Copyright (C) 2005 by Arthur Cropley.
Andrejs Pumpurs (1841-1902)
A free translation from the unrhymed Latvian into English heroic verse
Arthur Cropley University of Hamburg
Copyright (C) 2005 by Arthur Cropley
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Canto 1: The Revelation of the Bearslayer
Canto II: Bearslayer Begins His Life as a Hero
Canto III: Bearslayer and Laimdota Are Betrayed
Canto IV: The Latvians Suffer Many Hardships
Canto V: The Journey to the Homeland
Canto VI: The Struggle against the Invaders
Glossary of Personal and Place Names
Most societies seem to have epic heroes and events that define them as they like to see themselves: Even a young society such as Australia has Ned Kelly, Eureka Stockade, and ANZAC. Others have their Robin Hood, Siegfried, Roland, or Davy Crockett. Lacplesis (Bearslayer) is such a work. Bearslayer is patriotic, brave, strong, tough, loyal, wise, fair, and virtuous, and he loves nature. He embodies the strengths and virtues of the Latvian folk in a legendary age of greatness, before they were subjugated and corrupted by "Strangers".
The poem was important in the growth of Latvian self-awareness As Jazeps Rudzitis, the eminent Latvian folklorist and literary scholar, put it, "There is no other work in Latvian literature whose story has penetrated mass consciousness as deeply or resounded as richly in literature and art as Bearslayer." Thus, it seemed worthwhile to me to make the poem available to people who wish to read it in English, and this volume is the result. It contains the fruits of two years' labour.
In writing Lacplesis Andrejs Pumpurs made an enormous contribution to Latvian literature. Thus, it may seem presumptuous that I have given myself equal prominence with him on the title page. After all, he is the author of the original poem, of which the present text is merely a translation. However, the task of translating a poem is much more than that of taking the words of the source language and replacing them with equivalent words from the target language. In Latvian, in addition to tulkot (to translate), there is a second verb atdzejot, which means approximately "re-versify". As I explain in the Technical Notes (p. iii), I have transformed Pumpurs's original Latvian work into an English poem in heroic verse: The result is an atdzejojums, not "merely" a translation.
The moral support I received from a number of people during the two years I worked on the translation was particularly important to me. I am especially indebted to Edgars Kariks of the Baltic Office of the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies, who gave constant encouragement and concrete support, and Ojars Kalninš of the Latvian Institute in Riga, who was extremely positive and supportive from an early stage in the project. These two gave me the courage to keep going. Among others, Rita Berzinš read an early fragment and encouraged me to believe I was on the right track, and Jana Felder (née Martinson) responded enthusiastically to a presentation at a conference. Valters Nollendorfs encouraged me to trust my own feeling of what sounded right, and Guntis Smidchens showed interest in the translation from the point of view of a university teacher.
I am greatly indebted to my Latvian teacher in Adelaide, Ilze Ostrovska. Without her I would never have learned enough Latvian to read the original poem. Mirdza Kate Baltais edited the first version of the manuscript and helped me eliminate a very large number of errors, as well as making numerous suggestions for improvements. It is definitely not her fault that there are still errors in the text-quite apart from certain liberties that I have allowed myself (see p.iii). My colleague in Riga, Kaspars Klavinš, read the entire manuscript and made a number of sensitive and insightful suggestions for corrections and improvements, for which I am grateful.
My son, Andrew Cropley, discussed the project with me many times, and suggested the addition of a Glossary (see p.164). He also built the Bearslayer website, with which some readers will be familiar (http//:web.aanet.com.au/Bearslayer). My wife, Alison, was patient and encouraging throughout, as well as providing artwork for the cover.
Adelaide, January 2006 Arthur Cropley
This is a free translation into English heroic verse of Lacplesis (Bearslayer) by Andrejs Pumpurs, first published in Latvian in 1888. The translation here is a corrected version of the original, which was published in 2005. Lacplesis has been translated into Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish and at least three times into Russian, as well as into Japanese! An English translation was published by Rita Berzinš in 1988. This used poetic language, but the text was unrhymed and its metre irregular. It is also very difficult to obtain. Various prose translations of fragments also exist. The present translation is in rhyme and has a strict metre. As far as I know, it is the only existing translation of the entire poem into English verse.