Monday, January 3, 2011

Alexander Pushkin: Истина - Objective Truth


I stumbled across a poem by Alexander Pushkin on Truth as I was doing research on it. Here it is (The track that I have added to this is "Timeless Truth Meditation"):

The Truth
1816
From ancient times sages were seeking
For the forgotten truth’s footprints.
And they for long were loud-speaking
The usual speeches of old flints.
They were repeating: “The truth-treasure
Had hidden self into a well.”
And, drinking water all together,
Were crying: “There we’ll find it, well!”

But someone faithful friend of mortals,
(Maybe Silen this person was)
The witness of their disputes, thoughtless,
Had tired of water and of noise,
Left all attempts to find the holly,
And thought about wine, the first,
And, having drunk a bowl, whole,
Saw, on its bottom, the truth, lost.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver

I wanted to find out the Russian version so I could translate it myself. So I looked for it and couldnt find it. That was because I was using the wrong "truth." Russian language has a separate word for "God's Truth" -- different from what we normally consider truth.

According to http://www.sras.org/tseh.dance-net.ru/russian_mini_lessons_2006:

Russian has two distinct words for truth, although both can be translated to English as simply "truth." "Правда" is generally thought of in the same context as the English "truth" but can also carry a rhetorical implication that the speaker is attempting to convince the listener of his/her own version of truth. The implication is especially pronounced if "правда" is compared with its counterpart "истина," which refers to an objective, undeniable truth. "Истина" is most often, though not always, used in religious contexts to differentiate between "God's Truth" and "secular truth." However, the terms could also be simply translated as "objective truth" and "subjective truth" if the difference between the two needed to be highlighted.

Perhaps the best and simplest explanation of the difference between the terms is expressed by the following simple children's song "Да только истина одна" (Yes, there is only one [objective] truth), written for the children's music film "Не покидай" ("Don't give up") from 1989.


When I looked for the right truth, истина -- I got two more translations of this poem. The first one is by Hadi Kamil Deeb:

Forgotten dregs of human Truth
Long have the wise and worldly sought.
So many readings came to naught
Of wisdom’s mimes, so long in tooth.
“The naked truth,” they called us near,
“In wellspring crawled, and there it sank.”
With friendly tone its dregs they drank,
And shouts most wild: “We’ll find it here!”

Yet someone, (almost old man Strength),
The benefactor of the dead,
Lone witness as we folly wed,
In water drowned and shouts at length,
Abandoned all our ghosts unseen,
First thought of guilt, first thought of wine,
And having drunk the chalice dry,
At bottom Truth then chanced to glean.


The second one actually included the original poem (this is a nice site by the way for finding translations of Russian poetry in various languages - http://19-20.ru/:

Истина
Truth
Александр Пушкин
Alexander Pushkin

Издавна мудрые искали
Long wise searched
Забытых истины следов
Forgotten Truth traces
И долго, долго толковали
And long, long interpreted
Давнишни толки стариков.
Oldest old rumor.


Твердили: «Истина святая
Tverdili: «The truth of the holy
В колодез убралась тайком»,
As well ubralas secretly «,
И, дружно воду выпивая,
And, together drinking water,
Кричали: «Здесь ее найдем!»
Shouted: «Here, it will find!»

Но кто-то, смертных благодетель
But somebody, mortal benefactor
(И чуть ли не старик Силен),
(And almost no man is good)
Их важной глупости свидетель,
Their folly important witness,
Водой и криком утомлен,
Water and tired of shouting,

Оставил невидимку нашу,
He left our invisible,
Подумал первый о вине
I thought first about wine
И, осушив до капли чашу,
And osushiv to drop the cup,
Увидел истину на дне.
He saw the truth at the bottom.

Here is the poem in Russian:

Издавна мудрые искали
Забытых истины следов
И долго, долго толковали
Давнишни толки стариков.

Твердили: «Истина святая
В колодез убралась тайком»,
И, дружно воду выпивая,
Кричали: «Здесь ее найдем!»

Но кто-то, смертных благодетель
(И чуть ли не старик Силен),
Их важной глупости свидетель,
Водой и криком утомлен,

Оставил невидимку нашу,
Подумал первый о вине
И, осушив до капли чашу,
Увидел истину на дне.

And a translation by Google translator:
Has long been wise to seek
Forgotten Truth traces
And long, long time talking
Long-standing rumors elderly.

Asserted: "Truth is sacred
In a well finished her secretly,
And, together drinking water,
Shouted: "Here we find her!"

But somebody, mortal benefactor
(And almost old Silenus)
Their stupidity important witness,
Water and screaming tired

Left our invisibility,
First thought about wine
And drained to the dregs the cup
Saw the truth at the bottom.

As a side, the fact that Truth is female and she is found in a well is also used by Rudyard Kipling http://www.poetryloverspage.com/poets/kipling/legend_of_truth.html:

A Legend of Truth
"A Friend of the Family"
From "Debits and Credits" (1919-1923)
Once on a time, the ancient legends tell,
Truth, rising from the bottom of her well,
Looked on the world, but, hearing how it lied,
Returned to her seclusion horrified.
There she abode, so conscious of her worth,
Not even Pilate's Question called her forth,
Nor Galileo, kneeling to deny
The Laws that hold our Planet 'neath the sky.
Meantime, her kindlier sister, whom men call
Fiction, did all her work and more than all,
With so much zeal, devotion, tact, and care,
That no one noticed Truth was otherwhere.

Then came a War when, bombed and gassed and mined,
Truth rose once more, perforce, to meet mankind,
And through the dust and glare and wreck of things,
Beheld a phantom on unbalanced wings,
Reeling and groping, dazed, dishevelled, dumb,
But semaphoring direr deeds to come.

Truth hailed and bade her stand; the quavering shade
Clung to her knees and babbled, "Sister, aid!
I am--I was--thy Deputy, and men
Besought me for my useful tongue or pen
To gloss their gentle deeds, and I complied,
And they, and thy demands, were satisfied.
But this--" she pointed o'er the blistered plain,
Where men as Gods and devils wrought amain--
"This is beyond me! Take thy work again."

Tablets and pen transferred, she fled afar,
And Truth assumed the record of the War...
She saw, she heard, she read, she tried to tell
Facts beyond precedent and parallel--
Unfit to hint or breathe, much less to write,
But happening every minute, day and night.
She called for proof. It came. The dossiers grew.
She marked them, first, "Return. This can't be true."
Then, underneath the cold official word:
"This is not really half of what occurred."

She faced herself at last, the story runs,
And telegraphed her sister: "Come at once.
Facts out of hand. Unable overtake
Without your aid. Come back for Truth's own sake!
Co-equal rank and powers if you agree.
They need us both, but you far more than me!"


Apparently the concept of truth living under the well originated in Greece by a pre-Socrates philosopher, Democritus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Democritus) who says "“By convention hot, by convention cold, but in reality atoms and void, and also in reality we know nothing, since the truth is at bottom.”

And the research continues ...