Eugene Oneginby Alexander Pushkin
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… See more details below
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.
- Dedalus, Limited
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Read an Excerpt
Anxious to live, eager to feel. Prince Vyázemsky
"My" uncle, matchless moral model,
When deathly ill, learned how to make
His friends respect him, bow and coddle
Of all his ploys, that takes the cake.
To others, this might teach a lesson;
But Lord above, I'd feel such stress in
Having to sit there night and day,
Daring not once to step away.
Plus, I'd say, it's hypocritical
To keep the half-dead's spirits bright,
To plump his pillows till they're right,
Fetch his pills with tears veridical
Yet in secret to wish and sigh,
`Hurry, dear Uncle, up and die!"
So ran a rakehell's thoughts, disjointed,
Thick in the dust of trotting steeds.
By Zeus, by Jove, he'd been appointed
Heir to his kinfolk's trusts and deeds.
Fans of Ruslán and of Lyudmíla:
Meet my new book! I'll now reveal a
Few things about its motley crew.
First let me introduce to you
Onegin, my true friend and trusty,
Who by the Neva's banks was born,
Just as were you, I would have sworn,
Dear reader but my memory's rusty
There once throve I, but left, I fear;
The North was, shall I say, "severe".
Once his father'd been most dutiful;
Now, though, lived by the phrase "Owe debts!"
Still, he staged grand balls quite beautiful,
Till his creditors cast their nyet's.
Fate intervened to save our hero:
First Madame (ofwhom we know zero),
And then Monsieur, to guide Eugene.
The lad was frisky, never mean.
The Frenchman sans un sou an abbot
So as not to torment the boy,
Used games for teaching as his ploy.
Moral redress was not his habit;
At boyish pranks he'd barely bark,
And strolled his charge through Letny Park.
When, finally came youth's grand upheaval
That age of pangs and sighs galore
When one is crushed on some coeval
Monsieur l'abbé was shown the door.
Eugene thus sipped from freedom's phial;
Coiffed suavely in the latest style,
Our dapper London ladies' man
Surveyed, at last, the world's vast plan.
En français he efficaciously
Talked up a storm, and wrote as well; Danced the mazurka like a swell,
Spinning fast and bowing graciously.
What more to want? The world, in short,
Ruled him a warm and witty sort.
We've all absorbed, by candles burning,
A jot of this, a tad of that.
So thank the Lord, to shine in learning
In our old land is quite old hat.
Onegin, in the public's rating
(A court that's most discriminating),
Was deemed a bright, if stuffy, chap.
Among the feathers in his cap
Was that of, with few hesitations,
Ad-libbing glibly as a book,
And, with a connoisseur's sage look,
Remaining mum in disputations.
Last but not least, with crackling quips
He'd coax quick smiles to ladies' lips.
De gustibus non disputandum
Has lost cachet, for Latins dead;
Yet shown a Latin phrase at random,
Eugene could tell you what it said;
He'd carve the meat from Juvenal's gristle,
Conclude with Vale an epistle,
And knew by heart, though slightly skew,
Aeneid verses one or two.
He lacked the yen to go out poking
Into the dusty lives of yore
Historic details made him snore;
But as for anecdotes and joking
Droll tales from Romulus till now
He'd stocked a pile behind his brow.
Onegin wasn't strongly driven
Life to forsake for sake of verse.
He couldn't (though to help we'd striven)
An iamb tell from its reverse.
Theocritus and Homer spurning,
Instead to Adam Smith oft turning,
He studied economics hard,
To learn to judge in which regard
A country's prone to be imperial,
What it might profit from, and why
It might, despite no gold, get by,
Provided it's got raw material.
His father thought this all was Greek,
And sold his farmlands up the creek.
My leisure I shan't spend on scrawling
Lists of Onegin's treasured skills;
I'll say, though, that his highest calling,
His truest art, his deepest thrills,
Since early youth his keenest pleasure
And toil and torment, for good measure
what occupied each day his droll
And lazy, melancholy soul,
Was the science of tender passion
Or "Art of Love", in Naso's song,
For which he, Ovid, suffered long,
Ending his days bold, bright, and brash in
Harsh exile on Moldavia's plains,
Morose and Romesick, racked with pains.
Eugene from greenest youth dissembled.
His hopes he'd cache, he'd feign to yearn,
Then dash her hopes. Oh, how she trembled!
He'd make believe that he was stern,
Standoffish, jealous, proud, obedient,
Alert whatever seemed expedient!
So languidly his tongue he'd mute,
Or else such tongues of flame he'd shoot
Across each nonchalant love letter!
He breathed but love, he loved but love,
And lost himself in quest thereof!
A tender glance he'd flash or better,
Bashful or bold; and yes, my dears,
Could twist that faucet of his tears!
A young girl's rapture he could heighten
By feigning this was all so new;k With pre-prepared despair he'd frighten,
Or dish out flatt'ry true, untrue.
He'd seize that moment when she'd soften,
And youth's defenses he could often
Deflect with deftest rapier wit.
He'd wait till they'd caressed a bit,
Then wring from her a meek confession
Just when he sensed her heaving breast.
Pursuing love with boundless zest,
He'd orchestrate a secret session
And then, in silence, just with her,
Give petting lessons till she'd purr.
Eugene from greenest youth would trouble
The hardened hearts of cool coquettes,
And when, for fun, he'd blast to rubble
Some rival chap (with no regrets),
How wildly would Eugene malign him!
And with what nets would he entwine him!
But you, you blessed husbands, you
Stayed friendly with him, through and through.
Crafty bridegrooms curried his favor
As if they'd studied with Faublas:
And codgers, fearing some faux pas;
And cuckolds friends of their depraver!
So very smug about their lives,
About their suppers, and their wives.
He'd still be sleeping, on occasion,
When served by servants with the post.
"Hallo? What's this? Some invitation?
Not one, but three would be my host?
Let's see some ball, some children's party ..."
Where will he dash, my dashing hearty?
Where to begin? It's all the same
He'll make all three! Life's such a game!
But now in morning garb he's dressing,
Dons his bolivar, downs his bread.
To Nevsky Prospect now he'll head,
And there he'll stroll with nothing pressing,
Until his timepiece chimes away
`For suppertime: Watchful Bréguet!
It's dark by now: Eugene steps lightly
into his chaise. "Away! Away!"
His beaver collar glistens brightly
With frozen dust: a white display.
Talon's his goal, where he's expecting
Kavérin; there they'll be connecting.
He saunters in; corks fly about,
And Comet wine's soon gushing out.
A bloody rosbif's placed before him;
Truffles, fit for a youthful queen,
The finest flow'r of French cuisine;
Famed Strasbourg pie, with great decorum;
And smelly Limburg cheese (too old),
And ananas sweet juicy gold.
The cutlets' grease to counterbalance,
More goblets are required by thirst;
Bréguet, though (watch of many talents!),
Cries out "Ballet!" and that comes first.
Fickle friend of dance and theater
(Take an actress first he'd be at her
Beck and call, but then change his mind),
Our citizen-at-large behind
The scenes, he's now dans le théâtre
(I mean Eugene). All wait, slack-jawed.
At entrechats they'll soon applaud,
And hiss at Phèdre, Cléopâtre,
Recall Moïna (after all,
There's but one goal: to wow the hall).
O magic realm! Long gone's the season
When boldly flashed upon your scene
Freedom's and satire's friend, Fonvízin,
And that lame copycat, Knyazhnín.
Ózerov basked there in spontaneous
Tears and cheers praise simultaneous
For Semyónova's well-played part.
Katénin there revived the art
Of old Corneille, that star tragedian.
Twas there Didelot was crowned in fame;
There, too, a sharp-tongue learned his game:
Our Shakhovskóy, that tart comedian.
And there, behind the scenes, backstage,
My youth unfolded, page by page.
Where nay, who are you, my goddesses?
Hear my lament: Have you changed name?
Haven't strangers donned your bodices,
Nearly the same, yet not the same?
Will I once more enjoy your singing?
Will Russian stages yet be bringing
Terpsíchore's bright soulful flight?
Or should my eyes not seek the sight,
On this dull stage, of favored faces,
And having scanned, with glum lorgnette,
This alien crowd and alien set,
Should I, depressed from questing graces,
Abandon hope, in silence yawn,
And face the truth: what's gone is gone?
The crowd's arrived; the boxes dazzle.
On the parterre's a swarming roar.
The gallery's clapping, nerves a-frazzle.
The curtain, rustling, starts to soar.
Resplendent, poised for take-off, waiting
For magic strings' reverberating,
Surrounded by her corps of sprites,
Stands Istómina, sight of sights.
Balancing on one foot alone, her
Other she slowly lifts and twirls ...
A leap! She's off! She drifts and whirls,
As if the god of winds had blown her.
She twists and untwists, fleet as fleet,
Feet flutt'ring to the music's beat.
Applause breaks out. Onegin enters
And seeks his seat while trampling feet,
Then points his twin lorgnette, and centers
His gaze on ladies yet to meet.
The house's every tier surveying,
He finds the faces, clothes, dismaying;
He's frightfully dissatisfied.
Politely turning side to side,
He bows to fellow top-hat strutters;
He's bored, he fidgets off and on;
He fights but can't suppress a yawn.
"Oh, for a change of scene," he mutters;
"For years I've put up with ballet,
But now Didelot seems dull and gray."
Meanwhile cupids, imps, eerie serpents
Still on stage make highjinks and whirrs;
Meanwhile cohorts of weary servants
Take naps in hallways on their furs;
Meanwhile the crowd is stamping, yapping,
Nose-blowing, coughing, hissing, clapping;
Meanwhile lanterns, indoors and out,
scatter their sparkle all about;
Meanwhile the steeds grow colder, number,
Champing restlessly at the bit;
Meanwhile coachmen, by fires half-lit,
Rub palms, curse masters, dream of summer ...
But here's Onegin, out the door
He's homeward-bound, to change once more.
Shall I try letting words paint pictures,
So you might see the hidden room
Wherein this slave to fashion's strictures
Would dress, undress, redress, and groom?
Whatever London sells to buyers
Abroad, to meet their hearts' desires,
Then ships, in trade for wax and staves,
Across the Baltic's choppy waves
Whatever Paris taste's effulgence,
On sniffing out some business lead,
Invents for pleasure or for greed,
For luxury, for self-indulgence
It's in his room. Ah, my Eugene
Fop philosopher, aged eighteen.k
Amber pipes imported from Turkey,
Bronze and china whatever asks
The pampered taste, soft, spoiled, and quirky ...
Sweet perfumes in cut-crystal flasks,
Numberless brushes (more than thirty)
For teeth and nails, bitten or dirty,
Scissors of straight and curvy styles,
Plenty of combs and steel nail-flies.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (I'll state in passing)
Could not see how the lofty Grimm
Dared clean his nails in front of him,
Great silver-tongue deserving sassing;
Though he'd lit rights' and freedom's spark,
In this case, he quite missed the mark.
Nothing says that high ability
Must preclude pretty fingernails.
Fight the times? Why, that's futility
Custom, timeless despot, prevails.
Eugene, Chadáyev's second coming,
Afraid of envy's ruthless drumming,
Toed the line, when it came to clothes:
A dandy, he yes, one of those.
I refer to that urban genus
Whose members love the looking-glass.
Leaving his boudoir, he could pass
As cousin to bright flighty Venus
Bedecked in pants, for masquerades,
Or ... for venereal escapades.
His suave toilette, chic and discerning,
Has served me well I've got you hooked;
So now I'll tell the world of learning
Just how our dapper dresser looked.
Though bold, 'twould be no indiscretion,
For I'm a wordsmith by profession.
Still, pantalons, frac, and gilet
Are foreign loan-words, sad to say.
In shame, indeed, my coeur lyrique
Regrets what issues from my plume:
It's lame in style; `twould fairer bloom
Sans this or that fleur exotique.
Once, way back when, how hard I tried:
My bible, then? The Slav's Word Guide.
But this, of course, is not our focus:
The ball's the topic we should opt
For for, directly toward that locus,
In hired coach, Onegin's hopped.
Along the darkened street now sleeping,
The coach's double beams go sweeping,
In front of rows of flats, on snow.
The play of colors forms a glow
A rainbow, which new snow's romancing.
And here's a splendid house all bright
Whose lampions sparkle in the night;
On all its panes there's shadow-dancing:
Let's watch, in profile, silhouettes
Of jack-a-dandies near coquettes.
Our hero's pulled up at the entry.
Swift as an arrow through the air,
Up marble stairs, right past the sentry,
He flies, then smooths his ruffled hair,
And steps inside. The hall is jumping;
The orchestra, though bored, keeps thumping.
Here the mazurka's drawn a crowd,
And everywhere, it's tight and loud.
Suave cavaliers flash spurs that jangle;
And flashy belles flash fleshy feet,
While men's eyes flash along in heat
And hunger, tracking each sweet angle.
The fiddles' scritch-scratch soon subverts
The fickle chit-chat of the flirts.
Back when I knew joys and frustrations,
Balls made me giddy, through and through:
No better place for declarations
Or passing ardent billets doux.
So take, please, husbands most respected,
Advice on which I've long reflected.
I urge you, give my words a chance:
Well-meant warnings, served in advance.
And you, young mothers, you who gave us
Sweet buds of girlhood clasp them tight!
Don't let them wander from your sight!
For otherwise ... I pray, God save us!
And why, you ask, write this herein?
Because I long since ceased to sin.
Alas, in fripp'ry light and trifling
I've frittered much of life away.
Take balls for moral growth, they're stifling;
If not, I'd love them still today.
I love youth's frenzy and its bluster,
Its joy, its ardor, and its luster,
And ladies' fancy, frilly clothes;
I love their limbs, though I'd suppose
You'll find in Russia three or fewer
well-tapered pairs of ladies' legs.
But there's one special pair that plagues
My suff'ring soul ... Ach! Though mature
And sadder now, I can't forget;
In dreams, they bring me heartaches yet.
Where and when, in what desolation,
O fool, will they forsake your head?
where are you, feet, where in creation?
What flowers of springtime do you tread?
Conceived and bred in far-off places
The blissful east you left no traces
Upon our bitter northern snows.
You loved to feel, between your toes,
A deep plush rug or silken textile.
Did yesteryear I, in your name,
Renounce my thirst for praise and fame,
Forget my country and my exile?
Youth's joys have fled without a trace,
As from the fields your step's light grace.
Diana's breast has charms enduring,
And Flora's cheek, friends. Yet to me,
I can't say why, but more alluring
The thigh is, of Terpsíchore.
Suggestive, to the eye, of treasure,
Of higher joy, of boundless pleasure,
Its graceful curving form inspires
A surging swarm of sharp desires.
O friend Elvina, I admire,
Near table legs, girls' hidden knees,
Cavorting calves on spring's green leas,
Cute toes in winter, lit by fire,
Feet dancing on a smooth parquet,
Or rockbound, splashed by surf and spray.
I recall some storm-brewing ocean:
Jealous, I watched its waves that beat
A path straight toward her in devotion,
To swirl in sequence at her feet.
To join those waves my soul was burning,
To touch those limbs with lips so yearning.
Not once, not once in all my days
Of youthful ardor's seething blaze
Ever did I endure such anguish,
Craving to kiss Armida's lips,
Her rose-flamed cheeks, the very tips
Of both her breasts, and feel them languish ...
Not even then was my young heart
Ever so sharply torn apart.
Ah, now my memory's getting stirred up:
In secret dreams, some other day,
I'm holding someone's lucky stirrup;
Her ankle lures my fingers' play ...
Once more my fantasies start swarming,
Once more my heart, once touched, starts warming;
My wilting core refills with blood:
Once more she's mare, once more I'm stud!
But stop! Why should my babbling lyre
Waste words on all these haughty dames?
They don't deserve the raging flames
Or raving songs that they inspire.
These sorceresses' words and eyes
And, yes, their limbs! are naught but lies.
What, though, of my Eugene? Unsteady,
He droops, then bolts from ball to bed;
But restless Petersburg already
Hears drums announcing night is dead.
The peddler's up, the merchant's lathered,
The hansoms at their stand have gathered.
With jar, an Ókhta milkmaid goes,
Crunching the morning's fresh new snows.
With pleasant sounds the day's thus breaking.
Shutters open, while chimneys high
Spew azure smoke-wisps toward the sky.
The paper-hatted German's baking,
And selling through his door's top half,
Which we call vas-is-das (don't laugh!).
But bored by boist'rous balls, and spreading
His nights from morn till well past tea,
Our enfant spoiled by featherbedding
Now snores in sinful luxury.
Long gone is lunch when he arises,
All set for life with few surprises,
Diversified yet uniform:
A suite of days without a storm.
But was he filled in ample measure,
In this, the flow'ring of his years,
By freedom or sweet victory's cheers,
By all his constant, mundane pleasure?
Did thus our party boy exhaust
Himself in games, at zero cost?
Ach, no! His feelings cooled off early.
At social whirls he'd tend to snore;
A debutante, a dolled-up girlie
Arrived to haunt his dreams no more.
Addictive once, now duping faded,
And friends were dropped; how he'd grown jaded!
All this because he couldn't find
A balm to soothe his troubled mind,
Albeit steaks, cakes, drinks came staggered
At cyclic hours. Not even wit
Assuaged his sorry soul one bit;
And though he was a dashing blackguard,
All lust he quickly lost for swords,
And bullets, rifles, duelling lords.
Onegin's illness was no tumor;
Indeed, still no one's found its cause.
It's England's "spleen", it's our ill humor
Our word's khandrá, and in its claws
Eugene was gripped, little by little.k He didn't have the spunk or spittle
To shoot himself (the Lord be blessed),
But through and through he felt depressed.
Like Childe Harold, spoiled and weary,
When at salons, he fast dismissed
The maidens' sighs, the games of whist,
The latest blab, and even cheery
Salutes from friends. Not taking note
Of this or that, he stayed remote.
Eccentric belles of high society!
He dropped you at an early stage.
How come? Facades of high propriety
Are tedious in this day and age.
Perchance among you someone's reading
Bentham and Say, say, but high breeding
In general tends to make one preach
Naïve yet vapid high-flown speech.
Moreover, belles, you're all so very
Majestic, flawless, pure, and bright,
So highly holy and upright,
So fine and dainty, yet so wary,
So cool to men that once you're seen,
They suffer sudden surging spleen.
And you, young tarts, fresh, poised, and charming,
Who ride in droshkies swift and swank
Till late at night beside disarming
Gay blades along the Neva's bank,
Eugene forsook you no less slowly.
Rejecting carnal pleasures wholly,
Onegin squirreled himself away
In hopes the muse might swing his way
And charm his pen but yawns soon started,
Since writing's long and wondrous hard.
He turned out not to be a bard,
And didn't join that fiery-hearted
Grand guild of folks whom I'll not judge
For arm in arm with them I trudge.
And once again toward sloth inclining,
Languishing in his empty soul,
He took a seat and tried designing
A course of learning worthy goal!
Off shelves he snatched a proud detachment
Of books and read with no attachment.
Here it raved, was dull or confused,
Lacked sense; Eugene was unenthused.
Here were multifarious fetters;
The Old grew older by the page,
The New just aped some olden age.
As belles he'd dropped, he dropped belle-letters,
And o'er that dusty, learnéd crowd
He drew a cloth a mourning shroud.
We both spurned custom like the plague; in
Sharing contempt, we found a bond;
And thus I liked Eugene Onegin,
And of his features grew most fond:
His tendency toward wishful dreaming,
His strangeness, strangely normal-seeming,
His frisky, lively, piercing mind.
Where I was gruff, he was resigned.
Though once with love inebriated,
By life we both had been rebuffed;
In both our hearts, love's flames were snuffed.
For both of us, disgrace awaited:
with Fortune blind, and with men's eyes.
So young were we, and so unwise.
No one who's lived and known reflection
Could help but scorn the human host.
No one who's sampled life's complexion
Could fail to fear his dead past's ghost.
For him, life's lost its fascination;
Suff'ring pangs of self-condemnation,
He tastes the fangs of memory's snake.
Of course such traits will often make
For charm in casual conversation.
At first Onegin's caustic tongue
Dismayed me, but with time I swung
Around. His style of disputation
Oft made me smile, as did his wit,
Half-gloom, half-bile. Oh, how he'd twit!
How often, in the months postvernal,
When bright and sparkling glowed the sky
Above the Neva's waves nocturnal,
We watched its glassy waters try
But fail to give the moon's reflection,
And gushing to our recollection
Came summer tales from yesteryear,
Along with ancient loves so dear
That, swooning o'er the night's sweet breathing,
We drank in silence on a spree,
Just like some sleepy refugee
From jail awak'ning to a seething
Green jungle scene, and thus through dreams
We two reswam our lives' first streams.
Eugene leaned on a granite railing,
His thoughtful soul lost in regret;
Just so, some bard, in verse detailing
Himself, once penned a terse quartet.
The nighttime's hush was barely broken
By words by watchguards rarely spoken.
The trotting droshkies' distant beat
Echoed from Milyónnaya Street.
And drifting down the dreamy river
A rowboat, gently bobbing, rowed.
A song in some exotic mode
And far-off horns set hearts aquiver.
Despite such lures, my soul inclines
To songs that stem from Tasso's lines.
Waves of the splendid Adriatic,
O Brental Soon I'll see your shores.
Inspired anew, fulfilled, ecstatic,
I'll hear that siren song of yours,
The voice Apollo's sons admire;
Through Byron's Albionic lyre
I know it well; it's dear to me.
On golden eves in Italy
I'll drown myself in bliss by boating
With some Venetian fair and young,
Who'll talk at times, then hold her tongue,
Like some sweet sphinx. As we go floating
In gondola, her lips will teach
Me Eros's and Petrarch's speech.
Is this the time to slip my tether?
"Indeed it is!" I shrilly cry.
I stroll the strand, I spy the weather,
I wildly wave as ships glide by.
In cloak of storm, with breakers clashing,
I'll start my flight for freedom, splashing
Into the wat'ry main but when?
It's time I fled this fearful fen,
Its hostile plain and dismal sandscape,
In search of Africa's blue sky;
In southern ripples, with a sigh,
I'd pine for Russia's gloomy landscape;
It's there I loved and lost my mind;
It's there I left my heart behind.
Eugene and I were both preparing
To roam and share the world's strange sights,
When suddenly, by fates uncaring,
Our plans were shot, for such delights:
His father upped and kicked the bucket.
And poor Eugene, by sheer bad luck, it
Seemed, had gained a passel of debts,
With every lender issuing threats.
To sidestep suits and lawyers' hassle,
Contented with his current lot,
He ceded them his father's plot,
Not saddened that he'd tossed his castle
Or had he sensed (here I surmise)
His uncle's imminent demise?
Indeed, an aide soon came, relating
A piece of news both fresh and sad:
His uncle lay in bed, awaiting
His fate, and hoped to see the lad.
Once he'd absorbed this dire epistle,
Onegin shot off like a missile
Upon swift postal horses' backs.
Succumbing soon to yawn attacks,
He schemed (as he was sweetly dreaming
Of cash) just how he'd sigh and stage
Fond hugs (recall my book's first page);
But when, to uncle's bedside streaming
He'd come, he found a stark white sheet
Wrapped 'round a gift for worms to eat.
The manor teemed with aides funereal:
Near to the dear deceased were found
Enthusiasts for any burial,
And friends and foes from all around.
A sermon first, and next, interment;
Then feasts for priests and guests such ferment!
They took their leave with furrowed brows
And secret smirks despite deep bows.
So here's Onegin, country squire,
Once sloppy profligate but now,
Distillery and stream and plow
And briar and woods are his entire
Domain to run; he's glad, to boot,
His trip at least has born some fruit.
For two full days he felt untroubled,
Pleased by the newness of his goods:
The river, as it purled and bubbled,
Secluded meadows, cool dark woods.
But by day three, grove, hill, and fields
Had lost their pow'r as boredom-shields,
Instead evoking just his yawn;
He clearly saw, from this point on,
That rural's just like urban boredom,
Though lacking palaces and streets,
Cards and balls and iambic beats.
From every side, malaise came toward him,
Dragging darkness into his life,
Like shadow or like faithful wife.
By contrast, I was born for plushness,
For peaceful living on the land;
Out here, one's lyric voice gains lushness,
One's dreams are sparked beyond the bland.
I give myself to harmless leisure,
And roam lost lakes with boundless pleasure;
Dolc'è far niente! I decree.
I wake each morning feeling free
To bask in bliss and loaf In clover;
I scarcely read, I sleep till two,
And fickle fame I'd fain eschew.
Did I not thus, in years long over,
In idleness and shadow, laze
Away my life's most joyful days?
Idyllic idling, blossom-smelling,
Woods, meads you're nectar to this bee,
E'er glad to run across some telling
Distinction 'twixt Eugene and me,
So that no flippant, fearless reader
Or printing press's peerless leader
Known for his tattling slander-blat,
Noting we share in this or that,
Repeats some infamous gossip-bull,
Claiming my hero's portrait's mine
(À la Byron a self-design),
As if, these days, 'twere impossible
Rhymes to write on anything but
One's two-bit self one stupid rut!
And, by the way, just for good measure:
With dreamy love we bards are friends.
Once, pretty maids would bring me pleasure
By dancing through my dreamer's lens;
My mind would grasp their forms, deflate them,
Then let my muse reanimate them.
To captives of the wild Salghir,
My fair Circassian without peer,
I, carefree, doled out praise undying.
From you, my friends who like things clear,
Oft flies this question, quoted here:
"Oh, come now who's behind your sighing?
Come tell of whom, in your vast crowd
Of jealous maids, your lyre's most proud?
Whose gaze once pressed you toward obsession?
Who pestered you, caressed your chest,
Requesting songs from crazed possession?
To whom's your reverent verse addressed?"
Well, friends, you've guessed it: No one, truly.
My quest to fathom love's unruly
Dark ocean left me sad and stressed.
But bless'd are those who've best expressed
Love's woes in rhymes compressed, thus doubling
The poet's mad, celestial zest,
As did Petrarca, at his crest,
To soothe his breast, which love was troubling,
And wresting meanwhile glory's plum;
Love's test I failed, though deaf and dumb.
Love passed, my muse appeared, and nary
A cloud remained to roil my mind.
Now freed, I seek once more to marry
Sense, sounds, and soul, through magic twined.
I write; my heart's not melancholy;
My pen forgets my former folly:
It doesn't sketch girls' heads and limbs
Near half-baked drafts of lyric whims.
No more do stamped-out ashes flare up,
And though I'm sad, my tears are dry;
Soon, soon the shards of storms gone by
Will be too dull, my soul to tear up.
Then shall I start to scrawl a terse
(Twenty-five-canto) work in verse.
About its structure I've been brooding
Its hero, how he'll be yclept;
But meanwhile, look I'm just concluding
My novel's Chapter One. I've kept
My eye alert to weak depictions,
And noticed scores of contradictions;
I'll leave them, though, with no regret.
To censorship I'll pay my debt.
I'll hand reviewers, who'll devour,
Fresh-fallen fruits of pen and ink.
Fly bravely now to Neva's brink,
My newborn opus, fly and flower,
And earn me glory's just deserts:
Hot air, vain noise, faint praise that hurts.
Meet the Author
Walter Arndt is Sherman Fairchild Professor in the Humanties, Emeritus, at Dartmouth College.
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