Category Archives: Translation

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik

Terentiy Travnik and Darya Khanedany’an, Sketches to Portraits. Translated into English, Spanish and French by Julia Shuvalova and Patrick Jackson.

One of the milestone events of this year for me is a publication of a book Sketches to Portraits with the aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik and illustrations by Darya Khanedany’an.

Terentiy Travnik is a poet, artist and musician, a native Muscovite. Darya Khanedanyan was also born in Moscow into a family of artists, however her own creative career started in Spain. I took part in making the book as a literary editor, an editor of the English translation of aphorisms, and a translator into French. I also translated the opening article into English.

The pronounced Iberian facial traits is obviously a hommage to Spain; Travnik’s aphorisms retain their Russian heritage in form as in the intellectual depth. A harmonious combination of words and images is therefore all the more striking, strengthened by artistic editing by Travnik himself. The vibrant colours, ethnic rhythms and avant-garde stylisation all bring out a truly cosmic dimension in Sketches to Portraits.

The aphorisms by Terentiy Travnik deserve a special mention. One of his best-known books, A Splinter, that has seen 4 editions since it was first published in 1990s, is a collection of aphorisms that embrace practically all spheres of human life. One can note here a loyalty to the tradition of La Bruyère, Schopenhauer and other philosophers who found endless creative possibilities in the concise and succinct form of an aphorism. Ever after A Splinter Travnik’s work has been marked by the mentioned qualities (e.g. Tabulas, 49 Tabulas etc.).

Sketches to Portraits by Terentiy Travnik includes 41 aphorisms translated into English, Spanish and French languages. Great happiness matures slowly; There is a lot of grass in the field, but we can only remember the flower; Time does everything on the go; Touch the roots, and the crown will blossom; To do a foolish thing and to make a mistake are two different things; Wisdom does not take money; Education is the path from authority to truth; Treat the fatigue of the body with rest and the fatigue of the soul with work. This is but a little part of what the author invites the reader to think about. Perhaps, this openness to the dialogue is the most remarkable trait of these aphorisms. Nowadays the Internet is saturated with many an interesting and deep quote, but the most popular are those presented in a mentoring or affirmative voice. Do this; don’t do that; the meaning of that is this. Terentiy Travnik’s aphorisms, while speaking directly to the reader, don’t insist on their ultimate truth. Their deceptive simplicity disguises some really deep reflections.

Terentiy Travnik’s website

Other posts in Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose archives

Poetry: Gabriela Mistral – El Dios Triste

I much prefer the films like The Last Temptation of Christ (dir. Martin Scorsese) and The Passions of Christ (dir. Mel Gibson) for the simple fact: they divert our attention to the life of a man, rather than a semi-God. In the first film we see a man struggling with and yet still pursuing his mission of a Messiah (note the connection between the two words), and in the second film we are made to watch this man suffer with our eyes wide open – pretty much like Alex from The Clockwork Orange had his eyelids fixed open and was made to watch different atrocities in order to rethink his attitude to aggression and terror. I do think that in the official ecclesiastical “discource” far too big an emphasis is made on the performance of Jesus as a son of God, and much lesser attention is given to his life as man.

Even less attention we give to God himself. Some deny Him altogether, others await miracles. A true deus ex machina, He is expected to turn to a man’s every whim, to stop wars, to heal wounds, to grant success, to bring love, etc, etc. But what if He was not quite as we thought him to be? Can He not be tired of our whims and prayers?

This is what Gabriela Mistral, a Chilean Nobel-winning poet and feminist, contemplated in a beautiful poem El Dios Triste. The poem is set in autumn when Nature sheds colours and leaves, barring trees and earth, and washing every surface with the last rain before succumbing to the winterly sleep under the snow. But just as Huizinga imagined the European 15th century as the autumn of the Middle Ages, so does Mistral see Nature’s figurative sunset as God’s autumn. The final stanza, in which the lyrical hero abandons all demands in her sympathy for the sad God, is one of the most profound expressions of misericordia – mercy and compassion.

Gabriela Mistral – EL DIOS TRISTE

Mirando la alameda de otoño lacerada,
la alameda profunda de vejez amarilla,
como cuando camino por la hierba segada
busco el rostro de Dios y palpo su mejilla.

    Y en esta tarde lenta como una hebra de llanto
por la alameda de oro y de rojez yo siento
un Dios de otoño, un Dios sin ardor y sin canto
¡y lo conozco triste, lleno de desaliento!
    Y pienso que tal vez Aquel tremendo y fuerte
Señor, al que cantara de locura embriagada,
no existe, y que mi Padre que las mañanas vierte
tiene la mano laxa, la mejilla cansada.
    Se oye en su corazón un rumor de alameda
de otoño: el desgajarse de la suma tristeza.
Su mirada hacia mí como lágrima rueda
y esa mirada mustia me inclina la cabeza.
    Y ensayo otra plegaria para este Dios doliente,
plegaria que del polvo del mundo no ha subido:
“Padre, nada te pido, pues te miro a la frente
y eres inmenso, ¡inmenso!, pero te hallas herido”.
A beautiful Russian translation: 
Габриэла Мистраль – Грустный Бог

Под ветхий шорох осени-калеки,
где дряхлость рощ прикрыта желтизною,
я подымаю горестные веки,
и мой Господь встает перед мною.

Глухих часов медлительные слезы,
кармин листвы и золото заката.
Осенний Бог забыл псалмы и грозы,
в его глазах смятенье и утрата.

И мнится мне, что Тот, в огне и громе,
воспетый слепо, с опьяненьем страсти,
едва ли есть; да есть ли кто-то, кроме
того, кто сам нуждается в участьи!

Поблекли щеки, руки ослабели,
а в сердце — рощей стонет непогода,
туманный взгляд не достигает цели,
и нас Ему не видно с небосвода.

И я из человеческого ада
иду к Нему с молитвой небывалой:
— Верь, Отче наш, нам ничего не надо,
наш всемогущий, хрупкий и усталый!

Перевод Н.Ванханен
The poems by Gabriela Mistral have been translated into English a few times, the most recent work belonging to Ursula Le Guin. Here you can read a review of her work on the University of New Mexico’s website; and here are a few poems translated by Le Guin. A full biography can be found on The Poetry Foundation website.

Leopold Staff – The Moment

I was writing something completely different (about German Expressionist poets) when I found a website of the poet and translator Leo Yankevich. And there was this beautiful poem by the Polish Leopold Staff, translated into English by Yankevich. The poet contemplates the fleeting nature of a moment that is as difficult to grasp as the impression of a cloudy masterpiece in the sky – and just as precious.

Leopold Staff – The Moment

(transl. by Leo Yankevich)
What matter that it’s passing? That it passes?

Moments exist if only to pass by,Hardly mine, no longer anyone else’s,Like cloudy masterpieces in the sky.
And moments are replaced by moments waiting,
Always in lakes among the masterpieces
Either stars or pretty girls are bathing.
Though everything perpetually changes,