New Series No. 18 - 2001
from Eugene Onegin, Chapter Two
O rus! (Horace)
The country place where Eugene suffered
Was a delightful little spot;
The innocent might there have offered
Blessings to heaven for their lot.
The manor house stood in seclusion,
Screened by a hill from wind’s intrusion,
Above a stream. Afar there stretched
Meadows and golden cornfields, patched
With dazzling, multi-coloured flowers;
Villages twinkled, herds would pass,
Roam here and there through meadowgrass,
And, in its thick, entangled bowers
A vast, neglected garden nursed
Dryads, in pensive mood immersed.
The noble castle was constructed
As castles should be, solid-based,
Designed for comfort, unaffected,
In sensible and ancient taste,
With lofty rooms throughout the dwelling
And damask from the floor to ceiling,
Portraits of Tsars upon the walls
132 / Pushkin
And stoves with patchwork coloured tiles.
Today all this is antiquated,
I really cannot fathom why;
Of course, Onegin passed it by,
Unable to appreciate it,
Since he would yawn, indifferent to
An old interior or a new.
Into the very room he settled,
Where some forty years till his demise
Uncle with stewardess had battled,
Looked through the window, swatted flies.
All was quite plain; the oaken floorboards,
A table, down divan, two cupboards,
And not an inkspot anywhere.
Onegin opened up the cupboards; there,
In one lay an expenses manual,
The other stocked liqueurs of fruit
And jugs of eau-de-pomme to boot
Next to an eighteen-o-eight annual.
The old man, by much work perplexed,
Consulted not another text.
Alone among his acquisitions,
Merely to while away the time,
He undertook to make revisions
And introduced a new regime.
A lonely sage in deepest Russia,
He eased the ancient corvée’s pressure,
Replacing it with light quit-rent;(2)
The serf blessed destiny’s intent.
But Eugene’s thrifty neighbour, flurried,
Fell sulking; in his corner he
Envisaged a catastrophe;
Another slyly smiled, unworried.
Yet all were absolutely frank:
Here was a highly dangerous crank.
At first they all rode up to greet him;
But at the back porch every day
A stallion from the Don would meet him
As soon as on the carriage way
Their home-made carts could be detected,
When off he gallopped unaffected.
Outraged by this behaviour, they
Withdrew their friendship straightaway.
“Our neighbour is a boor, as mad as
A freemason, a crack-brained ass;
Drinks only red wine by the glass;
Won’t stoop to kiss the hands of ladies;
It’s ‘yes’ and ‘no’, not ‘yes, Sir’, ‘no,
Sir’. All agreed this was de trop.
Just at this time a new landowner
Had driven down to his estate
And was received with equal honour
As cause for neighbourhood debate.
By name Vladímir Lensky, wholly
Endowed with Göttingenian soul, he
Was handsome, in his youthful prime,
A devotee of Kant and rhyme.
He brought from Germany’s misty milieu
The fruits of learning: dreams inspired
By liberty; a spirit, fired
By lofty thoughts and quite peculiar;
A speech with ever-rapturous air;
And curling, shoulder-length black hair.
Corruptions’s chill had not yet harmed him,
He had not fallen yet from grace,
An amicable greeting warmed him
As did a maidenly embrace.
Of heart’s affairs he had no notions,
Hope nursed his juvenile emotions,
And worldly noise and glitter still
Lent his young mind a novel thrill.
With sweetest fancy he would cradle
His doubting heart’s uncertainty.
He looked upon life’s destiny
As some enticing kind of riddle
To solve which he would rack his mind,
Expecting marvels of mankind.
He held that he should be united
To a kindred soul, who pines away,
Fearing her love is unrequited
While waiting for him every day;
He held that friends would raise a banner,
Wear fetters to defend his honour,
And would not cease to fight before
They smashed the arms his slanderer bore;
That there were some whom fate had chosen,
Blest comrades of humanity;
That their immortal family
Would in a future time emblazon
Our world with overwhelming rays,
Endowing us with blissful days.
Compassion, virtuous indignation,
A pure love for the common good
And glory’s torment and elation
Had stirred from early days his blood.
He with his lyre roved ever further;
Beneath the sky of Schiller, Goethe
His soul burst into sudden flame,
Kindled by their poetic fame;
The Muses of sublime creation
He, happy one, did not disgrace,
But proudly in his songs made place
For sentiments of exaltation,
For yearnings of chaste reverie
And charms of grave simplicity.
Of love he sang, to love obedient,
His song possessed the clarity
Of simple maidens’ thoughts, of infant
Slumber and of the moon, when she
Shines in the sky’s untroubled spaces,
Goddess of sighs and secret places;
He sang of parting, and despond,
Vague somethings and the dim beyond,
And also of romantic roses;
He sang about those distant spheres
In which he’d long shed living tears
Where silently the world reposes;
He sang about life’s fading scene
While he was not yet quite eighteen.
Where only Eugene in their desert
Could judge his worth and quality,
He did not care at all to hazard
His neighbours’ hospitality;
He fled their noisy conversations;
Their sensible deliberations
On haymaking, on liquor, wine,
On kennels, on their kith and kind
Did not excel in sensitivity,
Nor in poetic fire or wit,
Nor in intelligence, nor fit
With any art of sociability;
But the comments of their spouses dear
Were far less sensible, I fear.
Lensky, a wealthy youth and handsome
Was seized upon as marriageable;
Such in the country was the custom;
All daughters were eligible
To court their semi-Russian neighbour;
When he arrived, the guests would labour
To drop a hint and to deplore
The dull life of a bachelor;
To the samovar they beckon Lensky,
Where Dunya’s stationed, pouring tea,
They whisper to her: “Wait and see!”
They bring in a guitar; and then she
Begins to shrill (good God!) and call:
Oh come into my golden hall . . .
But Lensky, not, of course, intending
To bear the bonds of marriage yet,
Looked forward warmly to befriending
Onegin whom he’d newly met.
Not ice and flame, nor stone and water,
Nor verse and prose are from each other
So different as the two men were.
At first, since so dissimilar,
They found their meeting dull, ill-fated;
Then got to like each other; then
Rode everyday together, when
They soon could not be separated.
So (I’m the first one to confess)
People are friends from idleness.
But still, this idle friendship’s better
Than our assault on prejudice:
We call, as if it doesn’t matter,
All men, save us, nonentities.
We all aspire to be Napoleons;
Two-legged creatures in their millions
Are but a useful tool for us,
Feeling we find ridiculous.
Onegin showed much more perception
Than many; while he knew his mind
And on the whole despised mankind,
There is no rule without exception:
True worth in some he did detect
And treated feeling with respect.
He heard out Lensky with indulgence.
The poet’s fervent talk, his mind,
Still hesitant in forming judgments,
His gaze with inspiration blind –
All this was novel to Onegin;
He tried to stop himself from making
Remarks, that were unkind or cool
And thought: I’d really be a fool
To spoil his rapture with rejection;
His day, without me, will arrive;
So, in the meantime, let him thrive,
Believing in the world’s perfection;
Forgive the fever of the young,
Their ardour and delirious tongue.
Engaged in constant disputations,
They speculated on the source
Of pacts drawn up by vanished nations,
On good and evil and the course
Of science, on old prejudices,
And secrets in the grave’s abysses,
On destiny and life in turn –
All qualified for their concern.
The poet, in argument refulgent,
Fragments of Northern balladry,
And Eugene, who remained indulgent,
While little grasping what he heard,
Listened to Lensky’s every word.
More often, though, it was the passions
Which occupied my anchorites.
Free from their stormy depredations,
Onegin spoke of their delights
And sighed, regretting their enticement.
Happy who tasted this excitement
And in the end could loose its knot,
Still happier who knew it not,
Who cooled the heat of love by parting,
Changed enmity to obloquy;
Yawned with his wife in company,
Remained immune to jealous smarting,
And was not predisposed to lose
An heirloom to a crafty deuce.(3)
When to the banner we have gathered
Of sensible tranquillity,
When passion’s flame at last is smothered
And we as an absurdity
Consider its caprices, surges,
Belated signs of former urges –
Resigned, but not without a tear,
We sometimes like to lend an ear
To tales of other people’s passions,
And these stir up the heart again.
Exactly thus, a veteran
Will gladly eavesdrop on confessions
Of young, mustachioed blades who strut,
Oblivious of him in his hut.
For flaming youth is quite unable
To keep its thoughts and feelings close,
But always is prepared to babble
Out loves and hatreds, joys and woes.
Of love a self-declared survivor,
Grave Eugene heard his friend deliver
His heart’s confession lovingly
And tell his whole biography;
A simple soul, not seeking glory,
He laid his trustful conscience bare.
Eugene with ease discovered there
The poet’s young, romantic story,
A tale of copious feelings – or
A chronicle we’ve heard before.
Ah, how he loved, we cannot know it,
Today such love’s anomalous;
Only the mad soul of a poet
Is still condemned to loving thus.
Always and everywhere one vision,
One single, customary mission,
One single, customary grief;
Not distance with its cool relief,
Nor lengthy years of separation,
Nor hours devoted to the Muse,
Nor foreign beauties he might choose,
Nor merriment, nor meditation
Had changed in him a soul whose fire
Was lit by innocent desire.
Scarcely a youth, not yet essaying
The torments of the heart, he fell
In love with Olga, watched her playing
The games of a young demoiselle;
By overshadowing oaks protected,
He shared the games that she selected;
Their fathers – friends and neighbours, they –
Foresaw their children’s wedding day.
Under a humble porch the maiden,
Endowed with innocence and grace,
Blossomed beneath her parents’ gaze,
Like lily of the valley hidden
In densest grass, unbeknown by
The passing bee or butterfly.
By her the poet had been given
His early dreams of ecstasy,
And thinking of her would enliven
His pipe’s first moans of melody.
Farewell to golden games now over!
Instead he looked for woodland cover,
Seclusion, stillness, and the night,
The stars and heaven’s brightest light,
The moon amid her constellation
The moon to whom, when evening nears,
We dedicated walks and tears,
Our secret sorrow’s consolation . . .
But now we only see in her
A substitute for lamplight’s blur.
All modesty and all docility,
Always as merry as the morn,
As simple as a life of poetry,
As charming as love’s kiss newborn,
Her eyes as azure as the heaven,
Her flaxen curls, her smile so even,
Her movements, voice, her slender stance,
These made up Olga . . . but just chance
On any novel at your leisure,
Her portrait’s there – it’s very sweet,
And even I found it a treat,
But now it bores me beyond measure.
Reader, I shall, if you’ll allow,
Turn to the elder sister now.
Her elder sister was Tatiana . . .
This is the first time that we grace
Our novel in this wilful manner
With such a name, so out of place.(4)
What of it? It is pleasant, sonorous;
But well I know that it is onerous
With memories of olden days
Or housemaid domiciles! A craze
We must admit to is the gaudy
And graceless names we’re apt to choose
(Our verse deserves still more abuse);
Enlightenment is not our forte,
It’s simply opened wide a door
To affectation – nothing more.
So she was called Tatiana. Lacking
The beauty of her sister and
Her rosy freshness, not attracting
The eye in that secluded land,
A wayward, silent, sad young maiden,
Shy as the doe in forest hidden,
She seemed inside her family
A stranger, an anomaly.
She could not snuggle up to father
Or mother; and, herself a child,
By children’s games was not beguiled
And would not skip or play but rather
Would quietly through a window stare
And all day long not move from there.
A pensive mind was her attendant
Already from her infancy
And filled with reverie resplendent
The flow of rural liberty.
Her delicate fingers knew not needles;
Embroidery seemed made of riddles;
To animate a linen cloth
With silken patterns she was loath.
Desiring to assert her power,
The child diverts her pliant doll,
Encouraging with pastimes droll
The world of etiquette to flower,
And to her doll with gravity
Imparts mammá’s morality.
But even in these years Tatiana
Never picked up a doll or chose
To tell it in a grown-up manner
Of town events and fashion shows.
Averse to childish pranks and banter,
She liked instead, when it was winter,
To read a fearful tale at night,
Which gave her heart much more delight.
Whenever nurse would fetch for Olga
A company of little friends
To play upon the manor lands,
She found their games of catch too vulgar.
Their ringing laughs and jollity
Wearied Tatiana equally.
She liked instead to fix her eyes on
The moment of the dawn’s advance
When, fading on the pale horizon,
The stars complete their choral dance,
And at its edge the earth is glowing
And the wind that heralds morn is blowing,
And by degrees the day ascends.
In winter when the night extends
To half the world for so much longer,
And longer too the lazy East,
When moonlight is bedimmed by mist,
Continues to repose in languor,
Awakened at her usual time,
By candlelight from bed she’d climb.
Fond early on of reading novels,
For only they would make her glow,
She fell for the deceiving marvels
Of Richardson and of Rousseau.
Her father was a decent fellow
Of eighteenth century mould, but mellow
Who found no harm in books, which he,
Not having read at all, would see
As empty playthings, unengrossing.
He cared not that a secret tome
Would lie till morning, quite at home,
Beneath his daughter’s pillow dozing.
And yet his wife enthused upon
The narratives of Richardson.
Her love for them was not connected
With her perusing Richardson,
Nor with the fact that she rejected
Lovelace for virtuous Grandison.
But in the past Princess Alína,
Her Moscow cousin, when she’d seen her,
Had talked about these gentlemen.
Her husband was her fiancé then,
A bond to which she’d not consented;
She sighed after another one
Whose heart and mind had far outdone
The simple love of her intended;
This Grandison was smart at cards,
A fop and Ensign in the Guards.
Like him, according to the fashion,
She always dressed to look well-bred;
But soon, without the least discussion
The girl was to the altar led.
And, to dispel her dreadful grieving,
Her husband soon was wisely leaving
To take her to his country seat
Where God knows whom she was to meet;
At first she raved and sobbed and ranted,
All but divorced her husband, then
Took part in household matters, when
She grew accustomed and contented.
God gave us habit to redress
Our yearnings after happiness.
With habit’s help she soon recovered,
Although her grieving heart still bled;
Something momentous she discovered
That made her feel quite comforted:
Between her household work and leisure
She ascertained the perfect measure
For governing her husband’s life,
And then became a proper wife.
She drove out to inspect the farming,
She pickled mushrooms, spent and saved,
Foreheads of new recruits she shaved,(5)
Enjoyed a weekly bathhouse warming,
Beat maidservants who made her cross –
She, not her husband, was the boss.
Once she’d have written verses in a
Young maiden’s album with her blood,
Have called Praskóviya – Polína
And made a song of every word.
She wore tight stays to suit convention,
A Russian N just like a French one
She learned to utter through her nose;
But all of this soon met its close:
Stays, album and Princess Alina,
Her sentimental verselets, all
She now forgot, began to call
Akul’ka previous Selina,(6)
And finally appeared, becapped,
Inside a quilted housecoat wrapped.
But still her husband dearly loved her,
Upon her schemes he did not frown,
In all he cheerfully believed her,
And ate and drank in dressing-gown;
His life with undemanding labours
Rolled gently on; sometimes his neighbours,
A kindly group and casual,
Met of an evening in the hall,
Complained, engaged in tittle-tattle
And chuckled over this or that
Till it was time for tea, whereat
Olga was told to fetch the kettle;
Then supper came, and close of day,
When all the guests would drive away.
They kept, while tranquilly existing,
The customs of antiquity,
Indulged themselves at Shrovetide, feasting
On Russian pancakes (or bliny´);
They fasted twice a year for sinning,
They loved round swings, which sent you spinning,
And choral dances, guessing songs.
On Trinity, among the throngs
Of yawning peasants at thanksgiving,
They touchingly shed tears, three drops
Upon a bunch of buttercups;(7)
They needed kvas like air for living;(8)
And at their table guests were served
In order, as their rank deserved.
And thus the two of them grew older
Until the grave invited down
The husband and the erstwhile soldier,
And he received a second crown.(9)
He died approaching midday dinner,
Mourned by a neighbour at the manor,
By children and a faithful wife
More truly than occurs in life.
He was a simple, kindly barin,(10)
And there, above his last remains,
A solemn monument proclaims:
“The humble sinner, Dmitrii Larin,
Slave of the Lord and Brigadier
Beneath this stone reposeth here.”
His own penates reinstating,
Vladímir Lensky soon stood by
His neighbour’s grave where, contemplating,
He blessed the ashes with a sigh;
And sorrow long his heart affected,
“Poor Yorick,” he exclaimed, dejected,
“He used to carry me aloft,
And in my childhood days how oft
I’d play with his Ochákov medal!(11)
He destined Olga as my bride,
Would say: Perhaps I shall have died . . .”
True sadness pricked Vladímir’s mettle,
He there and then inscribed for him
A gravestone madrigal or hymn.
Still there, in tears, he wrote another
To mark the patriarchal dust
Of both his father and his mother . . .
Alas, each generation must
By Providence’s dispensation
Rise, ripen, fall in quick succession
Upon life’s furrows; in its wake
Others the selfsame journey take . . .
So, too, the heedless tribe now living
Grows up, gets animated, seethes,
Sees off its forefathers with wreaths.
But its time, too is soon arriving,
And one fine day our grandsons will
Hurry us out with equal zeal!
Meanwhile, dear friends, enjoy the pleasure
And lightness of this life which I
Find meaningless in such a measure,
I almost wish to say goodbye;
‘Gainst ghosts I keep my eyelids lowered,
Yet distant hopes have sometimes flowered,
Arousing once again my heart.
I’d find it grievous to depart
Without the tiniest recognition.
Not courting praise, I live and write,
But still, it seems, I’d take delight
In winning fame for my sad mission
So that the merest line I’ve penned
Will hail me like a faithful friend.
And someone’s heart it will awaken;
And this new strophe that I nurse
Will not in Lethe drown, forsaken,
If destiny preserves my verse.
Perhaps a future ignoramus
Will comment when my portrait’s famous
(A flattering hope!): “Now who is he?
He’s someone who wrote poetry!”
I offer you, then, my oblations,
Admirer of Aónia’s maids,
O you, whose memory never fades,
And saves my volatile creations,
Whose hand, ensuring my renown,
Will pat the old man’s laurel crown!(12)
1 The old form for Rossiya (Russia)
I am indebted, in compiling these notes, to the commentaries of Nabokov, Brodskii and Lotman.
poetrymagazines note: These translations by Stanley Mitchell are 'works in progress', with the finished versions having now been published in book form.
Stanley Mitchell, Emeritus Professor of Aesthetics (University of Derby), is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of the History of Art at University College London. He has published translations of Lukács and Benjamin. Readers will remember that his translation of the first chapter of Eugene Onegin appeared in MPT 11, to be followed in MPT 15 by the first two stanzas of Chapter Two, presented as work in progress. We reprint those two stanzas in their revised form, together with the remainder of Chapter Two, again as work in progress. Stanley Mitchell’s translation of the entire poem is to be published by Penguin Classics.
Translated by Stanley Mitchell
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