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  CARDINAL POINTS: THE CURRENT ISSUE
Yevgeniy Sokolovskiy
FAREWELL TO THE MOUNTAINS. TRANSLATING VYSOTSKY

Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky (1938 Ц 1980), a great Soviet and Russian singer, songwriter, poet, and actor of mixed Jewish and Russian descent whose career had an immense and enduring effect on Russian culture.

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about the translator 


Song About a Friend


The succinctness and austerity of this song and the set of values advocated in it truly fascinated me. Each line ends abruptly to emphasize the fact that mountain climbers do not have time for superficialities. In a climber's world everything depends on one's own courage and the courage of one's teammates. The truth of existence is extremely transparent, your very life is at risk. Those were the major things I had to convey in my translation.
Among technical difficulties, I should mention that the poem has intricate internal rhyming: "друг - вдруг", "враг - так", "разберЄшь - хорош". Since rhyming in English is generally difficult (it is not an inflected language) and since each line of this particular poem is relatively short (not leaving much room for maneuver), to preserve its internal rhyme seemed a somewhat superhuman task. Also, I had to keep the language of the translation as concise and gutsy as that of the original. Preserving the quality of the language and, at the same time, internal rhyme was a major challenge for me.


 

               Song About a Friend


If there is someone new near you,
You don't know if he's friend or foeЕ
And you don't know with certitude
If he is any good,
Don't abandon the guy, but try,
Bring him onto your climbing team:
Let one rope join you both henceforth,
And you'll see what he's worth.
If a peak makes his spirit weak,
If dismay breaks him right away,
If when slipping on ice he cries
And his fortitude dies,
Then he is not your true friend, and
He should go away, not stay:
Taking him along would be wrong,
He is not worth a song.
If in pain he does not complain,
If he does not retreat or quit,
And, though groaning, holds you fast
When you fall off the crest;
If despite all the plights he fights,
Stands awestruck on the conquered heights,
Then you can altogether rely
On this new friend nearby!


                                                                        1966


Farewell to the Mountains


This song by Vladimir Vysotsky is so well done technically that it can stand as a poem on its own without being performed. I felt a tremendous responsibility translating it since no one, in my opinion, wrote about mountains in Russian better than the great bard. I think no one's heart can remain untouched upon hearing this song performed by Vysotsky in the famous film "Vertikal." The wonderful flow, philosophical depth, and unforgettable nostalgic sentiment of the piece were the major components I wanted to preserve in my translation.
I learned about mountains and mountain climbing from Vysotsky more than from any other source. By translating him I wanted to convey the greatness of these phenomena to the American reader. After all we, immersed in our everyday routine, do not know much about them and can expand our horizons only through art. An alternative reality stands behind every line of the poem, and I tried to conjure it up in my translation.


 

            Farewell to the Mountains


To the traffic filled streets and the mad urban life
We return - after all we have no other option! -
And, reluctant, depart from the peaks that we climbed
Overwhelmed with profound emotion.

So dismiss the disputes lacking content -
I do not vacillate any more:
Only mountains yet to be conquered
Can surpass the ones conquered before.

Who would want to be left all alone in a plight,
Who would want to resist one's innate inclination?!
Yet we have to depart from the peaks that we climbed, -
After all even gods would descend on occasion.

So dismiss the disputes lacking content -
I do not vacillate any more:
Only mountains yet to be conquered
Can surpass the ones conquered before.

How peaks conjure up, always in plenitude
Words and hopes, songs and themes tempting us to stay longer! -
Yet we leave every time for a year or for good
Since we have to return seized forever by longing.

So dismiss the disputes lacking content -
I do not vacillate any more:
Only mountains still to be conquered
Can surpass the ones conquered before.


                                                                                   1966


© Copyright  Yevgeniy Sokolovskiy
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