La morale est dans la nature des choses.
Morality is in the nature of things.
~ 1-7 ~
The less we show our love to woman,
The easier she is to win,
The easier to snare and ruin,
In seduction’s net of sin.
Once cold-blooded lechery
Was praised, all that debauchery
Considered as the art of love,
And praised to the skies above,
That serious and heartless sport,
Fit only for our grandsire’s stage,
Old monkeys of another age.
We’ve toppled Lovelace as we ought,
Gone, with the fashions we abuse,
Wigs and scarlet-heeled shoes.
~ 8 ~
Who is not bored with evasion,
Tired of repeating platitudes,
Bringing the science of persuasion
To bear on things we’ve all eschewed,
Hearing the same outworn objections,
Administering the same corrections
To prejudices rarely seen
In little girls of scarce thirteen?
Who’s not exhausted by their rages,
Threats, entreaties, vows and fears,
Deceit, and slander, rings and tears,
Letters running to six pages,
Aunts and mothers keeping house,
The heavy friendship of a spouse?
~ 9 ~
Such were my Yevgeny’s thoughts.
For he was victim from his youth
Of follies fit to test the courts,
Unbridled passion was his truth.
Spoilt by each casual encounter,
Some girl, delighted that he’s found her,
Then disenchantment, bored desire,
Yet bored again by conquest’s mire;
Hearing in the crowd, and after,
In the sound, and silence cold,
That sad protest in his soul,
Stifling a yawn with laughter:
Eight years he killed, hour by hour,
Squandered youth, life’s finest flower.
~ 10 ~
Distanced from the claims of beauty,
He followed still, for customs sake.
Refused – found consolation swiftly,
Deceived – a welcome rest would take.
He sought them without joy, and met
Their loss, without pain or regret,
Their love, their hatred, went un-missed.
So, for an evening game of whist,
A casual guest comes, sits and plays,
Indifferently, the game is done,
He leaves again, and home has gone,
Sleeps soundly, passes thus his days,
With not a thought in the morning
As to where he’ll spend his evening.
~ 11 ~
Yet now, receiving Tanya’s note,
Onegin’s heart was deeply moved;
The tender style in which she wrote,
The simple girlish way she loved.
Her face possessed his memory,
Her pallor, and her melancholy,
He plunged, head first, into the stream,
A harmless, and delightful dream.
Perhaps the ancient flame of passion,
Thrilled him in its former way,
Though he’d no wish to betray
A soul so trusting, in that fashion.
But we must to the garden go,
Where Tanya met him, as we know.
~ 12 ~
For two long minutes neither spoke,
And then Onegin approached her,
Saying: ‘You wrote to me, I broke
The seal, I have read your letter.
Don’t disavow it, I find here,
A love that’s innocent, sincere.
Your candour: that is dear to me,
It brought to life, instantly,
Those feelings, so long quiescent;
That’s no ready compliment,
All that you sincerely meant
I’ll requite, with your assent:
But hear my confession through,
I’ll leave the verdict up to you.’
~ 13 ~
‘Could I happily circumscribe
My life with the domestic round;
Could kindly fate for me prescribe
A role as husband, father; found
My being in family existence
For but a moment, mind and sense –
Then truly, in this life,
You alone would be my wife.
No rhetoric, no flattery,
I’d find in you my heart’s ideal,
Find that youthful folly real,
A cure for my sad history,
Token of every beauty, good,
And be as happy…as I could!
~ 14 ~
‘I was not born for happiness,
All such is alien to my mind;
Of your perfection too, no less
Am I unworthy, you would find.
Believe me (conscience is my guide)
Wed, the fire would soon have died;
However I wished to prove true,
Habit would cool my love for you.
Then you would weep, yet your tears,
Your grief, would never move my heart,
But madden me, spur me to depart.
What thorns, not roses, through the years
Would Hymen strew along our way,
Many a night, and many a day?
~ 15 ~
What in the world is worse than this,
A household, a neglected wife,
Mourning her husband’s absent kiss,
Her days and nights alone, through life,
While the spouse, knowing her worth,
(Cursing the hour of his birth),
Is ever-jealous, sullen, sour,
Cold, darkly threatening, and dour!
Such am I. Was it this you sought,
With your pure and ardent mind;
Was this what you hoped to find;
This the message your note brought?
Is this the destiny that waits,
Dealt you by the cruel Fates?
~ 16 ~
His days and dreams, what man recovers?
My soul, nothing can renew….
My love for you is as a brother’s,
More tender even, but as true:
So hear me without tears or anger,
A girl will often change her lover,
Fresh dreams will replace the last,
As, after winter’s icy blast,
Spring clothes the branches with new leaves,
As heaven dictates. You’ll love again.
And then…our hearts we must restrain,
Not all will see what your soul weaves,
Know you as I, share your belief:
The inexperienced come to grief.
~ 17 ~
So Eugene preached, as she listened;
She scarcely breathed; made no reply;
Saw nothing through the tears that glistened,
Blind with that mist that veils the eye.
He gave his arm: downcast, head bent,
Upon it, sadly, Tanya leant,
(Mechanically, as they say)
And slowly they both made their way
Homeward, through the kitchen-garden;
Entered, together, arm in arm,
No one finding any harm
In that, for rustic life to pardon.
There such freedoms are allowed,
As much as in Moscow, the proud.
~ 18 ~
Surely, my Reader, you’d agree
Our friend behaved well, in his way,
Dealt with her sympathetically;
Not for the first time, made display
Of nobility of soul; yet spite
Never placed him in the right,
By both friend and enemy,
(Both are perhaps synonymous)
Who showed him ambiguous respect.
From foes we can ourselves protect:
But from our friends, may God preserve us!
Oh! Those friends, those friends, so dear,
Not without cause I hail them here.
~ 19 ~
What of it? Well, my true intention
Is still to lull dark thoughts to sleep.
But in parentheses I’ll mention,
That there’s no infamy so deep,
Born, in a garret, of a liar
Nurtured by the mob, no dire
Epigram in all its coarseness,
No absurdity, no foulness,
That a friend would not repeat,
In decent company, and smile,
Without a hint of hate or guile,
Ten times, and never miss a beat;
Yet he is yours, through thick and thin,
He loves you….like your dearest kin!
~ 20 ~
H’m! My valued Reader, tell me,
Are all your relations well?
You might enjoy it, so allow me,
For your enlightenment, to spell
Out clearly what relation means.
Relations then are those, it seems,
Whom we are obliged to cherish,
Show respect to, love, and relish
Visits to at Christmas-tide,
Or to whom we send a card,
At least, denoting our regard,
Then, the year through, we can hide,
Our face will never cross their mind…
Ah well, to them may God be kind!
~ 21 ~
Of course, a tender beauty’s love,
More sure than that of friends or kin,
You may trust through storms above,
Whatever trouble you are in.
Ah, but then the whirl of fashion,
And the waywardness of passion,
Opinions they express in town…
The gentle sex is light as down.
Though you’re a spouse respected,
In every vicissitude of life,
By your good and virtuous wife,
Yet the most loyal, it’s expected,
Are subject to infatuations,
Love is a mere game of Satan’s.
~ 22 ~
Whom to love, whom to believe in,
On whom alone shall we depend?
Who will fit their speech and action,
To our measure, in the end?
Who will refrain from slander,
Who support us when we wander,
Be amused by our vices;
Who is never bored by us?
Never pursue a phantom,
Or waste your efforts on the air
Love yourself, your only care,
Estimable Reader: come,
No more deserving lover,
Or more fitting, you’ll discover.
~ 23 ~
But, the outcome of their meeting?
Alas, not difficult to guess!
Love’s violent pains, heart’s beating,
All those torments that oppress,
The soul, wreathed in its sadness;
Worse, with a joyless madness
Poor Tatyana was on fire,
Sleep deserted her entire.
Health, life’s beauty, sweetness past,
Her smile, her calm serenity,
Like lost fading echoes flee,
Poor Tanya’s youth fading fast:
As a storm will often shroud
The dawning day in sombre cloud.
~ 24 ~
Tatyana’s bloom is all but gone,
She, more pallid, and more silent!
Nothing can provide distraction,
Or stir her soul, no incitement.
Whispering solemnly together,
Neighbours shook their heads, forever
Sighing: ‘It’s high time she was wed!’…
Enough. It’s high time that instead,
I painted over this sad scene,
And portrayed love’s happiness,
Though, dear Reader, I confess
I’m overcome, by pity I mean;
Forgive me: I’ve loved from the start
My Tatyana, with all my heart.
~ 25 ~
So, Vladimir more captivated
Hour by hour, by Olga’s beauty
And her youthful charms, elated,
Surrendered himself completely.
Always together, in her room
Side by side, in the gloom,
Or in the garden, in the dawn,
They’d stroll about on the lawn.
And then? Full of confusion,
Encouraged by his Olga’s smile,
Timidly, once in a while,
Modest, tender, sweet illusion,
He’d dare to toy with a tress,
Or kiss the hem of her dress.
~ 26 ~
Sometimes he read to Olga,
Some profoundly moral tale,
Nature passages of a power
Beside which Chateaubriand’s pale,
Skipping over certain pages,
(Fancies, fables of the ages,
Unsuitable for girls to hear),
But not without a blush, I fear.
Or in some corner, an hour or so,
Over a game of chess they pored,
Deep in thought, above the board,
Silent, leaning on an elbow,
Till Lensky, with abstracted look,
With his pawn took his own rook.
~ 27 ~
At home he renders it apparent
That Olga occupies his mind,
Applies himself with diligent
Attention to her album: find,
Within, a rural landscape painted,
One with which she’s acquainted,
A tomb, a Cyprian shrine to love,
Perched on a lyre a little dove,
Lightly sketched, with wash and ink,
Or on a page some other’s signed,
He leaves a tender verse behind,
His dream’s mute monument, a link
From passing thought, enduring rhyme,
That stands impervious to time.
~ 28 ~
You’ll often have seen, of course,
Such albums of provincial girls,
Which their friends will all endorse
With friendship’s and wisdom’s pearls,
Ill-rhymed verse, by tradition,
A scribbled, and mis-spelt, rendition.
Anywhere, start, end, or middle,
Lines too short, long, or a riddle,
And on the first page, for inspection:
‘Qu’écrirez-vous sur ces tablettes?’
Above ‘t(out) à v(ous), Annette’;
While the last has this reflection:
‘Whoever’s love for you’s more bright,
On the next page let them write.’
~ 29 ~
And there you’ll see, without a doubt,
Two hearts, some flowers, a torch assure,
With many a solemn vow round about,
How love to the tomb will endure;
Some army type too will have written,
An ironic stanza of how he’s smitten.
I must confess I scarcely mind
Adding to albums of that kind,
Grateful, in my heart of hearts,
The eager nonsense I may pen
Will not be picked apart again,
By critics of the higher arts,
Who’ll solemnly consider it,
And argue whether it shows wit.
~ 30 ~
But you, the suspect volumes bound,
To torment fashionable rhymesters,
In secret regions underground,
Abodes of demons and of monsters;
You handsome albums, illustrated
By Fyodor Tolstoy, decorated
With lines by Baratynsky too,
May Heaven’s lightning wither you!
When a fashionable lady
Offers me her own, in quarto,
The rage and spite she cannot know,
That stirs dark epigrams within me,
Prompting something steeped in gall,
Though she requires a madrigal!
~ 31 ~
No madrigals from Lensky flow
Into Olga’s album here,
His lines breathe love alone, and no
Sparkles of icy wit appear.
To Olga, his hours he devotes;
All he sees and hears, he notes;
Full of life’s sincerest passions,
His tributes, carefully, he fashions.
So Yazykov, when you’re inspired
Singing, from your burning heart
God knows whom and what; your art,
The noble elegies you’ve sired,
Will at some far distant date,
Tell the story of your fate.
~ 32 ~
But hush! You hear? Our sternest critic
Commands us to reject for good,
The wretched wreath of elegy (sic),
To our poetic brotherhood,
Cries: ‘Cease your endless squawking,
This perpetual sterile talking,
Lamenting what is done and gone;
Enough, it’s time now to move on!’
– ‘You’re right, and so you’d show us,
The classic mask, the trumpet, sword,
And recreate the magic hoard,
Through our work, of lost genius:
That’s it, my friend?’ – ‘No! Your pen,
Must write true odes, odes gentlemen,
~ 33 ~
As in the olden days they flowed,
As they composed them long ago…’
‘– Only the solemn choral ode!
Enough, it’s all the same, you know,
Remember what Dimitriev said
In his deft satire: Is all you’ve read
All of that ancient rhetoric,
Better than one dour modern lyric?’ –
‘Ah, but the elegy’s so light,
So thin, and sparse, and so empty,
The ode shows pure nobility
Treads the skies.’ Well now, I might
Challenge that, but here’s the thing,
I’d not set the ages quarrelling.
~ 34 ~
In love with fame, by freedom bitten,
With tumult in his heart and head,
What odes might Vladimir have written,
Which Olga never would have read.
Is there a poet who rehearses
For his love, his latest verses?
They say there’s no sweeter delight
Than that for poet, day or night.
How blessed is the modern lover
Who reads the works of his creation,
To the object of his adoration,
While she gazes at the cover!
Blessed is he…although she might
Be more amused by something light.
~ 35 ~
The fruits of my own meditation,
I read to my old nurse, who’ll lend
To products of my inspiration,
The indulgence of a childhood friend;
Or after a long tedious dinner,
I’ll seize a neighbour by the collar,
Who’s dropped by accidentally,
And choke him with a tragedy,
Or else (all joking aside)
Exhausted by regret, and rhyme,
By the lake I’ll walk, the chime
Of my verse by the water’s side
Startling the wild ducks till they
Rise from the shore, and soar away.
~ 36-37 ~
But, what of Onegin? True, dear Reader!
Your forbearance now I’ll crave,
His daily round I’ll describe here,
For your pleasure, so be brave.
Like a hermit in his heaven,
On summer morns, he’ll rise at seven;
Then take his way, despite the chill,
To the stream below the hill.
Like Byron, who of Gulnare sings,
He swims that little Hellespont,
Then sips the news from some vile font,
Of wisdom, then for coffee rings,
And then he’ll dress, may write a letter, a
Second stroll, and then et cetera…
~ 38-39 ~
A book, a walk, sleep that’s deep,
Shadowy woods and crystal brook,
A dark-eyed, white-skinned maid to keep
The heart alive with kiss and look;
A lively horse and responsive,
A light dinner, not too pensive,
A bottle of sparkling wine,
Peace and quiet – such the fine
And cloistered life Onegin led.
He gently yielded to its ways,
Ceased to count the summer days,
Gave himself to it instead,
Forgetting friends and city life,
And tiresome pleasures full of strife.
~ 40 ~
But summer in our northern clime,
A parody of southern winter,
Flashes by, and in no time
Though we’d deny its flight, is over.
The sky with autumn’s breath is clouded,
More often now the sun is shrouded;
Shorter and shorter grow the days,
Sad rustling fills the woodland ways,
With all their mysteries laid bare;
Southward stretch the caravans
Of wild geese, in noisy clans,
And, mist on meadows everywhere,
A tedious season we await,
Who find November at the gate.
~ 41 ~
Dawn breaks in a chilly gloom,
Abandoned, the fields are silent,
And hungry wolves, that loom
From the fog, the horse can scent
On the highway, snorts and quivers;
The wary traveller first shivers,
Then dashes off uphill, in flight.
Now from the shed at morning light
The hand no longer drives the cattle,
Nor calls them to their pen at noon.
Indoors the maid will softly croon
To the spinning-wheel’s low rattle,
Her work the crackling firewood lights,
The faithful friend of wintry nights.
~ 42 ~
Frost already, frozen noses,
Meadows silver, sunlight meagre…
(My Reader thinks the rhyme is roses:
Take it then, since you’re so eager!)
Brighter than finest parquet gleams
The ice that paves the hidden streams,
The merry lads cut with their skates,
Toying happily with the Fates.
A great fat goose her red-webbed feet
Extends, and tries the gleaming ice,
Slithers, and slips, in a trice,
Slides to rest, her fall complete;
Glittering, the first winter snow
Stars the frozen shores below.
~ 43 ~
What can one do in such a season?
Walk? The countryside you roam
Is bare, inevitably bores, the reason:
It’s as monotonous as home.
Go riding on the empty steppe?
Be careful of your horses step,
Sliding on ice, with his worn shoe,
Down he’ll slip, and throw you too.
Spend the time indoors, reading?
There’s Dominique de Pradt, or Scott.
You don’t care for them a lot?
Accounts, drink, rage, the gloomy evening,
Goes somehow, tomorrow too,
Triumphant you’ll see winter through.
~ 44 ~
A true Childe Harold, my Onegin
Yields to pensive idleness,
With icy baths his days begin,
At home all day, more or less,
Alone, engrossed in calculation;
From dawn, his only occupation,
To strike a billiard-ball or two,
Not more, with an old blunt cue;
Then as the rural evening nears,
The cue’s abandoned, half-lights fade,
Beside the fire a table’s laid,
He waits then Lensky appears,
His three roans in a troika. Fine,
Now at last, it’s time to dine!
~ 45 ~
Bottles of Cliquot or Moët,
The heavenly drink, you’d agree,
In chilled bottles, for the poet,
Reaches the table, speedily,
It sparkles, like the Hippocrene.
Once, it’s golden bubbles seen,
(Likenesses too, of this and that)
Enchanted me: I often sat
Captivated by its essence;
Cheerfully, I’d give my all
To imbibe it, friends: recall?
How many follies in its presence,
What laughter from enchanted streams,
Verses, quarrels: ah, what dreams!
~ 46 ~
Yet to my stomach it’s a traitor,
With its hissing, foaming ways;
Bordeaux, I tell the waiter:
That’s my favourite, nowadays.
Champagne is like a mistress,
Sparkling, lively, and capricious,
Wilful, wild, but empty too…
To Champagne I’m no longer true,
But you, Bordeaux, are a friend
In misfortune, and in sorrow,
Ready to serve, today, tomorrow,
Always faithful to the end,
Joy of our hours of leisure, so
Here’s to my dear friend, Bordeaux!
~ 47 ~
The fire dies down; the ashes veil
The golden coals, a slender thread
Of smoke scarce visible, soft, pale,
Spirals upwards, overhead;
The hearth glows, pipe-smoke passes,
Up through the flue, sparkling glasses
On the table, bubble, hiss,
Then settle like the evening mist…
(I love such conversation too,
I love a friendly glass, the same,
Around the hour the French name
As being entre chien et loup,’
Though why, I can hardly tell.)
Our friends now are in its spell.
~ 48 ~
‘How is she then, your fair neighbour,
Your Olga, how’s Tatyana too?’
– ‘Just a little more, a flavour…
Fine…They’re all well, and send you
Their greetings, ah, what a beauty
Olga’s turned into, so lovely,
Her neck, her throat, her shoulder!
What spirit too! Before we’re older,
You must go, they’d be delighted.
You visited them twice, and then
Never once called on them again:
Besides, my friend, you’re invited,
Like the fool I am, I clean forgot!
You must go, no matter what.’ –
~ 49 ~
‘I must?’ – ‘Yes: for Tanya’s birthday.
Olga and her mother ask you,
To join them, it’s next Saturday,
There’s no reason for you not to.’ –
‘Oh there’ll be no end of babble,
And the crowd, all the rabble…’
– No, nobody, assuredly!
Who’ll be there? Just the family,
Oblige me. Tell me that you’ll go.
What do you say?’ – ‘Alright!’ – ‘Bravo!’ –
Toasting his fair neighbour, Lensky,
Drains his glass then, Heavens above,
Talks of Olga: such is love!
~ 50 ~
Lensky is overjoyed, elated,
His wedding two scant weeks ahead.
Love’s sweet crown so long awaited,
The secrets of the marriage bed,
He dreams of, in his exultation:
Forgetting Hymen’s gifts, vexation,
All the trouble, and the pain,
Cold yawns with their icy train.
While we, of Hymen’s charms the foes,
Take domesticity to mean,
Scene after dull, exhausting scene,
Such stuff as Lafontaine’s suppose…
My poor Lensky, from the heart,
Was made for this very part.
~ 51 ~
He was loved…such his conviction,
Never doubting, lived in bliss.
Blessed, the man who lives a fiction,
And calms his fears with a kiss,
Rests, on the fantasy within,
Like a drunken traveller at an inn;
Or, less harshly, like a butterfly
Sipping the hour as it slips by;
Yet wretched the man who foresees all,
The sober-headed, for whom each
Motivation, action, speech,
Is hateful, in its essence, gall;
Whose heart, experienced, grown chill,
No longer forgets itself, at will.