Penal Code song / Strafgesetzbuch-Lied

Strafgesetzbuch, von Vladimir Vysotsky, übersetzt von Martin Remane

Ich pfeif auf Advokatenwinkelzüge;
ich weiß recht gut, was die Justiz uns gibt.
Das Strafgesetzbuch sagt mir’s zur Genüge.
Als bestes Buch ist’s sehr bei uns beliebt.

Wenn ich ‘nen Kater hab und kann nicht schlafen,
nehm ich mir irgendeine Seite vor
und freß mich fest in all den Paragraphen.
Im Morgengrauen erst hau ich mich auf’s Ohr.

Glaubt nicht, ich möcht Ganoven Rat erteilen.
Raub ist – ich weiß – bei denen so beliebt,
weil’s dafür nach gewohnten Strafurteilen
‘nen Dreier nur, höchstens ‘nen Zehner gibt.

Doch lest einmal die reichlich langen Listen
verbotner Bücher, und ihr wißt genug!
Ein Nichts dagegen sind die kurzen Fristen
für Falschspiel, Rauferei und Scheckbetrug.

Soll das noch hundert Jahr so weitergehen?
Sieht man denn nicht ein menschliches Geschick
bei jeder Frist? – Ist kurz sie aus Versehen,
dann freu ich mich, dann hatte einer Glück.

Riskiere ich’s jedoch auch zu befragen
die Paragraphen, die mich selbst bedrohn,
beginnt mein Herz vor Schreck so wild zu schlagen,
als schlügen an die Tür die Bullen schon.

Translation © by Martin Remane

For English version and more information, read on.English version

We don’t need complicated subjects and plots —
We know it all, whatever you give us.
For instance, I think our Penal Code
Is better than any book on earth.

And if I’m restless and can’t sleep
Or if I’m dead from a hangover,
I’ll open the Code on any page,
And I can’t help but read it to the end.

I never gave my comrades advice,
But I know robbery is a great honor with them.
Well, I just read about this:
“No less than three, no more than ten.”

Just think about these simple lines, —
Why do we need the novels of all times and lands?
There’s everything in them — barracks as long as terms,
Scandals, fights, cards, and betrayal.

I wish I’d never seen these lines in a hundred years —
Behind each one I see someone’s fate!
And I’m happy when the section isn’t too bad:
Someone may yet get lucky.

And my heart beats like a wounded bird
When I start reading my own section.
And the blood in my temples bursts and pounds so,
Like when the cops come to get you.

Russian version

Wikipedia on Vysotsky:

bq. Vladimir Vysotsky was born in Moscow, Russia, USSR. His father was an army officer and his mother a German language translator. His parents got divorced not long after his birth, and he was brought up by his stepmother of Armenian descent, “aunt” Yevgenia. For two years during his childhood he lived on the military base at Eberswalde in Germany’s Soviet occupied zone (later GDR). On return, he went to school at Moscow. …

bq. The songs—over 600 of them—were written about almost any imaginable theme. The earliest were Street songs. These songs were based either on the city romance of Moscow (criminal life, prostitution and extreme drinking) or on life in the Gulags. Vysotsky slowly grew out of this phase and started singing more serious, though often satirical, songs. Many of these songs were about war. These war songs were not written to glorify war but to expose the listener to the emotions of those in extreme, life threatening situations. Most Soviet veterans would say that Vysotsky’s war songs described the truth of war far more accurately than more official “patriotic” songs, such as Katyusha. The term bard came to use in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s (and continues to be used in Russia today) for popular poets and singers who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment. … Gulag (Russian: ГУЛАГ listen, an acronym for Главное Управление Исправительно— Трудовых Лагерей и колонии, Glavnoye Upravleniye Ispravitelno-trudovykh Lagerey i kolonii, The Chief Directorate [or Administration] of Corrective Labour Camps and Colonies) was the branch of the Soviet internal police and security service that operated the penal system of forced… The term bard came to use in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s (and continues to be used in Russia today) for popular poets and singers who wrote songs outside the Soviet establishment. … Katyusha (Катюша) is a Russian Soviet wartime song about a girl longing for her beloved, who is away on military service. …

bq. Nearly all of Vysotsky’s songs are in the first person, but almost never as himself. When singing his criminal songs, he would borrow the voice of a Moscow thief and when singing war songs he would sing from the point of view of a soldier.

Via The Volokh Conspiracy

3 thoughts on “Penal Code song / Strafgesetzbuch-Lied

  1. I wonder what’s the reason for translating Ganoven/ crooks as ‘my comrades’ and not e.g. as ‘my scrounging relatives’.

    Anyway, it’s a good read.

  2. The Russian is the original, and I was going to say, who did the English? Was it Sasha Non-Volokh himself? Because I would like to acknowledge translators.

    My Russian is rusty, with nothing under the rust, but I do see the word tovarish(am) at the beginning of the third verse. Apart from that, maybe the translations were sung too, then they would be quite free.

  3. Yes, I spotted the tovarish only after posting, though assumed the English was taken from the German. Pity about the lack of acknowledgement of the Eng. translator/translator team (?).

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