EUGENE ONEGUINE [Onegin]:
A Romance of Russian Life in Verse
Translated from the Russian by Lieut.-Col. [Henry] Spalding
London Macmillan and Co. 1881
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.
Mon Portrait A Short Biographical Notice of Alexander Pushkin Eugene Oneguine Canto I: "The Spleen" Canto II: The Poet Canto III: The Country Damsel Canto IV: Rural Life Canto V: The Fete Canto VI: The Duel Canto VII: Moscow Canto VIII: The Great World
Written by the poet at the age of 15.
Vous me demandez mon portrait, Mais peint d'apres nature: Mon cher, il sera bientot fait, Quoique en miniature.
Je suis un jeune polisson Encore dans les classes; Point sot, je le dis sans facon, Et sans fades grimaces.
Oui! il ne fut babillard Ni docteur de Sorbonne, Plus ennuyeux et plus braillard Que moi-meme en personne.
Ma taille, a celle des plus longs, Elle n'est point egalee; J'ai le teint frais, les cheveux blonds, Et la tete bouclee.
J'aime et le monde et son fracas, Je hais la solitude; J'abhorre et noises et debats, Et tant soit peu l'etude.
Spectacles, bals, me plaisent fort, Et d'apres ma pensee, Je dirais ce que j'aime encore, Si je n'etais au Lycee.
Apres cela, mon cher ami, L'on peut me reconnaitre, Oui! tel que le bon Dieu me fit, Je veux toujours paraitre.
Vrai demon, par l'espieglerie, Vrai singe par sa mine, Beaucoup et trop d'etourderie, Ma foi! voila Pouchekine.
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.
A Short Biographical Notice of Alexander Pushkin.
Alexander Sergevitch Pushkin was born in 1799 at Pskoff, and was a scion of an ancient Russian family. In one of his letters it is recorded that no less than six Pushkins signed the Charta declaratory of the election of the Romanoff family to the throne of Russia, and that two more affixed their marks from inability to write.
In 1811 he entered the Lyceum, an aristocratic educational establishment at Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg, where he was the friend and schoolmate of Prince Gortchakoff the Russian Chancellor. As a scholar he displayed no remarkable amount of capacity, but was fond of general reading and much given to versification. Whilst yet a schoolboy he wrote many lyrical compositions and commenced Ruslan and Liudmila, his first poem of any magnitude, and, it is asserted, the first readable one ever produced in the Russian language. During his boyhood he came much into contact with the poets Dmitrieff and Joukovski, who were intimate with his father, and his uncle, Vassili Pushkin, himself an author of no mean repute. The friendship of the historian Karamzine must have exercised a still more beneficial influence upon him.
In 1817 he quitted the Lyceum and obtained an appointment in the Foreign Office at St. Petersburg. Three years of reckless dissipation in the capital, where his lyrical talent made him universally popular, resulted in 1818 in a putrid fever which was near carrying him off. At this period of his life he scarcely slept at all; worked all day and dissipated at night. Society was open to him from the palace of the prince to the officers' quarters of the Imperial Guard. The reflection of this mode of life may be noted in the first canto of Eugene Oneguine and the early dissipations of the "Philosopher just turned eighteen,"— the exact age of Pushkin when he commenced his career in the Russian capital.
In 1820 he was transferred to the bureau of Lieutenant-General Inzoff, at Kishineff in Bessarabia. This event was probably due to his composing and privately circulating an "Ode to Liberty," though the attendant circumstances have never yet been thoroughly brought to light. An indiscreet admiration for Byron most likely involved the young poet in this scrape. The tenor of this production, especially its audacious allusion to the murder of the emperor Paul, father of the then reigning Tsar, assuredly deserved, according to aristocratic ideas, the deportation to Siberia which was said to have been prepared for the author. The intercession of Karamzine and Joukovski procured a commutation of his sentence. Strangely enough, Pushkin appeared anxious to deceive the public as to the real cause of his sudden disappearance from the capital; for in an Ode to Ovid composed about this time he styles himself a "voluntary exile." (See Note 4 to this volume.)
During the four succeeding years he made numerous excursions amid the beautiful countries which from the basin of the Euxine—and amongst these the Crimea and the Caucasus. A nomad life passed amid the beauties of nature acted powerfully in developing his poetical genius. To this period he refers in the final canto of Eugene Oneguine (st. v.), when enumerating the various influences which had contributed to the formation of his Muse:
Then, the far capital forgot, Its splendour and its blandishments, In poor Moldavia cast her lot, She visited the humble tents Of migratory gipsy hordes.
During these pleasant years of youth he penned some of his most delightful poetical works: amongst these, The Prisoner of the Caucasus, The Fountain of Baktchiserai, and the Gipsies. Of the two former it may be said that they are in the true style of the Giaour and the Corsair. In fact, just at that point of time Byron's fame—like the setting sun—shone out with dazzling lustre and irresistibly charmed the mind of Pushkin amongst many others. The Gipsies is more original; indeed the poet himself has been identified with Aleko, the hero of the tale, which may well be founded on his own personal adventures without involving the guilt of a double murder. His undisguised admiration for Byron doubtless exposed him to imputations similar to those commonly levelled against that poet. But Pushkin's talent was too genuine for him to remain long subservient to that of another, and in a later period of his career he broke loose from all trammels and selected a line peculiarly his own. Before leaving this stage in our narrative we may point out the fact that during the whole of this period of comparative seclusion the poet was indefatigably occupied in study. Not only were the standard works of European literature perused, but two more languages—namely Italian and Spanish—were added to his original stock: French, English, Latin and German having been acquired at the Lyceum. To this happy union of literary research with the study of nature we must attribute the sudden bound by which he soon afterwards attained the pinnacle of poetic fame amongst his own countrymen.
In 1824 he once more fell under the imperial displeasure. A letter seized in the post, and expressive of atheistical sentiments (possibly but a transient vagary of his youth) was the ostensible cause of his banishment from Odessa to his paternal estate of Mikhailovskoe in the province of Pskoff. Some, however, aver that personal pique on the part of Count Vorontsoff, the Governor of Odessa, played a part in the transaction. Be this as it may, the consequences were serious for the poet, who was not only placed under the surveillance of the police, but expelled from the Foreign Office by express order of the Tsar "for bad conduct." A letter on this subject, addressed by Count Vorontsoff to Count Nesselrode, is an amusing instance of the arrogance with which stolid mediocrity frequently passes judgment on rising genius. I transcribe a portion thereof:
Odessa, 28th March (7th April) 1824
Count—Your Excellency is aware of the reasons for which, some time ago, young Pushkin was sent with a letter from Count Capo d'Istria to General Inzoff. I found him already here when I arrived, the General having placed him at my disposal, though he himself was at Kishineff. I have no reason to complain about him. On the contrary, he is much steadier than formerly. But a desire for the welfare of the young man himself, who is not wanting in ability, and whose faults proceed more from the head than from the heart, impels me to urge upon you his removal from Odessa. Pushkin's chief failing is ambition. He spent the bathing season here, and has gathered round him a crowd of adulators who praise his genius. This maintains in him a baneful delusion which seems to turn his head—namely, that he is a "distinguished writer;" whereas, in reality he is but a feeble imitator of an author in whose favour very little can be said (Byron). This it is which keeps him from a serious study of the great classical poets, which might exercise a beneficial effect upon his talents—which cannot be denied him—and which might make of him in course of time a "distinguished writer."
The best thing that can be done for him is to remove him hence....
The Emperor Nicholas on his accession pardoned Pushkin and received him once more into favour. During an interview which took place it is said that the Tsar promised the poet that he alone would in future be the censor of his productions. Pushkin was restored to his position in the Foreign Office and received the appointment of Court Historian. In 1828 he published one of his finest poems, Poltava, which is founded on incidents familiar to English readers in Byron's Mazeppa. In 1829 the hardy poet accompanied the Russian army which under Paskevitch captured Erzeroum. In 1831 he married a beautiful lady of the Gontchareff family and settled in the neighbourhood of St. Petersburg, where he remained for the remainder of his life, only occasionally visiting Moscow and Mikhailovskoe. During this period his chief occupation consisted in collecting and investigating materials for a projected history of Peter the Great, which was undertaken at the express desire of the Emperor. He likewise completed a history of the revolt of Pougatchoff, which occurred in the reign of Catherine II. [Note: this individual having personated Peter III, the deceased husband of the Empress, raised the Orenburg Cossacks in revolt. This revolt was not suppressed without extensive destruction of life and property.] In 1833 the poet visited Orenburg, the scene of the dreadful excesses he recorded; the fruit of his journey being one of the most charming tales ever written, The Captain's Daughter. [Note: Translated in Russian Romance, by Mrs. Telfer, 1875.]
The remaining years of Pushkin's life, spent in the midst of domestic bliss and grateful literary occupation, were what lookers-on style "years of unclouded happiness." They were, however, drawing rapidly to a close. Unrivalled distinction rarely fails to arouse bitter animosity amongst the envious, and Pushkin's existence had latterly been embittered by groundless insinuations against his wife's reputation in the shape of anonymous letters addressed to himself and couched in very insulting language. He fancied he had traced them to one Georges d'Anthes, a Frenchman in the Cavalier Guard, who had been adopted by the Dutch envoy Heeckeren. D'Anthes, though he had espoused Madame Pushkin's sister, had conducted himself with impropriety towards the former lady. The poet displayed in this affair a fierce hostility quite characteristic of his African origin but which drove him to his destruction. D'Anthes, it was subsequently admitted, was not the author of the anonymous letters; but as usual when a duel is proposed, an appeal to reason was thought to smack of cowardice. The encounter took place in February 1837 on one of the islands of the Neva. The weapons used were pistols, and the combat was of a determined, nay ferocious character. Pushkin was shot before he had time to fire, and, in his fall, the barrel of his pistol became clogged with snow which lay deep upon the ground at the time. Raising himself on his elbow, the wounded man called for another pistol, crying, "I've strength left to fire my shot!" He fired, and slightly wounded his opponent, shouting "Bravo!" when he heard him exclaim that he was hit. D'Anthes was, however, but slightly contused whilst Pushkin was shot through the abdomen. He was transported to his residence and expired after several days passed in extreme agony. Thus perished in the thirty-eighth year of his age this distinguished poet, in a manner and amid surroundings which make the duel scene in the sixth canto of this poem seem almost prophetic. His reflections on the premature death of Lenski appear indeed strangely applicable to his own fate, as generally to the premature extinction of genius.
Pushkin was endowed with a powerful physical organisation. He was fond of long walks, unlike the generality of his countrymen, and at one time of his career used daily to foot it into St. Petersburg and back, from his residence in the suburbs, to conduct his investigations in the Government archives when employed on the History of Peter the Great. He was a good swordsman, rode well, and at one time aspired to enter the cavalry; but his father not being able to furnish the necessary funds he declined serving in the less romantic infantry. Latterly he was regular in his habits; rose early, retired late, and managed to get along with but very little sleep. On rising he betook himself forthwith to his literary occupations, which were continued till afternoon, when they gave place to physical exercise. Strange as it will appear to many, he preferred the autumn months, especially when rainy, chill and misty, for the production of his literary compositions, and was proportionally depressed by the approach of spring. (Cf. Canto VII st. ii.)
Mournful is thine approach to me, O Spring, thou chosen time of love
He usually left St. Petersburg about the middle of September and remained in the country till December. In this space of time it was his custom to develop and perfect the inspirations of the remaining portion of the year. He was of an impetuous yet affectionate nature and much beloved by a numerous circle of friends. An attractive feature in his character was his unalterable attachment to his aged nurse, a sentiment which we find reflected in the pages of Eugene Oneguine and elsewhere.
The preponderating influence which Byron exercised in the formation of his genius has already been noticed. It is indeed probable that we owe Oneguine to the combined impressions of Childe Harold and Don Juan upon his mind. Yet the Russian poem excels these masterpieces of Byron in a single particular—namely, in completeness of narrative, the plots of the latter being mere vehicles for the development of the poet's general reflections. There is ground for believing that Pushkin likewise made this poem the record of his own experience. This has doubtless been the practice of many distinguished authors of fiction whose names will readily occur to the reader. Indeed, as we are never cognizant of the real motives which actuate others, it follows that nowhere can the secret springs of human action be studied to such advantage as within our own breasts. Thus romance is sometimes but the reflection of the writer's own individuality, and he adopts the counsel of the American poet:
Look then into thine heart and write!
But a further consideration of this subject would here be out of place. Perhaps I cannot more suitably conclude this sketch than by quoting from his Ode to the Sea the poet's tribute of admiration to the genius of Napoleon and Byron, who of all contemporaries seem the most to have swayed his imagination.
Farewell, thou pathway of the free, For the last time thy waves I view Before me roll disdainfully, Brilliantly beautiful and blue.
Why vain regret? Wherever now My heedless course I may pursue One object on thy desert brow I everlastingly shall view—
A rock, the sepulchre of Fame! The poor remains of greatness gone A cold remembrance there became, There perished great Napoleon.
In torment dire to sleep he lay; Then, as a tempest echoing rolls, Another genius whirled away, Another sovereign of our souls.
He perished. Freedom wept her child, He left the world his garland bright. Wail, Ocean, surge in tumult wild, To sing of thee was his delight.
Impressed upon him was thy mark, His genius moulded was by thee; Like thee, he was unfathomed, dark And untamed in his majesty.
Note: It may interest some to know that Georges d'Anthes was tried by court-martial for his participation in the duel in which Pushkin fell, found guilty, and reduced to the ranks; but, not being a Russian subject, he was conducted by a gendarme across the frontier and then set at liberty.
Petri de vanite, il avait encore plus de cette espece d'orgueil, qui fait avouer avec la meme indifference les bonnes comme les mauvaises actions, suite d'un sentiment de superiorite, peut-etre imaginaire.— Tire d'une lettre particuliere.
[Note: Written in 1823 at Kishineff and Odessa.]
CANTO THE FIRST
'He rushes at life and exhausts the passions.' Prince Viazemski
Canto the First
"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!"
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)
[Note 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.]
[Note 2: Written in Bessarabia.]
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.
[Note 3: In Russia foreign tutors and governesses are commonly styled "monsieur" or "madame."]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
[Note 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.]
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.
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!
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!
[Note 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.]
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 chime(7) Announcing to him dinner-time.
[Note 6: A la "Bolivar," from the founder of Bolivian independence.]
[Note 7: M. Breguet, a celebrated Parisian watchmaker—hence a slang term for a watch.]
'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, where(8) 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.
[Note 8: Talon, a famous St. Petersburg restaurateur.]
[Note 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."]
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.
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)
[Note 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.]
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?
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.
[Note: Istomina—A celebrated Circassian dancer of the day, with whom the poet in his extreme youth imagined himself in love.]
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!"
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 fires(11) Abuse their masters, rub their hands: But Eugene long hath left the press To array himself in evening dress.
[Note 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.]
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.
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.
[Note 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]
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.
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)
[Note 13: Refers to Dictionary of the Academy, compiled during the reign of Catherine II under the supervision of Lomonossoff.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[Note 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.]
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.
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.
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.
[Note 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.]
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?—
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.
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.
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)
[Note 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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
[Note 17: The midsummer nights in the latitude of St. Petersburg are a prolonged twilight.]
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 afar(19) 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.
[Note 18: Refers to Mouravieff's "Goddess of the Neva." At St. Petersburg the banks of the Neva are lined throughout with splendid granite quays.]
[Note 19: A street running parallel to the Neva, and leading from the Winter Palace to the Summer Palace and Garden.]
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.
[Note 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."]
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.
[Note 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.]
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
[Note 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.]
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.
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.
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
CANTO THE SECOND
Canto The Second
[Note: 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.
[Note 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.
[Note 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)
[Note 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 appear(26) (I speak not of our poems here), And education runs to waste, Endowing us from out her store With affectation,—nothing more.
[Note 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.
[Note: 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)
[Note 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.
[Note 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.
[Note 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.
CANTO THE THIRD
The Country Damsel
'Elle etait fille, elle etait amoureuse'—Malfilatre
Canto The Third
[Note: Odessa and Mikhailovskoe, 1824.]
"Whither away? Deuce take the bard!"— "Good-bye, Oneguine, I must go."— "I won't detain you; but 'tis hard To guess how you the eve pull through."— "At Larina's."—"Hem, that is queer! Pray is it not a tough affair Thus to assassinate the eve?"— "Not at all."—"That I can't conceive! 'Tis something of this sort I deem. In the first place, say, am I right? A Russian household simple quite, Who welcome guests with zeal extreme, Preserves and an eternal prattle About the rain and flax and cattle."—
"No misery I see in that"— "Boredom, my friend, behold the ill—" "Your fashionable world I hate, Domestic life attracts me still, Where—"—"What! another eclogue spin? For God's sake, Lenski, don't begin! What! really going? 'Tis too bad! But Lenski, I should be so glad Would you to me this Phyllis show, Fair source of every fine idea, Verses and tears et cetera. Present me."—"You are joking."—"No."— "Delighted."—"When?"—"This very night. They will receive us with delight."
Whilst homeward by the nearest route Our heroes at full gallop sped, Can we not stealthily make out What they in conversation said?— "How now, Oneguine, yawning still?"— "'Tis habit, Lenski."—"Is your ill More troublesome than usual?"—"No! How dark the night is getting though! Hallo, Andriushka, onward race! The drive becomes monotonous— Well! Larina appears to us An ancient lady full of grace.— That bilberry wine, I'm sore afraid, The deuce with my inside has played."
"Say, of the two which was Tattiana?" "She who with melancholy face And silent as the maid Svetlana(30) Hard by the window took her place."— "The younger, you're in love with her!" "Well!"—"I the elder should prefer, Were I like you a bard by trade— In Olga's face no life's displayed. 'Tis a Madonna of Vandyk, An oval countenance and pink, Yon silly moon upon the brink Of the horizon she is like!"— Vladimir something curtly said Nor further comment that night made.
[Note 30: "Svetlana," a short poem by Joukovski, upon which his fame mainly rests. Joukovski was an unblushing plagiarist. Many eminent English poets have been laid under contribution by him, often without going through the form of acknowledging the source of inspiration. Even the poem in question cannot be pronounced entirely original, though its intrinsic beauty is unquestionable. It undoubtedly owes its origin to Burger's poem "Leonora," which has found so many English translators. Not content with a single development of Burger's ghastly production the Russian poet has directly paraphrased "Leonora" under its own title, and also written a poem "Liudmila" in imitation of it. The principal outlines of these three poems are as follows: A maiden loses her lover in the wars; she murmurs at Providence and is vainly reproved for such blasphemy by her mother. Providence at length loses patience and sends her lover's spirit, to all appearances as if in the flesh, who induces the unfortunate maiden to elope. Instead of riding to a church or bridal chamber the unpleasant bridegroom resorts to the graveyard and repairs to his own grave, from which he has recently issued to execute his errand. It is a repulsive subject. "Svetlana," however, is more agreeable than its prototype "Leonora," inasmuch as the whole catastrophe turns out a dream brought on by "sorcery," during the "sviatki" or Holy Nights (see Canto V. st. x), and the dreamer awakes to hear the tinkling of her lover's sledge approaching. "Svetlana" has been translated by Sir John Bowring.]
Meantime Oneguine's apparition At Larina's abode produced Quite a sensation; the position To all good neighbours' sport conduced. Endless conjectures all propound And secretly their views expound. What jokes and guesses now abound, A beau is for Tattiana found! In fact, some people were assured The wedding-day had been arranged, But the date subsequently changed Till proper rings could be procured. On Lenski's matrimonial fate They long ago had held debate.
Of course Tattiana was annoyed By such allusions scandalous, Yet was her inmost soul o'erjoyed With satisfaction marvellous, As in her heart the thought sank home, I am in love, my hour hath come! Thus in the earth the seed expands Obedient to warm Spring's commands. Long time her young imagination By indolence and languor fired The fated nutriment desired; And long internal agitation Had filled her youthful breast with gloom, She waited for—I don't know whom!
The fatal hour had come at last— She oped her eyes and cried: 'tis he! Alas! for now before her passed The same warm vision constantly; Now all things round about repeat Ceaselessly to the maiden sweet His name: the tenderness of home Tiresome unto her hath become And the kind-hearted servitors: Immersed in melancholy thought, She hears of conversation nought And hated casual visitors, Their coming which no man expects, And stay whose length none recollects.
Now with what eager interest She the delicious novel reads, With what avidity and zest She drinks in those seductive deeds! All the creations which below From happy inspiration flow, The swain of Julia Wolmar, Malek Adel and De Linar,(31) Werther, rebellious martyr bold, And that unrivalled paragon, The sleep-compelling Grandison, Our tender dreamer had enrolled A single being: 'twas in fine No other than Oneguine mine.
[Note 31: The heroes of two romances much in vogue in Pushkin's time: the former by Madame Cottin, the latter by the famous Madame Krudener. The frequent mention in the course of this poem of romances once enjoying a European celebrity but now consigned to oblivion, will impress the reader with the transitory nature of merely mediocre literary reputation. One has now to search for the very names of most of the popular authors of Pushkin's day and rummage biographical dictionaries for the dates of their births and deaths. Yet the poet's prime was but fifty years ago, and had he lived to a ripe old age he would have been amongst us still. He was four years younger than the late Mr. Thomas Carlyle. The decadence of Richardson's popularity amongst his countrymen is a fact familiar to all.]
Dreaming herself the heroine Of the romances she preferred, Clarissa, Julia, Delphine,—(32) Tattiana through the forest erred, And the bad book accompanies. Upon those pages she descries Her passion's faithful counterpart, Fruit of the yearnings of the heart. She heaves a sigh and deep intent On raptures, sorrows not her own, She murmurs in an undertone A letter for her hero meant: That hero, though his merit shone, Was certainly no Grandison.
[Note 32: Referring to Richardson's "Clarissa Harlowe," "La Nouvelle Heloise," and Madame de Stael's "Delphine."]
Alas! my friends, the years flit by And after them at headlong pace The evanescent fashions fly In motley and amusing chase. The world is ever altering! Farthingales, patches, were the thing, And courtier, fop, and usurer Would once in powdered wig appear; Time was, the poet's tender quill In hopes of everlasting fame A finished madrigal would frame Or couplets more ingenious still; Time was, a valiant general might Serve who could neither read nor write.
Time was, in style magniloquent Authors replete with sacred fire Their heroes used to represent All that perfection could desire; Ever by adverse fate oppressed, Their idols they were wont to invest With intellect, a taste refined, And handsome countenance combined, A heart wherein pure passion burnt; The excited hero in a trice Was ready for self-sacrifice, And in the final tome we learnt, Vice had due punishment awarded, Virtue was with a bride rewarded.
But now our minds are mystified And Virtue acts as a narcotic, Vice in romance is glorified And triumphs in career erotic. The monsters of the British Muse Deprive our schoolgirls of repose, The idols of their adoration A Vampire fond of meditation, Or Melmoth, gloomy wanderer he, The Eternal Jew or the Corsair Or the mysterious Sbogar.(33) Byron's capricious phantasy Could in romantic mantle drape E'en hopeless egoism's dark shape.
[Note 33: "Melmoth," a romance by Maturin, and "Jean Sbogar," by Ch. Nodier. "The Vampire," a tale published in 1819, was erroneously attributed to Lord Byron. "Salathiel; the Eternal Jew," a romance by Geo. Croly.]
My friends, what means this odd digression? May be that I by heaven's decrees Shall abdicate the bard's profession, And shall adopt some new caprice. Thus having braved Apollo's rage With humble prose I'll fill my page And a romance in ancient style Shall my declining years beguile; Nor shall my pen paint terribly The torment born of crime unseen, But shall depict the touching scene Of Russian domesticity; I will descant on love's sweet dream, The olden time shall be my theme.
Old people's simple conversations My unpretending page shall fill, Their offspring's innocent flirtations By the old lime-tree or the rill, Their Jealousy and separation And tears of reconciliation: Fresh cause of quarrel then I'll find, But finally in wedlock bind. The passionate speeches I'll repeat, Accents of rapture or despair I uttered to my lady fair Long ago, prostrate at her feet. Then they came easily enow, My tongue is somewhat rusty now.
Tattiana! sweet Tattiana, see! What bitter tears with thee I shed! Thou hast resigned thy destiny Unto a ruthless tyrant dread. Thou'lt suffer, dearest, but before, Hope with her fascinating power To dire contentment shall give birth And thou shalt taste the joys of earth. Thou'lt quaff love's sweet envenomed stream, Fantastic images shall swarm In thy imagination warm, Of happy meetings thou shalt dream, And wheresoe'er thy footsteps err, Confront thy fated torturer!
Love's pangs Tattiana agonize. She seeks the garden in her need— Sudden she stops, casts down her eyes And cares not farther to proceed; Her bosom heaves whilst crimson hues With sudden flush her cheeks suffuse, Barely to draw her breath she seems, Her eye with fire unwonted gleams. And now 'tis night, the guardian moon Sails her allotted course on high, And from the misty woodland nigh The nightingale trills forth her tune; Restless Tattiana sleepless lay And thus unto her nurse did say:
"Nurse, 'tis so close I cannot rest. Open the window—sit by me." "What ails thee, dear?"—"I feel depressed. Relate some ancient history." "But which, my dear?—In days of yore Within my memory I bore Many an ancient legend which In monsters and fair dames was rich; But now my mind is desolate, What once I knew is clean forgot— Alas! how wretched now my lot!" "But tell me, nurse, can you relate The days which to your youth belong? Were you in love when you were young?"—
"Alack! Tattiana," she replied, "We never loved in days of old, My mother-in-law who lately died(34) Had killed me had the like been told." "How came you then to wed a man?"— "Why, as God ordered! My Ivan Was younger than myself, my light, For I myself was thirteen quite;(35) The matchmaker a fortnight sped, Her suit before my parents pressing: At last my father gave his blessing, And bitter tears of fright I shed. Weeping they loosed my tresses long(36) And led me off to church with song."
[Note 34: A young married couple amongst Russian peasants reside in the house of the bridegroom's father till the "tiaglo," or family circle is broken up by his death.]
[Note 35: Marriages amongst Russian serfs used formerly to take place at ridiculously early ages. Haxthausen asserts that strong hearty peasant women were to be seen at work in the fields with their infant husbands in their arms. The inducement lay in the fact that the "tiaglo" (see previous note) received an additional lot of the communal land for every male added to its number, though this could have formed an inducement in the southern and fertile provinces of Russia only, as it is believed that agriculture in the north is so unremunerative that land has often to be forced upon the peasants, in order that the taxes, for which the whole Commune is responsible to Government, may be paid. The abuse of early marriages was regulated by Tsar Nicholas.]
[Note 36: Courtships were not unfrequently carried on in the larger villages, which alone could support such an individual, by means of a "svakha," or matchmaker. In Russia unmarried girls wear their hair in a single long plait or tail, "kossa;" the married women, on the other hand, in two, which are twisted into the head-gear.]
"Then amongst strangers I was left— But I perceive thou dost not heed—" "Alas! dear nurse, my heart is cleft, Mortally sick I am indeed. Behold, my sobs I scarce restrain—" "My darling child, thou art in pain.— The Lord deliver her and save! Tell me at once what wilt thou have? I'll sprinkle thee with holy water.— How thy hands burn!"—"Dear nurse, I'm well. I am—in love—you know—don't tell!" "The Lord be with thee, O my daughter!"— And the old nurse a brief prayer said And crossed with trembling hand the maid.
"I am in love," her whispers tell The aged woman in her woe: "My heart's delight, thou art not well."— "I am in love, nurse! leave me now." Behold! the moon was shining bright And showed with an uncertain light Tattiana's beauty, pale with care, Her tears and her dishevelled hair; And on the footstool sitting down Beside our youthful heroine fair, A kerchief round her silver hair The aged nurse in ample gown,(37) Whilst all creation seemed to dream Enchanted by the moon's pale beam.
[Note 37: It is thus that I am compelled to render a female garment not known, so far as I am aware, to Western Europe. It is called by the natives "doushegreika," that is to say, "warmer of the soul"—in French, chaufferette de l'ame. It is a species of thick pelisse worn over the "sarafan," or gown.]
But borne in spirit far away Tattiana gazes on the moon, And starting suddenly doth say: "Nurse, leave me. I would be alone. Pen, paper bring: the table too Draw near. I soon to sleep shall go— Good-night." Behold! she is alone! 'Tis silent—on her shines the moon— Upon her elbow she reclines, And Eugene ever in her soul Indites an inconsiderate scroll Wherein love innocently pines. Now it is ready to be sent— For whom, Tattiana, is it meant?
I have known beauties cold and raw As Winter in their purity, Striking the intellect with awe By dull insensibility, And I admired their common sense And natural benevolence, But, I acknowledge, from them fled; For on their brows I trembling read The inscription o'er the gates of Hell "Abandon hope for ever here!"(38) Love to inspire doth woe appear To such—delightful to repel. Perchance upon the Neva e'en Similar dames ye may have seen.
[Note 38: A Russian annotator complains that the poet has mutilated Dante's famous line.]
Amid submissive herds of men Virgins miraculous I see, Who selfishly unmoved remain Alike by sighs and flattery. But what astonished do I find When harsh demeanour hath consigned A timid love to banishment?— On fresh allurements they are bent, At least by show of sympathy; At least their accents and their words Appear attuned to softer chords; And then with blind credulity The youthful lover once again Pursues phantasmagoria vain.
Why is Tattiana guiltier deemed?— Because in singleness of thought She never of deception dreamed But trusted the ideal she wrought?— Because her passion wanted art, Obeyed the impulses of heart?— Because she was so innocent, That Heaven her character had blent With an imagination wild, With intellect and strong volition And a determined disposition, An ardent heart and yet so mild?— Doth love's incautiousness in her So irremissible appear?
O ye whom tender love hath pained Without the ken of parents both, Whose hearts responsive have remained To the impressions of our youth, The all-entrancing joys of love— Young ladies, if ye ever strove The mystic lines to tear away A lover's letter might convey, Or into bold hands anxiously Have e'er a precious tress consigned, Or even, silent and resigned, When separation's hour drew nigh, Have felt love's agitated kiss With tears, confused emotions, bliss,—
With unanimity complete, Condemn not weak Tattiana mine; Do not cold-bloodedly repeat The sneers of critics superfine; And you, O maids immaculate, Whom vice, if named, doth agitate E'en as the presence of a snake, I the same admonition make. Who knows? with love's consuming flame Perchance you also soon may burn, Then to some gallant in your turn Will be ascribed by treacherous Fame The triumph of a conquest new. The God of Love is after you!