I’ve been reading Pushkin of late. I picked up a copy of Eugene Onegin in Victoria last fall: the translation’s not phenomenal, but it fits into my winter coat pocket, so I’m happy. I seem to be making a habit of reading Russian lit at this time of year. The habit’s not intentional: I just seem to get Russian works a bit more at this time of year. I expect it’s a seasonal thing:
In backwoods, how d’you pass this season?
Walking? The country that you roam
Is a compulsive bore by reason
of its unvarnished monochrome …
Or, in your lonely homestead, moping,
you’ll read: here’s Pradt, here’s Walter Scott!
to pass the evening. No? then tot
up your accounts, and raging, toping,
let evening pass, tomorrow too —
in triumph you’ll see winter through! (4.43.1-14)
You see? I know that winter ennui.
That stanza also reminds me that I like Russian writers (like Pushkin and Chekhov) because they treat the comic genre seriously: a work doesn’t have to be (purely) funny to be a comedy (that’s the whole thinking behind my dissertation project, really). I also like Pushkin (and Chekhov) for their translateability across national and temporal boundaries (partly because they’re incisively keen observers of people):
Could I be happy circumscribing
my life in a domestic plot;
had fortune bles me by prescribing
husband and father as my lot;
could I accept for just a minute
the homely scene, take pleasure in it —
then I’d have looked for you alone
to be the bride I’d call my own. (4.13.1-8)
This is basically the 19th-century version of “it’s not you, it’s me”, isn’t it?
But I really love Russian literature because the Russians haven’t necessarily canonised English early modern literature in the same way that we have. So every once in a while you get to read things like:
There was a period when cold-blooded
debauchery was praised and studied
as love’s technique, when it would blare
its own perfection everywhere,
and heartless pleasure was up-graded;
yes, those were our forefathers’ ways,
those monkeys of the good old days:
now Lovelace’s renown has faded
as scarlett heels have lost their name
and stately periwigs, their fame. (4.7.5-14)
Ah, Russian literature, where even Cavalier poets get to be allusions: I love you so so much.
17 January 2011 ~ Bleakly Wintry Hamilton
Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin and Other Poems. Trans. Charles Johnston. New York; London; Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999. Print.