Translated by Oskar Frankfurt:
Publisher: Translation Press
ISBN 978-0-615-34694-6

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In his relatively brief introduction to the writings of Alexander Pushkin, Oskar Frankfurt states that “the goal of the present translation is to reproduce the simplicity and the music of Pushkin’s poetry and to retain the images, the meaning and the beauty of the original verse”. Frankfurt leaves it up to the reader to see whether he or she has, indeed, managed to do so. I found it a pity, though, that Frankfurt left so much else up to the reader as well. Though he introduces Pushkin’s novel in verse form, “Eugene Onegin”, and provides some stray insights into the other pieces included in this volume, those readers who have not previously been exposed to Pushkin’s work, or to descriptions of the milieu within which he wrote, might find difficulty in appreciating the true beauty of Pushkin’s work (but then, some might also argue, a translation always remains a translation, and can never fully convey the full intensity of the writer’s own utterances in any case).

Rather than including all his commentary within the confines of a seven-page introduction, Frankfurt might also have done better to introduce each piece separately, or at least to have distinguished the poems, dramas and fairytales clearly from one another. What I would recommend to any reader is that, unless you already know quite a bit about Pushkin’s life and times, you first read up a little, and then read this translation. Only then are you likely to be able to appreciate the merits of this work.

And merits there are, starting with the front cover, which portrays Natalia Goncharova, the wife of Alexander Pushkin, by Karl Briullov (1831). An enchanting portrait, enough to make one hunger for more details about her, but, alas, you will not find them in this volume. Frankfurt has clearly gone to great effort to transform Pushkin’s work into contemporary diction and meter, but it would have been so enlightening to hear how he set about choosing which of Pushkin’s work he wished to include in this volume. What was his motivation for embarking on such a translation? How did he come to have such a sound grasp of the Russian language that he felt sufficiently empowered to be able to translate the work of someone who is hailed in Russia as her greatest poet? What distinguishes the different genres of Pushkin’s work from that of other writers? What accounts for Pushkin’s preeminence in Russian literary history? The questions abound, but the answers are few.

The diction used in the translation itself is thoroughly contemporary and is easy to understand, so that Frankfurt has attained what he originally set out to do. However, the author would be well advised to expand on, and to contextualize, the next edition of his translation, so that the work becomes accessible to a much wider readership than that to which it is currently available.

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