For the valiant glory of future epochs,

For the noble descendants of men,

I'm deprived of a cup at the feast of my folk,

Of my honor, my joy, and my den.


I am chased day and night by the Hound of our Age,

Though by blood I am no kin to the wolves.

Better hide me away, like a hat in a sleeve,

In the furs of Siberian woods.


So I would behold neither coward nor scum

Nor the bloody gore of the wheel,

Only northern aurora and blue Arctic fox

With the splendor of primal appeal.


Take me far to the land where the Yenisei flows

And where pines grow tall to the stars.

For by blood and by kin I am no friend to the wolves,

Only an equal can kill me this far.

Original ↓

За гремучую доблесть грядущих веков,

За высокое племя людей

Я лишился и чаши на пире отцов,

И веселья, и чести своей.


Мне на плечи кидается век-волкодав,

Но не волк я по крови своей,

Запихай меня лучше, как шапку, в рукав

Жаркой шубы сибирских степей.


Чтоб не видеть ни труса, ни хлипкой грязцы,

Ни кровавых костей в колесе,

Чтоб сияли всю ночь голубые песцы

Мне в своей первобытной красе.


Уведи меня в ночь, где течет Енисей,

Где сосна до звезды достает,

Потому что не волк я по крови своей

И меня только равный убьет.

Translator's Note

Mandelstam wrote this poem while expecting to be exiled to the Russian Far East (1931). The translation process starts with imagining myself in his place. Then, I let the images of the poem run through my mind. I hear the sound of the rhymes, I try to understand his mood, and I try to use simple sentences, simple words, "les mots qui sonnent très bien ensemble," to reproduce the images, the sound, and the mood. Then, I try many synonyms for every word, until I accomplish the rhyme and rhythm.

It is very important to be reasonably accurate, but not brutally and annoyingly literal, as well as to not force the piece into the original's syllable count at the expense of natural speech. There is a fine balance here. I am true to the image, sound, and meaning more than I am true to the exact word.

If the author says "кровавых костей," which sounds incredible in Russian, I do not need to translate it literally as "bloody bones." I'd rather say "bloody gore." The contrast between two words makes it more compelling, not to mention the image.

If the author says "гремучая слава", "rattling glory," I would rather say "valiant glory," because it conveys the irony intended by the author and keeps the rhythm. Although "rattling glory" has a nice double alliteration, it is not present in the original. I must be true to the sound.

Igor Rouzine


In the Classroom