Night of the bards

Twenty-second of december, the longest night, the darkest day of the year. In Russia they traditionally organize on this day the Международный Праздник бардовской песни, the International feast of the bards. Of the bards, who in the dark days of the last decades kept alive hope, individuality and poetry with their songs.

бард • bard, poet-singer. In the 1960-80s some poets achieved an unparalleled popularity. They, accompanied by themselves on guitar (=> гитара) recited their songs, originally not intended for the stage, whose text with its individual, philosophical and often satirical tone differed in a good sense from contemporary “official” literature (cf. => авторская песня), and thus their public was inclined to see some dissidence even between the “harmless” lines. Their songs, which were often forbidden, spread on worn out cassettes and in handwritten or stenciled copies (=> самиздат), and as they were musically not too complicated, thus they were often sung on parties and at the camp-fire. The three most renowned bards were => Высоцкий В. С., => Окуджава Б. Ш. and Галич А. А. (András Soproni: Orosz kulturális szótár [Russian cultural dictionary], Budapest 2008, 35.)

Vlagyimir Viszockij-szobor Moszkvában
On the infinitely wide Russian web you can find an infinite number of sites about the bards and their “author’s songs.” We can name some of them almost by chance: the song archive of, the text collection of, or the increasing discography of

авторская песня • author’s song. A large group of vocal works that have not belonged to “official” works, and in several cases they were born in opposition to that.
They count among their forerunners the student songs, revolutionary marches and prisoners’ songs of the 19th century (cf. => Стело, товарищи, в ногу; => Славное море, священный Байкал), as well as several songs of the => гражд. в. [the civil war of 1918-22] and of the => ВОВ [the Great Patriotic War of 1941-5].
The “proper” author’s song is the product of the => оттепель [the “thaw” of the late 1950s], when the intellectual and physical scope for action grew larger in the country. It was in this period that the poetry of songs, in which the art of the later => барды was rooted, spread among the masses. The authors of these songs – several ten thousand people – wrote for themselves about their innermost feelings, and their public was usually the circle of their confident friends (cf. => кухонные разговоры). Pesni nasego vekaThis deep personal involvement and sincerity awaked the suspicion of the political power, but the phenomenon was so widespread that there was no chance to control or to prohibit it. Thus the role of the political power was limited to that of the mute observer, and they only made efforts to “filter out” the songs and authors considered by them as the “most dangerous”.
The author’s song is many-coloured both by genre and content, on a wide range from the sentimental works similar to romance (=> романс) to the ironical and satirical pieces also employing motives of country, jazz and blues. They are relatively easy to tell from superficial and stereotypical estrade songs, but hardly different from the songs of such original rock bands like the => Машина времени or => Аквариум.
In spite of the distrustful official reception, already in 1959 six universities organized the first parade of student song authors, and after the middle of the 60s more and more клубы смуденческой песни (КСП)student song clubs were founded. Later the word студенческий was changed for самодеятельныйamateur, and later for авторский – author’s. The membership of such clubs was rarely above twenty people, but more and more frequently meetings with a large number of participants were organized.
The intimate author’s song even today finds its place, as it were a counterweight of the hubbub of the political scene and TV shows. The new challenge it has to confront is that these songs now enter into TV, radio, studios, and they become wares. It is a great question whether this kind of professionalism will not kill the genre itself
. (András Soproni: Orosz kulturális szótár [Russian cultural dictionary], Budapest 2008, 10-11.)

Bulat Okudzsava, Proza i poezija-kötet
In this festive occasion I want to link the song Prayer (or Prayer of François Villon) by Bulat Okudzhava, the creator of this genre. Although his follower and friend Vladimir Vysocki is much better known, I love the dreamlike songs of Okudzhava which usually sing about a very simple situation with much love, solidarity and absurd metaphors.

Young Bulat OkudzhavaОкуджава Булат Шалвович • Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava (1924-1997). A Russian poet of Georgian (=> грузины) origin, => бард and writer. Born in Moscow, he spent his childhood on the Arbat (=> Арбат). His parents, both high functionaries of the Communist party, were arrested at the end of the 1930s, his father executed, while his mother sent to a lager. He went to the front in 1942 as a volunteer, he was wounded, and in 1945 disbanded. Between 1945 and 1950 he studied at the faculty of arts of the university of Tbilisi, and then taught in a village school around Калуга until the rehabilitation of his mother, when he was permitted to return to Moscow. His first volume of poems was published in Kaluga. From the 1950s he wrote songs (=> авторская песня) that he himself presented with guitar accompaniment, first in a narrow circle of friends, and later in front of a larger public. This phenomenon was new, and although his songs gained in popularity, the official criticism refused for a long time to acknowledge his talent. In the 1960-70s more and more => барды followed his example, and a veritable movement was formed around him. His novels were remarkable as well: his short novel based on his war memories was followed by several ones focusing on the history of the 19th century.
Official criticism accused him with the lack of “great citizen’s themes,” with pacifism, or with unhistorical attitude, but his public was enthusiastic about him. His simple songs, with melodies easy to remember, but with texts rich in symbols and in mystical-romantical images, whose “heroes” were the passengers of a trolleybus, a trumpeter, a paper soldier, a circus acrobat, an ant of Moscow, had plenty of hidden meanings for the readers and the public of the 70s, but they sound extremely vivid even today, especially in the performance of the author himself.
Okudzhava was a representative and idol of the Russian => интеллигенция of the 1960s and 70s. Although he very rarely declared his opinion in actual questions, his word had an extreme weight and was widely heard. His memory is kept alive, amongst other, by his memorial house (дом-музей) in Peredelkino (Переделкино) near to => Москва. Here they regularly organize feasts on his birthday, the 9th of May. (András Soproni: Orosz kulturális szótár [Russian cultural dictionary], Budapest 2008, 269.)

The first version of the Prayer is the one that you can often hear on CD recordings.

Bulat Okudzhava: Молитва Франсуа Вийона (Prayer / Prayer of François Villon)

The second version was performed by Okudzhava on his Toronto concert, on October 2, 1994, after his 70th birthday, three years before his death. It is good to see how clear and unsophisticated he became by the end.

Пока земля еще вертится, пока еще ярок свет,
Господи, дай же ты каждому, чего у него нет.
Умному дай голову, трусливому дай коня,
дай счастливому денег, и не забудь про меня.

Пока земля еще вертится,
Господи, твоя власть,
дай рвущемуся к власти навластвоваться всласть.
Дай передышку щедрому хоть до исхода дня,
Каину дай раскаяние, и не забудь про меня.

Я знаю, ты все умеешь, я верую в мудрость твою,
как верит солдат убитый, что он проживает в раю!
Как верит каждое ухо тихим речам твоим,
Как веруем и мы сами, не ведая, что творим.

Господи мой, Боже, зеленоглазый мой!
Пока земля еще вертится, и это ей странно самой,
пока ей еще хватает времени и огня,
дай же ты всем понемногу, и не забудь про меня!
As long as the earth keeps turning
as long as the light is bright
My Lord, give to everyone
the things he does not have.
Give a good head to the wise
a good horse to the coward
money to the lucky one
and don’t forget about me.

As long as the earth keeps turning
My Lord, my ruler,
give that he who wishes to rule
might rule his own wishes.
Give a break to the generous
at least until the end of the day
give repentance to Cain
and don’t forget about me.

I know you know everything
and I believe in your wisdom
as the soldier killed believes
that he would survive in Paradise
as every ear believe
to your silent words
as we ourselves believe
not seeing what we’re doing.

Lord, my God
my green-eyed one!
as long as the earth keeps turning
not knowing why it does so
as long as there is left
enough time and fire:
give something to everyone
and don’t forget about me.

If others will like these songs too, I will happily translate more of them.

2 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

Muy bueno, Tamás! A mí me encantaría conocer otras canciones, así que para cuando quieras (y puedas) traducirlas, tendrás un público atento!

Studiolum dijo...

Muchas gracias! Ciertamente traduciré más. En las semanas siguientes publiqueré un “bloque” de los más preciosos cantos de Okudzhava, y más tarde también de los otros cantautores o “bards” que me gustan.