It’s because her love is artless,
And she, not knowing men are heartless. – Eugene Onegin, Pushkin
If I begin to write in rhyme it will not be my fault. Reading is corrupting, the pattern and rhythm soon invade one’s mind. Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin is an astounding piece of work. The man wrote in rhyming verse! A novel – in rhyming verse! And perhaps more incredible than that, other people have translated this rhyming verse into different languages. It is a marvel. I read Babette Deutsch’s translation of this devastating tale which is told with exquisite sensitivity and aplomb.
What sort of a man is Onegin? A Misanthrope?:
No syllable of sentiment,
No grace, no flash of merriment,
Lay hid in all the prose they uttered.-
No savoir vivre, no hint of verse;
And when their wives talked, it was worse.
Well, I don’t go in for small talk either, so I can’t hold that against him. But there lies within his core, a certain coolness I abhor (oh dear, a rhyme). But Tatiana is undone completely by her love for him.
For woman is a tender fool,
And love is but the devil’s tool.
It’s painful to witness. And, why? If only we could choose whom we love: command our molecules to paid heed to our senses, not just our sensibilities. I probably should not read Pushkin during my breaks in biology class. But, there must be some molecular explanation for attractions: love, love in the face of hopelessness, the powerlessness to cleave off unrequited love: it’s as if our electrons are fatalists.
‘Complaint will make my pain no less.
He cannot give me happiness.’
Further more, Onegin is a man of inertia. He does not love Tatiana enough to move him to transduction. Later on, when a careless act begins a chain reaction that leads to Lensky’s coffin, there is not enough friction within Onegin to stop it. Does he ever take control of his own life? No. Years later, his feelings are finally pushed along on the wave of societal esteem where Tatiana now finds herself; she is all the more humiliated by his display of wasted dynamic.
Our songs, but are not worth the singing.
Their looks enchant, their words are sweet,
And quite as faithless as their feet.
The absence of love then, is apoptosis: programmed cell death. The cell gets a little messenger molecule that says, “life is not worth living.” Tatiana lives in a state of slow perpetual apoptosis- she deadens herself so that she can live.
This pool we bathe in, friends, this muck
In which, God help us, we are stuck.
And yet, this familiar tale is balanced so divinely on the pen of Pushkin. I think he means to make the reader fall in love with him. Pushkin is a charming flirt if ever there was one. From his hilarious foot fetish of the opening stanzas to the steady interruptions of commentary on the characters, their actions, and best of all, on his own writing and teasing rhymes.
The frosts begin to snap, and gleaming
With silver hoar, the meadows lie…
(The reader waits the rhyme-word: beaming,
Well, take it, since you are so sly!).
It is a tour de force of storytelling, his pleasure to tell, and ours to read. Pushkin will break my heart as gently as he can, preferably with a glass of Bordeaux in hand and a sweet smile on his face.
I know that life is but a bubble,
My fondness for it is but slight;
I am deceived by no illusion;
But I salute hope’s shy intrusion,