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August 21st, 2012

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07:05 am - 'Mother of God banish Putin'
Carol Rumens in the Guardian has posted her own translation of the Pussy Riot 'Punk Prayer'. You can read it here preceded by her explanation of some of her translation choices.

Most significantly I think she explains that the line which is generally rendered in English (on the BBC for example) as 'Shit, shit, God is shit' is actually saying something more like 'Crap, crap, this godliness crap'. The word in the middle is an adjective meaning piety, and the poem is decrying the false piety of religious leaders who support state repression.Did you know the head of the Russian Orthodox church is ex-KGB?

I am very interested in the translation of poetry, and it is also interesting to see how powerful and dangerous poetry continues to be. Of course it is all very well me saying 'interesting' when these poor girls, not much older than my daughter, are in a prison camp.

Full text of Carol Rumens translation below the cut. It's a powerful piece even in translation. I am increasingly annoyed with people who say it was offensive and blasphemous. This is legitimate religious poetry, with a fair point to make.

Punk prayer
By Pussy Riot trans. Carol Rumens

Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish him, we pray thee!
Congregations genuflect,
Black robes brag gilt epaulettes,
Freedom's phantom's gone to heaven,
Gay Pride's chained and in detention.

KGB's chief saint descends
To guide the punks to prison vans.
Don't upset His Saintship, ladies,
Stick to making love and babies.
Crap, crap, this godliness crap!
Crap, crap, this holiness crap!


Virgin Mary, Mother of God.
Be a feminist, we pray thee,
Be a feminist, we pray thee.
Bless our festering bastard-boss.
Let black cars parade the Cross.

The Missionary's in class for cash.
Meet him there, and pay his stash.
Patriarch Gundy believes in Putin.
Better believe in God, you vermin!
Fight for rights, forget the rite –

Join our protest, Holy Virgin.


Virgin Mary, Mother of God, banish Putin, banish Putin,
Virgin Mary, Mother of God, we pray thee, banish him!

(9 comments | Leave a comment)


Date:August 21st, 2012 06:30 am (UTC)
Hmm. I've not been paying attention to the people decrying it as offensive and blasphemous, and it looks like I was right not to; this is not an anti-god or anti-religion poem in the slightest. What a horrendous misrepresentation, to call it those things.
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Date:August 21st, 2012 06:35 am (UTC)
I am taking Rumens' comments about the Russian original on trust, but I think it's more likely that she's right and the BBC are using a bad translation which has been given to them by the Russian authorities. They should have been more careful.

The poem reminds me a little of 'God save the queen' by the Sex Pistols, where he blesses Ian Brady, which I also think is a legitimate religious message 'Even though he's horrible' as they say.
Date:August 21st, 2012 06:43 am (UTC)
Yes, it does seem likely that they didn't sufficiently vet the translation given them (whether by the authorities or not; I suppose they might not be the only people with a vested interest). Her translation seems to be a close-in-spirit/cultural-reference version (from her notes), which prefer to literal translations, so perhaps that's biasing me the *other* way. Hmm.

I'm reminded of Manic Street Preachers songs (at least, earlier ones before they went all stadium rock). Though they usually went at authority via examples of regimes/holocaust imagery, rather than via religion.
Date:August 21st, 2012 06:46 am (UTC)
(Ha, having said that they didn't often go via religion, of course, it occurs to me that MSP's most vitriolic, bitter album--which has a lot of genocide/anti-capitalism/anti-western-cultural emphasis--is called 'The Holy Bible'.)
Date:August 21st, 2012 07:09 am (UTC)
(and now I'm wondering about the social context of religion as a political tool in Russia anyway, given the repression of religion in the USSR. I think today is going to be a wikipedia day for me.)
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Date:August 21st, 2012 07:15 am (UTC)
I have heard people say that the Russian orthodox church had an unofficial relationship with the Communist state; they were much more hand in glove than we believed in the West. Think of the role of the crow in Animal Farm, who didn't work on the farm, but preached to the other animals that they should accept their lot.

And I've also been told this has strengthened with the ascent of Putin. I think he and the Patriarch were old colleagues in the KGB.
Date:August 21st, 2012 07:23 am (UTC)
Yes, that more or less tallies with what I'd heard from communist friends here.

Watching Russia (and China, actually) at the moment gives me distinctly dystopian-future heebie-jeebies. Not that any of the western countries are that much better, mind you.
[User Picture]
Date:August 21st, 2012 12:14 pm (UTC)
Goodness me, yes.
[User Picture]
Date:August 21st, 2012 12:16 pm (UTC)
I don't know whether the English papers did as well, but yesterday there was a translation of the final pleas of all three young women in the FAZ (one of our two main German newspapers), and they came across as incredibly smart and articulate.

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