“Журавли”: Cranes Posted by yelena on Dec 11, 2010 in language
Do you remember David, our guest blogger who wrote about letters of the Russian alphabet and also about why we say “двести“? Not surprisingly given his interest in Russian language he is also a member of a Russian “кружок” [club, lit: small circle]. At one of their recent meetings the club members discussed one of the most beautiful and touching songs, “Журавли” [Cranes], about Soviet soldiers killed in the Great Patriotic War. David was kind enough to send me the notes from the discussion and to allow to post them on this blog.
Мне кажется порою, что солдаты,
С кровавых не пришедшие полей,
Не в землю эту полегли когда-то,
А превратились в белых журавлей.
Они до сей поры с времен тех дальних
Летят и подают нам голоса.
Не потому ль так часто и печально
Мы замолкаем, глядя в небеса?
Летит, летит по небу клин усталый –
Летит в тумане на исходе дня,
И в том строю есть промежуток малый –
Быть может, это место для меня!
Настанет день, и с журавлиной стаей
Я поплыву в такой же сизой мгле,
Из-под небес по-птичьи окликая
Всех вас, кого оставил на земле.»
«Мне кажется» [It seems to me] – A very useful expression. Another similar and equally useful expression is «по-моему» [in my opinion], however «кажется» indicates a lesser degree of assuredness.
«Порою», form of «порой» – here the alternative feminine singular instrumental ending «-ою» is used in place of the more usual modern «–ой». «Порою» comes from «пора» and means “at times” or “on occasion”. Compare this to the word «днём» [by day] that comes from «день» [day] and «ночью» [by night] comes from «ночь» [night]. It is more common to say «порой». «Пора» in its various forms is used a lot, for example «мне пора» [I must go; lit. to me it’s time] or «с тех пор» [since then; lit. from those times]. Later in the song we see a related expression «до сей поры» [until now].
Right stress in the word «пора» is important. Pronounced as «пора» the word means “pore”.
«…солдаты, с кровавых не пришедшие полей…» – Here we see how the declension system gives the songwriter the freedom to play with word order in a way that just doesn’t work in English. Translating word-for-word we get “(the) soldiers from bloody not returned fields”. However the Russian makes perfect sense when we see how the case endings match up. «Пришедшие» is a past active participle derived from «прийти» (normally to arrive, but here better interpreted as to return), and its ending «–ие» makes it nominative plural, so it goes with «солдаты» [soldiers]. «Кровавых» [bloody] and «полей» [fields] have genitive plural endings so they go together as adjective and noun, despite having another word between them. Not keeping adjectives and their nouns together was common in Latin, but in Russian I think it is confined to songs and poetry. So the whole phrase «солдаты, с кровавых не пришедшие полей» means: the soldiers who didn’t come back from bloody battlefields.
«Не в землю эту полегли когда-то» – more or less literally the phrase means “did not lie down in that ground then”. Usually «когда-то» means “at some time” (definite but not known or specified by the speaker or writer), but here it doesn’t really work in English and “then” is probably the best way of translating it. Note that «в землю эту» is accusative, so «полегли» suggests the act of laying oneself to rest in the ground rather than the state of being buried. A looser translation perhaps more true to the spirit is “Do not lie in the ground where they fell”…
There’s a very strong imagery connected with the word «полегли» [felled]. When grass is flattened by wind, rain or hail, it is said «трава полегла» [felled grass]. So there’s this very emotional tie-in back to the previous line about «кровавые поля» [bloody fields]. The image is of men like blades of grass, reaching for the sun, but felled by force. Also, there’s a counter-point here: «полегшая трава» [felled grass] can straighten up again in a few hours and continue its growth, but fallen soldiers cannot come back.
«А превратились в белых журавлей.» [But turned into white cranes.] – «Превратиться» [to turn into] is a useful verb that can be used reflexively, like here, or non-reflexively as in the line from another popular song «Миллион алых роз» [A Million of Scarlet Roses]: «Свою жизнь для тебя превратит в цветы» [Will turn his own life into flowers for you.]
«Они до сей поры с времен тех дальних» [Since those times until now] – in «до сей поры», we have «пора» in its singular genitive form, so the implication is “right now” rather than “nowadays”.
«Летят и подают нам голоса.» [(they) Fly and give us (their) voices]
«Не потому ль так часто и печально/ Мы замолкаем, глядя в небеса?» [Isn’t this why, often, sadly,/ we fall silent, looking into the skies.] Note «замолкаем», from «замолчать», perfective of «молчать» [to be silent]. English lacks a simple verb for saying nothing. Note how the interrogative participle «ли» is shortened here to «ль» (like «бы» is sometimes shortened to «б»). «Небеса» is the plural of «небо».
«Летит, летит по небу клин усталый» – A «клин» is a wedge: obviously here it refers to the V-formation in which these birds fly. Direct translation doesn’t really work in English. Perhaps the best way to translate this line (rather loosely) is “the weary formation flies and flies on through the sky”…
«Летит в тумане на исходе дня,» [ it flies in the mist at the end of the day…]
«И в том строю есть промежуток малый» [and in that formation is a small gap…] – «Строю» comes from the noun «строй» [here – formation]. It is related to the verb «строить» [ to build]. «Строй» is one of those masculine nouns that has a special prepositional ending «у» or, as in this case, «ю». These special «у/ю» endings are always stressed, and they only apply when the preposition is «в» or «на». Note that although the noun «строй» can also be translated as “array” or “line-up”, the most contextually appropriate translation in this case is “formation” as in soldiers assembled in formation.
«Быть может, это место для меня!» – Maybe, that place is for me!
«Настанет день, и с журавлиной стаей» [The day will come, and with the flock of cranes] – literally, crane flock; «журавлиной» is feminine instrumental of crane as an adjective and «стаей» is instrumental singular of «стая» [flock]. «Стая» is not only for birds – «стая волков» [pack of wolves].
«Я поплыву в такой же сизой мгле» [I will fly in just such a grey gloom.] – «Поплыть» would normally imply moving through water, but the physics of swimming, sailing and flying are basically the same.
«Из-под небес по-птичьи окликая» [calling from the skies in the language of the birds]. «По-птичьи» is formed in analogy to «по-русски», based on the adjective derived from «птица» [bird, noun] – «птичий» [bird, adjective]. Animal adjectives are soft and decline slightly differently to the normal adjectives – apart from the masculine nominative they have the soft sign «ь» before the case ending. «Окликая» (a present gerundive) is derived from the verb «окликать» [to call to, to hail]. The people who are hailed are direct objects, which helps us make sense of the case endings in the last line…
«Всех вас, кого оставил на земле» [All of you, whom I have left behind on the earth] – The songwriter was able to leave out «я» before «оставил», because the only logical subject for this verb is the «я» in the second line of this verse.
So, here is my free translation:
It sometimes seems to me that all the soldiers
Who never returned from bloody battlefields
Do not lie in the ground where they fell
But turned into white cranes
From those distant times right up to now
They fly and give us their voices
Is this not why we often, and with sorrow
Fall silent, looking to the skies
The weary formation flies and flies on through the sky
It flies in the mist at the end of the day
And in that formation there’s a tiny space
It could be – that place is for me!
The day will come, and with the flock of cranes
I’ll be flying in just such a grey gloom
Calling from the skies in the language of the birds
To all of you I’ve left behind on earth.
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