Robo-Burns: The Orfeon Translates

(By way of xenochronicitous – AKA late – celebration of the birth o the Bard, here’s an machine-generated curio. 

The Bulgarian poet Kristin Dimitrova completed a translation of one of my Burns poems – there’s mair – back in 2009 when we worked on a companion volume to Arc’s A Balkan Exchange, a book of collaborative translations from 2007, in which myself, Andy Croft, Linda France and Mark Robinson built on five years of contact with Bulgarian poets to translate Kristin, Georgi Gospodinov, Nadya Radulova, and VBV (Vassil Vidinsky). 

As that volume, a set of translations from English – and Scots – is due to appear this year (we poets are nothing if not tenacious), Kristin thought it’d be nice to greet the New Year with her translation of ‘Rabbie, Rabbie, Burning Bright’. Then Facebook’s auto-translate facility thought it’d be helpful to just, y’know, translate that back into ‘English’.

The result reminded me of my robotic alter ego from an earlier Arc volume, the roboet Orfeon (the apparition of which in Mexico City I will eventually recount). It is Unglish of a rare sort, which robots of the future are welcome to recite at their cybernetic festivals. I reproduce here first Orfeon’s version, then Kristin’s original Bulgarian, and finally my Scots antecedent. 

The latter, incidentally, was chosen by David Robinson for the Scottish Poetry Library as one of the best Scottish poems of 2013 – mebbe the version ablow will achieve a similar honour in anither hunnert year or so?)

Robbie, Robbie, living embers

Between November and now
Since the snow fell
Squatting under winter horns
In Winter and mech
Pray for spring, rainbow
And summer clothes.
May sunshine from st. Andrei
He got drunk and not grey,
In his boozy apogee
Left Home.
Heavenly Chandelier
Now throwing up.
As Knights and bold
Chopping down chickens, turkeys, geese,
We swear to spatter factory
Enemy to bucim.
Lads we are, but with ties.
Gelded dogs.
Christmas by gesture of gesture
Approaching Financial stress
But Robert Burns was born today
Oh, highest glory!
And this day glow of six
And thawing.
If lift full bŭrdutsi
Cut and juicy sausage,
Will grasp without Confucius,
That fight stops.
Peace be with you! Chillin fists
Wings and beer.
Eh, haggis, meaty zora
From January subsoil –
You still at the table in the court,
But how to start
No Burns, no song of mouth
Rhymes and accurate?
After these lush nights in chess
Wakes up every beggar,
Go tax that beating
Scots, forget fear
Read and burns!


Роби, Роби, жива жар

Между ноември и сега,
откакто паднал е снега,
клечим под зимните рога
във зимен мех и
за пролет молим, за дъга
и летни дрехи.

Май Слънчо от Св. Андрей
се е натряскал и не грей,
в пиянския си апогей
напуснал къщи.
Небесният полиелей
сега повръща.

И както рицарите дръзки
сечем кокошки, пуйки, гъски,
кълнем се, та се дигат пръски,
врага да бучим.
Юнаци сме, но с вратовръзки,
скопени кучета.

По Коледа от жест на жест
достигаме финансов стрес,
но Робърт Бърнс роден е днес,
о, висша слава!
И този ден пламти на шест
и размразява.

Щом вдигнем пълните бърдуци
и резнем сочните суджуци,
ще схванеш, без да си Конфуций,
че боят спира.
Мир вам! Отпускаме юмруци
и пием бира.

Ех, хагис – месеста зора
от януарските недра –
ти пак край масата ни сбра, 
но как да почнем
без Бърнс, без песен на уста
и рими точни?

След тези буйни нощи в шах
се буди всеки сиромах,
че иде данъчен пердах
по гърбовете.
Шотландци, забравете страх
и Бърнс четете!


Rabbie, Rabbie, Burning Bright

Atween November’s end and noo
there’s really nithin else tae do
but climb inside a brindlet coo
           and dream o Spring,
fur Winter’s decked hur breist and broo
           wi icy bling.

It feels like, oan St Andrae’s nicht,
thi sun went oot and gote sae ticht
he endit up in a braw fire fecht
             wi some wee comet – 
noo he’s layin low wi his punched-oot licht
             aa rimmed wi vomit.

We too hae strachilt lik The Bruce
and hacked up turkey, duck and goose;
and let aa resolution loose
            oan Hogmanay,
but waddle noo frae wark tae hoose
              lyk dogs they spayed.

Each year fails tae begin thi same:
fae dregs o Daft Deys debt comes hame
and we gaither in depression’s wame
             aa duty-crossed – 
but Burns’s birthday is a flame
             set tae Defrost.

Ye dinna need tae be Confucius
tae ken, if Dullness wad confuse us,
ye caa ‘Respite! Let’s aa get stocious – 
              And dinna nag us.
Grant us that globe of spice, thi luscious
            Delight caaed “haggis”!’

That truffle o the North must be 
dug frae the depths o January,
but cannae pass oor lips, nor we
              cross Limbo’s border – 
unless that passport, Poetry,
             be quite in order.

Sae thi daurkest deys o thi haill damn year
can dawn in yawns baith dreich an drear – 
sae thi Taxman’s axe is at wir ear
             fur his Returns?
We Scots sall neither dreid nor fear
             but read wir Burns.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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