Apr 132008

When I used to teach a pre-confirmation class at our church, it seemed that young people (and old) wouldn’t easily buy Martin Luther’s words of explanation to the First Commandment: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Young people wouldn’t say much, but older ones would.

People think fear is a sign of an unhealthy relationship. There are any number of cliches that put fear in the same category with ignorance, superstition, and intolerance. (It was a discussion of Barak Obama’s bigotted remarks about bitter people and their religion and guns that got me thinking about it.) Somehow people don’t think it’s right that we should fear God.

It so happens I was just looking looking at the words of the famous Russian love song, “Dark Eyes,” trying to memorize it for language-learning purposes. I noticed that it talks about fear in a way that indicates a relationship that is perhaps complicated, but not a bad one.

Here’s a transliteration of the first verse, sort of from Wikipedia:

Ochi chyornye ochi strastnye
Ochi zhguchiye i prekrasniye
Kak lyublyu ya vas kak boyus ya vas
Znat’ uvidyel vas ya v nedobryii chas

And here is an English translation, from the same source:

Dark eyes, passionate eyes
Burning and splendid eyes
How I love you, how I fear you
For sure, I espied you in an ill-starred moment

You can hear the song on a whole bunch of utube clips, most of which don’t do it well. Perhaps it’s because it’s too familiar to most listeners. The best sung one I’ve found so far is a music video that’s slightly raunchy and violent. Maybe the video is of scenes from a movie. I’m not sure, but I think the singing is good. When the Red Army Chorus and most other groups do it, it’s too ponderous. Maybe famous singers who are too full of themselves shouldn’t be allowed to sing it.

I don’t think I’d play the one linked to above at church, though, if I want to make the point that fear can be part of a healthy relationship. I’ll keep looking.

And in case anyone is wondering, I don’t think the word for afraid (boyus) means anything very different from what we usually mean in English. As far as I know, it can have the same complicated meanings in Russian as in English. It’s the very same word I hear in wartime movies where someone might hear the the sound of distant guns and say, “I’m afraid.”


  • Natan Kumanov

    That’s not the best example of fear as part of normal relationship, because that relationship doesn’t feel “normal” at all, which the last line tells explicitly: “it seems (‘for sure’ is too strong, if I get the English right), it’ll bring me bad experience to have seen you (“you” in the sense “the eyes”; that is, to have met the girl)”, and which what comes before implies clearly. I guess that the translation of the fourth line is more or less correct (I don’t know enough English to know), though “stars” probably should not have appeared here, but the first line is translated incorrectly: the eyes are indeed passionate, but the adjective in use is “such that instill fear”. This is one of countless examples of why I don’t believe in translations.

    I think that translations may produce great works, may tell much about the original, but are never faithful to the original. So, for example, when I wished to watch “La dolce vita” and “La strada”, I watched them in Italian, many times: first times with Italian subtitles, then without them, thanks to some Italian that I possess. In both of them, I understood only about a half, but I am sure (especially in relation to the first movie) that if I watched them in Russian, I would have understood nothing… My opinion.

  • drudjuk

    Actually, the whole genre of romance is about unhealthy relationships and the unhealthy life. There’s even a saying: «мои финансы поют романсы» (“my finances sing romances”). Of course, it just means that my incomes don’t quite meet my expenditures, but there’s a second layer, too (I think). It’s too often that romances sing and value the mindsets and the ways of life that lead down the slippery slope into the deep hole full of dung. The (well-known) romances even usually recognise this fact (rather proudly), just like the last line about “недобрый час” for example does. Note that doesn’t mean I say it’s some kind of a “bad” genre of song. One just has to be realistic about it.

    As to words, their meanings are often not as important as why the words are used, and it may be very difficult to make people think of exactly such reasons when told something in another language, because they are too tied to the nexus of reasons associated with the original sentence as said in the original language. I think it’s just an axiom of good translation: in order to translate well, you must give up on something. That is why, when you see a translated work, very often most of the complexity of the original is neglected… Good if some is added anew…

  • drudjuk

    To be sure; in every work there are two things: the Idea that makes the work worthy of any attention whatsoever; and the details that are still of value themselves. One could express the Idea in every language; but the details have to be given up often; and new details should fill in the places… In order to translate well, one has therefore to be a good writer, styled in the workings of the foreign manner to express Ideas… But what can do a poor movie translator who has no such freedom of expression as any translator of a literary work? I am afraid it is often a case of “Mission: Impossible”…