Scholarly article on topic 'Russian Translations of Thomas Grey's Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard in 18th-19th Centuries'

Russian Translations of Thomas Grey's Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard in 18th-19th Centuries Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Alevtina G. Stroilova, Anna A. Makarova

Abstract The article is about the development of translation principles and methods in Russian perception of European poetry. The study focuses on the development of poetry translation with due consideration of the epoch's philosophical and literary views. A poem by Thomas Grey “Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard” was analyzed to study the development of the Elegy translation in terms of strategies chosen by each translator according to their own literal preferences and the requirements of the epoch's taste in poetry. It is concluded that the history of the Elegy's perception reflects the translation evolution in Russia.

Academic research paper on topic "Russian Translations of Thomas Grey's Elegy Written in a Country Church-yard in 18th-19th Centuries"

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Procedía - Social and Behavioral Sciences 231 (2016) 187 - 194

International Conference: Meaning in Translation: Illusion of Precision, MTIP2016, 11-13 May

2016, Riga, Latvia

Russian translations of Thomas Grey's elegy written in a country church-yard in 18th-19th centuries

Alevtina G. Stroilovaa, Anna A. Makarova^*

a,bNational Researh Nuclear University MEPhI (Moscow Engineering Physics Institute), 31 Kashirskoye shosse, Moscow, 115409, Russia


The article is about the development of translation principles and methods in Russian perception of European poetry. The study focuses on the development of poetry translation with due consideration of the epoch's philosophical and literary views. A poem by Thomas Grey "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" was analyzed to study the development of the Elegy translation in terms of strategies chosen by each translator according to their own literal preferences and the requirements of the epoch's taste in poetry. It is concluded that the history of the Elegy's perception reflects the translation evolution in Russia.

© 2016 The Authors.Published by ElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 Keywords: Translation history; translation strategies; literal translation.

1. Introduction

The historical aspect of the intercultural communications has been in focus of the recent translation research. The researchers use different approaches to the translation history studies, concentrating on a particular period of time (Jean Delisle, & Judith Woodswort, 1995), the country or the region (DeLater, 2002), the text or the author that is being translated (Delabastita, 2004), or the works of one translator. As St. Andre puts it, "The individual translator is now seen as representative of a larger social group" (St. Andre, 2009). All of the researchers come to a unanimous conclusion that history of translation is one of the most important fields in the translation studies, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly that the study of translation, especially in its diachronic aspect, is a vital part of literary and

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +74957885699; fax: +74993242111. E-mail

1877-0428 © 2016 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of the organizing committee of MTIP2016 doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.09.090

cultural history", (Bassnett, 2002), "Closely allied to literary history, translation history can describe changes in literary trends, account for the regeneration of a culture, trace changes in politics or ideology and explain the expansion and transfer of thought and knowledge in a particular era." (Long, 2007) The extent of material to be studied yet is impressive and includes sometimes even well-known works. One can assume that, according to a wide range of approaches used, the combination of methods is required for the analyses of a new text.

Literary translation in general, and translation of poetry in particular, have been an important part in the development of translation. The question of whether the translation of poetry is even possible is still being discussed by the researchers. Clifford E. Landers in his work "Literary Translation: A Practical Guide" considers the idea that poetry cannot be translated and can only be recreated with the help of the new language. (Clifford E. Landers, 2001) According to Matiu, "Poetry, as a superior form of synonymy, is much more difficult to translate than the usual messages. This difficulty resides in the skill that a translator needs in order to "transfer" all the values of the original, together with its musicality, style, and, why not, its form, rhyme and rhythm". (Ovidiu Matiu, 2008) In this work we analyzed different approaches to the translation of poetry which appeared and developed during 18th - 19th centuries in Russia.

History of the Russian translation has been studied by many researchers, such as Etkind, Girivenlo, Levin, Gukovsky and others. But a poem by T. Grey "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" (1751), one of the most famous English poems translated into Russian has not been given enough attention. In this study we analyzed in detail the development of Grey's elegy perception in Russia, we defined the characteristics of the individual style of each translator, we studied the connection between the Russian authors methods and the Russian translation traditions of the given period of time, we examined the influence of the translation on the perception of Grey's work in Russian poetry.

The development of translation traditions in Russia in the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th relied in many aspects on the European experience. That was connected with the circumstances of how the European literature was perceived in Russia during this period of time. Peter the Great reforms opened the "gates" for all of the European literature, including poetry, educational, research and entertainment literature. Some of it was necessary for practical purposes (construction, arms, farming and so on) and some for educational goals. The appearance of a huge flow of texts that needed to be translated and needed to be translated fast influenced the then translation tradition in Russia that included a very thorough analysis and a careful, very often word for word translation. Yet sometimes lack of time and a disability of the Russian language (lack of terms) prevented the translators from using this method (Nelubin, & Huhuni, 2003). It should be noted that fiction had a very special status during the epoch before Peter; it was considered the source of moral education. Unlike Europe, Russia started to perceive all the literature trends almost simultaneously, including classicism, sentimentalism, romanticism. At that moment of time translation of fiction became a popular trend in the court society, but without sustainable translation tradition it required help of the European experience and different types of translation practice. The specifics of relations between two cultures (as for example Russian and English or Russian and German) were another factor that influenced the choice of strategy made by a translator. And this choice could affect further understanding and reception of a foreign text in Russia.

In 18th-19th centuries a new literature direction, which was called sentimentalism, (some researchers call it early romanticism) appeared and thrived in Europe and later in Russia. "Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard" made a significant contribution to the history of Russian sentimentalism.

The fact that the English language was rarely known in Russia at that period of time defined in some ways the strategies that were available for the Russian translators. The first, and the most obvious one was the usage of the intermediary translation, in this case it was the French translation, made by P. Letourneur in prose. But the very first translation into Russian was made using the English original. It is interesting that the translation, based on the French intermediary language, appeared much later in 1789, four years after the first Russian version of the elegy. The following translations were published after seven years in 1796 and even later in 1799. This fact leads us to the conclusion that during that period of time the elegy was not very famous and did not attract enough attention for other translations to appear. But starting with 1801 and till 1803 there appeared four translations, which could be explained by the fact that Grey was becoming more and more popular among the Russian readers and his influence on the Russian literature came to be more pronounced. The question is what changed since the first translation.

2. The first translations of the elegy

The first attempt to render Grey into Russian was the poetic translation of an extract of the poem, which was the final part: the epitaph. The translation was published in the journal "PokoyashchijsyaTradolyubec" in 1784 under the title "The epitaph of Mister Grey written for himself'. The translation, as many in Russia of this period of time was anonymous, and the author remains unknown. The choice of the elegy's part for rendering into Russian is ver y symbolic as the very genre of epitaph presupposes a particular atmosphere of sadness. This state of mind leads to meditations on life and death, and melancholic view on life. These sentiments and their esthetical manifestation corresponded to the culture of sentimentalism, which were being formed in Russia at that moment of time.

It is important to say that the "thee" in the English poem has always been the topic of contemplation in the researchers' works: "For thee, who mindful of th' unhonour'd Dead", who is this "thee": Is it the narrator or some other young poet? The title of the first translation of the epitaph means that the translator perceived the description of the young poet in this part as a representation of the author, Grey, himself. So it obtained the form of a self-epitaph, and a final confession of the main character.

The translator is comparatively accurate in his reproduction of the text, though he does make some changes. He adds the address Прохожий! "prohozhij" (passerby), which is very common for the genre, as V. Veselova states in her article that this address "became a kind of a signature of this genre" (Veselova, 2006). Veselova also says that "the address this important for the genre... provides the connection between the world of the dead and the world of the living" (Veselova, 2006). But the difference of this epitaph is that it does not make the passerby contemplate his own life, which is traditional of the genre, but evokes the feelings of sympathy for the hero (a very important emotion for sentimentalism).

The final lines of this part are significant both in the original and in the translation. In the original:

(There they alike in trembling hope repose)

The bosom of his Father and his God.

In the translation,

Оне надеяся трепещут в сей юдоле, They are hoping, trembling in this fate

Судьбы ждут своея от Бога своего! Waiting for their fate from their God

Unlike the traditional epitaph, in which the dead had already been resting in peace, in this epitaph the character is waiting for his fate, hoping which means, still living and feeling. That indicates that the very first translation introduced a new type of character and a new view on death. So the choice of the extract corresponded with the demand of the readers (sentimentalism) and reflected the strategy of the translator (to choose the most attractive for the recipients' tastes part), which is a fine example of the development of the Russian translation tradition.

In a year the same journal published the translation of the whole elegy, the author remains unknown. This first translation was done using the original and was published by the title "The Cemetery. Elegy by Grey". The Russian author uses prosaic form in his version of the elegy and translates the text almost word for word. In the translation concept of the 18th century this approach was used only for the texts that were considered to be examples of the esthetically perfect works of literature. But the fact that poetic form was changed for prosaic influenced the perception of the lyrical side of the poem. This change is the reason why the translator tried to compensate it by adding words and phrases that were meant to heighten the emotional effect of the elegy.

As, for example, he makes some changes in the description of the scenery, Grey writes:

Save that from yonder ivy-mantled tow'r

The moping owl does to the moon complain

In the Russian translation: «...унылая и пасмурная сова из одной плющом обросшей башни при бледном сиянии луны произносит свои жалобы...» (a sad and gloomy owl on one of ivy covered towers voices her complaints under the pale radiance of the moonlight) The translator adds epithets (sad and gloomy) in the description of the owl to stress the emotional state of the main character. The image of the Moon is changed as well. The main difference is that in the original, the Moon is the only companion of the main character, and in the Russian version it becomes a part of the evening scenery, creating a melancholic atmosphere in the elegy.

The theme of sensitivity is important both in the original and in translation. In the original:

On some fond breast the parting soul relies, Some pious drops the closing eye requires

In translation: «Разлучающаяся душа надеется на нежное и чувствительное сердце, и померкающий глаз требует нескольких нежных слез» (The parting soul hopes for a tender/gentle and sensitive heart, and the eye growing dim requires a few tender tears). The translator introduces the epithets «нежное и чувствительное сердце» (a gentle and sensitive heart) and «нежные слезы» (gentle tears) which create an image of a new listener, or reader, who has a sensitive personality, an important quality for the sentimentalism esthetics. The epithet (gentle tears) emphasizes the ability of a reader to sympathize, and tears were not a sign of one's weakness, but of one's moral goodness.

It is important to mention that the word "Melancholy" was replaced in the translation of the last part (epitaph) by «задумчивость» (pensiveness), which had no added connotation of the feeling of sadness, connected with melancholy. This word was introduced into the Russian language in later Grey's translations.

So the first translation of the elegy reflected the rise of Russia's interest in sentimentalism and in Grey's work in particular. The Russian translators were attracted by the new poetic devices as well as the new and revolutionary for Russia ethical concepts and ideas, including the possibility of description of an average person feelings, interest in the lives of common people, appearance of the new type of character, new moral values represented by sympathy and sensitivity. But the intention of the translator to be very precise in his rendering of the poem led to the loss or weakening of poetic value of the poem, that is why the Russian author tried to compensate it by enhancing the emotional atmosphere of light sadness, melancholy and pensiveness of the hero's contemplations and heightening the melancholic evening scenery.

During next fifteen years after the appearance of the first translation of the elegy in 1784 only four translations appeared. They were all based on the prosaic French intermediary translation and were not very well known among the Russian readers. Basically they were new prosaic versions of the poem and were very similar to the first translation, and only occasionally reminded the readers of the elegy.

3. Development of the first poetic translations of the elegy

The new stage of reception and translation of the poem was connected with the appearance of several new versions of the elegy, all of which were mostly published in the very beginning of the 19th century. One of the authors that is worth mentioning was Pavel Golenischev-Kutuzov, who attempted to create the poetic translation not only of the elegy but of the majority of Grey's works. Though we have to say that his translations were not highly esteemed by his contemporaries. А. Merzlyakov wrote to V. Zhukovsky: "Kutuzov translated and published all of Grey. Oh, poor Grey!" But Kutuzov's translation is significant in understanding of Grey's perception in Russia and in the development of the Russian translation.

One of the key factors that influenced Kutuzov's approach to translation was his membership in masonic organization. The masonic philosophy implied the usage of special symbols which could only be interpreted correctly by a member of the organization. So in his translation of the elegy Kutuzov adds symbols that represented a special code for the members of the masonic fraternity.

In general in his translation Kutuzov keeps the structure and the content of the original. The changes and additions in his versions are not very noticeable, but they add a hidden meaning to the text; for example, instead of the words "narrow cell", the translator uses the word «гроб» grob (casket), which was a very important symbol for the masonic organization as it is a symbol of the vanity and temporality of human life. When a masonic novice was being conferred to masonic membership, very often he was laid in a casket for a period of time, enough for him to contemplate his life before his acceptance in the masonic organization.

The text of the translation also included the word "temple". In the original we find:

Where thro' the long-drawn aisle and fretted vault The pealing anthem swells the note of praise. In the translation:

Где повторяют звук священных пений своды Во храме древнем сем, в простых его стенах.

Where the sound of sacred songs is repeated, In this ancient temple, in its simple walls

And in this abstract: Slow thro' the church-yard path we saw him born

In the translation:

И с ней его несут ко храму погребать And with it, he is carried to the temple to be buried

"Temple," is a key symbol for the masonic organization. It is a metaphor of the moral "restoration," and acquiring new values. To build a temple meant to create a new morally improved version of oneself. (Solovyov, 2001) So the translation of the elegy by Kutuzov, stands aside from all of the Russian translation tradition, and can be considered and analysed as a separate phenomenon.

Two years before the appearance of Kutuzov's version, Grey's elegy was translated by V.A. Zhukovsky. He started his work on the elegy while still studying in the Moscow university boarding school in 1800. As it is well known Zhukovsky showed his first version of the elegy to N. Karamzin to publish it in the journal "Vestnik Evropy", but Karamzin, the chief editor of the journal, asked Zhukovsky to revise his translation. So the questions are: How Zhukovsky first perceived and translated the elegy? And what changed in the later translation?

Without any doubt the first translation by Zhukovsky could be called a liberal translation. Zhukovsky added thirty seven lines in his translation of the elegy. He changed the emotional atmosphere of the poem and enhanced the evening scenery. The point of view of the main character is changed in the translation as well. The Russian translator adds new details in the original description of nature.

Стоял над тихою, спокойною рекой, He stood upon the quiet and calm river

Которая в кустах течет уединенно Which runs between the bushes alone

The added description of nature heightens the melancholic view of the scenery, as well as its connection with the feelings of the main character.

Zhukovsky also adds the lines in the description of the main hero:

Как странник в мире сем печально он As a wanderer in this world he sadly roved the

скитался! world,

Без утешения с природой он расстался! He parted with nature without consolation.

So unlike the previous translations, the connection between the hero and a "natural world" was ruined, nature does not give him the consolation. The character is in opposition to nature and to the world in general. He is dissatisfied with life, his is in conflict with the outer world and with life itself, which is common for romanticism. The last lines confirm the early romantic approach to the life's circumstances:

Прохожий! наша жизнь как молния летит! Passerby, our life flies like a lightning bolt

Родись! - Страдай! - Умри! - вот все что рок велит! Be born! - Suffer! - Die! That is all that our fate tells us!

So the conflict has no resolution in this version of translation. The character does not come to God, as described in the original. The last line proclaims the meaninglessness of life. Thus meditation does not bring the consolation for the main character; it enhances his feelings of despair and disappointment.

4. Translations of 1802 and 1839: the climax and conclusion of perception

In 1802 Zhukovsky creates a new version of the elegy, one that was approved by Karamzin and then was published in the "Vestnik Evropy" in the same year. That was the version of the poem that became famous and received a lot of criticism and admiration.

The changes made by Zhukovsky in this version are so extensive one could say that he actually re-writes the poem. The division of the elegy parts in Russian remains the same as in the original, but Zhukovsky adds three more verses. The image of a young poet and the scenery are drastically changed in this translation.

The Curfew tolls the knell of parting day, The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea, The plowman homeward plods his weary way, And leaves the world to darkness and to me. The translation,

Уже бледнеет день, скрываясь за горою, Шумящие стада толпятся над рекой; Усталый селянин медлительной стопою Идет, задумавшись, в шалаш спокойный свой

The day is paling extinguishing behind the hill, The noisy herds crowd over the river A tired peasant in his slow step Walks, pensive, to his calm hut

In the Russian version the very first line is changed. In Grey's elegy the images of sound as "toll" "knell" create an image of the sound that filled the atmosphere, and in the Russian translation it is the colors (paling) that represent the image. Thus for the Russian author the muted sate of the evening scenery is the most important. It is important to note that the epithet "quiet", that he also adds to the description of the scenery, became the signature of Zhukovsky's poetry. According to G. Gukovsky, "quiet is the feeling and tenderness of the poet in the moment of the world's change." (Gukovsky, 1995)

The image of the poet, as the previous examples showed, was very important for the literature development of that century. The character is neither one of the nobility nor one of the peasants. He is characterized through his connection with nature and the way it is expressed in translation. Unlike the practical approach to the nature of the peasants the main character sees it as a companion.

Zhukovsky connects the following characteristics: «в горести беспечной, молчаливой» (in the thoughtless and soundless grief), «лежал, задумавшись» (he lay contemplating), «томными очами» (soulful eyes), «уныло следовал» (sadly followed), «прискорбный, сумрачный, с главою наклоненной» (grievous, gloomy, with a bowed head") with the image of the young poet. The translator made the elegy correspond with the newest literature trends of the century. He also introduces a new concept to Russian literature: And Melancholy mark'd him for her own In the Russian version:

И меланхолии печать была на нем. And he had an impress of melancholy

The word melancholy was not used in the previous translations of the poem; it was either replaced by the synonyms (pensiveness) or ignored. The appearance of this concept is a very important aspect of sentimentalism development in Europe, and the fact that Zhukovsky is the first to introduce it into the Russian poetry, borrowing it directly from the original and not replacing it, makes his translation a further step in the perception of this elegy in Russia.

One more strategy that Zhukovsky uses is inclusion of the words that have distinctive national connotation for the Russian readers. As for example he describes the image of a «странник» (wanderer) as someone «...которому ничем души не усладить» (who cannot sweeten/delight his soul). The word "усладить", a derivation from "услада" (sweet, delight), has a definite Russian national connotation.

He also introduces this kind of words into the description of the scenery, using words like: «дремлющая ива» (sleeping willow) instead of "nodding beech", «косматый корень» (fuzzy\rough root) instead of "fantastic roots". These epithets on the one hand make the text sound "more Russian", and on the other hand personify the willow, making it seem as a living being that is a companion of a young poet.

The climax of the elegy is the epitaph, and Zhukovsky creates an absolutely new version of it. In the original:

No farther seek his merits to disclose, Or draw his frailties from their dread abode, (There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God. In translation:

Прохожий, помолись над этою могилой; Здесь все оставил он, что в нем греховно было,

Он в ней нашел приют от всех земных тревог; С надеждою, что жив его Спаситель-Бог.

Passerby, pray on this grave; He found here a haven from all the world concerns

Here he left all of his sins With hope that his Saviour-God is alive

The traditional address to the passerby, which was also used in the very first translation of the elegy in 1784, adds the traditions of the Russian literature to the poem. At the same time the request to pray for the dead on his grave is traditional for Russia as well and in this case it unites the passerby (the reader) with the main character, making his grave a place for meditation. In the translation the grave is called "приют от тревог" (heaven from all the world concerns) unlike the original in which it is described as the "dread abode", so in Zhukovsky's version death becomes the consolation for the main character, helping him to find peace.

The words "God the savior" instead of "God the Father" could be explained by different views on God in the Russian and British traditions. The Church of England see God's chief role as the creator of as opposed to the Russian orthodox tradition who see God as the savior of the souls after passing away.

Thus, in conclusion we could say that in Grey's elegy translation of 1802 Zhukovsky combined several translation strategies, including the development of the sentimentalists images and motives, heightening the emotions of quiet sadness and melancholy and including the words with Russian national connotation, all of that made the elegy not only the example of Grey's translation, but made the readers perceive it as an important part of the Russian literature. It was the text that absorbed the experience of the previous translations. This version portrayed Grey, because it most accurately could reproduce the specifics of the genre and the high poetic quality of the elegy.

After the success of his second translation Zhukovsky, once again, creates a version of the elegy almost 40 years later in 1839 after his visit of the cemetery, described by Grey. In this translation the Russian author wanted to create a much more accurate representation of the English text. He emphasized the epic aspect of the poem and made sure that all of the changes that he made to the poem were kept to the barest minimum, this served mostly to emphasize the peacefulness of the main character's emotional state. The line of 1802 "Прохожий, помолись..." (Passerby, pray) Zhukovsky replaces with, "Путник, не трогай покоя могилы" (Passerby, don't disturb the peace of the grave). This creates a distance between the character and the reader.

The last lines of the original:

(There they alike in trembling hope repose) The bosom of his Father and his God. Are covered by, ...здесь все, что в нем было Некогда доброго, все его слабости робкой надеждой

Преданы в лоно благого Отца правосудного Бога.

... here is everything, that he had Kind in him, all his weaknesses with tentative hope

Are given to the bosom of good Father, fair

The translation is very accurate, but the Russian author adds epithets "good Father" and "fair God", which create the image of a gracious God.

5. Conclusion

We analyzed the stages of the texts translation, which included the translation of the extract, the prosaic translation of the poetic text, several liberal poetic interpretations, in which Zhukovsky's translation of 1802 stands out as it became an important part of the Russian literature. The final stage included the attempt to create the most accurate version. The study of this elegy translation history traces changes in the translation concept in Russia. We researched the processes involved in the creation of the target text and came to the conclusion that they depend on the theory behind it (word for word, or sense for sense approach), the authors' personal tastes and preferences (masonic philosophy in case of Golenischev-Kutuzov, or romantic ideas in the first version of the elegy made by Zhukovsky), demands and requirements of time (sentimentalism, reflected in the beginning of the 19th century translations, or interest in Grey's poetic style expressed in Zhukovsky's last version of 1839) and the le vel of the target language development (comparison between the texts of 1784, 1785 and Zhukovsky's elegy of 1802). Further

research should involve the analysis of Grey's "Written in a Country Church-Yard" translations into other languages and comparison of the literal translation traditions.


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