Morrison and Pushkin

I have very little poetry memorized. It turns out that loving something and being able to memorize it are, for me, two separate skills. Because, in general, I like Ahkmatova better than Pushkin, but I don’t know any Ahkmatova by heart.

Here’s what I know of Pushkin by heart:

The less you love her when you woo her

The more you draw a woman in.

And thus more surely do undo her

Within the witching webs you spin.

That’s from a translation Southern Illinois University Press put out a million years ago. It’s a good one because it gets across the relentless da-dum, da-dum, da-dum, da-dum of Pushkin’s poetry and also the beauty of it.

But here’s what I realized just now–the other bit of poetry I have memorized? Also a series of relentless da-dums.

The night is young and full of rest

I can’t describe the way she’s dressed

She’ll pander to some strange request

Anything that you suggest

Anything to please her guest.

Is Jim Morrison our Alexander Pushkin? Should we all spend our lunch hour writing poems of relentless da-dumming?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, I’m afraid.


6 thoughts on “Morrison and Pushkin

  1. English-speakers often think that Pushkin’s poetry is just a series of iambs. But that’s because in English, we have secondary stresses in words, as well as primary stresses. (Like, oh, ESchaTOLogy. Or deFAMaTORy.*) So we tend to put those secondary stresses into other languages, as well, and turn them into a bunch of iambs as well. Even when they don’t belong there, as is the case with Russian.

    Russian words, unlike English, have only a single, heavy stress. So Pushkin (and other Russian poets) tends to write lines that don’t have the regular heavy thump of English iambic meters. I refer you to p. viii of the Foreword to Nabokov’s translation of Eugene Onegin, where he shows the stresses in the words of the first verse. If you read his transliteration with just those syllables, and no others, stressed, you don’t get thumps.

    *I hope you appreciate how much trouble this is to set up with HTML.

  2. Good Lord, Morrison is awfully da-dum da-dum isn’t he. Which at its best, crooned in his voice over the rhythm of the Doors, can be hypnotic and seductive…and at it worst it can be Christ, my aching head.

  3. Dead President’s corpse in the driver’s car/ The engine is run on glue and tar/ Come on along, not going very far/ To the East, to meet the Czar/ Some outlaws live by the side of the lake/ The minister’s daughter’s in love with the snake/ Who lives in a well by the side of the road/ Wake up girl, we’re almost home

  4. Elias, I completely agree. When Morrison’s drone works, you know it’s among my favorite things. When it doesn’t? Well, it really, really doesn’t.

    I meant loving poetry as a skill, but maybe I’m thinking too narrowly.

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