Category Archives: foreign language papers by Roger Smith

my student essay on Tolstoy


Roger’s biographical sketch of Tolstoy

my Tolstoy essay – typed version

my Tolstoy essay – TRANSLATION


I am posting it again.

I am very proud of it. It was written in the 1970s.

I told my therapist, Dr. Colp, that I was taking an advanced Russian evening course at NYU.  l said that based on my previous study, I belonged in the intermediate course, but I wanted to be challenged. Made sense to him.

The paper was based on oral presentation in class. Dr, Colp wasn’t given to fulsome praise. But when I told him I gave a talk in Russian, he was impressed — “in Russian?” he said.

I learned Russian script in the introductory course I took, but I have forgotten it mostly and could not do as I did then: produce a handwritten paper.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2021

Roger W. Smith, “Биографический Очерк Льва Николаевича Толстого” (Biographical Sketch of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy)


Roger’s biographical sketch of Tolstoy

my Tolstoy essay – RUSSIAN

my Tolstoy essay – TRANSLATION


I am posting here for the first time (downloadable documents above) the following:

a PDF file of the handwritten draft of a paper on Tolstoy that I wrote, in Russian, for a Russian course at New York University

a typed version of the original of my Russian paper

my English translation of the paper


— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020




“first draft of my Russian essay on Tolstoy (and how it came to be written)”

first draft of my Russian essay on Tolstoy (and how it came to be written)

Roger W. Smith, translation into Spanish of passage from George Gissing


passage from Gissing

Roger’s Gissing translation


Posted here (above) as downloadable PDF documents is an assignment of mine in an advanced class in Spanish grammar and composition taught by Professor Susana Redondo de Feldman, Chairman of the Spanish and Portuguese Department at Columbia University.

The assignment was to translate a lyrical passage from George Gissing’s The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft from English into Spanish. It was a challenging assignment, and a fun and rewarding one.

George Gissing (1857-1903) was an English novelist who — while he has by no means been forgotten and is still read today — should be much better known. The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft is a semi-fictional autobiographical work in which the author casts himself as the editor of the diary of a deceased acquaintance.

I had hitherto been unacquainted with Gissing. The assignment, giving me sudden exposure to Gissing’s prose up close, made me want badly to read him. But, the book from which the passage was taken was not identified. It took me a long time to find which of Gissing’s books the passage came from.

I became a great admirer of Gissing — both as a storyteller in the realistic mode and as a masterful prose stylist (I admired, for example, his impressive vocabulary in The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft) — and have read many of his novels.


— Roger W. Smith

  August 2017




George Gissing, The Private Papers of Henry Rycroft, Chapter XXIII


Every morning when I awake, I thank heaven for silence. This is my orison. I remember the London days when sleep was broken by clash and clang, by roar and shriek, and when my first sense on returning to consciousness was hatred of the life about me. Noises of wood and metal, clattering of wheels, banging of implements, jangling of bells–all such things are bad enough, but worse still is the clamorous human voice. Nothing on earth is more irritating to me than a bellow or scream of idiot mirth, nothing more hateful than a shout or yell of brutal anger. Were it possible, I would never again hear the utterance of a human tongue, save from those few who are dear to me.

Here, wake at what hour I may, early or late, I lie amid gracious stillness. Perchance a horse’s hoof rings rhythmically upon the road; perhaps a dog barks from a neighbour farm; it may be that there comes the far, soft murmur of a train from the ether side of Exe; but these are almost the only sounds that could ever force themselves upon my ear. A voice, at any time of the day, is the rarest thing.

But there is the rustle of branches in the morning breeze; there is the music of a sunny shower against the window; there is the matin song of birds. …




Todas las mañanas cuando me despierto, yo doy gracias a Dios por el silencio. Esto es mi oración. Recuerdo aquellos días londineses, cuando mí sueño se interrumpía por fuertes sonidos metálicos y penetrantes gritos agudos, por ruidos y chillidos, cuando mi primera sensación al recobrar el conocimiento era el de odio hacia la vida que me rodeaba. Ruidos de madera y metal, el traqueteo de ruedas, el golpetazo de utensilios, el cencerro de campanas–cosas semejantes son suficienmente malas, pero aún peor es el clamor de la voz humana. Nada me irrita, nada es más detestable que un bramido o chillido de ira brutal. Si fuera posible, yo no oiría nunca jamás la manifestación de ninguna voz humana, salvo de los pocos que me son queridos.

Aquí–no importa a que hora me despierte, temprano o tarde–reposo en medio de una tranqulidad grata. Quizá los cascos de un caballo resuenen rítmicamente a lo largo del camino; acaso un perro ladre desde una granja vieja; tal vez llegue de lejos del otro lado del Exe el murmullo suave de un tren. Pero estos son casi los únicos sonidos que podrían imponerse a mis oídos. El sonido de una voz, a cualquier hora del día, es algo rarísimo.

Pero hay en cambio el susurro de las ramas en la brisa matinal; hay la música de una lluvia soleada tocando en mi ventana; hay la canción matutina de los pájaros. …

— translation by Roger W. Smith

first draft of my Russian essay on Tolstoy (and how it came to be written)


biographical sketch of Leo Tolstoy


Posted here (PDF file above) is a handwritten student paper by me, written in Russian, about Leo Tolstoy.

It was written by me for a Russian course at New York University.

The way this came about was as follows.

I was taking a noncredit course in Russian at NYU — I believe it was in 1977. I had enrolled for advanced Russian. I was underqualified to take the course, having so far completed only first year Russian. But, I wanted to be challenged. I had done some extra studying of the language on my own.

I seemed to be the weakest student in the class. Our instructor, a Russian woman who was an adjunct professor, commented after a few classes that I didn’t belong in the class.

I was a Slavophile and a big fan of Tolstoy, among other Russian writers. One evening, our instructor was discussing Tolstoy briefly. She made the suggestion, off the top of her head, that perhaps someone in the class would like to write an essay on Tolstoy.

No one volunteered, so I raised my hand. It was clear that she did not think I should or could do it, but she begrudgingly agreed, by default, to let me.

In the next class session, I read my essay, which was twelve pages long, handwritten on loose leaf paper. (See PDF file, above.)

At the end of my presentation, the instructor said — maintained adamantly — that I must have copied the essay from somewhere.

No, I insisted, I had written it myself. I said to her in Russian,”Я сам написал” (Ya sam napisal), meaning “I wrote it myself.” This was slightly incorrect. The correct Russian is Я написал это сам: Ya [I] napisal [wrote] eto [it] sam [myself]. (Note the Russian word sam, meaning myself. It is a root of the Russian word samizdat, which means self publishing.)

She still didn’t believe me. She said that in the next class I should present the essay again, this time without reading from my written text. I’m sure she thought she had me.

The day of the next class arrived. It was in the evening. I got to NYU about a half an hour early and took a stroll in Washington Square Park. I had not prepared, had not memorized the essay!

I walked in circles around the park for a half an hour or so with the handwritten essay in my hand. I was reading and reciting it to myself. I found that it was not hard to memorize. I think this was because of the fact that I had put such effort into writing it, had slaved over it with an English-Russian dictionary close at hand. I remembered stuff from having drafted it.

After a while, I said to myself: I’ve got it. I can do it.

I went to the class and recited the essay word for word off the top of my head, without reading from my paper.

I think the professor was flabbergasted; certainly, she was surprised.

To be honest, I myself was surprised that I could do it.




I have posted a revised version of my essay, typewritten in Cyrillic characters, on this blog:

Roger W. Smith, “биографический очерк Льва Николаевича Толстого” (Biographical Sketch of Leo Tolstoy)

It can be accessed at

Roger W. Smith, “Биографический Очерк Льва Николаевича Толстого” (Biographical Sketch of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy)

or through the category “Tolstoy”: on this blog.


— Roger W. Smith

   May 2016

my paper on “Platero y yo”; Luciana de Ames’s Spanish class


paper on ‘Platero y yo’ (in Spanish)


The short paper on the prose poem Platero y yo (Platero and I) by the Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez — it amounts to an appréciation — that I have posted here (downloadable file above) was written by me in an introductory Spanish course at Columbia University in the 1970’s.

I have been a great admirer of Jiménez since my teenage years, when I found out about him from my older brother. He was reading Jiménez’s classic in an English translation and greatly admired it.

Platero y yo is a simple, semi-autobiographical account, written in the first person, about a poet and his donkey. It evokes the region of Andalusia and the town of Moguer, the author’s birthplace (which I have visited).

Juan Ramón Jiménez (1881–1958) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1956.




My instructor for first year Spanish was Luciana de Ames. I believe she was Italian.

She was gorgeous. It was an all male class. It seemed like the whole class was in love with her. I certainly was.

She was a great foreign language teacher.

I got an A in her course in the spring of 1974 and an A plus from her in the second semester of the course.

I attended a lecture in Spanish that she gave to the Spanish Department. I did not understand most of it. It was on the Peruvian poet Cesar Vallejo (1892–1938), who was the focus of her scholarly interest.

Her literary enthusiasms also included Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude) by Gabriel García Márquez, which had recently been published. Mrs. de Ames raved about the book.

Mrs. de Ames was married with a son about five years old. I ran into her walking with her son one day in Riverside Park. She was eating from a bag of potato chips. She was very friendly and didn’t seem at all fazed by meeting me in a different setting.

She was a natural. Open and unaffected. Extremely energetic and enthusiastic as a teacher and scholar, a lover of language and literature — it was so much fun being in her class.




Because of the energy crisis, daylight savings rules had been instituted year round. Our class was at 8 a.m. We would be gathered in front of the Casa Hispanica on West 116th Street waiting for Mrs. de Ames to arrive. She would always seem to be running down the street breathlessly, just in time, and would unlock the front door of the building, fumbling with the keys. It was always dark because of daylight savings, not usual for that hour in the morning.

Mrs. de Ames also liked the Nicaraguan writer Rubén Darío (1867-1916). She introduced us to Darío’s poem “Walt Whitman,” which begins:

En su país de hierro vive el gran viejo,
bello como un patriarca, sereno y santo.
Tiene en la arruga olímpica de su entrecejo
algo que impera y vence con noble encanto.

(In his country of iron lives the grand old man / beautiful as a patriarch, serene and holy. / He has in the Olympian wrinkle of his brow / something that prevails and conquers with noble charm.)

In one class, Mrs. de Ames asked, spontaneously — without there being any connection to the lesson — “Quien escribiò Hojas de yierba?” (who wrote Leaves of Grass?). I answered quickly, “Walt Whitman.”

The rest of the class had no clue as to the question. I didn’t either — at first. But it was the kind of question upon which my brain operates fast. I thought, “escribiò”: the word must have something to do with writing — escribir is a Spanish verb meaning to write and has the same root as the English word scribe.

“Hojas de yierba” stumped me for a nanosecond. Then, I thought: “yierba,” sounds like “herbs”; must mean something like grass. So the question must refer to someone who wrote about grass. (I didn’t know what “hojas,” leaves, meant.) It could only be Whitman. Who else wrote about GRASS?

Mrs. de Ames was impressed. So was the rest of the class. There was a bright, friendly law school student in the class. He was rubbing his forehead and asked me with incredulity, “how did you ever get that one?”


— Roger Smith

   May 2016


Postscript: I have wondered what became of Mrs. de Ames: what her academic career was like and where she might be now. I have been unable to locate her.

Roger Smith, paper on classic Spanish playwrights (in Spanish)

Roger Smith, paper on classic Spanish playwrights


This paper was written by me for a Spanish course at Columbia University taught by Professor Ricardo Florit.

The playwrights discussed in the paper are Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio (1562–1635) and Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600–1681).


Roger Smith, student paper on Latin American authors (in Spanish)

Roger W. Smith, essay on Latin American authors (in Spanish)


This paper was written by me for a Spanish course at Columbia University taught by Professor Ricardo Florit.

Roger Smith, student paper on Bernal Diaz del Castillo (in Spanish)




Roger’s paper on Bernal Diaz del Castillo



This paper was written by me for a Spanish course at Columbia University taught by Professor Ricardo Florit.

Bernal Díaz del Castillo (d. 1584) was a Spanish conquistador, who participated as a foot soldier in the conquest of Mexico with Hernán Cortés. He wrote his famous and justly praised memoirs, which have been translated into English: The True History of the Conquest of New Spain.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

Roger Smith, student essay on my dog Bambi (in Spanish)


Roger W. Smith, essay on his dog Bambi (in Spanish)


Posted above is a brief personal essay of mine that was written as an assignment in an advanced course in the Spanish language taught by Professor Susana Redondo de Feldman, Chairman of the Spanish and Portuguese Department at Columbia University.

The essay consists of an evocative, affectionate sketch of our beloved family dog Bambi, who was living with my father in Massachusetts when I wrote the essay.


— posted by Roger W. Smith

Roger Smith, “Al Anochecer” (“At Dusk”; in Spanish)


Roger W. Smith, ‘Al Anochecer’ (‘At Dusk’; in Spanish)


This exercise in creative writing was an assignment for an advanced course in the Spanish language at Columbia University taught by Professor Susana Redondo de Feldman, Chairman of the Spanish and Portuguese  Department.

Professsor Redondo de Feldman remarked, with irony, that the paper was by a would be Hemingway.


— posted by Roger W. Smith