15 December 2017

Sing some more, Alexander O’Boozer... / Спой еще, Александр Похмелыч...

Aleksandr Galich: 19 October 1918 - 15 December 1977

Sing some more, Alexander O’Boozer,
I’ll spring for a taxi, no fear…
Well away, are these pot-bellied losers,
with their whining and shedding a tear.

But he won’t. Even she can’t get round him,
that creature in rustling silk.
He proffers himself, quite grandly,
what’s left of our cognac to drink.

Tobacco, cognac, catarrh have
done a sandpaper job on his throat.
The guitar slides back in its cover.
He dons his imported coat.

He’s studying the stains on the linen,
is our singer, all moustache and nose,
and no one retains the least inkling
what was happening a moment ago.

No heart-swelling love’s been ignited, 
no summons to feats at high pitch,
the historical brow of the tyrant
will make no hysterical twitch.

The vodka’s gone. Song done and dusted.
We ate, though it wasn’t a feast.
How it grows on you, this kind of music.
What matters, though, more than the rest —

not the humour, the sly little whatsit, 
not the v-sign that no-one can see —
it’s the pluck of those strings in waltz time,
one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three.

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

The negative hero here is the poet, dramatist, and ‘bard’ Aleksandr Galich (19 October 1918-15 December 1977); for a contrasting view of his merits, see Alexander Galich, Songs and Poems, translated and with an introduction by G.S.Smith (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1983), and also G.S.Smith, Songs to Seven Strings (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1984). 

Спой еще, Александр Похмелыч, 
я тебя на такси отвезу... 
Разгулялась пузатая мелочь, 
подвывает, пускает слезу. 

Он не станет. Его не упросит 
даже эта в шуршащем шелку. 
Он себе одному преподносит 
что осталось у нас коньяку. 

Табака, коньяка и катара 
прогулялся по горлу наждак.
В свой чехол заползает гитара. 
Заграничный напялен пиджак. 

Изучает на скатерти пятна 
наш певец, и усат, и носат,
и уже никому не понятно, 
что творилось минуту назад.

Не наполнится сердце любовью 
и на подвиг нас не поведет,
и тиран исторической бровью 
истерически не поведет. 

Водка выпита. Песенка спета. 
Мы поели того и сего.
Как привязчива музыка эта. 
Но важнее, важнее всего —

нет, не юмор, не хитрое что-то,
не карманчики с фигой внутри — 
просто дерганье струн на три счета:
раз-два-три, раз-два-три, раз-два-три. 

08 December 2017

Khasbulat II / ХБ-2

Khasbulat in a scene from Dersu Uzala, Akira Kurosawa dir., 1975

Khasbulat II

It’s my heart going wrong,
or an old love forgot,
or a fragment of song
that a squeezebox grinds out,
or my joints aching bad,
I’m not young, maybe that,
Khasbulat, bonny lad,
Khasbulat, Khasbulat,
it’s no palace, your house,
much like mine, I agree,
you’re a little church mouse,
and the same goes for me,
our two homes are alike,
with the walls needing paint,
not so poor though am I
as to turn into saint,
rich enough I am not
to fetch drink in and share,
or a spade, cut-price lot
at the local hardware,
chores and cares all around
made our arteries hard,
now a new winter’s sound 
comes and scrapes at our heart.

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985.

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

The poem takes off from ‘Khasbulat’, an old but well-known melodramatic vengeance ballad featuring stereotypical Caucasian tribal masculinity and mores. See http://www.russian-records.com/details.php?image_id=22500. The words are by a certain A.Ammosov, and the tune by the ethnographer Olga Khristoforovna Agreneva-Slavianskaia (1847-1920), both of whom are otherwise forgotten, their work in this case having ‘become folklore’. In the song, a prince asks Khasbulat, who is old and poor, to cede him his young wife in return for rich rewards, but Khasbulat responds that the day before he saw the couple together, and later stabbed her to death. The prince whips out his sabre and beheads the old man, and then jumps into the river and drowns.


То ль на сердце нарыв, 
то ли старый роман,
то ли старый мотив, 
ах, шарманка, шарман, 
то ль суставы болят, 
то ль я не молодой, 
Хас-Булат, Хас-Булат, 
Хас-Булат удалой, 
бедна сакля твоя, 
бедна сакля моя, 
у тебя ни шиша,
у меня ни шиша, 
сходство наших жилищ 
в наготе этих стен,
но не так уж я нищ, 
чтобы духом блажен,
и не так я богат,
чтоб сходить за вином, 
распродажа лопат
за углом в скобяном, 
от хлопот да забот 
засклерозились мы,
и по сердцу скребет 
звук начала зимы.