Translating the "Dead man's gold"

This is another of Ziga’s poems. It’s angry, desperate. While he clearly enjoys being a pirate he understands that his life has no real meaning, that all his legacy is “dead men’s gold” that will be thrown away, forgotten, sold. It’s one of his late poems, close to the moment when he had sailed away and left all his riches behind.

Original Russian text:

Золото мертвых

Какая же польза от мертвецов?
Я расскажу вам, какая!
Золото мертвых сынов и отцов
Я, победив, забираю.

Славлю победу, славлю клинок,
Добычу богатую славлю.
Золото мертвых, как выйдет мой срок,
Тоже кому-то оставлю.

Кто-то на память возьмет, победив,
Серьги мои и монеты,
Чтобы таскать их с собою в пути,
Помня Когда-то и Где-то.

Или все то, что добыл на войне,
Я, жизнью своею рискуя,
Бросит торговцу и душу в вине
Утопит за память чужую.

My rough translation:

Dead man's gold

What use do the dead have?
I’ll tell you, what!
Gold of the dead sons and fathers
I take after I have defeated them.

I praise the victory, praise my blade,
Praise the rich loot.
After I die, the dead men’s gold
Will be my legacy.

Someone will take, having defeated me,
My earrings and coins
To carry them in his journeys
Remembering my When and Where.

Or maybe all the spoils I gathered
By risking my own life
He will throw to a merchant
To drown himself in the wine bought with my memories.


Translation by Alan Jackson + his comments:

Of all the poems so far this was the hardest to understand, and consequently the furthest from the original, because the two languages are themselves so far apart here.

Dead Man's Gold

Dead men? They’re dead! What can they achieve?
Will I hurt, or fear, or wipe my eyes on my sleeve?
They’ve no honour to sell, no more lies to tell
All dead men can do is to give me gold.

My victories yield just a moment’s joy;
My sword-arm’s strength is a child’s toy;
But the gold I gain proves I’ve not lived in vain –
At death my legacy should be my gold.

But the sea-rats will snatch it all when I am dead
All the gold I have from my chest, clothes, head,
Bleeding me white as I bleed out my life
Do you think they’ll remember it’s my gold?

Who’ll remember I was strong? Who’ll remember I was bold?
Who’ll sing my songs when my corpse is cold?
In drunken brothel-play they’ll fritter it all away
Doesn’t matter – it’s just dead man’s gold!

My comments again:

It was the "Sons/Fathers" thing that gave us the most trouble. I used "sons" and "fathers" instead of "enemies" or "foes" as a way to humanize these people and a way to show how little Ziga cares about such sentiments.

Thinking of your enemy as someone else than just an enemy (by learning his name or imagining him as someone's son/father/husband/friend) makes you empathise with him, feel like a murderer instead of a hero. In Russian version Ziga basically says: "I know they are human, someone's fathers, someone's sons, but I don't care. Why should I? When I'm dead I'll be forgotten just like them."

It worked well in Russian but didn't work in English at all.

I like Alan's solution more than my own. He made the situation clear from the start, without using obscure mind tricks.

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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.