Eugene Oneguine by Aleksandr Pushkin

Canto the First

I

“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!”

II

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.]

III

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.”]

IV

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.

V

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.

VI

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.

VII

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.

VIII

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.]

IX

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.

X

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!

XI

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.]

XII

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.]

XIII

‘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.”]

XIV

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.

XV

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.]