A.S.Pushkin. - Eugene Onegin (tr.Ch.Johnston) - Chapter Four

Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three
Chapter Four
Chapter Five
Chapter Six
Chapter Seven

La morale est dans la nature des choses.

(I, II, III, IV, V, VI,1) VII

With womankind, the less we love them,
the easier they become to charm,
the tighter we can stretch above them
enticing nets to do them harm.
There was a period when cold-blooded
debauchery was praised, and studied
as love's technique, when it would blare
its own perfection everywhere,
and heartless pleasure was up-graded;
yes, these were our forefathers' ways,
those monkeys of the good old days:
now Lovelace's renown has faded
as scarlet heels have lost their name
and stately periwigs, their fame.


How dull are acting and evasion,
diversely urging the same plea,
earnestly striving for persuasion
on points that all long since agree --
and always the self-same objection;
how dull to work for the correction
of prejudice that's never been
harboured by maidens of thirteen!
Who's not disgusted by cajoling,
threats, vows, and simulated fears,
by six-page letters, rings and tears,
gossip, and tricks, and the patrolling
of aunts and mothers, and the thrall
of husband's friendship -- worst of all!


Evgeny thought in just this fashion.
From his first youth he'd known the force,
the sufferings of tempestuous passion;
its winds had blown him far off course.
Spoilt by the habit of indulgence,
now dazzled by one thing's effulgence,
now disenchanted with the next,
more and more bored by yearning's text,
bored by success' giddy trifle,
he heard in stillness and in din
a deathless murmur from within,
found that in laughter yawns could stifle:
he killed eight years in such a style,
and wasted life's fine flower meanwhile.


Though belles had lost his adoration,
he danced attendance with the best;
rebuffed, found instant consolation;
deceived, was overjoyed to rest.
He followed them without illusion,
lost them without regret's contusion,
scarcely recalled their love, their spite;
just like a casual guest who might
devote to whist an evening party,
who'd sit, and at the end of play
would say goodbye and drive away,
go off to sleep quite hale and hearty,
and in the morning wouldn't know
that self-same evening where he'd go.


Yet Tanya's note made its impression
on Eugene, he was deeply stirred:
that virgin dream and its confession
filled him with thoughts that swarmed and whirred;
the flower-like pallor of the maiden,
her look, so sweetly sorrow-laden,
all plunged his soul deep in the stream
of a delicious, guiltless dream...
and though perhaps old fires were thrusting
and held him briefly in their sway,
Eugene had no wish to betray
a soul so innocent, so trusting.
But to the garden, to the scene
where Tanya now confronts Eugene.


Moments of silence, quite unbroken;
then, stepping nearer, Eugene said:
``You wrote to me, and nothing spoken
can disavow that. I have read
those words where love, without condition,
pours out its guiltless frank admission,
and your sincerity of thought
is dear to me, for it has brought
feeling to what had long been heartless:
but I won't praise you -- let me join
and pay my debt in the same coin
with an avowal just as artless;
hear my confession as I stand
I leave the verdict in your hand.


``Could I be happy circumscribing
my life in a domestic plot;
had fortune blest me by prescribing
husband and father as my lot;
could I accept for just a minute
the homely scene, take pleasure in it --
then I'd have looked for you alone
to be the bride I'd call my own.
Without romance, or false insistence,
I'll say: with past ideals in view
I would have chosen none but you
as helpmeet in my sad existence,
as gage of all things that were good,
and been as happy... as I could!


``But I was simply not intended
for happiness -- that alien role.
Should your perfections be expended
in vain on my unworthy soul?
Believe (as conscience is my warrant),
wedlock for us would be abhorrent.
I'd love you, but inside a day,
with custom, love would fade away;
your tears would flow -- but your emotion,
your grief would fail to touch my heart,
they'd just enrage it with their dart.
What sort of roses, in your notion,
would Hymen bring us -- blooms that might
last many a day, and many a night!


``What in the world is more distressing
than households where the wife must moan
the unworthy husband through depressing
daytimes and evenings passed alone?
and where the husband, recognizing
her worth (but anathematising
his destiny) without a smile
bursts with cold envy and with bile?
For such am I. When you were speaking
to me so simply, with the fires
and force that purity inspires,
is this the man that you were seeking?
can it be true you must await
from cruel fortune such a fate?


``I've dreams and years past resurrection;
a soul that nothing can renew...
I feel a brotherly affection,
or something tenderer still, for you.
Listen to me without resentment:
girls often change to their contentment
light dreams for new ones... so we see
each springtime, on the growing tree,
fresh leaves... for such is heaven's mandate.
You'll love again, but you must teach
your heart some self-restraint; for each
and every man won't understand it
as I have... learn from my belief
that inexperience leads to grief.''


So went his sermon. Almost dying,
blinded to everything about
by mist of tears, without replying
Tatyana heard Evgeny out.
He gave his arm. In sad abstraction,
by what's called machinal reaction,
without a word Tatyana leant
upon it, and with head down-bent
walked homeward round the kitchen garden;
together they arrived, and none
dreamt of reproving what they'd done:
by country freedom, rightful pardon
and happy licence are allowed,
as much as in Moscow the proud.


Agree, the way Eugene proceeded
with our poor girl was kind and good;
not for the first time he succeeded
in manifesting, as he could,
a truly noble disposition;
yet people's malice and suspicion
persisted and made no amends.
By enemies, no less by friends
(it's all the same -- you well correct us),
he found all kinds of brickbat hurled.
We each have enemies in this world,
but from our friends, good Lord protect us!
Those friends, those friends! it is, I fear,
with cause that I've recalled them here.


What of it? Nothing. I'm just sending
to sleep some black and empty dreams;
but, inside brackets, I'm contending
there's no ignoble tale that seems
cooked-up where garret-vermin babble,
endorsed by fashionable rabble,
there's no absurdity as such,
no vulgar epigram too much,
which smilingly your friend, supported
by decent company, has not,
without a trace of spite or plot,
a hundred times afresh distorted;
yet he'd back you through thick and thin:
he loves you... like your kith and kin!


Hm, hm. Distinguished reader, tell me
how are your kith and kin today?
And here my sentiments impel me
for your enlightenment to say
how I interpret this expression:
our kin are folk whom by profession
we have to cherish and admire
with all our hearts, and who require
that in the usual Christmas scrimmage
we visit them, or without fail
send them good wishes through the mail
to ensure that till next time our image
won't even cross their minds by stealth...
God grant them years and years of health!


Of course, the love of tender beauties,
surer than friendship or than kin,
will loyally discharge its duties,
in midst of trouble, storm or din.
Of course. Yet fashion's wild rotation,
yet a capricious inclination,
yet floods of talk around the town...
the darling sex is light as down.
Then verdicts from her husband's quartet
are bound, by every virtuous wife,
to be respected all through life:
and so your faithfullest supporter
will disappear as fast as smoke:
for Satan, love's a splendid joke.


Whom then to credit? Whom to treasure?
On whom alone can we depend?
Who is there who will truly measure
his acts and words to suit our end?
Who'll sow no calumnies around us?
Whose fond attentions will astound us?
Who'll never fault our vices, or
whom shall we never find a bore?
Don't let a ghost be your bear-leader,
don't waste your efforts on the air.
Just let yourself be your whole care,
your loved one, honourable reader!
Deserving object: there can be
nothing more lovable than he.


Then what resulted from the meeting?
Alas, it's not so hard to guess!
Love's frantic torments went on beating
and racking with their strain and stress
that youthful soul, which pined for sadness;
no, all devoured by passion's madness
poor Tanya more intensely burns;
sleep runs from her, she turns and turns...
and health, life's sweetness and its shimmer,
smiles, and a maiden's tranquil poise,
have vanished, like an empty noise,
while dear Tatyana's youth grows dimmer:
so a storm-shadow wraps away
in dark attire the new-born day.


Poor Tanya's bloom begins to languish,
and pale, and fade without a word!
there's nothing can employ her anguish,
no sound by which her soul is stirred.
Neighbours in whispered tones are taking
council, and with profound head-shaking
conclude that it's high time she wed!...
But that's enough. At once, in stead,
I'll gladden your imagination,
reader, by painting you a scene
of happy love. For I have been
too long, against my inclination,
held in constraint by pity's touch:
I love my Tatyana too much!


From hour to hour a surer capture
for Olga's beauty, Lensky gives
his soul to a delicious rapture
that fills him and in which he lives.
He's always with her: either seated
in darkness in her room, or treated
to garden walks, as arm in arm
they while away the morning's calm.
What else? Quite drunk with love's illusion,
he even dares, once in a while,
emboldened by his Olga's smile,
and plunged in tender shame's confusion,
to play with a dishevelled tress,
or kiss the border of her dress.


He reads to Olga on occasion,
for her improvement, a roman,
of moralistical persuasion,
more searching than Chateaubriand;
but in it there are certain pages
(vain twaddle, fables of the ages,
talk that might turn a young girl's head)
which with a blush he leaves unread.
As far removed as they were able
from all the world, they sat and pored
in deepest thought at the chess-board
for hours, with elbows on the table --
then Lensky moved his pawn, and took,
deep in distraction, his own rook.


Even at home his occupation
is only Olga: he relieves
with careful schemes of decoration
an album's loose and floating sheaves.
Sometimes a landscape's represented,
a tomb, a Cyprian shrine's invented,
a lyre, and on it perched, a dove --
in ink with colour-wash above;
then on the leaves of recollection,
below the others who have signed
he leaves a tender verse behind,
a dream's mute monument, reflection
of instant thoughts, a fleeting trace
still after many years in place.


Often of course you'll have inspected
the album of a country miss
where scribbling friends have interjected
frontwise and back, that way and this.
With spelling scrambled to perdition,
the unmetric verses of tradition
are entered here, in friendship's gage,
shortened, or lengthened off the page.
On the first sheet you'll find a question:
``Qu'écrirez-vous sur ces tablettes?''
and, under, ``toute à vous Annette'';
then, on the last page, the suggestion:
``who loves you more than I, let's see
him prove it, writing after me.''


There you're entirely sure of finding
two hearts, a torch, and a nosegay;
and there, love's protestations, binding
until the tombstone; there one day
some regimental bard has added
a stanza villainously padded.
In such an album, friends, I too
am always glad to write, it's true,
convinced at heart that my most zealous
nonsense will earn indulgent looks,
nor will my scribbling in such books
attract the sneering of the jealous,
or make men seriously discuss
if I show wit in jesting thus.


But you, grand tomes I loathe with passion,
odd volumes from the devil's shelf,
in which the rhymester-man-of-fashion
is forced to crucify himself,
portfolios nobly illustrated
with Tolstoy's2 brush, or decorated
by Baratynsky's3 wondrous pen,
God's thunder burn you up! And when
some splendid lady is referring
to me her best in-quarto tome,
the fear and rage with which I foam!
Deep down, an epigram is stirring
that I'm just longing to indite --
but madrigals I've got to write!


No madrigals were for inscribing
by Lensky in his Olga's book;
his style breathed love, and not the gibing
coldness of wit; each note he took,
each news of her he'd been imbibing --
all was material for transcribing:
with lively and pellucid look,
his elegies flow like a brook.
So you, inspired Yazýkov,4 sobbing
with bursts of passion from the heart,
sing God knows whom, compose with art
a suite of elegies that, throbbing,
sooner or later will relate
the entire story of your fate.


But soft! You hear? A scowling critic,
bidding us to reject for good
the elegy, grown paralytic,
commands our rhymester-brotherhood:
``oh, quit your stale, your tedious quacking,
and your alas-ing and alack-ing
about what's buried in the past:
sing about something else at last!''
All right, you want the resurrection
of trumpet, dagger, mask and sword,
and dead ideas from that old hoard,
all brought to life at your direction.
Not so? ``No, sirs, the ode's the thing,
that's the refrain that you should sing,


``as sung of old, in years of glory,
as instituted long ago.''
Only the ode, that solemn story!
Enough, my friends; it's all so-so.
Remember the retort satiric!
Is Others' View,5 that clever lyric,
really more bearable to you
than what our sorrowing rhymesters do?
``The elegy's just vain protesting,
empty the purpose it proclaims,
while odes have high and noble aims...''
That point I wouldn't mind contesting,
but hold my tongue, lest it appears
I'll set two ages by the ears.


In love with fame, by freedom smitten,
with storm and tumult in his head,
what odes Vladimir might have written --
but Olga would have never read!
Bards of our tearful generation,
have you read lines of your creation
to your loved ones? They do maintain
that this of all things for a swain
is the supreme reward. Precisely,
blest the poor lover who reads out
his dreams, while she whom they're about,
that languid beauty, listens nicely --
blest... though perhaps her fancy's caught
in fact by some quite different thought.


But I myself read my bedizened
fancies, my rhythmic search for truth,
to nobody except a wizened
nanny, companion of my youth;
or, after some dull dinner's labour,
I buttonhole a wandering neighbour
and in a corner make him choke
on tragedy; but it's no joke,
when, utterly worn out by rhyming,
exhausted and done up, I take
a rambling walk beside my lake,
and duck get up; with instant timing,
alarmed by my melodious lay,
they leave their shores and fly away.


< My gaze pursues them... but on station
the hunter in the wood will swear
at verse, and hiss an imprecation,
and ease his catch with all due care.
We each enjoy a special hobby,
each of us has his favourite lobby:
one sees a duck and aims his gun,
one raves in verse like me, and one
hunts cheeky flies, with swatter sweeping,
one leads the multitude in thought,
one finds in war amusing sport,
one wallows in delicious weeping;
the wine-addict adores the cup:
and good and bad are all mixed up. >


But what about Eugene? With reason
reader, you ask, and I'll expound --
craving your tolerance in season --
the programme of his daily round.
In summertime -- for he was leading
a hermit's life -- he'd be proceeding
on foot, by seven o'clock, until
he reached the stream below the hill;
lightly attired, like the creator
of Gulnare, he would play a card
out of the hand of that same bard:
he'd swim this Hellespont; then later
he'd drink his coffee, flutter through
the pages of some dull review,
then dress...


Books, riding, walks, sleep heavy-laden,
the shady wood, the talking stream;
sometimes from a fair, black-eyed maiden
the kiss where youth and freshness gleam;
a steed responsive to the bridle,
and dinner with a touch of idle
fancy, a wine serene in mood,
tranquillity, and solitude --
Onegin's life, you see, was holy;
unconsciously he let it mount
its grip on him, forgot to count
bright summer days that passed so slowly,
forgot to think of town and friends
and tedious means to festive ends.


Our evanescent northern summer
parodies winter in the south;
it's like a vanishing newcomer --
but here we must control our mouth.
The sky breathed autumn, time was flowing,
and good old sun more seldom glowing;
the days grew shorter, in the glade
with mournful sound the secret shade
was stripped away, and mists encroaching
lay on the fields; in caravan
the clamorous honking geese began
their southward flight: one saw approaching
the season which is such a bore --
November stood outside the door.


Dawn comes in mist and chill; no longer
do fields echo with work and shout;
in pairs, their hunger driving stronger,
on the highroad the wolves come out;
the horse gets wind of them and, snorting,
sets the wise traveller cavorting
up the hillside at breakneck pace;
no longer does the herdsman chase
his beasts outdoors at dawn, nor ringing
at noontime does his horn resound
as it assembles them around;
while in the hut a girl is singing;
she spins and, friend of winter nights,
the matchwood chatters as it lights.


Hoar-frost that crackles with a will is
already silvering all the plain...
(the reader thinks the rhyme is lilies:
here, seize it quick for this quatrain!)
Like modish parquetry, the river
glitters beneath its icing-sliver;
boy-tribes with skates on loudly slice
their joyous way across the ice;
a red-foot goose, weight something fearful,
anticipates a swim, in stead
tries out the ice with cautious tread,
and skids and tumbles down; the cheerful
first flakes of snow whirl round and sink
in stars upon the river-brink.


In backwoods, how d'you pass this season?
Walking? The country that you roam
is a compulsive bore by reason
of its unvarnished monochrome.
Riding on the lugubrious prairie?
Your horse, blunt-shoed and all unwary,
will find the ice elude his grip
and, any moment, down he'll slip.
Or, in your lonely homestead, moping,
you'll read: here's Pradt,7 here's Walter Scott!
to pass the evening. No? then tot
up your accounts, and raging, toping,
let evening pass, tomorrow too --
in triumph you'll see winter through!


Childe-Harold-like, Eugene's devoting
his hours to dreaming them away:
he wakes; a bath where ice is floating;
and then, indoors the livelong day,
alone, and sunk in calculation,
with a blunt cue for the duration,
from early morning on he will
at two-ball billiards prove his skill;
then, country evening fast arriving,
billiards are dropped, cue put to bed:
before the fire a table's spread;
Evgeny waits: and here comes driving,
with three roan horses in a line
Vladimir Lensky. Quick, let's dine!


From widow Clicquot and from Moët,
the draught whose blessings are agreed,
in frosted bottle, for the poet
is brought to table at full speed.
Bubbles like Hippocrene are spraying;
once, with its foaming and its playing,
(a simile of this and that)
it held me captive; tit for tat,
friends, recollect how I surrendered
my last poor lepton for a sup!
recall, by its bewitching cup,
how many follies were engendered;
how many lines of verse, and themes
for jokes, and rows, and merry dreams!


Yet hissing froth deals a malicious,
perfidious blow to my inside,
and now it's Bordeaux the Judicious
that I prefer to Champagne's tide;
to Aÿ's vintage in the sequel
I find myself no longer equal;
for, mistress-like, it's brilliant, vain,
lively, capricious, and inane...
But in misfortune or displeasure,
Bordeaux, you're like a faithful friend,
a true companion to the end,
ready to share our quiet leisure
with your good offices, and so
long life to our dear friend, Bordeaux!


The fire was dying; cinders faintly
covered the golden coal -- the steam
tumbled and whirled and twisted quaintly
its barely noticeable stream.
The hearth was low beyond all stoking.
Straight up the chimney, pipes were smoking.
Still on the board, the beakers hissed,
and evening now drew on in mist...
(I like a friendly conversation,
the enjoyment of a friendly drink,
at hours, which, why I cannot think,
somehow have got the designation
of time between the wolf and dog.)
Now hear the friends in dialogue:


``Tell me, our neighbours, are they thriving?
and how's Tatyana? Olga too,
your dashing one, is she surviving?''
``Just half a glass more... that will do...
All flourishing; they send their duty.
Take Olga's shoulders now -- the beauty!
What breasts! What soul!... We'll go one day
visit the family, what d'you say?
if you come with me, they'll be flattered;
or else, my friend, how does it look?
you called there twice, and since then took
no notice of them. But I've chattered
so much, I'm left no time to speak!
of course! you're bidden there next week.''


``I?'' ``Saturday. The invitation
Olinka and her mother sent:
Tatyana's name day celebration.
It's right and proper that you went.''
``But there'll be such a rout and scrabble
with every different kind of rabble...''
``No, no, I'm sure the party's small.
Relations. No-one else at all.
Let's go, our friendship's worth the labour!''
``All right, I'll come then...'' ``What a friend!''
He drained his glass down to the end
by way of toast to their fair neighbour;
then he began to talk once more
of Olga: love's that kind of bore!


Lensky rejoiced. His designated
rapture was just two weeks ahead;
love's crown, delectable, awaited
his transports, and the marriage-bed
in all its mystery. Hymen's teasing,
the pain, the grief, the marrow-freezing
onset of the incipient yawn,
were from his vision quite withdrawn.
While under the connubial banner
I can see naught, as Hymen's foe,
beyond a string of dull tableaux,
a novel in Lafontaine's8 manner...
my wretched Lensky in his heart
was just created for the part.


And he was loved... at least he never
doubted of it, so lived in bliss.
Happy a hundredfold, whoever
can lean on faith, who can dismiss
cold reason, sleep in sensual welter
like a drunk traveller in a shelter,
or, sweeter, like a butterfly
in flowers of spring it's drinking dry:
but piteous he, the all-foreseeing,
the sober head, detesting each
human reaction, every speech
in the expression of its being,
whose heart experience has cooled
and saved from being charmed or fooled!

Notes to Chapter Four

1 Stanzas I to VI were discarded by Pushkin.
2 Count F. P. Tolstoy (1783-1873), well-known artist.
3 See Chapter Three, note 13.
4 Poet and acquaintance of Pushkin.
5 Satiric poem by Ivan Dimitriev, 1795. The reference is -- summarizing
very briefly -- to a controversy between different literary cliques about
the relative merits of the classic ode and the romantic elegy.
6 Stanza discarded by Pushkin, also stanza XXXVIII.
7 Dominique de Pradt (1759-1837), voluminous French political writer.
8 August Lafontaine (1758-1851), German novelist of family life.

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