Eugene Onégin – extracts from my translation

(as printed opposite the Russian text)

Chapter One


Onégin was ready to join me
in seeing foreign lands.
But destiny was soon to impose
a lengthy separation on us.
It was now that Onégin’s father died –
and there confronted him
a greedy horde of moneylenders.
We all have our way of working things out.
Onégin hated lawsuits
and, being contented with his lot,
made over to the creditors his whole inheritance.
Maybe he saw here no great loss;
or maybe he’d a distant inkling
of his old uncle’s death.


In fact, quite suddenly he did receive
news from the steward
that Uncle was on his deathbed
and wished to take his leave.
On reading these sad tidings,
Onégin without delay drove off post-haste
to visit the old man.
He was already yawning in advance
as he prepared himself, in aid of money,
for sighs and boredom and hypocrisy
(and here it was that I began my novel).
But when he raced up to his uncle’s manor,
he found him already laid out on a table,
just like an offering ready for the earth.


He found, too, in the forecourt crowds of servants:
the friends – and foes – of the deceased
had ridden in from every side,
keen funeral-goers all.
The dead man’s burial took place.
Both priests and guests kept eating, drinking,
then gravely went their ways, as though
they’d been engaged on business.
So there was Onégin, until yesterday
an enemy of good order and a spendthrift,
a country-dweller now, unchallenged owner
of workshops, watercourses, woodlands.
And very pleased he was his earlier path
had changed direction.


For two days everything seemed fresh –
the lonely countryside,
the trees’ cool shade,
the brooklet’s quiet murmur.
But on the third day woods, hills, fields
ceased to engage him;
thenceforth they only made him sleepy.
Thenceforth, too, he began to realise
that even in the country,
although there were no streets nor palaces,
no card-parties, no balls, no rhyming verses,
boredom was still the same;
depression still kept watch on him,
chasing him like a shadow – or like faithful wife.


Chapter Six


You could see the pistols glinting,
you could hear the ring of hammer on ramrod.
Into each faceted barrel the lead balls dropped;
each gun was half-cocked with a click;
then onto each pan there trickled
a stream of greyish powder. Jagged flints,
screwed firmly into place,
were primed for use. Behind a nearby tree trunk
Guillot took up position, overawed.
The two opponents threw their cloaks to the ground.
Zarétsky, with impeccable precision,
measured out thirty-two paces
and led the friends apart to the outermost marks.
Then each took his weapon.


– “Advance now!” The pair of combatants,
without yet taking aim, coolly
and with a relentlessly calm and even gait
took four steps forward,
four deadly paces.
Then first Onégin,
advancing still,
quietly began to raise his gun.
When they’d covered five paces more,
Lensky too closed his left eye
and began to take aim. But at that very moment
Onégin fired… The appointed hour
had struck. The poet
in silence dropped his pistol,


quietly placed his hand on his chest,
and fell. The message
in his misty eyes was death, not pain.
Just so will a mass of snow,
sparkling in sunlight,
topple slowly down a mountain crag.
Onégin broke into a cold sweat at once.
He rushed to the youngster,
stared at him, called him by name – in vain:
he was already gone. The youthful poet
had met his untimely end.
The storm had done its worst; a lovely flower
had wilted in its morning’s early glow;
the fire on the altar was extinguished.


He lay there motionless. His brow
wore a strange look of tired tranquillity.
The shot had passed right through below the breast;
blood trickled, steaming, from the wound.
Only a moment earlier
this heart had been beating with inspiration,
with hatred, hope and love;
it had throbbed with life and pulsed with blood.
Now, like a derelict house,
it was utterly still and dark;
it had fallen silent for ever.
The shutters were closed, the windows
were whitewashed over. The lady of the house was gone,
God alone knew where. All trace had vanished.


Scroll to Top