Profile Picture

Russian Poetry and beautiful play on words

3 years ago
To those who love Russian poetry. Have you read The Stranger (Незнакомка) by Alexander Blok (Александр Блок)? The Stranger is loved in Russia for its symbols to puzzle over and bright images which penetrate the mind, which make the poem one of the famous examples of symbolist movement’ poetry. You can read the poem in its original and English version translated by Vladimir Nabokov here.

On this topic, I want to draw your attention to the phrase that gives an example of a play on words and touches the topic of Russian cases.
Look at the 6th verse:

А рядом у соседних столиков
Лакеи сонные торчат,
И пьяницы с глазами кроликов
“In vino veritas!” кричат.

And nearby, at other tables,
waiters drowsily hover,
and tipplers with the pink eyes of rabbits
shout: In vino veritas!

There is a Latin phrase “In vino veritas” that means "In wine there is truth". In Russian - “Истина в вине”.
Let’s go to the last verse of the poem, where the author uses the phrase in Russian, not in Latin as before:

В моей душе лежит сокровище,
И ключ поручен только мне!
Ты право, пьяное чудовище!
Я знаю: истина в вине.

A treasure lies in my soul,
and I alone have the keeping of its key.
Those drunken brutes are right:
indeed,–there is truth in wine . . .

Here the phrase “истина в вине” has a double meaning in Russian because of the same form of the words вино (wine) and вина (guilt) in the prepositional case: в вине, which invites readers to reflect on all possible meanings of the phrase (as well as on the poem on the whole) and look for an answer: “In wine there is truth” or “In guilt there is truth”? The beauty of Russian symbolism!

Please, share with some examples of wordplay that create unforgettable images in the literature of your native language.