Songs of the War

March 22, 2022   |   Tags:

I haven't generally been blogging the news of the war in Ukraine, nor any analysis: I have no real knowledge of the subject, and others can do much more, and much better. But I have been trying to blog about songs related to the war, mostly ones written in the last month but also some from the first war, in 2014 (Crimea/Donbass), plus some performances of older songs on occasion of this war. This is not because I think songs are more important than political, military, or economic analysis; it's just that this is one thing that I thought I could contribute.

Those who know me know I'm not a particularly aesthetically minded man, or one who cares much for the arts. But poetry, especially in the form of songwriting, has always spoken to me, and I have felt that reading a poem might give one a sense of people's feelings that prose does not. (Of course, prose has the same property with respect to poetry, and on most subjects to a much larger degree ….) To offer a non-war-related example I mentioned before, I think Sons of Martha conveys something to us about the soul of infrastructure engineers that a description or an interview or even a novel likely will not.

One problem, of course, is that rhymed and metered poetry derives so much of its impact from its rhyme and meter, which a translation generally cannot effectively reproduce (except in the hands of an extraordinarily talented translator, such as James Falen). Worse than that: The words in a translated poem will often come across not just as less effective but as outright inapt, precisely because what made the poet choose them for the original—their sound—is lost in translation. I don't know Ukrainian, but at least I can understand enough of the words that, armed with a translation (preferably a translation into Russian) I think I can experience the poem as an effective poem. I can't expect our English readers to get the same effect.

Still, at least I hope that some can appreciate them, and if one of you does happen to be a gifted translator, I'd love to see your interpretations. And if you have Russian-speaking friends who you think would appreciate the originals (or, in some instances, Ukrainian-speaking friends), please do pass them along.

(Note that, for many of the translations, I take the shortcut of adapting other translations I find online, of course giving credit where the translator is noted. But I do confirm them against my own sense of the words, and generally modify them where I think that's needed.)

In any event, you can find all the items (current and future) under the Ukraine-War-Music tag. Here is what I have so far; I particularly recommend, especially to Russian speakers, the top one below ("Will this letter some day arrive / To Kiev from Moscow? / Will the brother's letter reach his brother / Or at least his widow?"):

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