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Robert Burns Lives!
Robert Burns’s “The Twa Dogs”: ideological aspects of translation into Russian By Natalia Kaloh Vid

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA

Dr. Natalia Kaloh Vid is our guest writer today. This is her second contribution to the pages of Robert Burns Lives! and it is hard to believe that it’s been nearly two years (February 2011) since her first article appeared on our web site. It seems like yesterday! Her first was entitled “Ideological Adaptations of Robert Burns in the Soviet Union”, and you can find it on the index page under Chapter 107.   

Since 2011 three great events have happened in her life. First, she published a book on the subject of the above mentioned article, and I was pleased to write a blurb for the back of the publication. Then she successfully defended her second Ph.D. thesis on Modern Russian Literature. Third and most importantly, she gave birth to a beautiful daughter named Zhenia which, Natalia tells me, is a shorter version of the Russian name Evgenia. Yes, it has been a busy time for Dr. Vid, and I am grateful she is allowing another of her articles to grace these pages. To do so, she sought and received permission for the article to be shared with our readers from the Scottish Literary Review (see Spring/Summer 2011, Vol. 3, No. 1, Str. 1 – 20 where the article first appeared). Thanks are also extended to the Association for Scottish Literary Studies which publishes the journal.

Even though she is busy being mother to Zhenia, she has lots of help from husband Dejan and her grannies. It is good to learn that Natalia is back at work three days a week. Her book on Mikhail Bulgakov's was published this year with the title The Role of Revelation in Mikhail Bulgakov's Fiction. Unless you read or speak Russian you are out of luck as it is published in Russian. It really is a treat to have Dr. Vid share her thoughts and research in the article below, and I feel confident you will find it of interest. (FRS: 12.5.12)

Robert Burns’s “The Twa Dogs”: ideological aspects of translation into Russian

By Natalia Kaloh Vid

There is hardly any other foreign poet who is as admired and beloved in Russia as Robert Burns[i]. Translations of Burns’s poems have been republished and have sold millions of copies, and his songs in Russian translations can be heard in famous films, on TV and on the radio. It is well-known that the first commemorative stamp with Burns’s portrait was issued in Russia in 1956. Burns could have never achieved such extraordinary assimilation in a foreign cultural milieu without successful translations. Starting with the nineteenth century when the first translations introduced Robert Burns to Russian readers as a sentimental pastoral poet, Russian and Soviet translators continued translating Burns throughout the twentieth century, interpreting his poetry according to the ideologies of the time. Burns’s apparently insignificant place in Russian literary consciousness in the nineteenth century contrasts strongly with his reception in the Soviet Union, which reached its climax in the outstanding celebration of the 200th anniversary of Burns’s birth in 1959. Ever since, Robert Burns has remained one of the most famous foreign poets translated into Russian.

While the status of other foreign poets changed throughout the tumultuous periods of Russian history, Burn’s high profile did not change much. He is still popular and beloved among Russian readers. However, Burns’s poetry in translations underwent numerous adaptations and changes caused by editorial politics and by the overwhelming influence of ideology on literary production. If in tsarist Russia Burns’s revolutionary and democratic lyrics were mainly ignored, he achieved an extraordinary cultural dominance in the time of the Soviet Union[ii] as a ‘poet of the common people’. Shortly after the establishment of the Soviet regime, Burns became one of the most famous European poets in the Soviet Union, but in the Soviet cultural environment, his poetry suffered from severe ideologically influenced transformations.

The question of ideological influence on translation has always accompanied translation studies. Any translation, literary translation in particular, is an ideologically-embedded undertaking. As an essential part of a larger social discourse, no literary work is entirely free from ideological influence, and poetic translation is no exception. I share the perspective of J. Stephens in his Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction that every book has an implicit ideology, usually in the form of beliefs and values taken for granted in society and shared collectively by social groups[iii]. In the case of translation, the question of ideological influence is even more important, as it is the translator who interprets (and potentially changes) the author’s ideology in the process of creation. Behind all choices made by a translator is a voluntary act that reveals the translator’s socio-political and cultural surrounding. A translator always creates ‘under pressure of different constraints, ideological, poetical, economical etc, typical of the culture to which he/she belongs’[iv]. 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. The Soviet state was characterised by centralised state control over all aspects of private and public life, including economy, politics and arts. Literary production, including translations, was also 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[v]. Any criticism of the current regime was subjected to Soviet censorship, which remained the longest lasting and the most comprehensive state censorship in the twentieth century. Generally speaking, everything that did not fall under the officially accepted programme of socialist realism – a style of realistic art adapted by the Soviet state in 1934 as a standard – was forbidden. For decades, nearly every Soviet publication bore a code number referring to an individual censor who represented the major state censorship department[vi].

It should be noted that the whole translation process in the Soviet Union differed greatly from that in democratic societies, as it was inevitably influenced by an institution of censorship and strict centralisation. All participants in the translation process (translators, censors, publishers) existed as one united group that had strongly determined aims. 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. Censors who dealt with foreign publications were obliged to protect the minds of the Soviet people from the harmful influence and infection of the West and to offer the public well-selected information concerning foreign cultures. As a result, any literary text translated in the Soviet Union underwent a series of transformations or distortions, depending on ideological demands, and translations of the poetry of Robert Burns were no exceptions. The main aim of Soviet translators was not to introduce new ideologies or challenge existing ones through their translational decisions but to justify the existing ideology.

This paper therefore explores intentional incorporation of ideological elements in poetic translations of Robert Burns made by Soviet translators. The analysis considers two of the most prominent translators of Robert Burns’s poetry in the Soviet Union, Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik and Samuel Marshak. Their translations do not stand in opposition to each other with respect to the ideological dimension. Both translators followed official ideological guidelines by exposing the problem of social class distinctions, criticising monarchy and religion, intensifying the sentiments of freedom and citizenship and promoting democratic issues and sympathy towards common people[vii]. However, Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translations were made in the 1930s when ideological influence on literature was not as severe as it later became. Her translations do not contain as many ideologically influenced elements as the translations of Marshak, made in the 1940s when the official ideological propaganda became the chief criteria in defining translation process in the Soviet Union. In both translations, analysis of ideological dimensions at a micro-stylistic level shows that they were influenced both by lexical choices (deliberate selection or avoidance of certain words) and by grammatical choices (substituting defining generic nouns for less specific pronouns, avoidance of agency by using passive structures, etc.).

Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik (1874-1952), an outstanding translator of Byron, Shakespeare and Lope de Vega, was the first translator[viii] of Robert Burns into Russian, who adapted her translating principles to newly established demands of Soviet ideology. Her first collection, published in 1936, was the largest anthology of Robert Burns’s translations into Russian to have been made by one author up to that time, and included translations of seventy-four poems, among them ‘The Twa Dogs’, ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’, ‘A Red, Red Rose’, ‘Fair Eliza’, ‘Yestreen I Had a Pint o’ Wine’,  ‘To a Mountain Daisy’, ‘O’ Whistle and I Will Come to Ye, My Lad’, ‘I Hae a Wife o’ my Ain’ and others. There are two principal observations that should be made concerning Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translations of Burns’s poetry. Firstly, her translations remain close to the colloquial tone and spirit of the original. Shchepkina-Kupernik attempted to reproduce the original artistic images and style so that the reader of the translation could be inspired, moved and aesthetically entertained in the same manner as the native reader was by the original. Generally speaking, Shchepkina-Kupernik succeeded in transferring the democratic, cheerful and folk style of Burns’s lyrics. However, Shchepkina-Kupernik intentionally russified themes, settings and vernacular out of consideration for a Russian audience and substituted ideologically questionable issues to satisfy Soviet editorial policy.

One would expect that as the first Soviet translator of Burns’s poetry, Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik would also be the most famous. However, Robert Burns achieved an astonishing cultural dominance in the Soviet Union thanks to another translator whose name is well-known to anyone interested in Burns studies, Samuel Marshak (1887-1964). A dramatist, successful poet, political satirist and state propagandist, magazine editor and author of children’s books, Marshak was one of the few Soviet translators educated abroad, at the University of London. The key to the success of his translations lies primarily in his feeling for languages – Russian, English and Scottish dialects – which Marshak possessed to a high degree. After his return to Russia in 1914, Marshak devoted himself to translation. Apart from Burns, he translated Gianni Rodari, William Blake, Rudyard Kipling and William Shakespeare[ix].

The first collection of Marshak’s translations of Burns, published in 1947, included:

 - love poems such as ‘For the Sake o’ Somebody’, ‘A Red, Red Rose’, ‘Oh Wert Thou in the Cauld Blast’ (which became a popular song in Russia);

- nature lyrics, ‘Birks of Aberfeldey’, ‘Yon Wild Mossy Mountains’,  ‘Afton Water’;

- songs with humorous content ‘What Can a Young Lassie, What Shall a Young Lassie’, ‘Ye Hae Lien Wrang, Lassie’,  ‘Wha is That at My Bower-Door?’, ‘Thou Has Left Me Ever, Jamie’, ‘O Ken Ye What Meg o’ the Mill Has Gotten’,  ‘Tam Glen’;

- songs in which a girl refused to marry a rich man and preferred a poor one ‘My Collier Laddie’, ‘Dusty Miller’, ‘The Ploughman’;

- such poems as ‘Tibbie I Hae Seen the Day’, ‘The Ronalds of the Bennals’, ‘Green Grow the Rashes O’’, ‘Auld Lang Syne’, ‘My Tochers the Jewel’,  ‘Comin Thro’ the Rye, Poor Body’, ‘Country Lassie’ and many others.

Between 1947 and 1959, five editions of Burns’s poems in Marshak’s translations were published in the Soviet Union. The edition of 1959 was published in seventy-five thousand copies and sold out in several days. In the first anthology of Burns translations, Marshak translated mostly love songs and ballads, in which rural life and Scottish customs were described, and poems with ‘national’ content in which nationality, patriotism and poor people’s sufferings were particularly stressed. Altogether, Marshak translated two hundred and fifteen poems by Burns[x], which has remained the most extensive collection of Burns translations made in the Russian language until the present time. Marshak’s translations still remain canonical, as he stamped his image of Burns on Russian readers for more than half a century.

Obviously, ideological canonisation was taken into consideration by Marshak from the beginning. As one of the most prominent Soviet translators, Marshak had to follow the official guidelines as closely as possible if he wanted to see his works published. Thus, Marshak rarely translated those poems which contained religious motifs (if they were not satirically coloured) or poems with frivolous content (which was usually softened). Sexual material as well as any erotic connotations, presented one of the greatest taboos in proletarian literature, which was not a place for demonstration of sexuality of any kind. Marshak therefore softened Burns’s eroticism in love lyrics, substituting comradely handshakes for passionate embraces. Religion was strongly criticised in the Soviet state and any references to biblical texts were scrupulously deleted in Marshak’s translations. Finally, ‘Soviet’ Burns could not maintain any connection with the upper classes. For that reason, Marshak did not translate poems addressed to the poet’s friends, acquaintances and patrons if they belonged to aristocratic circles. In poems devoted to the current political and social situation, Scotland and England were often replaced by ‘Russia’, ‘homeland’, ‘country’, and other ideologically coloured equivalents, as it was important to present Burns as an international struggler for revolution and human rights. It should be noticed that this decision is one of the most contentious because Marshak’s omission of anything Scottish, including Scottish towns, rivers, mountains and even historic personalities and traditions, destroys the idea of Burns as the national Scottish (specifically Scottish) poet. Love and care for the motherland, most important images in Burns’s poetry, are missing in Marshak’s translations. Burns was no more merely a Scottish but a ‘world’ poet. The main reason for this translation decision is hard to understand. Probably, as a European country and a part of Great Britain, Scotland was also considered a capitalist country, strongly criticised in Soviet discourse. The fact that Burns, interpreted by Soviet critics as one of the most ‘proletarian’ poets, was born in a capitalist country should not be exposed.

On the whole, Marshak succeeds in preserving the ironic, colloquial speech and spirit of Burns’s poetry. However, his main task was to avoid conflict with censors by stressing ideologically favourable elements in Burns’s texts, while eliminating problematic issues. The originals did not undergo direct ideologisation but many intentional changes are obvious in a careful reading. Marshak also completely cleaned his translations of dialect. If there was any understanding of the role of Scottish dialect in Burns’s poetry, there was no trace of it in the translations. In many cases, the edge of Burns’s wit, his strong rhythms and rhymes, gave way in Russian to artificial poetical embellishment.

Having emphasised the difficulties faced by Soviet translators, however, it must be admitted that thanks to Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik and especially to Samuel Marshak the history of Soviet translations of Burns into Russian represents a success story. While allowing for obvious ideological deviations from the original, the translators achieved an astonishing assimilation of Burns into Russian culture.

Shchepkina-Kupernik’s and Marshak’s translations of the poem ‘The Twa Dogs’ particularly exemplify intentional ideological adaptations. In general, the fundamental idea of the poem is that virtue does not depend on wealth, as well as criticism of human inequality and social injustice of enforced class division which perfectly corresponded to the newly established Soviet ideological scheme. For that reason, no significant changes in the content were made. The differences, instead, occur in intentional intensifying of ideologically favourable elements such as social differences, while de-emphasising ideologically questionable parts such as references to religious context.

It is clear from close analysis of the texts that the tendency in both translations, especially in Marshak’s, is to intensify class inequality and class struggle by presenting the members of the upper class as exploiters and the peasantry as victims. This decision is not surprising, as throughout Soviet history one of the ideological means of unifying the people was the creation of the image of the enemy personified by the members of the upper class who encompassed all the negative qualities of capitalism: individualism, greed, conceit and contempt for other people. Exposing a negative image of the upper class was one of the main official ideological demands and could not be avoided even in poetic translations. Although faithful to the meaning of the original poem, both of the versions include lexical changes which brought the poem closer to the ideologically glorified principles of equality by degrading the potential ‘enemies’ represented by royalty and nobles, while at the same time exposing the priorities of the ‘friends’ to whom common workers and peasants belonged. In what follows I will present the most obvious examples of intentional ideological changes made in the original. Word-to-word translations of Russian verses are provided to make the examples comprehensible to non-Russian speakers[xi].

The first adaptation occurs in the eighth line of the poem which describes Caesar’s position in the Lord’s house, stating that he ‘Was keepet for his Honor’s pleasure’[xii]. In the Soviet discourse, members of the uppers class were supposed to be presented as exploiters. For that reason Marshak decided to ascribe Caesar a serious occupation. He was not kept merely for pleasure but for performing a service in the lord’s house, ‘В усадьбе лорда службу нёс[xiii] / In lord’s house, he performed a service. Kupernik does not go that far, translating the line literally and even signifying that Caesar lived with the Lord carefree, ‘беспечно жил при знатном лорде[xiv] / he lived with an honorable lord without any worries.

Due to ideological propaganda it was especially important to stress that in capitalist Scottish society, the lower class represented by Luath was exploited by upper class members who epitomised ruthless capitalism and whose actions and morals were totally subordinated to material interests. Following the idea of intensifying class differences, Shchepkina-Kupernik and Marshak both render Caesar’s question upon the conditions of Luath’s master’s life stated at the beginning of their conversation differently than in the original.

Asking Luath about the conditions of his master’s life, Caesar uses the expressions ‘poor dogs’ (B, l.48) and ‘poor bodies’ (B, l.50). Shchepkina-Kupernik translates ‘poor dogs’ literally as бедные псы. There is a slight difference between the words used in the original and in the translation, as the Russian word пёс (a dog, a hound) used by Shchepkina-Kupernik is old-fashioned and has a slight negative connotation. It may occur in a colloquial comparison to a dishonest or cruel person. However, it could have been chosen for the sake of the rhyme.

Instead of the expression ‘poor bodies’, Shchepkina-Kupernik invents the word нищета which in the Russian language means ‘destitution’, ‘extreme poverty’. By using this word, the translator intentionally intensifies the poor living conditions of the peasantry. The difference might appear as insignificant but in poetic translations it is often possible to shift the meaning by displacing merely one word. In the original, the entire section focuses on Caesar’s satirical depiction of his lord’s life, yet there is no indication of him being well informed about the conditions of peasant life. That is why he is interested in Luath’s answer. In contrast, Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translation of the first four lines presumes that Caesar is well informed about the situation of his friend. The translator even attaches some kind of scorning on Caesar’s part. It is clear that Caesar is interested in what it is like to live in destitution, whereas in the original he merely expresses his curiosity, as the expression ‘poor bodies’ does not necessarily correspond to poor living conditions, at least not as intensely as in Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translation.

Instead of the original address of ‘honest Luath’, Shchepkina-Kupernik uses an archaic Russian word почтенный, which means ‘respected’, while Marshak decided to translate this address literally. By using old-fashioned vocabulary, Shchepkina-Kupernik renders the conversation between the dogs away from that of colloquial speech and emphasises the seriousness of the statement. In what follows, Shchepkina-Kupernik also ignores the fact that in the original Luath is more respectful and naïve in his manner than Caesar, stressing instead the equality of the interlocutors. Shchepkina-Kupernik does not translate the reference to the ‘gentry’s life’ mentioned in the original, presumably not to disturb the main idea of focusing on the life of ‘poor bodies’.


I've often wonder'd, honest Luath,                           

What sort o’ life poor dogs like you have;                 

An’ when the gentry’s life I saw,

What way poor bodies liv’d ava (B, ll.47-50).


Люаф почтеный я не раз                                          Respected Luath, I have often

Дивился: что за жизнь у вас                                    Wondered what kind of life, you,

У бедных псов таких как ты                                    Poor hounds like you have

И как живут средь нищеты? (SK, ll.49-52)             And how you can live in destitution?


In general, Marshak’s translation is even less accurate than Shchepkina-Kupernik’s, as he renders Burns’s original more freely, replacing numerous expressions and words with his own. Thus, translating ‘poor dogs’ in the same stanza, Marshak chooses the word бедняжки (poor things) instead, also attaching some sort of pitiful scorn on the part of Caesar. It is interesting that both translators make an attempt to attach negative connotations to Caesar’s speech, transforming his curiosity into scorn. This might be the result of the overall tendency to criticise the upper classes, even when personified by a dog. Obviously, Marshak did not consider the expression ‘poor bodies’ powerful enough to express the subordinated position of the lower class and replaced it by жильцы лачуг which means ‘inhabitants of poor hovels’. The primary meaning of the word лачуга is ‘shanty’, ‘a small wretched hovel’. Marshak uses the same word on three further occasions, ignoring other Russian equivalents, and exposing a negative picture of the living conditions of the peasantry far more intensely than in the original.


Мой честный Люат! Верно тяжкий                   My honest Luath! I believe you, poor things

Удел достался вам бедняжки.                             Don't have an easy life,

Я знаю только высший круг                               I know only the high society

Которому жильцы лачуг…(M, ll.61-64)             To whom the inhabitants of shanties…


In what follows, Caesar satirically criticises the privileged life of his owners, ‘He rises when he likes himsel;/His flunkies answer at the bell’ (B, ll.53-54). Marshak continues the negative intensification of the life of the upper classes by substituting satirical tones with obvious disdain. The verb ‘to answer’ is replaced by the verb ‘to run’, while the noun ‘flunky’ is modified. Thus, in Marshak’s translation, the flunky does not simply answer the bell but runs, bending his neck. This additional humiliation of a servant is not exposed in the original.

Открыв глаза звонит лакею                             When he opens his eyes, he rings the flunky
И тот бежит, сгибая шею (M, ll.69-70).           Who is running, bending the neck.
Shchepkina-Kupernik translated these lines in a similar manner but her version is less modified than Marshak’s.
Встаёт когда он сам захочет.                                          He gets up when he wishes.
Чуть позвонит, лакей подскочит. (SK, ll.69-70)            He just calls and the flunky runs up.


It is interesting that both translators decided in favour of the word лакей to translate ‘flunky’, even though there is an equivalent in the Russian language, the word слуга which literally means servant. A short history of the term лакей may explain this translation choice. The term was used to describe a male employed as a high-ranking servant responsible for running various errands in upper class households. However, in the new, post-revolutionary context, it acquired a humiliating meaning, a ‘lick-spittle’, someone who served aristocrats before the revolution. Thus, with reference to ‘lakei’ Shchepkina-Kupernik and Marshak use a more insulting term than in the original.

Both translators on occasion use a more familiar word when faced with specific lexical or cultural items. The strategy of domestication may be observed in the rendering of the term ‘Cot-folk’ (B, l.69), mentioned at the end of the eighth stanza and translated by Shchepkina-Kupernik as мужик, Но чем мужик набьет желудок,/Не постигает мой рассудок!’ (SK, ll.85-86) / But what will muzhik put in his stomach/ Is incomprehensible to me. In this case, the word мужик, with a degree of typical Russian colloquialism attached, contains the reference to a male with particular emphasis on a low social level. The reader would instinctively associate мужик with extremely poor living conditions. It also attaches more disrespect on the part of Caesar, something which is not present in the original. Marshak goes even further, using the same expression as before, жильцы лачуг (inhabitants of shanties), thus constantly reminding readers about the conditions of peasantry life.

А что едят жильцы лачуг-                                     But what the inhabitants of shanties eat -

При все своем воображенье,                                   I can't imagine,

Я не имею представленья (M, ll.88-90)                   Even though I have rich imagination

In what follows, Luath answers Caesar’s question about the conditions of his master’s life, explaining the difficulties, poverty and starvation they must face but concluding with an optimistic statement: ‘An’ buirdly chiels, an’ clever hizzies,/ Are bred in sic a way as this is’ (B, ll.85-86). Marshak again allows more translation freedom, adding the word лачуга (shanty), not mentioned in the original. This time, he uses the diminutive лачужка. Almost complete absence of dialects is another typical feature of Marshak’s style. It is also interesting that Marshak decided to use the adjective ‘pretty’ instead of ‘clever’. Translating the word ‘hizzies’, Marshak used the Russian word ‘подружка’, a diminutive of a ‘female friend’. In my opinion this was done for the sake of the rhyme: lachushka/podrushka. Instead of ‘chiels’ Marshak used a slightly archaic word молодец, which can be translated as ‘lad’.

Немало статных молодцов                                      Many stout lads
И прехорошеньких подружек                                 And very pretty podruzhek.
Выходит из таких лачужек (M, ll.110-112) .         Come from such shanties.

Shchepkina-Kupernik translates the lines as literally as possible, using the Russian verb растят (to raise) instead of ‘to breed’. Translating ‘hizzies’, Shchepkina-Kupernik used an archaic Russian word девица (girl, young woman).

И так растят себе исправно,                                                And so they raise as they should,

Девиц красивых, парней славных (SK, ll.87-88)               Beautiful girls and pleasant lads.

Marshak continues to intensify the negative image of the upper class in the stanza, in which Caesar wonders how peasants can patiently suffer all their difficulties.

But then, to see how ye're negleket,
How huff'd, an’ cuff'd, an’ disrespeket!
L_ _d man, our gentry care as little                          
For delvers, ditchers, an’ sic cattle;                           

They gang as saucy by poor folk,
As I wad by a stinkan brock (B, ll.87-92).

The strategy of domestication may be observed in the translation of the word ‘delvers’, translated by both Marshak and Shchepkina-Kupernik as холоп, an old-fashioned Russian expression, referring to different categories of dependent people. In modern Russian, the word has acquired a humiliating meaning and is used to describe someone who does not have any opinion and does not resist humiliation and disdain.

In the same stanza, Burns uses the term ‘our gentry’, referring to Caesar’s masters. Shchepkina-Kupernik decided to domesticate this term as well, using the word дворянство, a typical Russian expression to describe nobility. In fact, Shchepkina-Kupernik’s choice is more positive than ‘gentry’ which referrers mainly to minor nobility, while дворянство describes the highest aristocratic class, ‘Дворянство видит скот в холопах, чернорабочих, землякопах’ (SK, l.91) / Nobility treats холопов, delvers and ditchers as cattle.

On the contrary, Marshak goes for a more negative substitution, modifying it with an adjective. In his translation, ‘gentry’ becomes чопорная знать which means ‘prissy/stiff nobility’. Marshak also eliminates the comparison to ‘cattle’, probably for the sake of the rhyme:

Однако, Лю́ат, вы живете                                        But Luath, you live
В обиде, в нищете, в заботе.                                   
In insult, destitution and troubles.
А ваши беды замечать                                              And your miseries are neglected
Не хочет чопорная знать                                          By stiff nobility.

Все эти лорды на холопов,                                      All these lords treat холопов -

Чернорабочих, землякопов-                                     Delvers and ditchers-

Глядет с презреньем, свысока-                                With disrespect, and look down at them

Как мы с тобой на барсука! (M, ll.113-118)            As you and I look at the brock!

‘Stinkan brock’ was modified in Marshak’s translation as this comparison was too offensive to be translated literally. Thus, Marshak eliminates the adjective ‘stinkan’, while Shchepkina-Kupernik translates the expression literally. Another slight change in Marshak’s translation is also the use of pronouns ‘you and I’ in the last line instead of ‘I’. In this way, Marshak unifies the experience of both dogs, stressing again their equality. 

Marshak often added his own lines to the original when he thought it was necessary. Thus, when Luath bitterly describes the fear of his master in front of the lord, Marshak decided to add two lines of his own in which two words absent from the original are used, мошенник (swindler) and тунеядец (a parasite, someone who does not want to work). The original lines, ‘While they maun stand, wi’ aspect humble, / An’ hear it a’, an’ fear an’ tremble!’ (B, ll.99-100) were modified by adding two additional nouns:

А бедный терпет и молчит                                      And The poor man stands quietly.

Oн с малых лет привык бояться                              From his early years, he used to

Mошенника и тунеядца (M, ll.98-100)                    Be afraid of a swindler and a parasite.

The Russian word ‘тунеядец’ is particularly significant as it was often used in communist propaganda to describe former landowners.

In translating the same lines, Shchepkina-Kupernik uses the expression ‘грозится снять последний крест’ (SK, l.100), which literally means that ‘a factor’s snash’ threatens to take away the last cross. This is an intertextual reference to a Russian orthodox tradition to wear a cross on the neck. As the most sacred symbol given to a person after baptism, the cross was the last thing that could be taken away. The threat to take away the last cross means that a person does not have anything else to give. Marshak also decided in favour of domestication, using a phraseological expression ‘раздеть до нитки’ (M, l.126). The expression means ‘to strip somebody bare’, to take everything, including the last thread[xv]. It should be noted that Marshak was more rigorous in omitting anything connected to religion. For that reason references to the cross could not appear in his version.

In some examples, Marshak’s translation has more pathos that is found in Burns or Shchepkina-Kupernik. The problem was also a complete absence of dialect in Marhsak’s translations. Thus, the concluding lines of the twelfth stanza, ‘I see how folk live that hae riches;/But surely poor folk maun be wretches’ (B, ll.101-102), are substituted by a pathetic statement in Marshak’s translation. Again, in the original Caesar does not know precisely what kind of life his friend has, stating merely that they must be wretches, but  Marshak’s translation signifies that Caesar is well aware of Luath’s life conditions. He states that poor people do not know happiness, must live in poverty and work hard.

Не знает счастья нищий люд.                                  Poor people do not know happiness
Его уделнужда и труд! (M, ll.131-132) Their destiny is poverty and hard work!

Shchepkina-Kupernik is more accurate in translating these lines.

Жизнь богачей я знаю сам                                       I know the life of the rich.

Но, верно, плохо беднякам (SK, ll.103-104)           But poor people must be in a bad position.

Shchepkina-Kupernik often uses old-fashioned vocabulary. Thus in the lines ‘In favor wi’ some gentle master’ (B, l.145), ‘gentle master’ is translated as помещик (pomeshchik), another archaic Russian word, describing holder of land on service tenure. The noun was supposed to evoke negative feelings. After the October revolution, the equipment, the livestock and property of pomeshchiks were confiscated by the state and the word acquired a negative meaning, someone who exploited people before the revolution. In this case, Marshak uses a more appropriate equivalent ‘знатный лорд’ (M, l.145), honorable lord.

Another precision problem results from the use of religious references in Burns’s poetry. As one of the official ideological objectives in the Soviet Union was elimination of religious context, both Marshak and Shchepkina-Kupernik[xvi] omitted biblical allusions whenever possible. Thus, Shchepkina-Kupernik substitutes the expression ‘lords o’ the creation’ (SK, l.46) with ‘венец творенья’ (garland of creation).

An’ there began a lang digression                  

About the lords o’ the creation (B, ll.45-46)

И тут пустились в рассужденья                              And so they began discussing

По поводу венца творенья (SK, ll.46-47)                The garland of creation.

The substitution is not successful because ‘венец творенья is a common epithet in Russian poetry and sounds out of place in the prologue to the satirically coloured friendly conversation. Marshak uses the same strategy in this line, substituting ‘lords of creation’ with людицари земли, people – the tsars of the earth.

И разговор они вели                                                 They were talking about people -

O людях - о царях земли (M, ll.59-60)         The tsars of the earth.

In Marshak’s translation, ideological context is more obvious. The place and importance of common people in the official ideology was overly emphasized.

The strategy of deletion as well as the strategy of substitution may be observed in the translation of the word ‘Lord’, also in the meaning of the word ‘God’ which both of the dogs use to express their astonishment or disbelief. Thus, ‘L_ _d knows how lang’ (B, l.28) was deleted, even though it is translatable and would have the same meaning in Russian. When Caesar addresses Luath with ‘L_ _d, man’ (B, l.189), Shchepkina-Kupernik uses the expression ‘ох, брат’ (SK, l.187) (oh, brother), erasing the ironic response on behalf of Caesar, which is obvious in the original. In this case, the translator’s intention was also to stress the equality of both interlocutors. It should be noted that Marshak is more successful in translation of this line as he preserves the original colloquial tone with the word ‘братец’ (M, l.245), diminutive of the word ‘brother’, ascribing more simplicity and directness to Cesar’s statement. However, Marshak also deletes the word ‘Lord’ from the address. Both translators delete the expression ‘L_ _d man’ used to illustrate Caesar’s astonishment in the lines, ‘L_ _d man, our gentry care as little /For delvers, ditchers, an' sic cattle’ (B, ll.116-117).

The same thing happens to Caesar’s phrase ‘guid faith’ (B, l.150) which in Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translation is substituted with the rather unceremonious, colloquial expression ‘ей, брось’ (SK, l.152) (hey, no way). In Marshak’s translation, this expression is simply deleted. Marshak also decided to intensify the original subordination of Luath and once again add scornful intonations to Caesar’s address by using the words дворняжка (mongrel), and бедняжка (poor thing), instead of the original addressing ‘Haith, lad’ (B, l.149). If in the original, Caesar is more educated than Luath and merely corrects his friend’s naïve perspective of the life of the rich, in Marshak’s translation Caesar appears scornful and snobbish.

Haith lad, ye little ken about it:
For Britain's guid! guid faith! I doubt it (B, ll.149-150)

Служить стране? Ах ты, дворняжка!                    To serve the country? Oh, you, mongrel!
Ты мало знаешь свет, бедняжка (M,ll.185-186) You know little about the world, poor thing.

To intensify the equality of the dogs, Marshak and Shchepkina-Kupernik erased the address ‘Master Caesar’ in the line ‘But will you tell me, Master Caesar’ (B, l.185).

One of the most problematic issues in the translation of the poem was provided by the stanza at the end of the poem in which Caesar describes his lord’s travels around the world during which he denies himself no pleasure. The phrase ‘Wh_re-hunting amang groves o’ myrtles’ (B, l.164) could not be translated directly, considering the fact that Soviet critics were overly sensitive regarding any issues connected to sexual behaviour or eroticism. However, it should be noted that Burns’s original also shows the influence of censoring, in this case self-censoring. Burns shortened the words ‘whore’ (wh_re), ‘whoring’ (wh_ring) and ‘lord’ (l_ _ d), discussed above, as religious structures at his time would not have allowed him to write in full. Similarly, in the Soviet Union, direct translations of the words ‘whore’ and ‘whoring’ would be censored for the sake of immorality, while the word ‘lord’ was omitted for a different reason, an overall tendency of erasing religious context from the Soviet discourse. Hence, Soviet translators did not follow the strategy of shortening used in the original but substituted these problematic words by more suitable.

        Marshak softens the original by using a more poetic epithet instead, смуглыe девы (dark ladies). His translation results in ‘ловить от будет смуглых дев’ (M, l.206) / he will be chasing dark ladies. The meaning of the translation is obscure as it is not clear in what way the ladies are dark. In what follows, Caesar also mentions an unpleasant consequence of ‘whore-hunting’, ‘An’ clear the consequential sorrows,/Love-gifts of Carnival Signioras’ (B, ll.167-168). Marshak did his best to avoid mentioning venerial disease but his translation is again unclear.

Да смыть нескромный след, который                    And wash away the immodest trace
Оставлен смуглою синьорой (M, ll.211-212)         Left by the dark signora.

Soviet readers would have to use all their imagination to interpret these lines.

Shchepkina Kupernik used the old-fashioned expression ‘девок непотребных’ (SK, l.167) instead of ‘whore-hunting’. The expression literally means ‘prostitutes’ but is rather archaic and used only in literature. In any case, Shchepkina-Kupernik's substitution is more successful than Marshak's which avoids any hint at the real occupation of the ‘dark ladies’. However, the strategy of softening is used in Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translation of the last stanza, ‘Ae night, they're mad wi' drink an' wh_ring’ (B, l.217) in which she uses the word разврат (immorality) instead of ‘whoring’. In this case, Marshak decided in favor of an expression ‘разнузданная гульба’ (M, l.216), which can be translated as ‘unbridled bender’ and is, of course, more bookish and polite than ‘whoring’,

In the last stanza of his speech, Luath wonders whether the life of the upper class is as pleasurable as he imagines, ‘Sure great folk's life's a life o’ pleasure?’ (B, l.186). Shchepkina-Kupernik makes the meaning of the phrase slightly less emphatic by substituting the noun ‘pleasure’ with the adjective приятна which can be translated as agreeable, nice, pleasing. The adverb весьма (quite) is  also added, Жизнь богачей весьма приятна’ (SK, l.190)  (The life of rich people is quite pleasing).

The expression ‘great folk’ is translated as богачи, an expression often used by Soviet authorities with a humiliating meaning attached to describe wealthy people. Marshak goes even further, transforming the phrase into a rhetorical moral question and erasing the lines ‘Nae cauld nor hunger e’er can steer them;/The very thought o’t need na fear them’ (B, ll.187-188) which completely changes the meaning. Marshak does not translate but interprets the original in this case.

Теперь скажи: твой высший свет                            Now tell me if your high society,

Вполне ли счастлив или нет? (M, ll.243-244)        Is happy enough or not?

The strategy of generalisation is used by both translators in the translation of the phrase ‘for Britain’s guide’ (B, l.148) in which ‘Britain’ is replaced by ‘родина’ (SK, l.182) (homeland), in Shchepkina-Kupernik’s translation and ‘страна’ (M, l.182) (country), in Marshak’s translation. In both cases, the intention is to accommodate Burns’s original to the situation in the Soviet Union, promoting him not as an exclusively Scottish but as an international poet.

The translations made in the Soviet Union by Samuel Marshak and Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik were entirely adapted to ideological demands and had several important functions. First, they clearly presented norms and value descriptions which included promotion of official Soviet doctrines according to the newly established canons. Second, translations offered a clear goal-description, emphasizing the main goals of communist ideology, such as equality of rights, prominent position of peasants and workers, promotion of world revolution and criticism of the monarchy and the bourgeoisie. Third, both translators created a model setting presenting Robert Burns as a model communist democratic poet whose example should be followed by others. Selected biographies also contributed to this goal. However, it should be noted in conclusion that the undeniable literary quality of translations made in the Soviet Union raises the question of the potential to combine literary value with purely ideological formations. In spite of obvious ideological changes, the translations of Tat’iana Shchepkina-Kupernik are of high literary value, and Marshak’s translations have become canonical and have remained the best translations of Burns into Russian for almost half a century.


[i] Material relating translations of Burns into Russian and Burns's most famous Soviet translator, Samuil Marshak, appeared in several Burns Chronicles. In 1960 Emrys Hughes published a short article on his and Mr. Macmillian’s visit to Moscow. As special correspondent of Tribune, Hughes met Samuil Marshak and gave a speech at the Burns's celebration in Tchaikovsky Hall (Burns Chronicles, 1960: 45-48). Hughes emphasized several times that Marshak loved Burns as much as any Scot. He was also fascinated by a glamorous celebration of Burns's 200th anniversary attended by Soviet intelligentsia, writers, translators, critics and even the Secretary of the Soviet Writers' Union, Alexei Surcov, one of the most powerful figures in Soviet literary life of the 1960s.  In 1965, a short bio note on Samuil Marshak appeared in Burns Chronicles (1965: 80) and in 1978 Gabriel Feldman published an article on pre-revolutionary and Soviet translators of Burns, mentioning Burns’s first translators, Ivan Kozlov and Mikhail Mikhailov, as well as the first Soviet translators, Eduard Bagricky and Tat'iana Shechepkina-Kupernik. Feldman praised Marshak's translations, stating that thanks to Marshak Burns became well-known in all parts of the Soviet Union. Feldman also mentioned Burns's biographies written in the Soviet Union as well as numerous musical compositions inspired by Burns’s songs (Burns Chronicles, 1978:11-13).

[ii] The first translations of Robert Burns’s poetry in Russian were made at the beginning of the nineteenth century, when following mainstream Russian literary practices, translators adjusted his poetry to the Romantic and Sentimental canons. Because of the tsarist censorship of the time, Burns’s revolutionary and democratic lyrics were mainly ignored and he was introduced to Russian readers as a sentimental pastoral poet of idealistic Scottish landscapes.

[iii] Stephens. J. Language and Ideology in Children’s Fiction. London/New York: Longman, 1992, 8-9

[iv]Alvarez, R. and Vidal, M. 1996. Translation Power Subversion. Multilingual Methods Ltd: Clevedon/Philadelphia/Adelaide, 5.

[v] O’Dell, F.N. Socialization through Children’s Literature. London: Cambridge University Press, 1978, 115.

[vi] Ermolaev, H. 1997. Censorship in Soviet Literature 1917-1991. Rowman&Littlefiled: USA, 82.

[vii] In the nineteenth century, most of Burns’s love and nature lyrics were translated but his satires, democratic lyrics which contained appeals to the sentiments of freedom and citizenship, patriotic songs, and ironic epigrams remained unknown to Russian readers.

[viii] The first translator who confronted the difficult task of adaptation of Burns’s poems was Eduard Bagricky (1895-1934) who successfully translated “John Barleycorn” and “The Jolly Beggars”, adding some general patriotic and communist ideas. The main problem with Bagricky’s translations was that he translated not the originals but the translations of Mikhalov and Kozlov made in the nineteenth century.

[ix] In fact, Marshak translated all of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

[x] Marshak continued to translate Burns’s poetry until his death in 1964.

[xi] Prose translations are the author's own.

[xii] Burns, R. (ed. J. Kinsley) Burns: Poems and Songs. Oxfrod University Press: Oxford, 1971: l.8.

[xiii] Burns, R. [trans. Marshak, S]. Robert Burns. Stihi [Robert Burns. Poems]. Hudozhestvenaia literature: Moskva, 1976: l.8.

[xiv] Burns, R.[trans. Shchepkina-Kupernik, T.]. Izbrannaia Lirika [Chosen Lyrics]. Moscow: Molodaia Gvardiia, 1936: l.8.

[xv] Marshak often decided in favour of Russian proverbs to transfer the lyrical folk tone of Burns’s poetry.

[xvi]Kupernik’s translation of ‘The Cotter’s Saturday Night’ may also serve as a good example of ideological influence on the translation. Thus, in Kupernik’s translation, the lines 127 to 144 (fifteenth and sixteenth stanzas), which describe a family’s prayers and include the names of Jesus, Babylon, Eternal King, Patmos, Christian, Creator, Heaven, and other allusions to the Bible were completely deleted.

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