Saturday, July 01, 2017

Eugene Onegin

Eugene Onegin as imagined by Alexander Pushkin, 1830

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse form by Alexander Pushkin. You can understanding how translating Russian verse into English so as to maintain any sense of the original poses serious problems. A 1935 translation preserved the stanza form. The 1963 Walter W. Arndt translation kept the strict rhyme scheme. Vladimir Nabokov published his own translation in 1964, criticizing the earlier translation's sacrifice of exactness in the service of form. In 1977, Charles Johnston published a translation that tried to preserve the stanza. That translation is available online here. There have been numerous other translations, most of which try to maintain the stanza form while also trying to adhere to Pushkin's spirit and meaning.

There are filmed adaptations, none of which I've seen.

This is the beginning of Chapter 8 in the Charles H. Johnston translation
Chapter Eight

Fare thee well, and if for ever,
Still for ever, fare thee well.

Days when I came to flower serenely
in Lycée gardens long ago,
and read my Apuleius keenly,
but spared no glance for Cicero;
yes, in that spring-time, in low-lying
secluded vales, where swans were crying,
by waters that were still and clear,
for the first time the Muse came near.
And suddenly her radiance lighted
my student cell: she opened up
the joys of youth, that festal cup,
she sang of childhood's fun, indited
Russia's old glories and their gleams,
the heart and all its fragile dreams.


And with a smile the world caressed us:
what wings our first successes gave!
aged Derzhávin1 saw and blessed us
as he descended to the grave.
... ...


The arbitrary rules of passion
were all the law that I would use;
sharing her in promiscuous fashion,
I introduced my saucy Muse
to roar of banquets, din of brawling,
when night patrol's a perilous calling;
to each and every raving feast
she brought her talents, never ceased,
Bacchante-like, her flighty prancing;
sang for the guests above the wine;
the youth of those past days in line
behind her followed wildly dancing;
among my friends, in all that crowd
my giddy mistress made me proud.


When I defected from their union
and ran far off... the Muse came too.
How often, with her sweet communion,
she'd cheer my wordless way, and do
her secret work of magic suasion!
How often on the steep Caucasian
ranges, Lenora2-like, she'd ride
breakneck by moonlight at my side!
How oft she'd lead me, by the Tauric
seacoast, to hear in dark of night
the murmuring Nereids recite,
and the deep-throated billows' choric
hymnal as, endlessly unfurled,
they praise the Father of the world.


But then, oblivious of the city,
its glaring feasts, and shrill events,
in far Moldavia, fit for pity,
she visited the humble tents
of wandering tribesmen; while the ravage
of their society turned her savage,
she lost the language of the gods
for the bleak tongue of boorish clods --
she loved the steppe-land and its singing,
then quickly something changed all this:
look here, as a provincial miss
she's turned up in my garden, bringing
sad meditations in her look,
and, in her hand, a small French book.


Now for the first time she's escorted
into the social whirlabout;
jealously, shyly, I've imported
her steppeland charms into a rout.3
Through the tight ranks -- aristocratic,
military-foppish, diplomatic --
past the grand ladies, see her glide;
she sits down calmly on one side,
admires the tumult and the pressing,
the flickering tones of dress and speech,
the young hostess, towards whom each
new guest is gradually progressing,
while men, all sombre, all the same,
set off the ladies like a frame.


She enjoys the stately orchestration
of oligarchical converse,
pride's icy calm, the combination
of ranks and ages so diverse.
But who stands there, in this selected
assembly, silent and dejected?
All who behold him find him strange.
Faces before him flash and change
like irksome phantoms, null as zero.
Is spleen his trouble, or the dumb
torment of pride? And why's he come?
Who on earth is he? not... our hero?
No doubt about it, it's Eugene.
``How long has he been on the scene?
As a comparison, check out chapter 8 in this 2009 translation by A. S. Kline

This completes my Russia book challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment