Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse

Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse

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by Alexander Pushkin, Alexandr Pushkin

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This is the widely acclaimed translation of Russian literature's most seminal work. Pushkin's "novel in verse" has influenced Russian prose as well as poetry for more than a century. By turns brilliant, entertaining, romantic and serious, it traces the development of a young Petersburg dandy as he deals with life and love. Influeneced by Byron, Pushkin reveals the


This is the widely acclaimed translation of Russian literature's most seminal work. Pushkin's "novel in verse" has influenced Russian prose as well as poetry for more than a century. By turns brilliant, entertaining, romantic and serious, it traces the development of a young Petersburg dandy as he deals with life and love. Influeneced by Byron, Pushkin reveals the nature of his heroes through the emotional colorations found in their witty remarks, nature descriptions, and unexpected actions, all conveyed in stanzas of sonnet length (a form which became known as the Onegin Stanza), faithfully reproduced by Walter Arndt inthis Bollingen Prize translation.

Editorial Reviews

Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of del, Escher, Bach/>, provides an extensive preface to his translation of the classic Russian novel in verse. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Kirkus Reviews
The alarmingly learned mathematician and author of such interdisciplinary marvels as his seminal Gødel, Escher, Bach moves into new territory with a lively English version of Pushkin's 1831 verse novel: the mock-heroic tale of how its bored Byronic "hero" (the eponymous Eugene) enchants, then callously rejects the loving Tatyana, and lives to suffer for his caddish behavior. Hofstadter employs the demanding original rhyme scheme (ABABCCDDEFFEGG: a hybrid of the sonnet and the couplet), devising dozens of ingenious rhymes—and recounts his delighted immersion in Pushkin and the Russian language, in a beguiling Preface that's almost as much fun as the immortal Eugene Onegin itself. A masterly performance, and a thoroughly charming book. .

From the Publisher

A breath-takingly brilliant tour de force' —Sue Arnold, the Guardian

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Penguin Group (USA)
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Eugene Onegin

A Novel in Verse

By Alexander Pushkin, Mary Hobson

Wimbledon Publishing Company

Copyright © 2011 The Russian School, Moscow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78308-459-3


He hurries to live, he hastens to feel.
Prince Viazemskii


My uncle, honest fellow, seeing
That he was now a dying man,
Required my last respects, this being
His best, indeed, his only plan.
The plan may be worth imitating;
The boredom is excruciating.
Sit by a sick-bed night and day
And never move a step away.
With what low cunning one tries madly
To amuse a man who's half alive,
Adjust his pillows, and contrive
To bring his medicine to him sadly,
Then sigh, while proffering the spoon,
'Let's hope the devil takes you soon.'


Thus thought the young rake, flying there
By dusty post-chaise, to the fate
Willed by the Most-High Zeus; sole heir
To all his family estate.
Friends of Liudmila, you who glory
In Ruslan, here's another story.
Without delay, without excuse
Permit me, please, to introduce
Onegin, my good friend from Peter,
Conceived and born on Neva's shore,
Where you, perhaps, were born too, or
Shone in the service, my dear reader.
I lived and loved there once, you see:
But our North is not good for me.


His father made a fine career
And lived in debt – as nobles can.
He always gave three balls a year
And was, at last, a ruined man.
Fate saved Evgenii in this drama.
First he was spoiled by his 'Madame',
Then by 'Monsieur'. It would appear
The boy was lively, but a dear.
Poor lame Monsieur l'Abbé thought teaching
Should not torment a little child;
His style was humorous and mild,
Unburdened by stern moral preaching.
He'd gently scold, as gently pardon,
Then take him to the Summer Garden.


But when the time came for the folly
Of youth's rebellion, time to play
At hope and tender melancholy,
The good Monsieur was sent away.
So – here's Onegin, full of passion,
His hair cut in the latest fashion,
Dressed like a London dandy. Free
To enter high society.
His French required no improvement;
Evgenii could converse and write.
He'd dance mazurkas half the night
And bow with easy grace of movement.
What more d'you want? – T'was seen at once
That he was charming – and no dunce.


We all acquire, in moderation,
Something, somehow — the general line,
So that, thank God, in education
It isn't hard for us to shine.
And many thought Onegin clever.
(Some of the sternest judges ever)
But he's a pedant, they would say.
He had a very happy way
Of touching on each subject lightly,
Without constraint, which made him seem
An expert. On a hard-fought theme
He'd stand in silence, most politely,
Then fire off epigrams in style,
A knack which made the ladies smile.


We leave our Latin to the crammer:
To tell the truth, he knew enough
Of Latin verse and Latin grammar
To make sense of an epigraph,
Quote Juvenal – and to his betters –
Put 'vale' at the end of letters,
Recalled the Aenid, could recite
A couplet – sometimes got it right.
He would have thought it most unpleasant
To burrow in the dusty ground
Of dry chronology; but found
That stories of the past and present,
From Romulus to our own day,
He could remember and relay.


His ear was a touch prosaic
For verse. He regularly failed
To tell iambic from trochaic
No matter how we poets railed.
Homer, Theocritus were slated,
But Adam Smith was highly rated.
Evgenii the economist
Interpreted the points we missed,
Knew how a nation could be wealthy
And why it had no need of gold;
The 'simple product', we were told,
Would keep the economy quite healthy.
His father failed to understand
And was obliged to mortgage land.


What else he knew – quite as ingenious –
I've not the leisure to recall.
But where he was in truth a genius,
The science that he knew best of all,
What constituted, from his boyhood,
His work, his pain, his source ofjoy, would
Absorb each hour of every day
Spent in his yearning, idle way,
Was that science of the tender passion
Sung by Ovid, who paid at last
For his rebellious, brilliant past,
Exiled by Rome in cruel fashion,
Deprived of land and liberty,
Far from his native Italy.


How soon he learned to feign confusion,
To hide his hopes, show jealousy,
Inspire belief or disillusion,
Seem gloomy, pine and languish, be
Now fiercely proud and now obedient,
Attentive, cold – as was expedient.
What smouldering, sensuous silences,
What passionate eloquence were his.
In love letters how he took chances!
He breathed by, loved one thing alone;
To turn a head or lose his own.
How swift and tender were his glances,
How shy or bold. His eyes could fill
With tears, summoned up at will.


How he assumed the latest air,
Made jokes that shocked young innocents,
Quite frightened them with his despair,
Amused them with his compliments,
Or seized the moment of emotion.
How he'd oppose each naif notion
With passion and intelligence,
Expect unwilling sentiments,
Beseech – demand – a declaration,
Then, hearing how her heart beat fast,
Pursue his love, until at last
He'd win a secret assignation
And, quietly drawing her apart,
Give lessons in the gentle art.


How soon he could disturb the heart of
The most inveterate coquette!
How he employed the wounding art of
Malicious words. What traps he set,
What cunning pitfalls he prepared
To see his hapless rivals snared.
But husbands, you most blest of men,
Remained his good friends, even then.
The crafty spouse received him kindly,
He'd learned from Faublas, as one can,
And the suspicious older man,
And he who wore his horns more blindly,
Pleased with himself, his way of life,
His own good dinner – and his wife.


As usual, he will still be resting
When notes are brought with morning tea.
What? Invitations? Three – requesting
The pleasure of his company.
A ball, perhaps? A children's soirée?
To which one will my scapegrace hurry?
Where should he start? It makes no odds.
Lord, punctuality's for clods.
Meanwhile, dressed for a morning's pleasure,
Wearing his broad-brimmed Bolivar,
Onegin strolls to the Boulevard,
And there he saunters at his leisure
Till, ever watchful, his Bréguet
Reminds him he must dine today.


It's dark: he takes the sleigh. 'Get going!
Giddyup!' the cry rings out. Now just
His beaver collar, softly glowing,
Is silvered with a frosty dust.
Off to Talon: the night's before him.
Kaverin will be waiting for him.
He enters. The champagne corks fly,
A stream of wine spurts comet-high.
Roast beef is served, à l'anglaise, rare,
With truffles, which for young men mean
The finest flower of French cuisine.
The eternal Strasburg pie is there,
The Limburg cheese, a touch mature,
The golden pineapple's allure.


Their thirst requires a few more glasses
To cool hot cutlets, crisply done,
But Bréguet chimes, the hour passes,
The new ballet has just begun.
Malicious arbiter of drama
And faithless worshipper – a charmer
Of charming actresses, which means
An honoured guest behind the scenes,
Onegin flies to the theatre
Where all young freedom-loving men
Applaud an entrechat, and then
Hiss Phedre, Cleopatre or, better,
Call for Moina (only so
That they'll be heard by those who know).


Enchanted spot! There, in the old days,
Fonvizin's satire ruled the scene,
That friend of freedom, one whose bold ways
Were imitated by Kniazhnin.
There Ozerov would win the cheers,
The applause, the involuntary tears
With young Semënova; and there
Our own Katenin sought to share
The genius of Corneille. To shame us,
The sharp tongued Shakhovskoi gave his
Great noisy swarm of comedies.
There Didlo, too, was rightly famous,
And there, behind the scenes, in truth,
There in the wings I spent my youth.


My Goddesses, are you still there?
Heed my sad voice: have you not changed?
You took the place of those less fair,
Have you, in turn, not been exchanged?
Say, will I hear your song once more?
See how the Russian soul can soar,
Terpsichore in seeming flight?
Will my sad gaze no longer light
On friends, but find some tedious theatre
Where, disillusioned, my lorgnette
Meets only strangers on the set.
Will I, indifferent spectator
Of gaiety, yawn silently,
Remembering what used to be?


The house is full; the boxes blazing;
The stalls and circle mill around.
The gods grow restless. Now they're raising
The curtain with its creaking sound.
Radiant, half-air and all-obeying
The violin's enchanted playing,
Surrounded by her nymphs, the fair
Istomina is standing there.
Poised on one foot, with lazy ease
The other circles, starts to rise,
And suddenly – a leap –she flies
Like down on some Aeolian breeze,
Spins and unspins, her figure flexed,
Beats one swift foot against the next.


General applause. Onegin passes
A row of legs to reach his seat;
Squints upwards through his opera-glasses –
No woman-friend whom he should greet.
He gazes round the other tiers,
But what he sees confirms his fears;
No face or fashion to his taste.
He bows without the slightest haste
To every side, then casts a mere
Perfunctory glance at the ballet
And, idly yawning, turns away.
'It's time we had some changes here.
I've borne these ballets long enough.
They're tedious – even Didlo's stuff.'


Snakes, cupids, devils are still leaping
Their noisy way to curtain fall.
The weary lackeys are still sleeping
On fur coats in the entrance hall.
The audience hasn't ceased its cheering,
Its sneezing, coughing, hissing, jeering.
Inside and outside, everywhere,
A thousand flickering lamps still flare.
A restless horse kicks at the stands,
Half-frozen, harnessed up for hire,
And coachmen, huddled round the fire,
Curse masters, swing their stiff, numb hands.
Onegin leaves before the press;
He's going home again to dress.


Shall I give you a faithful picture
Of his secluded room? Explain
How, schooled in fashion's every stricture,
He's dressed, undressed, and dressed again?
All that punctilious London offers
Those with extensive whims – and coffers –
Comes in exchange for tallow and wood
Across the Baltic; all that good
Taste, and a truly avid passion
For any profitable trade,
Can bring to us from Paris, made
For amusement, luxury or fashion,
All graced the room of this young sir,
Eighteen – and a philosopher.


Long amber pipes, procured by dealings
With Tsaregrad, bronze, porcelain,
And – joy of those with tender feelings –
Cut crystal flacons that contain
French perfume; little combs, steel files,
Straight scissors, curved ones, various styles,
And thirty kinds of brush, to clean
Both nails and teeth, adorn the scene.
Great Rousseau (incidentally)
Could not think how the famous Grimm
Dared clean his nails in front of him,
That wild man of fine oratory.
The champion of our liberty
And rights was wrong for once, you see.


Can one be serious and engage
In fussing with one's nails? But then,
Why quarrel vainly with the age?
The way of despots among men.
A second young Chadaev, my
Evgenii feared the critic's eye.
He was a pedant in his dress.
What we called 'fop', I must confess.
He used to spend three hours, at least,
Before the mirror's silvered gloom,
Emerging from his dressing-room
Like fickle Venus at a feast
Dressed as a man, a dashing blade,
A goddess at the masquerade.


This talk of taste and fashion's leaders
Has made you curious to hear more.
I could, for knowledgeable readers,
Describe exactly what he wore;
No need to wonder how I dare –
Describing things is my affair.
But breeches, tail-coats, stocks ... absurd.
Not one is a good Russian word.
And I can see that even so –
I own my guilt – my meagre style
Is far too full of bright, facile
And hetero-tribal words. I know.
I've just this minute glanced at the
Old Academic dictionary.


That's not the path we should be tracing:
We'd better hurry to the ball.
His carriage is already racing
Headlong; Onegin's going to call.
Careering, as the quiet road drowses,
Through sleepy streets, past darkened houses,
Paired carriage lamps shine through the night,
Shedding a cheerful, friendly light,
Describing rainbows on the snow.
A great house is illumined where
Its high, encircling lampions flare,
Its windows each a shadow-show
Of ladies' heads, in profile, then
Of fashionably eccentric men.


Our hero drives up to the doors,
Shoots like an arrow past the porter,
Flies up the marble stairs (a pause
To adjust his hair could not be shorter)
And saunters in to join the crowd.
The weary music roars a loud
Mazurka to the noisy throng,
Not only loud but very long;
The horse guard's spurs clink as he dances;
Young girls fly past on pretty feet,
So captivatingly petite,
And after them fly passionate glances.
The scrape of violins quite drowns
The jealous whispers about gowns.


The joy, the lust, the machinations,
The madness balls once drove me to!
No safer place for declarations
Or slipping her a billet doux.
Good husbands all, hear my proposal.
I place myself at your disposal;
I beg of you, heed what I say:
I wish to warn you, if I may.
You too, mammas, you should attend
More closely to your daughters, hold
Your lorgnettes up, ma'am, be more bold!
It's not ... it's not that ... Heaven forfend!
I'm writing to express my fears;
Why, I have not transgressed in years.


Alas, how much of my life I
Have ruined at pleasure's beck and call!
Yet – but for suffering morals – why,
I swear that I'd still love a ball.
I love mad youth, so wild, so tender,
The crowds, the joy, the formal splendour,
The dresses, planned to the last bow.
I love those little feet. (Although
You'd scarcely find three decent pairs
Of shapely female legs in all
Of Russia.) Ah, how I'd recall
Two darling feet ... the mind despairs,
The heart remembers, so it seems,
They still disturb my troubled dreams.


You madman, when will you allow
Yourself to cease remembering?
Oh, little feet! Where are you now?
Where do you tread the flowers of spring?
Cocooned in languorous, eastern grace,
You have not left a single trace
Upon our gloomy northern snows.
You loved to sink your little toes
In softest carpets' luxury.
How long since I'd forget, for you,
My thirst for fame and praise, my due,
My native shores, captivity?
Gone are the joys of youthful hours
Like your faint print on meadow flowers.


Diana's breasts, the cheeks of Flora –
Delightful, my dear friends! But ah,
Terpsichore's small foot holds surer
Delights, surpasses them by far.
In prophesying the higher pleasure
Of that inestimable treasure
Its beauty draws one to the fires,
The wilful swarm of one's desires.
My friend, El'vina, how I love it,
Beneath a long cloth covering
A table, on the grass in spring,
By winter's iron hearth, I covet
A glimpse on mirrored parquet floors,
On granite cliffs, on stony shores.


Excerpted from Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, Mary Hobson. Copyright © 2011 The Russian School, Moscow. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alexander Pushkin was a Russian author of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature.

Mary Hobson was awarded the Pushkin gold medal for translation by the Russian Association of Creative Unions in 1999, the bicentenary of Pushkin’s birth.

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