The Prophet

As far as is known, his translation of The Prophet was Ted Hughes's last poem. It is interesting to see what he did with the literal with which he was presented. He was also given a transliteration of the Russian text and some notes on the prosody and the context of the poem, although whether he made any use of this material is uncertain. He asked me for a literal translation, because the version he was initially given was not literal enough. Ted Hughes, in general, preferred extremely literal versions to so-called poetic ones. Nevertheless, it seems to me that, while remaining close to the words I sent him, he produced a most Hughesian poem! He told me that he had long wanted to translate this poem, presumably having seen it in various versions, and one can perhaps see why.

(Alexander Pushkin translated by Ted Hughes)

The Prophet

Crazed by my soul’s thirst
Through a dark land I staggered.
And a six-winged seraph
Halted me at a crossroads.
With fingers of dream
He touched my eye-pupils.
My eyes, prophetic, recoiled
Like a startled eaglet’s.
He touched my ears
And a thunderous clangour filled them,
The shudderings of heaven,
The huge wingbeat of angels
The submarine migration of sea-reptiles
And the burgeoning of the earth’s vine.
He forced my mouth wide,
Plucked out my own cunning
Garrulous evil tongue,
And with bloody fingers
Between my frozen lips
Inserted the fork of a wise serpent.
He split my chest with a blade,
Wrenched my heart from its hiding,
And into the open wound
Pressed a flaming coal.
I lay on stones like a corpse.
There God’s voice came to me:
Stand, Prophet, you are my will.
Be my witness. Go
Through all seas and lands. With the Word
Burn the hearts of people.¹

Pushkin/ "The Prophet"[1826]

"podstrochnik"/word-for-word [Daniel Weissbort]

With-spiritual thirst wearied/worn-down,
In a-desert/ wilderness dark/sombre I dragged-myself-along,
And a-six-winged seraphim
On/at the-cross-roads to-me appeared.
With-fingers light like a-dream/sleep
My eye-pupils touched he;
Turned-away the-prophetic eye-pupils,
As of [belonging to] a-frightened/ startled eagle.
My ears touched he
And them filled noise and ringing/sound:
And heard I of-the-sky the-shuddering,
And the-celestial of-angels flight,
And of-reptiles/creatures the-underwater procession/progress,
And of-the-earth/terrestrial vine the-vegetation/ing.
And he to lips my pressed,
And tore-out sinful/culpable my tongue,
And idly-loquacious and cunning,
And the-sting of-a-wise snake
Into lips frozen mine
Inserted with-right-hand bloody.
And he to-me the-breast clove with-a-sword, 
And the-heart palpitating drew-forth,
And a-coal, blazing with-fire,
Into the-breast opened inserted.
Like a-corpse in the-desert/wilderness I lay,
And of-god the-voice to me called out:
"Arise, prophet, and see [arch], and hear,
Fill with-will mine [carry out my will]
And passing-/wandering-by seas and lands,
With-the-word burn the-hearts of-people".

"Literate version of above" [Daniel Weissbort]

Tormented/Worn down/ Wearied by spiritual thirst,
In a sombre/gloomy wilderness/desert I dragged myself along,
And a six-winged seraph/seraphim
Appeared to me at the cross-roads.
With fingers light as a dream
He touched the pupils of my eyes.
The prophetic pupils, as of the frightened/startled eagle, turned aside.
He touched my ears,
And noise/uproar and a [ringing] sound filled them:
And I heard the shudder[ing] of the heavens/sky,
And the celestial flight of angels,
And the under-water procession/progress/course of sea reptiles,
And the vegetation/ing of the earthly/terrestrial vine.
And he pressed himself to my lips,
And tore out my sinful/culpable tongue,
And with a bloody right hand,
He inserted the sting of a wise snake
Between my frozen lips
And he clove my breast with his sword,
And drew forth my palpitating heart,
And into the open breast he inserted
A coal, blazing with fire.
I lay like a corpse in the desert/wilderness,
And the voice of God called out to me/summoned me:
"Arise, prophet, and see, and hear,
Carry out my will,
And passing by sea and land,
Burn the hearts of people with the word."


© 2003. Educational Insights - Poet's Corner