“Winter Evening” by Pushkin

Winter Evening by Alexander Pushkin
Genres: Poetry

PushkinAleksandr Pushkin was one of the greatest Russian poets of all time, and was responsible for modernizing the Russian language.  He also has kind of an interesting backstory, considering that his great-grandfather was from Africa and was given as a gift to the tsar, who took a liking to him and made him a general.  Puskin himself was a famous poet by the time he was a teenager, because he was just that good.  Of course, like so many Russian authors, he got caught up in the “wrong crowd,” who decided to rebel, and even though he wasn’t personally involved, he got arrested for it… and the tsar became his personal censor after that.

One of Puskin’s most famous poems is Winter Evening.

The poem basically says that Russian winters suck, but that there is a way to deal with it–to drink heavily.  However, Pushkin’s language is much more eloquent than my own.

Pushkin’s poetry is a good excuse to take a look at translation as a whole, because a lot of meaning gets lost between languages, and translators have a hard job trying to maintain the voice and tone of the author while conveying meaning and staying as true as possible to the original.  Sometimes, as in the case of poetry, that means taking some liberties.  The first Ardnt translation is my favorite, because it takes a balance between literal translation and keeping true to Pushkin’s original style and rhymes.  Sometimes shades of meaning just get lost in translation.  One example here is the word “старушка.”  The word is translated as “dear granny,” “my dear,” and “dear old granny.”  I don’t think any of those translations capture the fear of the word, which is a diminutive that would more literally be an affectionate (while at the same time respectful) way of saying “little old lady.”  She’s not necessarily a grandma, and just going with “my dear” doesn’t really capture it right, so it gets lost.

So, for anyone who reads literature of any sort in translation, respect the translators.  Their job is harder than it seems, and saves us all the trouble of learning the language of every author we wanna read.  =D

Also, side note… the picture in this post is the first statue of Pushkin in the US.  It was a gift to the US from Russia, and thanks to an awesome professor, is located on the George Washington University campus in DC.

8 thoughts on ““Winter Evening” by Pushkin

  1. Interesting post! I’m overcoming my own personal bias against Russian writers by reading War and Peace. I’m really enjoying it so far! But very conscious that I’m reading a translation and I can’t help but wonder how much the other translations differ. Pushkin sounds like a really interesting writer. I mean to read Gogol some time too (mainly because I loved The Namesake so much).

    1. Cool! I actually only made it half way through War and Peace (tried a few times to make it a summer reading project, but always ran out of summer), but I do rather enjoy Gogol. He does satirical surrealism.

  2. I love this review and your viewpoint about translations. I don’t think I’ve taken much time to stop and consider it very much, but after reading this I will! Thanks

  3. Lol! I almost read through that “Winter Evening” page thinking they were different poems…Gosh. Being a translator seems so hard…I mean finding words that rhyme in another language. My mom used to read to me a poem by Pablo Neruda that started with the line, “Tonight I can write the saddest lines..” and when I went looking for that poem I read it and it didn’t feel the same. Yeah, it was a different translator. But my mom prefers to read Neruda in Spanish, cause like you said some things just get lost in translation.

    I saw some Russian literature today and thought of you. Have you read Crime and Punishment? I also saw one called The Idiot by Dostoyevsky.

    1. I’ve read both of them, and they are excellent. The Idiot has one of my favorite literary characters of all time in it (Nastassya Filipovna), and Crime and Punishment is also really good. When I studied abroad, I actually snuck into several of the apartment buildings that were mentioned in Crime and Punishment, because Dostoevsky used real places to set his novel. It was really neat to see the place where one fictional character murdered another fictional character. 😛

      I’m also guilty of not having read enough Pablo Neruda, even though I know I should have. One thing I like doing with poems when I know at least enough of the original language to get by is to read them side by side with a translation, so that I can get the feel of the original but have help for any words that I don’t understand.

  4. I used to work as a translator but have given up. I never really liked the work to be honest as it is too much like solving a puzzle and I couldn’t make myself rethink other peoples thoughts, if you know what I mean.
    I haven’t read any poems of Puschkin, need to get to them one day.

    1. I think it’s fun to translate small things, but it gets very tedious very quickly. I used to want to work with translation, but after four years of studying Russian, I’m not even close to where I could do it without a really good dictionary. I can understand it most of the time, but there’s just so much that I don’t know.

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