Пушкин. Евгений Онегин (пер. на англ. Ч. Джонстона) *

Translation by Charles H. Johnston.

Penguin Books Ltd, Hannondsworth, Middlesex, England
Penguin Books, 625 Madison Avenue, New York, New York 10022, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 2801 John Street, Markham, Ontario, Canada
Penguin Books (N.Z.) Ltd, 182-190 Wairau Road, Auckland 10, New Zealand

This translation first published 1977
Published with minor revisions and an Introduction in Penguin Classics

Copyright © Charles Johnston, 1977, 1979
Introduction copyright © John Bayley, 1979
All rights reserved

Made and printed in Great Britain by Hazell Watson & Viney Ltd,
Aylesbury, Bucks
Set in Intertype Lectura

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imposed on the subsequent purchaser



Introduction by John Bayley 9
Translator's Note 29
Eugene Onegin 35
Notes1 234

1 Notes are at end of each chapter.


    Translator's note

Few foreign masterpieces can have suffered more than Eugene Onegin from
the English translator's failure to convey anything more than -- at best --
the literal meaning. It is as if a sound-proof wall separated Pushkin's
poetic novel from the English-reading world. There is a whole magic which
goes by default: the touching lyrical beauty, the cynical wit of the poem;
the psychological insight, the devious narrative skill, the thrilling,
compulsive grip of the novel; the tremendous gusto and swing and panache of
the whole performance.
Vladimir Nabokov's rendering into unrhymed iambics reproduces the exact
meaning, but explicitly disclaims any further ambition. While Nabokov admits
that in losing its rhyme the work loses its ``bloom'' he argues,
irrefutably, that no rhyming version can be literally accurate. It can
however certainly strive for something else. It can attempt to produce some
substitute for the ``bloom'' of the original, without which the work is
completely dead. It can try to convey the poet's tone of voice, whether
world-weary or romantic, the sparkle of his jokes, the flavour of his
epigrams, the snap of his final couplets. None of these effects can emerge
from a purely literal unrhymed translation. In fact, to offset the
inevitable loss in verbal exactness, a rhyming version can aim at a
different sort of accuracy, an equivalence or parallelism conveying, however
faintly, the impact of the original.
Apart from the overall difficulty of his task, the translator with
ambitions of this type will find that Pushkin's work presents him with two
particular problems.
The brio of the Russian text partly depends on a lavish use not only of
French and other foreign words, but of slang and of audacious Byronic-type
rhymes. If the translator produces nothing comparable, he is emasculating
his original. If he attempts to follow suit, he must do all he can to avoid
the pitfalls of the embarrassing, the facetious and the arch. {29}
Secondly, he must be on his guard against the ludicrous effect that the
feminine ending (for instance the pleasure/measure rhyme, which is so much
derided by Nabokov) can all too easily produce in English. He must not sing,
like Prince Gremin in one English version of Chaykovsky's opera:

``I wouldn't be remotely human
Did I not love the Little Woman.''

(The libretto of the opera, which was written and first performed more
than forty years after Pushkin's death, is by Chaykovsky himself and
Konstantin Shilovsky, a minor poet of the time. It is nominally based on
Pushkin's text, but in fact the relationship is not very close.)
Anyway, it should be possible now, with the help of Nabokov's literal
translation and commentary, to produce a reasonably accurate rhyming version
of Pushkin's work which can at least be read with pleasure and
entertainment, and which, ideally, might even be able to stand on its own
feet as English. That, in all humility, is the aim of the present text.

Acknowledgements are due to Messrs. Routledge and Kegan Paul for
permission to quote from Vladimir Nabokov's notes in volumes 2 and 3 of his
edition of Eugene Onegin (London, 1964. Revised edition, 1976).
I am much indebted to my friends Sir Sacheverell Sitwell, for his
interest and support, and Sir John Balfour, for his searching and
constructive criticism of the translation; to Professor Gleb Struve, for
generously giving me the benefit of his unrivalled scholarship and insight;
above all, to my wife Natasha, for her loving encouragement.

C. H. J.


    x x x

Pétri de vanité, il avait encore plus de cette espèce d'orgueil qui
fait avouer avec la même indifférence les bonnes comme les mauvaises
actions, suite d'un sentiment de supériorité peut-être imaginaire.

(Tiré d'une lettre particulière)
{31} {32}


    x x x

To Peter Alexandrovich Pletnev

Heedless of the proud world's enjoyment,
I prize the attention of my friends,
and only wish that my employment
could have been turned to worthier ends --
worthier of you in the perfection
your soul displays, in holy dreams,
in simple but sublime reflection,
in limpid verse that lives and gleams.
But, as it is, this pied collection
begs your indulgence -- it's been spun
from threads both sad and humoristic,
themes popular or idealistic,
products of carefree hours, of fun,
of sleeplessness, faint inspirations,
of powers unripe, or on the wane,
of reason's icy intimations,
and records of a heart in pain.
{33} {34}


    Chapter One

To live, it hurries, and to feel it hastes.
Prince Vyazemsky


``My uncle -- high ideals inspire him;
but when past joking he fell sick,
he really forced one to admire him --
and never played a shrewder trick.
Let others learn from his example!
But God, how deadly dull to sample
sickroom attendance night and day
and never stir a foot away!
And the sly baseness, fit to throttle,
of entertaining the half-dead:
one smoothes the pillows down in bed,
and glumly serves the medicine bottle,
and sighs, and asks oneself all through:
"When will the devil come for you?"''


Such were a young rake's meditations --
by will of Zeus, the high and just,
the legatee of his relations --
as horses whirled him through the dust.
Friends of my Ruslan and Lyudmila,
without preliminary feeler
let me acquaint you on the nail
with this the hero of my tale:
Onegin, my good friend, was littered
and bred upon the Neva's brink,
where you were born as well, I think,
reader, or where you've shone and glittered!
There once I too strolled back and forth:
but I'm allergic to the North...1


After a fine career, his father
had only debts on which to live.
He gave three balls a year, and rather
promptly had nothing left to give.
Fate saved Evgeny from perdition:
at first Madame gave him tuition,
from her Monsieur took on the child.
He was sweet-natured, and yet wild.
Monsieur l'Abbé, the mediocre,
reluctant to exhaust the boy,
treated his lessons as a ploy.
No moralizing from this joker;
a mild rebuke was his worst mark,
and then a stroll in Letny Park.


But when the hour of youthful passion
struck for Evgeny, with its play
of hope and gloom, romantic-fashion,
it was goodbye, Monsieur l'Abbé.
Eugene was free, and as a dresser
made London's dandy his professor.
His hair was fashionably curled,
and now at last he saw the World.
In French Onegin had perfected
proficiency to speak and write,
in the mazurka he was light,
his bow was wholly unaffected.
The World found this enough to treat
Eugene as clever, and quite sweet.


We all meandered through our schooling
haphazard; so, to God be thanks,
it's easy, without too much fooling,
to pass for cultured in our ranks.
Onegin was assessed by many
(critical judges, strict as any)
as well-read, though of pedant cast.
Unforced, as conversation passed,
he had the talent of saluting
felicitously every theme,
of listening like a judge-supreme
while serious topics were disputing,
or, with an epigram-surprise,
of kindling smiles in ladies' eyes.


Now Latin's gone quite out of favour;
yet, truthfully and not in chaff,
Onegin knew enough to savour
the meaning of an epigraph,
make Juvenal his text, or better
add vale when he signed a letter;
stumblingly call to mind he did
two verses of the Aeneid.
He lacked the slightest predilection
for raking up historic dust
or stirring annalistic must;
but groomed an anecdote-collection
that stretched from Romulus in his prime
across the years to our own time.


He was without that dithyrambic
frenzy which wrecks our lives for sound,
and telling trochee from iambic
was quite beyond his wit, we found.
He cursed Theocritus and Homer,
in Adam Smith was his diploma;
our deep economist had got
the gift of recognizing what
a nation's wealth is, what augments it,
and how a country lives, and why
it needs no gold if a supply
of simple product supplements it.
His father failed to understand
and took a mortgage on his land.


Evgeny's total store of knowledge
I have no leisure to recall;
where he was master of his college,
the art he'd studied best of all,
his young heyday's supreme employment,
its work, its torture, its enjoyment,
what occupied his chafing powers
throughout the boredom of the hours --
this was the science of that passion
which Ovid sang, for which the bard,
condemned to a lifetime of hard,
ended his wild career of fashion
deep in Moldavia the abhorred,
far, far from Italy, his adored.

(IX,2) X

How early he'd learnt to dissemble,
to hide a hope, to make a show
of jealousy, to seem to tremble
or pine, persuade of yes or no,
and act the humble or imperious,
the indifferent, or the deadly serious!
In languid silence, or the flame
of eloquence, and just the same
in casual letters of confession --
one thing inspired his breath, his heart,
and self-oblivion was his art!
How soft his glance, or at discretion
how bold or bashful there, and here
how brilliant with its instant tear!


How well he donned new shapes and sizes --
startling the ingenuous with a jest,
frightening with all despair's disguises,
amusing, flattering with the best,
stalking the momentary weakness,
with passion and with shrewd obliqueness
swaying the artless, waiting on
for unmeant kindness -- how he shone!
then he'd implore a declaration,
and listen for the heart's first sound,
pursue his love -- and at one bound
secure a secret assignation,
then afterwards, alone, at ease,
impart such lessons as you please!


How early on he learnt to trouble
the heart of the professional flirt!
When out to burst a rival's bubble,
how well he knew the way to hurt --
what traps he'd set him, with what malice
he'd pop the poison in his chalice!
But you, blest husbands, to the end
you kept your friendship with our friend:
the subtle spouse was just as loyal --
Faublas'3 disciple for an age --
as was the old suspicious sage,
and the majestic, antlered royal,
always contented with his life,
and with his dinner, and his wife.


Some days he's still in bed, and drowses,
when little notes come on a tray.
What? Invitations? Yes, three houses
have each asked him to a soirée:
a ball here, there a children's party;
where shall he go, my rogue, my hearty?
Which one comes first? It's just the same
to do them all is easy game.
Meanwhile, attired for morning strolling
complete with broad-brimmed bolivar,
Eugene attends the boulevard,
and there at large he goes patrolling
until Bréguet's unsleeping chime
advises him of dinner-time.


He mounts the sledge, with daylight fading:
``Make way, make way,'' goes up the shout;
his collar in its beaver braiding
glitters with hoar-frost all about.
He's flown to Talon's,4 calculating
that there his friend Kavérin's5 waiting;
he arrives -- the cork goes flying up,
wine of the Comet6 fills the cup;
before him roast beef, red and gory,
and truffles, which have ever been
youth's choice, the flower of French cuisine:
and pâté, Strasbourg's deathless glory,
sits with Limburg's vivacious cheese
and ananas, the gold of trees.


More wine, he calls, to drench the flaming
fire of the cutlets' scalding fat,
when Bréguet's chime is heard proclaiming
the new ballet he should be at.
He's off -- this ruthless legislator
for the footlights, this fickle traitor
to all the most adored actrices,
this denizen of the coulisses
that world where every man's a critic
who'll clap an entrechat, or scoff
at Cleopatra, hiss her off,
boo Phaedra out as paralytic,
encore Moëna,7 -- and rejoice
to know the audience hears his voice.


Enchanted land! There like a lampion
that king of the satiric scene,
Fonvizin8 sparkled, freedom's champion,
and the derivative Knyazhnín:8
there сzerov8 shared the unwilling
tribute of tears, applause's shrilling,
with young Semyónova,9 and there
our friend Katénin8 brought to bear
once more Corneille's majestic story;
there caustic Shakhovskóy8 came in
with comedies of swarm and din;
there Didelot10 crowned himself with glory:
there, where the coulisse entrance went,
that's where my years of youth were spent.


My goddesses! Where are you banished?
lend ears to my lugubrious tone:
have other maidens, since you vanished,
taken your place, though not your throne?
your chorus, is it dead for ever?
Russia's Terpsichore, shall never
again I see your soulful flight?
shall my sad gaze no more alight
on features known, but to that dreary,
that alien scene must I now turn
my disillusioned glass, and yearn,
bored with hilarity, and weary,
and yawn in silence at the stage
as I recall a bygone age?


The house is packed out; scintillating,
the boxes; boiling, pit and stalls;
the gallery claps -- it's bored with waiting --
and up the rustling curtain crawls.
Then with a half-ethereal splendour,
bound where the magic bow will send her,
Istómina,11 thronged all around
by Naiads, one foot on the ground,
twirls the other slowly as she pleases,
then suddenly she's off, and there
she's up and flying through the air
like fluff before Aeolian breezes;
she'll spin this way and that, and beat
against each other swift, small feet.


Applause. Onegin enters -- passes
across the public's toes; he steers
straight to his stall, then turns his glasses
on unknown ladies in the tiers;
he's viewed the boxes without passion,
he's seen it all; with looks and fashion
he's dreadfully dissatisfied;
to gentlemen on every side
he's bowed politely; his attention
wanders in a distracted way
across the stage; he yawns: ``Ballet --
they all have richly earned a pension;''
he turns away: ``I've had enough --
now even Didelot's tedious stuff.''


Still tumbling, devil, snake and Cupid
on stage are thumping without cease;
Still in the porch, exhausted-stupid,
the footmen sleep on the pelisses;
the audience still is busy stamping,
still coughing, hissing, clapping, champing;
still everywhere the lamps are bright;
outside and in they star the night;
still shivering in the bitter weather
the horses fidget worse and worse;
the coachmen ring the fire, and curse
their lords, and thwack their palms together;
but Eugene's out from din and press:
by now he's driving home to dress.


Shall I depict with expert knowledge
the cabinet behind the door
where the prize-boy of fashion's college
is dressed, undressed, and dressed once more?
Whatever for caprice of spending
ingenious London has been sending
across the Baltic in exchange
for wood and tallow; all the range
of useful objects that the curious
Parisian taste invents for one --
for friends of languor, or of fun,
or for the modishly luxurious --
all this, at eighteen years of age,
adorned the sanctum of our sage.


Porcelain and bronzes on the table,
with amber pipes from Tsaregrad;12
such crystalled scents as best are able
to drive the swooning senses mad;
with combs, and steel utensils serving
as files, and scissors straight and curving,
brushes on thirty different scales;
brushes for teeth, brushes for nails.
Rousseau (forgive a short distraction)
could not conceive how solemn Grimm13
dared clean his nails in front of him,
the brilliant crackpot: this reaction
shows freedom's advocate, that strong
champion of rights, as in the wrong.


A man who's active and incisive
can yet keep nail-care much in mind:
why fight what's known to be decisive?
custom is despot of mankind.
Dressed like -- --,14 duly dreading
the barbs that envy's always spreading,
Eugene's a pedant in his dress,
in fact a thorough fop, no less.
Three whole hours, at the least accounting,
he'll spend before the looking-glass,
then from his cabinet he'll pass
giddy as Venus when she's mounting
a masculine disguise to aid
her progress at the masquerade.


Your curiosity is burning
to hear what latest modes require,
and so, before the world of learning,
I could describe here his attire;
and though to do so would be daring,
it's my profession; he was wearing --
but pantaloons, waistcoat, and frock,
these words are not of Russian stock:
I know (and seek your exculpation)
that even so my wretched style
already tends too much to smile
on words of foreign derivation,
though years ago I used to look
at the Academic Diction-book.


That isn't our immediate worry:
we'd better hasten to the ball,
where, in a cab, and furious hurry,
Onegin has outrun us all.
Along the fronts of darkened houses,
along the street where slumber drowses,
twin lamps of serried coupés throw
a cheerful glimmer on the snow
and radiate a rainbow: blazing
with lampions studded all about
the sumptuous palais shines out;
shadows that flit behind the glazing
project in silhouette the tops
of ladies and of freakish fops.


Up to the porch our hero's driven:
in, past concierge, up marble stair
flown like an arrow, then he's given
a deft arrangement to his hair,
and entered. Ballroom overflowing...
and band already tired of blowing,
while a mazurka holds the crowd;
and everything is cramped and loud;
spurs of Chevalier Gardes are clinking,
dear ladies' feet fly past like hail,
and on their captivating trail
incendiary looks are slinking,
while roar of violins contrives
to drown the hiss of modish wives.


In days of carefree aspirations,
the ballroom drove me off my head:
the safest place for declarations,
and where most surely notes are sped.
You husbands, deeply I respect you!
I'm at your service to protect you;
now pay attention, I beseech,
and take due warning from my speech.
You too, mamas, I pray attend it,
and watch your daughters closer yet,
yes, focus on them your lorgnette,
or else... or else, may God forfend it!
I only write like this, you know,
since I stopped sinning years ago.


Alas, on pleasure's wild variety
I've wasted too much life away!
But, did they not corrupt society,
I'd still like dances to this day:
the atmosphere of youth and madness,
the crush, the glitter and the gladness,
the ladies' calculated dress;
I love their feet -- though I confess
that all of Russia can't contribute
three pairs of handsome ones -- yet there
exists for me one special pair!
one pair! I pay them memory's tribute
though cold I am and sad; in sleep
the heartache that they bring lies deep.


Oh, when, and to what desert banished,
madman, can you forget their print?
my little feet, where have you vanished,
what flowers of spring display your dint?
Nursed in the orient's languid weakness,
across our snows of northern bleakness
you left no steps that could be tracked:
you loved the opulent contact
of rugs, and carpets' rich refinement.
Was it for you that I became
long since unstirred by praise and fame
and fatherland and grim confinement?
The happiness of youth is dead,
just like, on turf, your fleeting tread.


Diana's breast, the cheeks of Flora,
all these are charming! but to put
it frankly, I'm a firm adorer
of the Terpsichorean foot.
It fascinates by its assurance
of recompense beyond endurance,
and fastens, like a term of art,
the wilful fancies of the heart.
My love for it is just as tender,
under the table's linen shield,
on springtime grasses of the field,
in winter, on the cast-iron fender,
on ballroom's looking-glass parquet
or on the granite of the bay.


On the seashore, with storm impending,
how envious was I of the waves
each in tumultuous turn descending
to lie down at her feet like slaves!
I longed, like every breaker hissing,
to smother her dear feet with kissing.
No, never in the hottest fire
of boiling youth did I desire
with any torture so exquisite
to kiss Armida's lips, or seek
the flaming roses of a cheek,
or languid bosoms; and no visit
of raging passion's surge and roll
ever so roughly rocked my soul!


Another page of recollection:
sometimes, in reverie's sacred land,
I grasp a stirrup with affection,
I feel a small foot in my hand;
fancies once more are hotly bubbling,
once more that touch is fiercely troubling
the blood within my withered heart,
once more the love, once more the smart...
But, now I've praised the queens of fashion,
enough of my loquacious lyre:
they don't deserve what they inspire
in terms of poetry or passion --
their looks and language in deceit
are just as nimble as their feet.


And Eugene? half-awake, half-drowsing,
from ball to bed behold him come;
while Petersburg's already rousing,
untirable, at sound of drum:
the merchant's up, the cabman's walking
towards his stall, the pedlar's hawking;
see with their jugs the milk-girls go
and crisply crunch the morning snow.
The city's early sounds awake her;
shutters are opened and the soft
blue smoke of chimneys goes aloft,
and more than once the German baker,
punctilious in his cotton cap,
has opened up his serving-trap.


Exhausted by the ballroom's clamour,
converting morning to midnight,
he sleeps, away from glare and glamour,
this child of luxury and delight.
Then, after midday he'll be waking;
his life till dawn's already making,
always monotonously gay,
tomorrow just like yesterday.
But was it happy, his employment,
his freedom, in his youth's first flower,
with brilliant conquests by the shower,
and every day its own enjoyment?
Was it to no effect that he,
at feasts, was strong and fancy-free?


No, early on his heart was cooling
and he was bored with social noise;
no, not for long were belles the ruling
objective of his thoughts and joys:
soon, infidelity proved cloying,
and friends and friendship, soul-destroying;
not every day could he wash down
his beefsteak with champagne, or drown
his Strasbourg pie, or point a moral,
full of his usual pith and wit,
with cranium aching fit to split;
and though he liked a fiery quarrel --
yet he fell out of love at last
with sabre's slash, and bullet's blast.


The illness with which he'd been smitten
should have been analysed when caught,
something like spleen, that scourge of Britain,
or Russia's chondria, for short;
it mastered him in slow gradation;
thank God, he had no inclination
to blow his brains out, but in stead
to life grew colder than the dead.
So, like Childe Harold, glum, unpleasing,
he stalked the drawing-rooms, remote
from Boston's cloth or gossip's quote;
no glance so sweet, no sigh so teasing,
no, nothing caused his heart to stir,
and nothing pierced his senses' blur.


Capricious belles of grand Society!
you were the first ones he forswore;
for in our time, beyond dubiety,
the highest circles are a bore.
It's true, I'll not misrepresent them,
some ladies preach from Say and Bentham,
but by and large their talk's a hash
of the most harmless, hopeless trash.
And what's more, they're so supercilious,
so pure, so spotless through and through,
so pious, and so clever too,
so circumspect, and so punctilious,
so virtuous that, no sooner seen,
at once they give a man the spleen.


You too, prime beauties in your flower
who late at night are whirled away
by drozhkies jaunting at full power
over the Petersburg pavé --
he ended even your employment;
and in retreat from all enjoyment
locked himself up inside his den
and with a yawn took up his pen,
and tried to write, but a hard session
of work made him feel sick, and still
no word came flowing from his quill;
he failed to join that sharp profession
which I myself won't praise or blame
since I'm a member of the same.


Idle again by dedication,
oppressed by emptiness of soul,
he strove to achieve the appropriation
of other's thought -- a splendid goal;
with shelves of books deployed for action,
he read, and read -- no satisfaction:
here's boredom, madness or pretence,
here there's no conscience, here no sense;
they're all chained up in different fetters,
the ancients have gone stiff and cold,
the moderns rage against the old.
He'd given up girls -- now gave up letters,
and hid the bookshelf's dusty stack
in taffeta of mourning black.


Escaped from social rhyme and reason,
retired, as he, from fashion's stream,
I was Onegin's friend that season.
I liked his quality, the dream
which held him silently subjected,
his strangeness, wholly unaffected,
his mind, so cold and so precise.
The bitterness was mine -- the ice
was his; we'd both drunk passion's chalice:
our lives were flat, and what had fired
both hearts to blaze had now expired;
there waited for us both the malice
of blind Fortuna and of men
in lives that were just dawning then.


He who has lived and thought is certain
to scorn the men with whom he deals;
days that are lost behind the curtain,
ghostlike, must trouble him who feels --
for him all sham has found rejection,
he's gnawed by serpent Recollection,
and by Repentance. All this lends,
on most occasions between friends,
a great attraction to conversing.
At first Onegin's tongue produced
a haze in me, but I grew used
to his disputing and his cursing;
his virulence that made you smile,
his epigrams topped up with bile.


How often, when the sky was glowing,
by Neva, on a summer night,
and when its waters were not showing,
in their gay glass, the borrowed light
of Dian's visage, in our fancies
recalling earlier time's romances,
recalling earlier loves, did we,
now sensitive, and now carefree,
drink in the midnight benediction,
the silence when our talk had ceased!
Like convicts in a dream released
from gaol to greenwood, by such fiction
we were swept off, in reverie's haze,
to the beginning of our days.


Evgeny stood, with soul regretful,
and leant upon the granite shelf;
he stood there, pensive and forgetful,
just as the Poet15 paints himself.
Silence was everywhere enthralling;
just sentries to each other calling,
and then a drozhky's clopping sound
from Million Street16 came floating round;
and then a boat, with oars a-swinging,
swam on the river's dreaming face,
and then, with an enchanting grace,
came distant horns, and gallant singing.
Yet sweeter far, at such a time,
the strain of Tasso's octave-rhyme!


O Adrian waves, my invocation;
O Brenta, I'll see you in dream;
hear, once more filled with inspiration,
the magic voices of your stream,
sacred to children of Apollo!
Proud Albion's lyre is what I follow,
through it they're known to me, and kin.
Italian nights, when I'll drink in
your molten gold, your charmed infusion;
with a Venetian maiden who
can chatter, and be silent too,
I'll float in gondola's seclusion;
from her my lips will learn and mark
the tongue of love and of Petrarch.


When comes my moment to untether?
``it's time!'' and freedom hears my hail.
I walk the shore,17 I watch the weather,
I signal to each passing sail.
Beneath storm's vestment, on the seaway,
battling along that watery freeway,
when shall I start on my escape?
It's time to drop astern the shape
of the dull shores of my disfavour,
and there, beneath your noonday sky,
my Africa,18 where waves break high,
to mourn for Russia's gloomy savour,
land where I learned to love and weep,
land where my heart is buried deep.


Eugene would willingly have started
with me to see an alien strand;
but soon the ways we trod were parted
for quite a while by fortune's hand.
His father died; and (as expected)
before Onegin there collected
the usurers' voracious tribe.
To private tastes we each subscribe:
Evgeny, hating litigation,
and satisfied with what he'd got,
made over to them his whole lot,
finding in that no deprivation --
or else, from far off, he could see
old Uncle's end was soon to be.


In fact one day a note came flying
from the agent, with this tale to tell:
Uncle, in bed, and near to dying,
wished him to come and say farewell.
Evgeny read the sad epistle
and set off prompter than a whistle
as fast as post-horses could go,
already yawned before the show,
exercised, under lucre's banner,
in sighs and boredom and deceits
(my tale's beginning here repeats);
but, when he'd rushed to Uncle's manor,
a corpse on boards was all he found,
an offering ready for the ground.


The yard was bursting with dependants;
there gathered at the coffin-side
friends, foes, priests, guests, inured attendants
of every funeral far and wide;
they buried Uncle, congregated
to eat and drink, then separated
with grave goodbyes to the bereaved,
as if some goal had been achieved.
Eugene turned countryman. He tasted
the total ownership of woods,
mills, lands and waters -- he whose goods
till then had been dispersed and wasted --
and glad he was he'd thus arranged
for his old courses to be changed.


It all seemed new -- for two days only --
the coolness of the sombre glade,
the expanse of fields, so wide, so lonely,
the murmur where the streamlet played...
the third day, wood and hill and grazing
gripped him no more; soon they were raising
an urge to sleep; soon, clear as clear,
he saw that, as in cities, here
boredom has just as sure an entry,
although there are no streets, no cards,
no mansions, no ballrooms, no bards.
Yes, spleen was waiting like a sentry,
and dutifully shared his life
just like a shadow, or a wife.


No, I was born for peace abounding
and country stillness: there the lyre
has voices that are more resounding,
poetic dreams, a brighter fire.
To harmless idleness devoted,
on waves of far niente floated,
I roam by the secluded lake.
And every morning I awake
to freedom, softness and enjoyment:
sleep much, read little, and put down
the thought of volatile renown.
Was it not in such sweet employment
such shadowy and leisured ways,
that once I spent my happiest days?


O flowers, and love, and rustic leisure,
o fields -- to you I'm vowed at heart.
I regularly take much pleasure
in showing how to tell apart
myself and Eugene, lest a reader
of mocking turn, or else a breeder
of calculated slander should,
spying my features, as he could,
put back the libel on the table
that, like proud Byron, I can draw
self-portraits only -- furthermore
the charge that poets are unable
to sing of others must imply
the poet's only theme is ``I.''


Poets, I'll say in this connection,
adore the love that comes in dream.
In time past, objects of affection
peopled my sleep, and to their theme
my soul in secret gave survival;
then from the Muse there came revival:
my carefree song would thus reveal
the mountain maiden,19 my ideal,
and captive girls, by Salgir20 lying.
And now, my friends, I hear from you
a frequent question: ``tell me who
inspires your lute to sounds of sighing?
To whom do you, from all the train
of jealous girls, devote its strain?


``Whose glance, provoking inspiration,
rewards the music of your mind
with fond caress? whose adoration
is in your poetry enshrined?''
No one's, I swear by God! in sadness
I suffered once from all the madness
of love's anxiety. Blessed is he
who can combine it with the free
fever of rhyme: thereby he's doubled
poetry's sacred frenzy, made
a stride on Petrarch's path, allayed
the pangs with which his heart was troubled,
and, with it, forced renown to come --
but I, in love, was dull and dumb.


Love passed, the Muse appeared, the weather
of mind got clarity new-found;
now free, I once more weave together
emotion, thought, and magic sound;
I write, my heart has ceased its pining,
my thoughtless pen has stopped designing,
beside unfinished lines, a suite
of ladies' heads, and ladies' feet;
dead ash sets no more sparks a-flying;
I'm grieving still, but no more tears,
and soon, oh soon the storm's arrears
will in my soul be hushed and dying.
That's when I'll sit down to compose
an ode in twenty-five cantos.


I've drawn a plan and a projection,
the hero's name's decided too.
Meanwhile my novel's opening section
is finished, and I've looked it through
meticulously; in my fiction
there's far too much of contradiction,
but I refuse to chop or change.
The censor's tribute, I'll arrange:
I'll feed the journalists for dinner
fruits of my labour and my ink...
So now be off to Neva's brink,
you newborn work, and like a winner
earn for me the rewards of fame --
misunderstanding, noise, and blame!

Notes to Chapter One

1 ``Written in Bessarabia.'' Pushkin's note.
2 Stanzas IX, XIII, XIV, XXXIX, XL and XLI were omitted by Pushkin.
3 Hero of Louvet's novel about betrayed husbands.
4 ``Well-known restaurateur.'' Pushkin's note.
5 Hussar and friend of Pushkin.
6 Vintage 1811, the year of the Comet.
7 Heroine of Ozerov's tragedy Fingal.
8 Playwrights of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
9 Actress in tragedy.
10 Dancer and choreographer.
11 Ballerina, once courted by Pushkin.
12 Constantinople.
13 French encyclopedist.
14 Pushkin leaves blank the name of Onegin's model dandy.
15 A mocking reference to Mikhail Muraviev's poem ``To the Goddess of
the Neva.''
16 Millyonaya, a street parallel to the Neva, and one block away from
17 ``Written at Odessa.'' Pushkin's note.
18 ``The author, on his mother's side, is of African descent...''
Pushkin's note.
19 Refers to the Circassian girl in Pushkin's poem The Caucasian
20 River in the Crimea. The reference is to the harem girls in
Pushkin's poem The Fountain of Bakhchisarai.


    Chapter Two

O rus!
O Russia!


The place where Eugene loathed his leisure
was an enchanting country nook:
there any friend of harmless pleasure
would bless the form his fortune took.
The manor house, in deep seclusion,
screened by a hill from storm's intrusion,
looked on a river: far away
before it was the golden play
of light that flowering fields reflected:
villages flickered far and near,
and cattle roamed the plain, and here
a park, enormous and neglected,
spread out its shadow all around --
the pensive Dryads' hiding-ground.


The château was of a construction
befitting such a noble pile:
it stood, defiant of destruction
in sensible old-fashioned style.
High ceilings everywhere abounded;
in the saloon, brocade-surrounded,
ancestral1 portraits met the view
and stoves with tiles of various hue.
All this has now gone out of fashion,
I don't know why, but for my friend
interior décor in the end
excited not a hint of passion:
a modish taste, a dowdy touch --
both set him yawning just as much.


The rustic sage, in that apartment,
forty years long would criticise
his housekeeper and her department
look through the pane, and squash the flies.
Oak-floored, and simple as a stable:
two cupboards, one divan, a table,
no trace of ink, no spots, no stains.
And of the cupboards, one contains
a book of household calculations,
the other, jugs of applejack,
fruit liqueurs and an Almanack
for 1808: his obligations
had left the squire no time to look
at any other sort of book.


Alone amid all his possessions,
to pass the time was Eugene's theme:
it led him, in these early sessions,
to institute a new regime.
A thinker in a desert mission,
he changed the corvée of tradition
into a small quit-rent -- and got
his serfs rejoicing at their lot.
But, in a fearful huff, his thrifty
neighbour was sure, from this would flow
consequences of hideous woe;
another's grin was sly and shifty,
but all concurred that, truth to speak,
he was a menace, and a freak.


At first they called; but on perceiving
invariably, as time went on,
that from the backdoor he'd be leaving
on a fast stallion from the Don,
once on the highway he'd detected
the noise their rustic wheels projected --
they took offence at this, and broke
relations off, and never spoke.
``The man's a boor; his brain is missing,
he's a freemason too; for him,
red wine in tumblers to the brim --
but ladies' hands are not for kissing;
it's yes or no, but never sir.''
The vote was passed without demur.


Meanwhile another new landowner
came driving to his country seat,
and, in the district, this persona
drew scrutiny no less complete --
Vladimir Lensky, whose creator
was Göttingen, his alma mater,
good-looking, in the flower of age,
a poet, and a Kantian sage.
He'd brought back all the fruits of learning
from German realms of mist and steam,
freedom's enthusiastic dream,
a spirit strange, a spirit burning,
an eloquence of fevered strength,
and raven curls of shoulder-length.


He was too young to have been blighted
by the cold world's corrupt finesse;
his soul still blossomed out, and lighted
at a friend's word, a girl's caress.
In heart's affairs, a sweet beginner,
he fed on hope's deceptive dinner;
the world's éclat, its thunder-roll,
still captivated his young soul.
He sweetened up with fancy's icing
the uncertainties within his heart;
for him, the objective on life's chart
was still mysterious and enticing --
something to rack his brains about,
suspecting wonders would come out.


He was convinced, a kindred creature
would be allied to him by fate;
that, meanwhile, pinched and glum of feature,
from day to day she could but wait;
and he believed his friends were ready
to put on chains for him, and steady
their hand to grapple slander's cup,
in his defence, and smash it up;
< that there existed, for the indulgence
of human friendship, holy men,
immortals picked by fate for when,