In order to illustrate the fine and difficult art of translation,
we present you here with three translations of a paragraph from
Book Three, Chapter Three: "The Confession of an Ardent Heart
in Verse." We begin with Dostoevsky's original (source
Pevear and Volokhonsky, Vintage Classics,
There's just one thing: how can I make a compact with the earth
evermore? I don't kiss the earth, I don't tear open her bosom; what
should I do, become a peasant or a shepherd? I keep going, and I
don't know: have I gotten into stench and shame, or into light and
joy? That's the whole trouble, because everything on earth is a
riddle. And whenever I happened to sink into the deepest, the very
deepest shame of depravity (and that's all I ever happened to do),
I always read that poem about Ceres and man. Did it set me right?
Never! Because I'm a Karamazov. Because when I fall into the abyss,
I go straight into it, head down and heels up, and I'm even pleased
that I'm falling in just such a humiliating position, and for me
I find it beautiful. And so in that very shame I suddenly begin
a hymn. Let me be cursed, let me be base and vile, but let me also
kiss the hem of that garment in which my God is clothed; let me
be following the devil at the same time, but still I am also your
son, Lord, and I love you, and I feel a joy without which the world
cannot stand and be.
Constance Garnett, Modern Library, 1950.
But the difficulty is how am I to cling forever to Mother Earth.
I don't kiss her. I don't cleave to her bosom. Am I to become a
peasant or a shepherd? I go on and I don't know whether I'm going
to shame or to light and joy. That's the trouble, for everything
in the world is a riddle! And whenever I've happened to sink into
the vilest degradation (and it's always been happening) I always
read that poem about Ceres and man. Has it reformed me? Never! For
I'm a Karamazov. For when I do leap into the pit, I go headlong
with my heels up, and am pleased to be falling in that degrading
attitude, and pride myself upon it. And in the very depths of that
degradation I begin a hymn of praise. Let me be accursed. Let me
be vile and base, only let me kiss the hem of the veil in which
my God is shrouded. Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy
son, O Lord, and I love Thee, and I feel the joy without which the
world cannot stand.
Andrew H. MacAndrew, A Bantam Classic,
But what makes it hard for me is that I don't know how I could
possibly enter that eternal alliance with Mother Earth. I don't
kiss Mother Earth, I don't plow her soil... Should I, then, become
a peasant, a shepherd, or what? I go on and on, and I don't know
where I'll find myself next - in stench and disgrace or in light
and joy. And that's where the main trouble likes: everything in
this world is a puzzle. Whenever I've sunk into the deepest shame
and depravity - and that has happened to me more often than anything
else - I've always recited that poem about the goddess Ceres and
man's fate. But has it reformed me? No - because I'm a Karamazov,
because if I must plunge into the abyss, I'll go head first, feet
in air. I'll even find a certain pleasure in falling in such a humiliating
way. I'll even think that it's a beautiful exit for a man like me.
And so, in the very midst of degradation, I am low and despicable.
I must still be allowed to kiss the hem of the veil in which my
God is shrouded; and even if I may be following in the devil's footsteps,
I am still Your son, O Lord, and I love You, and fell the joy without
which the world cannot be.
After you've read the translations, consider the following questions.
Which translation do you prefer? Why?
Which translation is more lyrical? More conversational? Which
seems more "in tune" with your understanding of Dmitri's
Compare word choice in the three passages. If you like, focus
on one specific difference. How does word choice influence the
passages? Which word choice do you most admire, and why?
Consider syntax and punctuation in the three passages. Again,
you can focus on three variations of a single sentence. How does
syntax change the meaning or feeling of a sentence? Which syntax
do you most admire, and why?
Russian language students might try their hand at translating
the following passage. Share your translation with your classmates,
and discuss the choices you've made.