Dedication and Chapter One
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2009 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
To Peter Alexandrovich Pletnev
Indifferent to the world’s delight
Seeking the pleasure of my friends
I only wish the words I write
Might have been turned to better ends –
Reflecting you, your noble dreams,
Your spirit’s true simplicity
Lines more worthy of such themes,
Of your sublime clear poetry.
Such as they are, view these extremes
These varied chapters in your hand,
With fond indulgence; witty, tragic,
The casual, the idealistic,
The fruit of carefree hours, unplanned,
Insomnia, pale inspiration,
Unripe powers, or fading art,
The intellect’s cold observation,
The bitter record of the heart.
‘My uncle, what a worthy man,
Falling ill like that, and dying;
It summons up respect, one can
Admire it, as if he were trying.
Let us all follow his example!
But, God, what tedium to sample
That sitting by the bed all day,
All night, barely a foot away!
And the hypocrisy, demeaning,
Of cosseting one who’s half alive;
Puffing the pillows, you contrive
To bring his medicine unsmiling,
Thinking with a mournful sigh,
“Why the devil can’t you die?”’
Such our young dog’s meditation,
As his horses plough the dust,
Inheriting, as sole relation,
By the will of Zeus the Just.
Friends of Ruslan and Ludmila,
Here without an ounce of bother,
Meet my hero of romance,
Before you, let him now advance.
Eugene Onegin, born and raised
There beside the Neva’s shore,
Where you too were nourished or
Found your fame, perhaps amazed,
There I too strolled to and fro:
Though the North affects me so.
His father had a fine career
And gladly lived a life of debt
Always gave three balls a year
And died with all he owed unmet.
But Fate took Eugene by the hand
First Madame, you understand,
Then Monsieur taught the child
A pleasant-natured lad but wild.
Monsieur L’Abbé, French and thin,
Spared the lad from weary lessons,
Ducked the moralizing sermons,
Taught him everything by whim,
A mild rebuke, a sharp remark,
Then off to ramble in the park.
Now, when Eugene reached the age
Of restless youth’s tumultuous passion,
Those years of hope and tender rage,
Monsieur was packed off in brisk fashion,
And my Eugene was free at last,
A London dandy safely classed
His hair cut neatly a la mode,
Into society he rode.
French he spoke and wrote with ease,
Danced the mazurka deftly too,
Bowed to each acquaintance new,
Did all that was required to please.
What more is needed? All agreed
That here was wit and charm indeed.
We’ve all acquired some education
A bit of this a bit of that,
God be thanked, some imitation,
And we can all display éclat,
Onegin, he was deemed by many
(Critics stern, acute as any)
As well-read, but opinionated,
For conversation’s art created.
He had the gift of easy chatter,
Touching lightly on each theme,
Then like a very sage could seem
When talk was of some graver matter,
Yet make the ladies smile, un-clam
With some ready epigram.
Latin’s not in fashion now,
Truth to tell, his knowledge slight,
He knew enough I would allow
To read an epigraph, and might
Mention Juvenal by the way,
Or end a letter with vale,
And knew by heart, or thought he did,
Two whole lines of the Aeneid.
As for finding ancient treasure
He’d no desire to dig the dust
Of history all turned to rust,
But kept the juiciest stories ever
From Romulus to our own day,
In his memory tucked away.
He lacked the passion and desire
To give his life for poetry,
Despite all efforts, or aspire
To tell iambic from trochee.
Bored by Theocritus and Homer,
Adam Smith was more his tome, where
Deep in all things economic
The wealth of nations was his topic;
On what the state relies, he told,
Of how it lives, the what and why
With staple products its supply,
No need to keep reserves of gold.
Left his father, stunned by theory,
Of mortgaging his land quite weary.
The wealth of things my Yevgeny
Mastered I’ve no time to tell,
But as for genius, if any,
One thing alone he studied well,
His springtime occupation bright,
His labour, torment and delight,
That occupied each night and day,
And kept dull boredom far away –
The science of the tender passion
The one poor Ovid used to sing,
And, exiled for that very thing
Plus another hidden reason,
Ended on the Black Sea shore,
Far from Italy’s allure.
From the first, he’d spread confusion,
Conceal his hopes, feign jealousy,
Gain trust, or cause pure disillusion,
Seem to pine, be sad or gloomy,
Sometimes proud, sometimes humble,
All attentive, or just mumble!
How languid was his reticence,
How passionate his eloquence,
How swift his letters from the heart!
Breathing one thing, loving one thing,
How utterly himself forgetting!
His glance now bold, with tender art,
Roguish, coy, or see appear,
Glistening, an obedient tear!
How skilfully he’d feign the new,
And daze the eyes of innocence,
Or frighten with a glance or two
Of despair, burn flattery’s incense,
Catch the first flush of emotion,
Overcome with wit and passion,
Await the touch, involuntary,
Beseech, elicit true confession,
Listen for the heart’s first cry,
Pursue love wholly, and thereby
Secure a secret assignation,
Then later, intimacies meeting,
Silently impart love’s teaching!
Though young he learnt the way to stir
The heart of a confirmed coquette!
And when he wanted to refer
To his rivals, that whole set,
How poisonous the words he used!
What traps he set for those abused!
But you, the men in wedded bliss,
Were ever dearest friends of his,
The careful spouse as much his man,
Betrayed, a husband from a novel,
As some suspicious aged devil,
Or cuckold, foolish, of that clan
Content forever with their life,
Their dinner-table and their wife.
So, often, while he’s still abed,
Three notes appear, on a tray.
What? Invitations? Swiftly read,
Three houses offer a soirée:
A birthday party, here a ball.
Where will my young idler call?
Which to visit first? No matter,
He’ll have time still for the latter.
Meanwhile in his morning dress
Complete with wide-brimmed Bolivar,
He saunters on the Boulevard,
Parading there with all the rest,
Until his Breguet’s sleepless chime
Tells him, now is dinner-time.
As it grows dusk he takes a sleigh:
‘Clear the road!’ loud sings the cry,
His beaver-collar shines away,
Frost’s silver powders on it lie.
He’s off to Talon’s, calculating
His friend Kaverin will be waiting.
He arrives, the cork pops, heaven!
The Comet’s vintage, year eleven.
A roast-beef, rare, adorns the table,
And truffles, luxuries of youth,
The French cuisine’s finest proof,
And Strasbourg pies, renowned in fable;
Limburger cheese, soft and pungent,
The pineapple’s pure golden unguent.
Glass on glass to drench the heat
Of that last cutlet’s fiery fat,
As his watch’s chimes repeat
The ballet’s beat he should be at.
This ruthless critic, legislator,
The artiste’s flatterer and traitor,
To all unfaithful by and by,
Denizen of the wings, he’ll fly
Onegin, to the theatre where
He breathes the air of freedom, at
An instant hails the entrechat,
Boos Cleopatra, hisses Phaedra,
Or shouts for his Moina, merely
In order to be heard more clearly.
Land of bewitchment! In past times
Satire’s most audacious master,
Fonvizin shone there, Freedom’s lover,
And Knyazhnin’s imitative rhymes.
Ozerov’s tragedies for years
Won tributes of spontaneous tears,
Shared wild applause, with Semyonova,
And our Katenin moreover
Translated the sublime Corneille,
Shakhovskoy, so sardonically,
Produced his hive of comedy,
There Didelot too crowned his day,
Where, in the shadow of the wings,
My youth fled by, enchantment clings.
My goddesses! Where? Where are you?
Listen now to my sad voice.
Are you as you were? Have new
Idols replaced you, a worse choice?
Do I hear once more your choir sing?
See a Russian Terpsichore wing
Her way again in soulful flight?
Or must my dull gaze fail to light
On any fond face on this stage,
Turning on the alien mass
My disenchanted opera-glass,
Tired of the laughter of the age,
Silently to yawn and sigh
For all those years long sped by?
The theatre fills, the boxes glisten,
The orchestra, the stalls, they seethe,
The circle claps to make all happen,
The rustling curtain as we breathe
Soars, glistening half-ethereal,
To the magic bow in thrall,
A host of nymphs around her, so
Istomina stands, serious
One foot planted, pirouettes
Takes a leap and, like down, sets
Off as if blown by Aeolus,
Twists her waist one way, another,
Spins, beats one foot on the other.
Vast applause. Onegin enters,
Threads the rows among the feet,
Askance his opera-glass now centres
On unknown faces, ranked, complete.
He notes the boxes, serried places,
Sees it all; the fashions, faces,
Fill him with dissatisfaction,
Bows to friends, then views the action,
Turns on the stage indifferent eyes,
Within its glow no interest dawns,
Then he turns away – and yawns,
‘They’re all past they’re best’ he sighs;
‘What do I haunt the ballet for?
Didelot too is quite the bore.’
Then come Cupid, imp and snake,
Treading the boards interminably,
While weary servants half-awake,
Doze on the fur coats in the lobby,
The audience, their feet still tapping,
Sniffing, coughing, hissing, clapping.
While both indoors and outside
Lanterns glitter far and wide,
The carriage horses, chilly, wait,
Their harness chafing, restlessly,
The coachmen by the fire free
Their absent masters to berate.
But our Onegin’s off to roam,
Borne away to change at home.
That dressing room, all solitary,
Shall I depict with faithful pen
Where fashion’s loyal devotee
Is dressed, undressed and dressed again?
All that, to sate boundless caprice,
Ingenious London without cease
Sends us through the Baltic trade,
For timber and tallow, quickly paid,
And everything Parisian taste,
The useful arts, can devise,
That fashion or luxury supplies,
For idleness and sense to waste –
All in our sage’s cell appears
Our philosopher of eighteen years.
A pipe of amber from Istanbul,
China and bronzes fill the table,
And to delight the sensual
Perfumes in finely-crafted crystal;
Steel combs, files in various guises,
Brushes of thirty different sizes,
For teeth or nails, both are served,
Scissors with straight blades and curved.
Rousseau (I mention it by the way)
Could not conceive how haughty Grimm
Dared clean his nails in front of him,
Eccentric, eloquent, at bay!
Freedom’s champion, ever strong
In human rights, was here all wrong.
No reason why a man of energy
Should disregard the subject of his nails;
Why quarrel with the age fruitlessly?
Custom is a tyrant, and prevails.
A second Chadayev, my Yevgeny,
Fearing all the barbs of envy,
Was a very dandy in his dress,
A pedant in the details, no less.
A full three hours at least he’d spend
Before the mirror, then would leave
His dressing room, I’ll not deceive,
Like Venus if she’d condescend
In masculine attire displayed
To enter on the masquerade.
Garbed to the modern taste,
You’re curious for every detail,
And for you, knowledgeable race,
I might try to tell the whole tale,
But there’s a risk in such fiction,
Though I’m an adept at description,
No Russian terms exist, confess,
For trousers, dress-coat, or for vest;
As it is, I ask forgiveness,
My style is rendered quite absurd
Too often by a foreign word,
It’s peppered with them to excess,
Though I’ve consulted frequently
The Academic Dictionary.
That’s not the business we’ve in hand,
Better to hurry to the ball,
Since with a cab hired from the stand,
Onegin has outpaced us all.
Along the rows of darkened houses,
Down the streets where evening drowses,
The twin lights of the carriage throw
A rainbow glitter on the snow.
Oil-lamps bright on window sills,
The sumptuous mansion gleams,
While behind the window streams
A flow of silhouetted stills,
Heads, in profile, edges crop,
Of lovely woman, freakish fop.
Past the doorman like an arrow,
Through the hall, our hero’s there,
Soaring up the marble stair now,
With a hand he smoothes his hair,
Enters. The room is gyring,
Orchestra already tiring,
A mazurka holds the crowd;
The crush intense, the noise is loud.
A Horse Guard’s spurs go jingling,
The light-footed girls sweep by,
As ardent glances swiftly fly
In pursuit, the dancers mingling;
While drowned by frantic violins
The jealous ladies whisper sins.
In days of dream and ardour,
The dance-floor was my passion:
The safest place for a lover
To pass a note of assignation.
Oh you, esteemed husbands, now
My services to you I vow!
Pay attention now I beg you,
From my words take warning due,
You mothers, hear me too, I bid,
Guard your daughters most severely,
Raise your lorgnettes, watch them closely,
Or else…..or else, may God forbid!
I dare to write about it so,
For I stopped sinning long ago.
Alas, on every stray amusement
I’ve wasted far too many hours,
Yet were they wholly innocent
I’d still wander those bright bowers.
I love youth’s frantic energy,
The crush, the lights, the gaiety,
The girls in fashionable dress,
I love their little feet, confess
That, search all Russia though,
You’ll not find three lovely pair.
Ah, they made me long despair
Two slender feet…Now sad and cold
I still remember, and it seems
They yet can thrill me in my dreams.
But where, in what deserted strand
Madman, could your heart forget?
Ah, little feet where do you stand?
On what spring flowers are you set?
Pampered in eastern luxury
On our northern snows, so gloomy,
You left no trace, but loved instead
The sensual touch, on rugs to tread
And carpeted voluptuousness.
The call of fame, praise, I forgot,
My country: exile was my lot,
Was it for you all that distress?
So youth’s happiness must pass,
Brief as your footprints on the grass.
Diana’s breast or Flora’s cheek,
Are enchanting, friends, I find!
Yet Terpsichore’s foot I’d seek
Far more enchanting, to my mind.
Since, foretelling to my gaze
Pleasure in a thousand ways,
Its subtle beauty lights the fires
Of a swarm of sweet desires.
Such I adore, my dear Elvina,
Beneath the table’s damask gloss,
In the springtime on the moss,
In winter, resting on the fender,
Or on the ballroom’s gleaming floor,
Or the granite of the shore.
Recall the sea before a storm,
How I envied the waves then,
Each falling there as they form
To lie at her feet, in peace again!
How I longed to be those seas
Kissing her dear feet as they please!
No, never in the fiercest fires
Of tortured youth and its desires
Did I so long with painful ardour
To kiss the young Armida’s lips,
The roses of her burning cheeks,
Or her breast, filled with languor;
No, passion took no greater toll,
Nor ever so consumed my soul!
Another day I bring to mind!
Sometimes in my fondest dreams
I hold that stirrup, blessed by time,
The little foot I touch it seems;
Again imagination blazes,
Again, a simple touch amazes,
Stirs blood inside my weary heart,
Again the pain, again love’s art!
Enough of praise though for the proud,
Enough of my loquacious lyre,
They’re never worth the singer’s fire,
My songs inspired by that crowd.
Their words, their looks, both are sweet,
Yet prove as faithless….as their feet.
And my Onegin? Half-asleep
He flees the ball, and finds his bed,
But Petersburg that restless heap
Its drum pounds fit to wake the dead.
The merchant and the beggar rise,
To his stand the cabman drives,
The milkmaids from Ochta go
Crunching over morning snow.
The city’s sounds swiftly wake her,
Shutters part, chimneys smoke,
Blue columns rising over folk,
The punctilious German baker,
More than once in white night-cap
Has opened up his serving flap.
Worn out by the ballroom’s noise
And turning morning into night
Sleeps peacefully in blissful joy
The child of luxury and delight.
He wakes at noon, or even later,
His life till dawn the same as ever,
Monotonous and varied, say,
Tomorrow just like yesterday.
But was dear Yevgeny content
Free, and in the flower of youth,
Midst glittering victories, in truth,
Midst oft repeated amusement?
Was he as vigorous and carefree
As at the feast he seemed to be?
No, for his early feelings faded,
Exhausted by society,
Not for long were lovely ladies
The object of his constancy;
Faithlessness was not amusing
Friends and friendship were confusing,
Since even he at times would sigh
At more beefsteak and Strasbourg pie
Endless bottles of sparkling wine
And fail to offer a word, to make
A bon mot, with a fierce headache,
And though a womaniser fine,
In the end he too grew bored
With duelling, pistols, and the sword.
The sickness, with which he was smitten,
The cause of which it’s time to seek,
That spleen (so Englishmen are bitten)
Or chondria, when we Russians speak,
Had gradually overwhelmed him,
Thank God no desire claimed him,
To blow his brains out, as we’re told,
Yet his life grew sad and cold.
Like Childe Harold, mournful, dour,
He’d wander through a drawing room,
No gossip could dispel his gloom,
Cards, or glance, or sweet sigh’s power,
Nothing touched his feelings there,
He noticed nothing, did not care.
You were the first, capricious belles,
He would neglect and then abandon.
Today we know, truth to tell
The crushing boredom of bon ton.
Though it’s true some woman may
Talk of Bentham and of Say,
Generally their conversation
Though innocent tries one’s patience.
Besides they are so pure, so pious,
So clever, and so circumspect,
So blameless in their intellect,
So inflexible, so virtuous,
So unapproachable, serene,
Their very presence causes spleen.
You too, sweet girls, who late at night,
When all of Petersburg’s abed,
The speeding cabs whirl out of sight
Over the darkened stones instead,
You too Yevgeny quite deserted.
From every pleasure he retreated,
Onegin, shut himself indoors,
Would join the literary bores,
Tried to write, it makes him ill
All serious effort – no words flow,
He yawned inordinately, and so
Failed to join the shameless guild,
Of Writers: whom I cannot blame
Since, I’m one too and just the same.
As emptiness possessed his soul,
Once more resigned to being idle
He chose – a more than worthy goal,
The thoughts of other men to rifle;
Great shelves of books he read and read
But still found nothing in his head,
All’s tedium, madness, and pretence
Here no conscience, there no sense,
All chained to their pre-conception,
The old ones utterly out-dated,
The new ones simply antiquated,
Like women, books proved a deception,
Across the literary stack,
He drew a mourning veil of black.
I too cast off the social burden,
At that time, and retired from view,
I made a friend of Eugene then.
I liked his face, his manner too,
Liked his dreamy tendency,
His unique eccentricity,
His mind, incisive, and chilly;
I was bitter, he was gloomy.
Both had known the play of passion
Both had wearied of the game,
In both our hearts a dying flame,
Both had known Fate’s passing fashion,
All mankind’s malicious ways
In the morning of our days.
He who’s lived, he who’s thought
Cannot but despise it all,
He who feels, is quickly taught
The pain of time lost, past recall:
Enchantment fails such men as he,
Bitten by the snake, Memory,
Absorbed by remorse at things done
Though it adds to conversation,
Lends it charm, intense delight.
I thought Onegin’s talk disturbing
But later found it re-assuring,
His virulence, his scorn, alight
With witticisms forged with guile,
His epigrams topped up with bile.
How often, on a summer’s night,
The sky aglow above the Neva,
With that pale diaphanous light,
Where no face showed of Diana
In the water’s smooth still glass,
Recalling romance of time past,
Recalling many a lost love there
Sentimental, free from care,
In silent joy, of night’s bounteous
Benediction we drank deep!
Like prisoners released in sleep,
To roam the forests green, so us,
Carried in dream to that land where
All life, before us, seemed so fair.
His heart consumed with regret
Leaning, musing pensively,
On the granite parapet,
As Muraviev, our Yevgeny.
All is still, only the guards
Call to each other in the yards,
Or far sounds rise, as wheels meet
The cobbles of Milyona Street.
A single boat with outspread oars
Swims across the drowsy stream,
A horn rings out, enchanted dream,
A distant strand of singing soars;
Yet Tasso’s murmured octaves are
Sweeter, in night’s embrace, by far.
Waves of the distant Adriatic,
Oh Brenta! No: yet I’ll rejoice
When inspired again, ecstatic,
I hear the magic of your voice!
Sacred to scions of Apollo,
Albion’s proud lyre I follow,
To know its beauty, be its friend.
Where Italy’s gold nights descend,
I’ll breathe free, take my ease
Float in a gondola’s embrace,
With some fair Venetian face,
Silent, chattering, as you please,
My lips from hers will softly prove
The tongue of Petrarch and of love.
When shall I ever loose my tether?
Now! Now! With joy, I call aloud,
I pace the shore, wait for fair weather,
Signal each passing sail, each shroud.
When, storm-wrapped, shall I be free
To fight the waves, and scour the sea,
When will my wings begin to soar?
It’s time to leave this tedious shore,
This hostile climate where I wander,
And with southern oceans nigh
Roam beneath my African sky,
To mourn there for gloomy Russia,
Where I’ve loved, where I’ve suffered,
Where my heart has long been smothered.
Onegin and I planned to travel,
To feast our eyes on foreign lands,
But soon we saw our plans unravel,
Our fates lay in Fortune’s hands.
Then his father passed away,
And creditors had him at bay,
Each man to his own ideas,
He with lawyers round his ears,
Hating all this litigation,
Content with life, took a stance,
Relinquished his inheritance,
Finding it small deprivation,
Or else, reviewing distantly,
His uncle’s frail mortality.
In fact he soon received a letter
From his uncle’s man, to say
His uncle lay at death’s door, better
Say farewell without delay.
Yevgeny read the gloomy note,
Then grasped the instant by the throat,
Took to the road, went post-haste,
Yawning the while as he raced,
Prepared, for the sake of gold,
For boredom, and hypocrisy,
(The place where we began, you see)
Yet he arrived, his uncle cold,
The corpse on a table laid,
Nature’s debt already paid.
The house was filled with commotion,
Friends and enemies from afar
Had called to show their true devotion,
Or enjoy the funeral, as you are.
The dead man buried priest and guests
Did full justice to the rest,
Ate, drank, then left, solemnly
Pleased that they had done their duty.
Now our Eugene’s a countryman,
With vineyard, water, wood, and field,
He who had never once concealed
His wastefulness and lack of plan.
Glad now that his former ways
Were changing with the passing days.
For two days it was all quite new,
The solitariness of the meadow,
The coolness of the dark glades too,
The babbling brook, the silent furrow,
By the third, field, wood, and hill,
No longer even stirred his will,
He even felt the urge to yawn,
He saw as clear as the dawn,
The country caused the same ennui
Despite the lack of streets and yards,
Of dances, poetry, and cards,
While disillusion dogged him constantly,
Pursued him endlessly through life,
Like a shadow, or a wife.
I was born for quiet existence
For rural silence, where the lyre
Sounds more sweetly in the silence,
And spirit finds creative fire.
In ease and innocence I take
A walk beside the lonely lake,
And far niente is my law.
Every dawn produces more
Dear liberty and leisure.
I read a lot, I doze a little,
Careless of fame, the brittle.
Was it not, with such pure pleasure,
In happiness, in idle ways,
I once spent my sweetest days?
Flowers, love, fields, and idleness,
O country life! I like you all,
Pleased as I always am to stress,
That Onegin is not me, recall
It, lest some sly, caustic reader,
Some tell-tale, or vile inventor
Of over-elaborate slander try
To pair Yevgeny and I,
And ignominiously repeat
That I have here daubed my portrait,
Like Byron, pride’s perfect poet,
As though we can never treat
Of someone other, never own
To any but ourselves alone.
All poets, it seems to me,
Love in imagination,
To dream affection constantly
Was once my sole preoccupation.
My soul preserved its memory
The Muse gave it eternity,
And so in careless rapture I
Sang the maid on mountain high,
And captive girls by the Salgira,
But now my friends I often hear,
Your question ringing in my ear,
‘Whom does your sweet lyre hold dearer?
For whom among that jealous crowd,
Do you now voice your thoughts aloud?
‘Whose glance, creating inspiration,
Rewards with its fond caress
Your pure, pensive incantation?
Who in your verse is your goddess?
No one, my friends, I tell you, truly!
Love’s madness, wild and unruly,
I suffered without hope or joy.
Happy is he who can employ
Fevered rhyme on such a theme
So he’ll double the intensity
Of the sacred flames of poesy,
Follow in Petrarch’s steps, seem
To ease heart’s suffering, find fame:
But I was mute, foolish in the game.
Love faded then the Muse appeared,
My darkened mind grew clear again,
Now free, my verse no longer feared
Music’s magic, thought, and pain.
I write, my heart no longer suffers,
My pen I find no longer wanders,
Sketching women’s legs and feet,
Beside some lines still incomplete.
The cold ash hides no smouldering ember,
I’m grieving still, but free of tears,
The storm that shook my soul for years
Soon, soon my mind will not remember:
Then what an epic I’ll contrive,
A poem in cantos, twenty-five!
I’ve sketched the underlying plan,
The hero’s name I’ve given too;
My rhyming novel’s well in hand,
I’m ready now for chapter two.
I’ve scanned the pages of my fiction,
And though they’re filled with contradiction,
It’s not my job to work them through.
The censors must have work to do.
To journalists for their consumption
I’ll feed the proceeds of my pen.
Go, little book: find Neva then,
My newborn work, my sweet creation,
Earn me the first fruits of fame,
Noise, incomprehension, blame!