Мне хочется домой, в огромностьКвартиры, наводящей грусть.Войду, сниму пальто, опомнюсь,Огнями улиц озарюсь.Перегородок тонкоребростьПройду насквозь, пройду, как свет,Пройду, как образ входит в образИ как предмет сечет предмет.Пускай пожизненность задачи,Врастающей в заветы дней,Зовется жизнию сидячей,-И по такой, грущу по ней.Опять знакомостью напеваПахнут деревья и дома.Опять направо и налевоПойдет хозяйничать зима.Опять к обеду на прогулкеНаступит темень, просто страсть.Опять научит переулкиОхулки на руки не класть.Опять повалят с неба взятки,Опять укроет к утру вихрьОсин подследственных десяткиСукном сугробов снеговых.Опять опавшей сердца мышцейУслышу и вложу в слова,Как ты ползешь и как дымишься,Встаешь и строишься, Москва.И я приму тебя, как упряжь,Тех ради будущих безумств,Что ты, как стих, меня зазубришь,Как быль, запомнишь наизусть.- from Boris Pasternak, "The Waves" (1931)
I've translated this wonderful fragment of a poem, not very well, before. It was, I won't lie, a slog: the poem in general, and this fragment in particular, hangs together loosely enough that puzzling out the interrelationships between the lines--a must for a decent translation--seems like an impossible task. But one decision I made that I felt confident about at the time, and to some extent still do, was translating the final verse as "And I will take you up, a harness,/For those insanities to come,/That you will learn me, like a poem,/Like you know histories, by heart." See how it doesn't make sense? That "that" juts out of the third line without doing any noticeable work--and without mending the chasm between the two halves of the verse. I put it there because it is an exact parallel to the Russian "что," which occupies the same place in the original and serves an equally opaque end.
The verse has bugged me for a long time, so much so that I was eventually driven to consult my philologically-inclined family about its meaning. We held a council of sorts. My grandmother, who knew the poet way back in the day, suggested that the "что" was a standard poetic replacement for "которое" ("which"), typical in this case of Pasternak's frequently sloppy grammar. (It's hard to explain the difference in normal usage between the two words, but this was clearly a strange and marginal case) In other words, the sense of the verse was that future insanities were learning Pasternak by heart.
This still did not make sense to me. My theory, admittedly an unsatisfactory one, was that the verse was simply deliberately nonsensical, the "that" left in there deliberately like a false street on a jealous geographer's map. (I was thinking about the "avec" (line 10) in Mallarmé's "Tombeau d'Edgar Poe.") But I, too, was forced to yield: my stepmother pointed out that in that case the first two lines of the verse would have no meaning or purpose at all, which was a much more serious issue. At last, my father declared that "что" could be used in a poetic context to replace not only the singular "которoе," but also the plural "которые" and even the instrumental-case plural "которыми." I had never encountered such a usage before, but I deferred. The line was thus to be understood as follows: "I will take you up, a harness, for the sake of those insanities by which (or through which) you will learn me, et cetera." (The "you" here is still Moscow, of course.) At last, an interpretation which makes sense!
It is this moment that reveals my inadequacies as a translator and reader of poetry. For, even if I wholeheartedly accede to my father's reading, I still have no goddamn idea how to fit it into the context of this fragment. Sure, apocalyptic and historical themes appear elsewhere in the poem, but here we are supposed to be dealing with something different! The vagueness and uncertainty of my original "that" (which I had been unconsciously interpreting as an analogue to "que" in the sense of "may") not only papered over the difficulty in the interpretation of the original text, but also created a kind of meaning for the poem that it seems not to have had at all. I had been reading Pasternak as hesitantly expressing a hope that Moscow would memorize him like a poem or a story; if my father's reading is correct, he is in fact implying that Moscow will memorize him whether it likes it or not.
This creates a new difficulty for me. What do I do with the translation? It would not be hard to change "that you will learn me" to "with which you'll learn me." But with that move, the charm and beauty of the lines, which had originally inspired me to translate the fragment in the first place, disappears entirely: desperate and touching hope is replaced by unexplained posturing. Which of the text's claims should govern my choice of reading? The most correct interpretation, although it is dubious here even on the most basic level? Aesthetic appeal, although it is horribly presumptuous to substitute myself for the poet (and yet this is something that I, as a translator, am forced to do all the time)? Or simply the euphony and coherence of the translation? I still have not been able to make a decision, and so the poem remains as I once read it. Maybe it's for the best.