The Akkerman Steppe

Original Polish by Adam Mickiewicz (1798-1855) below

I launch myself across the dry and open narrows,
My carriage plunging into green as if a ketch,
Floundering through the meadow flowers in the stretch.
I pass an archipelago of coral yarrows.

It’s dusk now, not a road in sight, nor ancient barrows.
I look up at the sky and look for stars to catch.
There distant clouds glint—there tomorrow starts to etch;
The Dnieper glimmers; Akkerman’s lamp shines and harrows.

I stand in stillness, hear the migratory cranes,
Their necks and wings beyond the reach of preying hawks;
Hear where the sooty copper glides across the plains,

Where on its underside a viper writhes through stalks.
Amid the hush I lean my ears down grassy lanes
And listen for a voice from home. Nobody talks.

First appeared in the Sarmatian Review

Stepy akermańskie

Wpłynąłem na suchego przestwór oceanu,
Wóz nurza się w zieloność i jak łódka brodzi,
Śród fali łąk szumiących, śród kwiatów powodzi,
Omijam koralowe ostrowy burzanu.

Już mrok zapada, nigdzie drogi ni kurhanu;
Patrzę w niebo, gwiazd szukam przewodniczek łodzi;
Tam z dala błyszczy obłok? tam jutrzenka wschodzi?
To błyszczy Dniestr, to weszła lampa Akermanu.

Stójmy! — Jak cicho! — Słyszę ciągnące żurawie,
Których by nie dościgły źrenice sokoła;
Słyszę, kędy się motyl kołysa na trawie,

Kędy wąż śliską piersią dotyka się zioła.
W takiéj ciszy — tak ucho natężam ciekawie,
Że słyszałbym głos z Litwy. — Jedźmy, nikt nie woła!

 

Last Spring

Original German by Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) below

Take the forsythias deep within, each leaf,
and when the lilac blossoms on the lawn,
mix it, too, with your blood and joy and grief,
the dark soil that you depend upon.

Sluggish days. All have been gotten through.
And if you do not ask: the start or close,
then perhaps the hours will carry you
as distantly as June’s unfolding rose.

First appeared in Trinacria

Letzter Frühling

Nimm die Forsythien tief in dich hinein
und wenn der Flieder kommt, vermisch auch diesen
mit deinem Blut und Glück und Elendsein,
dem dunklen Grund, auf den du angewiesen.

Langsame Tage. Alles überwunden.
Und fragst du nicht, ob Ende, ob Beginn,
dann tragen dich vielleicht die Stunden
noch bis zum Juni mit den Rosen hin.

 

Leo Yankevich’s latest books are The Last Silesian (The Mandrake Press, 2005) Tikkun Olam & Other Poems (Second Expanded Edition), (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2012), and Journey Late at Night: Poems & Translations (Counter-Currents Publishing, 2013). He is editor of The New Formalist. More of his work can be found at LeoYankevich.com.

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22 Responses

  1. Ruth Asch

    I cannot read the originals, but these are beautiful English translations… and the descriptions and atmosphere they contain makes me wish I could.

    Reply
  2. Joseph Charles MacKenzied

    For readers, this is, of course, the great Polish poet, Adam Mickiewicz, who is also, perhaps, the most European of all poets, certainly the most cosmopolitan. I had heard some of his poems recited in Paris in French translation by Polish expatriates. There is hardly a literary movement in which Mickiewicz was not a part during his lifetime.

    A Roman Catholic, he was baptized in the Church of the Transfiguration in Navahrudak in what is now Belarus, not far from Minsk. He briefly fell into Messianism toward the end of his life, through excess of zeal for Poland, but submitted, thereby dying in the holy faith that made Poland one of the great civilizations of Europe. His body now reposes in the Cathedral of Krakow.

    What a delight to see his work translated on the pages of the Society of Classical Poets! Thank you, Evan Mantyk. This brings back memories for me. Thank you, poet Yankevich, for your fine gift of translation.

    Reply
  3. Kathy F.

    What a wonderful surprise to discover the work of Adam Mickiewicz, whom I’d never heard of before, via an e-mail from the Society of Classical Poets! After reading his poem, so well-translated above, I was compelled to find out more about him. A quick Internet search revealed that he was, in fact, born in the Grodno region of what was, at that time, Belorussia and is now Belarus. This was another great surprise because I’d been unaware that any poets of note had roots in that area – which is where one of my grandfathers was from. It’s interesting that the man who now is, according to Wikipedia, “widely regarded as Poland’s greatest poet” was actually Belorussian. 😉

    Reply
    • Dr.Darius Pacak

      As you said you have a HUGE lack of education. I suppose the first step should be to educate yourself, and much, much later to catch the pen.

      POLISH Poet Adam Mickiewicz, the one of the three, four, (Slowacki, Norwid, Krasinski) Polish Romanticism National GREATEST Voices IS Polish Poet, WAS Polish Poet, and STAYS Polish National Poet.

      Poet was born in or near the possible first capital of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and (I Rzeczpospolita Polska) The First Polish Republic (earlier of the Metropolitanate of Lithuania), through the hundreds of years… Until the 1795, when the Kingdom of Prussia, the Russian Empire and Habsburg Austria, the third time eliminated Polish State from the map of the Earth (The III Partition of Poland).
      …and after the I WW, the capital of the Nowogrodek Voivodeship in (II Rzeczypospolita Polska) The Second Polish Republic (1920-1945). So finally, the Grodno City and area was situated in Polish country, before II WW and Stalinists, Churchill and Roosevelt New Order after Yalta Pact (called also as The Fourth Partition of Poland).

      Kathy please, save the world from your comments. Let yourself to grow up…

      Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Kathy, I admire your frank and honest desire to learn more, as I find myself in much the same place, in the sense that we cannot have all knowledge at every second present before our consciousness. My knowledge of Polish literature is quite tangential, which proves that Leo Yankevish’s work is all the more valuable and appreciated.

      Reply
      • Kathy F.

        Joseph, thank you for sharing your thoughtful and refined point of view. I always enjoy reading your comments and your poems. 🙂

    • Kathy F.

      How fitting that his family’s former home, in the Grodno region of Belarus, is now a museum dedicated to his work! http://www (dot) mickiewicz-museum.narod.ru/english (dot) html 🙂

      Reply
  4. Kathy F.

    Oops! That was supposed to be a “winking face” at the end of my post, not a worried-looking one. 🙂

    Reply
  5. William Ruleman

    Indeed, it is heartening to see these renderings, which first appeared (along with helpful biographical notes on the poets featured) in Mr. Yankevich’s Selected Translations (Ancient Cypress Press, 2013), then later in Journey Late at Night (listed above) reaching a wider audience. Especially enlightening for so many of us is to read some metrical poetry from Poland, a country that we in our cultural myopia tend to neglect, and by a Romantic-era poet who was also a Christian—which leads me to another point: I must say that—while I am certainly open to seeing the world from other perspectives (including—ho, ho, Mr. MacKenzie—Jungian!), I am encouraged to find on this site so much work that is unabashedly Christian in its worldview. I thank Mr. Mantyk and also Mr. MacKenzie, in particular, for opening this door up good and wide for those of us who find ourselves to be more and more a minority in the poetry world today (and thus inclined to a feistiness that so many cannot understand). For those of us in that group, Christianity is the bedrock of faith that we cannot help returning to for solace, peace, and strength—and for a way to make sense of the world in all its crazy wickedness—despite what detours we might take and what desires we may have to be sophisticated and chic.

    In the past few days, I have been debating as to whether to send some translations to a journal that wants to see nothing “religious or inspirational”! (Well, I think I’ve just made up my mind.)

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      The nameless journal in question would by definition exclude Dante, Petrarch, Shakespeare, Donne, Péguy, and countless others—all the French of the Grand Siècle—if not poetry itself. Such a journal could never be worthy of your translations, Professor Ruleman.

      Reply
  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Count Yankevich’s translations are world-class work, and I am honored to have published several of them (from Polish, Russian, and German) in past issues of TRINACRIA. In addition, Yankevich’s original poems mark him as one of the most important writers in the New Formalist movement today. Yet because of the political and cultural bigotry that now governs so much of the Anglophone poetry world, he is shunned and ignored.

    No matter. His work is for the ages.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Would you say, Professor Salemi, that Yankevich is simply a New Formalist (a title I have seen hijacked by many an inferior poets), or would you say that Yankevish, as I strongly suspect, rises to the fullness of the actual Ars Poetica Nova characterized by egregious scholarship, the uncompromising espousal of form to meaning and the presence of this latter, contemplative depth and altitude, the élan to Highest Truth, and, of course, that perfect, absolute freedom of the poet to pursue his own perfections of intellect, temperament, and will?

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Well, I am not ready to speak for someone else. It’s up to the poet himself to answer complex questions about his beliefs and commitments. I included Leo Yankevich among the “New Formalists” simply because that became a useful label in the 1980s and 90s for a group of writers (myself included) who had become fed up with the cul de sac of Free Verse and Modernist orthodoxy. But even among those who accepted the label, there were many deep and significant differences. And as you know, I dislike literary labels on principle. They obfuscate things.

        Leo Yankevich is sui generis. As I pointed out in a review of one of his books, he combines the wild and tangled history of Eastern European forests with the hard-bitten cynical roughness of the Rust Belt and the Pennsylvania coal-fields. There is no one else who could have produced the kind of poems he has produced. He can’t be pigeonholed in any meaningful way, since he can be frighteningly unpredictable. And I would sacrifice reams of “New Formalist” garbage to preserve a single line of Yankevich.

  7. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    The best translations have the best poets behind them. Such is the case of Leo Yankevich.

    As for me, I do not hesitate to rank our illustrious poet—whose verses are appreciated throughout the world—among the brighter stars of the Ars Poetica Nova, which, as we are now discerning, is not so much an “école” (its poets are quite diverse), but more a casting away into the ocean of oblivion the 20th century’s wooden nickel of modernism with its two sides of empty free verse and empty formalism.

    Perhaps the greatest attribute of the Nouvelle Poésie is the profound and life-long apprenticeship to the great masters of the past, based on a spiritual apprehension of their truth, an apprenticeship assuming its highest form in refined and elegant translation, which is precisely what we have here.

    Reply
  8. Ludiew E. Sarceb

    I concur with Mr. Salemi’s remarks on New Formalism. I prefer historical literary tags.

    Mr. Mackenzie, would you regard Gottfried Benn’s poem here as empty formalism?

    Mr. Pacak brings up the important topic of Polish history, in light of the discussion around the Romantic sonnet by Adam Mickiewicz, which does not centre on the poem itself. I do miss the mention of “Litwy” in the final line of the translation, which is partly what stirs Mr. Pacak.

    I admire the Romantic sonnet by Adam Mickiewicz for several reasons: the fine parallelism of his phrasing in the octave, e. g., śród…śród, line 3; tam…tam, line 7; to…to, line 8. The exquisite line 4, in Polish, in the 13-syllable alexandrine [7-6] “omijam koralowe ostrowy burzanu.” [Yankevich’s translation of the line is also a nice touch.] I likewise admire the short phrasing in the more dramatic sestet of Mickiewicz, where the feelings of the poet find expression in nature, as deeply as those felt by Wordsworth, where he invokes nature’s creatures in a way Wordsworth never does: the pulling cranes, the falcon pupils, the butterfly swing, the snake’s slippery lobe. And finally, that last intense phrase—Jedźmy, nikt nie woła! [Let’s go. No one calls.], which ends the sonnet of a man whose country had been greedily divided amongst the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian empires.

    Reply
    • Joseph Charles MacKenzie

      Let me practice that perfect, absolute freedom of the Ars Poetica Nova by saying, quite plainly: Tear Benn and Stadler and Hym and all the other German expressionists out of the book of literary history, and that book will not be diminished by one iota.

      Formalists or not, they are emptiness itself. In a way, the fact that Benns was admired by the ignorant Nobel Prize committee ratifies my position.

      But then, I do not need the world’s ratification. Here we have two translations of two very unequal poets—only one is THE national poet of his people. You could have analyzed either poem or both. Only one poem moved your most erudite pen to action.

      And I think your beautiful analysis the sonnet by Mickiewicz speaks worlds as to the comparative greatness of the two poets translated above. Mr. Yankevich’s translations reveal perhaps more than they set out to.

      Reply
  9. James Sale

    I cannot read the originals, but certainly the translations stand as wonderful poems in their own right, so that is a great achievement.

    Reply
  10. David Watt

    I am impressed by what I presume to be great fidelity of translation in conveying atmosphere and scenic detail within these poems. The Akkerman Steppe in particular, retains a sense of time and place.

    Reply
  11. Sally Cook

    Dear Count Leo,

    You know I admire you as a poet. Please add to that my opinion of your translations — they are also superb.

    Yet again you bring to your translations all the sensitive reflections and evocative vocabulary evidenced in your own work. The translations are a joy to read. More than that, you may always be trusted never to cut corners, I.e., to present an inferior version of anyone else’s work in order to place it in a narrow cage of your own devising. This shows a true respect for the soul of someone else’s work.

    I especially thank you for sharing the work of Mickiewicz and Benn, which I would not have known without the translations.

    Sincerely,

    Sally Cook

    Reply

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