Russian songs translated by Aleks Yakubson

Here are a  few translations of Russian songs, courtesy of Aleks Yakubson. This is a surprise, since they are actual song lyrics, but they are so much fun. Aleks included the youtube (click on the titles to be directed to the videos) links as well, so take a listen if you’d like. From folk to rock, I can almost hear the masculine voices in my head. As Zhan Sagadeev says in his Good night, Brighton Beach: “It’s gonna take a while, but rest assured we will be back.”

And remember: until next year, read, write, and share your favorite translated poems.

Warm regards,

—Claudia Serea & Loren Kleinman

Black gold
by Vladimir Vysotsky

it ain’t space— we’re layers underground,
and in the mine there’s no time for celebrations
but ours is the most celestial,
yet most terrestrial among professions
here everyone is nothing short of wiz
from Hell onto the Earth we’re casting coals
we’ll grab the Devil’s horns and take away all his
most precious fuel, so none is left to heat his cauldrons

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

Yes, we ourselves are just like devils, all in dust
But ain’t no chance our train is leaving empty
We’re torturing the womb of our Mother Earth,
but bringing warmth up there on Earth is way too tempting
the sound of trollies running keeps us up
they’re scudding just like in the films about chases
and real meaning of the phrase ‘Some like it hot!’
we feel right on the skin of our rusty palms

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

And yes, we’re often in the solid gain
but we dig even deeper, for the hunger drives us
we love this job: it lets forget our souls’ pain
while we are busy digging anthracites!
Look at the crater-pitted fields, for what they’re worth
don’t you forget them, look again in ire—
but still forgive us, blessed Mother Earth
for rummaging through your soft womb’s quagmire!

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold

hey brother, don’t you worry ‘bout getting lost
and choking on the dust: you’re not alone!
Ahead and down: we’ll be men or ghosts!
We are the ones who carved this maze in stones!

Blown up, chopped up, laid in mold
Precious and reliable, Black Gold.

Not for my sake
folk song

Not for my sake will spring come back
not for my sake will river flow
and some young lass’s heart will glow
and beat with love not for my sake
and some young girl’s heart will glow
and burn with love—not for my sake

not for my sake will gardens bloom
in Pleasant Plains, a grove will rave
and nightingale’s song will pave
spring’s glorious path—not for my sake
and nightingale’s song will pave
spring’s glorious path—not for my sake

not for my sake will streams awake
their water sweet and clear as diamonds
and merry lass with black eyebrows—
she’s growing not for my sake
and one with brown beady eyes—
no, none of them is for my sake

not for my sake will Easter come
with brothers sitting at the tables
lips full of wine and ancient fables—
this pleasant life’s not for my sake
lips full of wine and ancient fables—
this pleasant life’s not for my sake

what’s for my sake, you ask?—a piece of lead,
This flesh so gentle it will pierce
and then it’ll rain with bitter tears—
if not for mine, than Heaven’s sake
perchance someone will shed a tear—
this, brother, is the fate I’ll take

Approximate warrior
by Boris Grebenshchikov

The boss of the porcelain tower
for hours is drunk on the blow
The priests are dying of hunger
and beating their drums on the plough

and he, blessed midnight dreamer
witch watches on the long thong
keeps trying his rod on somebody’s nerves
while sending to me an escort

but what’s to me all this caboodle?
I’m high on the fragrance of fish
and down by the bank, in river’s coolness
I’m building my Temple with rinds

Of such an honor i am unworthy
I’m happy that near horizon’s end,
there roams an Approximate Warrior
with bottle of port in his hand

Horses of Mayhem
by Boris Grebenshchikov

we were driving and driving, hill over hill
but an axle came off of a wheel
so we came squatting, uniforms frilled
Soldiers of Love, eyes blue and still

And they led us on some strange roads
And they led us astray, as I can see:
Behold a pale bird, eyes like curses
Well, won’t you sing me a song, bird, and maybe I’ll dance for thee

Sing bird, of the soul, the body and what stands between them
Sing of the bird that don’t sing a song
Saddle me, oh Lord, the Horses of Mayhem:
I walked Stairway to Heaven, but the path is too long

but what do I feed’em, when those horses are hungry?
What do I pour’em: for the water they not hoist?
silky manes are scented, waving and curly
Sharp are the hooves, that shoot crimson spurs

and here are all my comrades: wine with no bread,
one brother Sirin, another Savaot
and the third one wanted to walk right up to Heaven—
but shot up and down, and that’s all she wrote

oh, the birdie flew out, but didn’t get far:
got pecked by a kite, and the doves too
they harnessed and bridled for me
Horses of Mayhem—
and those horse carried me further from You

and we shot for the gold, but the colors wore thin
all the aces are ashes, no matter what you say
father mine Sergius, light of Seraphim
stars in the Sky, and snow on the way

Farewell, Strange Land
by Ilya Kormil’tsev

When i wake up, I’ll still be alone
under the grey sky of province
the lights will shine,
the eyes like the puddles,
like shingles in water,
all faded stars lie,
lie on the slimy bottom

this night, this night
is thicker than curtains of plush
scarier than wrought-iron fences
i see only myself,
everywhere meet my gaze

Farwell, oh Strange Land!
we wanted to stay, but we can’t:
we’ve gotten lighter than mist,
we’ve gotten cleaner than rain!
We will come back again,
But who will tell us then:
Farewell, oh Strange Land! Farewell.

Perhaps we came down from Heaven before,
or were born again and again
what a bitter memory, memory of that
that which will be in the end
but tires whisper at night
a comforting rave
i hear a cry in the dark:
and maybe, this is The Call

Farwell, oh Strange Land!
we wanted to stay, but we can’t:
we’ve gotten lighter than mist,
we’ve gotten cleaner than rain!
We will come back again,
But who will tell us then:
Farewell, oh Strange Land! Farewell

Good night, Brighton Beach!
by Zhan Sagadeev

Nineteen twenty, Russia’s burning
KGB’s Red Wheel is turning
Teeth to walls, pouring blood
Europe’s under a human flood
New York, darkest night
Concrete jungle, silver dreams
A band of brothers in survival fight
Odessa and The Hudson meet!

Roulette, poker and blackjack
Night hunt, hear the tires screech!
It’s gonna be so long, before we’re coming back:
Good night, my darling— BRIGHTON BEACH!

Years flew, business was good
The were pros of the highest class
Reaped the greens as fast as they could
Oil-less gas, diamonds of glass
Jemmy, the printing press
Missouri, eternal catch
Life is nothing but a piece of cake
A deck with sixteen Aces of Spades

Roulette, poker and blackjack
Night hunt, hear the tires screech!
It’s gonna take a while, but rest assured we will be back:
Good night, my darling BRIGHTON BEACH!

Aleks Yakubson, also known as ‘SpikeyApples’, was born in 1975 in Harkiv, Ukraine, and immigrated to USA in 1993, at the age of 18. Aleks feels attached to both Russian, Ukrainian, and now American and generally English speaking, as well as Jewish and Spanish cultures (as he learned the latter language in Soviet school). His main trade for years has been language translation, but he also has dabbled in acting, poetry, rock-music, freelance journalism and political punditry. He runs a blog on the web site Echo of Moscow, the leading [still] independent Russian media outlet, and makes guest appearances on the Russian Television Network of America’s programs.

Aleks considers his translation work on poetry, especially rock lyrics by Russian and some American bands, as a potentially important cultural bridge. As in the words of a song by Nastya Poleva, untranslated yet by Aleks or anyone else, “Some’ll understand, someone’ll hear, for everywhere on Earth in every head, the same wind blows” 🙂

Share

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.