My Genealogy

Alexander S. Pushkin

Translated by Ivan Eubanks

with Commentary and Annotations by Ivan Eubanks and Sonia I. Ketchian

 

Моя родословная

Смеясь жестоко над собратом,
Писаки русские толпой
Меня зовут аристократом:
Смотри, пожалуй, вздор какой!
Не офицер я, не асессор,                           5
Я по кресту не дворянин,
Не академик, не профессор;
Я просто русский мещанин.

 

My Genealogy

Laughing cruelly at their colleague,
This crowd of Russian hacks
Calls me an aristocrat:
Just look, if you will, at this nonsense!
I’m no officer, no assessor,                                        5
I didn’t gain nobility by winning a medal,[1]
I’m no academic,[2] no professor;
I’m just a bourgeois Russian.[3]



Понятна мне времен превратность,
Не прекословлю, право, ей:                    10
У нас нова рожденьем знатность,
И чем новее, тем знатней.
Родов дряхлеющих обломок
(И по несчастью не один),
Бояр старинных я потомок;                     15
Я, братцы, мелкий мещанин.

 

I understand that times change,
I should not, and shall not, resist that:                10
Our well-born nobility is new,
And the newer, the nobler.
A splinter of the aging, fading clans,
(And unfortunately not the only one),
I am the descendant of ancient boyars;               15
I, my friend, am petty bourgeois.

 

Не торговал мой дед блинами,
Не ваксил царских сапогов,
Не пел с придворными дьячками,
В князья не прыгал из хохлов,               20
И не был беглым он солдатом
Австрийских пудреных дружин;
Так мне ли быть аристократом?
Я, слава богу, мещанин.

 

My grandfather didn’t peddle pancakes,[4]
Didn’t shine the tsars’ boots,[5]
Didn’t sing with the court sextons,[6]
Didn’t jump from forelock to prince,[7]           20
Nor was he a deserter who abandoned
The Austrian powder regiments,[8]
So how can I be an aristocrat?
I, thank god, am bourgeois.

 

Мой предок Рача мышцей бранной      25
Святому Невскому служил;
Его потомство гнев венчанный,
Иван IV пощадил.
Водились Пушкины с царями;
Из них был славен не один,                    30
Когда тягался с поляками
Нижегородский мещанин.

 

My ancestor Racha served                                       25
Saint Nevsky with martial brawn;[9]
His progeny was shown mercy
By Ivan IV, crowned rage incarnate.[10]
The Pushkins kept company with tsars;
Among them, more than one achieved glory    30
When the Polish tried contending
With a bourgeois citizen of Nizhny Novgorod.[11]


Смирив крамолу и коварство
И ярость бранных непогод,
Когда Романовых на царство                  35
Звал в грамоте своей народ,
Мы к оной руку приложили,
Нас жаловал страдальца сын.
Бывало нами дорожили;
Бывало... но – я мещанин.                       40

 

Having calmed sedition and perfidy
And the fury of martial storms,
When the people, in their charter,                       35
Called upon the Romanovs to reign,
We put our hand to signing it,
The son of the sufferer showed us favor.[12]
There was a time when we were valued;
There was a time… but – I’m bourgeois.[13]     40

 

Упрямства дух нам всем подгадил.
В родню свою неукротим,
С Петром мой пращур не поладил
И был за то повешен им.
Его пример будь нам наукой:                45
Не любит споров властелин.
Счастлив князь Яков Долгорукий,
Умен покорный мещанин.

 

The spirit of stubbornness ruined us all.
Indomitable among his own kin,
My ancestor did not get along with Peter,
And for that he was hanged.[14]
Let his example be a lesson to us:                          45
The sovereign does not like to be disputed.
Fortunate is Prince Yakov Dolgoruky,[15]
Wise is an obedient bourgeois.

 

Мой дед, когда мятеж поднялся
Средь петергофского двора,                     50
Как Миних, верен оставался
Паденью третьего Петра.
Попали в честь тогда Орловы,
А дед мой в крепость, в карантин.
И присмирел наш род суровый,            55
И я родился мещанин.


When a rebellion arose among
The court at Peterhof, my grandfather,             50
Like Minikh, remained loyal
To the fall of Peter the Third.[16]
Then the Orlovs fell into favor
And my grandfather—into prison, quarantined.[17]
And my fierce clan became subdued,                  55
And I was born bourgeois.

 

Под гербовой моей печатью
Я кипу грамот схоронил
И не якшаюсь с новой знатью,
И крови спесь угомонил.                         60
Я грамотей и стихотворец,
Я Пушкин просто, не Мусин,
Я не богач, не царедворец,
Я сам большой: я мещанин.

 

I have a stack of documents buried
Beneath the seal of my coat of arms,[18]
And I don’t consort with the new nobility,
And I’ve pacified the haughtiness of my blood. 60
I am educated and a poet,
I’m just a Pushkin, not a Musin,[19]
I’m not a rich man, not a courtier,
I am my own master: I’m bourgeois.

 

Post scriptum

Решил Фиглярин, сидя дома,                 65
Что черный дед мой Ганнибал
Был куплен за бутылку рома
И в руки шкиперу попал.

 

Post scriptum

Sitting at home, Figliarin decided[20]                65
That my black grandfather Gannibal
Was purchased for a bottle of rum
And fell into the hands of a skipper.

 

Сей шкипер был тот шкипер славный,
Кем наша двигнулась земля.                70
Кто придал мощно бег державный
Рулю родного корабля.

 

This skipper was that renowned skipper
By whom our land was moved,                                  70
Who mightily imparted a powerful course
To the rudder of the native ship.

 

Сей шкипер деду был доступен.
И сходно купленный арап
Возрос, усерден, неподкупен,                75
Царю наперсник, а не раб.

 

This skipper was affable to my grandfather.
And the affordably purchased blackamoor
Grew up, zealous, incorruptible,                               75
The tsar’s confidant and not a slave.

 

И был отец он Ганнибала,
Пред кем средь чесменских пучин
Громада кораблей вспылала,
И пал впервые Наварин.                         80

 

And he was the father of Gannibal,
Before whom a mass of ships burst aflame
Upon the depths of Chesma Bay,[21]
And thus Navarin fell for the first time.[22]        80

 

Решил Фиглярин вдохновенный:
Я во дворянстве мещанин,
Что ж он в семье своей почтенной?
Он? он в Мещанской дворянин.

 

Inspired, Figliarin decided
That I am a bourgeois among nobles,
But what is he, in his estimable family?
Him? He’s a Meshchansky Street nobleman.[23]

 


Download: Pushkin, Alexander. "My Genealogy," trans. Ivan S. Eubanks. Pushkin Review 12-13 (2009-10): 117-24.


Commentary and Annotations

[1] Michael Wachtel, in his work in progress, translates “po krestu” as “by a medal.” The point is that Pushkin was born into the (old) nobility; he did not have to eke out the title through service and medals (such as the “vladimirskii krest” or the “andreevskii krest”), as was often the case for the new nobility. Michael Wachtel, A Commentary to Pushkin’s Lyric Poetry, 1826–1836 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming 2011). [Ketchian]

[2]Slovar´ iazyka Pushkina defines this case as a “member of the Academy of Sciences”; a second meaning is of “scholar.” Michael Wachtel explains better: “These were usually either foreigners (often Germans) or Russians not of noble origin. Aristocrats looked at them with suspicion.” [Ketchian]

[3]  This word in Russian, meshchanin, is particularly difficult to translate, due to the different stylistic and political nuances any viable equivalent would introduce to the text. Bourgeois, for example, has political connotations colored by twentieth-century history, which Pushkin surely did not have in mind when he wrote the poem in 1830. The next nearest equivalent, burgher, is somewhat more archaic in contemporary American English than meshchanin was in Pushkin’s time. According to Max Fasmer, meshchanin came into Russian around 1700 from the Polish mieszczanin, which in turn is derived from miasto, the Polish word for city (see Max Fasmer, Etimologicheskii slovar´ russkogo iazyka, trans. O. N. Trubacheva, 4 vols. [Moscow: Progress, 1964–74], 2: 616). Thus, in the most literal sense, burgher, bourgeois, and meshchanin all mean “city-dweller.” The most precisely corresponding word for this in English is, etymologically speaking, “citizen.” The word citizen, however, also poses problems in translation, because it does not refer to members of a specific social class and thus mutes one of the poem’s prominent themes. Although burgher might work better than bourgeois in certain lines (such as line 33), bourgeois works best in the greatest number of scenarios, as long as one strips it of the Marxist nuances it has accrued. [Eubanks]

     Pushkin is responding aesthetically to Bulgarin calling him “meshchanin vo dvorianstve” (a bourgeois among the nobility) from the title of Molière’s comedy. D. D. Blagoi, Tvorcheskii put´ Pushkina (1826–1830) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel´, 1967), 554. [Ketchian]

[4]  Peter’s favorite, Men´shikov, originally sold pancakes. [Ketchian]

     The Russian word here is bliny, which is often translated as “pancakes,” although bliny resemble crepes as much as, if not more, than they do pancakes. [Eubanks]

[5]  Count Kutaisov—valet of Emperor Paul I. [Ketchian]

[6]  Razumovsky was a handsome singer. [Ketchian]

[7]  Bezborodko was a peasant. [Ketchian]

     The term forelock here refers to a tradition, among Cossacks, of wearing a long lock of hair above the forehead, usually with the rest of the head cropped or shaved. Cossacks comprised a military class in imperial Russia; they typically lived along the borders of the empire (e.g., in Ukraine and southern Russia, north of the Caucasus mountains) and were not born into the aristocracy. [Eubanks]

[8]  This is I. Kleinmikhel´. Boris Pavlovich Gorodetskii, Lirika Pushkina (Leningrad: Prosveshchenie, 1970), 336 fn. 149. [Ketchian]

[9]  Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, defeated the Swedes in 1240. [Ketchian]

     The Russian Orthodox Church canonized Alexander Nevsky as a saint in the sixteenth century. [Eubanks]

[10]  I have interpreted the Russian phrase “gnev venchannyi, Ivan IV” as a copula formed by a comma, because both nouns are in the nominative case, whereas the verb is masculine singular. Thus, the phrase would literally read “crowned rage, Ivan IV [spared/had mercy on]…” My inclusion above of the word incarnate, which does not appear in the Russian, serves to underscore the equivalence of the two noun phrases. [Eubanks]

[11]  The prominent peasant Koz´ma Minin with Prince Dmitry Pozharsky drove the Poles from Moscow in 1612–13. [Ketchian]

     This is one instance in which burgher might work better than bourgeois. Pushkin, however, repeats the same Russian word in the last line of each stanza (with the exception of the “Post Scriptum,” in which meshchanin appears only in the final stanza), and so I have also remained consistent. [Eubanks]

[12]  Michael Wachtel’s notes to his book in progress show this is Patriarch Fedor, whose son Mikhail became the first Romanov tsar. [Ketchian]

[13]  In octet 5, repetition by truncation prepares for the reverse truncated repetition in the poem’s perorating line. [Ketchian]

[14]  Fedor Pushkin was hanged in 1697. On the accomplishments of the Pushkins, see Gorodetsky, Lirika Pushkina, 336–40. [Ketchian]

[15]  Dolgoruky was pardoned, unlike Fedor Pushkin. [Ketchian]

[16]  Khristofor Minikh (1683–1767), a German, was a general-field-marshal of the Russian Army who switched sides from Peter III to Catherine II. [Ketchian]

[17]  After the coup of 1762 Lev Aleksandrovich Pushkin was imprisoned. [Ketchian]

[18]  The Russian folkish (prostorechie) skhoronit´ means “to bury” and figuratively to forget something past its time. Some dictionaries define it as “save.” [Ketchian]

     A crucial word in these two lines is gramota, the same word Pushkin uses in line 36: “Kogda Romanovykh na tsarstvo / Zval v gramote svoei narod, / My k onoi ruku prilozhili.” In the earlier passage, gramota is translated as “charter,” but in the present instance its meaning is potentially broader. Nonetheless, Pushkin’s implication is that there is an abundance of such documents, be they charters, decrees, or chronicles, associated with his family, represented metonymically here by his coat of arms. Also, further down in this stanza (line 61), Pushkin uses the phrase “Ya gramotei,” which has been translated as “I’m educated,” but in Russian that phrase obviously resonates with the two instances of gramota discussed here, thus phonically reinforcing the poet’s pedigree and his family’s role in monumental events in Russian history. [Eubanks]

[19]  The Musin-Pushkins were a wealthy branch of the family at the time of writing. [Ketchian]

[20]  Home for Figliarin at the very end turns out to be at an unsavory and questionable locus and the name bourgeois alone undermines his pretensions. [Ketchian]

[21]  In this stanza Pushkin refers to a naval battle in the Russo-Turkish war. Count Alexei Orlov (of the family referenced in line 53) was in command of the Russian fleet. [Eubanks]

[22]  Navarin was a Turkish fort. [Ketchian]

[23]  Note that “Meshchansky” is derived from the same word as meschanin, which has been translated as “bourgeois” throughout the poem. [Eubanks]