Barry Scherr
A Dalliance with Language: Chukovsky and Bal’mont Translate Whitman

Стих, язык, поэзия: Памяти Михаила Леонидовича Гаспарова (М., РГГУ) / 2006

For all that many collections of Walt Whitman’s poetry had been published in Russia over the years, a complete Russian-language edition of Leaves of Grass came out only in 1982. Of the more than 380 separately titled works in the volume, about a sixth — including the longest, «Song of Myself” — appear in the well-known translations by Kornei Chukovsky. Over two dozen other individuals took part in translating the remaining poems. Some, including Samuil Marshak and Mikhail Zenkevich, had gained renown as translators; a few, like Margarita Aliger and Boris Slutsky were poets for whom translating was very much only an occasional pastime; while others, responsible for many of the poems, were less familiar figures, such as Nikolai Bannikov, Roman Sef, and Andrei Sergeev. Oddly missing from the list of translators is the person who first introduced a broad selection of Whitman’s poetry to a Russian audience, Konstantin Bal’mont. The Soviet Union’s most prominent Whitman scholar, Moisei Mendel’son, in his introduction to the 1982 collection, indicates that this absence is hardly an oversight. He states that Bal’mont’s translations, while not without value, were nonetheless compromised by the overly romantic manner that was also typical of his own poetry. After the revolution, claims Mendel’son, the artificiality and pretentiousness of his manner became obvious, and the translations lost their audience1.

But are the translations so inferior to the now-canonical versions of Chukovsky or to those of other translators that they should be relegated to oblivion? Does the presence of Bal’mont’s poetic persona irreparably harm his translations? Mikhail Gasparov, himself a talented translator of classical languages into Russian, notes problems with translations that express too much of the translator and too little of the original or that are extremely literal in their relationship to the original; otherwise, however, he denies that any one approach to translation is necessarily superior. His chief point is that the popular taste regarding translation may change from one period to the next, and some translators also change. Thus the younger Briusov, like Bal’mont and Viacheslav Ivanov, was relatively free in rendering the original. Conversely, the mature Briusov, similar to Blok, preferred a literal approach, which he sometimes took to a fault. Deviations from the original are not necessarily bad; Gas-parov notes, for instance, that Marshak’s translations of Shakespeare’s sonnets, while differing markedly from the originals in their lexicon and their tone, nonetheless exhibit a literary taste that spoke to Marshak’s own age and made the sonnets into contemporary works for his audience. As Gasparov points out, no one translation conveys an original in its entirety, and therefore a specific effort only reflects what the translator regards as most important, as well as the considered opinion of the day. Preferences, and the notion of what comprises a first-rate translation, may change2.

If inclinations may evolve, it is all the more difficult to understand why Bal’mont’s translations have been absent from modern Russian editions of Whitman’s poetry for so many decades. As it turns out, though, a fiercely negative attitude toward his translations has persisted almost from the start, an attitude that would seem to owe its origins to Chukovsky’s early and scathing attacks. Chukovsky first wrote about these translations in a 1906 review in the journal Vesy, where, in surveying various recent Russian writings on Whitman, he referred briefly but disdainfully to an earlier article by Bal’mont in the same journal3. In the course of that piece Bal’-mont had translated over a dozen of Whitman’s poems in their entirety or, in a few cases, partially. Chukovsky accused Bal’mont both of outright errors in his translations («B трех строках перевода он делает пять грубейших ошибок…»), and, more importantly, of not being faithful to the very spirit and thrust of Whitman’s innovative manner. In place of Whitman’s colloquial language, rough syntax, and free verse, Bal’mont, according to Chukovsky, offers regular verse forms and the same language that he employs in his original poetry. Elena Tsvetkovskaia, who was later to marry Bal’mont, defended him in a letter that was published in a subsequent issue of Vesy, but her response was met with an even harsher rejoinder on the part of Chukovsky 4.

The vigor of Chukovsky’s attack may have arisen in part from a sense of rivalry: Chukovsky too had then recently begun to publish translations of Whitman, and a small book containing his renderings, «Поэт-анархист Уот Уитмен», appeared as early as 1907. Bal’mont’s own book of Whitman translations, «Побеги травы», did not come out until 1911, but those first exchanges had set the tone for Chukovsky’s subsequent writings. He continued to find the language both mushy (in contrast to Whitman’s firmness) and imprecise5. Bal’mont as a poet, he felt, was the polar opposite to Whitman; hence his efforts to translate Whitman led to a struggle between the two, with Bal’mont trying to prevent Whitman from being who he is by «correcting» him and imposing his own manner, his «Bal’montisms”6. Chukovsky was not alone in criticizing Bal’mont’s work as a translator; many have felt that in his extensive translating from a variety of languages Bal’mont made everyone sound too much like himself7.

Chukovsky’s specific critique of these translations has become canonical. Thus Mikhail Kuzmin, writing in 1920, noted that for all his knowledge of languages and skill at versifying, Bal’mont was hardly an impeccable translator of poets who were not close to him in manner and spirit, such as Shelley and Whitman8. In recent decades scholars have been nearly unanimous in expressing an admiration for Chukovsky’s translation and a concomitant disdain for those of Bal’mont. Efim Etkind contrasts Chukovsky, who strove to convey the roughness, the chaos, and the prose-like quality of Whitman’s verse, to Bal’mont, with his efforts to regularize the rhythms, remove the rough edges from the verse, and to downplay Whitman’s hyperbole9. Perhaps the fullest expression of these views is to be found in Lauren Leighton’s study of Russian and American translation. Leighton emphasizes not just the tendency for all of Bal’mont’s translations to reflect his own aesthetic, but also his lack of affinity for Whitman as a poet. Hence his Russian versions create what he terms a «Whitmont»; he «seems incapable of allowing Whitman to speak for himself.» Bal’mont, states Leighton, does not convey Whitman’s most outrageous imagery, fails to reproduce the rhythms and intonation of his verse, and either poeticizes Whitman’s prosaic verse or simply makes it dull. Chukovsky, in contrast, not only shows an affinity for the ideas in Whitman’s verse, but also manages to convey the intonation of the original, to find suitable lexical equivalents, to imitate the salient poetic devices, and to «make the same impression on the Russian reader as the original lines make on the English reader10.

Yet a few scholars, primarily outside Russia, have defended Bal’mont. Martin Bidney sees his articles on Whitman and the translations (many of which originally appeared in the context of those articles) as forming a unified whole, with Bal’mont providing a «reimagining of Whitman and his work in visionary terms.»11 To Bidney, Bal’mont’s combining of his style with that of Whitman is a strength, not a weakness. His claim is that Bal’mont does not so much distort Whitman as emphasize certain qualities inherent in the text. Strikingly, he quotes the first stanza of «Song of the Broad-Axe,» followed by Bal’mont’s translation, which he says effectively recreates the heavily accented aspect of the original. That very same translation was quoted by Chukovsky, who called it the work of a drunken graphomane and stated that if Whitman indeed wrote like that, he was not worth translating12. Here are just the final two lines of this stanza:

Resting the grass amid and upon,
To be lean’d and to lean on.

Лежит на траве, и трава под ним склонена,
В нем упор, в нем опора дана.

Whitman’s poem is, atypically, rhymed. Bal’mont lengthens the lines slightly and creates a rhythm that seems smoother than the original13, and yet Bidney’s praise seems a little closer to the mark than dos Chukovsky’s harsh rejection.

The most spirited defense of Bal’mont is that by Rachel Polonsky, who makes the interesting point that Whitman’s poetry is less realistic and reliant on ordinary language than Chukovsky claims. Rather, it is «highly-wrought,» with a classical diction, an often recherch? lexicon, and far removed from the speech of the everyday. Thus she sees in him a poet far closer to Bal’mont than most Russian poets have recognized. She goes on to claim that some of the specific critiques of Bal’mont’s translations by Chukovsky are based on selective and often misleading quotations from both the original English and the Russian. In her analyses, Bal’mont’s translations, while striving for different effects than do those of Chukovsky, capture no less of the original13. She quotes a 1907 article by Blok, who, without knowing Whitman’s poems in English, is willing to concede that Chukovsky’s translations might be closer to the original. Blok concludes, however, that if Bal’mont’s Whitman is an invention, it is the invention of a poet, an ennobling deception, as opposed to Chukovsky’s «base truths,» which are far less memorable14. In admiring Bal’mont’s «invention,» Blok seems to foreshadow Martin Bidney’s description of the way in which he «reimagines» Whitman.

If the opinions of the translations vary, then all would agree that the selections of poems rendered into Russian by Chukovsky and Bal’mont reflect their differing attitudes toward Whitman. Chukovsky translated all of «Song of Myself,» which Bal’mont did not even attempt. The latter, on the other hand, translated such works as «Song of the Banner at Daybreak» and «I Hear America Singing,» which are not to be found among Chukovsky’s published translations. Nonetheless, both turned to the same poems by Whitman on a sufficient number of occasions to allow for some direct comparisons. The works that both translated include «Had I the Choice,» «As Adam Early in the Morning,» «One Hour to Madness and Joy,» «This Moment Yearning and Thoughtful,» «Beat! Beat! Drums!,» «I Dreamed in a Dream,» «Europe, the 72d and 73 Years of These States,» «The Dalliance of the Eagles,» and «The City Dead-House.» To understand better the respective qualities of their translations, it will be helpful to examine closely a few such instances.

Lawrence Bogoslaw has published a chapter from his dissertation on Russian translations of Whitman in which he compares three renderings of the poem «Had I the Choice»: those by Bal’mont, Chukovsky and Marshak15. While he does not offer judgments as to the ultimate success of each translation, he makes several interesting observations. All three translators follow the basic thematic and syntactic structure of Whitman’s poem, and, like Whitman, all avoid enjambement. Bal’mont adheres most closely to Whitman’s syntax, though he does not convey the grammatical variety of the original. Each of the three turns Whitman’s basically binary rhythm (the poem is essentially written in free iambs) into ternary verse, in which two-syllable intervals between stresses predominate. Bal’mont’s rhythm is the most regular, and he translates the poem primarily in mixed ternaries; Marshak has some regular ternary lines, but conveys more of Whitman’s irregularities; while Chukovsky, who also employs a clear majority of two-stress intervals, has the least regular rhythm, but one still quite different from that of Whitman, who uses one-syllable intervals more than three-quarters of the time. Bogoslaw notes as well that Bal’mont appears to have influenced his successors, with both Chukovsky and Marshak adopting his ternary rhythm and also, it would appear, borrowing some of his phraseology. Chukovsky, then, comes closest, but less close than he might, to conveying Whitman’s rhythm, while Bal’mont seems more attuned to the syntax.

Another of the poems translated by both is «One Hour to Madness and Joy.» Below are the first nine lines of this 24-line work:

One Hour to Madness and Joy

One hour to madness and joy! O furious! O confine me not!
(What is this that frees me so in storms?
What do my shouts amid lightnings and raging winds mean?)
O to drink the mystic deliria deeper than any other man!
O savage and tender achings! (I bequeath them to you my children,
O tell them to you, for reasons, O bridegroom and bride.)
O to be yielded to you whoever you are, and you to be yielded to me in defiance
of the world!
O to return to Paradise! O bashful and feminine!
O to draw you to me,
to plant on you for the first time the lips of a determin’d man16.

Several features of this poem immediately catch the reader’s eye: the abundance of exclamation marks, the use of «O» plus infinitive at the start of four lines including the last three consecutively, the appearance of «O» at the beginning of other phrases, the pair of parenthetical asides, and the reliance on hortatory phrases rather than conventional sentences except within the parentheses. The parallelism continues throughout the poem, with at one point 12 of 13 lines beginning with an infinitive. As is usual for Whitman, the more direct the narrator’s proposition, the vaguer he is in identifying the other person, who remains an abstract entity17. Some critics find such strong assertions of feeling in Whitman less than convincing; in his striving for effect the speaker does not so much seem to be in a state of rapture as trying to enter into such a state18. A counter view holds that the heightened emotionalism of this poem conveys with special force the key themes that distinguish the «Children of Adam» cycle to which this poem belongs: a return to Eden through a celebration of the body and sexuality19. Be that as it may, the formal devices of the poem are impressive for their boldness and their complexity; the poem may be an example of Whitman’s free verse, with its lack of meter or rhyme, but it is hardly plainly written or casually organized.

Parentheses, a not infrequent device in Whitman, allow for tangential comments that imply a sense of introspection on the part of the speaker and frequently involve a change of tone20. Such is the case here, where the narrator twice breaks away from his exclamatory mode to offer brief asides. Whitman’s verse is highly rhythmic and yet not strictly metrical — indeed, he stands at the forefront of the American free verse tradition, where both meter and rhyme are generally avoided. A few features are beyond dispute in his poetry: the use of parallelisms as an organizing device, the strong tendency for syntactic and rhythmic units to coincide, the avoidance of run-on lines21. Beyond these few points, scholars have remained divided in defining the principles that underlie Whitman’s rhythm. This brief excerpt illustrates the difficulty: line lengths range from 9 to 27 syllables, while the number of syllables between stresses ranges from zero to three syllables, with the great majority consisting of one or two syllables. At times the rhythm can become regular: the second line could be interpreted as trochaic pentameter, and line nine could easily be read with a consistenly iambic rhythm. That said, these seemingly chance occurrences do not contribute to the structure nearly as much as do the parallel syntactic constructions, the use of anaphora, and the occasional alliterations. Chukovsky manages to capture a portion of this variability:

Час безумству и счастью

Час безумству и счастью! о бешеная!
дай же мне волю!
(Почему эти бури и смерчи несут мне такую свободу? Почему я кричу среди молний и разъяренных ветров?)
О, испить этот загадочный бред глубже всякого другого мужчины!
О дикие и нежные боли! (Я завещаю их вам, мои дети, Я предрекаю их вам, о новобрачные муж и жена!)
О, отдаться тебе, кто бы ни была ты, а ты чтобы мне отдалась наперекор
всей вселенной!
О, снова вернуться в рай! о женственная и застенчивая!
О, притянуть тебя близко к себе и впервые прижать к тебе настойчивые губы мужчины 22.

His seventh and ninth lines each contain 28 syllables, while the others range between 17 and 21. However, he has nothing as short as Whitman’s second line, and in general his line lengths do not fluctuate as sharply. The rhythm over the first three lines is a little too close to regular anapests, albeit the following lines move further away from syllabotonic verse. Interestingly, whereas Whitman employs many one-syllable intervals between stresses and a few zero-syllable intervals, Chukovsky prefers longer intervals. As Bogoslaw noted, while Whitman seems to base his rhythm on a binary meter, Chukovsky, perhaps in recognition of the greater average interval between stresses in Russian than in English, establishes more of a ternary foundation.

The translation exhibits word-for-word accuracy, which is somewhat easier to achieve when meter and rhyme are not involved. Chukovsky does add «смерчи» in the second line, but on the whole he resists any temptation to embellish the original. While he easily imitates the syntactic parallelisms found in Whitman, he does not quite capture the richness or the vibrancy of the language. He has no equivalent in this excerpt for the rich alliteration of line 4 («drink .…. deliria deeper»). Note too how the soft «y» sounds in line seven («yielded .…. you .…. you .…. you .…. yielded») give way to the abrupt emphasis in «d» («defiance .…. world»). While the translation offers much of Whitman, the distinctive voice is not fully there.

Bal’mont, interestingly, hardly yields to Chukovsky in terms of following the original closely:

Один час безумья и радости

Один час безумья и радости! О исступленный! Не умеряй меня!
(Что это так освобождает меня в этих бурях?
Что означают вскрики мои среди молний и бешеных ветров?)
О, испить мистических бредов глубже, чем кто бы то ни было!
О дикие и нежные боли! (я их вам завещаю, дети мои,
Я их вам возвещаю, не без причины, о жених и невеста!)
О, отдаться тебе, кто б ты ни был, и взять тебя мне отдающуюся вопреки
всему миру!
Возвратиться в Рай! О, стыдливая, женственная!
Привлечь тебя близко к себе, и впервые прижать к тебе губы мужчины,
который решителен23.

Granted, Bal’mont does not follow through on the use of «O» to open the final two lines. On the other hand, he picks up on the «for reasons» in line 6, which was omitted by Chukovsky, and he is more sensitive to varying the line lengths, making his second line noticeable shorter than the first and third, and composing an eighth line closer in length to that of Whitman. If anything, his translation seems a little tighter than Chukovsky’s. While Chukovsky’s eighth line would translate back into English as «to return again,» then Bal’mont, like Whitman, simply has «to return.» Not trying to imitate Whitman’s specific sound play, Bal’mont offers such equivalents as the echo of «завещаю» by «возвещаю The latter, by the way, while too elevated to be an equivalent to «tell,» does pick up onn the formal quality of Whitman’s «bequeath» in the previous line. Like Chukovsky, Bal’mont on average employs longer intervals between stresses than does Whitman, again likely reflecting the inherent differences between the two languages. In all, it would be difficult to conclude that Chukovsky’s translation has much to recommend it over that of Bal’mont.

While Bal’mont does not appear to have modified his translations in any significant way from the time of his first efforts, Chukovsky reworked his more than once. In the preface to «Поэзия грядующей демократии» he renounces his original, 1907 collection of translations from Whitman, going so far as to ask any reader who may possess a copy to destroy it24. As it turns out, the version in «Поэзия грядущей демократии» is still different from that which appears both in «МОЙ УИТМЕН» and in the 1982 «Листья Травы». Here are the first three lines:

Час исступления и радости

Час исступления и радости! О безумная! Дай же мне волю!
(Что это в вихрах, в бурях так освобождает меня?
О чем, отчего я кричу среди молний и лютых ветров?) 25

Tellingly, in this earlier version Chukovsky struggles somewhat, failing to pick up on Whitman’s anaphora on the repetition of «what» in lines 2 and 3, translating «furious» with the somewhat questionable «6езумная», and filling in line 3 with an extraneous «отчего». Note too that the second line hints at a borrowing from Bal’mont. This earlier translation, which would have been the rendition through which Russian readers of the 1910s and 1920s were introduced to the Whitman poem, seems to have even less a claim to superiority over that by Bal’mont.

«The Dalliance of the Eagles,» first published in 1880, is a 10-line poem consisting of a single sentence.

The Dalliance of the Eagles

Skirting the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, a straight downward falling,
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again, on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing26.

Typically for Whitman, the poem lacks enjambement, with each line containing one or more self-contained phrases. After a two-line introduction and the striking alliteration of the first words in each, Whitman goes on to provide over the next four lines a series of images, which consist essentially of just adjectives and nouns. A transition takes place over lines 7 and 8, and then the parting is described in 9 and 10. The final line, far shorter than the rest, provides a sense of closure. The poem is basically written in variable iambs, with, as is not atypical of English verse, a few two-syllable instead of one-syllable intervals between stresses (though in recitation some of these could be elided into one-syllable intervals: «amorous» / «am’rous»). The verb forms, with the exception of «pois’d,» are all participles; indeed, the poem lacks a main verb that would specify whether the action is past, present or future27. This formal feature underlies the «neutral» quality of the narration: the poet simply presents an occurrence without commentary. The focus is wholly on the act and not on the narrator’s reaction or his interpretation of it. What he describes is the fierce and power coupling of the two eagles, with the intensity of the act underscored by the participles: «rushing,» «gyrating,» «grappling,» «tumbling,» etc28. Several critics have noted the contrast between the violent scene actually depicted in the poem and the title word «dalliance,» which implies a lighthearted flirting and can also refer to the frivolous passing of time29. Although Whitman was describing birds, not people, the overt sexuality of this poem did not escape the notice of those looking out for public morals. The work was banned in Boston (more specifically, the District Attorney insisted that it and two other poems be removed from the 1881 edition of Leaves of Grass or its mailing privileges would be forfeited). In Moscow, the censorship committee initially ordered the seizure of Bal’mont’s «Побеги травы», and released it only after ordering that the «The Dalliance of the Eagles,» along with the entire «Children of Adam» section, be destroyed30. D. S. Mirsky, among others, regarded this poem as a gem of Whitman’s late years, citing it not only for its intense eroticism and its sense of equality between male and female, but also for the energy and power of its rhythm31.

Chukovsky’s translation is particularly fine at both capturing the sense of closure in the final line and at reproducing the syntactic structure of the original:

Любовная ласка орлов

Иду над рекою по краю дороги (моя утренняя прогулка, мой отдых),
Вдруг в воздухе, в небе, сдавленный клекот орлов,
Бурная любовная схватка вверху, на просторе,
Сцепленные, сжатые когти, живое бешеное колесо,
Бьющих четыре крыла, два клюва, тугое сцепление кружащейся массы,
Кувыркание, бросание, увертки, петли, прямое падение вниз,
Над рекою повисли, двое — одно, в оцепенении истомы,
Висят в равновесии недвижном, — и вот расстаются, и когти ослабли,
И в небо вздымаются вкось на медленно-мощных крылах,
Он своим,
и она своим
раздельным путем32.

Instead of Whitman’s very short final line, Chukovsky abruptly introduces a step-ladder layout to create a different yet effective means of closure. Rather than an iambic rhythm, Chukovsky essentially employs ternary verse. He vaguely mimics Whitman’s occasional extra syllables in the iambic lines by not using two-syllable intervals exclusively in his ternary lines (e.g., in the sequencе “в небе сдавленный клекот»). Like Whitman, he varies his line lengths, with a range of six to eight strong stresses per line. The sound harmony in this translation is hardly less rich than in the original; note, for instance, «рекою… краю» in line 1 or «крыла… два клюва» in line 2. Chukovsky adheres closely to the line structure of the original, paying close attention to the division of some lines into two or three parts, which form the smaller syntactic units that underscore the rhythm.

However, Chukovsky also fails to convey some key features. As Rachel Polon-sky notes, he does not reproduce the gerund that opens the poem, making the first line more prosaic and firmly rooting the scene in the present tense33. More crucially, he switches from the adjectival and noun forms that match Chukovsky’s participles over the first two-thirds of the poem to using several personal verbs in the last three lines, thereby altering a key feature of the original. Also, while no Russian word has the same cluster of meanings as «dalliance,» «Любовная ласка», while maintaining the contrast between a gentle phrase and the violence of the scene, nonetheless seems rather too specific.

At first glance Bal’mont’s translation, with its regularized line lengths and its addition of three lines to the original would appear to be a less satisfying version than Chukovsky’s:

Ласка орлов

Идя вдоль реки по дороге (это утром мой отдых, прогулка),
Я в воздухе, там ближе к небу, заглушённый услышал звук;
Внезапная ласка орлов, любовная схватка в пространстве,
Сплетение вместе высоко, сомкнутые сжатые когти,
Вращение, бешенство, ярость живого вверху колеса,
Четыре могучих крыла, два клюва, сцепление массы,
Верченье, круженье комка, разрывы его и увертки,
Прямое падение вниз, покуда, застыв над рекою,
Два вместе не стали одно, в блаженном мгновеньи затишья,
Вот, в воздухе медлят они в недвижном еще равновесии,
Разлука, и втянуты когти, и вот они, медленно, снова
На крепких и верных крылах, вкось, в разном отдельном полете,
Летят, он своею дорогой, своею дорогой она34.

The underlying meter is amphibrachic hexameter, with a strong caesura at the midpoint, dividing the line into a 3+3 structure. The amphibrachic rhythm is, as it were, «restarted» in the fourth foot, so if the word concluding the third foot is stressed on the last syllable, there is only one unstressed syllable between the third and fourth ictuses (as in line 6). The first line accentuates the parentheses by inserting an extra syllable at that point, and the second displays an irregular rhythm toward the end. In all, though, the lines largely maintain an amphibrachic rhythm. The concluding line,

with its repetition of two words, offers a certain sense of closure, but it is less powerful than Whitman’s abrupt ending. Like Chukovsky, Bal’mont uses personal verbs more than the original, most notably in the second line, where introducing the narrative «I» violates the spirit of the original. The chief problem, though, is primarily the regular line lengths; while the unrhymed hexameters echo the favored line lengths for the epic, they lose some of Whitman’s rough-hewn quality35.

Chukovsky himself would seem to have followed the Bal’mont model in certain regards. Both turn Whitman’s iambs into ternary meter, and several phrases in Chukovsky echo those of Bal’mont. Chukovsky also appears to have borrowed the title, but by adding the adjective for «love» makes it more literal and less effective. He also, unlike Bal’mont, fails to reproduce the title within the poem. In a couple of instances Bal’mont’s translations seem closer to the original: his «В… МГНОВЕНЬИ ЗАТИШЬЯ» offers a more accurate rendering of Whitman’s «a moment’s lull» than does Chukovsky’s «В … ОЦЕПЕНЕНИИ ИСТОМЫ». If in the final analysis Chukovsky’s translation is to be preferred for maintaining the structure of the original, Bal’mont’s is in many ways hardly inferior.

This poem also appears in Chukovsky’s «Поэзия грядущей демократии»; below are the opening lines:

Любовные игры орлов

Иду над рекою по дороге (это моя предобеденная прогулка),
Вдруг задавленный крик наверху,
Любовная ласка орлов,
Слияние стремительных тел в высоте,
Сцепленные сжатые когти,
Кружение, безумие, бешенство, вихр живого вверху колеса36

Interestingly, this version followed Bal’mont’s in using 13 lines rather than 10. The title offers a different approach to rendering «dalliance,» though Chukovsky then went back to something closer to Bal’mont’s title when he revised the poem. As in his early attempt at «One Hour to Madness and Joy,» Chukovsky struggles with Whitman: «6e3yMHe» is rather far from the sense of the original, the multitude of participles in Whitman does not come across fully, and the short lines do not reproduce the syntactic structure of the English. Unlike Bal’mont, Chukovsky clearly needed at least two tries in order to succeed at conveying a sense of Whitman.

Ultimately, it is necessary to agree with Gasparov: assuming that two translators are reasonably accurate in conveying the original, then a preference for one version over the other comes down as much as anything to a matter of taste and to the fashions of the day, rather than to the issue whether one translation or the other is more or less literal. One charge against Bal’mont seems true: he regularized the rhythm to a greater extent than did Chukovsky, who does a better job of conveying the rough-edged quality of Whitman’s verse. This quality was certainly important for Chukovsky’s contemporaries and may well explain the original preference for his versions. That said, Bal’mont clearly had a strong influence on Chukovsky’s

own rhythmical and lexical choices, and if anything he occasionally surpasses Chukovsky in conveying the precise tenor of Whitman’s vocabulary and stylistic levels. If the later (but not the earlier!) versions of Chukovsky translations may in some ways reflect slightly more of Whitman’s essence, the renditions by Bal’mont nonetheless have much to recommend themselves and deserve wider recognition than they have received over most of the past century.

Barry P. Scherr


1. Уитмен Уолт. Листья травы. М., 1982. С. 7—8.

2. Гаспаров М. Л. Избранные труды. Т. 2. О стихах. М., 1997. С. 128—29, 132—36, 118-19.

3. Чуковский К. И. Русская Whitmania // Весы. 1906. № 10. С. 43-45; Бальмонт К.Д. Певец личности и жизни. Уольт Уитмен// Весы. 1904. № 7; reprinted in his Белые зарницы. СПб., 1908. С. 59-84.

4. Ц[ветковская] Е. Письмо в редакцию// Весы. 1906. № 12. С. 46-51;

5. Чуковский К. И. О пользе брома// Весы. 1906. № 12. С. 52—60. While Chukovsky is insistent on the correctness of his assertions regarding Bal’mont’s word choices, Tsvetkovskaia’s comments in fact seem well taken.

6. Чуковский К.И. Поэзия грядущей демократии: Уот Уитмэн. Пг., 1918. С. 142.

Чуковский К.И. Высокое искусство. М., 1968. С. 28—29. Высокое Искусство. M., 1968. C. 28—29. As in his earlier writings, Chukovsky’s dislike for Bal’mont seems visceral. Hence he talks of Bal’mont «traitor-ously» distorting Whitman, of his seemingly being «ashamed» of the American’s crudity, of his finding Whitman’s concreteness «hateful.»

7. For details regarding the general view of Bal’mont as a translator, see my «Mirror Images:Pasternak and Bal’mont Translate Shelley,» in press.

8. Кузмин М.А. Проза и эссеистика в трех томах. Т. 3. М., 2000. С. 247.

9. Эткинд Е.Г. Поэзия и перевод. Л., 1963. С. 421.

10. Leighton L.G. Two Worlds, One Art: Literary Translation in Russia and America.

DeKalb, Illinois, 1991. P. 165-78. For a similar comparison of what are seen as Bal’mont’s weaknesses with Chukovsky’s strengths, see: Gregg L. Korney Chukovsky’s Whitman//Walt Whitman Review. 1974. Vol. 20. JS» 2, P. 50-60.

11. Bidney M. Leviathan, Yggdrasil, Earth-Titan, Eagle: Bal’mont’s Reimagining of Walt Whitman // Slavic and East European Journal. 1990. Vol. 34, JVs 2. P. 176-91.

12. Чуковский. Поэзия грядущей демократииС. 142.

13. Polonsky R. Translating Whitman, Mistranslating Bal’mont// The Slavonic and East European Review. 1997. Vol. 75, 3. P. 401-21.

14. Блок А. А. Собр. соч.: В 8 т. М.; Л., 1962. Т. 5. С. 203-04.

15. Богослав Л.Х. Тема и вариации: Сравнительный анализ одного стихотворения Уолта Уитмена и трех русских переводов // Русский стих. М., 1998. С. 180—91.

16 Whitman W. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings / Ed. Michael Moon, Sculley Bradley, and Harold Blodgett. New York, 2002. P. 91.

17. Thurin E.I. Whitman Between Impressionism and Expressionism: Language of the Body,
Language of the Soul. Lewisburg, 1995. P. 146.

18. Larsen K.C. Whitman’s Drama of Consciousness. Chicago, 1988. P. 26.

19. Barrett D.J. The Desire for Freedom: Whitman’s ‘One Hour to Madness and Joy’ // Walt Whitman Review. 1979. Vol. 25, JS» 1. P. 26-28.

20. Johnson D.J. The Effect of Suspension Dots, Par «Song of Myself» // Walt Whitman Review. 1975. Vol. 21, JVs 2. 47-57.

21. Jarvis D.R. Whitman and Spech-based Prosody. Walt Whitman Review. 1981. Vol. 27, P. 51-62.

22. Чуковский К.И. Мой Уитмен. М., 1969. С. 91.

23. Бальмонт К.Д. Из мировой поэзии. Берлин, 1921. С. 94.

24. Чуковский К.И. Поэзия грядущей демократии. С.5.

25. Чуковский К.И. Поэзия грядущей демократии. С. 114.

26. Whitman W. Leaves of Grass and Other Writings. P. 229-30.

27. French R.W. Symbolic Values in ‘The Dalliance of the Eagles’ // Walt Whitman Review.

28. White G.M. The ‘Dalliance’ of Whitman’s Eagles // Walt Whitman Review. 1979. Vol. 25.

29. Killingsworth M.J. Walt Whitman and the Earth: A Study in Ecopoetics. Iowa City

30. White G.M. The ‘Dalliance’ of Whitman’s Eagles. P. 73, Литературное Наследство.

31. Mir sky D. S. Poet of American Democracy. In: Walt Whitman Abroad / Ed. Gay Wilson Allen. Syracuse, 1955. P. 177, 179, 183.

32. Чуковский К.И. Мой Уитмен. С. 96.

33. Polonsky R. Translating Whitman, Mistranslating Bal’mont. P. 414.

34. Бальмонт К.Д. Из мировой поэзии. С. 99.

35. Bidney (p. 187) mistakenly refers to the lines as dactylic; that said, he correctly perceives the «classical majesty» of the rhythm.

36. Чуковский К.И. Поэзия грядущей демократии. С. 80.