Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why I love the propaganda

Polish Communist propaganda songs are spectacular, and the world deserves more access to this very unique and now sadly vanished art form. To this end, here's a quick on-the-BART translation of one of my favorites, Budujemy Nowy Dom = "We're building a new house." This dates from shortly after WWII when Warsaw had basically been razed to the ground, and in fact Budujemy Nowy Dom was the slogan of the reconstruction movement.

Note that first person plural verbs in Polish often do the job of the English hortative "let's..." even without an imperative ending, so the title of the song might be more accurately translated as "Let's build a new house," which is what I've done below. Try to imagine this being sung in fervent operatic tones.
Let's build a new house
Yet another new house
Unto our future better days,
O Warsaw

Multiply our work with us,
Come share our work with us
For this is our common goal
O Warsaw

From the basement to the roof
May the building joyfully rise
Into my dreams and yours
O Warsaw

May the walls leap skywards
Since the hands are willing
Let's build a new concrete house!
Who wouldn't be excited about a new concrete house? My absolute favorite for sheer ridiculousness, though, has to be Piosenka o Nowej Hucie = "Song about Nowa Huta." Nowa Huta is an enormous industrial suburb of Kraków (Cracow) built by the government in the late 40s and early 50s to try to balance out the intellectual population of the city and make it more amenable to Communist policy. Listen to a little bit of the recording to get the vibe, and then check out what they're actually saying.

My attempt at a reasonably idiomatic English version (thanks go to Jesse for his help with the incredibly difficult-to-translate second line of the first stanza):
On the Vistula, the wide Vistula,
The bricklayers' chatter fills the air in song
And the song of the bricklayer floats up high
And floats through nights and days.

This is a song about Nowa Huta
This is a melody about Nowa Huta
It's so simple and pretty
And has such a nice melody.
This is a song about Nowa Huta
The words are about Nowa Huta
It's so simple and pretty
And new like Huta is new.

A hundred blocks have sprouted up along the Vistula
And a thousand roads straight to them
The bricklayer's song has grown out into the future
And joins the two banks like a bridge.


And there can be no other future now:
The peace and good that it sends us
And when you're in Huta with your girl
And hear this song, know that...

Remarkably (and sort of worryingly) this song is still reasonably popular today. But come on, is this not a paragon of...well, something we probably don't have a word for yet? The chorus in particular needs to win some kind of award -- a Rory, perhaps -- for the most gratuitous lack of content in a serious song. "And new like Huta is new." Dude.

Next time: Na Prawo Most, Na Lewo Most.