Canto the Sixth

The Duel71

“La, sotto giorni nubilosi e brevi,
Nasce una gente a cui ’l morir non duole.”



Having remarked Vladimir’s flight,
Onegin, bored to death again,
By Olga stood, dejected quite
And satisfied with vengeance ta’en.
Olga began to long likewise
For Lenski, sought him with her eyes,
And endless the cotillon seemed
As if some troubled dream she dreamed.
’Tis done. To supper they proceed.
Bedding is laid out and to all
Assigned a lodging, from the hall72
Up to the attic, and all need
Tranquil repose. Eugene alone
To pass the night at home hath gone.


All slumber. In the drawing-room
Loud snores the cumbrous Poustiakoff
With better half as cumbersome;
Gvozdine, Bouyànoff, Pétòushkoff
And Fliànoff, somewhat indisposed,
On chairs in the saloon reposed,
Whilst on the floor Monsieur Triquet
In jersey and in nightcap lay.
In Olga’s and Tattiana’s rooms
Lay all the girls by sleep embraced,
Except one by the window placed
Whom pale Diana’s ray illumes⁠—
My poor Tattiana cannot sleep
But stares into the darkness deep.


His visit she had not awaited,
His momentary loving glance
Her inmost soul had penetrated,
And his strange conduct at the dance
With Olga; nor of this appeared
An explanation: she was scared,
Alarmed by jealous agonies:
A hand of ice appeared to seize73
Her heart: it seemed a darksome pit
Beneath her roaring opened wide:
“I shall expire,” Tattiana cried,
“But death from him will be delight.
I murmur not! Why mournfulness?
He cannot give me happiness.”


Haste, haste thy lagging pace, my story!
A new acquaintance we must scan.
There dwells five versts from Krasnogory,
Vladimir’s property, a man
Who thrives this moment as I write,
A philosophic anchorite:
Zaretski, once a bully bold,
A gambling troop when he controlled,
Chief rascal, pot-house president,
Now of a family the head,
Simple and kindly and unwed,
True friend, landlord benevolent,
Yea! and a man of honour, lo!
How perfect doth our epoch grow!


Time was the flattering voice of fame,
His ruffian bravery adored,
And true, his pistol’s faultless aim
An ace at fifteen paces bored.
But I must add to what I write
That, tipsy once in actual fight,
He from his Kalmuck horse did leap
In mud and mire to wallow deep,
Drunk as a fly; and thus the French
A valuable hostage gained,
A modern Regulus unchained,
Who to surrender did not blench
That every morn at Verrey’s cost
Three flasks of wine he might exhaust.


Time was, his raillery was gay,
He loved the simpleton to mock,
To make wise men the idiot play
Openly or ’neath decent cloak.
Yet sometimes this or that deceit
Encountered punishment complete,
And sometimes into snares as well
Himself just like a greenhorn fell.
He could in disputation shine
With pungent or obtuse retort,
At times to silence would resort,
At times talk nonsense with design;
Quarrels among young friends he bred
And to the field of honour led;


Or reconciled them, it may be,
And all the three to breakfast went;
Then he’d malign them secretly
With jest and gossip gaily blent.
Sed alia tempora. And bravery
(Like love, another sort of knavery!)
Diminishes as years decline.
But, as I said, Zaretski mine
Beneath acacias, cherry-trees,
From storms protection having sought,
Lived as a really wise man ought,
Like Horace, planted cabbages,
Both ducks and geese in plenty bred
And lessons to his children read.


He was no fool, and Eugene mine,
To friendship making no pretence,
Admired his judgment, which was fine,
Pervaded with much common sense.
He usually was glad to see
The man and liked his company,
So, when he came next day to call,
Was not surprised thereby at all.
But, after mutual compliments,
Zaretski with a knowing grin,
Ere conversation could begin,
The epistle from the bard presents.
Onegin to the window went
And scanned in silence its content.


It was a cheery, generous
Cartel, or challenge to a fight,
Whereto in language courteous
Lenski his comrade did invite.
Onegin, by first impulse moved,
Turned and replied as it behoved,
Curtly announcing for the fray
That he was “ready any day.”
Zaretski rose, nor would explain,
He cared no longer there to stay,
Had much to do at home that day,
And so departed. But Eugene,
The matter by his conscience tried,
Was with himself dissatisfied.


In fact, the subject analysed,
Within that secret court discussed,
In much his conduct stigmatized;
For, from the outset, ’twas unjust
To jest as he had done last eve,
A timid, shrinking love to grieve.
And ought he not to disregard
The poet’s madness? for ’tis hard
At eighteen not to play the fool!
Sincerely loving him, Eugene
Assuredly should not have been
Conventionality’s dull tool⁠—
Not a mere hot, pugnacious boy,
But man of sense and probity.


He might his motives have narrated,
Not bristled up like a wild beast,
He ought to have conciliated
That youthful heart⁠—“But, now at least,
The opportunity is flown.
Besides, a duellist well-known
Hath mixed himself in the affair,
Malicious and a slanderer.
Undoubtedly, disdain alone
Should recompense his idle jeers,
But fools⁠—their calumnies and sneers”⁠—
Behold! the world’s opinion!74
Our idol, Honour’s motive force,
Round which revolves the universe.


Impatient, boiling o’er with wrath,
The bard his answer waits at home,
But lo! his braggart neighbour hath
Triumphant with the answer come.
Now for the jealous youth what joy!
He feared the criminal might try
To treat the matter as a jest,
Use subterfuge, and thus his breast
From the dread pistol turn away.
But now all doubt was set aside,
Unto the windmill he must ride
To-morrow before break of day,
To cock the pistol; barrel bend
On thigh or temple, friend on friend.


Resolved the flirt to cast away,
The foaming Lenski would refuse,
To see his Olga ere the fray⁠—
His watch, the sun in turn he views⁠—
Finally tost his arms in air
And lo! he is already there!
He deemed his coming would inspire
Olga with trepidation dire.
He was deceived. Just as before
The miserable bard to meet,
As hope uncertain and as sweet,
Olga ran skipping from the door.
She was as heedless and as gay⁠—
Well! just as she was yesterday.


“Why did you leave last night so soon?”
Was the first question Olga made,
Lenski, into confusion thrown,
All silently hung down his head.
Jealousy and vexation took
To flight before her radiant look,
Before such fond simplicity
And mental elasticity.
He eyed her with a fond concern,
Perceived that he was still beloved,
Already by repentance moved
To ask forgiveness seemed to yearn;
But trembles, words he cannot find,
Delighted, almost sane in mind.


But once more pensive and distressed
Beside his Olga doth he grieve,
Nor enough strength of mind possessed
To mention the foregoing eve,
He mused: “I will her saviour be!
With ardent sighs and flattery
The vile seducer shall not dare
The freshness of her heart impair,
Nor shall the caterpillar come
The lily’s stem to eat away,
Nor shall the bud of yesterday
Perish when half disclosed its bloom!”⁠—
All this, my friends, translate aright:
“I with my friend intend to fight!”


If he had only known the wound
Which rankled in Tattiana’s breast,
And if Tattiana mine had found⁠—
If the poor maiden could have guessed
That the two friends with morning’s light
Above the yawning grave would fight⁠—
Ah! it may be, affection true
Had reconciled the pair anew!
But of this love, e’en casually,
As yet none had discovered aught;
Eugene of course related nought,
Tattiana suffered secretly;
Her nurse, who could have made a guess,
Was famous for thick-headedness.


Lenski that eve in thought immersed,
Now gloomy seemed and cheerful now,
But he who by the Muse was nursed
Is ever thus. With frowning brow
To the pianoforte he moves
And various chords upon it proves,
Then, eyeing Olga, whispers low:
“I’m happy, say, is it not so?”⁠—
But it grew late; he must not stay;
Heavy his heart with anguish grew;
To the young girl he said adieu,
As it were, tore himself away.
Gazing into his face, she said:
“What ails thee?”⁠—“Nothing.”⁠—He is fled.


At home arriving he addressed
His care unto his pistols’ plight,
Replaced them in their box, undressed
And Schiller read by candlelight.
But one thought only filled his mind,
His mournful heart no peace could find,
Olga he sees before his eyes
Miraculously fair arise,
Vladimir closes up his book,
And grasps a pen: his verse, albeit
With lovers’ rubbish filled, was neat
And flowed harmoniously. He took
And spouted it with lyric fire⁠—
Like D⁠⸺ when dinner doth inspire.


Destiny hath preserved his lay.
I have it. Lo! the very thing!
“Oh! whither have ye winged your way,
Ye golden days of my young spring?
What will the coming dawn reveal?
In vain my anxious eyes appeal;
In mist profound all yet is hid.
So be it! Just the laws which bid
The fatal bullet penetrate,
Or innocently past me fly.
Good governs all! The hour draws nigh
Of life or death predestinate.
Blest be the labours of the light,
And blest the shadows of the night.


“To-morrow’s dawn will glimmer gray,
Bright day will then begin to burn,
But the dark sepulchre I may
Have entered never to return.
The memory of the bard, a dream,
Will be absorbed by Lethe’s stream;
Men will forget me, but my urn
To visit, lovely maid, return,
O’er my remains to drop a tear,
And think: here lies who loved me well,
For consecrate to me he fell
In the dawn of existence drear.
Maid whom my heart desires alone,
Approach, approach; I am thine own.”


Thus in a style obscure and stale,75
He wrote (’tis the romantic style,
Though of romance therein I fail
To see aught⁠—never mind meanwhile)
And about dawn upon his breast
His weary head declined at rest,
For o’er a word to fashion known,
“Ideal,” he had drowsy grown.
But scarce had sleep’s soft witchery
Subdued him, when his neighbour stept
Into the chamber where he slept
And wakened him with the loud cry:
“ ’Tis time to get up! Seven doth strike.
Onegin waits on us, ’tis like.”


He was in error; for Eugene
Was sleeping then a sleep like death;
The pall of night was growing thin,
To Lucifer the cock must breathe
His song, when still he slumbered deep,
The sun had mounted high his steep,
A passing snowstorm wreathed away
With pallid light, but Eugene lay
Upon his couch insensibly;
Slumber still o’er him lingering flies.
But finally he oped his eyes
And turned aside the drapery;
He gazed upon the clock which showed
He long should have been on the road.


He rings in haste; in haste arrives
His Frenchman, good Monsieur Guillot,
Who dressing-gown and slippers gives
And linen on him doth bestow.
Dressing as quickly as he can,
Eugene directs the trusty man
To accompany him and to escort
A box of terrible import.
Harnessed the rapid sledge arrived:
He enters: to the mill he drives:
Descends, the order Guillot gives,
The fatal tubes Lepage contrived76
To bring behind: the triple steeds
To two young oaks the coachman leads.


Lenski the foeman’s apparition
Leaning against the dam expects,
Zaretski, village mechanician,
In the meantime the mill inspects.
Onegin his excuses says;
“But,” cried Zaretski in amaze,
“Your second you have left behind!”
A duellist of classic mind,
Method was dear unto his heart
He would not that a man ye slay
In a lax or informal way,
But followed the strict rules of art,
And ancient usages observed
(For which our praise he hath deserved).


“My second!” cried in turn Eugene,
“Behold my friend Monsieur Guillot;
To this arrangement can be seen,
No obstacle of which I know.
Although unknown to fame mayhap,
He’s a straightforward little chap.”
Zaretski bit his lip in wrath,
But to Vladimir Eugene saith:
“Shall we commence?”⁠—“Let it be so,”
Lenski replied, and soon they be
Behind the mill. Meantime ye see
Zaretski and Monsieur Guillot
In consultation stand aside⁠—
The foes with downcast eyes abide.


Foes! Is it long since friendship rent
Asunder was and hate prepared?
Since leisure was together spent,
Meals, secrets, occupations shared?
Now, like hereditary foes,
Malignant fury they disclose,
As in some frenzied dream of fear
These friends cold-bloodedly draw near
Mutual destruction to contrive.
Cannot they amicably smile
Ere crimson stains their hands defile,
Depart in peace and friendly live?
But fashionable hatred’s flame
Trembles at artificial shame.


The shining pistols are uncased,
The mallet loud the ramrod strikes,
Bullets are down the barrels pressed,
For the first time the hammer clicks.
Lo! poured in a thin gray cascade,
The powder in the pan is laid,
The sharp flint, screwed securely on,
Is cocked once more. Uneasy grown,
Guillot behind a pollard stood;
Aside the foes their mantles threw,
Zaretski paces thirty-two
Measured with great exactitude.
At each extreme one takes his stand,
A loaded pistol in his hand.


Indifferent and sedate,
The foes, as yet not taking aim,
With measured step and even gait
Athwart the snow four paces came⁠—
Four deadly paces do they span;
Onegin slowly then began
To raise his pistol to his eye,
Though he advanced unceasingly.
And lo! five paces more they pass,
And Lenski, closing his left eye,
Took aim⁠—but as immediately
Onegin fired⁠—Alas! alas!
The poet’s hour hath sounded⁠—See!
He drops his pistol silently.


He on his bosom gently placed
His hand, and fell. His clouded eye
Not agony, but death expressed.
So from the mountain lazily
The avalanche of snow first bends,
Then glittering in the sun descends.
The cold sweat bursting from his brow,
To the youth Eugene hurried now⁠—
Gazed on him, called him. Useless care!
He was no more! The youthful bard
For evermore had disappeared.
The storm was hushed. The blossom fair
Was withered ere the morning light⁠—
The altar flame was quenched in night.


Tranquil he lay, and strange to view
The peace which on his forehead beamed,
His breast was riddled through and through,
The blood gushed from the wound and steamed
Ere this but one brief moment beat
That heart with inspiration sweet
And enmity and hope and love⁠—
The blood boiled and the passions strove.
Now, as in a deserted house,
All dark and silent hath become;
The inmate is for ever dumb,
The windows whitened, shutters close⁠—
Whither departed is the host?
God knows! The very trace is lost.


’Tis sweet the foe to aggravate
With epigrams impertinent,
Sweet to behold him obstinate,
His butting horns in anger bent,
The glass unwittingly inspect
And blush to own himself reflect.
Sweeter it is, my friends, if he
Howl like a dolt: ’tis meant for me!
But sweeter still it is to arrange
For him an honourable grave,
At his pale brow a shot to have,
Placed at the customary range;
But home his body to despatch
Can scarce in sweetness be a match.


Well, if your pistol ball by chance
The comrade of your youth should strike,
Who by a haughty word or glance
Or any trifle else ye like
You o’er your wine insulted hath⁠—
Or even overcome by wrath
Scornfully challenged you afield⁠—
Tell me, of sentiments concealed
Which in your spirit dominates,
When motionless your gaze beneath
He lies, upon his forehead death,
And slowly life coagulates⁠—
When deaf and silent he doth lie
Heedless of your despairing cry?


Eugene, his pistol yet in hand
And with remorseful anguish filled,
Gazing on Lenski’s corse did stand⁠—
Zaretski shouted: “Why, he’s killed!”⁠—
Killed! at this dreadful exclamation
Onegin went with trepidation
And the attendants called in haste.
Most carefully Zaretski placed
Within his sledge the stiffened corse,
And hurried home his awful freight.
Conscious of death approximate,
Loud paws the earth each panting horse,
His bit with foam besprinkled o’er,
And homeward like an arrow tore.


My friends, the poet ye regret!
When hope’s delightful flower but bloomed
In bud of promise incomplete,
The manly toga scarce assumed,
He perished. Where his troubled dreams,
And where the admirable streams
Of youthful impulse, reverie,
Tender and elevated, free?
And where tempestuous love’s desires,
The thirst of knowledge and of fame,
Horror of sinfulness and shame,
Imagination’s sacred fires,
Ye shadows of a life more high,
Ye dreams of heavenly poesy?


Perchance to benefit mankind,
Or but for fame he saw the light;
His lyre, to silence now consigned,
Resounding through all ages might
Have echoed to eternity.
With worldly honours, it may be,
Fortune the poet had repaid.
It may be that his martyred shade
Carried a truth divine away;
That, for the century designed,
Had perished a creative mind,
And past the threshold of decay,
He ne’er shall hear Time’s eulogy,
The blessings of humanity.


Or, it may be, the bard had passed
A life in common with the rest;
Vanished his youthful years at last,
The fire extinguished in his breast,
In many things had changed his life⁠—
The Muse abandoned, ta’en a wife,
Inhabited the country, clad
In dressing-gown, a cuckold glad:
A life of fact, not fiction, led⁠—
At forty suffered from the gout,
Eaten, drunk, gossiped and grown stout:
And finally, upon his bed
Had finished life amid his sons,
Doctors and women, sobs and groans.


But, howsoe’er his lot were cast,
Alas! the youthful lover slain,
Poetical enthusiast,
A friendly hand thy life hath ta’en!
There is a spot the village near
Where dwelt the Muses’ worshipper,
Two pines have joined their tangled roots,
A rivulet beneath them shoots
Its waters to the neighbouring vale.
There the tired ploughman loves to lie,
The reaping girls approach and ply
Within its wave the sounding pail,
And by that shady rivulet
A simple tombstone hath been set.


There, when the rains of spring we mark
Upon the meadows showering,
The shepherd plaits his shoe of bark,77
Of Volga fishermen doth sing,
And the young damsel from the town,
For summer to the country flown,
Whene’er across the plain at speed
Alone she gallops on her steed,
Stops at the tomb in passing by;
The tightened leathern rein she draws,
Aside she casts her veil of gauze
And reads with rapid eager eye
The simple epitaph⁠—a tear
Doth in her gentle eye appear.


And meditative from the spot
She leisurely away doth ride,
Spite of herself with Lenski’s lot
Longtime her mind is occupied.
She muses: “What was Olga’s fate?
Longtime was her heart desolate
Or did her tears soon cease to flow?
And where may be her sister now?
Where is the outlaw, banned by men,
Of fashionable dames the foe,
The misanthrope of gloomy brow,
By whom the youthful bard was slain?”⁠—
In time I’ll give ye without fail
A true account and in detail.


But not at present, though sincerely
I on my chosen hero dote;
Though I’ll return to him right early,
Just at this moment I cannot.
Years have inclined me to stern prose,
Years to light rhyme themselves oppose,
And now, I mournfully confess,
In rhyming I show laziness.
As once, to fill the rapid page
My pen no longer finds delight,
Other and colder thoughts affright,
Sterner solicitudes engage,
In worldly din or solitude
Upon my visions such intrude.


Fresh aspirations I have known,
I am acquainted with fresh care,
Hopeless are all the first, I own,
Yet still remains the old despair.
Illusions, dream, where, where your sweetness?
Where youth (the proper rhyme is fleetness)?
And is it true her garland bright
At last is shrunk and withered quite?
And is it true and not a jest,
Not even a poetic phrase,
That vanished are my youthful days
(This joking I used to protest),
Never for me to reappear⁠—
That soon I reach my thirtieth year?


And so my noon hath come! If so,
I must resign myself, in sooth;
Yet let us part in friendship, O
My frivolous and jolly youth.
I thank thee for thy joyfulness,
Love’s tender transports and distress,
For riot, frolics, mighty feeds,
And all that from thy hand proceeds⁠—
I thank thee. In thy company,
With tumult or contentment still
Of thy delights I drank my fill,
Enough! with tranquil spirit I
Commence a new career in life
And rest from bygone days of strife.


But pause! Thou calm retreats, farewell,
Where my days in the wilderness
Of languor and of love did tell
And contemplative dreaminess;
And thou, youth’s early inspiration,
Invigorate imagination
And spur my spirit’s torpid mood!
Fly frequent to my solitude,
Let not the poet’s spirit freeze,
Grow harsh and cruel, dead and dry,
Eventually petrify
In the world’s mortal revelries,
Amid the soulless sons of pride
And glittering simpletons beside;


Amid sly, pusillanimous
Spoiled children most degenerate
And tiresome rogues ridiculous
And stupid censors passionate;
Amid coquettes who pray to God
And abject slaves who kiss the rod;
In haunts of fashion where each day
All with urbanity betray,
Where harsh frivolity proclaims
Its cold unfeeling sentences;
Amid the awful emptiness
Of conversation, thought and aims⁠—
In that morass where you and I
Wallow, my friends, in company!