Oh, be spared these fearful dreams,
Thou, my Svetlana.
~ 1 ~
That year, the autumn lingered,
In yards and fields, loath to go.
Nature waited, icy-fingered
Winter stalled its fall of snow
Till January the third, at night,
Silently: the dawn was bright,
And waking early, Tanya found,
A whiteness covering the ground:
Garden, roofs, and fences, pale;
Magpies in the courtyard screaming;
Frosted glass; and far hills gleaming;
Woods cloaked with a silver veil;
A wintry carpet deep and light,
All around her, glittering white.
~ 2 ~
Winter! ...The peasant with delight
Makes a fresh road with his sleigh;
His mare snorts at the snowy light,
Steps delicately on her way;
The swift kibitkas’ runners trace
Powdery furrows as they race,
Their coachmen, seated, wield the lash
In sheepskin coats with scarlet sash;
On his sledge the yard-boy seats
The best dog, Dasher: he’s the horse,
His fingers frostbitten of course,
He trots, performs amazing feats,
It’s fun, despite the pain he’s in, though
Mother scolds him from the window.
~ 3 ~
But, perhaps this winter scene
You may consider unattractive,
Gentle Reader: low and mean,
Nature’s vulgar, over-active.
Prince Vyazemsky, Muse-inspired,
With purer inspiration fired,
Gives us the first snow’s measure,
All the shades of wintry pleasure;
Charms us with sublime invention,
The delights of frosty days,
Secret rendezvous in sleighs;
To challenge him I’ve no intention
Nor Baratynsky, who has made
Fine verses on his Finnish Maid.
~ 4 ~
Tatyana (Russian through and through,
Herself not certain of the reason)
Loved that cold perfection too,
Loved Russia in the winter season;
The glittering frost on shiny days;
Sledge rides; and the far-off haze;
The gleaming radiance on snow,
Pink softness of its sunset glow.
Epiphany they celebrated,
In the silent misty evening,
In the old way, maids foretelling
To what their mistresses were fated,
Promising, each year, again,
A soldier-husband, a campaign.
~ 5 ~
Tanya believed in every tale,
The simple lore of bygone days;
What dreams or cards portend, grew pale
At the moon’s meaning, each chill phase;
Trembled at omens, anxiously;
All objects spoke mysteriously,
Warning her of this and that,
Strange presentiments: even the cat
That washed its face, and purred,
Of guests arriving brought the word,
From the stove on which it sat.
And then, if suddenly she spied
The crescent moon, at her left side,
~ 6 ~
Her face grew pale, and she’d quiver.
And when a meteor crossed the sky,
Leaving a shining trail, she’d shiver,
Watching its flight with anxious eye,
And hurriedly, before it died,
Her secret wish to it confide.
If she met, all unaware,
A black-cowled monk, or if a hare
Crossed her path, in panicked flight,
And fled through the fields, that too
Left her uncertain what to do…
In her confusion she’d take fright,
With sad expectancy would wait
For some malignant blow of fate.
~ 7 ~
Yet she found a secret charm,
(Since, fond of contradiction, Nature,
Melds fascination with alarm)
Even in the midst of terror.
Christmas comes, joys unfold,
The fortunes of the young are told;
For careless youth’s without regret,
And life’s horizons broad as yet,
While age, in spectacles, can see
Its fate in death’s gaping portal,
Knowing all our joy is mortal,
And life a transient mystery:
No matter, hope in childish guise
Beguiles, with its seductive lies.
~ 8 ~
Now Tanya stares in fascination
Watching the molten wax assume,
Shapes where her own imagination,
Finds delight to come, or doom;
Then from a dish, rings are taken,
Lifted from the water, shaken,
While the girls recite old rhymes,
As for Tanya this one chimes:
‘Peasants there in riches wallow,
Shovelling silver with a spade,
We sing those who, fortunes made,
Live in glory…ah, but sorrow
Is where that fair song is heading:
Girls prefer The Kitten’s Wedding.
~ 9 ~
A frosty night: the sky is clear,
The glittering stars, their endless trains,
Move in their harmonious sphere…
Tatyana the pale garden gains,
And, heedless of the cold, she turns
A mirror on the moon, but learns
Nothing from that darkened glass,
Seeing its sad face tremble, pass…
The crunch of snow…someone goes by;
She rushes to him, on tiptoe,
Her voice tender, sweet and low,
Like a reed-pipe, pure, her sigh:
‘What is your name?’ He moves on,
His rustic answer: ‘Agafon’.
~ 10 ~
Taking her nurse’s fond advice,
For fortune-telling they prepare
And in the bath-house, in a trice
A table’s readied for the pair;
But she takes fright, my Tatyana,
While Zhukovsky’s Svetlana
I too recall….ah, not for me,
This fortune-telling, I’ll let be.
Instead we see, her sash untied,
Tatyana takes herself to bed,
The love-god, Lel, overhead
Hovers, still these girls will hide
A mirror underneath the pillow,
Tanya sleeps, at peace below.
~ 11 ~
But wonders come to her in dreams:
She wanders through a snowy vale
Wrapped in mist and gloom, it seems
Hidden from the world: while pale,
Among the snowdrifts, roars
A seething torrent, foaming, pours
Into the shadows, still the same,
A thing the winter cannot tame;
Two slender boughs glued by ice,
Stretched across to form a bridge,
A delicate and trembling ridge,
To make a passer-by think twice:
And in deep perplexity,
There she stands, helplessly.
~ 12 ~
As if before some mournful parting,
She sorrows at the dark divide;
No one is there, beyond its seething,
To lead her to the other side;
A snowdrift shifts, a shaggy bear,
Rises from his hidden lair,
Tatyana screams! ...She hears a roar,
He offers her a long curved claw,
To help her cross, she gathers strength
And putting out a trembling hand
Lets him draw her to dry land,
Along the fragile bridge’s length.
She stumbles on – and yet, beware,
She’s followed closely by the bear!
~ 13 ~
She dare not stop, or look behind,
She quickens her despairing pace,
There’s no escape, in her sad mind,
From that dark forbidding face;
She plunges on, he grunts and follows,
Far into the silent hollows;
Here’s a wood: in beauty, pines
Meet the sky in sombre lines,
Their branches, as she stumbles on,
Heaped with snow; glittering there
Birch, and lime, and aspen bare,
With starlit crowns; the track is gone;
All the world seems lost in sleep,
Drowned in snow, and buried deep.
~ 14 ~
Through the wood she flees the bear;
The soft snow reaches to her knee;
A branch leans down to snag her hair,
And scratch her neck, and stubbornly
Pluck the gold earrings from her ears;
And then one wet shoe disappears
Covered by the powdery snow;
Her handkerchief is next to go;
No time to retrieve it, in her fright,
The creature once again is near;
She dare not, in her shame and fear,
Lift her trailing hem, in flight;
She runs, he follows, on and on,
Until her strength is all but gone.
~ 15 ~
She falls to the snow, the bear alert
Rushes to lift her, swiftly sheathing
His sharp claws, she lies inert,
In his grasp, and barely breathing;
Now along the track he crashes,
Here’s a hut, to which he dashes,
Trees crowd round; it’s drowned in snow,
One window yields a rosy glow,
From inside there’s noise and clatter;
The bear speaks: ‘Friends live here,
Come in, warm yourself, my dear,
Ignore the tumult and the chatter’;
He pushes through the open door,
And sets her down upon the floor.
~ 16 ~
She recovers, gazes round,
The bear has gone; she’s in a hall;
Behind a door cheers resound,
Cries, the clash of glasses, all
The clamour of a wake; unsure,
She finds a spy-hole in the door,
And, there? .....Around a table sit
A monstrous crew, imagine it!
One has a horned and doglike face;
One a cockerel’s head; and see
A frightful witch with a goatee;
A skeleton haughtily in place;
A dwarf who sports a tail; and that,
Seems half a heron, half a cat!
~ 17 ~
And stranger still, behold a spider
Sits a crayfish; wonderful,
In red night-cap, a second rider
Mounts a goose’s neck, a skull!
A windmill dances a wild jig,
Its sails a creaking whirligig;
Bark, laugh, whistle, sing and screech,
Horses’ hooves and human speech!
Then in the crowd inside that hovel,
Our poor Tatyana recognises,
The one she fears and idolises –
Who but the hero of our novel?
Onegin drinks amidst the roar,
Glancing stealthily at the door.
~ 18 ~
He nods – and there’s a mighty shout;
He drinks – the creatures howl and swill,
He laughs – and they all fall about,
He frowns – and everyone is still;
It’s plain that he’s the master here,
Tanya recovers from her fear,
And curious as young girls are,
Pushes the door till it’s ajar…
But suddenly a draught of air
Agitates the candle-flames;
Among them all, confusion reigns,
With glittering eyes Onegin there
Clatters his chair against the floor;
All rise; he rushes to the door.
~ 19 ~
Filled with terror, see her try
To flee the place; She cannot move,
The greater her attempts to fly,
The less of use her efforts prove.
Eugene flings wide the door, reveals
Her to that hellish crew – and peals
Of raucous laughter swell; all eyes,
Turn to her; and every guise,
Of horn and hoof and crooked snout,
Fang and tusk and blood-stained jaw,
Beard, tufted tail, sharp gleaming claw,
And bony finger, point her out;
And all their voices now combine
To cry aloud: ‘She’s mine, she’s mine!’
~ 20 ~
‘Mine’, Yevgeny’s voice rings out,
The wild host vanishes from sight,
And leaves them in the gloomy light
Alone together, at his shout.
Onegin quietly carries her
To a frail bed in a corner, there,
On her shoulder leans his head;
When suddenly they’re visited,
By Olga and her lover Lensky.
Light flashes; Eugene lifts his arm,
As if to raise a magic charm
Against intruders; furiously,
Contests their entry in a breath;
Tanya lies there, cold as death.
~ 21 ~
Yevgeny swiftly grasps a knife,
Louder and louder grows the quarrel,
Then Lensky falls, robbed of life,
The shadows thicken, till a dreadful
Scream rings out…the cabin shakes…
And Tanya, full of terror, wakes…!
She gazes round; the room grows light;
The dawn is breaking, crimson, bright,
Through the frosted glass, and then
The door flies open, Olga’s there,
Light as a swallow, and as fair
And rosy as Aurora when
She lights the North: ‘Now, tell me true,
Whom did your dream reveal to you?’
~ 22 ~
But Tanya, seeming not to hear,
Seizes a book, with rapt attention
Turns its leaves, no word or tear;
Yet the book has no pretension
To yield poetic inspiration,
Compelling truth, or illustration,
Though Racine, or Seneca
Virgil, Byron, Walter Scott,
Even the fashion page, could not
Enthral like Martin Zadeka,
Diviner, and Chaldean sage,
Reader of dreams to the age.
~ 23 ~
A wandering pedlar had brought
This deep and learned opus to her,
A prize which Tatyana bought
Along with Cottin’s work Malvina,
Dog-eared, with the cover bare,
The price three-fifty for the pair,
Though in exchange he took as well,
Volume Three of Marmontel
(Those Memoirs), and two Petriads
(Our dear Lomonosov), a grammar,
Fables: Zadeka though was better;
In every sorrow that she had,
He was her solace and delight,
Sharing her pillow every night.
~ 24 ~
Her dream is deeply worrying her,
Not knowing what it signifies,
She makes him her interpreter,
Seeking its meaning from the wise.
A clue the index may afford her,
Laid out in alphabetic order:
Bear, bridge, darkness, fir and forest
Snout, snow, storm, warlock, and the rest.
But her mounting trepidation
Martin Zedeka can’t allay,
Her nightmare seeming to portray,
Endless future tribulation.
For several days thereafter she
Is troubled by its mystery.
~ 25 ~
But now, from out the vales of morning
Aurora, rosy-fingered, brings
The new-born sun, the day is dawning,
Tanya’s birthday, filled with greetings,
As neighbouring families arrive,
And clog the Larin’s steps and drive,
With coaches, carriages and britzkas,
Calashes, broughams, and kibitkas.
The hall is crowded, shoving, pushing,
The parlour’s full of unknown faces,
Lap dogs yapping, airs and graces,
Young girls kissing, noise and crushing.
Guests bow politely at the door,
While nurses screech, and infants roar.
~ 26 ~
Here, with his wife, a portly charmer,
Pustyakov the plump arrives,
And here’s Gvozdin, squire and farmer,
Whose serfs live miserable lives;
The Skotinins, turning grey,
With children of all ages, say
From two to thirty, in a row;
Petushkov next, the local beau;
Then my ‘cousin’, Buyanov,
In peaked cap, hair full of fluff,
(You know the fellow, right enough);
And the ex-councillor Flyanov,
Inveterate gossip, old-time gangster:
Glutton, bribe-taker, and prankster.
~ 27 ~
In a red peruke and glasses,
The Tambov wit, Monsieur Triquet,
(With Panil Kharlikov, who passes,
With his offspring on display)
Always the Frenchman, had to bring
For Tanya, a song that children sing,
With a familiar melody:
Réveillez-vous, belle endormie.
He found it in some dusty album
Printed among the ancient airs,
Triquet, ingenious poet, dares,
To rescue it, as is his custom,
Boldly replacing its belle Nina,
Substituting – belle Tatiana!
~ 28 ~
Lo, the company commander,
From the local camp, what rapture!
The girls’ true idol, at least the older
Ones whose Mamas plot his capture.
He enters…ah, what news, hurray,
The band will come: they’re on their way,
The colonel’s sent them, so, a dance!
The young girls dream, in a trance,
Anticipating future bliss.
But dinner’s served, the couples pair,
Go, arm in arm to table, where
Tanya’s the centre of all this.
They cross themselves, grace is repeated,
Then a buzz, while all are seated.
~ 29 ~
There’s a lull in conversation,
While they chew. All around,
Plates, dishes chime, in unison,
With the glasses’ clinking sound.
The room is loud and growing louder,
All the noise of talk and laughter;
No one listens, they just speak,
Hoot or argue, shout or shriek.
The door swings open, wide it flies,
Lensky’s here, and with Onegin,
Guests squeeze up to let them in,
‘Ah, at last!’ their hostess cries,
Places set, each finds a chair,
And, smiling, room’s made for the pair.
They sit across from our Tatyana,
She’s paler than the moon at dawn,
Lowered eyes grown clouded, darker,
Trembling like a hunted fawn.
With passion’s fire she is blazing,
Overwhelmed, near suffocating,
The two friends’ greeting scarcely hears,
While her eyes are drowned in tears.
Ready to faint, alas, poor thing,
She shivers as if she were ill,
But now her reason and her will,
Revive. Two words, a whispering,
Forced between her lips, will serve
To greet them, and to hold her nerve.
~ 31 ~
Hysteria, fainting, tragic tears,
Had long bored Eugene to distraction,
He hated girls’ neurotic fears;
Experienced but the one reaction.
An awkward guest at such a feast,
Not one to savour it in the least,
He saw the poor girl’s quivering state,
He dropped his gaze, began to hate
His friend for his own presence there,
And swore in deepening irritation,
To rouse his friend to indignation,
Repay him: and with joyful stare,
A caricature he next designed
Of every guest there, in his mind.
~ 32 ~
Our Yevgeny was not alone
In noting Tanya’s distress,
But all eyes were turned, I own,
On a rich pie (its saltiness,
Alas, excessive) and the wine,
Smoky bottles, tarred with twine,
To separate blancmange from roast,
A Tsimlyansky, for a toast;
And glasses, tall, with narrow waist,
Like yours my darling, made to hold,
Zizi, the crystal of my soul,
Object of my verses chaste:
Ever Love’s most alluring vial,
You’ve intoxicated me in style!
~ 33 ~
Freed now of its dampened cork,
A bottle pops; the wine now flows
Fizzing, and amidst the talk,
As verse inside him burns and glows,
Triquet rises, with noble gaze;
The noise subsides, and faces glaze;
Tatyana feels half-dead; Triquet,
Turns, page in hand then sings away
Always partly out of tune,
To cheers, applause. Tanya now
Is forced to curtsey to his bow.
Though great, our poet is immune
To pride; he’s first to drink her health,
Present his song-sheet, wish her wealth.
~ 34 ~
Wishes, good health, felicity,
Tanya replied to each with grace;
Eugene stood there uneasily,
Noting the pallor in her face.
Her distress, her hidden passion,
Stirred a flicker of compassion.
Then he bowed to her, in silence,
Yet revealing in his glance,
A tenderness. Whether he meant
His expression quite sincerely,
Or played a part unwittingly;
Half-jesting, or with true intent;
His tender look still conveyed
A meaning that her heart obeyed.
~ 35 ~
The chairs scrape backwards on the floor,
They crowd into the drawing room
Like bees that leave the hive, and pour
Into the meadows, in full bloom.
But they’re replete from their labour,
Neighbour wheezes now at neighbour.
The ladies sit beside the fire;
The whispering girls elsewhere conspire;
The green card-tables are in place,
Those keenest to take part are summoned,
For Boston, claiming the old-fashioned,
Or whist, that’s never out of grace,
For all of that monotonous breed
That’s sired by boredom out of greed.
~ 36 ~
Eight times our heroes at their whist
Have played a rubber; and eight times
Changed places: there, you have the gist,
Then tea arrives. Not by the chimes
Of clock or watch I count the hours,
In this countryside of ours,
But by breakfast, dinner, tea;
Our stomachs ¬¬– prompt horology.
And I’ll mention here, in passing,
That the substance of my verse
Will often food and drink rehearse,
Popping corks, and idle feasting,
That helped you earn, divine Homer,
Your three thousand year diploma!
~ 37-39 ~
Tea, then: the girls take up, demurely,
Their steaming cups, have barely stirred,
When in the doorway, loudly, sweetly,
Flute, bassoon, are gladly heard.
Diverted by the welcome sound,
Leaving his tea and rum aground,
Petushkov, neighbourhood Adonis,
Seeks Olga’s lovely hand in his;
Lensky, Tanya’s; Kharlikova,
Maid of riper years, accepts
Triquet; Buyanov then steps
Off, in haste, with Pustyakova;
The crowd spills into the hall,
And all is brilliance at the ball.
~ 40 ~
At the commencement of my story
I thought I’d paint (See Chapter One)
A Petersburg ball, in all its glory,
Yet as Albani might have done;
But empty fancy’s vain distraction
Reminded me of my attraction
To little feet, entrancing ladies.
Now, no more, of ifs and maybes,
No more, dear feet, of wandering
In your traces: now youth’s done,
No more of error and distraction,
Now I must take to sounder reasoning;
And as it ends, with this confession,
Free Chapter Five from more digression.
~ 41 ~
Now, while predictable and mindless
As giddy youth, the dancers fly,
Wheeling in its circles, tireless
Couples sweeping wildly by;
Now is the moment of revenge,
Onegin smiles as he extends
His hand to Olga, leads the girl,
Among the guests; they swiftly twirl;
Next they sit, and talk politely,
Speak of this and that a while;
Then they’re off again in style,
For the waltz, and stepping lightly;
All are watching in surprise,
Lensky can’t believe his eyes.
~ 42 ~
Now, the mazurka. Long ago,
At the mazurka, floors would quake,
Heels pounding on the wood below,
Enough to make the ballroom shake,
The windows rattle in their frames.
Not now: we like more polished games,
Glide smoothly over lacquered boards,
Though a provincial town affords
A sight of the true original,
Heels, and leaps, and long moustache,
As some old squire cuts a dash,
All still the same as we recall;
No sign of the fevered tyrant, Fashion,
That plague of every modern Russian.
~ 43-44 ~
Buyanov, my lively ‘cousin’ leads
Both the sisters, by the hand,
To our hero, who concedes
The dance to Olga, as he’d planned;
He dances, nonchalantly guiding
Her, while to her ear confiding,
Some subtle whispered compliment,
Presses her hand ¬– his whole intent
Achieved in her conceited look,
Flushed and satisfied. Poor Lensky
Stares, grows mad with jealousy;
A moment: that was all it took.
He waits till the mazurka’s done,
And then demands the cotillion.
~ 45 ~
She can’t. And why? Because she’s given
Her word away, she’s pledged already
To Onegin. Dear God in heaven!
What’s this he’s hearing? Can it be…?
Can this girl who’s scarcely yet
Left the cradle, play flirt, coquette,
Possess that cunning, share those vices,
Know all love’s treacherous devices!
Poor Lensky’s reeling from the blow.
He curses woman’s reckless course,
Exits, calls loudly for his horse,
Rides off. A pair of pistols though,
Two bullets ¬– nothing else – await
The hour that must decide his fate.