Rhyming Thomas & the Faery Queen: performance (in Russian) of the modern version of the 13th-century Romance of Thomas of Erceldoune by Thomas Beavitt. Russian translation by Mikhail Feygin. Video shot by Regis Tremblay at Livadia Palace, Yalta, Republic of Crimea on 21st May, 2021
Thomas Beavitt. “The Blood of the Bard: Prophecy and Succession in Russia and Scotland”, Livadia Palace Conference Presentation, Yalta, Republic of Crimea, 21st May, 2021 (in Russian)
I wrote this translation of Vysotsky’s Еще не вечер in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. In the original Russian version, Vysotsky has in mind the veteran theatre director Yury Lyubimov, under whose inspired Brechtian leadership the Taganka Theatre departed from the Stanislavskian method-acting approach of the state financed Moscow Art Theatre. Here, the pirate ship serves as a metaphor for the Taganka, facing the might of the “navy” but never quite succumbing to its attacks. In my translation, the pirate captain is Alex Salmond – while the ship is, of course, Scotland.
It was a big pleasure to be interviewed by this fine gentleman Regis Tremblay for his show Global Conversations. I talk about my long and seemingly inevitable journey from Scotland to Russia, my childhood background and my Global Village Bard collaboration programme.
The first single from the forthcoming concept album ‘Heraclitus Flow’, Vitruvian Woman presents an ironic and irreverent romp through three millennia of western cultural and philosophical history. Starting with the Hebrew myth of creation and original sin, it cheekily guides the listener’s imagination through Greek Homeric prehistory and the Athenian golden age, pausing to note the importance of the presocratic philosophers Heraclitus (“no man steps in the same river twice”) and Protagoras (“man is the measure of all things”), through the Roman empire and Christian nativity, via the Renaissance and so-called “Enlightenment” to the modern era. Taking into account such culturally-significant figures as Napoleon, Einstein and Julian Assange, it nevertheless places each in a context fundamentally conditioned by feminine subjectivity. In the last two verses, the author appears (“it’s getting rather hard to be a global village bard”) to give his own personal account of the postmodern condition.
Backing track (minusovka)
In the beginning, the world started spinning – a disk that accreted from void. Creator’s intentions produced more dimensions, each lest the last be destroyed. And out of affinity strode masculinity, clutching his logos referral, But deep in his core lurked a maiden, a whore, a temptress, a mother, a girl. Then Adam knew Eve… well, he thought that he did… and that was original sin. But when Cain and Abel were sat at the table, his judgements seemed petty and thin. Playing the martyr’s a total non-starter when round such routines she runs rings! What is this insanity? Everything’s vanity! Woman is the measure of all things! The gods liked to toy with Helen of Troy, whose visage launched thirty contingents. The judgement of Paris was heard on Solaris, albeit with many infringements. And Hera sat on Ida with Athena there beside her; when Aphrodite was vindicated she rose. But the Oath of Tyndareus exonerated Menelaus, thus launching the epoch of heroes. Well, then Hector fought Achilles and Odysseus in series, but in the end they dragged his corpse around the walls; With old Agamemnon leading them again on and on till at last his fate befalls Each, who merits his portion of outrageous fortune, indignities, arrows and slings: It’s all part of the plan, but he’s only a man – and woman is the measure of all things! The bee's knees, Alcibiades, in Plato’s book Protagoras Was shown to please old Socrates, whose elenctic can still stagger us. But all those Archimedes greedies looking to lever the Earth Still need a fulcrum to rest it upon – when all they have is its dearth. Nobody can know the Heraclitus flow, who never steps into it twice: Everything slides and nothing abides – and knowledge is never precise. Man only knows the ebbs and the flows to which his identity clings: For he’s not the same man and it’s not the same river – and woman is the measure of all things! Then Aristotle went full-throttle into full-blown academia. At a nearby clinic, Diogenes the Cynic diagnosed him with schizophrenia. But Alexander wouldn’t pander to a fear of his own dark shadow; After breaking his steed, he stood in great need of self-knowledge – a failure, a saddo? Then, proceeding as taught, he did as he ought, according to Delphian principle: Dragged the old sybil out by the nipple till she screamed “My son, you’re invincible! With your banner unfurled, you may conquer the world – it ain’t over till Pythia sings That life is the school, love is the teacher – and woman is the measure of all things!” That diamond geezer, Julius Caesar, had a scene with Cleopatra. In the palace, he unsheathed his phallus, while the eunuch Ganymedes tried to capture His fleet, but was forced to retreat, while Alexandria, still besieged, burned. After the Battle of the Nile, he tarried a while, then returned To Rome, the place he called home, to await his doom in the Senate At the Ides of March. Thus, we recall the indispensable tenet: When back to Egypt his mother Caesarion brings, It all becomes clear, I fear, that woman is the measure of all things. Jesus Christ had a tryst with Mary Magdalene. Those who knew this wandering Jew could never quite explain Just how he was able to turn the table on all hypocritical sinners, But then, at a loss, he was nailed to a cross: this game of life sure has no winners. As thunderclouds loomed, he adopted a spread-eagle pose And, pondering death, exhaled his last breath and arose… Who’ll square the circle in this murk’ll be the king of kings – But in the land of the blind, the deaf don’t mind if woman is the measure of all things. It was easy for Leonardo to bring his masterpiece to fruition; Harder for Galileo to go square up against the Roman Inquisition. Truth falls like two cannonballs straight from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa And Michelangelo’s David was wholly created in the shadow of the Mona Lisa. Logical proof is offensive to truth – who can say how the heliocentre moves? And the anthropic principle is clearly evincible for he whom the calculus proves That the puppeteer need never fear when jerking on his strings – Vitruvian man does what he can… but woman is the measure of all things! Immanuel Kant had a rant, producing a moral monstrosity. With his golden rule, he started to drool, forgetting about reciprocity. In a season of reason, he promised perpetual peace, Where pleasure in measure to ethics can only increase. He continued like that, from his conjuror’s hat, a sequence of white rabbits To produce, and from them to deduce, based on his own clocklike habits, A constructed reality, lame like an amputee, where eternal springs Of hope elope with cash for rope, but woman’s not the measure of all things! Napoleon Bonaparte practised the art of loving his wife, Josephine. His “ne te laves pas, en trois jours je reviens” ‘s still thought to be somewhat obscene. He wrote: “I have been endowed with a nature that is proud, but I still place you above me; In your alluring case, out of gossamer and lace – have you really ceased to love me...?” Then, in despair, in search of an heir, he wed Marie Louise for her womb, Who cried: “He’s a bit of a tyrant, but not when alone in his room. He’s only a temporary emperor, but [sigh] love gives him wings... Let him conquer the globe, but take off his robe… and woman is the measure of such things!” Karl Marx made some remarks about dialectical materialism. For Lenin, well, that was capital, but the ultimate stage is imperialism. And, despite such brains, some doubt remains concerning what to do about that: Что делать? Как быть? Куда бежать? Кто виноват? And while the Mao effect demands respect for a single blooming flower, Only the totally corrupt could ever dare to interrupt the prerogative of absolute power, Cutting closer to the bone to get blood out of a stone – the last drop that he wrings… But it’s all in vain and demonstrably insane – because woman is the measure of all things! Albert Einstein began to shine, making e equal to m c squared. Putting theory into practice, his conjugals seem tactless, but I doubt he really cared That their mothers were sisters and grandfathers brothers – relativity should be kept in the family! Elsa, like Monroe, was a sapiosexual ho. Giving him brain, albeit somewhat clammily, Was objectively sexier than a troupe of virgin nuns with anorexia, but I don’t mean to make light Of his depravity; to equate specific gravity with absolute momentum is quite right. And now Higgs has chosen the boson, along with quarks and superstrings… But why is there something rather than nothing? Because woman is the measure of all things! It’s getting rather hard to be a global village bard amidst all of these overlapping framings, Trying from the start to perform a minor part within linguistic Wittgensteinian gamings. And the nebulous assumption that per capita consumption has any kind of bearing on autonomy Has impuberal misconduct as the gross domestic product of an ailing low attention span economy. And I don’t like to mention the blank incomprehension that greets attempts to re-enchant the world – Just put it into storage while you try to pay the mortgage and never pause to think how we’ve been hurled Into these bum trades, while unicorns and mermaids cleave to deep affairs and shallow flings. It’s all been said before, just another kind of war… and woman’s still the measure of all things. Now Assange rots in Belmarsh prison pending extradition with nobody to come and go his bail; And many a sordid sex scene’s relived by Jeffrey Epstein, who may or may not have killed himself in jail; And whether Greta Thunberg’s financed by Michael Bloomberg or Soros himself appears beside the point, While the orgulous accusers of Satanic sex abusers for prurient viewers rarely disappoint. And the wombs of Muslim wives are being weaponised in an ongoing war against absurdity, Bequeathing to posterity an heirloom of austerity downloaded from the web of postmodernity. Now the dog and bone are long since overgrown, just like the one for whom the iPhone rings – It rings for me to the approximate degree that woman is the measure of all things!
©Lyrics written and performed by Thomas Riffmatch to a backing track composed by Nikita Nikitin with backing vocals by Tri Muzy and guest spots feat. Primavera and Katya Ashravzyanova, recorded and produced in Ekaterinburg by Andrey Bokovikov.
I think everyone will agree that 2020 has been a bit of a difficult year for human beings on planet Earth. Now that it is coming to an end, it becomes possible to think about what it means.
There is a phrase in British English “lovely jubbly”. I always thought it referred to the (originally Biblical) concept of jubilee, a half-century “sabbath of sabbaths” during which human relationships get reset, but it turns out that the term was first used as a 1950s advertising jingle for an ice lolly called a “jubbly”. Then, in the 1970s, it got recycled as a catchphrase used by Dellboy in the TV serial ‘Only Fools and Horses’. It has a slightly different connotation in Scots English, where “jubblies” is a slang term for female breasts.
So, this is Thomas Riffmatch’s take on 2020. I think a lot of people have been yearning for some kind of jubilee. Perhaps the events of 2020 weren’t exactly what we had in mind, but there it is. We will have to make the most of it!
You shall make this year holy, Proclaim pandemic liberty; All must bow down and worship me! Who can disagree? Each vagabond and refugee Returning to his family To occupy his property And ponder jubilee. Slaves and prisoners set free, All debts erased from memory, Each grace-and-favour tenancy Disposed without a fee. From each, to his ability, Residing in this colony; The trend repeated globally – This lovely jubilee. Then, lacking the propensity To live in close community, The working class and bourgeoisie Dispute the price of tea. All coming under scrutiny, We’re drowning in hypocrisy, Increasing in intensity, In spite of jubilee. Then leaders, ruling by decree, Who were not able to foresee The scope of herd immunity, Provide a guarantee. With striking ingenuity And nuanced ambiguity, Financialise society To gild the jubilee. But everyone turned out to be, As usual, much too cowardly To reach potentiality And turn the master key. Norms of herd morality Applying, all too humanly, The principle of me, me, me… And that’s no jubilee! Breakthroughs in technology And crowd-control psychology With eyeball-tracking constantly To see what we can see. The subsequent economy Is based on the commodity Of focused attentivity In aid of jubilee. Not quantity, but quality – The strains of sacred melody Combine in perfect harmony To form the base of “we”. But imprecative blasphemy From Gomorrah and Sodomy Rang out in animosity To taint the jubilee. Stunted in our sov’reignty, Like Hamlet’s sad soliloquy, We’re doomed to be or not to be – I’m counting: one, two, three… But there’s no sense of urgency; We live in modest luxury To face the bare contingency Of holy jubilee. Those born in the last century Are buried in the cemet’ry Or ashes from the crematory Scattered out at sea. Redemptive contiguity Assures the lasting legacy Of long-conjoined humanity In lovely jubilee.
©Lyrics written and performed by Thomas Riffmatch to a backing track composed by Nikita Nikitin, recorded and produced in Ekaterinburg by Andrey Bokovikov.
We are delighted to announce that we now have a Telegram channel! If you are reading this, please say hi to confirm that it is working!
A discussion of some of the problems arising during the course of attempting a ‘musical’ verse translation of Lermontov’s early lyric poem 1831-go IYUNYA 11 DNYA is presented. A metrical analysis of the poem’s prosodic features is carried out in accentual- syllabic, beat-prosodic and musical terms. In particular, the Russian poet’s extensive use of enjambment and caesura to create rhythmic and syntactic tension between the levels of phrase and poetic line creates challenges for a translator who aims to preserve the rhythmic structure of the original while also using the phraseological resources of the target language to the fullest advantage. In the course of the analysis, it became apparent that some prosodic features, appearing both in the source text and the attempted translation, evade full description in accentual-syllabic, beat-prosodic and musical terms. Therefore, it also became necessary to introduce the concept of “flow”, which is derived from contemporary rap music and may partially correspond to the Russian prosodic term zashagovaniye. Readers are invited to assess to what extent the translation strategies employed in this case are successful in maintaining fidelity to the source text in terms of its (i) signification, (ii) form, (iii) emotionality and (iv) singability.
Cover design by Michele Winfield
Backing track (minusovka)
I will survive. The words make up the phrase Sung by Gloria Gaynor to a tearful crowd of gays In sad self-isolation. I’ll call a spade a spade. The barman’s calling time on this identity parade… I feel the longing of the lone long-distance lover, Though, when it comes to sentiment, I keep it undercover. My life matters… at least, to me… but why? Who wills survives to will again… but who am I? At breakneck speed, my form depends on vigorous mutation, Cytoplasmic inheritance blown on constant replication, At rates of reproduction, where the fastest is the slowest, I infect my hosts, but only whose resistance is the lowest; I’ll get my protein coat, I’m leaving, all these sad farewells… I cannot live in freedom, spend my time locked up in cells, Parasitically depend on that of which I’m most desirous: I’m a virus. I, I will survive Oh, as long as I’m mutating, you can say that I’m alive I've got all your life to live I've got immunity to give and I'll survive I will survive, hey hey Dreamt up by colonials to prove their reign of terror; Bounded by my neighbour, whom I’m doomed to always mirror. Encroachment, conquest, slavery, revolt, extermination; Reluctant to assimilate, I combat integration In these rivers of blood, in which no man steps twice, I want to play, but don’t want to play nice – You’ll dominate, I’ll be your bitch, just tell me to my face That I’m a race. I, I will survive Oh, as long as I remember who I am, I'll be alive – I've got all my life to live I've got my heritage to give – and I'll survive I will survive, hey hey In my urge to penetrate into the mystery of the other, I’ll impregnate my sister, lift my hand against my brother – He, whose sacrifice was pleasing to the Lord, I’ll mend his torment with my perfect sword – And, wandering the earth, condemned to arbitrary freedom, I invent bizarre machines to ease my suppurating tedium; Inhabiting the world since time began… I am a man. And I’ll survive Oh, as long as I’m determining myself, I'll stay alive I've got all my life to live I've got my cleverness to give and I'll survive I will survive, hey hey Receptive, all-embracing, I anticipate deflowering That my idiot compassion spawn a Mother all-devouring, Or an icy queen, whose reign entails a thousand years of winter: I’m Karaba the sorceress, whose spine conceals a splinter, To be plucked by Kirikou, who ungirds my underbodice, To bloom into a beautiful and open-hearted goddess; Embodying in truth exactly half of what is human… I am a woman. And I’ll survive Oh, as long as I am nurturing, I know I'll stay alive I've got all my life to live And I've got all my love to give and I'll survive I will survive, hey hey All history is murderous, for dead men tell no tales. As a player on this stage, whose life expectancy entails That, in waging war or trade, I give no quarter: I’ll be pensioned in the form of bricks and mortar; And, like all such men rewarded for their violence, I’ll endeavour that my victims rest in silence. In terms of slave religion, aye, a sinner… But I’m a winner. I, I will survive Oh, as long as I’ve got narrative, I know I'll stay alive I've got all my life to live And I've got evidence to give and I'll survive I will survive, hey hey I am the spark of grace that sets the universe ablaze, Scintillating everywhere until the end of days; The suffering and pain amongst the human population Are but food for me; my drink – their rank humiliation. The older that I get, the more I’m saving up my semen, Storing vital energy for battling these demons; While I’m waiting for the angels to arrive, I will survive.
© Rap version based on the original song by Dino Fekaris / Frederick J. Perren. Additional lyrics written and performed by Thomas Riffmatch to a backing track arranged by Nikita Nikitin with backing vocals by Primavera, recorded and produced in Ekaterinburg by Andrey Bokovikov.
I am delighted to announce my invitation to perform at the 2nd Sail of Destiny festival honouring the work of the great Russian poet Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov. The festival, which will take place on 13th-19th October 2020 in Pyatigorsk in the Russian North Caucasus, is timed to commemorate the 206th anniversary of Lermontov’s birth in Moscow on the 16th October 1814. As well as participating in various pilgrimages to important Lermontov sites, including the location of his fatal duel on 27th July, 1841, I will be performing excerpts from my Lermontov song cycle entitled Жив поэт! |The Bard is not Dead! at a gala concert and other to-be-announced events.
I have been intensely interested in Lermontov’s work for several years now. Often ranked second only to Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin in the Russian poetic pantheon, Lermontov is, to me, the more interesting poet. Although in terms of the quantity and breadth of his output, Mikhail Yuryevich can’t claim Alexander Sergeyevich’s crown, he still managed to chalk up an extraordinary series of literary – and existential – accomplishments in his short 26 years on this planet. Even at the tender age of 17, he was already capable of sustained artistic brilliance as seen in his long prophetic poem 1831-го ИЮНЯ 11 ДНЯ (translated by me under the title When a harp rings out boldly in eternal halls of fame).
I first encountered Lermontov’s poetry in 2014, the year of his 200th anniversary, which coincided with a conference in Moffat (Scotland), the project to install a bronze bust of Lermontov in the nearby village of Earlston, home of his semi-mythical forbear Thomas the Rhymer (whose surname was Learmonth), and a request from Maria Koroleva – a Lermontov descendant and prominent Scotophile – to translate some of Lermontov’s poems in such a way as to preserve their music. At the same time, I was working with some Middle English manuscripts of Thomas the Rhymer’s semi-autobiographical masterpiece to produce a modern (Scots-) English version entitled Rhyming Thomas and the Faery Queen. Both of these texts would later form the basis for the song cycle Жив поэт! |The Bard is not Dead!
Rhyming Thomas and the Faery Queen was brilliantly translated into Russian by my long-term collaborator Mikhail Feygin under the title Томас Рифмач и Королева Эльфов.
While translating Lermontov’s poetry, I noticed that the music of his language reveals itself through the act of translation. Perhaps this is true of all poetic translation. The result was the song cycle Жив поэт! |The Bard is not Dead!, which is currently being arranged for bard, choir and orchestra by the Ekaterinburg-based violinist and arranger Tatyana Terekhova. The score will be presented at a special event at the Lermontov State Museum-Zapovednik in Pyatigorsk on Saturday 17th October.
At some point, I hope that a performance of Жив поэт! |The Bard is not Dead! will be staged in full format, i.e. bard, choir and orchestra. For this, both artistic collaborators and sponsors will be required. Such a performance can either be in Russian or English (ideally both stagings will happen at some point), bringing the wonderful music of Lermontov’s poetry to life alongside that of his legendary forbear Thomas the Rhymer. If you are interested in helping this project come to fruition, please get in touch.