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

Canto the Sixth

The Duel

‘La, sotto giorni nubilosi e brevi,

Nasce una gente a cui ‘l morir non duole.’

— Petrarch

[Mikhailovskoe, 1826: the two final stanzas were, however, written at Moscow.]

I

Having remarked Vladimir’s flight,

Oneguine, bored to death again,

By Olga stood, dejected quite

And satisfied with vengeance ta’en.

Olga began to long likewise

For Lenski, sought him with her eyes,

And endless the cotillon seemed

As if some troubled dream she dreamed.

’Tis done. To supper they proceed.

Bedding is laid out and to all

Assigned a lodging, from the hall61

Up to the attic, and all need

Tranquil repose. Eugene alone

To pass the night at home hath gone.

61 Hospitality is a national virtue of the Russians. On festal occasions in the country the whole party is usually accommodated for the night, or indeed for as many nights as desired, within the house of the entertainer. This of course is rendered necessary by the great distances which separate the residences of the gentry. Still, the alacrity with which a Russian hostess will turn her house topsy-turvy for the accommodation of forty or fifty guests would somewhat astonish the mistress of a modern Belgravian mansion.

II

All slumber. In the drawing-room

Loud snores the cumbrous Poustiakoff

With better half as cumbersome;

Gvozdine, Bouyanoff, Petoushkoff

And Flianoff, somewhat indisposed,

On chairs in the saloon reposed,

Whilst on the floor Monsieur Triquet

In jersey and in nightcap lay.

In Olga’s and Tattiana’s rooms

Lay all the girls by sleep embraced,

Except one by the window placed

Whom pale Diana’s ray illumes —

My poor Tattiana cannot sleep

But stares into the darkness deep.

III

His visit she had not awaited,

His momentary loving glance

Her inmost soul had penetrated,

And his strange conduct at the dance

With Olga; nor of this appeared

An explanation: she was scared,

Alarmed by jealous agonies:

A hand of ice appeared to seize62

Her heart: it seemed a darksome pit

Beneath her roaring opened wide:

“I shall expire,” Tattiana cried,

“But death from him will be delight.

I murmur not! Why mournfulness?

He cannot give me happiness.”

62 There must be a peculiar appropriateness in this expression as descriptive of the sensation of extreme cold. Mr. Wallace makes use of an identical phrase in describing an occasion when he was frostbitten whilst sledging in Russia. He says (vol. i. p. 33): “My fur cloak flew open, the cold seemed to grasp me in the region of the heart, and I fell insensible.”

IV

Haste, haste thy lagging pace, my story!

A new acquaintance we must scan.

There dwells five versts from Krasnogory,

Vladimir’s property, a man

Who thrives this moment as I write,

A philosophic anchorite:

Zaretski, once a bully bold,

A gambling troop when he controlled,

Chief rascal, pot-house president,

Now of a family the head,

Simple and kindly and unwed,

True friend, landlord benevolent,

Yea! and a man of honour, lo!

How perfect doth our epoch grow!

V

Time was the flattering voice of fame,

His ruffian bravery adored,

And true, his pistol’s faultless aim

An ace at fifteen paces bored.

But I must add to what I write

That, tipsy once in actual fight,

He from his Kalmuck horse did leap

In mud and mire to wallow deep,

Drunk as a fly; and thus the French

A valuable hostage gained,

A modern Regulus unchained,

Who to surrender did not blench

That every morn at Verrey’s cost

Three flasks of wine he might exhaust.

VI

Time was, his raillery was gay,

He loved the simpleton to mock,

To make wise men the idiot play

Openly or ‘neath decent cloak.

Yet sometimes this or that deceit

Encountered punishment complete,

And sometimes into snares as well

Himself just like a greenhorn fell.

He could in disputation shine

With pungent or obtuse retort,

At times to silence would resort,

At times talk nonsense with design;

Quarrels among young friends he bred

And to the field of honour led;

VII

Or reconciled them, it may be,

And all the three to breakfast went;

Then he’d malign them secretly

With jest and gossip gaily blent.

Sed alia tempora. And bravery

(Like love, another sort of knavery!)

Diminishes as years decline.

But, as I said, Zaretski mine

Beneath acacias, cherry-trees,

From storms protection having sought,

Lived as a really wise man ought,

Like Horace, planted cabbages,

Both ducks and geese in plenty bred

And lessons to his children read.

VIII

He was no fool, and Eugene mine,

To friendship making no pretence,

Admired his judgment, which was fine,

Pervaded with much common sense.

He usually was glad to see

The man and liked his company,

So, when he came next day to call,

Was not surprised thereby at all.

But, after mutual compliments,

Zaretski with a knowing grin,

Ere conversation could begin,

The epistle from the bard presents.

Oneguine to the window went

And scanned in silence its content.

IX

It was a cheery, generous

Cartel, or challenge to a fight,

Whereto in language courteous

Lenski his comrade did invite.

Oneguine, by first impulse moved,

Turned and replied as it behoved,

Curtly announcing for the fray

That he was “ready any day.”

Zaretski rose, nor would explain,

He cared no longer there to stay,

Had much to do at home that day,

And so departed. But Eugene,

The matter by his conscience tried,

Was with himself dissatisfied.

X

In fact, the subject analysed,

Within that secret court discussed,

In much his conduct stigmatized;

For, from the outset, ’twas unjust

To jest as he had done last eve,

A timid, shrinking love to grieve.

And ought he not to disregard

The poet’s madness? for ’tis hard

At eighteen not to play the fool!

Sincerely loving him, Eugene

Assuredly should not have been

Conventionality’s dull tool —

Not a mere hot, pugnacious boy,

But man of sense and probity.

XI

He might his motives have narrated,

Not bristled up like a wild beast,

He ought to have conciliated

That youthful heart —“But, now at least,

The opportunity is flown.

Besides, a duellist well-known

Hath mixed himself in the affair,

Malicious and a slanderer.

Undoubtedly, disdain alone

Should recompense his idle jeers,

But fools — their calumnies and sneers”—

Behold! the world’s opinion!63

Our idol, Honour’s motive force,

Round which revolves the universe.

63 A line of Griboyedoff’s. (Woe from Wit.)

XII

Impatient, boiling o’er with wrath,

The bard his answer waits at home,

But lo! his braggart neighbour hath

Triumphant with the answer come.

Now for the jealous youth what joy!

He feared the criminal might try

To treat the matter as a jest,

Use subterfuge, and thus his breast

From the dread pistol turn away.

But now all doubt was set aside,

Unto the windmill he must ride

To-morrow before break of day,

To cock the pistol; barrel bend

On thigh or temple, friend on friend.

XIII

Resolved the flirt to cast away,

The foaming Lenski would refuse,

To see his Olga ere the fray —

His watch, the sun in turn he views —

Finally tost his arms in air

And lo! he is already there!

He deemed his coming would inspire

Olga with trepidation dire.

He was deceived. Just as before

The miserable bard to meet,

As hope uncertain and as sweet,

Olga ran skipping from the door.

She was as heedless and as gay —

Well! just as she was yesterday.

XIV

“Why did you leave last night so soon?”

Was the first question Olga made,

Lenski, into confusion thrown,

All silently hung down his head.

Jealousy and vexation took

To flight before her radiant look,

Before such fond simplicity

And mental elasticity.

He eyed her with a fond concern,

Perceived that he was still beloved,

Already by repentance moved

To ask forgiveness seemed to yearn;

But trembles, words he cannot find,

Delighted, almost sane in mind.

XV

But once more pensive and distressed

Beside his Olga doth he grieve,

Nor enough strength of mind possessed

To mention the foregoing eve,

He mused: “I will her saviour be!

With ardent sighs and flattery

The vile seducer shall not dare

The freshness of her heart impair,

Nor shall the caterpillar come

The lily’s stem to eat away,

Nor shall the bud of yesterday

Perish when half disclosed its bloom!”—

All this, my friends, translate aright:

“I with my friend intend to fight!”

XVI

If he had only known the wound

Which rankled in Tattiana’s breast,

And if Tattiana mine had found —

If the poor maiden could have guessed

That the two friends with morning’s light

Above the yawning grave would fight —

Ah! it may be, affection true

Had reconciled the pair anew!

But of this love, e’en casually,

As yet none had discovered aught;

Eugene of course related nought,

Tattiana suffered secretly;

Her nurse, who could have made a guess,

Was famous for thick-headedness.

XVII

Lenski that eve in thought immersed,

Now gloomy seemed and cheerful now,

But he who by the Muse was nursed

Is ever thus. With frowning brow

To the pianoforte he moves

And various chords upon it proves,

Then, eyeing Olga, whispers low:

“I’m happy, say, is it not so?”—

But it grew late; he must not stay;

Heavy his heart with anguish grew;

To the young girl he said adieu,

As it were, tore himself away.

Gazing into his face, she said:

“What ails thee?”—“Nothing.”— He is fled.

XVIII

At home arriving he addressed

His care unto his pistols’ plight,

Replaced them in their box, undressed

And Schiller read by candlelight.

But one thought only filled his mind,

His mournful heart no peace could find,

Olga he sees before his eyes

Miraculously fair arise,

Vladimir closes up his book,

And grasps a pen: his verse, albeit

With lovers’ rubbish filled, was neat

And flowed harmoniously. He took

And spouted it with lyric fire —

Like D[elvig] when dinner doth inspire.

XIX

Destiny hath preserved his lay.

I have it. Lo! the very thing!

“Oh! whither have ye winged your way,

Ye golden days of my young spring?

What will the coming dawn reveal?

In vain my anxious eyes appeal;

In mist profound all yet is hid.

So be it! Just the laws which bid

The fatal bullet penetrate,

Or innocently past me fly.

Good governs all! The hour draws nigh

Of life or death predestinate.

Blest be the labours of the light,

And blest the shadows of the night.

XX

“To-morrow’s dawn will glimmer gray,

Bright day will then begin to burn,

But the dark sepulchre I may

Have entered never to return.

The memory of the bard, a dream,

Will be absorbed by Lethe’s stream;

Men will forget me, but my urn

To visit, lovely maid, return,

O’er my remains to drop a tear,

And think: here lies who loved me well,

For consecrate to me he fell

In the dawn of existence drear.

Maid whom my heart desires alone,

Approach, approach; I am thine own.”

XXI

Thus in a style obscure and stale,64

He wrote (’tis the romantic style,

Though of romance therein I fail

To see aught — never mind meanwhile)

And about dawn upon his breast

His weary head declined at rest,

For o’er a word to fashion known,

“Ideal,” he had drowsy grown.

But scarce had sleep’s soft witchery

Subdued him, when his neighbour stept

Into the chamber where he slept

And wakened him with the loud cry:

“’Tis time to get up! Seven doth strike.

Oneguine waits on us, ’tis like.”

64 The fact of the above words being italicised suggests the idea that the poet is here firing a Parthian shot at some unfriendly critic.

XXII

He was in error; for Eugene

Was sleeping then a sleep like death;

The pall of night was growing thin,

To Lucifer the cock must breathe

His song, when still he slumbered deep,

The sun had mounted high his steep,

A passing snowstorm wreathed away

With pallid light, but Eugene lay

Upon his couch insensibly;

Slumber still o’er him lingering flies.

But finally he oped his eyes

And turned aside the drapery;

He gazed upon the clock which showed

He long should have been on the road.

XXIII

He rings in haste; in haste arrives

His Frenchman, good Monsieur Guillot,

Who dressing-gown and slippers gives

And linen on him doth bestow.

Dressing as quickly as he can,

Eugene directs the trusty man

To accompany him and to escort

A box of terrible import.

Harnessed the rapid sledge arrived:

He enters: to the mill he drives:

Descends, the order Guillot gives,

The fatal tubes Lepage contrived65

To bring behind: the triple steeds

To two young oaks the coachman leads.

65 Lepage — a celebrated gunmaker of former days.

XXIV

Lenski the foeman’s apparition

Leaning against the dam expects,

Zaretski, village mechanician,

In the meantime the mill inspects.

Oneguine his excuses says;

“But,” cried Zaretski in amaze,

“Your second you have left behind!”

A duellist of classic mind,

Method was dear unto his heart

He would not that a man ye slay

In a lax or informal way,

But followed the strict rules of art,

And ancient usages observed

(For which our praise he hath deserved).

XXV

“My second!” cried in turn Eugene,

“Behold my friend Monsieur Guillot;

To this arrangement can be seen,

No obstacle of which I know.

Although unknown to fame mayhap,

He’s a straightforward little chap.”

Zaretski bit his lip in wrath,

But to Vladimir Eugene saith:

“Shall we commence?”—“Let it be so,”

Lenski replied, and soon they be

Behind the mill. Meantime ye see

Zaretski and Monsieur Guillot

In consultation stand aside —

The foes with downcast eyes abide.

XXVI

Foes! Is it long since friendship rent

Asunder was and hate prepared?

Since leisure was together spent,

Meals, secrets, occupations shared?

Now, like hereditary foes,

Malignant fury they disclose,

As in some frenzied dream of fear

These friends cold-bloodedly draw near

Mutual destruction to contrive.

Cannot they amicably smile

Ere crimson stains their hands defile,

Depart in peace and friendly live?

But fashionable hatred’s flame

Trembles at artificial shame.

XXVII

The shining pistols are uncased,

The mallet loud the ramrod strikes,

Bullets are down the barrels pressed,

For the first time the hammer clicks.

Lo! poured in a thin gray cascade,

The powder in the pan is laid,

The sharp flint, screwed securely on,

Is cocked once more. Uneasy grown,

Guillot behind a pollard stood;

Aside the foes their mantles threw,

Zaretski paces thirty-two

Measured with great exactitude.

At each extreme one takes his stand,

A loaded pistol in his hand.

XXVIII

“Advance!”—

   Indifferent and sedate,

The foes, as yet not taking aim,

With measured step and even gait

Athwart the snow four paces came —

Four deadly paces do they span;

Oneguine slowly then began

To raise his pistol to his eye,

Though he advanced unceasingly.

And lo! five paces more they pass,

And Lenski, closing his left eye,

Took aim — but as immediately

Oneguine fired — Alas! alas!

The poet’s hour hath sounded — See!

He drops his pistol silently.

XXIX

He on his bosom gently placed

His hand, and fell. His clouded eye

Not agony, but death expressed.

So from the mountain lazily

The avalanche of snow first bends,

Then glittering in the sun descends.

The cold sweat bursting from his brow,

To the youth Eugene hurried now —

Gazed on him, called him. Useless care!

He was no more! The youthful bard

For evermore had disappeared.

The storm was hushed. The blossom fair

Was withered ere the morning light —

The altar flame was quenched in night.

XXX

Tranquil he lay, and strange to view

The peace which on his forehead beamed,

His breast was riddled through and through,

The blood gushed from the wound and steamed

Ere this but one brief moment beat

That heart with inspiration sweet

And enmity and hope and love —

The blood boiled and the passions strove.

Now, as in a deserted house,

All dark and silent hath become;

The inmate is for ever dumb,

The windows whitened, shutters close —

Whither departed is the host?

God knows! The very trace is lost.

XXXI

’Tis sweet the foe to aggravate

With epigrams impertinent,

Sweet to behold him obstinate,

His butting horns in anger bent,

The glass unwittingly inspect

And blush to own himself reflect.

Sweeter it is, my friends, if he

Howl like a dolt: ’tis meant for me!

But sweeter still it is to arrange

For him an honourable grave,

At his pale brow a shot to have,

Placed at the customary range;

But home his body to despatch

Can scarce in sweetness be a match.

XXXII

Well, if your pistol ball by chance

The comrade of your youth should strike,

Who by a haughty word or glance

Or any trifle else ye like

You o’er your wine insulted hath —

Or even overcome by wrath

Scornfully challenged you afield —

Tell me, of sentiments concealed

Which in your spirit dominates,

When motionless your gaze beneath

He lies, upon his forehead death,

And slowly life coagulates —

When deaf and silent he doth lie

Heedless of your despairing cry?

XXXIII

Eugene, his pistol yet in hand

And with remorseful anguish filled,

Gazing on Lenski’s corse did stand —

Zaretski shouted: “Why, he’s killed!”—

Killed! at this dreadful exclamation

Oneguine went with trepidation

And the attendants called in haste.

Most carefully Zaretski placed

Within his sledge the stiffened corse,

And hurried home his awful freight.

Conscious of death approximate,

Loud paws the earth each panting horse,

His bit with foam besprinkled o’er,

And homeward like an arrow tore.

XXXIV

My friends, the poet ye regret!

When hope’s delightful flower but bloomed

In bud of promise incomplete,

The manly toga scarce assumed,

He perished. Where his troubled dreams,

And where the admirable streams

Of youthful impulse, reverie,

Tender and elevated, free?

And where tempestuous love’s desires,

The thirst of knowledge and of fame,

Horror of sinfulness and shame,

Imagination’s sacred fires,

Ye shadows of a life more high,

Ye dreams of heavenly poesy?

XXXV

Perchance to benefit mankind,

Or but for fame he saw the light;

His lyre, to silence now consigned,

Resounding through all ages might

Have echoed to eternity.

With worldly honours, it may be,

Fortune the poet had repaid.

It may be that his martyred shade

Carried a truth divine away;

That, for the century designed,

Had perished a creative mind,

And past the threshold of decay,

He ne’er shall hear Time’s eulogy,

The blessings of humanity.

XXXVI

Or, it may be, the bard had passed

A life in common with the rest;

Vanished his youthful years at last,

The fire extinguished in his breast,

In many things had changed his life —

The Muse abandoned, ta’en a wife,

Inhabited the country, clad

In dressing-gown, a cuckold glad:

A life of fact, not fiction, led —

At forty suffered from the gout,

Eaten, drunk, gossiped and grown stout:

And finally, upon his bed

Had finished life amid his sons,

Doctors and women, sobs and groans.

XXXVII

But, howsoe’er his lot were cast,

Alas! the youthful lover slain,

Poetical enthusiast,

A friendly hand thy life hath ta’en!

There is a spot the village near

Where dwelt the Muses’ worshipper,

Two pines have joined their tangled roots,

A rivulet beneath them shoots

Its waters to the neighbouring vale.

There the tired ploughman loves to lie,

The reaping girls approach and ply

Within its wave the sounding pail,

And by that shady rivulet

A simple tombstone hath been set.

XXXVIII

There, when the rains of spring we mark

Upon the meadows showering,

The shepherd plaits his shoe of bark,66

Of Volga fishermen doth sing,

And the young damsel from the town,

For summer to the country flown,

Whene’er across the plain at speed

Alone she gallops on her steed,

Stops at the tomb in passing by;

The tightened leathern rein she draws,

Aside she casts her veil of gauze

And reads with rapid eager eye

The simple epitaph — a tear

Doth in her gentle eye appear.

66 In Russia and other northern countries rude shoes are made of the inner bark of the lime tree.

XXXIX

And meditative from the spot

She leisurely away doth ride,

Spite of herself with Lenski’s lot

Longtime her mind is occupied.

She muses: “What was Olga’s fate?

Longtime was her heart desolate

Or did her tears soon cease to flow?

And where may be her sister now?

Where is the outlaw, banned by men,

Of fashionable dames the foe,

The misanthrope of gloomy brow,

By whom the youthful bard was slain?”—

In time I’ll give ye without fail

A true account and in detail.

XL

But not at present, though sincerely

I on my chosen hero dote;

Though I’ll return to him right early,

Just at this moment I cannot.

Years have inclined me to stern prose,

Years to light rhyme themselves oppose,

And now, I mournfully confess,

In rhyming I show laziness.

As once, to fill the rapid page

My pen no longer finds delight,

Other and colder thoughts affright,

Sterner solicitudes engage,

In worldly din or solitude

Upon my visions such intrude.

XLI

Fresh aspirations I have known,

I am acquainted with fresh care,

Hopeless are all the first, I own,

Yet still remains the old despair.

Illusions, dream, where, where your sweetness?

Where youth (the proper rhyme is fleetness)?

And is it true her garland bright

At last is shrunk and withered quite?

And is it true and not a jest,

Not even a poetic phrase,

That vanished are my youthful days

(This joking I used to protest),

Never for me to reappear —

That soon I reach my thirtieth year?

XLII

And so my noon hath come! If so,

I must resign myself, in sooth;

Yet let us part in friendship, O

My frivolous and jolly youth.

I thank thee for thy joyfulness,

Love’s tender transports and distress,

For riot, frolics, mighty feeds,

And all that from thy hand proceeds —

I thank thee. In thy company,

With tumult or contentment still

Of thy delights I drank my fill,

Enough! with tranquil spirit I

Commence a new career in life

And rest from bygone days of strife.

XLIII

But pause! Thou calm retreats, farewell,

Where my days in the wilderness

Of languor and of love did tell

And contemplative dreaminess;

And thou, youth’s early inspiration,

Invigorate imagination

And spur my spirit’s torpid mood!

Fly frequent to my solitude,

Let not the poet’s spirit freeze,

Grow harsh and cruel, dead and dry,

Eventually petrify

In the world’s mortal revelries,

Amid the soulless sons of pride

And glittering simpletons beside;

XLIV

Amid sly, pusillanimous

Spoiled children most degenerate

And tiresome rogues ridiculous

And stupid censors passionate;

Amid coquettes who pray to God

And abject slaves who kiss the rod;

In haunts of fashion where each day

All with urbanity betray,

Where harsh frivolity proclaims

Its cold unfeeling sentences;

Amid the awful emptiness

Of conversation, thought and aims —

In that morass where you and I

Wallow, my friends, in company!

End of Canto the Sixth

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