Translating Shevchenko’s ‘Kobzar’ / Slavonic item of the month : March 2014

Front cover of volume 1 of Kobzar (756:33.d.85.13-16).

Front cover of volume 1 of Kobzar (756:33.d.85.13-16)

This post combines the bibliographical notes for the final CamCREES seminar of the term (which saw Peter Fedynsky talk about his English translation of Kobzar, Taras Shevchenko’s collected poems) with the March Slavonic item of the month – the University Library’s earliest set of the Kobzar.  It then looks at old and misleading catalogue records…

The CamCREES seminar series for the Lent term ended on a cultural high, with the journalist and translator Peter Fedynsky talking about his translation of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s celebrated Kobzar.  2014 marks the bicentenary of the birth of Shevchenko, the giant of Ukrainian artistic, literary, linguistic, and political culture born to a serf family in 1814.  The CamCREES session was supported by Cambridge Ukrainian Studies as part of its Shevchenko 2014 celebrations.

The term Kobzar (the word for a player of the kobza, a traditional Ukrainian instrument) was the title of a collection of eight poems which Shevchenko published in 1840.  Over time, the word came to be used as a collective term for Shevchenko’s entire poetic output.  The poems contained in the comprehensive Kobzar were written over many years, during which Shevchenko’s star rose and fell – many of them were written, for example, during his exile.  All but two (which are in Russian) are in Ukrainian.

Mr Fedynsky’s is the first ever translation of the complete Kobzar into English.  His talk gave both an interesting introduction to Shevchenko’s life and work (for example, we were shown many of Shevchenko’s exquisite artistic works) and a fascinating insight into the practicalities of translation.  Translating poetry causes the translator more headaches than normal, given that the form of the original usually plays a bigger part than it does in prose.  Mr Fedynsky explained that he had concentrated on getting across what Shevchenko said in his poetry rather than how he said it.

English translations of Shevchenko can be found by searching for Shevchenko, Taras as the author and specifying the language of the resource to be English (through Newton’s advanced search page, for example).  Among the hits is Mr Fedynsky’s complete Kobzar translation, which stands at C208.c.753 (to be ordered via the Reading Room, but borrowable).

The earliest book by Shevchenko held by the University Library was published long after his death at the age of 47 in 1861.  It is a four-volume set of selected works published in L’viv from 1893 to 1898, each volume featuring the beautiful front cover shown in the picture.  The set is confusingly called Kobzar’ (the word was written with a soft sign at the time) but its contents correspond neither to the original eight-poem publication nor to the total poetic output.  The first two volumes do contain the complete Kobzar, but the final two volumes are made up of other works.  Volume 3 actually contains translations of two works Shevchenko wrote in Russian – a diary and an autobiographical tale.  Volume 4 contains short stories.

As is unfortunately the case with many old records, the catalogue record for the set was rather woeful [please click on the image to see a larger (and legible!) version].
20140304_old record

Shevchenko’s name was not in the authorised form (Shevchenko, Taras, 1814-1861), and his patronymic was misspelt to boot.  Two versions of the name of the person who wrote the introductory section to volume 1 (the name of which section was also misspelt in the record) were recorded as headings, neither correct.  The name of the body which published the book was given as a series title.  At least the addition of “[and other works]” let the reader know that there was more than the Kobzar itself to find, even if the form of the addition was certainly not in keeping with current standard cataloguing practices!

Here is the record as it stands now [again, please click on the image to see a larger version]:

20140304_new record

It looks a bit overwhelming with all the diacritics, but it should nevertheless be an improvement!  All the headings are in their correct form, for example; a contents note lets the reader know what each volume contains; and a note explains that part of the set is translated from Russian (and the translator, the writer Oleksandr Konys’kyi, gets a heading).  The catalogue record can be seen in Newton here.  The set can be called up to the Rare Books Reading Room.

I’ll end with another record which was in sore need of improvement – a 1963 Soviet publication of Shevchenko’s diary in Russian (the language he wrote it in).  I first noticed the record because the heading for Shevchenko was also not in keeping with the standard authority.  Going into the record to update it, though, I saw that there was rather more work to be done [please click on the image to see a larger version]:

20140304_old record_2

For a start, the single work of the title featured not one but two typos – Dpevnyk should be Dnevnik!  The record also showed many of the typical signs of old, minimal records, with the pagination and publisher missing, for example.  I was also curious about the note which said that the book was “With: Avtobiografiia” (autobiography).  Fetching the book from NW5 allowed me to update the record to what is also a pretty bare summary, but one which should be much more useful [again, please click on the image to see a larger version]:

20140304_new record_2

The heading is authorised, the title transcribed correctly, the publication and physical details filled in.  The Avtobiografiia turned out to be a very slim section at the end of the diary, a section too slight to be mentioned in the catalogue.  It is then followed by nearly 50 pages of editorial notes, largely on the people Shevchenko mentions in his diary, but there is no mention of the notes’ author.  The colophon does give the name of an editor (K.A. Sribnaia), but the layout suggests that she was the publisher’s copy editor rather than the proactive compiler-editor, so there is no entry for her or anyone else beyond Shevchenko.  The diary is at 756:34.c.95.48.

The CamCREES bibliographical notes aim to link Cambridge library resources with the fortnightly seminars hosted by CamCREES (the Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies) in the Michaelmas and Lent terms of each academic year.  Each set of notes starts by looking at the specifics of a seminar and then goes on to explore related research tips and library issues.  The CamCREES bibliographical notes were introduced in February 2011 on the University Library’s Slavonic webpages, where all earlier notes can be found.

The Slavonic item of the month feature aims to celebrate, through examination of particular pieces, the diversity and riches of Cambridge University Library’s Slavonic collections.  It has been running since April 2013.  Items featured in previous months can be found here on the Slavonic webpages.

Mel Bach

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