Poetry Archives Bio

Gone Babylon

November 28, 2021

This is my translation of «Вон Вавилон» by Борис Гребенщиков [Boris Grebenshchikov]. The translation itself was a regular type of struggle: I've largely adhered to the rhyme scheme and metre of the source text, but I ran into some moral difficulties when I realized that the initial YouTube version of the song differed in a number of key aspects from the final album version.

After reading some commentaries, the slippages stood out pretty clearly, from the omission of the song title's first word (originally, it was «Пошёл Вон Вавилон» where the initials of each word come together to form PVV, which readily recalls Putin Vladimir Vladimirovich in the Russian imagination), to the replacement of «патриарх» (patriarch, the reactionary and dictatorial head of the Russian Orthodox Church) with «рабочий» (worker, a fascinating Soviet turn), «собор» (cathedral, temple) with «лагерь» (camp, as in summer camp, but also a direct borrowing of the German Lager, yes the same as Konzentrationslager), «поневоле» (against one's will) with «хошь не хошь» (whether you want to or not), to the addition of «твой нектар — одеколон» (your nectar is eau de cologne), which directly echoes the line in «Взгляд с экрана» ("Look from the Screen") by Nautilus Pompilius (drinking cologne is what Russian bums actually used to do when I was growing up in Moscow in the 80s).

Ален Делон, Ален Делон не пьёт одеколон
Ален Делон, Ален Делон пьёт двойной бурбон
Ален Делон говорит по-французски

Alain Delon, Alain Delon, cologne he doesn't drink
Alain Delon, Alain Delon, a double bourbon clinks
Alain Delon, speaking beautiful French he

Despite BG's coy protestations in interviews and social media, and despite all these clever references, the self-expurgation appears to be a pretty obvious attempt a self-censorship under the watchful eye of an oppressive regime, in the best traditions of Russian cultural production. Plus ça change...

After some internal wrangling, I decided to apply a resistant translation (cf. Venuti) to the final, slightly defanged version of the source text.



To Becky Ellis
Gone Babylon

They call me all Bogadúr Odisséi;
My palantír fell in the Yenisey.
What you sow's what you reap, go and see,
But try and don't promenade right on my head, Pharisee.

My car's exclusively on the canine drive;
In fevered ravings is when I arrive;
My vision bodes of woes no one will survive;
But don't you call for me—you'll never get me alive.


Begone you, Babylon!
Babylon, you begone!
Like a wounded elephant's drone,
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Your serfs have been quartered and drawn,
But you're not alive, a clone.
You haven't heard how there sings Avalon!
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku


The wheel of nature we've broken and fractured;
Sweatshops have our spring manufactured.
In the garden ourselves we have captured,
And we talk about all with derogation enraptured.

Our deck of cards has nothing but spades and crosses;
On the same side we have different losses.
As a worker said for his bride to process,
"Hey, hang it here for bosses."


Begone you, Babylon!
Babylon, you begone!
Like a wounded elephant's drone,
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Your serfs have been quartered and drawn,
Your nectar's eau de cologne.
You haven't heard how there sings Avalon!
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon

Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku


We have mothers bored with libido;
Ceremonial date is credo.
To safeguard all yourselves from NATO,
Lure a soldier into each bed with potatoes.

And we will walk in formation,
Bury all aberrations,
And with the whole camp will build such creations,
That every single one's the hero of nation.


Begone you, Babylon!
Babylon, you begone!
Like a wounded elephant's drone,
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Your serfs have been quartered and drawn;
Your riches are testosterone.
You haven't heard how there sings Avalon!
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku
Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku


They call me all Bogadúr Odisséi;
My palantír fell in the Yenisey.
What you sow's what you reap, go and see,
But try and don't promenade right on my head, Pharisee.

My car's exclusively on the canine drive;
With frenzied spectres is how I arrive;
My vision bodes of woes no one will survive;
But don't you call for me—you'll never get me alive.


Begone you, Babylon!
Babylon, you begone!
Like a wounded elephant's drone,
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Your serfs have been quartered and drawn,
But you're not alive, a clone.
You haven't heard how there sings Avalon!
Begone you! Gone, Babylon!

Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon
Babylon, Babylon, Babylon


Ku-ku-ru-ku-ku