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

Canto the Fifth

The Fete

‘Oh, do not dream these fearful dreams,

 O my Svetlana.’— Joukovski

[Mikhailovskoe, 1825–6]

I

That year the autumn season late

Kept lingering on as loath to go,

All Nature winter seemed to await,

Till January fell no snow —

The third at night. Tattiana wakes

Betimes, and sees, when morning breaks,

Park, garden, palings, yard below

And roofs near morn blanched o’er with snow;

Upon the windows tracery,

The trees in silvery array,

Down in the courtyard magpies gay,

And the far mountains daintily

O’erspread with Winter’s carpet bright,

All so distinct, and all so white!

II

Winter! The peasant blithely goes

To labour in his sledge forgot,

His pony sniffing the fresh snows

Just manages a feeble trot

Though deep he sinks into the drift;

Forth the kibitka gallops swift,48

Its driver seated on the rim

In scarlet sash and sheepskin trim;

Yonder the household lad doth run,

Placed in a sledge his terrier black,

Himself transformed into a hack;

To freeze his finger hath begun,

He laughs, although it aches from cold,

His mother from the door doth scold.

48 The “kibitka,” properly speaking, whether on wheels or runners, is a vehicle with a hood not unlike a big cradle.

III

In scenes like these it may be though,

Ye feel but little interest,

They are all natural and low,

Are not with elegance impressed.

Another bard with art divine

Hath pictured in his gorgeous line

The first appearance of the snows

And all the joys which Winter knows.

He will delight you, I am sure,

When he in ardent verse portrays

Secret excursions made in sleighs;

But competition I abjure

Either with him or thee in song,

Bard of the Finnish maiden young.49

49 The allusions in the foregoing stanza are in the first place to a poem entitled “The First Snow,” by Prince Viazemski and secondly to “Eda,” by Baratynski, a poem descriptive of life in Finland.

IV

Tattiana, Russian to the core,

Herself not knowing well the reason,

The Russian winter did adore

And the cold beauties of the season:

On sunny days the glistening rime,

Sledging, the snows, which at the time

Of sunset glow with rosy light,

The misty evenings ere Twelfth Night.

These evenings as in days of old

The Larinas would celebrate,

The servants used to congregate

And the young ladies fortunes told,

And every year distributed

Journeys and warriors to wed.

V

Tattiana in traditions old

Believed, the people’s wisdom weird,

In dreams and what the moon foretold

And what she from the cards inferred.

Omens inspired her soul with fear,

Mysteriously all objects near

A hidden meaning could impart,

Presentiments oppressed her heart.

Lo! the prim cat upon the stove

With one paw strokes her face and purrs,

Tattiana certainly infers

That guests approach: and when above

The new moon’s crescent slim she spied,

Suddenly to the left hand side,

VI

She trembled and grew deadly pale.

Or a swift meteor, may be,

Across the gloom of heaven would sail

And disappear in space; then she

Would haste in agitation dire

To mutter her concealed desire

Ere the bright messenger had set.

When in her walks abroad she met

A friar black approaching near,50

Or a swift hare from mead to mead

Had run across her path at speed,

Wholly beside herself with fear,

Anticipating woe she pined,

Certain misfortune near opined.

50 The Russian clergy are divided into two classes: the white or secular, which is made up of the mass of parish priests, and the black who inhabit the monasteries, furnish the high dignitaries of the Church, and constitute that swarm of useless drones for whom Peter the Great felt such a deep repugnance.

VII

Wherefore? She found a secret joy

In horror for itself alone,

Thus Nature doth our souls alloy,

Thus her perversity hath shown.

Twelfth Night approaches. Merry eves!51

When thoughtless youth whom nothing grieves,

Before whose inexperienced sight

Life lies extended, vast and bright,

To peer into the future tries.

Old age through spectacles too peers,

Although the destined coffin nears,

Having lost all in life we prize.

It matters not. Hope e’en to these

With childlike lisp will lie to please.

51 Refers to the “Sviatki” or Holy Nights between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night. Divination, or the telling of fortunes by various expedients, is the favourite pastime on these occasions.

VIII

Tattiana gazed with curious eye

On melted wax in water poured;

The clue unto some mystery

She deemed its outline might afford.

Rings from a dish of water full

In order due the maidens pull;

But when Tattiana’s hand had ta’en

A ring she heard the ancient strain:

The peasants there are rich as kings,

They shovel silver with a spade,

He whom we sing to shall be made

Happy and glorious. But this brings

With sad refrain misfortune near.

Girls the kashourka much prefer.52

52 During the “sviatki” it is a common custom for the girls to assemble around a table on which is placed a dish or basin of water which contains a ring. Each in her turn extracts the ring from the basin whilst the remainder sing in chorus the “podbliudni pessni,” or “dish songs” before mentioned. These are popularly supposed to indicate the fortunes of the immediate holder of the ring. The first-named lines foreshadow death; the latter, the “kashourka,” or “kitten song,” indicates approaching marriage. It commences thus: “The cat asked the kitten to sleep on the stove.”

IX

Frosty the night; the heavens shone;

The wondrous host of heavenly spheres

Sailed silently in unison —

Tattiana in the yard appears

In a half-open dressing-gown

And bends her mirror on the moon,

But trembling on the mirror dark

The sad moon only could remark.

List! the snow crunches — he draws nigh!

The girl on tiptoe forward bounds

And her voice sweeter than the sounds

Of clarinet or flute doth cry:

“What is your name?” The boor looked dazed,

And “Agathon” replied, amazed.53

53 The superstition is that the name of the future husband may thus be discovered.

X

Tattiana (nurse the project planned)

By night prepared for sorcery,

And in the bathroom did command

To lay two covers secretly.

But sudden fear assailed Tattiana,

And I, remembering Svetlana,54

Become alarmed. So never mind!

I’m not for witchcraft now inclined.

So she her silken sash unlaced,

Undressed herself and went to bed

And soon Lel hovered o’er her head.55

Beneath her downy pillow placed,

A little virgin mirror peeps.

’Tis silent all. Tattiana sleeps.

54 See Note 30.

55 Lel, in Slavonic mythology, corresponds to the Morpheus of the Latins. The word is evidently connected with the verb “leleyat” to fondle or soothe, likewise with our own word “to lull.”

XI

A dreadful sleep Tattiana sleeps.

She dreamt she journeyed o’er a field

All covered up with snow in heaps,

By melancholy fogs concealed.

Amid the snowdrifts which surround

A stream, by winter’s ice unbound,

Impetuously clove its way

With boiling torrent dark and gray;

Two poles together glued by ice,

A fragile bridge and insecure,

Spanned the unbridled torrent o’er;

Beside the thundering abyss

Tattiana in despair unfeigned

Rooted unto the spot remained.

XII

As if against obstruction sore

Tattiana o’er the stream complained;

To help her to the other shore

No one appeared to lend a hand.

But suddenly a snowdrift stirs,

And what from its recess appears?

A bristly bear of monstrous size!

He roars, and “Ah!” Tattiana cries.

He offers her his murderous paw;

She nerves herself from her alarm

And leans upon the monster’s arm,

With footsteps tremulous with awe

Passes the torrent But alack!

Bruin is marching at her back!

XIII

She, to turn back her eyes afraid,

Accelerates her hasty pace,

But cannot anyhow evade

Her shaggy myrmidon in chase.

The bear rolls on with many a grunt:

A forest now she sees in front

With fir-trees standing motionless

In melancholy loveliness,

Their branches by the snow bowed down.

Through aspens, limes and birches bare,

The shining orbs of night appear;

There is no path; the storm hath strewn

Both bush and brake, ravine and steep,

And all in snow is buried deep.

XIV

The wood she enters — bear behind —

In snow she sinks up to the knee;

Now a long branch itself entwined

Around her neck, now violently

Away her golden earrings tore;

Now the sweet little shoes she wore,

Grown clammy, stick fast in the snow;

Her handkerchief she loses now;

No time to pick it up! afraid,

She hears the bear behind her press,

Nor dares the skirting of her dress

For shame lift up the modest maid.

She runs, the bear upon her trail,

Until her powers of running fail.

XV

She sank upon the snow. But Bruin

Adroitly seized and carried her;

Submissive as if in a swoon,

She cannot draw a breath or stir.

He dragged her by a forest road

Till amid trees a hovel showed,

By barren snow heaped up and bound,

A tangled wilderness around.

Bright blazed the window of the place,

Within resounded shriek and shout:

“My chum lives here,” Bruin grunts out.

“Warm yourself here a little space!”

Straight for the entrance then he made

And her upon the threshold laid.

XVI

Recovering, Tania gazes round;

Bear gone — she at the threshold placed;

Inside clink glasses, cries resound

As if it were some funeral feast.

But deeming all this nonsense pure,

She peeped through a chink of the door.

What doth she see? Around the board

Sit many monstrous shapes abhorred.

A canine face with horns thereon,

Another with cock’s head appeared,

Here an old witch with hirsute beard,

There an imperious skeleton;

A dwarf adorned with tail, again

A shape half cat and half a crane.

XVII

Yet ghastlier, yet more wonderful,

A crab upon a spider rides,

Perched on a goose’s neck a skull

In scarlet cap revolving glides.

A windmill too a jig performs

And wildly waves its arms and storms;

Barking, songs, whistling, laughter coarse,

The speech of man and tramp of horse.

But wide Tattiana oped her eyes

When in that company she saw

Him who inspired both love and awe,

The hero we immortalize.

Oneguine sat the table by

And viewed the door with cunning eye.

XVIII

All bustle when he makes a sign:

He drinks, all drink and loudly call;

He smiles, in laughter all combine;

He knits his brows —’tis silent all.

He there is master — that is plain;

Tattiana courage doth regain

And grown more curious by far

Just placed the entrance door ajar.

The wind rose instantly, blew out

The fire of the nocturnal lights;

A trouble fell upon the sprites;

Oneguine lightning glances shot;

Furious he from the table rose;

All arise. To the door he goes.

XIX

Terror assails her. Hastily

Tattiana would attempt to fly,

She cannot — then impatiently

She strains her throat to force a cry —

She cannot — Eugene oped the door

And the young girl appeared before

Those hellish phantoms. Peals arise

Of frantic laughter, and all eyes

And hoofs and crooked snouts and paws,

Tails which a bushy tuft adorns,

Whiskers and bloody tongues and horns,

Sharp rows of tushes, bony claws,

Are turned upon her. All combine

In one great shout: she’s mine! she’s mine!

XX

“Mine!” cried Eugene with savage tone.

The troop of apparitions fled,

And in the frosty night alone

Remained with him the youthful maid.

With tranquil air Oneguine leads

Tattiana to a corner, bids

Her on a shaky bench sit down;

His head sinks slowly, rests upon

Her shoulder — Olga swiftly came —

And Lenski followed — a light broke —

His fist Oneguine fiercely shook

And gazed around with eyes of flame;

The unbidden guests he roughly chides —

Tattiana motionless abides.

XXI

The strife grew furious and Eugene

Grasped a long knife and instantly

Struck Lenski dead — across the scene

Dark shadows thicken — a dread cry

Was uttered, and the cabin shook —

Tattiana terrified awoke.

She gazed around her — it was day.

Lo! through the frozen windows play

Aurora’s ruddy rays of light —

The door flew open — Olga came,

More blooming than the Boreal flame

And swifter than the swallow’s flight.

“Come,” she cried, “sister, tell me e’en

Whom you in slumber may have seen.”

XXII

But she, her sister never heeding,

With book in hand reclined in bed,

Page after page continued reading,

But no reply unto her made.

Although her book did not contain

The bard’s enthusiastic strain,

Nor precepts sage nor pictures e’en,

Yet neither Virgil nor Racine

Nor Byron, Walter Scott, nor Seneca,

Nor the Journal des Modes, I vouch,

Ever absorbed a maid so much:

Its name, my friends, was Martin Zadeka,

The chief of the Chaldean wise,

Who dreams expound and prophecies.

XXIII

Brought by a pedlar vagabond

Unto their solitude one day,

This monument of thought profound

Tattiana purchased with a stray

Tome of “Malvina,” and but three56

And a half rubles down gave she;

Also, to equalise the scales,

She got a book of nursery tales,

A grammar, likewise Petriads two,

Marmontel also, tome the third;

Tattiana every day conferred

With Martin Zadeka. In woe

She consolation thence obtained —

Inseparable they remained.

56 “Malvina,” a romance by Madame Cottin.

XXIV

The dream left terror in its train.

Not knowing its interpretation,

Tania the meaning would obtain

Of such a dread hallucination.

Tattiana to the index flies

And alphabetically tries

The words bear, bridge, fir, darkness, bog,

Raven, snowstorm, tempest, fog,

Et cetera; but nothing showed

Her Martin Zadeka in aid,

Though the foul vision promise made

Of a most mournful episode,

And many a day thereafter laid

A load of care upon the maid.

XXV

“But lo! forth from the valleys dun

With purple hand Aurora leads,

Swift following in her wake, the sun,”57

And a grand festival proceeds.

The Larinas were since sunrise

O’erwhelmed with guests; by families

The neighbours come, in sledge approach,

Britzka, kibitka, or in coach.

Crush and confusion in the hall,

Latest arrivals’ salutations,

Barking, young ladies’ osculations,

Shouts, laughter, jamming ‘gainst the wall,

Bows and the scrape of many feet,

Nurses who scream and babes who bleat.

57 The above three lines are a parody on the turgid style of Lomonossoff, a literary man of the second Catherine’s era.

XXVI

Bringing his partner corpulent

Fat Poustiakoff drove to the door;

Gvozdine, a landlord excellent,

Oppressor of the wretched poor;

And the Skatenines, aged pair,

With all their progeny were there,

Who from two years to thirty tell;

Petoushkoff, the provincial swell;

Bouyanoff too, my cousin, wore58

His wadded coat and cap with peak

(Surely you know him as I speak);

And Flianoff, pensioned councillor,

Rogue and extortioner of yore,

Now buffoon, glutton, and a bore.

58 Pushkin calls Bouyanoff his cousin because he is a character in the “Dangerous Neighbour,” a poem by Vassili Pushkin, the poet’s uncle.

XXVII

The family of Kharlikoff,

Came with Monsieur Triquet, a prig,

Who arrived lately from Tamboff,

In spectacles and chestnut wig.

Like a true Frenchman, couplets wrought

In Tania’s praise in pouch he brought,

Known unto children perfectly:

Reveillez-vouz, belle endormie.

Among some ancient ballads thrust,

He found them in an almanac,

And the sagacious Triquet back

To light had brought them from their dust,

Whilst he “belle Nina” had the face

By “belle Tattiana” to replace.

XXVIII

Lo! from the nearest barrack came,

Of old maids the divinity,

And comfort of each country dame,

The captain of a company.

He enters. Ah! good news today!

The military band will play.

The colonel sent it. Oh! delight!

So there will be a dance to-night.

Girls in anticipation skip!

But dinner-time comes. Two and two

They hand in hand to table go.

The maids beside Tattiana keep —

Men opposite. The cross they sign

And chattering loud sit down to dine.

XXIX

Ceased for a space all chattering.

Jaws are at work. On every side

Plates, knives and forks are clattering

And ringing wine-glasses are plied.

But by degrees the crowd begin

To raise a clamour and a din:

They laugh, they argue, and they bawl,

They shout and no one lists at all.

The doors swing open: Lenski makes

His entrance with Oneguine. “Ah!

At last the author!” cries Mamma.

The guests make room; aside each takes

His chair, plate, knife and fork in haste;

The friends are called and quickly placed.

XXX

Right opposite Tattiana placed,

She, than the morning moon more pale,

More timid than a doe long chased,

Lifts not her eyes which swimming fail.

Anew the flames of passion start

Within her; she is sick at heart;

The two friends’ compliments she hears

Not, and a flood of bitter tears

With effort she restrains. Well nigh

The poor girl fell into a faint,

But strength of mind and self-restraint

Prevailed at last. She in reply

Said something in an undertone

And at the table sat her down.

XXXI

To tragedy, the fainting fit,

And female tears hysterical,

Oneguine could not now submit,

For long he had endured them all.

Our misanthrope was full of ire,

At a great feast against desire,

And marking Tania’s agitation,

Cast down his eyes in trepidation

And sulked in silent indignation;

Swearing how Lenski he would rile,

Avenge himself in proper style.

Triumphant by anticipation,

Caricatures he now designed

Of all the guests within his mind.

XXXII

Certainly not Eugene alone

Tattiana’s trouble might have spied,

But that the eyes of every one

By a rich pie were occupied —

Unhappily too salt by far;

And that a bottle sealed with tar

Appeared, Don’s effervescing boast,59

Between the blanc-mange and the roast;

Behind, of glasses an array,

Tall, slender, like thy form designed,

Zizi, thou mirror of my mind,

Fair object of my guileless lay,

Seductive cup of love, whose flow

Made me so tipsy long ago!

59 The Donskoe Champanskoe is a species of sparkling wine manufactured in the vicinity of the river Don.

XXXIII

From the moist cork the bottle freed

With loud explosion, the bright wine

Hissed forth. With serious air indeed,

Long tortured by his lay divine,

Triquet arose, and for the bard

The company deep silence guard.

Tania well nigh expired when he

Turned to her and discordantly

Intoned it, manuscript in hand.

Voices and hands applaud, and she

Must bow in common courtesy;

The poet, modest though so grand,

Drank to her health in the first place,

Then handed her the song with grace.

XXXIV

Congratulations, toasts resound,

Tattiana thanks to all returned,

But, when Oneguine’s turn came round,

The maiden’s weary eye which yearned,

Her agitation and distress

Aroused in him some tenderness.

He bowed to her nor silence broke,

But somehow there shone in his look

The witching light of sympathy;

I know not if his heart felt pain

Or if he meant to flirt again,

From habit or maliciously,

But kindness from his eye had beamed

And to revive Tattiana seemed.

XXXV

The chairs are thrust back with a roar,

The crowd unto the drawing-room speeds,

As bees who leave their dainty store

And seek in buzzing swarms the meads.

Contented and with victuals stored,

Neighbour by neighbour sat and snored,

Matrons unto the fireplace go,

Maids in the corner whisper low;

Behold! green tables are brought forth,

And testy gamesters do engage

In boston and the game of age,

Ombre, and whist all others worth:

A strong resemblance these possess —

All sons of mental weariness.

XXXVI

Eight rubbers were already played,

Eight times the heroes of the fight

Change of position had essayed,

When tea was brought. ’Tis my delight

Time to denote by dinner, tea,

And supper. In the country we

Can count the time without much fuss —

The stomach doth admonish us.

And, by the way, I here assert

That for that matter in my verse

As many dinners I rehearse,

As oft to meat and drink advert,

As thou, great Homer, didst of yore,

Whom thirty centuries adore.

XXXVII

I will with thy divinity

Contend with knife and fork and platter,

But grant with magnanimity

I’m beaten in another matter;

Thy heroes, sanguinary wights,

Also thy rough-and-tumble fights,

Thy Venus and thy Jupiter,

More advantageously appear

Than cold Oneguine’s oddities,

The aspect of a landscape drear.

Or e’en Istomina, my dear,

And fashion’s gay frivolities;

But my Tattiana, on my soul,

Is sweeter than thy Helen foul.

XXXVIII

No one the contrary will urge,

Though for his Helen Menelaus

Again a century should scourge

Us, and like Trojan warriors slay us;

Though around honoured Priam’s throne

Troy’s sages should in concert own

Once more, when she appeared in sight,

Paris and Menelaus right.

But as to fighting —’twill appear!

For patience, reader, I must plead!

A little farther please to read

And be not in advance severe.

There’ll be a fight. I do not lie.

My word of honour given have I.

XXXIX

The tea, as I remarked, appeared,

But scarce had maids their saucers ta’en

When in the grand saloon was heard

Of bassoons and of flutes the strain.

His soul by crash of music fired,

His tea with rum no more desired,

The Paris of those country parts

To Olga Petoushkova darts:

To Tania Lenski; Kharlikova,

A marriageable maid matured,

The poet from Tamboff secured,

Bouyanoff whisked off Poustiakova.

All to the grand saloon are gone —

The ball in all its splendour shone.

XL

I tried when I began this tale,

(See the first canto if ye will),

A ball in Peter’s capital,

To sketch ye in Albano’s style.60

But by fantastic dreams distraught,

My memory wandered wide and sought

The feet of my dear lady friends.

O feet, where’er your path extends

I long enough deceived have erred.

The perfidies I recollect

Should make me much more circumspect,

Reform me both in deed and word,

And this fifth canto ought to be

From such digressions wholly free.

60 Francesco Albano, a celebrated painter, styled the “Anacreon of Painting,” was born at Bologna 1578, and died in the year 1666.

XLI

The whirlwind of the waltz sweeps by,

Undeviating and insane

As giddy youth’s hilarity —

Pair after pair the race sustain.

The moment for revenge, meanwhile,

Espying, Eugene with a smile

Approaches Olga and the pair

Amid the company career.

Soon the maid on a chair he seats,

Begins to talk of this and that,

But when two minutes she had sat,

Again the giddy waltz repeats.

All are amazed; but Lenski he

Scarce credits what his eyes can see.

XLII

Hark! the mazurka. In times past,

When the mazurka used to peal,

All rattled in the ball-room vast,

The parquet cracked beneath the heel,

And jolting jarred the window-frames.

’Tis not so now. Like gentle dames

We glide along a floor of wax.

However, the mazurka lacks

Nought of its charms original

In country towns, where still it keeps

Its stamping, capers and high leaps.

Fashion is there immutable,

Who tyrannizes us with ease,

Of modern Russians the disease.

XLIII

Bouyanoff, wrathful cousin mine,

Unto the hero of this lay

Olga and Tania led. Malign,

Oneguine Olga bore away.

Gliding in negligent career,

He bending whispered in her ear

Some madrigal not worth a rush,

And pressed her hand — the crimson blush

Upon her cheek by adulation

Grew brighter still. But Lenski hath

Seen all, beside himself with wrath,

And hot with jealous indignation,

Till the mazurka’s close he stays,

Her hand for the cotillon prays.

XLIV

She fears she cannot. — Cannot? Why? —

She promised Eugene, or she would

With great delight. — O God on high!

Heard he the truth? And thus she could —

And can it be? But late a child

And now a fickle flirt and wild,

Cunning already to display

And well-instructed to betray!

Lenski the stroke could not sustain,

At womankind he growled a curse,

Departed, ordered out his horse

And galloped home. But pistols twain,

A pair of bullets — nought beside —

His fate shall presently decide.

End of Canto the Fifth

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