Puškin in Ukrainian: “Russian” and “Ukrainian” Literary Modes at the End of the Puškin Age

Puškin’s poem “Zimnij večer” (1825), like many other poems of his oeuvre, has been subjected to the three types of translation defined by Jakobson (Jakobson, “Linguistic Aspects of Translation,” 1987). Debreczeny writes that the poem spread to lower and middle class readers as a folk song, or a form of intersemiotic translation, soon after its initial publication (Paul Debreczeny, Social Functions of Literature: Alexander Pushkin and Russian Culture, p. 98). Levko Borovykovs′kyj completes his interlingual Ukrainian translation of the poem, “Zymnij večir,” in 1834 and publishes it in the almanac Lastivka(1841). In Russian and Soviet criticism the poem has been the subject of a canonic reading: it is one of the texts in which the lyric persona, who is taken to be Puškin himself, spiritually fuses with the narod. This reading, though perhaps an unwitting translation, nonetheless serves as an example of “rewording as translation.” In Soviet criticism devoted to Ukrainian translations of Puškin the canonic reading is privileged as being the most faithful to the original, whereas those translations which depart from the original are cited as evidence of the incompetence of the poet-translator or the limitations of his nascent literary tradition. (F. Neborjachok, O.S. Puškin Ukrajinsk’oju Movoju, 1958, p. 29–32)

In this paper I offer a rereading of Puškin’s poem in the context of Borovykovs′skyj’s interlingual translation and the intralingual translation of the canonic reading to show how features of the original are lost in translation in highly specific and significant ways. Borovykovs′skyj most likely encounters “Puškin” as a name attached to a text, in this case specifically within the generic frame of the stylized folk song rather than as an interlocutor/member of elite salon or metropole culture. He consciously and deliberately Ukrainianizes Puškin’s poem in order to address it to a primarily bilingual Ukrainian audience. Russian and Soviet critics, on the other hand, read Puškin’s lyric through the prism of his biography, as if the poem were a versified diary entry. I will use stylistic analysis of Borovykovs′kyj’s “Zymnij večir” and Puškin’s “Zimnij večer” coupled with an examination of contemporary literary modes such as the significance of the generic frames of ballads and folk songs, models of authorship and readership to show that Borovykovs′skyj’s version is the poetic “original” of the canonic reading. The communication which is achieved in “Zymnij večir” highlights the irony and vertiginous levels of discourse which preclude the same kind of communication in “Zimnij večer.” It is my central thesis that translations of Puškin reveal the extent to which Puškinian, post-Puškinian Russian, and Ukrainian literary modes coincide and diverge.