This post, as well as the previous post on Nabokov, is a result of conversations with friends (at a mathematical conference). I tried to explain to my friends why Nabokov preferred to translate Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin in prose — apparently, it was quite a scandalous decision at the time. To prove that he could write in famous Onegin’s stanza, Nabokov penned the famous poem:

Vladimir Nabokov
On translating "Eugene Onegin"
( The New Yorker, January 8, 1955, p. 34)


What is translation? On a platter
A poets pale and glaring head,
A parrot's screech, a monkey's chatter,
And profanation of the dead.
The parasits you were so hard on
Are pardoned if I have your pardon,
O, Pushkin, for my stratagem:
I travelled down your secret stem,
And reached the root, and fed upon it;
Then, in a language newly learned,
I grew another stalk and turned
Your stanza patterned on a sonnet,
Into my honest roadside prose--
All thorn, but cousin to your rose.


Reflected words can only shiver
Like elongated lights that twist
In the black mirror of a river
Between the city and the mist.
Elusive Pushkin! Persevering,
I still pick up Tatiana's earring,
Still travel with your sullen rake.
I find another man's mistake,
I analize alliterations
That grace your feasts and haunt the great
Fourth stanza of your Canto Eight.
This is my task -- a poet's patience
And scholiastic passion blent:
Dove-dropping on your monument.

And here is Stanza IV of Canto Eight mentioned by Nabokov:


Но я отстал от их союза
И вдаль бежал... Она за мной.
Как часто ласковая муза
Мне услаждала путь немой
Волшебством тайного рассказа!
Как часто по скалам Кавказа
Она Ленорой, при луне,
Со мной скакала на коне!
Как часто по брегам Тавриды
Она меня во мгле ночной
Водила слушать шум морской,
Немолчный шепот Нереиды,
Глубокий, вечный хор валов,
Хвалебный гимн отцу миров.

In Ch. Jonston’s translation the wonderful alliterations are lost without trace:


  When I defected from their union
  and ran far off... the Muse came too.
  How often, with her sweet communion,
  she'd cheer my wordless way, and do
  her secret work of magic suasion!
  How often on the steep Caucasian
  ranges, Lenora-like, she'd ride
  breakneck by moonlight at my side!
  How oft she'd lead me, by the Tauric
  seacoast, to hear in dark of night
  the murmuring Nereids recite,
  and the deep-throated billows' choric
  hymnal as, endlessly unfurled,
  they praise the Father of the world.

Of course, for the anglophil and anglophone Nabokov Eugene Onegin, a Byronic novel, had special attraction. Canto Eight, by the way, has an epigraph from Byron:

Fare thee well, and if for ever Still for ever fare thee well.

I’ll try to find Stanza IV in Nabokov’s translation and place here, for comparison; it happened to be harder than I thought — to my surprise, my University’s library has no copy.