William Shakespeare: the difficulty of translating sonnets into Russian

    Caution: linguistic longrid!

    Translation of literary texts from one language to another is already a difficult task. But truly hardcore translators do not work with prose, but with poems. This is where the personal devil of every linguist lies.

    In terms of difficulty, translating verses from 10 points gets 11. After all, in order to translate a poetic work well, you need to combine in the final version a number of factors:

    • Accurate transfer of meaning . Poems for the most part are metaphorical works with a large number of epithets and parables. The translator must not only understand the essence of the work, but also accurately convey it using similar or similar literary techniques.
    • Rhyming . The translator needs to pick up non-trivial rhymes that accurately convey the intonation of the poem. But you should avoid rhymes like verbs in the infinitive or repetition of rhymed words.
    • Poetic size and rhythm . Ideally, the translation should have the same verse size as the original, up to the number of syllables in a line and accents. But in practice it is extremely difficult, and sometimes completely unreal. Therefore, translators are guided by similar rhythmic patterns. If the original iambic, then the translation should be iambic.
    • Stylistics . Each poet has his own style of writing poetry. It is expressed in the frequent use of any recognizable constructions or vocabulary, speech turns. The most difficult thing is that even a good semantic translation may not convey the style of the original.

    The result should be a work that completely conveys the spirit and idea of ​​the original. Therefore, translation of poems is often considered a much more complicated process than even writing them.

    Often linguistic features do not allow preserving the form of the poem during translation due to the banal lack of direct correspondence between metaphorical constructions and poetic metrics.

    One of the most difficult poets to translate from English is considered to be William Shakespeare. And all because in his works he used more than 20,000 lexical items. At the same time, the poet captured all the stylistic layers of the language: from commonplace expressions to sublime aristocratic speech. Moreover, Shakespeare actively created neologisms using words from French and German.

    Most often, translators try their hand at Shakespeare's sonnets. They combine small size and high metaphoricity, so they allow you to experiment without excessive time and effort.
    Shakespeare's Sonnets is 154 poems written by William Shakespeare from 1592 to 1599. The whole cycle of sonnets is divided into separate groups by subject, the main of which are friendship, chanting of the beloved and love as a feeling.

    The poetic form of the sonnet belongs to the strict forms. It consists of 14 lines, which are divided into two quatrains (quatrains) and two tertsets (three steps).

    Most often, sonnets use rhymes of the ring (abb) or cross (abab) types.
    The strict form of sonnets is another feature that complicates translation. But this does not stop the translators, who over and over again try to more accurately convey the meaning and spirit of the poems.

    In the article we will consider only one sonnet and four variants of translations to it, we will compare the flow and methods of transmitting meanings of different translators. We will leave the assessment, which translation is better and more harmonious, because it is a matter of taste.

    Sonnet 130: a parody of a woman's sublime odes

    For a detailed analysis, we took the sonnet 130. It is slightly different from the sonnets, which sing the beauty of the beloved, because all comparisons here are built “from the opposite.”

    Below we give the text of the sonnet with direct line-by-line translation:

    Features of the work

    The literal translation basically reveals the meaning of the work. Shakespeare writes that his beloved is no better than other women, but she is still not inferior to those who are told false compliments.

    There are several specific points in the original that need to be further clarified. In the text we denoted them by numbers.

    1. Breasts are dun. Firstly, the poet uses the plural of the word “breast”, which makes it more rough and refers specifically to the female breasts, and not to the breast as a whole as part of the body. Secondly, “dun” is a more rigid synonym for the word “dark”, which translates as “dirty gray” or “brown”. Already with this he emphasizes the satirical character of the sonnet - and for our contemporaries, it seems to be the whole thing.
    2. If hairs be wires. Here we have in mind not iron or steel wire, but jewelry - gold or silver, which decorated items made of precious metals, as well as objects of art. Comparison of female hair with wire was very popular in the Middle Ages. Although the "black wires" further hints that the poet compares his beloved hair with iron wire.
    3. Damasked roses. The phrase has several meanings at once. Damask roses were called embroidered roses on fabrics, as well as etched ornaments on blades of daggers and Damascus steel swords. Because of this, the comparison also becomes rude, because the author does not see even such harsh roses on the face of his beloved.
    4. My mistress reeks. Extremely rough line, because “to reek” means “stink”, “produce an unpleasant smell”. Even in a metaphorical form, the phrase is clearly perceived as offensive.
    5. Rare. Here the word does not mean "rare", but is synonymous with "precious", that is, "precious."
    6. Belied. Very subtle play of words, because the word can be translated as “slandered” and “laid” (in the sense of “seduced”). The last line is a thin banter over the “sublime compliments” that medieval poets of girls and women liked to throw to drag them to bed. Some linguists believe that here Shakespeare frankly trolls Petrarch and his sonnets, but this is just one of the hypotheses that are impossible to prove or disprove.

    Translations of the sonnet 130 into Russian

    With the nuances of the work figured out, now it is time to translate. There are about 50 translations of this sonnet, which are recognized in literary circles.

    The translators broke up into 2 large groups:

    • The former conveyed the lyrical mood of the poem through metaphors and comparisons, but without the rudeness inherent in the original sonnet.
    • The second tried to copy the satirical character of the work, using similar unflattering comparisons and rudeness, which is in the original.

    We will analyze two translations from each group. The translations of S. Marshak and N. Gerbel are lyrical, and the variations of R. Vinonen and I. Fradkin are satirical.

    Once again, we will not determine which translations are better - this is a matter of taste. We will analyze them, examining the accuracy of correspondences, the harmoniousness of phrases and the general transmission of the meaning of the original.

    Translation by S. Marshak

    Her eyes do not look like stars.
    It’s impossible to call corals on the mouth,
    Skin does not have snow-white shoulders,
    And strand twists around with black wire.

    With Damask rose, scarlet or white,
    You can not compare the shade of these cheeks.
    And the body smells like the body smells,
    Not like violets a delicate petal.

    You will not find perfect lines in it,
    Special light on the brow.
    I do not know how the goddess march,
    But my dear steps on the earth.

    And yet it will concede to those
    Who, in comparison, magnificent slandered.
    In the literary environment is considered one of the most successful translations. In the version of Marshak there are many epithets (“snow-white skin”, “Damascus rose”, “delicate petal”, “perfect lines”), which add color and richness to the work.

    In mood and transmission of secondary meanings, it is very different from the original. Marshak softened Shakespeare’s original harsh and crude metaphors. As a result, the original message “my beloved is not at all beautiful” turns into “my beloved is specifically beautiful.” The difference is small, but the tone of the work is changed.

    Marshak uses sublime vocabulary - “mouth”, “forehead”, “parade”, “steps”, which rather accurately conveys the style of the original sonnet, in which lexical structures that are obsolete today are widely present.

    For accuracy of transmission and improvement of harmoniousness, Marshak uses an inversion technique - rearrangements of individual components. Consider this in more detail in two examples.

    Original: My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun. The

    rules of the Russian language allow you to rearrange the semantic parts of the sentence, which helps preserve the rhythm and harmony.

    Similarly, in the second example:

    Original: I grant

    Inversion allows you to achieve more accurate matches in rhythm and well supports the lyrical mood of the poem.

    Now about the accuracy and consistency of phrases.

    A series of phrases absolutely accurately conveys the phrases of the original: a comparison of hair with wire, the color of cheeks with roses, the gait of the goddess with the mundane steps of his beloved.

    In some phrases, the translator uses substitution within the meaning. "Breath" turns into a "body", while Marshak uses a neutral "smell" instead of the original coarse "reek" ("stinks").

    There is no comparison of voice with music. Instead, the lines “You will not find perfect lines in it, Special light on the brow” appear .

    In general, Marshak well conveyed the message of Shakespeare, in which the real beauty of a woman is opposed to unattainable ideals. However, compared to the original, the translation is softer and more emotionally neutral, with no hard epithets or metaphors.

    Total, for the translation of Marshak are:

    • artistic epithets;
    • the use of sublime vocabulary;
    • inversion of individual phrases;
    • softening the original sonnet feed and replacing rude words and comparisons with neutral counterparts.

    Translation by N. Gerbel

    My love does not look like the sun in the face,
    Corals are brighter than its lips are burning,
    When the snow is white, the beautiful breast is not similar to it,
    And her hair is silk - she does not have a cascade.

    I have seen a lot of roses, strictly kept in the gardens,
    But they don’t have the same kind on their cheeks,
    And there is a lot of best incense around,
    Than what lies on her lips.

    I love to babble to listen to her, but I know that the
    music sounds better and more tender,
    And I can’t pripravnya to the step of the goddesses.
    It is quite my earthly steps my beloved.

    And yet for me she is a hundred times nicer
    All those whom it would be possible to compare with her.
    Immediately struck by the changed number of syllables in the lines, because of which the rhythm of the poem changes. In the original, the lines consist of 10-11 syllables, in the translation of Gerbel - 12-13. It does not harm quality, but the design of the verse has been changed.

    Gerbel does not use pronounced metaphors and epithets that relate to the description of the appearance of his beloved. In general, the vocabulary of verse is mundane and even colloquially spoken, which underlines the reverent attitude to a woman. All the epithets in verse are fairly simple: “sweet,” “best,” “beautiful.”

    Like Marshak, Gerbel also uses an inversion technique, but in translation uses it more voluntarily. The poem rather conveys the "spirit", but not the "letter" of the original.

    Gerbel widely uses the translation "by contradiction." Shakespeare compares the hair of his beloved with wire, but in the version of Gerbel - silk. The decision is controversial and somewhat clumsy, because it uses the rarely used and incoherent form of the pronoun "she" - "her."

    Herbel also uses polysindeton - the repetition of alliances in a sentence between homogeneous members. The reception increases the emotional background of the poem and focuses attention on the enumeration of the merits (they are also disadvantages) of the heroine.

    That the music sounds and the better and more tender,
    and not to tread prirovnyat goddesses.

    As for rhyming, rhymes are very simple, sometimes even unnecessary. "It seems" - "similar", "many" - "strictly." Therefore, the style of translation is very far from the original, in which rhymes can not be called banal or common.

    In addition, Gerbel also replaced all the sharp phrases of the original. Gerbel replaced the hardest statement for neutral, removing all negative:

    And there is a lot of best incense around,
    Than the fact that her mouth will rest.

    Total for the transfer of Gerbel characteristic:

    • simple epithets and their small amount;
    • the use of ordinary and close to colloquial vocabulary;
    • polysindeton;
    • inversion of individual phrases;
    • simplified style and rhyme;
    • softening the original sonnet feed and replacing coarse phrases and phrases with neutral counterparts.

    Translation by R. Vinonen

    There are no stars in the pupils of my woman,
    Ruby is redder than that of my beloved lip,
    And her chest is, of course, brown,
    Than the snow. And naughty hair is coarse.

    I did not notice the Damascus roses,
    That they bloom in others on their faces,
    Yes, and perfume, if seriously, It is
    unlikely that sweat is suitable in comparison.

    And she is not talking like a pipe,
    Not angelic on clay puts his foot ...
    And yet from her woman

    I come to delight. And thank God:
    My love - now there are no such people - Clean from poetic slander.
    Vinonen tried to fully convey the mood and style of Shakespeare's sonnet 130. Compared with the lyric translations, it sounds much rougher. Vinonen only partially alleviates some harsh expressions, but in general satirical and stebnom mood conveys.

    In the first line, instead of the original “eyes” (eyes), he uses a rougher “pupils”. Further, the phrase “... It is unlikely that sweat is good in comparison” can be considered very tough.

    In general, the poem creates the satirical effect that the original has, without rassusolivaniy and admiration.

    At the same time, the translation is quite expressive, because Vinonen uses the well-established phrases “thank God”, “I get excited”, which add emotion. But in reality, the attitude towards a woman, with all its flaws, is conveyed by the last four lines.

    According to the original there are flaws. Vinonen quite freely makes the permutations of phrases, reducing or lengthening individual turns.

    For example, the two lines “I love him hear it, yet I know what it’s like far more pleasing sound” fit him into one - “And it doesn’t lead like a pipe” . This knocked down the form because of what the completion, where the author expresses his love to the woman, stretched 4 lines instead of 2 original.

    Total for translation Vinonen characteristic are:

    • too loose attitude to the original rhythm and syllable;
    • good transfer of a mixture of irony and satire, which is in the original;
    • use of introductory constructions and common expressions.

    Translation by I. Fradkin

    Unfortunately, the photo literary we did not find. So here's Shakespeare with glasses.

    The eyes got, not the stars to her,
    And the lips do not resemble corals,
    Blacken with a wire sheaf of curls,
    And the chest is dark - the skin is not snow-white.

    Cheeks are common, and she thinks to
    compare them with a rose of white or scarlet,
    And a spirit that is so strong from the body that it will score The
    simple smells of the earth, perhaps.

    More dear than other sweet talk,
    Though it sounds melodiously hardly,
    And the tramp of sweet earthly girlish legs.

    Let such goddesses never see,
    I swear, she is not worse than those she said,
    What a liar he lifted up to put more faithfully.
    Fradkin also tried to convey the ironic mood of the original sonnet. The style, though slightly relaxed, when compared with the original, rather accurately conveys the message of the sonnet.

    Rough and deliberately simple expressions describe the shortcomings of a woman: "sheaf of curls," "cheeks are common," and "the chest is dark." But at the same time, the author conveys well the feelings that the author feels: “To dearer than other sweet talk,” “And the tramp of lovely earthly girlish legs.”

    The accuracy of the translation is quite high, even though Fradkin rearranges the lines of the original - like 3 and 4 or 5 and 6. The statement itself is quite free, but only one moment is doubtful - “to her” in the penultimate stanza. Apparently, the translator simply could not find a decent rhyme to a successful last line.

    Fradkin also actively uses inversion. As far as we have noticed, this is a popular trick to smooth out the rough edges of the original sonnets and a little trick that allows you to rhyme verbs, not nouns.

    The translator conveyed the irony of the works and skillfully walked around the “inconvenient places” with unflattering epithets. He gave rude expressions with caustic phrases, but avoided insults.

    For example, the phrase “And such a spirit from the body that scores Simple smells of the earth, perhaps,” sounds rough, but not as rough as the original.

    Total for the transfer of Fradkin characteristic:

    • use of deliberately simple phrases
    • inversion of individual phrases and even strings;
    • the irony and satire of the original is faithfully conveyed;
    • excellent contrast between the description of the shortcomings and the declaration of love.


    We emphasize once again that the well-known translations of only a sonnet 130 are more than fifty. With all the desire we could not consider everything - it already pulls on a small monograph on linguistics.

    As you can see, the styles and methods of translation are very different, because Shakespeare's sonnets are difficult to translate. Translators get out as they can. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

    If you do not associate with the original, all versions are interesting and original in their own way.

    But still, the perfect translation of the poem, which completely conveys the meaning, subtext and mood, is simply unattainable. Literary critics agree with this, but each of us has our own opinion.

    What translation of 130 sonnets do you like better? Write in the comments.

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