April 21, 2013

From "Valerik" by Mikhail Lermontov

Following Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov was the second great writer in Russian literature. Born in 1807, Lermontov died in in a duel four years after Pushkin died in a duel.  A Russian Army officer, he was mentioned in the dispatches for his bravery in the 1839 Battle of Valerik south of Grozny. From the "Chechen Republic of Ishkeria" website, here's somebody's translation of part of Lermontov's poem "Valerik,'
…I asked him:
What is this place called?
‘Valerik’, he said,
Which means ‘the river of the dead’
And those who named it rest in Heaven.
— How many of them fought today?
— 7,000
— How many did the Mountaineers lose?
— Who knows? Why would they be counted!
‘They’ll be counted’, I heard a voice reply
‘This day of blood will not be forgotten’.
I turned and saw the Chechen, nodding,
With a grin of contempt upon his lips.

Days of blood are not forgotten in Chechnya.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

A bit off-topic but Lermentov is a good rea. "A Hero of Our Time" is a lot of fun. He wrote a poem, translated by Nabakov, involving multiple leves of embedding: Something like, "In the Caucasus a soldier lies dying and dreaming of a girl in Moscow wgo imagines her lover dying in the Caucasus and remembering her.". Good stuff.

aias said...

Tolstoys 'The Cossacks' final scene is a suicide shootout by Chechens.

Anonymous said...

I think I see a grin of contempt on his lips.


Thursday said...

Tolstoy's Hadji Murad is set in Chechnya. It is a one of the great war stories, a short novel really. Well worth reading.

Thursday said...

Here is the opening passage, which sets up the central metaphor of the book:

I WAS returning home by the fields. It was midsummer; the hay harvest was over, and they were just beginning to reap the rye. At that season of the year there is a delightful variety of flowers -- red white and pink scented tufty clover; milk-white ox-eye daisies with their bright yellow centres and pleasant spicy smell; yellow honey-scented rape blossoms; tall campanulas with white and lilac bells, tulip-shaped; creeping vetch; yellow red and pink scabious; plantains with faintly-scented neatly-arranged purple, slightly pink-tinged blossoms; cornflowers, bright blue in the sunshine and while still young, but growing paler and redder towards evening or when growing old; and delicate quickly-withering almond-scented dodder flowers. I gathered a large nosegay of these different flowers, and was going home, when I noticed in a ditch, in full bloom, a beautiful thistle plant of the crimson kind, which in our neighborhood they call "Tartar," and carefully avoid when mowing -- or, if they do happen to cut it down, throw out from among the grass for fear of pricking their hands. Thinking to pick this thistle and put it in the center of my nosegay, I climbed down into the ditch, and, after driving away a velvety bumble-bee that had penetrated deep into one of the flowers and had there fallen sweetly asleep, I set to work to pluck the flower. But this proved a very difficult task. Not only did the stalk prick on every side -- even through the handkerchief I wrapped round my hand -- but it was so tough that I had to struggle with it for nearly five minutes, breaking the fibres one by one; and when I had at last plucked it, the stalk was all frayed, and the flower itself no longer seemed so fresh and beautiful. Moreover, owing to a coarseness and stiffness, it did not seem in place among the delicate blossoms of my nosegay. I felt sorry to have vainly destroyed a flower that looked beautiful in its proper place, and I threw it away. "But what energy and tenacity! With what determination it defended itself, and how dearly it sold its life!" thought I to myself, recollecting the effort it had cost me to pluck the flower.

Anonymous said...

Not only is that translation awful, it completely misinterprets the point.

“What name does this place bear?”
He answered me, “It’s Valerik,
And translated into your tongue,
The river of the dead: and aptly
It was thus named by men of old.”
“About how many of them fought
Today?” “Up to seven thousand.”
“How many lost by mountain-folk?”
“How would I know?” “Why didn’t you count?”
“Oh yes! They will remember
This bloody day,” another said
The Chechen looked upon him slyly
And only shook his head.

The whole idea of the passage is that the battle is business as usual - the body count won't even register in the Chechens' memory.

Nurse Ratchmaninoff said...

We must establish duel control measures & feminize the population further so that such provocative "art" may be safely banished from the Human race