Oy Kemball

I get what Robin Kemball's trying to do with these translations of Akhmatova and Blok, but insistence on duplicating Russian meters so exactly....even I don't see the point. I really don't. Duplicating the iambic and trochaic tetrameters is one thing. Even duplicating alexandrine hexameters, rather than turning them into pentameters, can be worth it (I myself have felt that to be worth doing exactly once.) But when you go about duplicating the ternary meters of Russian in English, along with the alternating masculine/feminine rhymes, in the vast majority of cases, I stop seeing the point. Maybe in another era, when formal features like this could be imbued with more pointfulness in themselves, this would be worth it. But today? Why bother, honestly.

Even though for 19th century Russian poets, metrical form can have actual semantic dimensions, I don't see the point in exact duplication. It's like saying "Om" and meaning the mantric sound, but in a context where someone more likely to think you're making the "Om om om" noise the cookie monster makes when he's eating his one and only dish of choice.

There's nothing about Russian ternary meters, in most cases, that makes them so paramount. Or, at least, very little that they do in Russian — little that makes them worthwhile in Russian — that couldn't be handled as well, or more likely far better, with English sprung rhythms or something of the kind. In Russian they're common, increasingly so from the middle of the 19th century onward through the beginning of the twentieth. But that commonness has at least a bit to do with how strong the expiratory stress is in Russian — or at least, versions of Russian that have been the norm since the end of the Middle Ages. It's worth noting that ternary meters in Russian were quite frequently used to translate the purely accentual, and not accentual-syllabic, rhythms of English and German poetry. Note for example Lermontov's rendering of Heine's Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam, or Zhukovski's rendering of Goethe's Erlkönig. But even here note the increasing popularity of dol'nik verse in the 20th century.

In English they're limited to comic and light verse. I think the most commonly quoted line in amphibrachs in English is "there once was a man from Nantucket."

When even I don't see the point in the degree of formal, metrical and rhyme fidelity you're imposing on yourself....that's a bit like Stalin calling you a control freak. 

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