Translating the poem "Who is it?"

Ziga had a wife. He loved her the best way such a cruel man can love anyone. Not that he saw her as an equal or valued her opinion as much as his own, but he treated her well and would certainly die or kill for her without hesitation. He wasn’t an abusive husband, but he was a jealous one.

Here he suspects that his wife (well, not wife yet, just a girlfriend at the time) is in love with someone else. If his suspicions are true it’s a death sentence for the guy.

There are no tricky things there that should necessary be preserved in the translation. The message of this poem is simple: “I see you’ve been different lately. I sense something is wrong. I think someone else is on your mind. If he is just an admirer I may let him live, but if he loves you, I’ll kill him.”

Original Russian text:

Скажи мне, отчего ты так красива?
Скажи мне, отчего ты так грустна?
За красоту земную выпью пива,
А за любовь – налью себе вина.

Скажи, о ком ты думаешь весь вечер?
Скажи, о ком грустишь, когда я сплю?
За страстный взгляд его я не замечу,
А за любовь к тебе его убью.

My rough translation:

Tell me why are you so beautiful?
Tell me why are you so sad?
I’ll drink beer for the earthly beauty,
But I’ll drink wine for the love.

Tell me, whom are you thinking about all evening?
Tell me, whom are you feeling sad about while I sleep?
If he just looks at you with passion I won’t notice him.
But if he loves you I’ll kill him.


Translation by Alan Jackson + his comments:

That's why people find mathematics hard: it's so simple it's difficult.

But if we keep it simple - something like this?

Tell me: why are you so beautiful?
Tell me: why are you so sad?
Beer’s for those who only see your beauty
Wine I drink for love.

While I sleep, who are you thinking of?
While I sleep, who makes you sad?
I’ll sheathe my sword if he just likes your beauty -
Blood I shed for love.

It really can't get much simpler. But the very last line doesn't make clear that it's the man he's likely to kill, not his wife - but I think the ambiguity is somehow more chilling than spelling it out. It is, however, your call, not mine.

My comments again:

I think we should leave the poem as is, because the whole situation is explained by Ziga's friend in the book, right below the poem itself, so we won't be left wondering whose blood was spilled in the end. Also, the symmetry there is beautiful, I wouldn't like to see it broken by additional explanations.

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.