Stirred to indignation by the depopulation of the English villages and countryside which resulted in part from the notorious Enclosure Acts, (2) Oliver Goldsmith (1730-1774) published in 1770 what was to become his most famous and admired poem, "The Deserted Village." Based partly on his memories of Lissoy, his home village in Ireland, the poem is primarily concerned with the fate of the dispossessed and uprooted tenants and cottagers of rural England and the villages they left behind.
In his Dedication of the poem to Sir Joshua Reynolds, Goldsmith admits that there may be objection to the poem on the grounds "that the depopulation it deplores is no where to be seen, and the disorders it laments are only to be found in the poet's own imagination." Goldsmith, in response to the anticipated objection, asserts "that I sincerely believe what I have written; that I have taken all possible pains, in my country excursions, for these four or five years past, to be certain of what I alledge, and that all my views and enquiries have led me to believe those miseries real, which I here attempt to display." (3)
Published on May 26, 1770, as a pamphlet, "The Deserted Village" went through five more authorized editions during the same year. By 1775 eight authorized editions, four pirated editions, two Irish editions, and a French translation had appeared. As Arthur Friedman points out in his summary of the contemporary critical reaction to the poem, the reviews typically "distinguish between the political doctrine, which they find in some measure deficient or erroneous, and the poetical execution, to which they give high praise." Certainly the appearance of "The Deserted Village" enhanced Goldsmith's reputation and established him as one of the foremost English poets of the day. (4)
Thus it is not surprising that a poem which had such an impact on the world of English letters should eventually come to the attention of Vasilij Andreevic Zukovskij (1783-1852), the Russian early Romantic poet-translator, who during a long career translated the works of such other poets as Thomas Gray, John Dryden, Alexander Pope, James Thomson, David Mallet, Robert Southey, Lord Byron, Thomas Moore, Sir Walter Scott, and Thomas Campbell, in addition to Goldsmith.
The publication of Zukovskij's translation of Gray's "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" in 1802 has "more than once been declared to be the birthday of Russian poetry." (5) Zukovskij's attention was attracted to Goldsmith's "The Deserted Village" in the same year, probably under the influence of his friend and fellow poet-translator Andrej Turgenev, though his translation--comprising the first hundred lines of the poem--was not completed until 1805. Apparently Zukovskij's translation remained unpublished until 1902, when it appeared in A.S. Arxangel'skij's edition of his works. (6)
Zukovskij chose to translate only the first 100 lines of the 430-line poem, and it is clear from the internal evidence of Zukovskij's translation that he regarded the portion that he chose as a unity, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning consists of a nostalgic reminiscence of Auburn and the narrator's happiness there in the pastoral setting; the middle contrasts the present desolation of the narrator's birthplace with the beauty of its bygone years and laments the devastation wrought by greed and luxury in this once idyllic village; the conclusion reviews the narrator's long-cherished but finally blasted hopes of returning to end his days peacefully "in the land of my fathers, under the canopy of familiar trees."
The opening lines of Zukovskij's translation juxtaposed with the parallel lines of Goldsmith's poem will indicate how true to the spirit of the original Zukovskij's version really is:
Sweet Auburn, lovliest village of the plain,
Where health and plenty cheared the labouring swain,
Where smiling spring its earliest visit paid,
And parting summer's lingering blooms delayed,
Dear lovely bowers of innocence and ease . …