Wednesday, March 16, 2011



Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд
И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.
Послушай: далёко, далёко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.

Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,
И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,
С которым равняться осмелится только луна,
Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.

Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,
И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.
Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,
Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.

Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран
Про чёрную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,
Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,
Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь кроме дождя.

И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,
Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав.
Ты плачешь? Послушай... далёко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.
Nikolai Gumilev, 1908

This evening the look in your eyes is especially sad,
And your arms are especially vine-like entwining your calf.
So listen to me: far away, on the shores of Lake Chad
There roams an exquisite giraffe.

He is gracefully slender and gifted with bliss from within,
And none on the Earth dares to equal him, only the moon
Will stencil the magical patterns that cover his skin
As it shatters and floats on the mists of a spacious lagoon.

From afar he resembles a caravel's colorful sails,
And his canter is smooth like exuberant avian flight.
I know that the earth holds a hundred miraculous tales
Of when he retires to a grotto of marble at night.

I know merry tales from mysterious lands, and a song
Of a maiden's dark cheeks, with a chieftain's desires for refrain,
But you have inhaled the dank lead of the fog for too long,
You will not believe any sound but the patter of rain.

And how will I tell you of tropical gardens all clad
In vines, slender palms, pungent grasses the wind bends in half?
You're crying? But listen to me... far away, on Lake Chad
There roams an exquisite giraffe.

Unlike the previous poem, this one has been translated many times, for example (as I just found via a Google search) by Stephen Dodson, a.k.a. language hat.  My own translation dates from November, although for some reason I hadn't posted it until now.  Apparently Dodson and I came to some startlingly similar solutions (caravel? really?)


  1. There are some remarkable similarities! Great minds, as you say. (I think Gumilev would be pleased that his poem continues to attract devoted translators.)

  2. It's a very sonorous translation, congartualtions!

    I do have a quip, though: your using of "calf" (please see ).

  3. Sorry for the garbled "congratulations" .Duh.

  4. To answer your question at LH:

    Sailing ships were still being built in 1908 and later. The barque Peking was built in 1911 in Germany for the South American nitrate trade; it is now in drydock at the South Street Seaport in Manhattan.

  5. F, I'm actually satisfied with M's comment @ languagehat on the usage of "caravel". The verse which explicitly alludes to fairytales can also allude to the legends of the grand naval voyages of the past.

    In fact Gumilev's another fav poem also mentions "паруса кораблей" and the great skippers including, of course, the Genovese Columbus - mentions precisely as if they are still at the helm right now, just as the poet speaks, in this reality which morphs into fairy tale along its far edges, "где в сумрачных рощах живут великаны".

    So I accept the caravel sails then :)

    To change subjects slightly. Anyone knows the "geologists' reply to the Giraffe", ca. 1960s? An exploration project would have had "геолого-изыскательная" in its name. So someone couldn't resist quipping and finishing a poem about a then-popular topic of geologists-romantics with the following closing lines:
    И бродит далеко-далеко на озере Чад
    Изысканный кем-то жираф

  6. This is a beautiful translation!

  7. This is indeed a fine translation of a beautiful poem. Gumilyov deserves to be better known to English readers if for nothing but this poem alone.

    I see that there are at least a couple of English editions of his poetry, one published by SUNY in 1972 and one by Anvil Press in 1999. Since this is a big year for Gumilyov (125 years since his birth, 90 since his death), I hope more readers will try to get their hands on these books.

  8. You should enter this for the Cardinal Points competition (see my comment on Jamie Olson's Ism vs Ism blog post). It's wonderful. I also very much like Languagehat's version of the same poem; but I like the fact that you haven't changed the meaning quite as much as he does. In your penultimate line, perhaps you could be even less faithful: 'by Lake Chad' instead of 'on Lake Chad', which in English seems to suggest the giraffe is potentially amphibious...