Translating the "Pirate songs"

This one is a part of a really long and merry sailor song (we don’t hear it all in the story, just the beginning) about Ziga, a legendary pirate of old. We’ll meet him later in the story as an important character and learn that these songs people sing about him hold very little truth. Still, people love them, sing them in every port, and even try to follow Ziga’s example, like one certain old pirate lady who smokes exactly the way he (supposedly) did. Zigarillas, the nasty stuff local sailors smoke, are also named after him.

The only thing here that is important to the story and should be preserved in translation is him smoking three zigarillas at once. All the other stuff you can get rid of or think up any way you like. All kinds of merry nonsense are welcome :)

Original Russian text:

Пират веселый Зига-Зига был!
Таких веселых никогда не зли!
И зигареллы знатно он курил –
Не по одной, а сразу целых три!

В зубах он их пред боем зажимал
И так погано ими он дымил,
Что враг его сознание терял
И даже о пощаде не просил!

Зига-Зига удалой!
Так и помер молодой!
Говорят, одна акула
Зигу мертвого куснула,
Ничего не поняла –
Брюхом кверху вдруг всплыла!..

My rough translation:

A merry pirate Ziga-Ziga was!
Never make such merry people angry!
He smoked three zigarillas at once,
Not one at a time, he didn’t.

He clutched them in his teeth before the battle
And so foul and nasty the smoke was
His enemies fell like flies, unconscious,
Not even having a chance to beg for mercy!

Ziga-ziga, merry man!
He died so young!
They say a shark
That tried to eat him
Went belly-up, dead,
After the first bite...


Translation by Alan Jackson + his comments:

Right, so it’s a sea song. In English tradition, that puts it in one of three categories: a shanty (or seashanty if you prefer) which is a sailor’s work-song; a song sung and enjoyed aboard ship; or a song sung in the pubs in port. Now my experience is that on the whole people in a particular job take threats to that job seriously; I know it’s a very rough generalisation, but I feel sailors take piracy too seriously to sing a song like this. So I am assuming a song landlubbers sing in the pubs and bars of ports. Do correct me, though, if I’m wrong. Admittedly a shipboard song probably would not be significantly different, probably just that it would naturally use seaman’s words more. Does the loss of reference to Ziga’s youth and untimely death matter?

Such a merry pirate Ziga-Ziga was –
Three zigarellas he would smoke at once!
Never make such a merry pirate cross!
He’ll puff it in your face and bop you on the bonce!

Ziga-Ziga pirate, ready for a fight
Three zigarellas through his teeth he’d smoke
At his enemies he’d puff and puff and puff
They’d fall over with a gasp and choke!

Shark came along, eat Ziga-Ziga quick
Three zigarellas didn’t put it off
Smoke in its belly made the shark all sick
Out pops Ziga with the shark’s last cough!

Ziga-Ziga pirate’s wrecked on a reef
Three zigarellas in his mouth all aglow
Spits out tar through his tight-clenched teeth
Hole bunged up and away they go!

Customs clipper gets a grapple on his stern
Three zigarellas on the hooks he lights
Hooks and the rope and the clipper all burn
Off Ziga-Ziga sails all right and tight!

My comments again:

Your guess about the song was spot on: it was indeed sung in a pub, by rather drunk people. So the more absurd the verses are the better. Yours are great.

I like that you kept the shark :)

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 translate the poems. It makes the translation of my novels possible.