This site is intended as a small tribute to a great poet and to a great nation. In its original form, it appeared on the net about 15 years ago. That original site has led to a book of translations, recently published by Smokestack Books. (Link to book on Amazon). This new site supplements the book. Simonov's verse is meant to be read aloud; we have read and recorded some of the poems and may add more.
Translating Russian verse is easier than translating French. The poetic rhythms of English and Russian are surprisingly similar, so that in many poems, I have been able to copy the Russian rhythms fairly accurately and without much incongruity in English. There is one or two 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.
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!
My translation has sometimes been rather free: but I have tried to preserve what I saw as the essential meaning.
I've always found this poem very moving and I would have liked to include it on the original site; but it was written in a very unusual metre, which I couldn't use in English. This time, I've made an exception and put it into my normal ballad stanzas; I've also read and recorded it.
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 this poem, I have copied Simonov and translated blank verse into blank verse. The poem is interesting; it shows very clearly that until Hitler invaded, the poet felt very lonely and at odds with the new socialist Russia in which he found himself.
In this poem, perhaps 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 have done my best to improve the translation for the new site.
© 2019-23 Mike Munford