“O Rus!”— Horace
[Odessa, December 1823.]
The village wherein yawned Eugene
Was a delightful little spot,
There friends of pure delight had been
Grateful to Heaven for their lot.
The lonely mansion-house to screen
From gales a hill behind was seen;
Before it ran a stream. Behold!
Afar, where clothed in green and gold
Meadows and cornfields are displayed,
Villages in the distance show
And herds of oxen wandering low;
Whilst nearer, sunk in deeper shade,
A thick immense neglected grove
Extended — haunt which Dryads love.
’Twas built, the venerable pile,
As lordly mansions ought to be,
In solid, unpretentious style,
The style of wise antiquity.
Lofty the chambers one and all,
Silk tapestry upon the wall,
Imperial portraits hang around
And stoves of various shapes abound.
All this I know is out of date,
I cannot tell the reason why,
But Eugene, incontestably,
The matter did not agitate,
Because he yawned at the bare view
Of drawing-rooms or old or new.
He took the room wherein the old
Man — forty years long in this wise —
His housekeeper was wont to scold,
Look through the window and kill flies.
’Twas plain — an oaken floor ye scan,
Two cupboards, table, soft divan,
And not a speck of dirt descried.
Oneguine oped the cupboards wide.
In one he doth accounts behold,
Here bottles stand in close array,
There jars of cider block the way,
An almanac but eight years old.
His uncle, busy man indeed,
No other book had time to read.
Alone amid possessions great,
Eugene at first began to dream,
If but to lighten Time’s dull rate,
Of many an economic scheme;
This anchorite amid his waste
The ancient barshtchina replaced
By an obrok’s indulgent rate:23
The peasant blessed his happy fate.
But this a heinous crime appeared
Unto his neighbour, man of thrift,
Who secretly denounced the gift,
And many another slily sneered;
And all with one accord agreed,
He was a dangerous fool indeed.
23 The barshtchina was the corvee, or forced labour of three days per week rendered previous to the emancipation of 1861 by the serfs to their lord.
The obrok was a species of poll-tax paid by a serf, either in lieu of the forced labour or in consideration of being permitted to exercise a trade or profession elsewhere. Very heavy obroks have at times been levied on serfs possessed of skill or accomplishments, or who had amassed wealth; and circumstances may be easily imagined which, under such a system, might lead to great abuses.
All visited him at first, of course;
But since to the backdoor they led
Most usually a Cossack horse
Upon the Don’s broad pastures bred
If they but heard domestic loads
Come rumbling up the neighbouring roads,
Most by this circumstance offended
All overtures of friendship ended.
“Oh! what a fool our neighbour is!
He’s a freemason, so we think.
Alone he doth his claret drink,
A lady’s hand doth never kiss.
’Tis yes! no! never madam! sir!”24
This was his social character.
24 The neighbours complained of Oneguine’s want of courtesy. He always replied “da” or “nyet,” yes or no, instead of “das” or “nyets”— the final s being a contraction of “sudar” or “sudarinia,” i.e. sir or madam.
Into the district then to boot
A new proprietor arrived,
From whose analysis minute
The neighbourhood fresh sport derived.
Vladimir Lenski was his name,
From Gottingen inspired he came,
A worshipper of Kant, a bard,
A young and handsome galliard.
He brought from mystic Germany
The fruits of learning and combined
A fiery and eccentric mind,
Idolatry of liberty,
A wild enthusiastic tongue,
Black curls which to his shoulders hung.
The pervert world with icy chill
Had not yet withered his young breast.
His heart reciprocated still
When Friendship smiled or Love caressed.
He was a dear delightful fool —
A nursling yet for Hope to school.
The riot of the world and glare
Still sovereigns of his spirit were,
And by a sweet delusion he
Would soothe the doubtings of his soul,
He deemed of human life the goal
To be a charming mystery:
He racked his brains to find its clue
And marvels deemed he thus should view.
This he believed: a kindred spirit
Impelled to union with his own
Lay languishing both day and night —
Waiting his coming — his alone!
He deemed his friends but longed to make
Great sacrifices for his sake!
That a friend’s arm in every case
Felled a calumniator base!
That chosen heroes consecrate,
Friends of the sons of every land,
Exist — that their immortal band
Shall surely, be it soon or late,
Pour on this orb a dazzling light
And bless mankind with full delight.
Compassion now or wrath inspires
And now philanthropy his soul,
And now his youthful heart desires
The path which leads to glory’s goal.
His harp beneath that sky had rung
Where sometime Goethe, Schiller sung,
And at the altar of their fame
He kindled his poetic flame.
But from the Muses’ loftiest height
The gifted songster never swerved,
But proudly in his song preserved
An ever transcendental flight;
His transports were quite maidenly,
Charming with grave simplicity.
He sang of love — to love a slave.
His ditties were as pure and bright
As thoughts which gentle maidens have,
As a babe’s slumber, or the light
Of the moon in the tranquil skies,
Goddess of lovers’ tender sighs.
He sang of separation grim,
Of what not, and of distant dim,
Of roses to romancers dear;
To foreign lands he would allude,
Where long time he in solitude
Had let fall many a bitter tear:
He sang of life’s fresh colours stained
Before he eighteen years attained.
Since Eugene in that solitude
Gifts such as these alone could prize,
A scant attendance Lenski showed
At neighbouring hospitalities.
He shunned those parties boisterous;
The conversation tedious
About the crop of hay, the wine,
The kennel or a kindred line,
Was certainly not erudite
Nor sparkled with poetic fire,
Nor wit, nor did the same inspire
A sense of social delight,
But still more stupid did appear
The gossip of their ladies fair.
Handsome and rich, the neighbourhood
Lenski as a good match received —
Such is the country custom good;
All mothers their sweet girls believed
Suitable for this semi-Russian.
He enters: rapidly discussion
Shifts, tacks about, until they prate
The sorrows of a single state.
Perchance where Dunia pours out tea
The young proprietor we find;
To Dunia then they whisper: Mind!
And a guitar produced we see,
And Heavens! warbled forth we hear:
Come to my golden palace, dear!25
25 From the lay of the Russalka, i.e. mermaid of the Dnieper.
But Lenski, having no desire
Vows matrimonial to break,
With our Oneguine doth aspire
Acquaintance instantly to make.
They met. Earth, water, prose and verse,
Or ice and flame, are not diverse
If they were similar in aught.
At first such contradictions wrought
Mutual repulsion and ennui,
But grown familiar side by side
On horseback every day they ride —
Inseparable soon they be.
Thus oft — this I myself confess —
Men become friends from idleness.
But even thus not now-a-days!
In spite of common sense we’re wont
As cyphers others to appraise,
Ourselves as unities to count;
And like Napoleons each of us
A million bipeds reckons thus
One instrument for his own use —
Feeling is silly, dangerous.
Eugene, more tolerant than this
(Though certainly mankind he knew
And usually despised it too),
Exceptionless as no rule is,
A few of different temper deemed,
Feeling in others much esteemed.
With smiling face he Lenski hears;
The poet’s fervid conversation
And judgment which unsteady veers
And eye which gleams with inspiration —
All this was novel to Eugene.
The cold reply with gloomy mien
He oft upon his lips would curb,
Thinking: ’tis foolish to disturb
This evanescent boyish bliss.
Time without me will lessons give,
So meantime let him joyous live
And deem the world perfection is!
Forgive the fever youth inspires,
And youthful madness, youthful fires.
The gulf between them was so vast,
Debate commanded ample food —
The laws of generations past,
The fruits of science, evil, good,
The prejudices all men have,
The fatal secrets of the grave,
And life and fate in turn selected
Were to analysis subjected.
The fervid poet would recite,
Carried away by ecstasy,
Fragments of northern poetry,
Whilst Eugene condescending quite,
Though scarcely following what was said,
Attentive listened to the lad.
But more the passions occupy
The converse of our hermits twain,
And, heaving a regretful sigh,
An exile from their troublous reign,
Eugene would speak regarding these.
Thrice happy who their agonies
Hath suffered but indifferent grown,
Still happier he who ne’er hath known!
By absence who hath chilled his love,
His hate by slander, and who spends
Existence without wife or friends,
Whom jealous transport cannot move,
And who the rent-roll of his race
Ne’er trusted to the treacherous ace.
When, wise at length, we seek repose
Beneath the flag of Quietude,
When Passion’s fire no longer glows
And when her violence reviewed —
Each gust of temper, silly word,
Seems so unnatural and absurd:
Reduced with effort unto sense,
We hear with interest intense
The accents wild of other’s woes,
They stir the heart as heretofore.
So ancient warriors, battles o’er,
A curious interest disclose
In yarns of youthful troopers gay,
Lost in the hamlet far away.
And in addition youth is flame
And cannot anything conceal,
Is ever ready to proclaim
The love, hate, sorrow, joy, we feel.
Deeming himself a veteran scarred
In love’s campaigns Oneguine heard
With quite a lachrymose expression
The youthful poet’s fond confession.
He with an innocence extreme
His inner consciousness laid bare,
And Eugene soon discovered there
The story of his young love’s dream,
Where plentifully feelings flow
Which we experienced long ago.
Alas! he loved as in our times
Men love no more, as only the
Mad spirit of the man who rhymes
Is still condemned in love to be;
One image occupied his mind,
Constant affection intertwined
And an habitual sense of pain;
And distance interposed in vain,
Nor years of separation all
Nor homage which the Muse demands
Nor beauties of far distant lands
Nor study, banquet, rout nor ball
His constant soul could ever tire,
Which glowed with virginal desire.
When but a boy he Olga loved
Unknown as yet the aching heart,
He witnessed tenderly and moved
Her girlish gaiety and sport.
Beneath the sheltering oak tree’s shade
He with his little maiden played,
Whilst the fond parents, friends thro’ life,
Dreamed in the future man and wife.
And full of innocent delight,
As in a thicket’s humble shade,
Beneath her parents’ eyes the maid
Grew like a lily pure and white,
Unseen in thick and tangled grass
By bee and butterfly which pass.
’Twas she who first within his breast
Poetic transport did infuse,
And thoughts of Olga first impressed
A mournful temper on his Muse.
Farewell! thou golden days of love!
’Twas then he loved the tangled grove
And solitude and calm delight,
The moon, the stars, and shining night —
The moon, the lamp of heaven above,
To whom we used to consecrate
A promenade in twilight late
With tears which secret sufferers love —
But now in her effulgence pale
A substitute for lamps we hail!
Obedient she had ever been
And modest, cheerful as the morn,
As a poetic life serene,
Sweet as the kiss of lovers sworn.
Her eyes were of cerulean blue,
Her locks were of a golden hue,
Her movements, voice and figure slight,
All about Olga — to a light
Romance of love I pray refer,
You’ll find her portrait there, I vouch;
I formerly admired her much
But finally grew bored by her.
But with her elder sister I
Must now my stanzas occupy.
Tattiana was her appellation.
We are the first who such a name
In pages of a love narration
With such a perversity proclaim.
But wherefore not? —’Tis pleasant, nice,
Euphonious, though I know a spice
It carries of antiquity
And of the attic. Honestly,
We must admit but little taste
Doth in us or our names appear26
(I speak not of our poems here),
And education runs to waste,
Endowing us from out her store
With affectation — nothing more.
26 The Russian annotator remarks: “The most euphonious Greek names, e.g. Agathon, Philotas, Theodora, Thekla, etc., are used amongst us by the lower classes only.”
And so Tattiana was her name,
Nor by her sister’s brilliancy
Nor by her beauty she became
The cynosure of every eye.
Shy, silent did the maid appear
As in the timid forest deer,
Even beneath her parents’ roof
Stood as estranged from all aloof,
Nearest and dearest knew not how
To fawn upon and love express;
A child devoid of childishness
To romp and play she ne’er would go:
Oft staring through the window pane
Would she in silence long remain.
Contemplativeness, her delight,
E’en from her cradle’s earliest dream,
Adorned with many a vision bright
Of rural life the sluggish stream;
Ne’er touched her fingers indolent
The needle nor, o’er framework bent,
Would she the canvas tight enrich
With gay design and silken stitch.
Desire to rule ye may observe
When the obedient doll in sport
An infant maiden doth exhort
Polite demeanour to preserve,
Gravely repeating to another
Recent instructions of its mother.
But Tania ne’er displayed a passion
For dolls, e’en from her earliest years,
And gossip of the town and fashion
She ne’er repeated unto hers.
Strange unto her each childish game,
But when the winter season came
And dark and drear the evenings were,
Terrible tales she loved to hear.
And when for Olga nurse arrayed
In the broad meadow a gay rout,
All the young people round about,
At prisoner’s base she never played.
Their noisy laugh her soul annoyed,
Their giddy sports she ne’er enjoyed.
She loved upon the balcony
To anticipate the break of day,
When on the pallid eastern sky
The starry beacons fade away,
The horizon luminous doth grow,
Morning’s forerunners, breezes blow
And gradually day unfolds.
In winter, when Night longer holds
A hemisphere beneath her sway,
Longer the East inert reclines
Beneath the moon which dimly shines,
And calmly sleeps the hours away,
At the same hour she oped her eyes
And would by candlelight arise.
Romances pleased her from the first,
Her all in all did constitute;
In love adventures she was versed,
Rousseau and Richardson to boot.
Not a bad fellow was her father
Though superannuated rather;
In books he saw nought to condemn
But, as he never opened them,
Viewed them with not a little scorn,
And gave himself but little pain
His daughter’s book to ascertain
Which ‘neath her pillow lay till morn.
His wife was also mad upon
The works of Mr. Richardson.
She was thus fond of Richardson
Not that she had his works perused,
Or that adoring Grandison
That rascal Lovelace she abused;
But that Princess Pauline of old,
Her Moscow cousin, often told
The tale of these romantic men;
Her husband was a bridegroom then,
And she despite herself would waste
Sighs on another than her lord
Whose qualities appeared to afford
More satisfaction to her taste.
Her Grandison was in the Guard,
A noted fop who gambled hard.
Like his, her dress was always nice,
The height of fashion, fitting tight,
But contrary to her advice
The girl in marriage they unite.
Then, her distraction to allay,
The bridegroom sage without delay
Removed her to his country seat,
Where God alone knows whom she met.
She struggled hard at first thus pent,
Night separated from her spouse,
Then became busy with the house,
First reconciled and then content;
Habit was given us in distress
By Heaven in lieu of happiness.
Habit alleviates the grief
Inseparable from our lot;
This great discovery relief
And consolation soon begot.
And then she soon ‘twixt work and leisure
Found out the secret how at pleasure
To dominate her worthy lord,
And harmony was soon restored.
The workpeople she superintended,
Mushrooms for winter salted down,
Kept the accounts, shaved many a crown,(*)
The bath on Saturdays attended,
When angry beat her maids, I grieve,
And all without her husband’s leave.
* The serfs destined for military service used to have a portion of their heads shaved as a distinctive mark.
In her friends’ albums, time had been,
With blood instead of ink she scrawled,
Baptized Prascovia Pauline,
And in her conversation drawled.
She wore her corset tightly bound,
The Russian N with nasal sound
She would pronounce a la Francaise;
But soon she altered all her ways,
Corset and album and Pauline,
Her sentimental verses all,
She soon forgot, began to call
Akulka who was once Celine,
And had with waddling in the end
Her caps and night-dresses to mend.
As for her spouse he loved her dearly,
In her affairs ne’er interfered,
Entrusted all to her sincerely,
In dressing-gown at meals appeared.
Existence calmly sped along,
And oft at eventide a throng
Of friends unceremonious would
Assemble from the neighbourhood:
They growl a bit — they scandalise —
They crack a feeble joke and smile —
Thus the time passes and meanwhile
Olga the tea must supervise —
’Tis time for supper, now for bed,
And soon the friendly troop hath fled.
They in a peaceful life preserved
Customs by ages sanctified,
Strictly the Carnival observed,
Ate Russian pancakes at Shrovetide,
Twice in the year to fast were bound,
Of whirligigs were very fond,
Of Christmas carols, song and dance;
When people with long countenance
On Trinity Sunday yawned at prayer,
Three tears they dropt with humble mein
Upon a bunch of lovage green;
Kvass needful was to them as air;
On guests their servants used to wait
By rank as settled by the State.27
27 The foregoing stanza requires explanation. Russian pancakes or “blinni” are consumed vigorously by the lower orders during the Carnival. At other times it is difficult to procure them, at any rate in the large towns.
The Russian peasants are childishly fond of whirligigs, which are also much in vogue during the Carnival.
“Christmas Carols” is not an exact equivalent for the Russian phrase. “Podbliudni pessni,” are literally “dish songs,” or songs used with dishes (of water) during the “sviatki” or Holy Nights, which extend from Christmas to Twelfth Night, for purposes of divination. Reference will again be made to this superstitious practice, which is not confined to Russia. See Note 52.
“Song and dance,” the well-known “khorovod,” in which the dance proceeds to vocal music.
“Lovage,” the Levisticum officinalis, is a hardy plant growing very far north, though an inhabitant of our own kitchen gardens. The passage containing the reference to the three tears and Trinity Sunday was at first deemed irreligious by the Russian censors, and consequently expunged.
Kvass is of various sorts: there is the common kvass of fermented rye used by the peasantry, and the more expensive kvass of the restaurants, iced and flavoured with various fruits.
The final two lines refer to the “Tchin,” or Russian social hierarchy. There are fourteen grades in the Tchin assigning relative rank and precedence to the members of the various departments of the State, civil, military, naval, court, scientific and educational. The military and naval grades from the 14th up to the 7th confer personal nobility only, whilst above the 7th hereditary rank is acquired. In the remaining departments, civil or otherwise, personal nobility is only attained with the 9th grade, hereditary with the 4th.
Thus age approached, the common doom,
And death before the husband wide
Opened the portals of the tomb
And a new diadem supplied.28
Just before dinner-time he slept,
By neighbouring families bewept,
By children and by faithful wife
With deeper woe than others’ grief.
He was an honest gentleman,
And where at last his bones repose
The epitaph on marble shows:
Demetrius Larine, sinful man,
Servant of God and brigadier,
Enjoyeth peaceful slumber here.
28 A play upon the word “venetz,” crown, which also signifies a nimbus or glory, and is the symbol of marriage from the fact of two gilt crowns being held over the heads of the bride and bridegroom during the ceremony. The literal meaning of the passage is therefore: his earthly marriage was dissolved and a heavenly one was contracted.
To his Penates now returned,
Vladimir Lenski visited
His neighbour’s lowly tomb and mourned
Above the ashes of the dead.
There long time sad at heart he stayed:
“Poor Yorick,” mournfully he said,
“How often in thine arms I lay;
How with thy medal I would play,
The Medal Otchakoff conferred!29
To me he would his Olga give,
Would whisper: shall I so long live?”—
And by a genuine sorrow stirred,
Lenski his pencil-case took out
And an elegiac poem wrote.
29 The fortress of Otchakoff was taken by storm on the 18th December 1788 by a Russian army under Prince Potemkin. Thirty thousand Turks are said to have perished during the assault and ensuing massacre.
Likewise an epitaph with tears
He writes upon his parents’ tomb,
And thus ancestral dust reveres.
Oh! on the fields of life how bloom
Harvests of souls unceasingly
By Providence’s dark decree!
They blossom, ripen and they fall
And others rise ephemeral!
Thus our light race grows up and lives,
A moment effervescing stirs,
Then seeks ancestral sepulchres,
The appointed hour arrives, arrives!
And our successors soon shall drive
Us from the world wherein we live.
Meantime, drink deeply of the flow
Of frivolous existence, friends;
Its insignificance I know
And care but little for its ends.
To dreams I long have closed mine eyes,
Yet sometimes banished hopes will rise
And agitate my heart again;
And thus it is ‘twould cause me pain
Without the faintest trace to leave
This world. I do not praise desire,
Yet still apparently aspire
My mournful fate in verse to weave,
That like a friendly voice its tone
Rescue me from oblivion.
Perchance some heart ’twill agitate,
And then the stanzas of my theme
Will not, preserved by kindly Fate,
Perish absorbed by Lethe’s stream.
Then it may be, O flattering tale,
Some future ignoramus shall
My famous portrait indicate
And cry: he was a poet great!
My gratitude do not disdain,
Admirer of the peaceful Muse,
Whose memory doth not refuse
My light productions to retain,
Whose hands indulgently caress
The bays of age and helplessness.
End of Canto the Second.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:53