- “To Fill a Gap . . . ”: The Effect of the Internet on the Reception of Russian Translations of Emily Dickinson’s Poetry
General Russian interest in Emily Dickinson’s poetry has steadily increased with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the advent of the Internet. This interest has both sparked and been sparked by the number of nonacademic Russian translators of Dickinson’s poetry who publish their translations on the Internet. This development was triggered by three factors: the lifting of political and ideological constraints on translating religious imagery after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991; the freedom of access created by the Internet; and the ways in which Dickinson’s aesthetic sensitivities resonate with Russian translators and their readers. Evidence for these developments is drawn from three sources: a survey of Russian translations of Dickinson’s poetry during the Soviet era; documentation of post-Soviet Internet publications of translated poems and excerpts; and email interviews with ten Russian translators of Dickinson’s poetry who publish on the Internet.
The reception of Emily Dickinson’s poetry in Russia can be divided into two periods: the first one spans from 1940 to 1990, when Emily Dickinson was recognized as a classic American poet in Russia, and the second period of her reception, which began in 1990 and continues today. Although the first four translations of Dickinson’s poems into Russian were made in the 1940s, during the Soviet era, Dickinson was a stranger in Russia until 1976, the year a volume of Biblioteka Vsemirnoy Literatury, called Henry Longfellow, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, was published. It included 184 translations of Dickinson poems by Vera Markova and an additional sixteen renditions by Ivan Likhachev, as well [End Page 98] as poems by Longfellow and Whitman. Having been published in this popular edition with her famous compatriots, Dickinson became a classic American poet in Russia, and her poetry began to find some resonance here.
To become a classic poet in Soviet Russia one needed to write about socially important things, for instance revolutionary changes in society. From the perspective of official Soviet literary criticism, Dickinson’s poetry was not socially important. As a result, other images of the poet were created during the first period of her reception: the image of Dickinson-as-recluse, whose unrequited love resulted in her isolation from society, and Dickinson-as-unbeliever and “fighter” against religion and the values of bourgeois society. Accordingly, translations of her poems were chosen very carefully, and they often changed the poems’ meanings in relation to the ideological spirit of that time. Russian translators had to master the art of veiling the themes of God and religion in their Russian translations in order to show the poet as an unbeliever. For example, the words with religious meaning in Vera Markova’s translations were sometimes dropped: “So keep your secret - Father! / I would not - if I could - / Know what the Sapphire Fellows, do, / In your new-fashioned world!” (Fr213, emphasis added) was translated as “И - право - зачем досконально знать - как дважды два - четыре - Что творят сапфирные эти юнцы - В новом - с иголочки - мире” in Russian this means: “why you should know for certain what sapphire youngsters do in a brand new world”); “A little Madness in the Spring / Is wholesome even for the King, / But God be with the Clown - ” (Fr1356, emphasis added) was rendered as “Хмелеть весной - развеселясь - / Полезно и для Короля - / Когда весь мир в зеленом -” (which means: “To become tipsy in spring while having fun, is wholesome even for the King when the whole world is in green”).
In other translations such words with religious connotations were changed for other ones: “Jehovah’s Countenance” became “Judge’s Countenance” (Fr680); “Heaven” became “the Sky” (Fr721), “Paradise of Dream” (Fr170) became “the Country” (Fr800); “Creator” became “the Daughter of Empyrean” (Fr1408); and so on (emphasis added).1 These transformations altered the meaning of the verse where the main idea was speculation about God and belief.
The end of the twentieth century, which saw the Iron Curtain swept away, brought a wave of publications and new interest in Dickinson’s poems. Editors now brought out her poems about God, religion, death, and life after death. From 1996 to 2010 (within the second period) ten books of her poems were published in Russian. Almost none of these translations had ever been published before...