“My Uncle, man of highest honor,
When he fell desperately ill,
In sickness made us feel grave sorrow;
He can’t have written it better still!
But, God above, what deathly boredom!
To sit by an invalid near postmortem,
Not stir even one foot away,
And dread the coming of each day.
Oh! What hypocrisy! What sin!
To have to tend to the deathly-ill:
To fluff his pillows, dead and still,
To serve his ghastly medicine;
And sit, think to yourself and sigh:
‘Oh, when the devil will you die?’”
So thought our poor, young hero on-the-loose,
Upon the mail coach he was riding in,
Who, by the supreme will-power of Zeus
Was the inheritor of the treasures of his kin.
So, friends of Ludmilla and Ruslan!
This is my tale of years bygone,
And without prologue or ado,
I wish to introduce to you:
Onegin, who I do hear tell,
Hails from the banks of old Neva,
Where, perchance, you were born as well,
Or where you got your big ‘Hoorah!’
And on those banks I stirred a little, too –
Before the North cold winds right through me blew.
Post having served his country faithfully,
His Dad was left with only debts,
Yet still he threw a ball thrice yearly;
Though bankrupt, he had no regrets.
But God kept Eugene in His rim:
First Madame came to nurture him,
And then Monsieur took o’er the job,
And raised him better than a snob.
Monsieur l’Abbé, a meager Frenchman,
So as to not upset the boy,
Made learning somewhere between joy
And the responsibilities of a man:
He always took him out to play,
‘N gave stern lessons every day.
But when Eugene had grown a little,
And reached the problems of young age,
The time for hope and heart so brittle
Descended on his lonely page.
Monsieur was sent packing away,
But Eugene found himself that day:
Barbered ‘n dressed in the latest mode,
Into society he rode.
In French he spoke with perfect ease,
And wrote exceptionally, too,
And when allowed, he’d bow to you,
Or dance the mazurka, if you pleased.
“This,” marveled society, “is earned:
The boy’s a gem and so well learned!”
We all were taught little by little,
Under our livelihood’s mighty lash;
Under such terms, it’s not so difficult
To accidentally make a splash.
Onegin was, as thought by many
(Both judges wise and critics scary):
A worthy gentleman, but prim,
Whose talents filled him to the brim.
As when in scholarly debate
Of everything, in passing, he’d profess,
But when it came to knowledge he did not possess,
To speak he’d strongly hesitate.
And he’d delight the fine madams
With unexpected epigrams.
The Latin tongue has long been out of style;
And so, in truth-telling I’ll say,
The poems written long ago a while,
He could recite, imperfectly, without delay.
Sometimes he’d talk of Juvenale,
At others, end his letters with a vale,
And out of Virgil’s Aeneid,
He knew two stanzas (that was it).
He wasn’t hot to dig the dirt
Of chronological decay,
Or sample history day by day.
But juicy tales of days gone by,
From Romulus until our time,
He knew exactly, line for line.
Without particular ambition
To trade his life for poetry,
For all his might and intuition,
He couldn’t see iamb from trochee.
Against Theocritus he’d rile
And didn’t like his lame old style;
In Homer he could find no pith.
Instead, he studied Adam Smith,
Knew how the governments grew rich
And how they run – on what – and why
They don’t need gold in large supply
When basic product is their niche.
His father couldn’t understand,
And leased away most of his land.
All in which Eugene was well versed,
I have no leisure now to say,
But where he truly was rehearsed,
Where idled he both night and day,
In the exhuming gloom of boredom
Where boredom tortured him in strife
Was in the science of the passions
Of which Ovid once sang in rations
And when he ended then in strife,
His tumultuous and brilliant life
While exiled in a distant land:
In Moldavia’s vast deaf fields,
Far, far from Italy’s great shields.
From early youth he was dishonest:
He'd feign dispassion, make a scene;
He'd make you think that he was honest,
And never show you what he'd mean.
A troublemaker, or quite pensive,
Indifferent, or all-attentive!
How languid was his reticence,
How passionate his eloquence!
As in his letters from the heart,
Where he'd immerse himself completely
He never showed himself concretely.
He'd always play a different part.
Yet modesty was all they'd hear,
And he'd flash an obedient tear.
How skilled he was at seeming novel,
How prone to dazzle the naive
By way of joke, or with a proverb;
Sometimes they'd swear they'd never leave!
But little was what fair youth knew
Of what our young Eugene could do:
His gifts for wit and charm were stunning;
He was a master of the cunning.
He'd beg and plead to be acknowledged,
Then listened for her heart's true sound
And always followed her around
At last to get a rendezvous...
And later, sheathed in quiet dark,
He'd give her lessons 'bout love's spark!
(From Book VIII)
–– Why then, do you with such injustice,
Speak oh so callously of him?
Because of this fact precisely,
Blessed is he, who in his youth stays young,
Who does not ripen till his time does come,
And goes cold not until his song is fully sung,
While during winter harshness fading only some;
Who to strange dreams does little meaning give,
And, when the rabble comes, who does not leave,
Who at age 20 was a braggart, it was said,
And, who at 30 settled down and profitably wed,
And by age 50 his good name retrieved,
Who, fame and salary and rank,
Friends and some money in the bank,
In time, with patience had achieved.
It is the talk of towns and subject of the hears,
That such a man comes once in many years.