Sunday, November 25, 2012


If last week's effort was not enough to satisfy your need for poorly translated poetry, you are in luck because I am apparently delusional enough to make a second attempt. Also by Joseph Brodsky, this poem is a short sketch of Baltyisk in the 1960s, which was then the Soviet Union's top-secret naval base on the Baltic Sea, a short distance to Kaliningrad's west. Today it is still a naval base, although the extreme secrecy has lifted somewhat.

I make absolutely no guarantees about the quality of this translation -- I asked a couple of my Russian friends what they thought about a few of the trickier stanzas (especially the fourth), but they didn't seem to make much more sense out of it than I could. I am especially unsure about to whom or what the "him" referenced there refers (man in general? someone specific yet unnamed?) and about the use of выступать in the last line, and I'd love to hear advice or corrections in the comments. But since I can't find any other English translations, I suppose I have a duty to post my attempt.


В ганзейской гостинице «Якорь»,
где мухи садятся на сахар,
где боком в канале глубоком
эсминцы плывут мимо окон,

я сиживал в обществе кружки,
глазея на мачты и пушки
и совесть свою от укора
спасая бутылкой Кагора.

Музыка гремела на танцах,
солдаты всходили на транспорт,
сгибая суконные бедра.
Маяк им подмигивал бодро.

И часто до боли в затылке
о сходстве его и бутылки
я думал, лишенный режимом
знакомства с его содержимым.

В восточную Пруссию въехав,
твой образ, в приспущенных веках,
из наших балтических топей
я ввез контрабандой, как опий.

И вечером, с миной печальной,
спускался я к стенке причальной
в компании мыслей проворных,
и ты выступала на волнах...


In the Hanseatic hotel Anchor,
where flies land on the sugar
and destroyers sail along
the deep channel, past the window,

I kept my cup company,
staring at the masts and guns
and saving my conscience from reproach
with a bottle of Cahors.

Dance music blared, and
soldiers climbed into their vehicles,
woolen pants bending at the thigh.
The lighthouse winked at them cheerfully.

I often hurt my neck, thinking
about the similarity between him and the bottle,
deprived by conditions
of knowing his contents.

From our Baltic marshes
I smuggled your image, like opium,
into East Prussia
behind eyelids at half-mast.

And in the evening, with a melancholic face
and flitting thoughts,
I went down to the quay wall
and you stepped out on the waves…


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