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

Preface

Eugene Oneguine, the chief poetical work of Russia’s greatest poet, having been translated into all the principal languages of Europe except our own, I hope that this version may prove an acceptable contribution to literature. Tastes are various in matters of poetry, but the present work possesses a more solid claim to attention in the series of faithful pictures it offers of Russian life and manners. If these be compared with Mr. Wallace’s book on Russia, it will be seen that social life in that empire still preserves many of the characteristics which distinguished it half a century ago — the period of the first publication of the latter cantos of this poem.

Many references will be found in it to our own country and its literature. Russian poets have carefully plagiarized the English — notably Joukovski. Pushkin, however, was no plagiarist, though undoubtedly his mind was greatly influenced by the genius of Byron — more especially in the earliest part of his career. Indeed, as will be remarked in the following pages, he scarcely makes an effort to disguise this fact.

The biographical sketch is of course a mere outline. I did not think a longer one advisable, as memoirs do not usually excite much interest till the subjects of them are pretty well known. In the “notes” I have endeavored to elucidate a somewhat obscure subject. Some of the poet’s allusions remain enigmatical to the present day. The point of each sarcasm naturally passed out of mind together with the society against which it was levelled. If some of the versification is rough and wanting in “go,” I must plead in excuse the difficult form of the stanza, and in many instances the inelastic nature of the subject matter to be versified. Stanza XXXV Canto II forms a good example of the latter difficulty, and is omitted in the German and French versions to which I have had access. The translation of foreign verse is comparatively easy so long as it is confined to conventional poetic subjects, but when it embraces abrupt scraps of conversation and the description of local customs it becomes a much more arduous affair. I think I may say that I have adhered closely to the text of the original.

The following foreign translations of this poem have appeared:

1. French prose. Oeuvres choisis de Pouchekine. H. Dupont. Paris, 1847.

2. German verse. A. Puschkin’s poetische Werke. F. Bodenstedt. Berlin, 1854.

3. Polish verse. Eugeniusz Oniegin. Roman Aleksandra Puszkina. A. Sikorski. Vilnius, 1847.

4. Italian prose. Racconti poetici di A. Puschkin, tradotti da A. Delatre. Firenze, 1856.

London, May 1881.

Note: Russian proper names to be pronounced as in French (the nasal sound of m and n excepted) in the following translation. The accent, which is very arbitrary in the Russian language, is indicated unmistakably in a rhythmical composition.

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