Translating the poem "Solace"

Not much is known about Merallie, Ziga’s wife. Several of her poems have survived through the ages, though. This is one of them.

She married Ziga to keep the man she loved safe. She wasn’t unhappy in her marriage, yet never called her relationship with her husband “love”.

Why did sunset remind Merallie of her beloved man’s eyes? His eyes were the color of gold, with a tinge of orange, like a cat’s (he wasn’t human).

But the only thing that is essential to the plot here is her idea that on earth love is replaced by solace/consolation, that it’s impossible to get what you want, so you must adapt to what you are given instead and try you best to be happy.

The poem basically says this: “When I look at the sunset I remember the eyes of my beloved. I let the old feelings (the “embers”) sleep, though, because I know that it’s impossible for me to get what I want. I’d rather try my best to be content with what I have.”

Original Russian text:

Мой взгляд взывает к небесам,
Взывает к небесам.
Я вижу в отсветах зари
Любимые глаза.

Нет, не тревожь, не шевели
Углей в седой золе,
Ведь утешение любви
Замена на земле.

My translation:

My gaze calls to the sky,
Calls to the sky.
In the light of the sunset
I see the eyes of my beloved.

No, do not disturb
The embers under the grey ashes
For love is replaced by solace
On earth.

Alan's reply surprised me: "Your translation is exquisite. Absolutely exquisite. I'm not touching one syllable."

I asked him to explain how my translation is even a poem, so he did. Now I feel like I won a lottery.


Alan Jackson's comments:

Explaining poetry is like picking up water with a fork, but here goes

Stress pattern:

So we have a completed (or closed, if you prefer) pattern in the first verse, perfect for conveying the completeness, the unchanging completeness of love.

Then the second verse is an incomplete (or open) pattern, for solace is not permanent -it is there to get her through her time on Earth, and back to where the embers of love can be reawakened.

It is this very strict pattern of stressed syllables which is why the piece comes over as a poem, to me anyway.

Now look at the patterns of the light syllables: in the first verse three of the lines are almost the same length -but the first two end in strong syllables, and indeed the second line is a reiteration of part of the first -here we have a strongly closed statement, not a particular event, but a permanent state: notice that 'calls' is being conjugates a stative verb. The second two lines end in weak syllables -this is a particular event, or rather a reiterated event -it has a time: 'sunset'.

But the second verse has a first line, that should be long since it has three stresses, trimmed almost as short as it can be; the second which with two stresses should be short, is almost twice the length; then we get a pair of lines with the opposite: a long three-stress line and a short two-stress. This conflict is reinforced by the endings: strong ending -weak ending / weak ending -strong ending. The patterns of the light syllables in the second verse is that of the stresses of the first verse, twice over; but it is hidden under the main stress pattern, as embers are hidden under ash, as love is hidden under solace.

Now let's look at the rhymes -or rather, the assonances, which is what this poem uses.

The first verse is aabb -SKY rhymes with SKY (!) and sUnsET is close enough to belUvED (o for u is a scribal thing from the 1300's because in the usual script of the time uv became an incomprehensible wavy line)

The second verse is -surprise surprise -abba -distERb and ERth, ashEZ and solES arguably a bit too far apart, but I can go with it.The rhyme scheme reinforces the pattern of the light syllables, of the first verse–not the stresses! Again, because they are assonances, not true rhymes, they do not speak out –they are background, hidden under grey ashes. So we see that everything points to the first verse as the crucial one: the fixed, stable, eternal 3-2-2-3 love she feels, and which is the ember that will always glow in her -safely kept alive under the grey ashes, as the permanent, stable first verse is protected by the temporary, unstable 3-2-3-2 second verse, but the second verse accepts that secondary role in its words as it accepts it in its light syllables and its rhymes -it explains that solace conceals and protects her love only while it is here on earth, as the second verse guards and protects the first verse in earthly instability.

Complex, I agree, and the use of light syllables in this way around a strong stress pattern -very modern British! -is untypical of the other verse in the book, (partly because I find it easier to write in a stricter form);also the sentiment is much less materialistic than I would expect in your work; but hey! We’re broadminded here!

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.