How Well Has Nabokov’s Poetry Been Translated?

Nabokov was s a prolific poet and writer who was also bilingual and often translated his own poetry. Now, Dmitri Nabokov translates his work, though some have questioned his word choice and style of translation.

Nabokov is best known for his book Lolita and Pale Fire. A movie was made based on the book first in 1962 and then in 1997 . He also published several books of poetry as well as scholarly essays.

Early Poetry and Translation

Vladimir Nabokov was quite embarrassed by his early attempts at poetry. Most of the poems of his teenage years are contained in the volume Poems and Problems. In fact, he called the book “the steady mass of verse which I began to exude in my youth … with monstrous regularity.”

Just as the elder Nabokov was embarrassed by his own simplistic verses, his son was embarrassed by his rudimentary Russian translation of his father’s works. Both father and son though, eventually matured in their talents and Vladimir grew into a world renowned author and poet, while his son grew into an accomplished professional translator.

Distinguished Translator

Vladimir was also a distinguished translator, and he translated most of his own works while he was alive. He studied at Cambridge, which is where he learned fluent English, and later, Nabokov wrote several poems about his Cambridge years that played off of his bilingualism.

Vladimir Nabokov’s Main Translations were:

From French into Russian

  • Nikolka Persik Translation of Romain Rolland’s novel Colas Breugnon.

From English into Russian

  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

From Russian into English

  • Three Russian Poets: Selections from Pushkin, Lermontov, and Tyutchev
  • Expanded British edition: Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev: Poems
  • A Hero of Our Time, by Mikhail Lermontov
  • The Song of Igor’s Campaign: An Epic of the Twelfth Century
  • Eugene Onegin, by Aleksandr Pushkin, in prose. Includes “Notes on Prosody”.
  • Verses and Versions (edited by Brian Boyd and Stanislav Shvabrin), includes materials previously published in Three Russian Poets
  • Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev
  • As well as unpublished materials.

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