a populist russky poem
Written 1876 by Nikolai Nekrasov (his last name means “not pretty”). Translated last week by me. I have no idea what to do with the problematic phonetic resemblance between sower and sewer (and suddenly, listening to Lou Reed’s Coney Island Baby and having just typed “sewer,” it occurs to me that it looks an awful lot like “sewer”), or if it’s even problematic at all. My favorite thing about the poem that came through in translation is the weird repetition of “shy.” My favorite thing about the poem that may not have come through in translation, despite the help of irregular English past participles, is how many different forms of the word “sow” there are (in Russian it looks like seed, sperm, family, and the number seven). Original under the cut.
TO THE SOWERS
Sower of knowledge in the people’s field!
Do you find the soil fruitless, or is it that
Your seeds are lean?
Are you shy of heart? Are you weak in spirit?
Your work is rewarded with stunted shoots,
Your grains of little good!
Wherever are you, able ones, with your spry faces,
Wherever are you, with your baskets full of wheat?
The work has been sown shyly, seed by seed—
Sow the reasonable, the good, the eternal,
Sow! You will be thanked from the heart
Of the Russian people…
Сеятель знанья на ниву народную!
Почву ты, что ли, находишь бесплодную,
Худы ль твои семена?
Робок ли сердцем ты? слаб ли ты силами?
Труд награждается всходами хилыми,
Доброго мало зерна!
Где же вы, умелые, с бодрыми лицами,
Где же вы, с полными жита кошницами?
Труд засевающих робко, крупицами,
Сейте разумное, доброе, вечное,
Сейте! Спасибо вам скажет сердечное