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Introduction

"Poetry is very difficult to translate, whether from English into Russian or from Russian into English" - Konstantin Simonov

Despite those words, Simonov made some very good free translations of Kipling. But Simonov was Simonov. Anyone who has tried translating verse into verse knows that the chances of managing to express in one's own language any significant trace of the poetic meaning (as distinct from the literal meaning) of the original, is very small. So why then publish on the Internet a series of translations which were done in the evenings, over a period of a year or so, entirely for my own personal satisfaction? Perhaps I have judged my translations too indulgently. Others must decide. At any rate, here are the translations: if you find something in them which seems meaningful, learn Russian, if you have the opportunity, and discover the real thing.

Translating Russian verse is easier than translating French. The poetic rhythms of English and Russian are surprisingly similar, so that I have been able to copy the Russian rhythms fairly accurately and without much incongruity in English. There is one exception to this: Simonov (like other Russian poets) habitually uses alternate "male" lines (ending with a stress) alternating with "female" (with an extra unstressed syllable) and I have done so in the translations. But where he rhymes MFMF, as he often does, I have mostly used FMFM, which sounds easier in English, and makes it possible to dispense with the female rhyme.

It is easier to write unrhymed verse in English than it is in Russian, and yet not to deviate into prose. This may be because Russian, being an inflected language with a range of standardised word endings, is an easier language to find rhymes in than English is. In one case, I have copied Simonov himself and translated blank verse into blank verse. Although the (early) poem is an interesting one, I am not sure that it succeeds technically even in the original.

In another case (The House at Vyazma, one of his most memorable poems) Simonov uses couplets, and I have had no choice but to copy him. This has made the work of translation more difficult, and I have had to compromise a little with some of the rhymes. I make no apology for this, or for not rhyming (elsewhere) my female endings: obviously to follow Simonov's rhyme-pattern more closely could only have been achieved at the expense of accuracy in the translation. In any case, my translation has sometimes been rather free: but I have tried to preserve what I saw as the essential meaning.

In The Hostess, his masterpiece, I have sometimes deviated a little from his rhyme scheme. Like Simonov, I have used the occasional alexandrine for special effect in this poem: but because I have not always been able to use one when he does, I have felt free to use one occasionally (for poetic effect) in translating a line which had only the standard five feet in the original. I am conscious that my translation of this poem is particularly inadequate, but I cannot leave the poem out and I hope to do better in time.

I think I was right to use the same line lengths and stress patterns as in the Russian, but eight or ten English syllables typically include both more sounds (consonants and dipthongs) and more meaning than eight or ten Russian ones. This makes it difficult for the translator who is trying not to add any meaning which was not there in the original!

Enough. Thank you for reading this far, if you have done so. And if you enjoy the translations, please let me know. It's nice to know there is someone out there reading! And even better, if you know both languages and feel I have misunderstood the original, please tell me.

Mike Munford

Konstantin Simonov