Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Translations of the Hanging....

Addis Abeba, Ethiopia. Hanging on the market square.

"Desolation Row" is the 11:21 song that closes Bob Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited and is often found in the top three or four of most of the countless lists of "Bob Dylan's best songs."

1965 was a hell of a year for Dylan. Famously "going electric" at the Newport Folk Festival, Dylan released the first two albums that would comprise, along with Blonde On Blonde released in 1966, what some fans refer to as the 1965-1966 trilogy; three electric albums that changed the face of pop music and songwriting.

"Desolation Row" falls at exactly halfway through that trilogy. On the preceding album, Bringing It All Back Home, a parallel can be drawn between "Desolation Row" and "The Gates of Eden." In the the lines that end “the gates of Eden” the choice is between the things “inside” and “outside.” In "Desolation Row,” things are either sent "from" or "to."

By the time Highway 61 Revisited has run its course, what I have always imagined as the foreboding wrought iron gates of Eden are transformed into the run-down funky neighborhood of “Desolation Row.” Creatively, it’s a move that suggests an Old Testament story rewritten as a John Steinbeck novel.

Dylan's influences in "Desolation Row" are multiple and include a nod to Steinbeck's Cannery Row, a place where the outcasts of society found a home. The title also references Jack Kerouac's novel Desolation Angels (Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak, and wrote The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels from his experiences on the peak). Al Kooper, who played organ and piano on the album, claimed in his autobiography that "Desolation Row" was Eighth Avenue in New York City. At the time, this was a very dangerous part of town. It is likely that Dylan's experiences in Greenwich Village had a powerful influence on him and his writing.

There is also a strong suggestion that the image and content of "Desolation Row" was influenced by the nearby town of Duluth, Minnesota, located at the northern end of Highway 61. The opening lines of the song, "They're selling postcards of the hanging... The circus is in town", seem drawn from the Duluth lynchings, which occurred in Duluth in June of 1920 and from which actual (and very gruesome) postcards were made and sold at the time.

Lastly, T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land also appears to have influenced "Desolation Row." T. S. Eliot had died earlier in 1965.
But I digress....

On the Dylan forum, Expecting Rain, a couple posters played with translations of "Desolation Row." A Russian-born Dylan fan, living in Germany, translated the song into Russian, paying attention to the poetic structure and character of the lyric. Later, another poster named Pinhedz, a musician from Minnesota, translated the Russian back into English, but intentionally doing a very literal translation.

I love the results. It says something about language and the nature of translation as well as something about Dylan and what those "somethings" are, I haven't a clue. But it is fun.

Они торгуют всем на свете
И красят стены в чёрный цвет.
Сегодня в цирке представленье,
Но на него билетов нет.

Everything in the world is for sale,
And they’re painting the walls black,
The circus has a show today,
But there are no tickets to it.

Ведут слепого коммиссара,
Похоже он учуял след.
Одна рука торчит в кармане,
Другая держит пистолет.

They’re leading the blind commissar,
It looks like he’s sniffing the trail,
One hand is in his pocket,
The other is holding his pistol.

А толпа опять бушует,
Её сегодня тянет вдаль,
Пока Леди и я глядим в окно
На улицу Печаль.

And the crowd is restless again,
Today the far beyond beckons to them,
While Lady and I look through the window
Onto the Street of Sadness.

Золушка спокойно,
С улыбкой скажет: "Не беда.
Пройти всем в жизни надо
Через отчаянья года".

Cinderella calmly
With a smile says “No problem.
You must experience everything in life
Through the reckless years.”

Тут вдруг врывается Ромео.
"Ты же моя!", он в плач и в крик.
Ему ответит кто-то тихо:
"Ты не туда попал, старик".

Then suddenly Romeo bursts in,
“You are mine!” with a cry and a scream.
Someone quietly answers him:
“You’re in the wrong place, old man.”

А потом сирены стихнут
И только Золушка одна
Метёт обрывки старых писем
На улице Вина.

And then the sirens fall silent,
And just Cinderella all alone,
Sweeps up scraps of old letters
On the street of guilt.

Сейчас луны почти не видно
И звёзды спрятались давно.
Даже старая гадалка
Закрыла наглухо окно.

Now the moon is almost not visible
And the stars were hidden long ago.
Even the old fortune teller
Has closed her window tight

Все, кроме Каина и Брата
И попрошайки с Пляс де Вож,
Все занимаются любовью
Иль просто ожидают дождь.

Everyone but Cain and his brother
And the beggar of the Place des Vosges,
Are all making love
Or just expecting rain.

А Филантроп принарядился,
Набил бумагою карман.
Он - главный гость на карнавале
На улице Обман.

But the philanthropist is all dressed up,
And stuffed his pocket with paper.
He’s the main guest at the carnival
On the Street of Deceit.

Вот Офелья, за неё мне страшно.
В её сердце - пустота.
Как скоро её cломала
Повседневная суета.

There’s Ophelia, I’m so afraid for her,
In her heart is emptiness.
So soon she was beaten down
By the cares of everyday life.

Смерть ей кажется прекрасной,
Hа груди - бронежилет.
Она стала старой девой
В свои юные двадцать лет.

Death seems wonderful to her,
She wears an armor breastplate
She’s turned into an old maid
At the tender age of 20 years.

И хотя во снах рисует
Цвета радуги вновь и вновь,
Из засады швыряет камни
На улицу Любовь.

Although in dreams she paints
The colors of the rainbow over and over,
From her ambush she throws stones
Into the Street of Love.

Эйнштейн в костюме Робин Гуда
Проходил недавно тут.
Вслед чемодан воспоминаний
Тянул его товарищ Шут.

Einstein disguised as Robin Hood
Passed here not long ago.
After him his suitcase of memories
Was pulled by his comrade Clown.

Швырнул так зло он сигарету,
Как будто это - динамит,
Потом пошёл, шатаясь, дальше,
Читая громко алфавит.

He flung his cigarette so wickedly,
As if it was dynamite,
Then he passed on, staggering,
Loudly reciting the alphabet.

Быть может, ты его не помнишь,
Он был когда-то виртуоз
Игры на электронной скрипке
На переулке Грёз.

Maybe you don’t remember him,
He was once a virtuoso
Playing the electric violin
In the Alley of Visions.

Доктор Фильц содержит судьбы
На дне огромных сундуков,
Каждый его подопечный
Ищет ключи от замков.

Doctor Filtz holds our destinies
In the bottom of huge trunks.
Every one he watches over
Is seeking the keys to the locks.

Mедсестра, та что в ответе
За цианкалий и за грог,
Ведёт ночами картотеку
С названием "Храни их, Бог".

The nurse that is in charge
Of the potassium cyanide and grog,
Carries the file of cards
Inscribed “God protect them.”

Они оба играют на дудках,
Ты услышишь их чудный дуэт,
Если высунешь ухо подальше
Из окна на улице Бред.

They both play on fifes,
You hear their wondrous duet,
If you stick your ear out the window
To the Street of Delerium.

Напротив шторы закрыты,
Там ужин готовят наспех,
Казанову кормят надеждой
На скорый у женщин успех.

On the other side the shades are drawn
They’re hurredly preparing dinner there.
They are feeding Casanova the hope
Of easy success with women.

Они в нём воспитают
Непомерную гордость собой,
А назавтра удачей отравят,
Смешав сладкий яд с похвалой.

In him they are nurturing
Boundless pride in himself,
But tomorrow they’ll poison him with success,
Having mixed sweet poison with praise.

А Фантом кричит в катакомбах:
"Казанове урок будет пусть,
Как ходить вечерами украдкой
На улицу Вечная Грусть".

And the phantom shouts in the catacombs:
“Let Casanova learn his lesson
For secretly going in the evenings
To the Street of Eternal Sorrow.”

Ровно в полночь все агенты
Из спецотряда сверхлюдей
Стучатся в двери тех, кто полон
Различных мыслей и идей.

At the stroke of midnight all the agents
From the supermen’s special brigade
Knock on the doors of those who are full
Of various thoughts and ideas.

Потом они везут их в замок,
Где подключают аппарат
Сердечных приступов к груди им:
Никто не будет виноват.

Then they take them to the castle
Where they hook up to their chests
The heart-attack machine:
No one will guilty.

Команда страховых агентов
Стоит с канистрами в руках.
Их цель: Предотвращать побеги
На улицу Забытый страх.

A crew of insurance agents
Stand with canisters in their hands.
Their job is to prevent escapes
To the Street of Forgotten Fear.

Слава Нептуну Нерона!
"Титаник" плывёт по волне,
Hа палубе все ещё спорят,
Кто был на чьей стороне.

Praise to Nero’s Neptune!
The Titanic sails over the waves,
On the deck everyone still argues,
Who was on who’s side.

Taм Эзра Паунд и Ти Эс Эльотт
Ведут на мостиke дуэль,
Над ними смеётся Калипсо
Под нежную песнь Ариэль.

There Ezra Pound and TS Elliott
Are fighting a duel on the bridge,
Calypso is laughing over them
Under the tender song of Ariel.

Ведь только там, в глубинах моря,
Где благодать и красота,
Нет смысла думать слишком много
Об улице Dreams.

It’s only there, in the depths of the sea
Where there is abundance and beauty,
There is no reason to think to much
About the Street of Dreams.

Я получил твоё письмо,
Получил ещё вчера.
Ты удачно пошутил,
Спросив, как мои дела.

I received your letter,
I got it already yesterday.
You made a good joke,
Asking how I was doing.

Всех, о ком ты пишешь мне,
Я знаю их, их жизнь скучна,
Я изменил их лица,
Дал им другие имена.

Everyone that you wrote me about,
I know them, I’m tired of their lives,
I changed all their faces
And gave them different names.

Теперь я не могу читать,
Не пиши же мне, пока
Не переедешь, как и я,
На улицу Тоска.

Right now I can’t read,
Don’t write to me until
You cross over, like me,
To the Street of Grief.

The original english lyrics, if you don't know them already by heart, can be found here.


Coffee Messiah said...

Greetings and salutations for a very interesting post.

Language is indeed a lost art, but as you relate it, alive and well in many translations.


pinhedz said...

Good read (maybe I should PM it to East_of_the_Jordon).

And as for that David Crosby incident, I'm sure you understand that I couldn't have stopped myself.

Stan Denski said...

You should PM East_of_the_Jordon and tell him thanks for me. And as for the David Crosby incident... not your fault. You were trying to win a contest and it was everyman for himself.