, so much so I'm up past my bedtime, so polishing will be done tomorrow.

This scrambles every brain from cell to cell 
And fills all space with cracks and deformations:
The devils went to build a heaven in Hell
To benefit their future generations.

A well-known devil, Ol' Nick to his foes,
Wrote, out of schedule, (as a Heaven spy),
'What's on in Hell, the devil only knows...'
Exactly what, Nick couldn't specify.

Only for Cupid, the spy bureau chief,
Old Nick appended a horrific line:
"Satan is on alert, in my belief,
And watch out on which agents you're relying!" 

Meanwhile in Hell, great Beelzebub declared
All army forces quickstep in parading
Past his own grandstand, where he wept and blared,
"Heaven alone will save our poor home Hades!"

Devils applauded, weeping tears of joy,
"Yes! In our native hell we'll build a heaven!
Boost productivity! Lean methods we'll employ
And raise the sinner quota up to seven!" 

"Well, forward march now! Follow on my mark!"
Said Satan. "God is with us! Let us go!"
And sinners trembled in nine circles dark,
And angels shuddered, looking down below.

And in a flock, the angels went to tell
Him who's all-kind, all-seeing and knows all.
But he said, "I don't give a damn for Hell!"
And promised many shot against the wall. 

"And Satan is an agitator troll,
His shouts old news ere Christ was resurrected,
And you angels are morons, one and all,
And that Old Nick has long ago defected.

"This isn't Heaven but Bedlam through and through!
I'll head to Earth - they at least respect me there!
I to humanity, the hell away from you,
They crucify me twice now, I don't care!"

And He came down. Where is he, or who?
But worshippers once saw, by the church door 
A ragged beggar, downed a pint or two,
Shouting, "I'm God! Give alms to feed the poor!"

Folks, weep now at the tragedy I tell,
Far worse than even the sack of Troy defeated.
Long now in Heaven it's not heaven but hell,
But a devils' heaven in Hell is now completed!

~V. Vysotsky
 1970

[Error: unknown template video]

We would fly up like geese
From fields soggy with rain - 
Twenty takeoffs a day, please ---
Too fun to explain!
We would laugh, taking fog banks for sauna steam. 

And we'd stuff ourselves tight 
In the vastness of space,
And the cumulus white
Shredded to ragged lace,
And the bullets would stitch the clouds back
Into parachute seams. 

At night we'd sneak back our way
With no gauges at all,
Fuselage and propeller blades
Riddled with holes,
And the gunner hung limp on the straps in behind.
Down our flesh chills would creep,
And the steering would jam
And would shudder and beat
A tattoo, like the drum
When the circus trapeze act is doing a trick death-defying.

We would land on one wing, all askew it,
And the memory still tightens our nerves:
It seemed, the machine couldn't do it,
Didn't want, was unwilling to serve.

Today the machine and me
Dance two as one:
In the sky, all to see,
In an emergency run ---
Don't you stab me up there in my back, somehow!
This flight we will weather,
We'll eat when it's through ---
So we'll be landing together
On the field, we two,
Because I do not dare abandon you now.

True, I've been around
And I see the signs
In that one-winged two-faced partner of mine
Of a player who bluffs, hiding all his intent in a lie.
But ignore all the omens;
I spit on the lot:
The machine has a limit ---
Whereas I do not.
We will see in this flight who will sing and who'll cry. 

Buddy, if you and I will get through it
We will not be consigned to reserve.
Who said the machine couldn't do it,
Wouldn't, and isn't willing to serve?

- V. Vysotsky
 1975


[Error: unknown template video]

I think the only recording I have ever heard of this song, both the copy I have on my playlist and the one in this video, is the one where Vysotsky slips in the line about comparing the plane to a bluffing player - the correct end word, according to both grammar and rhyme, should be [prjachet] hides (his intentions) and he mis-speaks as [*pretit] - no such word, just phonological priming, possibly from the 'e' sounds in [namerenja], intentions just before.
syncategorematic: (sophia - curlty and in a good mood)
( Oct. 16th, 2010 05:41 pm)
Ok, this is one of my favourites of the six hundred songs Vysotsky wrote, and I've been dying to translate it for years, so I might as well start now.

White Waltz

Oh, what a ball! Movement and music at its height,
Hearts pounded in three beats instead of two.
Besides, the ladies ask the gentlemen tonight
To dance the breathtaking white waltz, as is traditional to do. 

Although your dancing's nothing much to say,
You had resolved to ask her, long before,
But duty's always pulling you away -
A call for help, a summons off to war.

And now, after you'd been dreaming of the chance,
She, drawing ever closer and more real,
Herself comes to invite you to this dance,
And your own blood in triple time you feel.

You seemed calm and cool
In the din of the ball 
But we couldn't be fooled
By your shade on the wall
As it shuddered and shattered and leapt in the light
Of the candles aflame.
And gently holding on, and wildly whirling on,
There isn't even a knife edge you could not lead her along -
Why then do you stand there alone, as if not knowing your name? 

The ladies' waltz - a fitting ending to all doubt,
A culmination to young dreams and whims and games:
Today the ladies called their partners out -
No, not for lack, no, not for lack of courage in the same. 

We are promoted to the ladies for one day,
Our minds are whirling with the waltz, as years before.
But duty's always pulling us away -
A call for help, a summons off to war.

Whirl on, white waltz, much whiter than the snow
So that the snowfall won't end before the sound... 
She came to ask you if to life you'd go,
And you were whiter than the waltz, or walls around.

You seemed calm and cool
In the din of the ball 
But we couldn't be fooled
By your shade on the wall
As it shuddered and shattered and leapt in the light
Of the candles aflame.
And gently holding on, and wildly whirling on,
There isn't even a knife edge you could not lead her along -
Why then do you stand there alone, as if not knowing your name? 

In wardrooms, or in schools, or palace halls
Wherever luck would chance the ball to be that night,
In Russia, ladies asked the gentlemen to waltz,
To the white waltz, through all of time, and everything around was white.

With downcast eyes, seeing nothing else at all,
Through silence, desperation, and despair,
Our women come to help us when we call,
Their ballroom stretched across land, sea and air.

Wherever you may disappear or fly, 
Smile at the memory of this waltz, how white you burned...
She'll wait for you, even from sea and sky,
And ask you to the dance when you return.

You seemed calm and cool
In the din of the ball 
But we couldn't be fooled
By your shade on the wall
As it shuddered and shattered and leapt in the light
Of the candles aflame.
And gently holding on, and wildly whirling on,
There isn't even a knife edge you could not lead her along -
Why then do you stand there alone, as if not knowing your name? 

~V. Vysotsky
1978
(Video only has the song up to the second refrain.)
[Error: unknown template video]
syncategorematic: (durer - irascible curly-head)
( Oct. 13th, 2010 06:54 pm)
I'm not sure why this song crawled up and started circling in my head on the bus this morning, demanding that I translate it particularly. It's a challenge, because the song could be taken as ignorantly racist (it was 1965), which I don't want and isn't its message, at all.

The frontier with Pakistan, Turkey or somewhere:
Here lies the neutral zone - bushes to the right,
Our platoon of border guards, and their captain there,
And over on the other side their guys are sitting tight.

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

So the captain's fiancee's moving in with him today,
She sweeps in, announcing, "Darling", this and that...
Gotta have at least a bouquet for the fiancee:
What's a wedding with no flowers, but a drunken frat?

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

To the others' captain too, just as if they planned it,
Comes his lady love as well, with one goal in sight:
"Darling!" says she (but in Turkish, gotta understand it),
"Let's get married now," she says, "we'll marry, and tonight!"

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

Our brave boys the border guards call for volunteers.
Three set out on this mission, the captain leads 'em through...
How the hell could they have known that the Asians here
Would decide that very night to hit the flowers too?

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

With the scent of blooming flowers dead drunk is the captain,
And the other guys' commander's plastered just the same.
Down he fell into the flowers, something Turkish grunting,
And with a Russian cry of "fuck..." down our captain came. 

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

And the captain lies dreaming, his face in the flowers,
That they've opened all the borders, like the Kremlin door...
He himself could care less for foreign lands or powers - 
He just wished to walk on land no one owned before.
Why not? It is no man's land nobody owns:
It's a neu-tral zone.

And in the middle of the neutral zone
Flowers beautiful have grown.

~V. Vysotsky
 1965

Video, of course:
[Error: unknown template video]



Longtime fans of either me or Vysotsky, I'll leave to your conscience which one, may remember that he refers to this song in She Has Been To Paris: "About the neutral zone I sang to her in vain: She doesn't give a damn what flowers grow down there."
syncategorematic: (mystical)
( Jul. 25th, 2010 02:23 pm)
One morning in Spain, I woke with this song stuck in my head.

The rhyme scheme was tricky to translate,  and I took some creative liberties. I may polish it later. The tune really is intense; and the ending always does surprise me.

He was born without title or great height
Not for fame, not for pay growing higher ---
In his own odd way that would serve
He walked along life in the limelight
On a wire, on a wire,
Tight and taut as a nerve. 

Look, there's no safety net
Stretched beneath him this run.
Just a tilt to the left ---
He is lost, he is gone...
Just a tilt to the right ---
No surviving today.
But stay calm, he somehow
Needs to cross without delay
Four full quarters of the way.

And the beams beat at him from below
And like laurels, piercing, lashing...
And the trumpets in fanfare strained.
He was deafened by shouts "Bravo!" 
And the cymbals, crashing, crashing
Like a club through his brain.

Look, there's no safety net
Stretched beneath him, below.
Just a tilt to the left ---
He is lost, he will go...
Just a tilt to the right ---
No surviving today.
But stay calm, he now
Needs to cross without delay
Just three quarters of the way.

"Oh, how frightening, how brave, how pretty!"
Their mouths agape without sound;
"Three minutes of dancing with death!"
From his height, a lilliputian city
All around, all around
Stared up, mournfully holding their breath.

Look, there's no safety net
Stretched beneath him this run
Just a tilt to the left ---
He is lost, he is gone...
Just a tilt to the right ---
No surviving today.
But stay calm, he now
Needs to cross without delay
Only two quarters of the way.

He had laughed at transient glory
But first place was his only desire ---
Try and bury a man with such drive!
Above the ring, transitory,
On our nerves, on our nerves, not on wire,
He walked, to the drumbeat of lives.

Look, there's no safety net
Stretched beneath him this run.
Just a tilt to the left ---
He is lost, he is gone...
Just a tilt to the right ---
No surviving today.
But stay calm, for now
He has left, today,
Only a quarter of the way!

 And the beasts, at the ringmaster's yelling
Put their paws on the gurney...
But the sentence is final and dread:
Was he lost, or too sure, now no telling
But his journey, but his journey...
His chagrin --- spills on sawdust blood-red.
      
And there's no safety net
Beneath another, this run
Underneath him, a thread ---
He will fall, he is gone!
A degree left or right ---
No surviving today.
But stay calm, he too somehow
Needs to cross without delay
Four full quarters of the way.
- V. Vysotsky, 1972.
I think my subconscious may have been trying to remind me of overconfidence.
There's a rock on the plain, from beneath it water flows,
And written on the rock is a sign:
"Who goes to the right
Will find nothing at all,
Who goes straight ahead
Will get nowhere at all,
And who leftward goes will
Understand
Nothing at all
And is lost and will perish in trying."

Not one horse or sword is there among three who stand and stare
Is it worth it to go, they think.
One was mad at that sight
And he went to the right,
Went alone to the right
And found nothing at all,
Neither village nor wall;
Back he went and returned home to drink.

No path straight ahead there, and you will get nowhere,
But one didn't believe in that spell.
He tucks his shirt in and goes
Straight to follow his nose
He went straight, walking tall,
And came nowhere at all,
And he turned and he came back as well.

Third one was a fool, they say, he knew nothing anyway,
And went merrily left without fear.
Long he walked where he could,
Not a thing he understood,
Not a thing he understood,
Not a thing he understood
So he walked all his life as he would ---
And didn't perish, and lived well and good.

- V. Vysotsky

This song --- rather rough in translation, I did different things with the rhyme scheme this time round than in the original and I doubt it's singable; it's hard to imitate a great many fairy-tale motifs that do not exist in English culture --- has been stuck in my head today.

I believe it to be a parable.



Here where bullets are questions, I can't pass with replies
Where every step is a half-inch, five smokes measure the time.
The dead city is burying its voices today.
Amid walls lost skies wander, not knowing their way.

It is dark in the cellar as in Christmas rolls.
That dark opposite window has killed how many souls...
I forgot that on Earth something else does exist.
On the sixth was a birth, at six minutes to six.

And the morning brought the snow
After fire for so long
And that silent snow slew me
Brought a short age to an end.
I scooped it in my hand
Spat it into white dirt and dust
Is it fiction, is it past
Meant for stench or everlast?

This city has shattered, but will not be a cross
Fallen city, drank deep of life before fasting's loss
Here a new Bethlehem is burned by war-wounded stars,
Birches for swaddle clothes, though not all will have arms.

Merry Christmas, o iron; bandage-crowned with grace
Nurse like Mother Teresa, with a lovely face.
Yesterday we remembered the days rustling gone
How you'd drawn the curtains, and how we'd been alone.

And the morning brought the snow
After fire for so long
And that silent snow slew me
Brought a short age to an end.
I scooped it in my hand
Spat it into white dirt and dust
Is it fiction, is it past
Meant for stench or everlast?


Here where bullets are questions, I can't pass with replies
Where every step is a half-inch, five smokes measure the time.

The dead city is by me, city dead, empty-eyed
I shot blank with no bullets; last night I was alive.

-- Yuri Shevchuk, Dead City. Christmas

It so happens that I do not know any Julian Christmas songs. Except this one, DDT's dark war memorial. So this one was stuck in my head, all through today. I had taken a stab at translating it a full two years ago, a rushed and hasty translation that I now take the opportunity to polish up some. It is still by no means perfect, but it is closer to working. Maybe that will be a tradition of mine, every January 6th-7th to go and twist and beat English words to somehow convey what Shevchuk is trying to say.
Wolf howl, dog's bay in the night
A fist clenched painfully tight
Blood beats in veins like a bird above,
Faith and hope and love

A thousand hands will rise as aye
And our high banner streams along
Sun in a circle and blue sky:
All's in place but something's wrong.

Up above us a star burns bright
No one else would help us set things right
In the dark dark dark dark
Night.

After the nightfall came stormy skies
Weeping rain and a jester wind
Hands in your pockets, down your eyes,
And keep tongue tightly pinned.

Oh, my depression gnaws at me,
My lover strong and true.
Drink and be merry, dance and sing free
I am awhile with you.

Up above us a star burns bright
No one else would help us set things right
In the dark dark dark dark
Night.

- Kino, The Black Album 


Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

In the streets around the snow has ceased to be white,
In the meltwater mirror we see the moon light.
We walk on, we are strong and bright
Frozen fingers snap and break matches
That will set bonfires alight!

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

This is our day; we know it; the aligned stars above we meet,
Know signs in fire and water, the look in gods' eyes...
And now we take a step onto a bridge incomplete,
We had believed the stars
And "I'm ready!" everyone cries.

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

Those who are weak, those who live from beer to beer,
Cry out, "They don't let us sing!"
Cry out, "Try and sing here!"
We walk on, we are strong and bright,
Frozen fingers snap and break matches
That will set bonfires alight!

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!



My favourite rendition of this song on Youtube is the rehearsal video that always makes me smile

I translated this a few months before, in a locked entry. This is just for my reference.
Wolf howl, dog's bay in the night
A fist clenched painfully tight
Blood beats in veins like a bird above,
Faith and hope and love

A thousand hands will rise as aye
And our high banner streams along
Sun in a circle and blue sky:
All's in place but something's wrong.

Up above us a star burns bright
No one else would help us set things right
In the dark dark dark dark
Night.

After the nightfall came stormy skies
Weeping rain and a jester wind
Hands in your pockets, down your eyes,
And keep tongue tightly pinned.

Oh, my depression gnaws at me,
My lover strong and true.
Drink and be merry, dance and sing free
I am awhile with you.

Up above us a star burns bright
No one else would help us set things right
In the dark dark dark dark
Night.

- Kino, The Black Album 


Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

In the streets around the snow has ceased to be white,
In the meltwater mirror we see the moon light.
We walk on, we are strong and bright
Frozen fingers snap and break matches
That will set bonfires alight!

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

This is our day; we know it; the aligned stars above we meet,
Know signs in fire and water, the look in gods' eyes...
And now we take a step onto a bridge incomplete,
We had believed the stars
And "I'm ready!" everyone cries.

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!

Those who are weak, those who live from beer to beer,
Cry out, "They don't let us sing!"
Cry out, "Try and sing here!"
We walk on, we are strong and bright,
Frozen fingers snap and break matches
That will set bonfires alight!

Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!
Try and sing together with me!
Come and stand by me!



My favourite rendition of this song on Youtube is the rehearsal video that always makes me smile

I translated this a few months before, in a locked entry. This is just for my reference.
At Slacktivist, there's a discussion of songs and movie lines that 'get you every time' and that got me thinking of one of Vysotsky's two songs that are guaranteed (many others do sometimes, but those are guaranteed) to get me bawling every time I try to sing them, or hear them. So I stayed up way too late last night working around with this one. I took some liberties with the translation: it isn't always close, but except for the last line it is singable; I will be polishing it some more.

And I was crying at it (I don't cry very often, actually; it's just that you people are the ones who hear of it when I do.) And the next day, still trying to review it in the back of my brain, I got the prickling feeling in the back of my eyes thinking of the original --- in the middle of a software demo.

Song About A Downed Airman


Dedicated to Nikolai Skomorohov, twice awarded Hero of the USSR, and to his fallen friend.

Through the war till the ending I yearned for my home town
And though I was hotheaded, did my duty as called.
While he was too hasty, one time didn't duck down ---
And in war turned around, around --- two war years, and nothing at all.

And his heart isn't beating since that spring, 'forty-three,
While dreams war sent fleeting once again circle me,
And I can't breathe, reminded, and dark clouds dim my sight ---
He was better and kinder, and better, and better, and kinder...
I was lucky that night.

Silver spoons I've not tasted, I ain't one of God's choosing,
I did not seek the rear, and I met fate's attack.
But the women I met with would look silent, accusing,
"If you had stayed forever back there, perhaps mine would've come back."

I am sadly aware of what widows don't say.
I too care that their lives did not turn that way.
And I blurted, "Forgive me, sorry I made it through,
Accidentally I'm living, I'm living, I'm living,
Doing what yours couldn't do."

In his plane he was burning, and I heard his last shout,
"You will live, you will make it!" came through that roaring glow.
We would fly up by heaven, by God's own kingdom cloud,
He stayed there when he flew a bit higher...while I came down below.

And God's airfield dryly met the pilot they called.
He would land on his belly, on it he never crawled...
So he slept without waking, and his song couldn't end.
So I'm back, I did make it, I'm back, I did make it...
It was too late for my friend.

All around and forever I will always be wronging
Those whom if I met now, I'd be honoured to call.
Though we fly home still living, to where our hearts were longing ---
But our memory burns and our conscience torments us, all those who have it at all.

Someone stingy and clear counted hours we mete
In our short stay down here, like airstrip concrete.
On it some crashed and burned, and some flew never to land,
While I, I returned, I returned, I returned and...
That's the trouble, if you understand.



Song begins at 2:48 ; subtitles happen to be included, just in case you want them. (The first song is one I haven't worked on yet, but I'll translate someday, also about air war).
.

Profile

syncategorematic: (Default)
syncategorematic

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags