“It cripples, does our dull emotion” (“Мы перед чувствами немеем”), Yevgeny Yevtushenko

lingua fennica

RUSSIA 1

Yevtushenko wrote this when he was twenty-three, in 1955. Describing the sclerosis of Soviet public intellectual life in this way a few years earlier would have got him into serious trouble. Perhaps the most notable feature of the poem, however, is the pessimism he displays that things can really change – only a year before the twentieth Party Congress, which promised much, but ultimately delivered little.

This was fiendishly difficult to translate. The metre is simple enough – an iambic tetrameter – but I could find no way to avoid the padding of “perforce” and “of course”. I took a considerable liberty with “snigger” – but perhaps it bears some of the sense of the cravenness of which the poem is so sharply critical.

It cripples, does our dull emotion,
we’ve learned to bury it perforce,
of art of living we’ve no notion,
the way to die eludes, of course.

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