Attending any conference on Robert Burns has always been a treat for me.
Attending an international conference in Scotland is indeed a rare treat.
Susan and I were able to do just that on January 15th
when we visited the University of Glasgow to participate in a one-day
conference hosted by The Centre for Robert Burns Studies entitled Burns
and Beyond. There were only six speakers and yours truly was lucky
enough to be invited as one of them. We heard some great presentations with
outstanding messages about Burns. One of the best, if not, in my opinion,
the best, was Dr. Natalia Kaloh Vid, who has a PhD from the University of
Maribor, Slovenia. Her speech on Robert Burns and Russia was mesmerizing.
like to observe audiences for their interest or lack thereof when others
speak. It helps me be a better speaker. Suffice it to say that there was no
apparent disinterest in Dr. Vids talk! No one went to sleep. Everyone was
captivated, and more than one person put down their pens, as I did, to enjoy
her very informative and interesting presentation. Dr. Vid is an authority
on Burns and the Russian people, and she has a particular message on Burns
that needs to be heard by Burnsians around the globe.
During a break in the program, I congratulated her on her speech and asked
if she would submit an article for the pages of Robert Burns Lives!
for our readers to enjoy. She readily agreed and responded, I will be glad
to help you with your work on Burns. In reply to an email regarding her
article for these pages, Natalia mentioned she was very glad that you and
Susan enjoyed my talk and I am honored to receive such a response from you.
I enjoy doing my research very much and I also enjoy speaking about it. It
is very important for me to hear from other people that it was clear and
interesting. She went on to say she was attaching one of my Burns
articles. It has not been published in this form yet, even though some of
the examples appeared in earlier articles. In my last communication with
her just yesterday, Natalia wrote, Its a great pleasure and honor for me
to contribute to Robert Burns Lives! but I must say to her that the
honor and pleasure is mine!
With this essay on Robert Burns and the Soviet Union, our website takes an
exciting and different turn by going more international in scope. But Burns
does that to people. Personally, I have always been mystified by the
relationship of Russia and the Bard, a love affair that has continued for
decades. Thirty years ago we had an opportunity to go to the Soviet Union to
attend the Olympic Games, but then President Jimmy Carter, in his infinite
wisdom, crushed that dream when he cancelled Americas participation in the
events. Our trip to Russia vanished as did the dreams of hundreds of our
nations youth who had trained for a lifetime to be Olympic participants
that year. Ah, politics, dont you love those who pontificate on our behalf!
It is a distinct privilege to welcome Dr. Natalia Kaloh Vid to the pages of
Robert Burns Lives! (FRS: 2.9.11)
IDEOLOGICAL ADAPTATION OF ROBERT BURNS IN THE
SOVIET UNION By Dr. Natalia Kaloh Vid (Slovenia, University of Maribor, Faculty of
This paper focuses on ideological adaptation of
Robert Burnss translations in the Soviet Union which underwent numerous
adaptations and changes caused by editorial politics and the overwhelming
influence of ideology on literary production.
Ideological influence does not contradict the
essence of literature until the moment it starts to dominate literary
context or to intentionally direct a reader to ideological doctrines.
Unfortunately, ideological dominance was one of the main criteria that
defined translation process in the former Soviet Union where the
totalitarian regime was established shortly after the October Revolution of
1917. Literary production, including translations, was subordinated to the
state, occupying a formal place in the official culture of the Soviet era.
Its propagandistic role was to educate people in the goals and meaning of
communism. Generally speaking, everything that did not fall under the
officially accepted program of socialist realism, a style of realistic art
adapted by the Soviet state in 1934 as a standard, was forbidden. Among
others, one of the most important aims of this program was to introduce the
foreign authors to Soviet people as exponents of the communist regime and
offer them newly adapted interpretations of famous literary works1.
Writers biographies and their literary works were adapted and even changed
according to this new scheme. Those works which could not be properly
adapted were put on a black list and forbidden.
Henceforth, literature and the arts lost some of
their public identification with civil society and gained a formal place in
the official culture of the Soviet era. As a result, the whole translation
process in the Soviet Union differed greatly from that in democratic
societies. It was inevitably influenced by an institution of censorship and
strict centralization. Writers and translators had to accept the
metamorphosis of public discourse itself and were forced to work under
strong pressure from the soviet communist regime. There was no longer any
way within the public discourse to represent (or even imagine) a writer who
was not an enthusiastic supporter of the system.
Robert Burns was no exception. His poetry was
also changed and adapted according to the newly established ideological
demands. Translations of Robert Burns perfectly exemplify how ideology is
compromised in literary translation for several reasons:
- Burnss poems were translated by one of the
best known and most talented translators in the Soviet Union, Samuel Marshak;
- Marshaks translations of Burns have remained
popular for more than sixty years. They are still considered to be the best
translations of Robert Burnss poetry into Russian;
- Marshaks translations offer a clear picture
of ideological deformation of literary texts.
Samuil Marshak (1887-1964), a famous dramatist,
a successful poet, political satirist and state propagandist, magazine
editor, author of children's books and a close friend of Gorky became the
only official translator of Burnss poetry in the Soviet Union. He was one
of the few Soviet translators educated abroad, at the University of London.
In England Marshak studied not only philosophy and English language but also
Scottish dialects, traveling around the country and collecting Scottish folk
ballads and songs. He returned to Russia two years later, in 1914, and
devoted himself to translations. Besides Burns, he translated William Blake,
Rudyard Kipling and William Shakespeare.
started his work on Robert Burnss poetry in 1930, and his first book was
published shortly after the end of the Second World War, in 1947. Burnss
poetry, as well as Shakespeares sonnets3,
became his life task, to which he devoted twenty years of hard work. In
fact, Marshak continued to translate Burns poetry until his death in 1964.
The last book of Burns translations, published after Marshaks death,
contained 215 poems4
and has remained the most extensive summary made in the Russian language
until the present time.
The most important features of Marshaks
translations are the following:
Absence of dialect;
Omission of mentioning God and, in general,
any religious context including the names from the Bible, as Soviet
ideology did not accept any kind of religion;
Idealization of the images of beggars and
Criticism of monarchy and omitting the word
Ignoring of the poems addressed to the
poets friends if they belonged to the aristocratic circle because a
Soviet Burns could not retain any connections with the upper classes;
Omission of mentioning Scotland. Marshak
rarely mentioned Scottish geographical names, cultural item and
historical personalities. It is difficult to find possible reasons for
this decision. Probably, as Scotland was a capitalist country, the fact
that Robert Burns, a progressive proletarian poet, was unlucky enough
to be born in the capitalist country had to be carefully omitted;
Softening of erotic context
In what follows I will present the most
interesting examples of ideological adaptations in Marshaks translations.
In order to make the translations comprehensible for English-speaking
readers, I translated chosen lines from Russian into English.
Ideological adaptation occurs in the poem For
A That and A That, where the philosophical conclusion of the original
about the fact that mans dignities do not depend on his position and
fortune was transformed into a typical communist slogan: The poor are those
who possess all moral priorities. The last line in the poem, The rank is
but the guinea-stamp / The mans the gowd for a that! (Burns 1996: 7-8),
was translated, Богатство штамп на золотом, но золото мы сами / The
fortune is just a stamp on the gold, but we are the gold ourselves (Marshak
1976: 8). This nuance in the translation is not easy to see: the man and
we ourselves means almost the same but the full context created by Marshak
stresses the main idea that we, the poor, resist the rich. The original
title of the poem For A That and A That was translated, Честная
бедность /An Honest Poverty.
Another example from the same poem shows how
carefully it was adapted to a new ideological scheme. The last line, A
prince can mak a belted knight / A marquis, duke, and a that (B ll.17-18),
was translated, Король лакея своего назначил генералом / a king made his
servant (lakei) a general (M ll. 32-33). Instead of a belted knight the
word servant was used. Following the direction of antimonarchist
propaganda, Marshak stressed that a prince could not have knights around him
but just servants. The original Russian word lakei used in the translation
describes a man employed as a servant to wait at table, attend the door, and
run various errands, as in a palace. However, in the new, post-revolutionary
context, it acquired a more humiliating meaning, a lick-spittle, a man who
served aristocrats before the revolution. With reference to lakei, Marshak
tends to use a more insulting equivalent than in the original, and so his
translation seems more negative in its attitude towards the monarchy.
The same strategy was used in the translation of
the lines The honest man, though eer sae poor,/ Is king o men for a
that (B ll.15-16). Drawing a comparison with the main enemy, the king,
could have been insulting for Soviet readers.
The enemy had to be introduced as stupid, selfish, deceitful, aggressive,
hostile, or even evil. Thus, Marshak substituted king with знать /znat'
(nobility) and modified the definition of the honest man by
specifying that an honest man is a man who earns his living with honest
Кто честным кормится трудомThose who earn a living with honest work
Tого зову я знатью (M ll. 21-22) I call nobles.
The strategy of deletion was used in the last
stanza, in which the phrase Then let us pray that come it may (B l. 33)
was cut out. Common workers, glorified in the poem, could not pray for their
freedom, which would come sooner or later.
The best example of the canonization and making
heroes out of beggars and swindlers is the poem Macphersons Farewell, in
which a highway-robber is transformed into a national hero and a
revolutionary. In Marshaks translation, the poem was changed almost
completely. The first two lines, Farewell, Ye dungeons dark and strong /
The wretchs destinie! (B ll. 1-2), were translated, Привет, вам тюрьму
короля, где жизнь влачат рабы / Hello, the prisons of the king, where
slaves suffer (M ll. 1-2). Not only is king added but also the word
wretch is replaced by slave, thus focusing primarily on negative
attributes of monarchy that are not present in the original. We cannot talk
about a strategy of substitution in this case, as Marshak did not substitute
but completely changed these lines, promoting a negative image of monarchy.
The translation omits such adjectives as
wantonly, dauntingly, rantingly. The main occupation of the hero, a
robber, has been changed into war. The line Oh! What is death but parting
breath? (B l.9) was translated В полях войны среди мечей встречал я смерть
не раз / In the fields of war, among swords, I meet death many times (M
translation of the line I've liv'd a
life of sturt and strife (B l.17) again indicates a pathetic tone, Я жизнь
свою провел в бою/ I spent my life in the fields of fight. Naturally, the
inflection of the fields of fight indicates the primary occupation
mentioned in the original, yet the fact remains that MacPhersons heroism is
overstressed in the translation. It was also explained that MacPherson was
not simply betrayed but that a traitor gave his life to the executioner's
I die by treachery (B l. 20)
Изменник предал жизнь мою The traitor gave my life
Веревке палача (M ll. 21-22) To the executioner's rope
Farewell from the light and
sunshine in the line Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright (B l.24) was
substituted with the farewell from MacPhersons край (native place in the
meaning of homeland). Thus, in Marshaks
translation the poem gives a completely different impression than the
original because Soviet Robert Burns could not glorify robbers and
beggars. The strategy of deletion of Scotland is obvious in the translation.
The seventeenth line And there's no man in all Scotland was cut out.
An appeal to liberty and freedom in Britain in
the poem The Tree of Liberty, inspired by the French Revolution, in
Marshaks translation takes on the quality of an appeal to world revolution,
leaving very little of the auld England spirit, so essential to the
original poem. In point of fact, Britain is mentioned in only one line. On
the basis of Marshaks translation, one might conclude that Burns was
concerned about revolution all over the world. The primary translation
strategies are those of substitution and deletion, as well as generalizing.
Thus, references to England in the first two lines were replaced with more
unifying expression, nations and places, Забудут рабство и нужду народы и
края, брат/ The nations and places will forget about poverty and slavery,
brother. This substitution serves to stress Burnss concern about
revolutionary progress in the whole world and not just in capitalist
England. There is no need to mention that the phrase syne let us pray was
Syne let us pray, auld England may
Sure plant this far-famed tree, man,
And blithe well sing, and hail the day
That gave us
liberty, man. (B ll. 85-88)
Народы и края, брат Will forget about poverty and slavery, brother
будут люди жить в ладу And the people will live peacefully
Как дружная семья, брат. (M ll. 85-88) As a family, brother.
The word man at the end of each stanza was
replaced by брат (brother), since the word brothers had
more positive connotations in the eyes of the soviet censors than mere
men. In lines 14-15 Hes greater that a lord, man,/an wi the beggar
shares a mite, Marshak translates the word beggar as товарищ (comrade),
which sounded much more in the communist spirit. In fact, there could be
no beggars in a happy communist society. The word peasant (B l.13) was
replaced by холоп (kholop) (an old-fashioned Russian word meaning
a designated slave, or in modern Russian a subordinated, humiliated man)
and the comparison with the Lord was deleted in the lines Gif
ance the peasant taste a bit, / He's greater than a Lord, man, (B
ll.13-14). Raising the peasant to Gods level appeared to be offensive. It
is interesting that in Marshaks
translation there appears more or less only one lexical items referring to
the word peasant, which is kholop, the apparently more abusive term. For
the translator, the context in which the word is used is important as
guiding the choice of the potential equivalent. Because Soviet literature
glorified collective labour as ennobling man and exemplified peasants and
workers as new men of Soviet society possessing superior moral and social
consciousness, the word peasant couldnt be used in its original sense to
describe the lowest societal level.
It is interesting that in the
case of this poem, Marshak decided to mention Britain in the lines,
Let Britain boast her hardy oak,
Her poplar and her pine, man,
Auld Britain ance could crack her joke
And o'er her neighbours shine, man (B ll. 57-60)
In other translations, Marshak
deliberately omitted any mention of Scotland or Britain. However, in these
lines Burns criticizes the absence of liberty in Britain, an issue often
exposed in soviet political propaganda. Marshak also cut the original poem
by eight lines, as he didnt translate the lines from 72-80.
A further significant characteristic of
Marshaks translations is the omission of any mention of Scotland. It can be
understood from the translators point of view because sometimes mentioning
foreign names makes the comprehension of a poem more difficult for the
reader and demands additional comments. But the omission of Scotland became
a characteristic feature of Marshaks translations. The events mentioned in
the poems happen nowhere, so that the reader could easier identify with
them. The poet of Scotland became an international poet who struggled for
human rights all over the word, not just in Scotland. This misrepresentation
destroys the main idea of Burns as a national Scottish (specifically only
Scottish) poet. Love and care for the motherland, images which were very
important for the proper comprehension of Burnss poetry, were missed. Burns
was no more a Scottish but a world poet.
Thus, in the translation of the poem Scots Wha
Hae which has the subtitle Robert Bruces address to His Army, Before the
Battle of Bannockburn, it is impossible to understand that the main idea of
the poem is an appeal to the Scottish king. He is not even mentioned in
Marshaks version, and the title is simply translated Bruce - to Scots.
The very first line Scots, Wha hae was not translated at all. In the 13-14
lines Wha for Scotlands king and law/Freedoms sword will strongly draw
the word Scotland was replaced with родина/ rodina(homeland)
and king was deleted. This deletion obscured the main point of the
historical events echoed in the poem. Not to mention that the structure of
the first two lines suggests that Wallace and Bruce were the same person.
The same confusion appears in the translation of the poem Farewell to our
In the poem Lines written on a Bank-note, For
lake o thee I leave this much-loved shore / Never perhaps to greet old
Scotland more! (B ll. 35-36), Marshak used the word родина /motherland
instead of Scotland.
In the poem Contented Wi Little, and Carttie
Wi Mair in the line Wi a cog o guade swats and an auld Scotish sang (B
l.4) the word Scottish was cut out.
The translation of the poem Elegy on Peg
Nicholson contains the lines, But now shes floating down the Nith / And
past the Mouth o Carin (B ll. 56-58). In Marshaks translation the name
Carin is cut out and only the river is mentioned.
In the poem The Twa Dogs in the line For
Britain's guid his saul indention (B l.148), the word Britain was replaced
with country. In the same poem the very first line, T was in that place
o Scotlands isle (B l.1), was deleted.
In the poem My Hearts in the
Highlands in which Burns expressed his deep nostalgic feelings, the line The
hills of the Highlands for ever I love (B l. 8) was translated навеки
останусь я сыном твои/ I will remain your son forever (M l. 8). The idea of
the Highlands as a particular place is missing in Marshaks translations.
Marshak also changes the title into My Heart is in the Mountains.
In the poem Go fetch me a pint o wine, the
name Leith is not mentioned in the translation.
Something similar happened with the poem To the
Guidwife of Wauchope House, in which the lines That I for poor auld
Scotland sake/ Some useful plan, or book could make,/
Or sing a sang at least (B ll. 18-20)
are translated, Одной мечтой с тех пор я жил, служить стране по мере сил (Пуская
они и слабы) Народу пользу принести/ The only dream of my life is to serve
the country as much as I could, (Even though my forces are weak), And to
bring something good to people (M ll. 54-57). The word country is used
instead of Scotland
In the same poem Burns says that he is proud
because he is Scottish Marshak chose to translate this as if the words
Scot and peasant were synonyms.
Scot still, but blot still
I knew no higher place. (B ll. 63-64)
Шотландской, крестьянской I was proud because of my
Породой был я горд (Mll.
63-64). Scottish, peasant background.
Marshak was also confronted with
hard task of softening Burns eroticism as much as possible. Thus,
in the poem I am oer Young to Marry Yet, a
young girl is complaining that she is too young to be married, hinting at
sexual relationships with the future husband. Her main concern, expressed in
the lines lying in a mans bed (B l. 3) and And you an I in ae bed (B
l.17), was replaced with more innocent expression остаться наедине
/ to stay with you alone (Marshak l.3, l.17).
In the poem The Ploughman, the ploughmans
girlfriend says: I will mak my Ploughmans bed, /And chear him late and
early (B ll.16-17). Such an immoral statement was carefully replaced, and
in the Russian translation she just admires her dear friend (M l.16) and
does not mention bed at all. In the previous stanza the girlfriend also
dares to say Cast off the wat, put on the dry,/And gae to bed, my Dearie
(B ll. 11-12). In order to avoid any misunderstandings about the
relationship between the ploughman and his girlfriend, Marshak replaced her
invitation to bed by an invitation to dinner.
Marshak faced the same problem in the poem My
Collier Laddie in which a young woman tells how happy she is with her
collier. The lines And make my bed in the Colliers neuk,/And lie down
wimy Collier laddie (B ll. 24-25) could not be translated literally, so
Marshak softened them, replacing bed with my little corner (M l.25) and
erasing the words lie down with wi my. In his translation, the colliers
girlfriend simply sits with her beloved every night in her little corner.
In Jolly Beggars the word doxy drab and
chock were replaced by mistress or not translated at all.
In spite of all ideological
changes, Marshaks translations remained
the best translations of Robert Burns for almost half a century. The image
of Burns is almost inseparable from the name Samuil Marshak who was also
called Soviet father of Robert Burns. Marshak created an adequate, and for
Russian culture, an acceptable image of Robert Burns. However,
unintentionally, Marshak caused a serious problem for further generations of
Russian translators of Robert Burns. Attempting to avoid comparison with
Marshaks translations, which were called a second original, and wishing
to reach Marshaks level, a new generation of translators was induced to use
different techniques and to search for alternative possibilities. This was a
difficult task because to learn from a master means to compete with him.
These words were prophetic for those translators who wanted to beat Marshak.
Burns, R. Selected poems. London: Penguin
Popular Classics, 1996
Burns, R. [trans. Marshak, S]. Robert Burns.
Stihi [Robert Burns. Poems]. Hudozhestvenaia literature: Moskva, 1976
Below is a brief
curriculum vitae about Dr. Natalia Kaloh Vid.
Natalia Kaloh Vid is a
teaching assistant of English literature at the Faculty of Arts, University
of Maribor in Slovenia. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature and
translation studies from the University of Maribor, Slovenia. Her thesis
focuses on ideological influence on literary translations of Robert Burns in
the Soviet Union. She also holds an
M.A. in Modern Russian Literature from the University in
Ljubljana (Slovenia) and is currently finishing her second Ph.D. on
Apocalypses in Modern Russian Literature. Kaloh Vid presented the results of
her research on twenty-three international conferences in
Scotland, England, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Hungary, Chile, Montenegro and
Canada. List of her publications includes articles on translations of
Burns into Russian, as well as on different aspects of Russian and Canadian
literature. Her research fields include ideological
influence on literary translations, literature in the Soviet Union,
translation of Robert Burns into Russian and Mikhail Bulgakov.
Censorship and ideology in literary translations: the case of Robert Burns'
poetry in the Soviet Union. V: POPESCU, Floriana (ur.). Perspectives in
translation studies. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, cop. 2009,
Use of domesticated and foreignized methods in
the Soviet school of translation. ELOPE (Ljubl.), 2007, vol. 4, [no.]
1/2, str. 151-159.
Bulgakov's Satan : Master and Margarita's
minister of justice. V: BURNS, Charlene P. E. (ur.). Mis/representing
evil : evil in an interdisciplinary key. Oxford [i. e. Freeland]:
Inter-Disciplinary, cop. 2009, str. -31.
The symbol of the city in Morley Callaghan's
Strange Fugitive : adaptation of American urban discourse or reinforcement
of Canadian multicultural identity?. V: ERTLER, Klaus-Dieter (ur.),
LÖSCHNIGG, Martin (ur.). Inventing Canada, (Canadiana, Bd. 6).
Frankfurt am Main [etc.]: P. Lang, 2008, str. -183.
Language and ethnicity : the way to silence in
John Marlyn's Under the Ribs of Death. V: LÖSCHNIGG, Maria (ur.), LÖSCHNIGG,
Martin (ur.). Migration and fiction : narratives of migration in
contemporary Canadian literature. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter,
2009, str. -179.
1 Each literary work written by a foreign author and published in
the Soviet Union had to contain a special preface which explained the
correct meaning of the work to Soviet readers. This should be
considered as a part of ideological pressure.
2 The fact that Marshaks translations of Burns poetry became an
outstanding literary sensation supported his election as
honorary president of the Burns Federation in
3 Shakespeares sonnets were translated by Boris Pasternak, the
author of Doctor Zivago, but because of his enormous success in
the West, Pasternak was suppressed and hunted in Russia. His
translations were forbidden and he remained in the shadow of Marshak
until the end of Perestrojka.
4 R. Burns. Izbrannoe v perevodakh Marshaka. Moskva, 1964.
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