Translating "Smoky obsidian"

The third obsidian looks like a puff of smoke frozen inside a piece of volcanic glass. This artefact is similar to the first two in that it also can be used to predict future, but it cannot influence it directly and serves a different purpose: to be a prison for a human or any other sentient mind. A person can stay inside for infinite amount of time, bodiless and conscious. Smoky obsidian has no voice of its own, so in this poem it’s the artefact’s prisoner who is speaking to us. The prisoner is a former apprentice of one of the creators. In his mortal life he was a scientist who experimented with things he didn’t quite understand. The outcome of his actions was a destruction of his native city and the deaths of thousands of people. He regrets everything deeply and dreams of being free again, even if the freedom means death. He also knows that another person is about to repeat his own disastrous mistake and wants to prevent it. The tone of the poem is sad, tired, regretful, yet there’s a glint of hope in the stanza which is repeated twice (where the prisoner says that “not one, but two have finally come…”)

Things that should be preserved in the translation: - something about smoke or fog as small reference to how smoky obsidian looks
- the dead city
- the fact that it’s a human speaking to us, not the artefact itself
- how long the prisoner was waiting for help (3000 years, or just “thousands” without the number)
- the fact that he was waiting for someone to free him and finally not one, but two rescuers came
- the danger of someone repeating the mistakes of the past which led to destruction


Original Russian text:

Дымчатый обсидиан

В этом вечном дыму
Мне себя не найти никогда.
Не уча ничему,
Вечно, вечно горят города.

Тлеет память в груди,
А руины давно заросли.
Я молился: приди!..
Сразу двое – пришли...

Он все время молчит,
Этот дымчатый обсидиан,
Поглощая лучи,
Погружая в безбрежный туман.

Это я за него
С долгожданным тобой говорю.
Это я за него
В тихом пламени вечно горю.

У печального дыма
Истоков – свой истинный цвет.
В нем мое ожидание – зримо.
Три тысячи лет...

Возвратившись назад,
Я бы выбрал иные пути.
Я сумел бы сказать:
О учитель, пойми и прости...

Только их не вернуть, этих слов,
Этих дел, этих дней.
И проклятье отцов
Вновь ложится на плечи детей.

Тлеет память в груди,
А руины давно заросли.
Я молился: приди!..
Сразу двое – пришли...

19.07.2006

My rough translation:

Smoky obsidian

In this eternal smoke
I will never find myself.
Cities are burning there for eternity,
Their example not teaching anyone anything.

Embers of memory glow in my chest,
Ruins are overgrown with grass.
I prayed: come!
Not one, but two have finally come…

It is always silent,
The smoky obsidian.
It swallows all light
And drowns you in eternal fog.

I’m speaking in its stead to you,
The ones I’ve been waiting for so long.
I’m burning in its stead
In low eternal flames.

This sad smoke gives
Everything its true colour.
Makes my wait clearly visible,
All three thousand years of it.

I would have chosen a different way
If I could return back in time.
I would say: Master(teacher),
Please understand and forgive me…

But it’s not possible to reverse
All these deeds, words, and days.
So the curse of fathers
Falls onto children again.

Embers of memory glow in my chest,
Ruins are overgrown with grass.
I prayed: come!
Not one, but two have finally come.

---

Translation by Alan Jackson + his comments:

So this one is different; it is not the Obsidian itself speaking, but the soul trapped within it – trapped so long that, however he tries, his thoughts drift off to nowhere, to despairing platitudes, as the metre – he meant it to be 4 9 4 9 anapaestic, but it never quite is – as the metre drifts off to nowhere, to empty sounds, to silence. But maybe at last there is hope?

Smoky Obsidian

For ever gone
I am lost in this smoke past knowledge
Teaching no one
The cities eternally burn

The mind-fires fade
Grass has long hidden the ruins
For one I prayed
Two come at last; I am answered…

In silence trapped
In the cell of the Smoky Obsidian
Day in night wrapped,
Prisoned, drowned in its fume-darkness

I speak for it
To the coming long prayed-for, long hoped-for!
I speak for it
Through its silence, my ever-whispering flame

The smoke sheds tears
Hiding nothing, neither truth nor reality –
Three thousand years
Naked I’ve waited, displayed, powerless.
My time again?
If only! I would have chosen otherwise –
I could plead then
To my teacher: forgive, understand me.

The past is gone
And the sins of the fathers are laid
On the children.
It’s always the children who suffer.

The mind-fires fade
Grass has long hidden the ruins
For one I prayed
Two come at last; I am answered…

Jump to another poem:

About the project:
My scifi and fantasy novels have a lot of poems in them that can not be removed without destroying the plot. Alas, my English in not good enough for translating poetry. Alan Jackson helps me to translate the poems. It makes the translation of my novels possible.