Eugene Onegin: A Romance of Russian Life in Verse, by Aleksandr Pushkin

Canto the First

‘The Spleen’

‘He rushes at life and exhausts the passions.’

— Prince Viazemski

I

“My uncle’s goodness is extreme,

If seriously he hath disease;

He hath acquired the world’s esteem

And nothing more important sees;

A paragon of virtue he!

But what a nuisance it will be,

Chained to his bedside night and day

Without a chance to slip away.

Ye need dissimulation base

A dying man with art to soothe,

Beneath his head the pillow smooth,

And physic bring with mournful face,

To sigh and meditate alone:

When will the devil take his own!”

II

Thus mused a madcap young, who drove

Through clouds of dust at postal pace,

By the decree of Mighty Jove,

Inheritor of all his race.

Friends of Liudmila and Ruslan,1

Let me present ye to the man,

Who without more prevarication

The hero is of my narration!

Oneguine, O my gentle readers,

Was born beside the Neva, where

It may be ye were born, or there

Have shone as one of fashion’s leaders.

I also wandered there of old,

But cannot stand the northern cold.2

1 Ruslan and Liudmila, the title of Pushkin’s first important work, written 1817–20. It is a tale relating the adventures of the knight-errant Ruslan in search of his fair lady Liudmila, who has been carried off by a kaldoon, or magician.

2 Written in Bessarabia.

III

Having performed his service truly,

Deep into debt his father ran;

Three balls a year he gave ye duly,

At last became a ruined man.

But Eugene was by fate preserved,

For first “madame” his wants observed,

And then “monsieur” supplied her place;3

The boy was wild but full of grace.

“Monsieur l’Abbe,” a starving Gaul,

Fearing his pupil to annoy,

Instructed jestingly the boy,

Morality taught scarce at all;

Gently for pranks he would reprove

And in the Summer Garden rove.

3 In Russia foreign tutors and governesses are commonly styled “monsieur” or “madame.”

IV

When youth’s rebellious hour drew near

And my Eugene the path must trace —

The path of hope and tender fear —

Monsieur clean out of doors they chase.

Lo! my Oneguine free as air,

Cropped in the latest style his hair,

Dressed like a London dandy he

The giddy world at last shall see.

He wrote and spoke, so all allowed,

In the French language perfectly,

Danced the mazurka gracefully,

Without the least constraint he bowed.

What more’s required? The world replies,

He is a charming youth and wise.

V

We all of us of education

A something somehow have obtained,

Thus, praised be God! a reputation

With us is easily attained.

Oneguine was — so many deemed

[Unerring critics self-esteemed],

Pedantic although scholar like,

In truth he had the happy trick

Without constraint in conversation

Of touching lightly every theme.

Silent, oracular ye’d see him

Amid a serious disputation,

Then suddenly discharge a joke

The ladies’ laughter to provoke.

VI

Latin is just now not in vogue,

But if the truth I must relate,

Oneguine knew enough, the rogue

A mild quotation to translate,

A little Juvenal to spout,

With “vale” finish off a note;

Two verses he could recollect

Of the Aeneid, but incorrect.

In history he took no pleasure,

The dusty chronicles of earth

For him were but of little worth,

Yet still of anecdotes a treasure

Within his memory there lay,

From Romulus unto our day.

VII

For empty sound the rascal swore he

Existence would not make a curse,

Knew not an iamb from a choree,

Although we read him heaps of verse.

Homer, Theocritus, he jeered,

But Adam Smith to read appeared,

And at economy was great;

That is, he could elucidate

How empires store of wealth unfold,

How flourish, why and wherefore less

If the raw product they possess

The medium is required of gold.

The father scarcely understands

His son and mortgages his lands.

VIII

But upon all that Eugene knew

I have no leisure here to dwell,

But say he was a genius who

In one thing really did excel.

It occupied him from a boy,

A labour, torment, yet a joy,

It whiled his idle hours away

And wholly occupied his day —

The amatory science warm,

Which Ovid once immortalized,

For which the poet agonized

Laid down his life of sun and storm

On the steppes of Moldavia lone,

Far from his Italy — his own.4

4 Referring to Tomi, the reputed place of exile of Ovid. Pushkin, then residing in Bessarabia, was in the same predicament as his predecessor in song, though he certainly did not plead guilty to the fact, since he remarks in his ode to Ovid:

       To exile self-consigned,

 With self, society, existence, discontent,

 I visit in these days, with melancholy mind,

 The country whereunto a mournful age thee sent.

Ovid thus enumerates the causes which brought about his banishment:

 “Perdiderint quum me duo crimina, carmen et error,

 Alterius facti culpa silenda mihi est.”

       Ovidii Nasonis Tristium, lib. ii. 207.

IX

How soon he learnt deception’s art,

Hope to conceal and jealousy,

False confidence or doubt to impart,

Sombre or glad in turn to be,

Haughty appear, subservient,

Obsequious or indifferent!

What languor would his silence show,

How full of fire his speech would glow!

How artless was the note which spoke

Of love again, and yet again;

How deftly could he transport feign!

How bright and tender was his look,

Modest yet daring! And a tear

Would at the proper time appear.

X

How well he played the greenhorn’s part

To cheat the inexperienced fair,

Sometimes by pleasing flattery’s art,

Sometimes by ready-made despair;

The feeble moment would espy

Of tender years the modesty

Conquer by passion and address,

Await the long-delayed caress.

Avowal then ’twas time to pray,

Attentive to the heart’s first beating,

Follow up love — a secret meeting

Arrange without the least delay —

Then, then — well, in some solitude

Lessons to give he understood!

XI

How soon he learnt to titillate

The heart of the inveterate flirt!

Desirous to annihilate

His own antagonists expert,

How bitterly he would malign,

With many a snare their pathway line!

But ye, O happy husbands, ye

With him were friends eternally:

The crafty spouse caressed him, who

By Faublas in his youth was schooled,5

And the suspicious veteran old,

The pompous, swaggering cuckold too,

Who floats contentedly through life,

Proud of his dinners and his wife!

5 Les Aventures du Chevalier de Faublas, a romance of a loose character by Jean Baptiste Louvet de Couvray, b. 1760, d. 1797, famous for his bold oration denouncing Robespierre, Marat and Danton.

XII

One morn whilst yet in bed he lay,

His valet brings him letters three.

What, invitations? The same day

As many entertainments be!

A ball here, there a children’s treat,

Whither shall my rapscallion flit?

Whither shall he go first? He’ll see,

Perchance he will to all the three.

Meantime in matutinal dress

And hat surnamed a “Bolivar”6

He hies unto the “Boulevard,”

To loiter there in idleness

Until the sleepless Breguet chime7

Announcing to him dinner-time.

6 A la “Bolivar,” from the founder of Bolivian independence.

7 M. Breguet, a celebrated Parisian watchmaker — hence a slang term for a watch.

XIII

’Tis dark. He seats him in a sleigh,

“Drive on!” the cheerful cry goes forth,

His furs are powdered on the way

By the fine silver of the north.

He bends his course to Talon’s, where8

He knows Kaverine will repair.9

He enters. High the cork arose

And Comet champagne foaming flows.

Before him red roast beef is seen

And truffles, dear to youthful eyes,

Flanked by immortal Strasbourg pies,

The choicest flowers of French cuisine,

And Limburg cheese alive and old

Is seen next pine-apples of gold.

8 Talon, a famous St. Petersburg restaurateur.

9 Paul Petrovitch Kaverine, a friend for whom Pushkin in his youth appears to have entertained great respect and admiration. He was an officer in the Hussars of the Guard, and a noted “dandy” and man about town. The poet on one occasion addressed the following impromptu to his friend’s portrait:

“Within him daily see the the fires of punch and war,

Upon the fields of Mars a gallant warrior,

A faithful friend to friends, of ladies torturer,

      But ever the Hussar.”

XIV

Still thirst fresh draughts of wine compels

To cool the cutlets’ seething grease,

When the sonorous Breguet tells

Of the commencement of the piece.

A critic of the stage malicious,

A slave of actresses capricious,

Oneguine was a citizen

Of the domains of the side-scene.

To the theatre he repairs

Where each young critic ready stands,

Capers applauds with clap of hands,

With hisses Cleopatra scares,

Moina recalls for this alone

That all may hear his voice’s tone.

XV

Thou fairy-land! Where formerly

Shone pungent Satire’s dauntless king,

Von Wisine, friend of liberty,

And Kniajnine, apt at copying.

The young Simeonova too there

With Ozeroff was wont to share

Applause, the people’s donative.

There our Katenine did revive

Corneille’s majestic genius,

Sarcastic Shakhovskoi brought out

His comedies, a noisy rout,

There Didelot became glorious,

There, there, beneath the side-scene’s shade

The drama of my youth was played.10

10 Denis Von Wisine (1741–92), a favourite Russian dramatist. His first comedy “The Brigadier,” procured him the favour of the second Catherine. His best, however, is the “Minor” (Niedorosl). Prince Potemkin, after witnessing it, summoned the author, and greeted him with the exclamation, “Die now, Denis!” In fact, his subsequent performances were not of equal merit.

Jacob Borissovitch Kniajnine (1742–91), a clever adapter of French tragedy.

Simeonova, a celebrated tragic actress, who retired from the stage in early life and married a Prince Gagarine.

Ozeroff, one of the best-known Russian dramatists of the period; he possessed more originality than Kniajnine. “Oedipus in Athens,” “Fingal,” “Demetrius Donskoi,” and “Polyxena,” are the best known of his tragedies.

Katenine translated Corneille’s tragedies into Russian.

Didelot, sometime Director of the ballet at the Opera at St. Petersburg.

XVI

My goddesses, where are your shades?

Do ye not hear my mournful sighs?

Are ye replaced by other maids

Who cannot conjure former joys?

Shall I your chorus hear anew,

Russia’s Terpsichore review

Again in her ethereal dance?

Or will my melancholy glance

On the dull stage find all things changed,

The disenchanted glass direct

Where I can no more recollect? —

A careless looker-on estranged

In silence shall I sit and yawn

And dream of life’s delightful dawn?

XVII

The house is crammed. A thousand lamps

On pit, stalls, boxes, brightly blaze,

Impatiently the gallery stamps,

The curtain now they slowly raise.

Obedient to the magic strings,

Brilliant, ethereal, there springs

Forth from the crowd of nymphs surrounding

Istomina(*) the nimbly-bounding;

With one foot resting on its tip

Slow circling round its fellow swings

And now she skips and now she springs

Like down from Aeolus’s lip,

Now her lithe form she arches o’er

And beats with rapid foot the floor.

*Istomina — A celebrated Circassian dancer of the day, with whom the poet in his extreme youth imagined himself in love.

XVIII

Shouts of applause! Oneguine passes

Between the stalls, along the toes;

Seated, a curious look with glasses

On unknown female forms he throws.

Free scope he yields unto his glance,

Reviews both dress and countenance,

With all dissatisfaction shows.

To male acquaintances he bows,

And finally he deigns let fall

Upon the stage his weary glance.

He yawns, averts his countenance,

Exclaiming, “We must change ’em all!

I long by ballets have been bored,

Now Didelot scarce can be endured!”

XIX

Snakes, satyrs, loves with many a shout

Across the stage still madly sweep,

Whilst the tired serving-men without

Wrapped in their sheepskins soundly sleep.

Still the loud stamping doth not cease,

Still they blow noses, cough, and sneeze,

Still everywhere, without, within,

The lamps illuminating shine;

The steed benumbed still pawing stands

And of the irksome harness tires,

And still the coachmen round the fires11

Abuse their masters, rub their hands:

But Eugene long hath left the press

To array himself in evening dress.

11 In Russia large fires are lighted in winter time in front of the theatres for the benefit of the menials, who, considering the state of the thermometer, cannot be said to have a jovial time of it. But in this, as in other cases, “habit” alleviates their lot, and they bear the cold with a wonderful equanimity.

XX

Faithfully shall I now depict,

Portray the solitary den

Wherein the child of fashion strict

Dressed him, undressed, and dressed again?

All that industrial London brings

For tallow, wood and other things

Across the Baltic’s salt sea waves,

All which caprice and affluence craves,

All which in Paris eager taste,

Choosing a profitable trade,

For our amusement ever made

And ease and fashionable waste —

Adorned the apartment of Eugene,

Philosopher just turned eighteen.

XXI

China and bronze the tables weight,

Amber on pipes from Stamboul glows,

And, joy of souls effeminate,

Phials of crystal scents enclose.

Combs of all sizes, files of steel,

Scissors both straight and curved as well,

Of thirty different sorts, lo! brushes

Both for the nails and for the tushes.

Rousseau, I would remark in passing,12

Could not conceive how serious Grimm

Dared calmly cleanse his nails ‘fore him,

Eloquent raver all-surpassing —

The friend of liberty and laws

In this case quite mistaken was.

12 “Tout le monde sut qu’il (Grimm) mettait du blanc; et moi, qui n’en croyait rien, je commencai de le croire, non seulement par l’embellissement de son teint, et pour avoir trouve des tasses de blanc sur la toilette, mais sur ce qu’entrant un matin dans sa chambre, je le trouvais brossant ses ongles avec une petite vergette faite expres, ouvrage qu’il continua fierement devant moi. Je jugeai qu’un homme qui passe deux heures tous les matins a brosser ses ongles peut bien passer quelques instants a remplir de blanc les creux de sa peau.”
Confessions de J. J. Rousseau

XXII

The most industrious man alive

May yet be studious of his nails;

What boots it with the age to strive?

Custom the despot soon prevails.

A new Kaverine Eugene mine,

Dreading the world’s remarks malign,

Was that which we are wont to call

A fop, in dress pedantical.

Three mortal hours per diem he

Would loiter by the looking-glass,

And from his dressing-room would pass

Like Venus when, capriciously,

The goddess would a masquerade

Attend in male attire arrayed.

XXIII

On this artistical retreat

Having once fixed your interest,

I might to connoisseurs repeat

The style in which my hero dressed;

Though I confess I hardly dare

Describe in detail the affair,

Since words like pantaloons, vest, coat,

To Russ indigenous are not;

And also that my feeble verse —

Pardon I ask for such a sin —

With words of foreign origin

Too much I’m given to intersperse,

Though to the Academy I come

And oft its Dictionary thumb.13

13 Refers to Dictionary of the Academy, compiled during the reign of Catherine II under the supervision of Lomonossoff.

XXIV

But such is not my project now,

So let us to the ball-room haste,

Whither at headlong speed doth go

Eugene in hackney carriage placed.

Past darkened windows and long streets

Of slumbering citizens he fleets,

Till carriage lamps, a double row,

Cast a gay lustre on the snow,

Which shines with iridescent hues.

He nears a spacious mansion’s gate,

By many a lamp illuminate,

And through the lofty windows views

Profiles of lovely dames he knows

And also fashionable beaux.

XXV

Our hero stops and doth alight,

Flies past the porter to the stair,

But, ere he mounts the marble flight,

With hurried hand smooths down his hair.

He enters: in the hall a crowd,

No more the music thunders loud,

Some a mazurka occupies,

Crushing and a confusing noise;

Spurs of the Cavalier Guard clash,

The feet of graceful ladies fly,

And following them ye might espy

Full many a glance like lightning flash,

And by the fiddle’s rushing sound

The voice of jealousy is drowned.

XXVI

In my young days of wild delight

On balls I madly used to dote,

Fond declarations they invite

Or the delivery of a note.

So hearken, every worthy spouse,

I would your vigilance arouse,

Attentive be unto my rhymes

And due precautions take betimes.

Ye mothers also, caution use,

Upon your daughters keep an eye,

Employ your glasses constantly,

For otherwise — God only knows!

I lift a warning voice because

I long have ceased to offend the laws.

XXVII

Alas! life’s hours which swiftly fly

I’ve wasted in amusements vain,

But were it not immoral I

Should dearly like a dance again.

I love its furious delight,

The crowd and merriment and light,

The ladies, their fantastic dress,

Also their feet — yet ne’ertheless

Scarcely in Russia can ye find

Three pairs of handsome female feet;

Ah! I still struggle to forget

A pair; though desolate my mind,

Their memory lingers still and seems

To agitate me in my dreams.

XXVIII

When, where, and in what desert land,

Madman, wilt thou from memory raze

Those feet? Alas! on what far strand

Do ye of spring the blossoms graze?

Lapped in your Eastern luxury,

No trace ye left in passing by

Upon the dreary northern snows,

But better loved the soft repose

Of splendid carpets richly wrought.

I once forgot for your sweet cause

The thirst for fame and man’s applause,

My country and an exile’s lot;

My joy in youth was fleeting e’en

As your light footprints on the green.

XXIX

Diana’s bosom, Flora’s cheeks,

Are admirable, my dear friend,

But yet Terpsichore bespeaks

Charms more enduring in the end.

For promises her feet reveal

Of untold gain she must conceal,

Their privileged allurements fire

A hidden train of wild desire.

I love them, O my dear Elvine,14

Beneath the table-cloth of white,

In winter on the fender bright,

In springtime on the meadows green,

Upon the ball-room’s glassy floor

Or by the ocean’s rocky shore.

14 Elvine, or Elvina, was not improbably the owner of the seductive feet apostrophized by the poet, since, in 1816, he wrote an ode, “To Her,” which commences thus:

“Elvina, my dear, come, give me thine hand,” and so forth.

XXX

Beside the stormy sea one day

I envied sore the billows tall,

Which rushed in eager dense array

Enamoured at her feet to fall.

How like the billow I desired

To kiss the feet which I admired!

No, never in the early blaze

Of fiery youth’s untutored days

So ardently did I desire

A young Armida’s lips to press,

Her cheek of rosy loveliness

Or bosom full of languid fire —

A gust of passion never tore

My spirit with such pangs before.

XXXI

Another time, so willed it Fate,

Immersed in secret thought I stand

And grasp a stirrup fortunate —

Her foot was in my other hand.

Again imagination blazed,

The contact of the foot I raised

Rekindled in my withered heart

The fires of passion and its smart —

Away! and cease to ring their praise

For ever with thy tattling lyre,

The proud ones are not worth the fire

Of passion they so often raise.

The words and looks of charmers sweet

Are oft deceptive — like their feet.

XXXII

Where is Oneguine? Half asleep,

Straight from the ball to bed he goes,

Whilst Petersburg from slumber deep

The drum already doth arouse.

The shopman and the pedlar rise

And to the Bourse the cabman plies;

The Okhtenka with pitcher speeds,15

Crunching the morning snow she treads;

Morning awakes with joyous sound;

The shutters open; to the skies

In column blue the smoke doth rise;

The German baker looks around

His shop, a night-cap on his head,

And pauses oft to serve out bread.

15 i.e. the milkmaid from the Okhta villages, a suburb of St. Petersburg on the right bank of the Neva chiefly inhabited by the labouring classes.

XXXIII

But turning morning into night,

Tired by the ball’s incessant noise,

The votary of vain delight

Sleep in the shadowy couch enjoys,

Late in the afternoon to rise,

When the same life before him lies

Till morn — life uniform but gay,

To-morrow just like yesterday.

But was our friend Eugene content,

Free, in the blossom of his spring,

Amidst successes flattering

And pleasure’s daily blandishment,

Or vainly ‘mid luxurious fare

Was he in health and void of care? —

XXXIV

Even so! His passions soon abated,

Hateful the hollow world became,

Nor long his mind was agitated

By love’s inevitable flame.

For treachery had done its worst;

Friendship and friends he likewise curst,

Because he could not gourmandise

Daily beefsteaks and Strasbourg pies

And irrigate them with champagne;

Nor slander viciously could spread

Whene’er he had an aching head;

And, though a plucky scatterbrain,

He finally lost all delight

In bullets, sabres, and in fight.

XXXV

His malady, whose cause I ween

It now to investigate is time,

Was nothing but the British spleen

Transported to our Russian clime.

It gradually possessed his mind;

Though, God be praised! he ne’er designed

To slay himself with blade or ball,

Indifferent he became to all,

And like Childe Harold gloomily

He to the festival repairs,

Nor boston nor the world’s affairs

Nor tender glance nor amorous sigh

Impressed him in the least degree —

Callous to all he seemed to be.

XXXVI

Ye miracles of courtly grace,

He left you first, and I must own

The manners of the highest class

Have latterly vexatious grown;

And though perchance a lady may

Discourse of Bentham or of Say,

Yet as a rule their talk I call

Harmless, but quite nonsensical.

Then they’re so innocent of vice,

So full of piety, correct,

So prudent, and so circumspect

Stately, devoid of prejudice,

So inaccessible to men,

Their looks alone produce the spleen.16

16 Apropos of this somewhat ungallant sentiment, a Russian scholiast remarks:—“The whole of this ironical stanza is but a refined eulogy of the excellent qualities of our countrywomen. Thus Boileau, in the guise of invective, eulogizes Louis XIV. Russian ladies unite in their persons great acquirements, combined with amiability and strict morality; also a species of Oriental charm which so much captivated Madame de Stael.” It will occur to most that the apologist of the Russian fair “doth protest too much.” The poet in all probability wrote the offending stanza in a fit of Byronic “spleen,” as he would most likely himself have called it. Indeed, since Byron, poets of his school seem to assume this virtue if they have it not, and we take their utterances under its influence for what they are worth.

XXXVII

And you, my youthful damsels fair,

Whom latterly one often meets

Urging your droshkies swift as air

Along Saint Petersburg’s paved streets,

From you too Eugene took to flight,

Abandoning insane delight,

And isolated from all men,

Yawning betook him to a pen.

He thought to write, but labour long

Inspired him with disgust and so

Nought from his pen did ever flow,

And thus he never fell among

That vicious set whom I don’t blame —

Because a member I became.

XXXVIII

Once more to idleness consigned,

He felt the laudable desire

From mere vacuity of mind

The wit of others to acquire.

A case of books he doth obtain —

He reads at random, reads in vain.

This nonsense, that dishonest seems,

This wicked, that absurd he deems,

All are constrained and fetters bear,

Antiquity no pleasure gave,

The moderns of the ancients rave —

Books he abandoned like the fair,

His book-shelf instantly doth drape

With taffety instead of crape.

XXXIX

Having abjured the haunts of men,

Like him renouncing vanity,

His friendship I acquired just then;

His character attracted me.

An innate love of meditation,

Original imagination,

And cool sagacious mind he had:

I was incensed and he was sad.

Both were of passion satiate

And both of dull existence tired,

Extinct the flame which once had fired;

Both were expectant of the hate

With which blind Fortune oft betrays

The very morning of our days.

XL

He who hath lived and living, thinks,

Must e’en despise his kind at last;

He who hath suffered ofttimes shrinks

From shades of the relentless past.

No fond illusions live to soothe,

But memory like a serpent’s tooth

With late repentance gnaws and stings.

All this in many cases brings

A charm with it in conversation.

Oneguine’s speeches I abhorred

At first, but soon became inured

To the sarcastic observation,

To witticisms and taunts half-vicious

And gloomy epigrams malicious.

XLI

How oft, when on a summer night

Transparent o’er the Neva beamed

The firmament in mellow light,

And when the watery mirror gleamed

No more with pale Diana’s rays,17

We called to mind our youthful days —

The days of love and of romance!

Then would we muse as in a trance,

Impressionable for an hour,

And breathe the balmy breath of night;

And like the prisoner’s our delight

Who for the greenwood quits his tower,

As on the rapid wings of thought

The early days of life we sought.

17 The midsummer nights in the latitude of St. Petersburg are a prolonged twilight.

XLII

Absorbed in melancholy mood

And o’er the granite coping bent,

Oneguine meditative stood,

E’en as the poet says he leant.18

’Tis silent all! Alone the cries

Of the night sentinels arise

And from the Millionaya afar19

The sudden rattling of a car.

Lo! on the sleeping river borne,

A boat with splashing oar floats by,

And now we hear delightedly

A jolly song and distant horn;

But sweeter in a midnight dream

Torquato Tasso’s strains I deem.

18 Refers to Mouravieff’s “Goddess of the Neva.” At St. Petersburg the banks of the Neva are lined throughout with splendid granite quays.

19 A street running parallel to the Neva, and leading from the Winter Palace to the Summer Palace and Garden.

XLIII

Ye billows of blue Hadria’s sea,

O Brenta, once more we shall meet

And, inspiration firing me,

Your magic voices I shall greet,

Whose tones Apollo’s sons inspire,

And after Albion’s proud lyre 20

Possess my love and sympathy.

The nights of golden Italy

I’ll pass beneath the firmament,

Hid in the gondola’s dark shade,

Alone with my Venetian maid,

Now talkative, now reticent;

From her my lips shall learn the tongue

Of love which whilom Petrarch sung.

20 The strong influence exercised by Byron’s genius on the imagination of Pushkin is well known. Shakespeare and other English dramatists had also their share in influencing his mind, which, at all events in its earlier developments, was of an essentially imitative type. As an example of his Shakespearian tastes, see his poem of “Angelo,” founded upon “Measure for Measure.”

XLIV

When will my hour of freedom come!

Time, I invoke thee! favouring gales

Awaiting on the shore I roam

And beckon to the passing sails.

Upon the highway of the sea

When shall I wing my passage free

On waves by tempests curdled o’er!

’Tis time to quit this weary shore

So uncongenial to my mind,

To dream upon the sunny strand

Of Africa, ancestral land,21

Of dreary Russia left behind,

Wherein I felt love’s fatal dart,

Wherein I buried left my heart.

21 The poet was, on his mother’s side, of African extraction, a circumstance which perhaps accounts for the southern fervour of his imagination. His great-grandfather, Abraham Petrovitch Hannibal, was seized on the coast of Africa when eight years of age by a corsair, and carried a slave to Constantinople. The Russian Ambassador bought and presented him to Peter the Great who caused him to be baptized at Vilnius. Subsequently one of Hannibal’s brothers made his way to Constantinople and thence to St. Petersburg for the purpose of ransoming him; but Peter would not surrender his godson who died at the age of ninety-two, having attained the rank of general in the Russian service.

XLV

Eugene designed with me to start

And visit many a foreign clime,

But Fortune cast our lots apart

For a protracted space of time.

Just at that time his father died,

And soon Oneguine’s door beside

Of creditors a hungry rout

Their claims and explanations shout.

But Eugene, hating litigation

And with his lot in life content,

To a surrender gave consent,

Seeing in this no deprivation,

Or counting on his uncle’s death

And what the old man might bequeath.

XLVI

And in reality one day

The steward sent a note to tell

How sick to death his uncle lay

And wished to say to him farewell.

Having this mournful document

Perused, Eugene in postchaise went

And hastened to his uncle’s side,

But in his heart dissatisfied,

Having for money’s sake alone

Sorrow to counterfeit and wail —

Thus we began our little tale —

But, to his uncle’s mansion flown,

He found him on the table laid,

A due which must to earth be paid.

XLVII

The courtyard full of serfs he sees,

And from the country all around

Had come both friends and enemies —

Funeral amateurs abound!

The body they consigned to rest,

And then made merry pope and guest,

With serious air then went away

As men who much had done that day.

Lo! my Oneguine rural lord!

Of mines and meadows, woods and lakes,

He now a full possession takes,

He who economy abhorred,

Delighted much his former ways

To vary for a few brief days.

XLVIII

For two whole days it seemed a change

To wander through the meadows still,

The cool dark oaken grove to range,

To listen to the rippling rill.

But on the third of grove and mead

He took no more the slightest heed;

They made him feel inclined to doze;

And the conviction soon arose,

Ennui can in the country dwell

Though without palaces and streets,

Cards, balls, routs, poetry or fetes;

On him spleen mounted sentinel

And like his shadow dogged his life,

Or better — like a faithful wife.

XLIX

I was for calm existence made,

For rural solitude and dreams,

My lyre sings sweeter in the shade

And more imagination teems.

On innocent delights I dote,

Upon my lake I love to float,

For law I far niente take

And every morning I awake

The child of sloth and liberty.

I slumber much, a little read,

Of fleeting glory take no heed.

In former years thus did not I

In idleness and tranquil joy

The happiest days of life employ?

L

Love, flowers, the country, idleness

And fields my joys have ever been;

I like the difference to express

Between myself and my Eugene,

Lest the malicious reader or

Some one or other editor

Of keen sarcastic intellect

Herein my portrait should detect,

And impiously should declare,

To sketch myself that I have tried

Like Byron, bard of scorn and pride,

As if impossible it were

To write of any other elf

Than one’s own fascinating self.

LI

Here I remark all poets are

Love to idealize inclined;

I have dreamed many a vision fair

And the recesses of my mind

Retained the image, though short-lived,

Which afterwards the muse revived.

Thus carelessly I once portrayed

Mine own ideal, the mountain maid,

The captives of the Salguir’s shore.22

But now a question in this wise

Oft upon friendly lips doth rise:

Whom doth thy plaintive Muse adore?

To whom amongst the jealous throng

Of maids dost thou inscribe thy song?

22 Refers to two of the most interesting productions of the poet. The former line indicates the Prisoner of the Caucasus, the latter, The Fountain of Baktchiserai. The Salguir is a river of the Crimea.

LII

Whose glance reflecting inspiration

With tenderness hath recognized

Thy meditative incantation —

Whom hath thy strain immortalized?

None, be my witness Heaven above!

The malady of hopeless love

I have endured without respite.

Happy who thereto can unite

Poetic transport. They impart

A double force unto their song

Who following Petrarch move along

And ease the tortures of the heart —

Perchance they laurels also cull —

But I, in love, was mute and dull.

LIII

The Muse appeared, when love passed by

And my dark soul to light was brought;

Free, I renewed the idolatry

Of harmony enshrining thought.

I write, and anguish flies away,

Nor doth my absent pen portray

Around my stanzas incomplete

Young ladies’ faces and their feet.

Extinguished ashes do not blaze —

I mourn, but tears I cannot shed —

Soon, of the tempest which hath fled

Time will the ravages efface —

When that time comes, a poem I’ll strive

To write in cantos twenty-five.

LIV

I’ve thought well o’er the general plan,

The hero’s name too in advance,

Meantime I’ll finish whilst I can

Canto the First of this romance.

I’ve scanned it with a jealous eye,

Discovered much absurdity,

But will not modify a tittle —

I owe the censorship a little.

For journalistic deglutition

I yield the fruit of work severe.

Go, on the Neva’s bank appear,

My very latest composition!

Enjoy the meed which Fame bestows —

Misunderstanding, words and blows.

End of Canto the First

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24