The Russian word for Christmas is Рождество, which comes from the verb родить “to give birth.” Here we have the text in which the Wise Men seek out Jesus (Matt 2:9-11). The text on the left is from the Russian Synodal Bible, which uses pre-revolutionary spelling. The text on the right is from the King James Bible.
|Они, выслушавши царя, пошли. И — се, звѣзда, которую видѣли они на востокѣ, шла передъ ними, какъ наконецъ пришла, и остановилась надъ мѣстомъ, гдѣ былъ Младенецъ. Увидѣвши же звѣзду, они возрадовались радостью весьма великою, и вошедши въ домъ, увидѣли Младенца съ Маріею, Матерью Его и падши поклонились Ему; и открывши сокровища свои, принесли ему дары: золото, ладанъ и смирну.||When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.|
С Рождеством Христовым!
The Russian word for Christmas is Рождество, which comes from the verb родить “to give birth.” Here we have the text of the angels' message to Joseph (Matt 1:18-21). The text on the left is from the Russian Synodal Bible, which uses pre-revolutionary spelling. The text on the right is from the King James Bible.
|Рождество Іисуса Христа было такъ: по обрученіи Матери Его Маріи съ Іосифомъ, прежде нежели сочетались они, оказалось, что Она имѣетъ во чревѣ отъ Духа Святаго. Іосифъ же мужъ ея, будучи праведенъ и не желая огласить Ее, хотѣлъ тайно отпустить Ее. Но когда онъ помыслилъ это, — се, Ангелъ Господень явился ему во снѣ и сказалъ: Іосифъ, сынъ Давидовъ! не бойся принять Марію, жену твою; ибо родившееся въ Ней есть отъ Дух Святаго; родитъ же Сына, и наречешь Ему имя: Іисусъ; ибо Онъ спасетъ людей Своихъ отъ грѣховъ ихъ.||Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.|
С Рождеством Христовым!
The Russian word for Christmas is Рождество, which comes from the verb родить “to give birth.” Here we have the text of the angels' announcement of Christ's birth to the shepherds. The text on the left is in pre-revolutionary spelling which is still used by the Russian Orthodox Church.
|Въ той странѣ были на полѣ пастухи, которые содержали ночную стражу у стада своего. Вдругъ предсталъ имъ Ангелъ Господень, и слава Господня осіяла ихъ; и убоялись страхомъ великимъ. И сказалъ имъ Ангелъ: не бойтесь; я возвѣщаю вамъ великую радость, которая будетъ всѣмъ людямъ: ибо нынѣ родился вамъ въ городѣ Давидовомъ Спаситель, который есть Христосъ Господь. И вотъ, вамъ знакъ: вы найдете младенца въ пеленахъ, лежащаго въ ялсяхъ. И внезапно явилось съ Ангеломъ многочисленное воинство небесное, славящее Бога и взывающее: Слава въ вышнихъ Богу, и на замлѣ миръ, въ человѣках благоволеніе.||And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.|
|Лука 2:8-14||Luke 2:8-14|
С Рождеством Христовым!
The Russian word пророчество means prophecy. Below you will find one of the most famous prophecies from the Old Testament. The text on the left is from a Russian Bible written in pre-revolutionary orthography.
|А ты, Виѳлеемъ Ефраѳовъ, мало тебѣ быть наряду съ воеводствами Іудиными: изъ тебя произойдетъ Мнѣ Тотъ, Который долженъ бытъ Владыкою во Израилѣ, и Котораго происхожденіе изъ начала, отъ дней вѣчныхъ.||But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.|
|Михей 5:1||Micah 5:2|
You'll notice the verse numbers in this particular Russian translation and the English King James version don't match. That's no error. Verse numbers were not part of the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts of the Bible. They are a reference convenience added years later, and from edition to edition they don't always match perfectly.
Translation is a complex art. You might want a translation to:
- clearly indicate the words and grammatical structures of the original. This kind of translation is useful for people who have some skill in the original language and are trying to fine-tune their language skills.
- clearly indicate the informational content of the original without overly worrying about mimicking the grammatical structure of the original. This kind of translation is suitable for technical documents and newspaper and magazine articles.
- reinterpret the original for a specific target audience in such a way as to catch its emotional content, which is the approach you want to use for poetic translations.
This topic came to mind recently when I ran across a blog entry from the Director of the Vladimir Bakanov School of Translation, in which he cited a poem by Агния Барто, a Russian author of children's poetry whom I had never read before. Judging from this first example, she was talented. I decided to try to produce a translation of the poem for American children. Before I show that translation, I'll adduce the poem along with a fairly close word-for-word translation. And then I'll give you a more poetic interpretation.
|Russian original||Word-for-word translation|
Дело было в январе,
Стояла ёлка на горе,
А возле этой ёлки
Бродили злые волки.
The incident was in January
A fir-tree stood on a hill
And near this tree
Evil wolves wandered
Вот как-то раз, ночной порой,
Когда в лесу так тихо,
Встречают волка под горой
Зайчата и зайчиха.
So once аt night
When in the forest it was so quiet,
A rabbit and her bunny kids
Come across a wolf at the bottom of the hill.
Кому охота в Новый год
Попасться в лапы волку!
Зайчата бросились вперёд
И прыгнули на ёлку.
Who would want for the New Year
To end up in the paws of a wolf!
The bunnies rushed forward
And jumped into the fir.
Они прижали ушки,
Повисли, как игрушки.
The pressed their ears down
And hung there like toys.
Десять маленьких зайчат
Висят на ёлке и молчат.
Дело было в январе, —
Подумал он, что на горе
Ten little bunnies
Hang on the tree and are quiet.
They tricked the wolf.
The incident was in January.
The wolf thought that on the hill
Was a decorated christmas tree.
When you reinterpret a poem, you hope to first of all produce the overall meaning of the original. That's a minimum. Then you attempt to reproduce the emotion of the original, which is tricky because conflicting cultural values may mean that what's emotionally important in the source culture is not as important (or worse yet, emotionally important in a different way) in the target culture. If you can do those two things, then you have a good a translation. And if you can throw in some relatively non-essential aspects like rhyme scheme or rhythm in addition to those other two, then you have a very good translation.
My translation below has one important modification: I have replaced the New Year imagery with Christmas imagery since the latter is the more important winter holiday for most Americans. The poem also reproduces the rhyme scheme of the original, though not the rhythmic structure. Feel free to comment on the translation's inadequacies.
Months long before the springtime thaw
A pine stood 'neath the winter's gray.
Nearby within a snowy draw
The hungry wolves would prowl for prey.
One winter's night when all was calm,
When no one would expect it least,
Ten bunnies and their bunny mom
Perchanced across one hungry beast.
In the month of Santa Claus
No hare would ever care to be
Consumed by such ferocious jaws,
So they jumped into that lone pine tree.
Those bunnies who had no defense
Just hung like Christmas ornaments.
Ten bunnies hung without a word
Where only snowflakes could be heard.
They tricked the wolf so thoroughly,
Quite long before the springtime thaw,
The only thing he thought he saw
Was a decorated Christmas tree.
(Translation © 2008 Donald E. Livingston, Jr.)