Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verseby Alexander Pushkin
The Russians, revering Alexander Pushkin as a national hero, see his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, as the pinnacle not only of his oeuvre, but of their entire literature. Its brilliant sonnets are traditionally memorized by youngsters, and even today nearly any Russian adult can quote many passages with fervor. No literary work plays a comparable role in the/i>… See more details below
The Russians, revering Alexander Pushkin as a national hero, see his novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, as the pinnacle not only of his oeuvre, but of their entire literature. Its brilliant sonnets are traditionally memorized by youngsters, and even today nearly any Russian adult can quote many passages with fervor. No literary work plays a comparable role in the English-speaking world. The plot swirls around Onegin - a disillusioned roue who mourns youth's passing, his poet-friend Vladimir Lensky and two neighbor-girls - perky Olga and pensive Tanya. Infatuation leads to disappointment, jealousy to duelling, and in the end, obsession to rejection, in a twist that leaves readers hanging. But the novel's charm resides as much in its digressions as in its plot, for Pushkin exploits the "Onegin stanza" as a device for musing on wine, women's legs, poetry, hypocrisy - whatever strikes his fancy. In 1999 - Alexander Pushkin's bicentennial year - here is his poetic masterpiece in a new American translation by Douglas Hofstadter, author of Godel, Escher, Bach and Le Ton beau de Marot.
A breath-takingly brilliant tour de force' —Sue Arnold, the Guardian
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A Novel in Verse
By Alexander Pushkin, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Babette Deutsch, Fritz Eichenberg
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 1943 George Macy Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MAKES HASTE TO LIVE AND CANNOT WAIT TO FEEL.
"My uncle always was respected;
But his grave illness, I confess,
Is more than could have been expected:
A stroke of genius, nothing less.
He offers all a grand example;
But, God, such boredom who would sample?—
Daylong, nightlong, thus to be bid
To sit beside an invalid!
Low cunning must assist devotion
To one who is but half-alive:
You smooth his pillow and contrive
Amusement while you mix his potion;
You sigh, and think with furrowed brow—
'Why can't the devil take you now?'"
'Tis thus the gay dog's thoughts are freighted,
As through the dust his horses fare,
Who by the high gods' will is fated
To be his relative's sole heir.
You knew Ruslan and fair Ludmila;
For this new hero prithee feel a
Like fellowship, as I regale
You, readers, with another tale:
Onegin, meet him, born and nourished
Where old Neva's gray waters flow,
Where you were born, or, as a beau,
It may be, in your glory flourished.
I moved there also for a while,
But find the North is not my style.
A man of rank, his worthy father
Would always give three balls a year;
He lived in debt, and did not bother
To keep his hopeless ledgers clear.
Fate guarded Eugene, our young waster;
While in due time Monsieur replaced her,
At first Madame controlled the child;
The charming lad was rather wild.
Monsieur l'Abbé, a Frenchman, seedy,
Thought sermons fashioned to annoy;
He spared the rod to spoil the boy,
And in a voice polite but reedy
Would chide him, would forgive him soon,
And walk him in the afternoon.
When Eugene reached the restless season
Of seething hopes and giddy play,
And melancholy minus reason,
Monsieur was sent upon his way.
Now my Onegin, keen as brandy,
Went forth, in dress—a London dandy,
His hair cut in the latest mode;
He dined, he danced, he fenced, he rode.
In French he could converse politely,
As well as write; and how he bowed!
In the mazurka, 'twas allowed,
No partner ever was so sprightly.
What more is asked? The world is warm
In praise of so much wit and charm.
Since but a random education
Is all they give us as a rule,
With us, to miss a reputation
For learning takes an utter fool.
Onegin, wiseacres aplenty
Pronounced most learned, though not yet twenty,
And some harsh judges found, forsooth,
A very pedant in the youth.
A gifted talker, he would chatter
With easy grace of this and that,
But silent as a sage he sat
When they discussed some weighty matter,
And with the spark of a bon mot
He set the ladies' eyes aglow.
Since Latin's held not worth attention,
His knowledge of the tongue was slight:
Of Juvenal he could make mention,
Decipher epigraphs at sight,
Quote Virgil, not a long selection,
And always needing some correction,
And in a letter to a friend
Place a proud vale at the end.
He had no itch to dig for glories
Deep in the dust that time has laid,
He let the classic laurel fade,
But knew the most amusing stories
That have come down the years to us
Since the dead days of Romulus.
The lofty passion, the pure pleasure
That poets feel, he lacked, nor knew
Trochaic from iambic measure,
In spite of all our efforts, too.
Theocritus and Homer bored him;
If true delight you would afford him
You'd give him Adam Smith to read.
A deep economist, indeed,
He talked about the wealth of nations;
The state relied, his friends were told,
Upon its staples, not on gold—
This subject filled his conversations.
His father listened, frowned, and groaned,
And mortgaged all the land he owned.
All Eugene knew is past relating,
But for one thing he had a bent,
And I am not exaggerating
His principal accomplishment;
From early youth his dedication
Was to a single occupation;
He knew one torment, one delight
Through empty day and idle night:
The science of the tender passion
That Ovid sang, that brought him here,
And closed his turbulent career
In such a brief and tragic fashion—
Ovid, who found, so far from Rome,
In these lone steppes an exile's home.
He early played the fond deceiver,
And feigned the pang of jealousy,
Rejoiced the fair one but to grieve her,
Seemed sunk in gloom, or bold and free,
Would turn quite taciturn with languor,
Then flash with pride and flame with anger,
Show rapture or indifference,
Or burn with sudden eloquence!
The letters that he wrote so neatly,
So easily, with passion seethed;
One thing alone he loved, he breathed;
He could forget himself completely.
His eyes, how tender, quick and clear,
Or shining with the summoned tear!
He knew the ruses that would brighten
The eyes of the ingenuous young;
He could pretend despair, to frighten,
Or sweetly use the flatterer's tongue;
He'd catch the moment of emotion,
And out of an old-fashioned notion
The strait-laced innocent beguile
With skill and passion, touch and smile.
He would implore the shy confession,
Catch the first stirrings of the heart,
Secure a tryst with tender art,
And at the following sweet session
Would, tête-à-tête, where no one heard,
Instruct the fair without a word.
'Twas early he learned how to flutter
The heart of the confirmed coquette!
What biting words the rogue would utter
Of those he wished her to forget!
None was so quick as he at trapping
A rival, or to catch him napping.
You men who lived in wedded bliss
Remained his friends, I grant you this.
The married rakes, no longer naughty,
Would show him every friendliness;
Suspicious age could do no less,
Nor yet the cuckold, stout and haughty,
Whose satisfactions were, through life,
Himself, his dinner, and his wife.
After an evening's dissipations
He will lie late, and on his tray
Find notes piled high. What? Invitations?
Three ladies mention a soiree,
Here is a ball, and there a party;
His appetite for pleasure's hearty—
Where will my naughty lad repair?
For he is welcome everywhere.
Meanwhile, in morning costume, gaily
Donning his wide-brimmed Bolivar,
He joins the throng on the boulevard,
To promenade, as all do daily,
Until Breguet's unsleeping chime
Announces it is dinner-time.
At dusk a sleigh's the thing, and calling:
"Make way! Make way!" along they fly.
Upon his beaver collar falling,
Like silver dust the snowflakes lie.
Talon's his goal, no hesitating:
His friend [Kaverin] must be waiting.
He comes: a cork pops, up it goes,
The vintage of the comet flows.
A bleeding roastbeef's on the table,
And truffles, luxury of youth,
French dishes for the gourmet's tooth,
And Strasbourg pies, imperishable;
Here's every dainty that you please:
Gold pines, and live Limburger cheese.
Glass after glass is drained in drenching
The hot fat cutlets; you would say
They've raised a thirst there is no quenching.
But now it's time for the ballet.
The theatre's wicked legislator,
Who unto every fascinator
In turn his fickle flattery brings,
And boasts the freedom of the wings,
Onegin flies to taste the blisses
And breathe the free air of the stage,
To praise the dancer now the rage,
Or greet a luckless Phèdre with hisses,
Or call the actress he preferred
Just for the sake of being heard.
Oh, land of boundless fascination!
There bold Fonvizin, freedom's friend,
Sped shafts of satire at the nation,
Knyazhnin played ape there without end,
Semyonova there wrought her magic
With Ozerov's grave lines and tragic.
Katenin at a later day
Revived the grandeur of Corneille;
There Shakovskoy brought noisy laughter
With his sardonic comedies;
Didelot enjoyed his victories
Upon those very boards thereafter.
Where, in the shadow of the wings,
My youth fled by, remembrance clings.
My goddesses! How shall I trace you?
I sadly call on each sweet name.
Can others ever quite replace you?
And you, can you remain the same?
Oh, once again will you be singing
For me? Shall I yet see you winging
Your way in soulful flight and free,
My fair Russian Terpsichore?
Or must I with dull glances follow
Strange faces mid the painted set,
And having stared through my lorgnette
At the gay spectacle turned hollow,
Observe it with a yawn at last,
And silently recall the past?
The theatre's full, the boxes glitter,
The stalls are seething, the pit roars,
The gallery claps and stamps, atwitter;
The curtain rustles as it soars;
A fairy light about her playing,
The magic of the bow obeying,
A crowd of nymphs around her—lo!
Istomina on lifted toe.
One foot upon the floor is planted,
The other slowly circles, thus,
Then wafted as by Eolus
She flies, a thing of down, enchanted;
Now serpentine she twists and wheels,
And now she leaps and claps her heels.
The house rocks with applause; undaunted,
And treading toes, between the chairs
Onegin presses; with his vaunted
Aplomb, he lifts his eye-glass, stares
Askance at fair, unwonted faces,
Remarks the jewels and the laces,
And notes complexions, with a sneer
Briefly surveying every tier.
He bows to sundry friends; his mocking
Slow eyes come last to rest upon
The lighted stage, and with a yawn
He sighs: "They're past the age—it's shocking!
I've haunted the ballet—what for?
Even Didelot becomes a bore."
The imps and cupids, quick as monkeys,
Upon the boards still flutter free,
While in the lobby sleepy flunkeys
Are guarding fur-coats faithfully;
Within, you hear the feet still pounding,
The coughs, the shouts and hisses sounding,
The noses blown, and without pause,
Above it all, the wild applause.
The carriage horses, chilled with waiting,
Impatient, twitch beneath the lamp,
The coachmen round the bonfires tramp,
Their masters wearily berating.
But our Onegin's out of range
Of curses: he's gone home to change.
Shall I depict less with a prudent
Than with a quite impartial pen
The cabinet where fashion's student
Is dressed, undressed, and dressed again?
What London haberdashers hallow
We buy with timber and with tallow:
'Tis here, to please a lavish whim,
With all a dandy's mind can limn,
And all that Paris in her passion
For the most costly merchandise
So elegantly can devise
To tempt the sporting man of fashion.
Observe his closet well, and gage
Thereby our eighteen-year-old sage.
Here's bronze and china in profusion,
And Turkish pipes of amber rare,
And, for the senses' sweet confusion,
Perfumes in crystal cut with care;
Steel files and combs of various guises,
And brushes, thirty shapes and sizes,
That teeth and nails may both be served,
Are here, with scissors straight and curved.
Rousseau (forgive me if I chatter)
Could not conceive how pompous Grimm
Dared clean his nails in front of him—
The lofty madcap!—but no matter:
In this case it is not too strong
To call that friend of freedom wrong.
A man of sense, I am conceding,
May pay attention to his nails;
Why should one quarrel with good breeding?
With most folk, custom's rule prevails.
My Eugene was [Chadayev] second:
With every jealous word he reckoned,
No rung would suit him but the top—
In dress a pedant and a fop.
To prink and preen he'd ask no urging,
But spend three hours before the glass,
Till from his dressing-room he'd pass,
Like Venus' very self emerging,
Should giddy deity desire
To masquerade in male attire.
Now having given due attention
To a toilette you must admire,
The learned world would have me mention
Each detail of our friend's attire.
One takes a risk in such discussion,
Because there are no words in Russian
For trousers, dress-coat, and for vest;
But then, it puts me to the test,
For as it is, my style is peppered
With foreign words; their frequency
I trust that you will pardon me;
With French it's spotted like a leopard—
Although I've glanced at, in times gone,
The Academic lexicon.
But never mind, let's rather hurry
Off to the ball as is required,
Whither Onegin in a flurry
Is dashing in the cab he hired.
Along dark streets wrapped deep in slumber
Gay carriages, a goodly number,
Shed rainbow lights across the snow
From their twin lanterns as they go.
With lampions bright on sills and ledges
The splendid mansion shines and gleams,
And silhouetted by the beams,
Across the pane a shadow edges:
The profile that a move will blur
Of lovely lady, modish sir.
Straight past the porter, like an arrow
Our hero took the marble stair,
But then he paused, and with his narrow
White hand he swiftly smoothed his hair,
And entered. Here the throng is trooping;
The orchestra's already drooping;
A gay mazurka holds the crowd;
The press is thick, the hubbub loud.
The Horse Guard's spurs clank as he dances;
And hand meets hand, and hearts beat high;
The ladies' little feet fly by,
Pursued in flight by flaming glances;
While wildly all the fiddles sing
To drown the jealous whispering.
When I knew ardor and elation,
On balls I also used to dote:
There one can make a declaration,
And cleverly convey a note.
Husbands esteemed, to you I tender—
Your honor's most astute defender—
My services in time of need:
My earnest counsels prithee heed.
And guard your daughters more severely,
You mothers, as your own once did,
Or else—or else—, else God forbid!
Hold your lorgnette up, watch them nearly.
These warnings in your ears are dinned
Because it's long since I have sinned.
Obeying folly's least suggestion,
How much of life I spent in vain,
And yet, were morals not in question,
I'd live through every ball again.
I love fierce youth, my private passion
Is the shrewd elegance of fashion,
The crowd whose sparkle nothing dims,
The little feet and lovely limbs;
Search Russia through, you'll scarce discover
Three pairs of truly pretty feet.
Ah, once how fast my heart would beat
When two feet tripped toward their lover!
I'm sad and cold, and yet it seems
They still can thrill me in my dreams.
When will you lose remembrance of them?
Where go, you madman, to forget?
Ah, little feet, how I did love them!
Now on what flowers are they set?
In Orient luxury once cherished,
The trace you left has long since perished
From Northern snows: you loved to tread
Upon voluptuous rugs instead.
It was for you that I neglected
The call of fame, for you forgot
My country, and an exile's lot—
All thoughts, but those of you, rejected.
Brief as your footprints on the grass,
The happiness of youth must pass.
Diana's breast, the face of Flora,
Are charming, friends, but I would put
Them both aside and only for a
Glimpse of Terpsichore's sweet foot.
Prophetic of a priceless pleasure,
A clue to joys beyond all measure,
Its classic grace draws in its wake
Desires that are too keen to slake.
Where'er it goes, I am its lover:
When on the grass in Spring it's pressed,
Or by the fireplace set at rest,
At table, 'neath the damask cover,
Crossing the ballroom's polished floor,
Or climbing down the rocky shore.
Well I remember waves in riot
Before a storm; I wanted, too,
Thus to rush forth, then lapse in quiet
There at her feet, as they would do.
The billows covered them with kisses,
My lips were envious of their blisses!
No, when with youth and love on fire,
I did not ache with such desire
To brush the shy lips of a maiden
Or touch to flame a rosy cheek,
Or with such urgent ardor seek
To kiss the breast with languor laden;
No, passion never wrought for me
The same consuming agony.
With sighs I think, bemused adorer,
Aghast at time's swift slipping sands,
How once I held her stirrup for her,
And caught that foot in these two hands;
Again imagination's kindled,
The heart that thought its fires had dwindled
Flames up, the embers glow again
With sudden passion, sudden pain ...
But in their praises why be stringing
Anew the garrulous fond lyre?
The haughty creatures may inspire
Our songs, but are not worth the singing.
Their looks enchant, their words are sweet,
And quite as faithless as their feet.
Excerpted from Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin, Avrahm Yarmolinsky, Babette Deutsch, Fritz Eichenberg. Copyright © 1943 George Macy Companies, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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