Elle étoit fille, elle étoit amoureuse.
She was a girl, she was amorous.
~ 1 ~
‘You’re off again? Oh, these poets!’
Goodbye, Eugene, I must be leaving.’
‘I’ll not keep you, but where is it,
You fritter away your evenings?’
– ‘At the Larins.’ – ‘How very odd.
Aren’t you bored to death, dear God,
Killing the hours dozing there?’
– ‘Not at all.’ – ‘Well, I declare,
I can’t see it. Here’s what you’ll find
I imagine (say, if I’m right):
A simple Russian scene, by night,
Hospitable, a family grind,
Tea, and jam, and endless prattle,
About the weather, crops, and cattle…’
~ 2 ~
‘I don’t see what’s so bad about it.’
‘Ah, boredom, that’s what’s bad, my friend.’
‘I hate the fashionable circuit,
All make for home in the end,
Where we can…’ ‘Oh, an elegy!
Dear Lord, enough, enough! Have pity!
You’re really going? And so swiftly?
But, listen, Lensky, when shall I see
This Phyllis, who’s so interesting,
This idol for your mind, and pen,
Your tears, verse, et cetera, when? ...
Introduce me.’ ‘Now, you’re jesting.’
‘No.’ – ‘With pleasure.’ – ‘When?’ – ‘Tonight.
They’d welcome you with great delight.’
~ 3 ~
‘Let’s go.’ They leave without delay,
Arrive, and greeted heartily,
Are treated in the kindest way
With old-fashioned hospitality.
The polished table shines, I fear
Those dishes of preserves appear,
Jugs of cranberry juice, all that
Custom demands. They sat and sat,
And passed the time as people do,
Politely mentioning various topics,
Filling the silences with gossip:
Time dragged slowly or it flew,
Until (a wealth of thanks conceive),
They exit; Lenksy loth to leave.
~ 4 ~
Homeward they go the shortest way,
Since it’s late, and travel quickly:
Reader, you’d know what they say?
Then listen now, in secret, with me.
‘My dear Onegin, you’re yawning.’
‘A habit Lensky.’ ‘You find life boring,
More than usual?’ ‘No, the same.
Too dark for driving some would claim,
Press on! Andryushka, quicker, quicker!
Oh, this stupid countryside!
So: Madame Larina, while we ride,
I found an honest plain old dear,
Though that cranberry juice may kill:
It’s bound at least to make me ill.’
~ 5 ~
‘And tell me, which was Tatyana?’
‘The one who sat by the window,
Sad as Zhukovsky’s Svetlana,
As though she had a private sorrow’
‘Can you really love the younger?’
– Why not? – Well, I’d prefer her sister,
If I were a poet, as you are
Olga’s less alive by far,
Just like those Van Dyck Madonnas,
Pretty yes, with that round face,
As the foolish moon in space,
The foolish horizon honours.’
Vladimir thought him quite wrong,
Yet diplomatic, held his tongue.
~ 6 ~
Meanwhile Onegin’s first session
At the Larins had produced
On one and all a strong impression,
All the neighbours were seduced.
There was no end of speculation,
Hosts of rumours in circulation,
Jokes and carping comments too,
Tatyana was betrothed: some knew!
Some claimed the marriage was agreed,
Stated it quite positively,
Delayed though, temporarily,
Fashionable rings they need.
As for Lensky’s fate, you know,
All that was settled long ago.
~ 7 ~
Tatyana listened, with vexation,
To all this; yet, an innocent,
Felt inexpressible elation,
At the least unguarded moment.
A thought took root in her heart,
So a seed begins to start
Heated by the warmth of spring,
And time gives nurture to the thing.
Her dreams had long since set her yearning,
For that fatal sustenance,
Fired by longing, circumstance,
In solitude her heart was burning,
Crushed by adolescent gloom,
Her soul was waiting…but for whom?
~ 8 ~
The one awaited….he is here;
Her eyes are opened, it is he!
Now night and day he will appear
In dreams, that fevered, solitary,
Speak of him, and endlessly
All things declare, and magically,
His presence: kindness is vexation,
The servant’s looks pure irritation.
Lost in her deep melancholy,
She pays no attention to their guests
Curses their hours of idleness,
Their visits an unwelcome folly,
Hates the tedium of their visit,
Their tendency to sit, and sit.
~ 9 ~
Now with greater concentration,
She reads the sweet romances,
Finds a deeper fascination,
In those soft seductive glances!
Each figment of imagination,
Every writer’s fine creation,
Cottin’s Malek-Adhel, de Krudener’s de Linar,
The lover too of Rousseau’s Julie Womar,
Werther, born to be a martyr,
And the peerless Grandison,
Who sends me to sleep, all were as one;
A single image as it were:
The foolish dreamer sees them whole
In Onegin’s form, and soul.
~ 10 ~
And sees herself the heroine
Of all the authors she admires,
Clarissa, Julie, or Delphine;
Wanders among forest choirs
With some dangerous volume roams,
Through its pages swiftly combs,
To find her passion, and her dream,
Her overflowing heart, love’s gleam.
She sighs and in herself possesses
Another’s joy, another’s sorrow,
A little note then for her hero
In her mind she writes, addresses.
Yet ours, though he may be one,
Is certainly no Grandison.
~ 11 ~
In the high style of the past,
An author of romantic fiction
Had to present his hero as
A paragon of pure perfection.
Always unjustly persecuted,
His character was executed
To show intelligence and grace,
A sensitive and handsome face.
His heart forever burned with rapture,
Pure devotion his desire,
Prepared for sacrificial fire:
And always, in the final chapter,
Vice was ruthlessly put down,
While virtue won a noble crown.
~ 12 ~
But now our minds are somewhat cloudy,
Morals makes us nod, not sins;
Even in books, virtue’s dowdy,
And even there, at last, vice wins.
All the British Muse’s lumber
Now disturbs a young girl’s slumber,
Her idol, someone to admire,
Is the blood-sucking Vampire,
Melmoth, Maturin’s traveller,
The Corsair or the Wandering Jew,
Nodier’s Jean Sbogar too.
Lord Byron with a shrewd despair,
Displays a hopeless egotism
As saturnine romanticism.
~ 13 ~
My friends, where’s the sense in it?
Perhaps by some divine decree,
A fresh demon will inhabit
Self, and end my poetry.
Defying then the dread Apollo,
The paths of humble prose I’ll follow
Write novels in established ways
To fill up my declining days.
No fear and menace in my tale,
No villain’s hidden agony,
A simple Russian family
With that my readers I’ll regale,
Love’s enchantments: and my verse
Our ancient customs shall rehearse.
~ 14 ~
I’ll record the honest speech
Of an old uncle, or some father’s,
Then by the stream, beneath the beech
The breathless meeting of young lovers;
Fierce jealousy, sad separation,
Tears of reconciliation,
A second quarrel, then they sigh,
Then to the altar, by and by….
I’ll recall the words of longing,
Uttered in those days of bliss,
In a time far, far from this,
At my mistress’s feet lying,
Words that flowed from my tongue,
Lost now that power of being young.
~ 15 ~
Tatyana, my dear Tatyana!
I share those tears that agitate:
To the hands of fashion’s monster,
You now consign your fate.
My dear one you’re doomed to perish,
But first what hopes you’ll cherish,
Blinded, dazed by sombre joys,
You’ll drink the poison love employs,
You’ll learn its bliss, its desires,
While such dreams pursue you,
Thinking every place you view
To shelter lovers’ trysts aspires;
While fated everywhere to find,
Your true seducer in your mind.
~ 16 ~
Haunted by love’s pain, Tatyana,
Takes to the garden, walking
Eyes downcast, till her languor,
Prevents her from even moving.
Her breast heaves, her cheeks aflame,
Burning suddenly with shame,
The breath on her lips is glazed,
A roaring in her ears, eyes dazed…
Night falls, and the moon patrols
The vault of heaven. Near her room,
A nightingale, from woodland gloom
Its rich sonorous cadence rolls.
Tatyana, in the darkness lying,
To her nurse is softly sighing.
~ 17 ~
‘I can’t sleep, Nurse; it’s stifling!
Open the window then sit by me.’
‘What is it Tanya, dear?’ ‘It’s trifling:
Nurse, I’m bored, tell me a story.’
‘A story, Tanya? In my time,
I knew scores and scores, in rhyme,
Old tales they were, fables laden
With Evil spirits, a lovely maiden;
Tanya, it’s gone, my memory,
All that I knew forgotten. Yes,
Time’s done it’s work, I must confess,
I’m muddled now!’… ‘But Nurse, tell me,
When you were young, long ago,
Were you in love? I must know!’
~ 18 ~
‘Tanya! What a notion! In those days,
We’d never heard the word. One sigh
And my mother-in-law, bless her ways,
Would chase me about, fit to die.’
Then how did you come to wed?’ ‘Tanya,
It was God’s will now, my Vanya,
Was just a lad, if you could have seen
Us then, and I, I was just thirteen.
The matchmaker spent two weeks trying
To persuade my parents, no less,
Then father blessed me, and said yes.
Oh, you should have heard me crying,
Still wept as they unwound my hair,
And sang me to church. What a pair!’
~ 19 ~
‘So I joined another family,
My husband’s folk…do you hear?’
‘Ah, Nurse, Nurse, I’m so unhappy,
It seems to me I’m ill, my dear,
I long to sob, I long to weep…!’
– ‘My little one, you need to sleep.
Oh Lord! What can I get you, daughter…
Let me sprinkle you, fetch holy water,
You’re in a fever…’ ‘No, I’m not ill:
I’m…Nurse, you see…I’m in love.’
– ‘Oh my child, Heavens above,
May the Good Lord preserve us still!’ –
The sign of the cross she made
Over the girl, and trembling prayed.
~ 20 ~
‘I am in love’ Tatyana sighs,
In a soft whisper, gives a moan.
‘Dear, you can’t be well,’ replies,
The nurse. ‘It’s love. Leave me alone.’
Meanwhile, the sad moon dreams,
On the girl’s pale beauty gleams,
Shines above, its tranquil light
Silvering loosened hair, tears bright,
The bench beside her, where the nurse
In kerchief and quilted gown,
By our heroine sits, spell-bound.
And all the world lies still, below,
Bathed in the moon’s enchanted glow.
~ 21 ~
Tanya watches the moon’s sphere,
Her soul in distant regions wanders,
And then, a sudden thought shines clear:
‘Nurse, go now.’ She swiftly ponders:
‘Bring me ink and paper, draw
That table nearer; I’ll be sure
To sleep later. Now goodnight.’
Alone, in silence. The moon sheds light.
Propped on her elbow, now she pens,
Thinking of Eugene, all the while,
A simple letter, free of guile,
That breathes a young girl’s innocence.
The letter’s done, is folded, sealed…
Tatyana! Whose name is revealed?
~ 22 ~
I’ve known women, proud and cold,
As pure as winter’s ice, as rigid,
Unfathomable, even to the bold,
As stern, as distant, and as frigid.
I marvelled at their arrogance,
Iron virtue, chilly glance,
To keep well clear of them, I vow,
And that inscription on their brow,
The one on Hades’ Gate: Surrender
All hope, all you who enter here.’
What consoles them is our fear,
They abhor it when we’re tender.
Perhaps you’ve seen, on Neva’s shore,
The like of them, one or more.
~ 23 ~
And I’ve seen other beauties too
Ringed by loyal devotees,
Indifferent to me or you,
To sighs, or praise, or flatteries.
And yet I was amazed to find
Them often feign a change of mind,
Frightening a timid love away
Reviving it the following day:
At least a pretence of empathy,
At least their words seeming more,
Kind and tender than before.
So the gullible would blindly,
Young and fond, pursue again,
That fatal sweetness, though in vain.
~ 24 ~
Why then consider Tanya guilty?
Because her simplicity, it seems,
Is ignorant of deceit, and still she
Believes completely in her dreams?
Or because her love lacks art,
Follows the promptings of her heart?
Because she’s trusting, and honest
And by Heaven has been blessed,
With profound imagination,
A fiery will, a lively mind,
A soul for passion’s fires designed,
A spirit tuned to all creation?
Surely, then, you can forgive,
A fierce desire to love and live?
~ 25 ~
Tatyana is no cool coquette,
She loves in all seriousness,
Yields to it like a child, as yet
Full of innocence and sweetness.
She’d never argue: Let’s delay
Increase love’s value, find a way
To mesh him deeper in our net.
First rouse his vanity and let
Him hope, deploy uncertainty,
Exhaust him, now, let him doubt,
Till the flame is dying out;
Then calmly stir his jealousy,
Lest tired of pleasure, freedom won,
He ends the struggle and has done.
~ 26 ~
Now, I’m in some difficulty,
Since, to preserve my reputation,
I must give her letter, error-free,
In Russian, honouring our nation.
But Tanya wrote it all so badly,
Never read Russian papers, sadly,
Had never, even when young,
Been fluent in her native tongue.
And so she wrote in French of course …
What’s to be done? As we all know,
No lady’s ever deigned to show
Her love thus, since, despite its force,
Our great language, in its pride,
Has never with letters been allied.
~ 27 ~
I know: they’d like to force our girls
To read in Russian. Ah, what horror!
Could you conceive those golden curls,
Izmailov’s Journal set before her!
Is it not true, my fellow poet,
Those dear creatures, oh, you know it,
For whom, to expiate our crimes,
We wrote all those secret rhymes,
To whom our hearts were consecrated,
Didn’t they mutilate our speech,
Our Russian language, and yet each
Fault was charming, though it grated?
A foreign tongue it is that slips,
Habitually, between their lips.
~ 28 ~
May I never meet, at a ball,
By the entrance step, or on it,
A scholar, in a yellow shawl,
An Academician in a bonnet!
Like rose-red lips without a smile,
Russian without such faults is vile,
Lacks charm. The new generation,
Of beauties, with the press’s clamour,
May yet accustom us to grammar,
Make poetry their occupation;
As for me….they’re not my ways,
My heart is with the good old days.
~ 29 ~
Their incorrect and careless chatter,
Their errors of pronunciation,
Still add emotion to the matter,
Stir the same old sweet sensation.
I’ve not the strength for repentance,
French still entrances in a sentence,
Like the sins that youth rehearses,
Or Bogdanóvich’s light verses.
Enough. It’s time for that letter,
Written by my pure young beauty,
I gave my word, and it’s my duty,
Though blank pages would be better;
We’ve no use for Parny’s rhymes
In these far less tender times.
~ 30 ~
Singer of Feasts and melancholy,
Baratynsky, were you with me now,
I might commit a daring folly
And ask your Muse to take a bow,
Borrow your bewitching skill,
Translate my Tanya, with a will,
Into verse that would amaze us,
All those foreign words and phrases.
Where are you, now? It’s your right,
I cede my own in deference…..
But no, beneath Finland’s skies,
Far now from praise, he sighs,
Among sad cliffs for preference.
In spirit, he abandons me
To all my plaintive misery.
~ 31 ~
Tayana’s letter’s here before me,
I treat it as a sacred treasure,
Read it secretively, sadly,
And never fully plumb its measure.
Who inspired such tenderness,
Surrender’s language, rare excess?
Who taught her this intense emotion,
This heartfelt speech, gave the notion,
So charming and so perilous?
I know not, yet here’s my translation,
Pale, incomplete, an imitation,
Of a living work, as dubious
As an air from Weber’s Freischütz played,
By nervous hands, mind half-obeyed.
~ TATYANA’S LETTER TO ONEGIN ~
‘I write – what more is there to say?
How shall I add to my confession?
I know it’s in your power today
To punish me with your derision.
Yet had compassion a part to play
In your thoughts, you would wait,
And not abandon me to fate.
At first I wished to stay quite silent,
Thus, you never would have heard
Of shame or misery, one word.
If I’d reserved a hope, content
To see you but once a week,
Be in your presence, hear you speak,
Utter a few words of greeting,
And then, while you were gone,
Have that to think, and think, upon,
Day and night, till our next meeting.
You’re unsociable, they say
That the country bores you, sadly;
And we….don’t shine in any way,
Although we welcome you, so gladly.
Why did you come, to disturb us?
Lost in our rural solitude?
I’d not have known you, and thus
Been spared this deep inquietude,
In time (who knows?) I might have viewed
My world with equanimity,
This fever born of youth once past,
Found another, served at last,
As wife and mother, faithfully.
Another? ....No, no there’s none
On earth but you my heart adores!
That was ordained by fate, alone…
It’s Heaven’s will: I am yours.
My life was but a pledge till now
Of our prophetic meeting: yes,
God sent you to me, I avow,
Till in the grave we shall rest…
You appeared to me in dreams,
My soul heard your voice ring clear,
As yet unknown, I held you dear,
Stirred by a stranger’s glance, it seems,
Long ago….It was no phantom!
You appeared, and instantly,
My hearts ablaze, I cried: ‘It’s he’,
In my thoughts, I was struck dumb.
Is it not true? I often heard you:
In quiet, did you not speak to me,
In works of charity, all through
The hours of anguished prayer I knew,
When my head ached so painfully?
And now, at this very moment,
Is it not you, this heaven-sent
Vision, standing by my bed,
Deep, in the translucent night
To bring, with love and solace bright,
Fresh hope on which my heart is fed?
Are you then my guardian angel,
Or my tempter, force of evil:
Dispel my doubts, I am blind,
Perhaps this is all vanity,
The fancies of a foolish mind,
Mine another destiny….
So be it! My fate now lies
In your hands, my direction,
The tears flow from my eyes,
I beseech your protection…
Conceive it. No one here to cherish
Me, or understand my moan,
My mind in torment, I’m alone:
Silently, I’m doomed to perish.
I await you: one look turned
Towards me, wake hope in my heart,
Or make this painful dream depart
Speak the reproach I have earned!
I tremble to re-read….must end!
My heart sinks now, in shame and terror…
On you alone I must depend
Boldly trusting in your honour…’
~ 32 ~
Tatyana moans then gives a sigh,
The letter trembles in her hand;
The wafer meant to seal it’s dry,
Still quivering there on her tongue.
Her head sinks, the stars grow older,
Her night-dress slips from her shoulder,
Soon the dawn will bring new light,
The moon no longer shines as bright,
The radiance dies: there the vale
Shines with mist. Here a stream
Is turned to silver. From it’s dream,
A shepherd’s pipe wakes the dale.
Morning comes: the dark is done,
To my Tatyana, all is one.
~ 33 ~
She barely notices the dawn,
Sits with head downcast, still holds
The seal with her monogram,
Poised above the letter’s folds.
The nurse, old Filipevna,
Enters softly and disturbs her,
Bringing breakfast on a tray,
‘It’s time to rise my child; it’s day:
Ah, now but you’re up already!
See, my early bird, my darling,
Save us, how well you’re looking!
Last night what a fright you gave me!
I see your fretting’s left no trace,
Red as a poppy, your bright face.’
~ 34 ~
– ‘Oh, Nurse, you won’t refuse me.’ –
‘Of course not darling, only say…’
– ‘Don’t think…truly…don’t accuse me…
No suspicions… nurse, obey.’ –
My sweet child, as God is holy.’
– ‘Then send your grandson, and he
Must take this letter, secretly, to O…
To our neighbour… he, you know,
And never breathe a word of it,
And he must never mention me…’ –
‘To whom, my dear, who is this he?
I know I’m slow, and short of wit,
But we’ve so many neighbours, why
I can’t count them if I try.’
~ 35 ~
– ‘Nurse, how slow you are to guess!’ –
‘My darling, well, I’m getting old;
Old, Tanya, and my mind…God bless,
Once master had no need to scold,
When I was young, a mere suggestion…’
– ‘Nurse, now, that’s not the question,
What has all that to do with me,
This letter here, don’t you see,
It’s for Onegin.’ – ‘Yes, indeed,
Don’t be cross with me, my sweet,
My mind….But you’re pale as a sheet:
Child, is there something you need?’
– ‘Nurse, it’s nothing, I feel fine.
Go now, take this note of mine.’ –
~ 36 ~
The day slips past, with no reply,
Another day, and still no sign,
Dressed at dawn, she gives a sigh,
A shadow, pale. Ah, for one line!
Then Olga’s suitor, Lensky’s here:
‘Tell me will your friend appear?’
Asks Larina, curious,
‘It seems he has forgotten us!’
Tanya was blushing, trembling.
‘He promised he’d come, today,
Perhaps the mail’s caused some delay,’
She heard our Lensky answering;
Tanya downcast, as if she heard,
A dark reproach in every word.
~ 37 ~
Dusk falls, the samovar is gleaming
Adorns the table, boiling hot,
It glows and hisses, softly steaming,
Vapour wreathes the china pot.
Olga’s there, and quietly fills
The shining tea-cups, never spills
A drop of that dark fragrant stream;
A serving-lad hands round the cream.
Tatyana hovers at the window,
Breathing on the icy pane,
She’s lost in thought now, once again;
On the misted glass, a shadow,
Her little finger’s traced, I see,
The sacred letters, O and E.
~ 38 ~
Her heartache feels like some disease,
Her eyes are clouded, filled with tears,
The sound of hooves! ...Sent to freeze
Her. Galloping, closer it appears.
‘Eugene! Ah!’ – Light as a wraith
Tatyana flies, as swift as faith,
From porch to yard, in a moment,
Not looking backward for an instant,
Past the flowers, down the lawn,
Past the bridge, and pond, she stops,
At nothing, pathway, lake, or copse,
Breaks the lilacs, hurrying on,
Through the borders, gains the stream,
And on the rustic bench’s gleam
~ 39 ~
Sinks to rest…
Oh God, what must he think of me?’
Her heart still, in it’s agony,
Still bears a hope, a dream darkly.
She trembles, burning, in fear:
Is this him, now? She cannot hear.
Far off a choir of girls sing
Picking berries in the evening,
(As their master told them to,
Not daring to stop, for then
It’s clear they’re not eating them,
By slyly thieving one or two;
A clever scheme of rural song,
Preventing them from doing wrong!)
THE GIRLS’ SONG
Come you maidens, pretty maidens,
Come away, my pretty ones,
Foot it sweetly, now and neatly,
Foot it sweetly, on the grass!
Sing a song, unbind your hair,
A song we love, a merry song,
And draw to us a handsome lad,
To our dance, to our choir.
When we see him, when he’s near us,
When we see our lad approach,
Let’s surround him, in a trice,
Pelt him, with ripe red cherries,
Raspberries, sweet redcurrants:
Eavesdropper, don’t you dare
Listen to our secret song,
Never spy on what we do,
What we sing’s not meant for you!
~ 40 ~
Tatyana hears their distant choir,
But scarcely comprehends their art,
Waiting there, her cheeks on fire,
Tries to calm her beating heart,
But still the pounding in her ears,
Still the throbbing is fierce,
And the flame in her cheek.
So a poor butterfly will seek
To beat once more its rainbow wing,
Frantic and quivering, caught
By some careless lad for sport,
Or a hare trembles, hapless thing,
Glimpsing from the distant field
The huntsman by the hedge, concealed.
~ 41 ~
At last she gave a sudden sigh,
And rose from the bench again,
Turned, and saw before her: ‘Why,
It is Yevgeny,’ sees him plain,
Standing there, his eyes ablaze,
As lightning in his visage plays.
She halts, as if scorched by flame,
Rooted to the ground, in shame.
But the end to this encounter,
So unlooked-for, I’ll not give it,
Lack the strength just now to live it,
After such unremitting labour,
A walk indeed would suit me best,
Before I meditate the rest.