Cetatea Neamtului

July 19th, 2016 by Diana Coman

Cetatea Neamtului is literally a fortress in Romania. Like any fortress worth the mention, it inevitably created stories, legends and the like. And since I've been recently reminded of one of the most heroic-style legends1 spawned by this particular fortress, I just had to note here for all to see, a quite different version of that same story. This is a poem called Cetatea Neamtului, written by George Cosbuc2 and translated by yours truly. If it's not the best translation, it's still the only one I found.

While both this story and the one linked are works of fiction, that's not to say there is no truth that one might learn from them. And although bravery, courage and all that are good and proper, things might just have been - here and there - slightly different, let's say. Perhaps more like this:

Sunt cu ceara picurate Words have long become all shapeless
Filele-n bucoavna mea, In this wax-stained tome3 of mine.
Dar citesc, cum pot, in ea. Still, I'm reading it quite fine.
Spune-acolo de-o cetate Says my book there was a fortress
Care Neamtul se numea Known as Neamtul in its time.
Si-au zidit-o, spune-n cronici, And its builders – there's discussion4 -
Nemti, germani sau teutonici. Might be Teutons, Germans, Prussians.
E ruina azi de veacuri. It's been ruined now for ages.
Unde-o fi? Vezi asta-i greu! Where is it? Well, that's a bother!
Cine credeti ca sunt eu It was something or the other -
Ca sa stiu atatea fleacuri! Why should I read all the pages?
Cui va sti, ii dau un leu. Do you know it all, my brother?
Zici ca afli-n carti de scoala? Think you'll find it in some books?
As! Ramai cu mana goala. Not a chance – you'll find but crooks.
Deci, in ceasul diminetii, So5, in the early morning hour
Cand pranzesc acei ce au, When those having food start eating
In cetate-aici erau, In the fortress – as befitting -
Langa comandantul pietii, The commander then in power
Toti strajerii si-asteptau, And his men were all there chatting,
Povestind si-ntinsi pe iarba, Lounged upon the grass and steady,
Chisalita sa le fiarba. Waiting 'till the broth6 be ready.
Dar, pe cand Guzgan rastoarna Alas, as Guzgan7 is taking
Mamaliga din ceaun, The polenta out of kettle8,
Din clopotnita Taun One Taun9 shows up his mettle -
Sun-afurisit din goarna. Pulls the bell-rope 'till it's breaking.
Unu-i striga: Esti nebun! Someone shouts at him: “You nettle!”
Altul: Ce-ai tu daca striga? But another: “Don't be rude!
I-o fi dor de mamaliga. He's just shouting for some food.”
Dar se-ntorc spre zid plaiesii; Still, they look beyond the walls:
Vad pe ses un nor de osti. Far below they see an army.
Mai Istrate, tu-i cunosti: Hey, Istrate, who's the barmy:
Turcii sunt? Ba, parca lesii, Are they Turks? Or, maybe Poles?
Vin incoace. Pai, sunt prosti? Coming here – heh, not barmy!
Bat si ei cel drum, ca manzul, They are moving on a hunch
Sa ne strice noua pranzul. Right on time to spoil our lunch.
Lesi erau. Sobiesky-voda They were Poles indeed. Precisely -
Ratacit p-aici prin vai, T'was Sobiesky – quite the bummer.
Caci pe-atunci era la moda As the custom was then nicely
Vara, cand plecau la bai, For the kings to go in summer
Regii mesteri in batai For a bath or for a hummer,
Sa-si ia drumul incotrova They all chose without a fail
Totdeauna prin Moldova. Through Moldova to prevail.
Si plecau fara merinde And they traveled without food
Caci asa era bonton As they wanted all for free -
Sa manance tot plocon, Eating what they found, with glee.
Ce puteau ici-colo prinde. Eating, that is, what they could.
Dar acest slavit Ion But this John10 so brave and shrewd
Isi avu-n desagi slanina. Had his bacon in his bag -
Si-i pierdu, sa-i bata vina! Then he lost it – what a snag!
Deci, cu osti, vestitul riga, Therefore, the King was going
Cum umbla pe-aici flamand Through the valleys, hungry feeling,
Si simti, prin vai trecand, When he suddenly went reeling -
Aburi calzi de mamaliga, Tasty scents the wind was blowing.
Stiu si eu ce-i dete-n gand, Quite so tasty he was squealing
Ca-si opri deodata pasul, And he froze there on the spot
Tot tragand in vant cu nasul. Sniffing food but eating nought.
E vrun praznic in cetate. “There's a feast up in the castle.
Stefan voda El mi-ar da! Must be Stefan King11 – he'd feed me!”
Cred ca nu, maria ta, “Sire, I doubt it that he'd give thee
Ca-i un drac si jumatate, Anything to eat – just hassle.
Nu prea da, ca-i el asa. He's like that, quite full of glee.”
Mie, nu? Sa-ncrunt spranceana! “That is nonsense! Not a dinner?
Eu ori el batu Vieana? In Vienna wasn't I the rightful winner?”
Domn ca mine cat traieste “Brave as me a King, so mighty,
Nu-i deprins sa-nghita-n sec. Has no habit food to want for.”
Iar un general zevzec, To which, one General – a bore -
Raspunzand pe latineste Talked in Latin quite the flighty:
Zise: Dobre ciolovec ! “Dobre chelovek”12 - he swore.
Si-ntinzand sub zid armata, So the army took position -
Iata-l ciolovecul gata. Quite a chelovek addition.
Si bum-bum apoi cu tunul, Boom and bang went guns all day,
Fire-ar ei de ras, poleci! Shame on them, those Poles out there!
Mai pe vine sa te pleci, Carlanas13, do walk with care!
Carlanas! Si da ceaunul And you, Berheci14, move away
Mai departe, tu, Berheci, Our kettle – there's no spare
Ca ni-l sparg cu-mpuscatura And they'll break it with their fire.
Mai Spancioc, mai tine-ti gura. Yo, Spancioc, shut up your ire.
Dar plaiesii din cetate But the soldiers in the castle
Raspundeau vartos si ei: Gave as good as they had gotten.
Comandantul Onofrei, Onofrei, all clad in cotton,
Cel cu pletele-ncurcate, With his hair tied in a tassle
Si cu straiu-ncins cu tei, And his belt a twig all rotten
Dand adanc zavorul portii, Blocked the gate with all he had
Se zbatea ca-n ceasul mortii. And he thrashed about like mad.
Si-au batut o saptamana For a week the Poles kept banging
Lesii-n zid; dar zidul, prost, At the walls; but walls were silly
Sta pe loc, pe cum a fost. And they didn't move – not really.
Insusi riga, intr-o mana In his armour clad and clanging
C-un pistol, din adapost, The King took his gun out charging
Da pe Stefan la toti dracii At the trees that were all level
Si-mpusca la rand copacii. As he cursed King Stefan – devil!
Deci, vazand ca nici nu-l lasa Seeing that there was no chance
Sa se duca-n treaba lui, To just leave and go away
Si nici pomeneala nu-i Or some food to get, let's say
De-a-l pofti la ei la masa, In the castle's own expanse,
Si flamand vai, ce mai spui King Sobieski hoped to sway
O lua mai pe departe, The defenders with his writing
Pe genunchi scriind o carte. As he had enough of fighting.
Hai si descuieti odata! “Please open that gate already
Si tovarasi sa va fim. And we'll be your friends all true.
Mandru cantec ce mai stim, We sang all the songs we knew
Mars francez, fara de plata. Even French ones15 and the heady.
Nu vi-e mila ca pierim? Won't you give us just some stew?
Poate-o ploaie sa ne-apuce We would leave but it might rain
Nu stim drumul, ca ne-am duce. And we might just walk in vain.”
Dupa ce-au citit pitacul, After reading such a letter
Onofrei iesi pe zid: Onofrei climbed on the wall:
Mai, poleci, eu va deschid, Poles, I'll open, but no brawl
Dar sa nu va puie dracul In my fortress and you'd better
Sa mintiti, ca va ucid! Keep your word or you'll all bawl.
Iar de marsuri mi-e cam scarba, As for French songs, I've no mood -
Trageti-mi mai bine-o sarba! Play some sarbas16, if you would.
Iata poarta se descuie. Look, they opened now the gate.
Lesii,-n vale, pe sub plopi, Poles just stare in disbelief.
Se crucesc, se cred miopi Onofrei comes first. Their chief
Ce vad ei? Din cetatuie Followed is by less than eight
Doi cu doi, vro zece schiopi, Funny looking men – good grief!
Onofrei ridica tonul: Onofrei shouts out of tune:
Un doi, un! Si stati, plutonul! “Right, left, right! At ease, platoon!”
Cu sprancenele-ncruntate Eyebrows knitting, rex17 is heartless:
Striga rex: Sto pojo boi? “Sto pojo boi?” asks him. And then counts to three:
Cine dracul sunteti voi? “Who the devil might you be?”
Noi? Plaiesii din cetate. “Us? Defenders from the fortress.
Zece-am fost, pierira doi. Ten we were, but as you see
Rex facu o mutra lunga, We are eight now.” Rex looked so gloom
De credeai ca vrea sa-mpunga. You'd have thought he found his doom.
Pentru voi a fost galceava? “Where's the nobles? Was it you to quarrel so?”
Dar boierii? Ce gandesti! “They're in Tirchilesti18, quite rightly.”
Noi sa stim? Prin Tirchilesti. Answered someone very brightly.
Domnul unde-i? E-n Suceava. “And the King?” “To Suceava19 he would go.”
Dar poporul? La Plaiesti. “And the people?” “At Plaiesti20, most likely.”
Drace, asta-i de poveste! “Darn, this story's weird and dour.
N-ati ascuns prin turn neveste? Are your wives all in the tower?”
Noi? Da ce, ni-e mintea slaba? “Ours? Do we seem that foolish?
Noi suntem crestini curati: We're all Christians – we don't mingle:
Astia nu sunt insurati, Those men here are all single.
Eu de zece ani n-am baba, My old hag is dead and ghoulish.
Voi dupa femei umblati? If it's maidens with a dimple
Zbarlea are-n Husi, saracul, You've been looking for, that's sad -
Dar urata, goala-dracul! Zbarlea's wife has long gone mad21.”
Dar comori ascunse-n oala “How about your treasures, plenty?
Si-ngropate! Oale, spui? Hid in old pots, buried deep.”
Le-am lasat sa faca pui. “Old pots you can have for cheap:
Una-i stirba, si-alta goala; One is crooked, the other empty.
Nici o pricopseala nu-i! There's is nothing they would keep.
De le vrei plocon ori prada If you want them for your glory,
Ia fugi, Zbarleo, si le ada! Zbarlea'll bring them, there's no worry.”
Rex atunci: Va tai gramada! Rex then shouted: “I will kill you.”
Dar a stat cu mana-n sus But his hand froze in mid-act
Caci aminte si-a adus For there was a niggling fact:
Ca-i e teaca fara spada: His sword was now with a Jew
In Liow zalog si-a pus In Lviv, as guarantee - an artifact
Spada cea cu steme duble Given in those times of troubles
Pentru-un pol si doua ruble! For a coin and some two roubles.
Dand din maini ca cel ce-alunga So he waved his hands instead
Ganduri rele: Eu sunt bun. As to perish such ill thought:
Apropo, ce-am vrut sa spun? “I am kind. You bravely fought.
Onofrei, te vad cu punga, By the way, Onofrei you said you had
Da-mi o mana de tutun. Some tobacco that you brought.
N-am fumat de-o saptamana, It's been weeks I last could smoke
Pune-l ici, te rog, in mana. Give me some, be a good bloke.”
Si-aprinzand chibritu-n pripa, As a hurried match he lit,
Multumit privea la fum. The king soon was sat and sizing
Onofrei, sa-mi spui acum, Bluish smoke as it was rising.
Si-apasa cu unghia-n pipa, He then asked, quite calmed a bit:
Cum mi-ai stat tu mie-n drum? “Onofrei, that's straight surprising
Nu stiai tu de-a mea faima How you in my way just stayed.
Ca sa stai nauc de spaima? Weren't you at least – afraid?”
Dar glumesc asa! ma iarta, “I'm just joking – please forgive me.
Esti erou, s-a hotarat, You're a hero, that's decided.
Desi porti pe dupa gat Though I see hanging lopsided
Traista hai, si nu-i desearta? That bag there by your knee.
O vazui numaidecat I think I am not misguided
Ai intr-insa plumbi, de toate. If I think there's food to spread -
Branza, cas si paine poate? Hard and soft cheese, maybe bread?”
Branza nu, dar am pogace “Just pogace22, cheese there's none.
Si-usturoi, maria-ta. There's some garlic though, my lord.”
Usturoi! Si-l poti manca? “Garlic! How'd you eat it by the horde?23
Dar la urma, cui i place You must like it, that's how's done.
Mon Dieu! Nu te supara: Mon Dieu! Still, as we put away the sword:
Tot facuram noi doi pacea: Would you mind if I just tried
Ia sa vad, cum e pogacea? That pogacea, even dried?”
Si apucand cu maini grabite, As he got his hands on food
Rupt de foame ca un lup, Rex could wait indeed no longer
Rupe rex, cu totii rup, As his hunger was quite stronger
Onofrei al meu, iubite, Than a wolf's24. He ate and chewed
Vin la neica sa te pup! Calling Onofrei from yonder:
Si-l pupa viteazul riga “Let me kiss you, my brave, dear” -
Si-ndopa la mamaliga. And he kissed him with great cheer.
Ce-a mai fost putin ne pasa. What was next we don't quite care for.
Au plecat polonii-n sus, The Poles left and went uphill
Iar plaiesii-n jos s-au dus While the others went downhill
La Neculcea drept acasa, To Neculcea's25 open store
Iar acesta-n carti i-a pus. Where he wrote this with his quill
Si din Dorna pana-n Tulcea, So from Dorna down to Tulcea26
Toti citesc ce-a scris Neculcea. All since read what wrote Neculcea.

  1. "Sobieski si romanii" by Costache Negruzzi. 

  2. Romanian teacher, translator and quite well-known poet (1866-1918).  

  3. In text: "bucoavna" - an old word meaning initially the very first letter books printed for Romanian language: those were essentially church books using the Cyrillic alphabet. 

  4. In chronicles, no less! 

  5. Starting every other sentence with "so" is one of the most common mistakes made by native speakers of Romanian as well as one of the main pet-hates of teachers of Romanian language all around the country. 

  6. In fact "chiselita" being both a sort of vegetarian broth as well as, more generically speaking, any mixture/porridge of no value whatsoever. 

  7. Rat. 

  8. Iron-cast kettle usually simply suspended above some open-fire for most cooking needs. 

  9. Gadfly. 

  10. John III Sobieski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. 

  11. Stephen the Great of Moldavia, who ruled between 1457-1504. 

  12. Obviously, not Latin at all, but a Slavic language. Meaning "good man". 

  13. Diminutive of carlan, which means little lamb/kid that was weaned. 

  14. While close to "Berbeci" which would mean rams, I'm not so sure this is the intended meaning. Berheci is also a small river in Moldova. 

  15. French marches, more precisely. 

  16. Traditional Romanian group-dance with a rather rapid tempo. 

  17. While in Latin Rex means king, all around Romania Rex is a very common name for a dog. 

  18. Main yob neighbourhood of Bucharest in the 19th century. 

  19. Capital of Moldavia between 1388-1565 

  20. Possibly Ploiesti, a town 60km from Bucharest. Or Plaiesti, a village in Transylvannia. 

  21. Literally she's ugly as the naked devil. 

  22. Corn-flour pie baked in the oven or -more likely when not made in a home - directly in the ashes. 

  23. Literally: can you eat THAT? 

  24. That'd be the equivalent of "he could eat a horse". But since he was rex, so possibly a dog-relation of the wolf, the original Romanian idiom goes much better. 

  25. Ion Neculce, 1672-~1744, Moldavian army commander, statesman and writer of two well-known chronicles. 

  26. Dorna being in the North-West of Moldavia and Tulcea in the South-East, this means basically in all Moldavia. 

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11 Responses to “Cetatea Neamtului”

  1. Claudia says:

    Ai avut ceva ambiție cu traducerea asta, poezia e lungă, iar arhaismele și regionalismele abundă.

  2. Diana Coman says:

    Daca mi-a trebuit musai, mi-a trebuit deci, incapatanare este, alea. Dar de aia zic lene perversa am si eu ca garantat erau mai simple alea de erau cu "trebuie".

  3. Claudia says:

    Partea bună e că m-ai făcut să citesc poezia, n-o reținusem din perioada școlii, iar lectura din Coșbuc nu-mi stă chiar pe noptieră...
    La traducere nu mă apropii nici măcar cu sugestii umile, dar am urmărit curioasă jocul cuvintelor, expresiilor. Un fel de matematică fără formule :)

  4. Diana Coman says:

    Claudia, ma bucur mai ales pentru ca din cate stiu asta nici nu figura in manuale (probabil prea "neserioasa") - era doar fix Sobieski si romanii a lui Negruzzi. Eu insa am avut cateva veri intr-un pod de fan cu doar cateva carti care au fost (nimerit sau nu) fix Cosbuc, Eminescu si Goga. Si din cei trei, cel mai mult tot Cosbuc mai stiu si acum, pur si simplu.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Ştiu că ar fi o ediție bilingvă în care e tradusă această poezie năstruşnică. A aparut in 1980, la editura Minerva, Bucuresti, traducerea fiind de Leon Levitchi.
    Un poem destul de greu de tradus, mai ales că e implicat şi umorul în asta.
    Versiunea ta a fost foarte simpatica si apropiindu-se mult de spiritul originalului.
    Poeziile sunt intotdeauna greu de tradus caci pentru a nu deveni "traduttore-traditore", trebuie respectate ritmul, numarul de silabe per vers, rima, etc.
    Daca ai putea cizela nitelus poezia la unele din aceste aspecte, ar iesi perfecta.
    Daca ti-a placut spiritul sugubat al acestei poezii si nu ti-ai epuizat talentul vadit, ai putea incerca si Cantecul redutei de George Cosbuc.

  6. Diana Coman says:

    Ahhh, ma bucur ca exista o editie bilingva, chiar n-am stiut. Ar fi si mai bine daca ar fi vizibila cum ar veni, dar asta-i alta chestiune. O sa o caut in tot cazul.

    Altfel la obiect e drept: am mai dat peste cap ritmul si masura, intr-adevar, nu e scuza.

  7. Trofin Daniel says:

    Cartea bilingva o vei gasi pe okazii.ro dand la cautare "George Cosbuc - Poems". Daca stii germana ar mai fi o editie bilingva romano-germana ("George Cosbuc - Geschichte") unde nu este tradusa din pacate "Cetatea Neamtului", in schimb e "Cantecul redutei" si "Lordul John". Ar mai fi o versiune bilingva romano-rusa pe hartie filigranata, editia incluzand si alte trei volume de Goga, Alecsandri si Eminescu. Versiunea rusa are tradusa "Cetatea Neamtului", in schimb e lipsa la apel "Cantecul redutei" (Ma face sa ma intreb de ce? Nu voiau sa le aduca aminte rusilor ca armata romana a avut un rol important in Razboiul Ruso-Turc, numit la noi Razboiul de Independenta din 1877-1878? Probabil)
    Revenind la ideea de editie bilingva, sunt curios daca dragul de Cosbuc a fost tradus si in franceza, italiana, spaniola sau alta limba. Daca auzi ceva de asta, da-mi, te rog, de veste. Multumiri anticipate!

  8. Diana Coman says:

    Ahahahaha Lordul John chiar imi nimereste acum bine pe situatiune cum ar veni, imi face pofta. Nu c-ar fi de lepadat Cantecul Redutei altminteri. Ori pe partea mai "serioasa" El Zorab.

    Volumul de zici cu traducerea in rusa m-ar interesa chiar si mai tare, o sa vad in iarna acum cand sunt in Ro.

    M-as mira sa nu existe chiar nimic in italiana cel putin dat fiind ca e respectat si recunoscut pentru traducerea lui Dante. De altfel daca tin bine minte imi pare ca a scris chiar el si in italiana din comentarii.

  9. […] 1001 cahuri execrabile ce ma asteapta1, m-a picnit in consecinta o pofta nebuna sa… traduc Cetatea Neamtului a lui Cosbuc. Ceea ce am si facut, cat am tot vrut, cand am putut, vreo 2 seri la rand de-ai zice ca fix asta […]

  10. […] la George Cosbuc citire, ca exprima chestiunea absolut perfect, nici ca se poate mai bine. […]

  11. [...] reading around here? The full poem ("Nu te-ai priceput" by George Cosbuc; yes, the very same as for Cetatea Neamtului, I like his poetry very much indeed) is quite apt too, though I am rather weary of attempting to [...]

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