Translating the poem "Across the border"

The “warrior poet” mentioned by Cold and Hot Obsidians is the main character of Book two. I wanted to give him a name with a meaning reflecting who he was, so I chose Maximilian, a name shared by a Russian poet Maximilian Voloshin and a Roman Emperor Maximilian I who was both a ruler and a warrior.
I experimented with writing about memory transfer long before GWI. Maximilian is that kind of character. His memory is composed of several cores that belonged to other people before. That makes Max ancient. But there is a catch: none of these people was older than twenty. That makes Max young. The body this ragdoll personality inhabits is that of a teenage boy. With the education he was given by the cult that raised him it is a dangerous mix indeed.
Writing poems is both an emotional outlet for the boy and a side effect of the Hot Obsidian he is wearing. Hot Obsidian, an instrument of power, is still a soothstone by nature, a very weak one, but still. Some of Max’s poems (like “The Other”) predict future events in an obscure way.

“Border” is a poem about a city Max visited (the one from Chapter 1) and a crucial moment in his life. In Russian the word “rubej” means both.

Maximilian’s crucial moment was when he got gravely injured in a battle, barely survived, and got disfigured as the result of the experimental treatment. During a long, painful recovery his personality and his goals in life changed a lot.

The main message of the poem is the awe and fear of the unknown, the future that is pictured here as a starry void beyond the mapped lands. Of course, there is no edge of the world, just more lands and seas there, so it’s just a poetic exaggeration, but emotions mean more than facts in this poem’s case.

The rhyming scheme is ABAB, where A are mostly obscure/slanted rhymes and B are usual, strong rhymes. Maybe this info will be useful.

The original Russian text:

Рубеж

За рубежом подробных
Мерцает пустота,
И днем луны печальный
Спускается туда.

За рубежом, за рубежом
Придет конец всему,
Земля там срезана ножом,
Вода бежит во тьму.

И мириады дальних звезд
Висят над этой тьмой.
Я жизнь свою сюда принес,
Здесь путь проляжет мой.

Я страшен стал, так говорят,
Смотря со стороны.
Событий вспоминаю ряд,
Как фазы у луны.

То время, где я был красив
И полон был надежд...
Когда в расцвете грёз и сил
Переступал рубеж.


My rough translation

Behind the border of detailed maps
A (starry) void is twinkling.
During the day the sad sphere of the moon
Goes down there.

Behind the border, behind the border,
Everything will end,
Earth is cut by a knife there,
Water is running down into the darkness.

Myriads of faraway stars
Shine above that darkness.
My life I brought there,
There my path will lie.

I became ugly, they say,
Looking from their point of view.
I recall the chain of events
Like the phases of the moon,

The days when I was still good looking
And full of hope…
When in the flower of my strength and dreams
I crossed the border.


Alan Jackson's comments and translation:

[This is not an easy poem to translate. The Russian uses generally closer rhymes than usual; as you point out, the second and fourth are quite strictly rhyming, the first and third assonant; but the metre is not quite as strict as usual – at least to my English ear. I wrote two versions, but you preferred the first – a looser rhyming scheme, but the metre was a little tighter, and I think it was nearer the Russian.]

Across the Border

Across the border, even the best maps
Have nothing left to say
A void where stars sleep, flickering,
The Moon’s haven by day.

Across the border, across the border –
The end. Nothing moves on.
Water drains down into darkness,
Earth is sliced off and gone.

Far off, in darkness, shining myriads
Of stars hang overhead.
I chose my path, and held to it, when
Across the border it led.

Crossing the border changed me, to them
I grew ugly, a repulsive goon –
Not all at once – in separate stages,
Measured, phased like the Moon.

The days once were when handsome I seemed!
My future filled with hope!
When at my zenith, with the strength I’d dreamed,
I crossed the border.

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