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Yanka Kupala as a translator

Yanka Kupala as a translator

Yanka Kupala was, perhaps, the only Belarusian classical writer who used the most different forms of literary translation. He came to Belarusian literature in the very beginning of its becoming when literary translation was concerned differently. He practiced creative inheritance, liberal and literary translation, but traditions which after Kupala are reflected in works of Belarusian translators are inspired by his best “rethinking” (he used such a synonym with reference to his translations) – from Shevchenko, Pushkin, Mickiewicz. So what features characterize Kupala as a translator?

First of all it is necessary to note that Kupala translated works of the authors he loved and whose ideas were consonant to his own creative aspirations.

Kupala translated from literatures of people-neighbors. He translated poems of Polish, Russian and Ukrainian poets when they appeared in print and in that way acquainted Belarusian readers with the samples of poetry of our nearest neighbors. In fact, at that time many of them weren’t translated into Russian, besides most Belarusians did not know Russian well enough.

Kupala trusted and hoped that his translations would find their readers, and he was not mistaken. In the article The Great Kobzar of Ukrainian People (Вялікі Кабзар украінскага народа) he wrote: “Now I have a great pleasure working on the translation of these wonderful works and knowing that I won’t have to hide them and they will be read by thousands of Belarusian workers, collective farmers and intellectuals”.

Yanka Kupala understood the role of translations as a means of interrelations of literatures and advocated translations as a way to acquaint Belarusian readers with literatures of other peoples. Kupala’s earliest translations found in the archive of B. Epimah-Shipilo show how exigent he was with his translation activity. Kupala translated into the Belarus language the monument of ancient Russian literature The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (Слова аб палку Ігаравым) – both prosaic and poetic; the international proletarian anthem The Internationale (Інтэрнацыянал); the Polish texts in the plays of V. Dunin-Martsinkevich Idyll (Ідылія) and Zalyoty (Залёты), the libretto of S. Moniuszko’s opera Galka (Галька), the poem of A. Pushkin Copper Horseman (Медны коннік); separate poems of T. Shevchenko, N. Nekrasov, I. Krylov, A. Koltsov, A. Mickiewicz, V. Syrokomlya, M. Konopicka, J. Krashevsky, V. Bronevsky, E. Zhulavsky etc.

Traditions incorporated by Kupala in his practice of literary translation and work on its improvement and expansion were picked up and developed still in those days when the basis of the edition of translation literature was pawned.

In 1928 the Belarusian state publishing house issued the separate book of P. Panch’s short story The Earth (Зямля). In a year the same publishing house issued the collection of A. Ljubchenko’s short stories Shepherd (Пастух). Both books were translated from the Ukrainian language by national poet of Belarus Yanka Kupala. In the 1920s Kupala translated much enough. In the first Soviet decade Belarusian publishers issued Kupala’s translations of the poems of Russian poets: M. Krasilnikov’s Proletarian Lullaby (Пралетарская калыханка), P. Shkulyov’s Smiths (Кавалі), R. Kudrjashova’s The Little Fir (Ёлачка), poetic and prosaic translations of the monument of ancient literature The Tale of Igor’s Campaign (Слова аб палку Ігаравым) etc. The bard paid a particular attention to Polish literature and translated the poems of A. Mickiewicz (Konrad Wallenrod / Конрад Валенрод), V. Syrokomlya (Sunday / Нядзеля), V. Bronevsky (The Song of the Civil War / Песня аб вайне грамадзянскай and The Paris Commune(Парыжская камуна), verses of M. Konopicka, J. Krashevsky etc. As to Ukrainian fiction, along with the works of Panch and Ljubchenko Kupala translated the poem of V. Polischuk Lenin (Ленін). The translation was made in 1923 and in 1924 it appeared in the first issues of magazine Polymja.

Yanka Kupala was extremely attentive to a national color of the original, to the writer’s style. He always remembered that the art of a word, as well as any other art, is strong with its originality. Leveling of separate specific features of the original, its adjustment to the standards of another person, let even the most outstanding, is equivalent to death of a literary work. At the same time, reading Kupala’s translations we often forget that there are translation products as they sound in the Belarusian language with an amazing harmony.

As a translator, Kupala never “erased” the author whoever it was – a venerable writer or a beginner. He did not humiliate them with his greatness, did not aspire to improve them. He stayed himself in the great and in the small. This feature of Kupala as a translator, which manifested also in his reconstruction of short stories of Panch and Ljubchenko, can be called an altruistic fidelity to the spirit of the original where «the spirit" means the character of an embodiment of the certain vital material in the concrete artistic form.

Kupala can teach to treat respectfully original contents and its poetics. To transmit precisely the features of contents and poetics, the writer made active lexical, phraseological, syntactic and phonetic means of the Belarusian word, and not only literary, but also national-dialectal. The person of Kupala-translator manifests through the writer’s orientation to the Belarusian reader to whom, actually, his translations were addressed.

Translated by Yanka Kupala


  1. Рагойша, В. Вяршыні: з невядомага і забытага пра Я. Купалу, Я. Коласа, М. Багдановіча / Вячаслаў Рагойша. – Мінск: Універсітэцкае, 1991. – 199 с.
  2. Рагойша, В. П. Структура санетаў Янкі Купалы як перакладазнаўчая праблема / В.П. Рагойша // Янка Купала і Якуб Колас у кантэксце славянскіх літаратур: матэр. міжнар. навук.-практ. канф. (Мінск, 3–4 кастр. 2002 г.) / Рэдкал.: У. В. Гніламёдаў (гал. рэд.) і інш. – Мінск, 2002. – С. 195–200.
  3. 130 гадоў з дня нараджэння Янкі Купалы // Наша слова. – 2012. – № 27. – С. 1.