“Eugene Onegin: a Novel in Verse” – selected verses in translation

I have translated the following verses of the first chapter of Pushkin’s classic Eugene Onegin into English. After a deceptively easy start, during which I translated the first verse in ten minutes or so, the rest was fiendishly difficult. Then I noticed that I had mis-translated part of the second verse (lines 9-12): I mixed up the masculine and feminine endings and the order of the rhymes. It’s very hard to go back and fix work of yours that does rhyme and is metric but is of the wrong rhyme and metre.

I could write more about the necessary compromises between meaning and form, the special Onegin stanza, and so on, but I’d prefer to let people ask whatever they like in the comments. Please feel free to do so!

Eugene Onegin. A novel in verse. Composed 1823-31. Publ. in full 1833.

Dedication:

Full of vanity as he was, he had, furthermore, that type of pride which made him confess with the same indifference his good, as well as his bad, actions; this came from a feeling of superiority, perhaps imaginary.

From a private letter (translated from the French).

Chapter I.

He hurries to live and rushes to feel.

 – Prince Vyazemskiy

I.
‘My uncle, who is rather formal,
Fell deathly ill a while ago,
Whereon he thought it something normal
To force us all to share his woe.
His grit must surely be commended
But God what boredom never-ended!
To sit with patient night and day
And never move a step away!
What servile, low humiliation
To keep alive a half-live ape
To fluff his pillows into shape
To dourly give him medication
To sigh and ponder to oneself:
“When will the devil take you, elf?’

II.
A young rake thought thus, as his carriage
Kicked up the dust along the road;
This future heir to parents’ marriage
And will of Zeus his fortune owed.
Friends of Ruslan and of Lyudmila
My novel’s hero, here and now,
With not one hesitant scintilla
I place before you with a bow.
My good friend’s name: Eugene Onegin,
Nevá the river of his birth
And you, too, reader, on that earth
Were born, or lit your powder-keg in,
Perhaps. The very same did I:
But I’m made ill by northern sky.

IV.
When that familiar youthful madness
Came to young Eugene, as us all,
The time of hopes and tender sadness,
The French instructor left the hall.
Voilà Onegin’s at his leisure
He’s coiffed to fashion’s latest measure
Just like a London dandy dressed
At last he mingles with the best.
He could in French with all perfection
Express himself in speech and write
Dance a mazurka tripping light
And bow with ease in dames’ direction.
What more to ask? The world decreed
That he was bright and couth indeed.

VIII.
The whole long list of Eugene’s learning
It does not suit me to retell
But one thing kept his whole mind burning
In this he clearly did excel
For him one thing from adolescence
Was torment, toil and joyous essence.
One thing took up each hour, each day
When he in listless anguish lay.
This was the science of tender passion
Which Ovid sang and was then sent
To end the life which he had spent
In lustrous and rebellious fashion
In exile on Moldavian sands
Far from his own Italian lands.

X.
How young he could hide hope, feel jealous
And with hypocrisy deceive!
To pine, seem gloomy, and to tell us
To first believe, then not believe!
By turns be proud and then submissive,
Enthralled in listening and dismissive!
How languidly he held his tongue;
In speech, how fine for one so young;
Of loving notes a careless sender!
Inhaling love, love on his mind
He often left himself behind!
His gaze, his eyes so quick and tender
Now bold, now shy could they appear
And sometimes shed a docile tear!

XV.
Sometimes when he’d be just awaking
They place his letters in his sight
What? Invitations? No mistaking
Three houses wait for him that night.
A ball, a children’s party, is it?
Where will my rascal make his visit?
Where will he start? That’s all the same:
To do the round’s an easy game.
In morning wear, though, for the present,
A wide-brimmed top-hat on his head,
He hits the boulevard instead,
Strolls in the open parkland pleasant
Until his dutiful Breguet
Tells him: it’s lunchtime! Drive away!

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One thought on ““Eugene Onegin: a Novel in Verse” – selected verses in translation

  1. Will I be alone in noting (a) the allusion to Prufrock in stanza XV (though I must admit that I was steered by the transistor here); and a distinctly Irish lilt in the same stanza (which I love)? I’m thinking of two lines especially:

    “Sometimes when he’d be just awaking”;
    and
    “A ball, a children’s party, is it?”

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