I’m very pleased to have this translation as Poem of the Week. For a poem of 12 lines it took a long time to get right, and I think now I should have made that final effort for the alexandrine to sound right in English – it makes a lovely rallentando in Russian but I was afraid it would simply sound like a mistake.
There’s a comment from Pinkroom on the Guardian website:
“I like the sense of this poem but the translation is not working for me. Not liking the flitting (rotten poetty word) preferring ‘fly’ nor the quivering (ditto) preferring ‘trembling’. Got to get your verbs just so or the poem has the wrong energy. This is limp lettuce where it should be charged/electric.”
“Trembling” comes in the third stanza, and there does seem to be a strong rule in English writing that the same word doesn’t get used twice unless there’s a strong reason for it – apart from which the Russian poem has different words, too. The Russian “как взмах неощутимых крыл” [kak vzmakh neoschutimykh kryl] means literally “like the flapping of imperceptible wings”, so “fly” wouldn’t be enough to give that meaning. Poets get ticked off a lot for using words that are allegedly too poetic, and some words do get pretty shopsoiled, but I’m against banning them for any number of reasons. I don’t think “flit” or “quiver” are so seriously damaged, anyway. Pinkroom is lucky this poem doesn’t contain the word “soul” which I’ve been told any number of times is a banned word in poetry – but as it seems about 50% of Russian poems contain that word there’s not much a translator can do if there’s going to be any kind of faithfulness. With poems written nearly 100 years ago I don’t want to be too much either striving for period or updating, but I do want to find something that gives the right kind of experience to an anglophone reader. That can mean using words that might not occur in a new poem now.