The Kolobok, an adaptation by Siân Valvis

Today we’re joined by literary translator Siân Valvis who shares with us her translation of the classic Russian folktale, Kolobok…

I came across Kolobok at the end of my MA in Translation and Interpreting at Bath University. I think our teacher wanted us to finish the term on a lighter note!

The original, a well-known Russian folktale, is written in prose. Only Kolobok’s song is in rhyme. In my first draft, the song read nicely enough, but the rest was flat and boring! I started to play with different parts of the text: perhaps I could work other areas into rhyme, too? I got the sense that there was another version underneath, waiting to emerge – all I had to do was peel bits away.

With the deadline looming, I decided to go the whole hog, and put the entire piece into verse. Hours before I had to submit, I was still playing around with rhymes! Luckily, it soon began to flow, almost automatically. A bit like when you’re halfway through crossword or a sudoku puzzle and it all suddenly clicks into place…

Often, when translating from Russian, you can easily get caught up in the syntax of the original, and end up with a version that sounds a little ‘mechanical’. I think the added challenge of putting my version into rhyme forced me to ‘free up’ a bit, and create something smoother and livelier in English. 

The Kolobok

© Siân Valvis (adapted from a traditional Russian tale) First published in Cardinal Points and republished here with permission

Once upon a time in a land quite far away,

Lived an old man and his lady who was just as old and grey.

“Bake me a little bun, Old Girl?” asked the man one day.

“From what? We have no flour left!” she said, to his dismay.

“Just rummage round the granary and gather up the crumbs,

You’re sure to find enough for one delicious, little bun.”

The woman did just so: she scratched and scraped up all the flour,

She kneaded it together, before adding in the sour –

Cream and rolled into a little bun, a round and sunny fellow,

She fried the bun – the kolobok – till he was golden yellow,

She teetered on the wooden stool and laid him on the sill,

She made sure he was comfortable and left him there to chill.

Alas, the little kolobok got bored of lying down,

He rolled and rolled and rolled until he landed on the ground,

From windowsill to bench and from the bench onto the floor,

He was aiming for the courtyard as he bounded through the door.

As the little kolobok rolled along the way,

He came upon a RABBIT who turned to him to say:

“Oh, Little Kolobok! I’ll eat you up in one!”

“Oh no you don’t, you cheeky hare! Not till you’ve heard my song!”

As the rabbit listened on,

The kolobok began his song:

“I’m a little kolobok – a jolly, little bun!

In the granary they scraped me,

Out of crumbs they patacaked me,

Into sour cream they dipped me,

In the frying pan they flipped me,

On the windowsill they slipped me,

But Grandpa couldn’t catch me,

And Grandma couldn’t snatch me,

You can try to eat me, too,

But Rabbit – I’m too smart for you!”

And off went the kolobok, till he was out of sight.

As the little kolobok rolled along the way,

He came upon a WOLF who turned to him to say:

“Oh, Little Kolobok! I’ll eat you up in one!”

“Oh no you won’t, you grey, old wolf! Not till you’ve heard my song!”

Then, before the wolf had time,

The kolobok began his rhyme:

“I’m a little kolobok – a roly, poly bun!

In the granary they scraped me,

Out of crumbs they patacaked me,

Into sour cream they dipped me,

In the frying pan they flipped me,

On the windowsill they popped me,

But Grandpa couldn’t stop me,

And Grandma couldn’t snatch me,

And Rabbit couldn’t catch me,

You can try to eat me, too,

But Wolfy – I’m too smart for you!”

And off went the kolobok, till he was out of sight.

The kolobok continued through the woods without a care,

When crashing through the bushes came a great big bolshie BEAR.

“Oh, Little Kolobok! I’ll eat you up in one!”

“Oh no you can’t, you clumsy bear! Not till you’ve heard my song!”

As the bear was sitting pretty,

Kolobok began his ditty:

“I’m a little kolobok – a happy, scrappy bun!

In the granary they scraped me,

Out of crumbs they patacaked me,

Into sour cream they dipped me,

In the frying pan they flipped me,

On the windowsill they popped me,

But Grandpa couldn’t stop me,

And Grandma couldn’t snatch me,

And Rabbit couldn’t catch me,

Wolfy tried to eat me,

You can try to eat me, too,

But Bear – I’m just too smart for you!”

And off went the kolobok, till he was out of sight.

As the little kolobok rolled along the way,

He came upon a wily FOX who turned to him to say:

“Well, goodness me! Who could this be? This fine and dandy fellow!

I dare say it’s a kolobok – all soft and golden yellow.”

Kolly-bolly kolobok got ready to begin,

While foxy sidled closer and listened with a grin:

“I’m a little kolobok – a merry little bun!

In the granary they scraped me,

Out of crumbs they patacaked me,

Into sour cream they dipped me,

In the frying pan they flipped me,

On the windowsill they popped me,

But Grandpa couldn’t stop me,

And Grandma couldn’t snatch me,

And Rabbit couldn’t catch me,

Wolfy tried to grab me,

And Bear tried to nab me,

You can try to eat me, too,

But Foxy – I’m too smart for you!”

“Well, isn’t that a splendid song!” said foxy, drawing near,

“But since I’m old, I hate to say, I’m struggling to hear.

Perhaps, my little kolobok, allow me to propose,

You sing your song, just one more time, but this time on my nose?”

Delighted was the kolobok, so proud of what he’d sung,

With a mighty little jump onto the fox’s nose he sprung:

“I’m a little kolobok – a jolly little bun…”

When – “GULP!” went the wily fox and ate him up in one!

***

Siân Valvis is a British literary translator. Based in Europe and Brazil, she translates from Russian, French, Greek, and Portuguese. She has a MA in Translating and Interpreting from Bath University, and enjoys translating children’s literature – particularly folktales and fairytales.

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