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Robert Burns – The Jolly Beggars. A Cantata (In Russian)

Several years ago I was presented with a CD containins all albums by the VIA Pesnyary. I shared their song Oh early on Ivan’s Day in my early blogging days. However, the tracks from Birch-tree Juice contained a true gem: the entire Jolly Beggars Cantata by Robert Burns translated into Russian by Samuil Marshak and set to music by Igor Polivoda. To mark Burns’s birthday this year, I uploaded the Cantata in full to Soundcloud. Don’t lose time to listen to this brilliant work!

RobertBurns.org tells us that

‘The Jolly Beggars’ presents difficulties in staging, because each of the characters has only one song to sing. Arrangements popular in their day were those of Sir Henry Bishop (1786 — 1855) and John More Smieton (1857 — 1904), but by far the most successful realisation is probably the stylised arrangement for four voices and chamber instrumental ensemble which Cedric Thorpe Davie made for the Scottish Festival at Braemar in 1953, and which was subsequently staged at the Edinburgh International Festival, televised, broadcast, recorded and performed in local halls throughout Scotland by the Saltire Singers and others.

I don’t know if the Russian version has ever been staged but the score ranges from a rock’n’roll tune to a ballade through some recitativos. A penultimate song is not, in fact, from the Cantata but a shortened version of Is There For Honest Poverty poem. The Cantata was originally called “Love and Liberty“, and although the mentioned website lists any number of possible inspiration sources, the lower social strata had increasingly begun to surface in the 18th c., with The Beggar’s Opera appearing in English as early as in 1728. I mentioned it before; it later became the basis for Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera. It seems quite likely that John Gay who wrote The Beggar’s Opera helped to popularise the use of the word “beggar” in the title: Merry Beggars and The Happy Beggars were also the source of inspiration for Robert Burns and no doubt influenced the choice of the name.

The tracks in the playlist follow one after another in the same order as in the English Cantata, the final track preceded by the extract from Is There For Honest Poverty.

Robert Burns – The Jolly Beggars autograph, page 1
(Courtesy of Burns Scotland)


Marshak of the Soviet Union: To Samuil Marshak’s 125th Anniversary

The famous Russian poet and translator Samuil Marshak was born on November 3, 1887. This year marks his 125th anniversary. He is particularly known to the Western audience and scholars as a translator who made Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Burns’s poetry available to the Russian readers. What is less known is his contribution to the tradition of children’s poetry in Russia, and this post will look at precisely this.

This wonderful person was once called “Marshak of the Soviet Union”. Indeed, together with Kornei Chukovsky, Agniya Barto, and Sergei Mikhalkov, he was the main children’s poet, and it would be hard to single out any one of the four. Possibly, Marshak and Chukovsky would stand apart since they had not merely drawn inspiration from the everyday life of Soviet children, but also from the endless well of world literature. And still Marshak stands out in his own right with his beautiful, melodic poems and plays in verses in which he reconstructed a magical world of childhood.

So below are links to the previous posts on this blog where Marshak work featured, as well as several books from my home library.

Samuil Marshak – In the Van (Translated into English by Margaret Wettlin)

Samuil Marshak – In the Vanhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/112006657/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-ers0x51nvdfhbimrcwm

Marshak’s translation of Love and Poverty poem by Robert Burns that became a famous song in the Soviet adaptation of Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas.

Another translation of Robert Burns, this time The Little Black Boy.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s House (in Russian)
A beautiful fairy tale about the feline couple who once declined taking two orphaned kittens in the house. Then their house burnt down, and they had to look for shelter which they found with the kittens. A story of compassion, friendship, and the need of the family.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s Househttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/112003690/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23svg11wypfstk1r6vlv

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knows (English translation by Peter Tempest)
A poetisation of the Soviet youth: a “hero” is a guy who acts according to circumstances, saving people, and shuns recognition.

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knowshttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/109381612/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23wg5v69dcb3cntk2xa7

Samuil Marshak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreaux (French translation by Catherine Emery) 
Short poems about animal cubs.

Samuil Marchak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreauxhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/106628764/content?start_page=1&view_mode=book&access_key=key-23nd2yiojs9xoi4nxxe


Monday Verses: William Blake – The Little Black Boy

Jack, the first Black Boy in Wales

The poem below is part of Blake’s cycle of poems, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, shewing the two contrary states of the human soul. To judge by an article by Lisa Kozlowski, The Little Black Boy is one of the most commented and yet least easy-to-understand works by William Blake. I recommend you read the article. Unfortunately, I have little idea of how the criticism progressed after 1995.

“Little Black Boys” were no strange thing in Britain in Blake’s time. In fact, a lovely pub in Caernarfon is called “The Black Boy” and is said to commemorate the first Negro on the Welsh shore. His name was Jack, he was brought from Africa to Wales in 18th c., eventually married a Welsh girl and fathered 7 children. A plaque on the wall narrates the story, and the guest house and pub are just a short walk away from the entrance to Caernarfon Castle.

P. P. Rubens, Four studies for a head of a Negro

The first stanza of Blake’s poem, perhaps unintentionally, harks back to the 16-17th cc. discourse about whether or not native Americans or Negroes had had a soul. By Blake’s time, of course, the existence of soul was proved, and hence the poet indicates that, whatever the colour of skin, the soul is always white. And yet it is the white English child who certainly appears to possess a soul, whereas a black boy seems “bereaved of light”.

The idea is further explored in mother’s lines, where the colour of skin is called “a cloud”. Technically, whereas for a black boy and his black mother “a cloud” serves as “a shady grove”, it has a deeper meaning, too: it is a cloak that conceals the true, “white” substance of a person, his or her soul.

Albrecht Durer, Head of a Negro (1508)

Still, the little English boy is not so well prepared “to bear the beams of love“, and our black boy plans to shield him until he learns “to lean in joy upon our Father’s knee“. The last two lines, however, unambiguously suggest that presently the little black boy is disliked by the English boy. His wish, therefore, is to get to that moment in Paradise when the two meet, and the English boy can see that both of them are “white”, and will then love the black boy.

I guess my question regarding the discussion of the poem would concern the “colour” of scholarship. If we propose that a grown-up “English boy” knows his cultural context and can place the poem in it, how about a grown-up “little Black boy”? What would be his agenda for analysing this poem of William Blake?

William Blake – The Little Black Boy (from Songs of Innocence)


A Negro Minstrel (1720s), Erddig Hall, Wrexham







My mother bore me in the southern wild,

And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
Whilst as an angel is the English child,
But I am black, as if bereav’d of light.

My mother taught me underneath a tree,
And, sitting down before the heat of day,
She took me on her lap and kissed me,
And, pointing to the east, began to say:

‘Look on the rising sun, – there God does live,
And gives His light, and gives his Heat away;
And flowers and trees and beasts and men receive
Comfort in morning, joy in the noonday.

‘And we are put on earth a little space,

Francis Williams, A Negro Scholar of Jamaica (1754)

That we may learn to bear the beams of love;
And these black bodies and the sunburnt face
Is but a cloud, and like a shady grove.

‘For when our souls have learn’d the heat to bear,
The cloud will vanish; we shall hear His voice,
Saying: “Come out from the grove, My love and care,
And round My golden tent like lambs rejoice”.’

Thus did my mother say, and kissed me;
And thus I say to little English boy.
When I from black and he from white could free,
And round the tent of God like lambs we joy,

I’ll shade him from the heat, till he can bear
To lean in joy upon our Father’s knee;
And then I’ll stand and stroke his silver hair,
And be like him, and he will then love me.

Samuil Marshak – In the Van (My Children’s Book and Notes on Translation)

The scans in this post are of the book that was published by Progress Publishing House in 1982. That’s how long – as long as I live – I’ve been learning the English language.
In hindsight, this was also my first acquaintance with the art of translation because in the book is the poem by the famous Russian poet and translator, Samuil Marshak. I have previously shared with you his superb rendering of Love and Poverty by Robert Burns. Now, this is another way round: Marshak’s poem, In the Van, translated into English by Margaret Wettlin.
Before you jump to read the original Russian text and to look at the book which leaves I had been turning with my tiny fingers at the age of 2, a few observations on translation, or rather, on what was added and what was lost. In the poem, Marshak didn’t name a street; the street name appears in the translation. And later in the poem, we are told that the lady went to Zhitomir, which is a city in the north-west of Ukraine. However, translation tells us that the city was “in southern Ukraine”. And while the street name hardly matters, the part of Ukraine does. The poem was written in 1926 and evidently tells the story of an affluent woman fleeing Soviet Russia. Marshak most likely was reflecting on an incident that took place in the not too distant past. While the so-called White Emigration was leaving for Sourthen Europe and America via the Crimea (which is, indeed, in the south of Ukraine), a large part was also fleeing to Northern Europe, via northern parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries. Thus the fate of the lady may differ, depending on which way she exited the Ukraine.
To use the final two lines of the poem as the pun, in the course of her journey from the Russian language to English, the lady in the van could have changed her opinion, and go to the Crimea instead of Zhitomir.
Самуил Маршак – Багаж (1926)

Дама сдавала в багаж:
И маленькую собачонку.

Выдали даме на станции
Четыре зелёных квитанции
О том, что получен багаж:
И маленькая собачонка.

Вещи везут на перрон.
Кидают в открытый вагон.
Готово. Уложен багаж:
И маленькая собачонка.

Но только раздался звонок,
Удрал из вагона щенок.

Хватились на станции Дно:
Потеряно место одно.
В испуге считают багаж:
– Товарищи!
Где собачонка?

Вдруг видят: стоит у колёс
Огромный взъерошенный пёс.
Поймали его – и в багаж,
Туда, где лежал саквояж,
Где прежде была собачонка.

Приехали в город Житомир.
Носильщик пятнадцатый номер
Везёт на тележке багаж:
А сзади ведут собачонку.

Собака-то как зарычит.
А барыня как закричит:
– Разбойники! Воры! Уроды!
Собака – не той породы!

Швырнула она чемодан,
Ногой отпихнула диван,
– Отдайте мою собачонку!

– Позвольте, мамаша. На станции,
Согласно багажной квитанции,
От вас получили багаж:
И маленькую собачонку.

За время пути
Могла подрасти!

To your convenience, here is a full scanned version of the English text (on Scribd) AND ALSO something completely different – a rather irreverent and somewhat provocative 1996 illustrated Russian edition of the same poem. Enjoy and share your thoughts!



A Brazilian Popular Song, Love and Poverty, To Robert Burns’s Lyrics

I have noticed over the years that, unless someone who lives abroad is a serious Cinema student, Russian (and Soviet, especially) films are largely unknown in the West. Films by Andrei Tarkovsky will be known because a few of them were made when Tarkovsky had emigrated, and can be compared to films by the nouvelle vague directors. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson couldn’t remain unnoticed, given the worldwide popularity of the sleuth’s character. Hamlet by Kosintzev is once again a part of the global fascination with Shakerspeare’s tragedy. The Cranes Are Flying by Kalatozov had won a Palm d’Or at Cannes; War and Peace by Sergei Bondarchuk, Moscow Doesn’t Trust Tears by Vladimir Menshov, and Burnt by the Sun by Nikita Mikhalkov, had all won Oscars as Best Foreign Films. Yet a massive number of films made in Russia and Soviet Union remain behind the language barrier.

What may not be known, or fully realised, is that, in spite of the “Iron Curtain” hanging, Soviet directors managed to adapt foreign authors to screen. This was one of the reasons why, during the release of 2006 version of Quiet Flows the Don, I couldn’t understand or agree with the negative attitude to “foreigners” who were playing “Russians”. Russians had played so many foreigners, with good taste, too, that it only made sense to give “aliens” a chance to prove themselves. If not adapting the actual foreign classics, Russian directors were nevertheless attracted to foreign culture, and I’d hope to show, how they managed.

One more undeniably unique trait of Russian cinema of all times is a song. It could be a single, or a series of songs, but on many occasions it was an important component in the film. Clearly understanding the metaphoric, figurative nature of a song, directors and editors used the existing, or commissioned new, songs to highlight a certain idea.

The extract below is from one of the best-loved Soviet comedies, made by Viktor Titov, Hello, I’m Your Aunt! It is a version of a hit farce Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas. The play was a hit in England where it was originally performed, and was subsequently staged and adapted internationally. What you will see in the video, is a complete improvisation, led by Alexander Kalyagin who these days runs his own theatre company, Et Cetera. The music by Vladislav Kazenin was written to the poem by Robert Burns (translated by Samuel Marshak); the original text by Burns is after the video. One thing Samuel Marshak, one of the best Russian translators, was often able to do was to preserve the original metric style of the poem. Therefore, if you want you may try and sing Burns’s original poem to Kazenin’s music.

O poortith cauld, and restless love,
Ye wrack my peace between ye;
Yet poortith a’ I could forgive,
An ’twere na for my Jeanie.
O why should Fate sic pleasure have,
Life’s dearest bands untwining?
Or why sae sweet a flower as love
Depend on Fortune’s shining?

The warld’s wealth, when I think on,
It’s pride and a’ the lave o’t;
O fie on silly coward man,
That he should be the slave o’t!
Her e’en, sae bonie blue, betray
How she repays my passion;
But prudence is her o’erword aye,
She talks o’ rank and fashion.

O wha can prudence think upon,
And sic a lassie by him?
O wha can prudence think upon,
And sae in love as I am?
How blest the simple cotter’s fate!
He woos his artless dearie;
The silly bogles, wealth and state,
Can never make him eerie,

error: Sorry, no copying !!