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. 

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