Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sorrowful Mother

Today is the first day of Lent for Christians in Ukraine.  Something I enjoy doing in my free time is translating Ukrainian poetry into English.  Pavlo Tychyna is one of my favorite Ukrainian poets.  His works are tremendously moving, and his life is fascinating.  Michael Naydan gives a great introduction to his translation of this poem, and I will quote it word for word: "The imagery from this poem comes from the tradition of the Khodinnia, the "walking" of the Blessed Virgin from the Apocrypha "The Virgin's Descent into Hell."  In the story the Virgin descends into hell on Great Saturday.  There she sees the tortured souls and pities them, allowing them to be released for one day.  In the Eastern Slavic tradition any land of sorrow becomes the land of Mary.  For the Eastern Slavs, a native redeemer becomes a new Christ, who grows out of the native land."

As you prepare your hearts for the Lenten Season (and Holy Week for my friends back in the states) I hope that my translation of this poem is meaningful to you. The original may be found here for Ukrainian speakers.

Sorrowful Mother, a poem in four parts, translated by Michael Airgood.

In memory of my mother

Through a field she passed
And on trails, down a path.
Her heart irradiated
With each knife's brilliant gash.
As she gazed - silence reigned.
A corpse rotting in the rye...
The sleepy grain refrained:
Rejoice, Mary! was their cry.
The sleepy grain refrained:
Remain with us, stay!
The blessed mother remained,
And tears broke away.
A starless sky, and no moon,
Yet the day was slow to start.
It's scary!.. How poorly hewn
Has grown the human heart.

Through a field she passed -
In forests green and airy...
She met her Son's Disciple cast:
Rejoice forever, Mary!
Rejoice forever, Mary:
We've been searching for Jesus
Which way, then, shall we terry
To take us to Emmaus?
Mary raised her pale hands,
Judea is not for you.
Pointing with her lilly hands,
Turn from Galilee, too.
But rather, go to Ukraine,
Stop in cities and the sticks -
Perhaps there it can be seen
The shadow of his crucifix.

Through a field she passed.
A field with graves so scary
Against her face, the wind, contrary
Christ is Risen, Mary!
Christ is Risen? - uncertainly,
I haven't heard, I don't know.
There won't be heaven, though
In this bloodsplattered land of woe.
Christ is Risen, Mary!
We are the flowers of thistle,
We sprout at blood's whistle
On the field of battle.
Silence in distant towns.
A field with graves so scary.
A flower sings so swan-y:
Be merciful, Mary!

Through a field she passed...
- and must this country die? -
Where He was born the second time, -
The land he loved till dying's cry?
As she gazed - silence reigned.
The wild rye has thrived.
-Why were you crucified?
For what have you been killed?
She couldn't stand the sadness,
Or more of torment's tricks,-
Her knees crumpled to the grass,
Her arms crossed - the Crucifix!...
Above her the grain and leaven
"Rejoice, Rejoice!" - quietly whispered.
But the angels up in heaven -
They have neither known nor heard.

Translated by M.B. Airgood(c)
December 2012

I did not presume to be able to translate this poem more accurately than previous translations, but hoped that I would be able to make it more lyrical and graceful without straying too far from the text.  As with all translation from short line, rhythmic, rhyming verse - a direct, accurate translation is virtually impossible.  For many months I considered translating this piece, but was uncertain if another translation was necessary. 

However, having lived in the Slavic world for some years; and having experienced the Lenten fast and Easter festivities many times within a Christian community, I had never heard this story of Mary's descent.  I was fascinated by the love of a mother facing hell itself to save her son.  I translated this in honor of my own mother, who loves me so and loves the people of Ukraine so fiercely without even the most tenuous of ethnic connection to this country. 

We are, however, connected by faith, in each reading of the line "Христос воскрес", I remember the call and response of the Easter Sundays of my childhood. Christ is Risen. He is Risen, Indeed!

It is the tenuous, frightened, unbelieving recital of this liturgy throughout this poem that draws me to learn more about Tychyna's faith.  The young son of a deacon who grew into this tremendous poet, who grew into perhaps a puppet of the soviet government.

I am most intrigued by the religious views and writing of Ukrainian poets of this time period, and hope to research the topic more thoroughly in the future.

 I have tried to italicize all of the spoken lines of the poem to help the English reader make more sense of what becomes less apparent in the absence of Ukrainian grammar!  I hope this translation will help others understand this apocryphal, beautiful story more fully.

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