Kozlov's Translations of Two English Romantic Poems (1)

By Ober, Kenneth H.; Ober, Warren U. | Germano-Slavica, Annual 2005 | Go to article overview

Kozlov's Translations of Two English Romantic Poems (1)


Ober, Kenneth H., Ober, Warren U., Germano-Slavica


The paragon of nineteenth-century Russian poet-translators was Vasilij Andreevic Zukovskij (1783-1852), but he was by no means the only Russian poet of the time who was a brilliant translator. Karamzin (1766-1823), Gnedic (1784-1833), and Batjuskov (1787-1855), for example, as well as Lermontov (1814-41) and Puskin himself (1799-1837), produced translations that live. And Zukovskij's friend and protege Ivan Ivanovic Kozlov (1779-1840), though mainly popular among his contemporaries for his verse-tale Cernec (The Monk), is remembered in the twentieth century for translations of two poems long believed by Russians to be the work of Lord Byron but actually written by two Irishmen, both products of Trinity College, Dublin: "The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna" by Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) and "Those Evening Bells" by Thomas Moore (1779-1852). (2)

Of Kozlov, his mentor Zukovskij wrote, "Misfortune made him a poet." Like other young aristocrats of his day, he completed a few years' military service in an elite regiment, then lived a somewhat dissipated and aimless life until he began to lose his sight in 1819. By 1821 he was totally blind. Having squandered his inheritance, he then turned to literature for his livelihood, and in 1825 his immensely popular The Monk appeared. The same date is assigned by N. M. Gajdenkov to Kozlov's translation of Charles Wolfe's "The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna." Gajdenkov assigns a date of 1828 to Kozlov's second great translation, his version of Thomas Moore's "Those Evening Bells." Collected editions of Kozlov's poetry appeared in 1828, 1833, 1834, and (posthumously under the editorship of Zukovskij) 1840. During his last years the blind Kozlov lost his speech and hearing as well. (3) It is scarcely possible to overstate the extent of Kozlov's indebtedness to Zukovskij and of Zukovskij's influence over him. According to Irina Semenko, "Kozlov followed Zhukovsky in his lyrical 'sadness' and 'thoughtfulness,' as well as in his deliberately 'poeticizing' style. He differed from Zhukovsky in the greater intensity of his plaints and the dominance of lamentation." For Kozlov, "Zhukovsky's poetry was ... the source of his strength and support in personal misfortune...." Zukovskij, in short, according to Semenko, was Kozlov's "teacher and model in the fullest sense of the word." (4)

D. S. Mirsky describes Kozlov's translation of "The Burial of Sir John Moore at Corunna" as "an exceptionally faithful translation and a beautiful piece of Russian verse." (5) The original poem, the only work by Charles Wolfe that is read today, survived an early fugitive existence. Published, on April 19, 1817, in an Irish provincial newspaper, The Newry Telegraph, Wolfe's lines on the burial of General Moore came to the attention of the world of letters when they were republished, without attribution of authorship, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine for June 1817. (6)

Sir John Moore, like Charles Wolfe, is virtually forgotten today, eclipsed by the Duke of Wellington, his successor as commander of British forces in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic wars, but the Dictionary of National Biography asserts that "no British commander was ever more popular with his officers, none have left a more lasting impress on the troops trained under them." The DNB also quotes Napoleon's own assessment, in which Moore's great adversary during the Peninsular Campaign says of him: "His talents and firmness alone saved the British army [in Spain] from destruction; he was a brave soldier, an excellent officer, and a man of talent. He made a few mistakes, which were probably inseparable from the difficulties with which he was surrounded, and caused perhaps by his information having misled him." (7)

The immediate inspiration of Wolfe's poem was Robert Southey's account in The Annual Register ... for ... 1809. Having conducted a brilliant campaign preparatory to evacuating his troops from the port of Coruna, Sir John, according to Southey,

   was in the act of ordering up the guards to support the brave
   Highlanders [of Bentinck's brigade], when he received his death
   wound by a cannon ball on the shoulder, and was conveyed from the
   field, in a blanket, by six soldiers of the 42d. … 

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