Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Russian Classic

Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse : The Bollingen Prize Translation in the Onegin Stanza, Extensively Revised
Eugene Onegin: A Novel in Verse

"Eugene Onegin: You interpret my heart, my nature, as you wish to believe it. In truth, I have no secret longing to be saved from myself." - A. Pushkin

This is a classic poem from the early romantic tradition in Russian literature written by Alexander Pushkin. Its eponymous protagonist has served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes in the ensuing decades. Divided into eight chapters each containing between 40 to 60 stanzas of original and unvarying rhyme pattern, it is made up in about equal parts of plot, of delicate descriptions of nature and milieu that provide context, and of Byronic-style digressions. Widely acknowledged as the master work of the fountainhead of Russian literature, "Eugene Onegin" is a novel in verse, first published serially in 1825.

It follows the destinies of three men and three women in imperialist Russia. Eugene is a dandy bored with the social whirl of St. Petersburg, and in moving to the country for a change of scene, he becomes the friend of the poet Lensky, changing their fates dramatically. "Eugene Onegin" is narrated by Pushkin himself, though an idealized version who frequently yet entrancingly digresses in the midst of the beauty Tatyana's embarrassment with Onegin and maturity in the social world. Pushkin, with a tone that is at once satirical and full of storytelling verve, additionally utilizes the characters of Olga, Tatyana's sister, and a Muse, as well as a wide array of other individuals who enhance the tale's narrative. Tragically suspenseful, lively, and skillfully rendered, "Eugene Onegin" has proven to be not only the favorite work of its author, but a classic of Russian literature.

The romantic intrigue involved in the story of Tatyana, Lensky and Onegin has inspired readers and artists alike for more than a century. I found this verse translation, which was awarded the Bollingen Prize, very satisfying reading.

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