The Song of the Stormy Petrel

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Stormy Petrel, painted by John James Audubon

"The Song of the Stormy Petrel" (Russian: Песня о Буревестнике) is a short piece of revolutionary literature written by the Russian writer Maxim Gorky in 1901. Written in a variation of unrhymed trochaic tetrameter with occasional Pyrrhic substitutions, it is considered poetry.[by whom?]

History[edit]

Artistic rendering of Gorky late in life

In 1901, no one could criticise the Tsar directly and hope to escape unhappy fate. "Aesopian language" of a fable, which had been developed into a form of art by earlier writers such as Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin,[1] was not infrequently used by the critics of the regime.

Maxim Gorky wrote "The Song of the Storm Petrel" in March 1901 in Nizhny Novgorod. It is believed that originally the text was part of a larger piece, called "Spring Melodies" (Весенние мелодии) and subtitled "Fantasy" (Фантазия).[2] In this "fantasy", the author overhears a conversation of birds outside his window on a late-winter day: a crow, a raven, and a bullfinch representing the monarchist establishment; sparrows, "lesser people"; and anti-establishment siskins (чижики). As the birds discussing the approach of the spring, it is one of the siskins who sings to his comrades "the Song of the Stormy Petrel, which he had overheard somewhere", which appears as the "fantasy's" finale.[2] In the "Song", the action takes place on an ocean coast, far from the streets of a central Russian town; the language calling for revolution is coded—the proud stormy petrel, unafraid of the storm (that is, revolution), as all other birds cower.

The publication of this parody of the Russian society was disallowed by the censors; however, apparently because of a censor's mistake, the siskin's "Song" was allowed to be published as a separate piece.[2] The entire "fantasy" was published in Berlin in 1902.[3]

The "Song" was first published in the Zhizn magazine in April 1901.[4] Gorky was arrested for publishing "The Song", but released shortly thereafter.

The poem was later referred to as "the battle anthem of the revolution",[5] and the epithet Burevestnik Revolyutsii (The Storm Petrel of the Revolution) soon became attached to Gorky himself.[4] According to Nadezhda Krupskaya, "The Song" became one of Lenin's favorite works by Gorky.[4]

The bird species in the song[edit]

A Siskin, unafraid to sing to his comrades about the Stormy Petrel

As a poet, Gorky would not pay too much attention to precisely identifying the birds species appearing in his "Song". The Russian word burevestnik (modified by appropriate adjectives) is applied to a number of species in the families Procellariidae (many of whose species are known in English as petrels) and Pelecanoididae (diving-petrels). According to Vladimir Dal's Dal's Dictionary, Russia's favorite dictionary in Maxim Gorky's time, burevestnik could be understood as a generic word for all Procellariidae (including the "European Storm Petrel).[6] This Russian word is not, however, used to specifically name the species properly known in English as storm-petrel, or any other individual species from its family (the Hydrobatidae). However, since the Russian burevestnik can be literally parsed by the speaker as 'the announcer of the storm', it was only appropriate for most translators into English to translate the title of the poem as "Stormy Petrel" (or, more rarely, "Storm Petrel").

Other avian characters of the poem are generic seagulls, loons (also known as "divers"; Russian, гагара), and a penguin. While North Hemisphere loons and south hemisphere penguins are not likely to meet in the wild, their joint participation in the poem is a legitimate example of a poetic license. Or the penguin might refer to the extinct Great Auk, genus Pinguinus, once known commonly as "penguins".[7]

Translations[edit]

The Song was translated to many languages (and to almost all officially-recognized languages of Russia). Some examples: German,[8] Japanese,[9] Hebrew.[10]

The text of the poem[edit]

The text in original Russian and English translation follows (the English translation is GFDL; note on translation on the discussion page).

Над седой равниной моря ветер тучи собирает. Между тучами и морем гордо реет Буревестник, чёрной молнии подобный.

То крылом волны касаясь, то стрелой взмывая к тучам, он кричит, и — тучи слышат радость в смелом крике птицы.

В этом крике — жажда бури! Силу гнева, пламя страсти и уверенность в победе слышат тучи в этом крике.

Чайки стонут перед бурей, — стонут, мечутся над морем и на дно его готовы спрятать ужас свой пред бурей.

И гагары тоже стонут, — им, гагарам, недоступно наслажденье битвой жизни: гром ударов их пугает.

Глупый пингвин робко прячет тело жирное в утёсах... Только гордый Буревестник реет смело и свободно над седым от пены морем!

Всё мрачней и ниже тучи опускаются над морем, и поют, и рвутся волны к высоте навстречу грому.

Гром грохочет. В пене гнева стонут волны, с ветром споря. Вот охватывает ветер стаи волн объятьем крепким и бросает их с размаху в дикой злобе на утёсы, разбивая в пыль и брызги изумрудные громады.

Буревестник с криком реет, чёрной молнии подобный, как стрела пронзает тучи, пену волн крылом срывает.

Вот он носится, как демон, — гордый, чёрный демон бури, — и смеётся, и рыдает... Он над тучами смеётся, он от радости рыдает!

В гневе грома, — чуткий демон, — он давно усталость слышит, он уверен, что не скроют тучи солнца, — нет, не скроют!

Ветер воет... Гром грохочет...

Синим пламенем пылают стаи туч над бездной моря. Море ловит стрелы молний и в своей пучине гасит. Точно огненные змеи, вьются в море, исчезая, отраженья этих молний.

— Буря! Скоро грянет буря!

Это смелый Буревестник гордо реет между молний над ревущим гневно морем; то кричит пророк победы:

— Пусть сильнее грянет буря!..

Up above the sea's grey flatland, wind is gathering the clouds. In between the sea and clouds proudly soaring the Petrel, reminiscent of black lightning.
Glancing a wave with his wingtip, like an arrow dashing cloudward, he cries out and the clouds hear his joy in the bird's cry of courage.
In this cry -- thirst for the tempest! Wrathful power, flame of passion, certainty of being victorious the clouds hear in that bird's cry.
Seagulls groan before the tempest, - groan, and race above the sea, and on its bottom they are ready to hide their fear of the storm.
And the loons are also groaning, - they, the loons, they cannot access the delight of life in battle: the noise of the clashes scares them.
The dumb penguin shyly hiding his fat body in the crevice . . . It is only the proud Petrel who soars ever bold and freely over the sea grey with sea foam!
Ever darker, clouds descending ever lower over the sea, and the waves are singing, racing to the sky to meet the thunder.
Thunder sounds. In foamy anger the waves groan, with wind in conflict. Now the wind firmly embraces flocks of waves and sends them crashing on the cliffs in wild fury, smashing into dust and seaspray all these mountains of emerald.
And the Petrel soars while crying, reminiscent of black lightning, like an arrow piercing the clouds, with his wing rips foam from the waves.
So he dashes, like a demon, - proud, black demon of the tempest, - and he's laughing and he's weeping . . . it is at the clouds he's laughing, it is with his joy he's weeping!
In the fury of the thunder, the wise demon hears his weakness, but he's certain that the clouds will not hide the sun - won't hide it!
The wind howls . . . the thunder rolls . . .
Like a blue flame, flocks of clouds blaze up above the sea's abyss. The sea catches bolts of lightning drowning them beneath its waters. Just like serpents made of fire, they weave in the water, fading, the reflections of this lightning.
-Tempest! Soon will strike the tempest!
That is the courageous Petrel proudly soaring in the lightning over the sea's roar of fury; cries of victory the prophet:
-Let the tempest come strike harder!

Commemoration[edit]

The popularity of the poem in Russia's revolutionary circles, and the later "canonization" of Gorky as a preeminent classic of the "proletarian literature" ensured the wide spreading of the image of the Burevestnik ("stormy petrel") in the Soviet propaganda imagery. A variety of institutions, products, and publications would bear the name "Burevestnik", [11] including a national sports club, a series of hydrofoil boats,[12] an air base in the Kuril Islands, a labor-union resort on the Gorky Reservoir, a Moscow-Nizhny Novgorod express train, and even a brand of candy.[13] (See Burevestnik for a very partial list of entities so named). Naturally, Burevestnik-themed names were especially popular in Gorky Oblast.

Maxim Gorky himself would be referred to with the epithet "the Stormy Petrel of the Revolution" (Буревестник Революции);[14][15] monuments, posters, postage stamps and commemorative coins depicting the writer would often be decorated with the image of a soaring aquatic bird.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bodin, Per-Arne; Hedlund, Stefan; Namli, Elena, eds. (2012), Power and Legitimacy - Challenges from Russia, Routledge Contemporary Russia and Eastern Europe Series, Routledge, ISBN 1136267301 
  2. ^ a b c Novikov, Lev Alekseevich (Лев Алексеевич Новиков) (1979), Лингвистическое толкование художественного текста (Linguistic interpretation of a literary text), Русский язык, p. 77 
  3. ^ "Весенние мелодии (Фантазия)" (Spring Melodies. (Fantasy)) in: Gorky, Maksim; Sukennikov, M. (1902), Tri razskaza (Three Stories), Izd-vo Ioanna Rėde, pp. 20–26 
  4. ^ a b c "Maxim Gorky: The Song of the Stormy Petrel" (in Russian).
  5. ^ "A Legend Exhumed", a review of Dan Levin's book Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky. TIME. June 25, 1965.
  6. ^ The entry Burya ["storm"] in: Толковый словарь живого великорусского языка. В 4 тт. Т. 1: А—3, 2001, p . 172. This is a modern reprint (using modernized Russian orthography) of the 1903 edition which would be familiar to Gorky and his readers.
  7. ^ In modern Russian, pingvin only refers to Antarctic penguins, and it seems to be predominant usage in Gorky's time as well. However, Gorky's era Dal's Dictionary defines pingvin simply as a "Sea bird, chistik, [which] flies poorly and walks erect" (Морская птица, чистик, плохо летает и ходит стойком), without identifying it more precisely. The term chistik is not defined in Dal's dictionary, but appears to apply to a number of sea birds, including, indeed, to the Great Auk (which is called "Atlantic chistik in a Russian's translation of Brehms Tierleben: Жизнь животных. A Russian geography textbook from 1887, too, would use the word pingvin to refer to Alca tarda (razorbill) of Russia's Arctic coast. Географія Россійской Имперіи: (курс средних учебних заведеній), p. 54.
  8. ^ http://theaderado.npage.de/gorki_lied_vom_sturmvogel_15602293.html
  9. ^ ja:海燕の歌#詩の内容
  10. ^ http://saginatus.livejournal.com/115769.html
  11. ^ Ziolkowski, Margaret (1998), Literary Exorcisms of Stalinism: Russian Writers and the Soviet Past, Camden House, p. 111, ISBN 1571131795 
  12. ^ Russian River Ships
  13. ^ The Burevestnik candy was essentially chocolate-coated sugar: Taylor, Russell; Polonsky, Marc (2011), USSR: From an Original Idea by Karl Marx, Faber & Faber, ISBN 0571281583 
  14. ^ See e.g. numerous references in this Cand. Sc. (Philology) dissertation abstract: Ledneva, Tatiana Petrovna (Леднева, Татьяна Петровна) (2002), Авторская позиция в произведениях М. Горького 1890-х годов. (Author's position in Maxim Gorky's 1890s works) 
  15. ^ Levin, Dan (1965), Stormy Petrel: The Life and Work of Maxim Gorky, Schocken Books, ISBN 0805207880 

External links[edit]