Russian Poetry XLIII - Alexander Pushkin - Eugene Onegin, Book I (16-20)

Eugene Onegin
Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837)

Translation by Charles H. Johnston


He mounts the sledge, with daylight fading:
``Make way, make way,'' goes up the shout;
his collar in its beaver braiding
glitters with hoar-frost all about.
He's flown to Talon's,4 calculating
that there his friend Kavérin's5 waiting;
he arrives -- the cork goes flying up,
wine of the Comet6 fills the cup;
before him roast beef, red and gory,
and truffles, which have ever been
youth's choice, the flower of French cuisine:
and pâté, Strasbourg's deathless glory,
sits with Limburg's vivacious cheese
and ananas, the gold of trees.


More wine, he calls, to drench the flaming
fire of the cutlets' scalding fat,
when Bréguet's chime is heard proclaiming
the new ballet he should be at.
He's off -- this ruthless legislator
for the footlights, this fickle traitor
to all the most adored actrices,
this denizen of the coulisses
that world where every man's a critic
who'll clap an entrechat, or scoff
at Cleopatra, hiss her off,
boo Phaedra out as paralytic,
encore Moëna,7 -- and rejoice
to know the audience hears his voice.


Enchanted land! There like a lampion
that king of the satiric scene,
Fonvizin8 sparkled, freedom's champion,
and the derivative Knyazhnín:8
there сzerov8 shared the unwilling
tribute of tears, applause's shrilling,
with young Semyónova,9 and there
our friend Katénin8 brought to bear
once more Corneille's majestic story;
there caustic Shakhovskóy8 came in
with comedies of swarm and din;
there Didelot10 crowned himself with glory:
there, where the coulisse entrance went,
that's where my years of youth were spent.


My goddesses! Where are you banished?
lend ears to my lugubrious tone:
have other maidens, since you vanished,
taken your place, though not your throne?
your chorus, is it dead for ever?
Russia's Terpsichore, shall never
again I see your soulful flight?
shall my sad gaze no more alight
on features known, but to that dreary,
that alien scene must I now turn
my disillusioned glass, and yearn,
bored with hilarity, and weary,
and yawn in silence at the stage
as I recall a bygone age?


The house is packed out; scintillating,
the boxes; boiling, pit and stalls;
the gallery claps -- it's bored with waiting --
and up the rustling curtain crawls.
Then with a half-ethereal splendour,
bound where the magic bow will send her,
Istómina,11 thronged all around
by Naiads, one foot on the ground,
twirls the other slowly as she pleases,
then suddenly she's off, and there
she's up and flying through the air
like fluff before Aeolian breezes;
she'll spin this way and that, and beat
against each other swift, small feet.