Poems - Alexander Pushkin - ebook
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Pushkin was emphatically a subjective writer. Of intense sensibility, which is the indispensable condition of creative genius, he was first of all a feeler with an Æolian attachment. He did not even have to take the trouble of looking into his heart in order to write. So full of feeling was his heart that at the slightest vibration it poured itself out; and so deep was its feeling that what is poured out is already melted, fused, shaped, and his Poems come forth, like Minerva from Jupiter's head, fully armed. There is a perfection about them which is self-attesting in its unstudiedness and artlessness; it is the perfection of the child, touching the hearts of its beholders all the more tenderly because of its unconsciousness, effortlessness; it is the perfection which Jesus had in mind when he uttered that sentence so profound and so little followed because of its very profundity: "Unless ye be like little children."

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Table of contents

Preface: Bibliographical.

Introduction: Critical

Poems: Autobiographical.

Poems: Narrative.

Poems of Nature.

Poems of Love.

Poems: miscellaneous.

Notes.

Preface: Bibliographical.

1. The text I have used for the following translations is that of the edition of the complete works of Pushkin in ten volumes, 16mo., by Suvorin, St. Petersburg, 1887. The poems form Volumes III. and IV. of that edition. Accordingly, I have designated after each heading, volume, and page where the poem is to be found in the original. Thus, for example, "My Muse, IV. 1," means that this poem is found in Volume IV. of the above edition, page 1.2. I have translated Pushkin literally word for word, line for line. I do not believe there are as many as five examples of deviation from the literalness of the text. Once only, I believe, have I transposed two lines for convenience of translation; the other deviations are ( if they are such) a substitution of an and for a comma in order to make now and then the reading of a line musical. With these exceptions, I have sacrified everything to faithfulness of rendering. My object was to make Pushkin himself, without a prompter, speak to English readers. To make him thus speak in a foreign tongue was indeed to place him at a disadvantage; and music and rhythm and harmony are indeed fine things, but truth is finer still. I wished to present not what Pushkin would have said, or should have said, if he had written in English, but what he does say in Russian. That, stripped from all ornament of his wonderful melody and grace of form, as he is in a translation, he still, even in the hard English tongue, soothes and stirs, is in itself a sign that through the individual soul of Pushkin sings that universal soul whose strains appeal forever to man, in whatever clime, under whatever sky.3. I ask, therefore, no forgiveness, no indulgence even, from the reader for the crudeness and even harshness of the translation, which, I dare say, will be found in abundance by those who look for something to blame. Nothing of the kind is necessary. I have done the only thing there was to be done. Nothing more could be done (I mean by me, of course), and if critics still demand more, they must settle it not with me, but with the Lord Almighty, who in his grim, yet arch way, long before critics appeared on the stage, hath ordained that it shall be impossible for a thing to be and not to be at the same time.4. I have therefore tried neither for measure nor for rhyme. What I have done was this: I first translated each line word for word, and then by reading it aloud let mine ear arrange for me the words in such a way as to make some kind of rhythm. Where this could be done, I was indeed glad; where this could not be done, I was not sorry. It is idle to regret the impossible.5. That the reader, however, may see for himself what he has been spared by my abstinence from attempting the impossible, I give one stanza of a metrical translation by the side of the literal rendering:—LITERAL:The moment wondrous I rememberThou before me didst appear,Like a flashing apparition,Like a spirit of beauty pure.METRICAL:[1]Yes! I remember well our meeting,When first thou dawnedst on my sight,Like some fair phantom past me fleeting,Some nymph of purity and light.Observe, Pushkin the real does not appear before the reader with a solemn affirmation, Yes, or No, nor that he remembers it well . He tells the story in such a way that the reader knows without being told that he does indeed remember it well! Nor does he weaken the effect by saying that he remembers the meeting , which is too extended, but the moment , which is concentrated. And Pushkin's imagination was moreover too pure to let a fleeting phantom dawn upon his sight. To have tried for a rendering which necessitated from its very limitations such falsities, would have been not only to libel poor Pushkin, but also to give the reader poor poetry besides. [1] Blackwood's Magazine, lviii. 35, July, 1845.6. The translation being literal, I have been able to retain even the punctuation of Pushkin, and especially his dots, of which he makes such frequent use. They are part of his art; they express by what they withhold. I call especial attention to these, as Pushkin is as powerful in what he indicates as in what he shows, in what he suggests as in what he actually says. The finest example of the highest poetry of his silence (indicated by his dots) is the poem I have entitled "Jealousy," to which the reader is particularly requested to turn with this commentary of mine (p. 114). The poet is melted with tenderness at the thought of his beloved all alone, far-off, weeping. The fiendish doubt suddenly overpowers him, that after all, perhaps his beloved is at that moment not alone, weeping for him, but in the arms of another:—Alone ... to lips of none she is yieldingHer shoulders, nor moist lips, nor snow-white fingers.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .None is worthy of her heavenly love.Is it not so? Thou art alone. . . . Thou weepest. . . .And I at peace? . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .But if . . . . . . .One must be all vibration in order to appreciate the matchless power of the dots here. The poem here ends. I know not the like of this in all literature.7. Wherever I could ascertain the date of a poem, I have placed it at the end. The reader will thus at a glance find at least one of the proper relations of the poems to the poet's soul. For this purpose these two dates should be borne constantly in mind: Pushkin was born in 1799; he died in 1837.8. To many of his poems Pushkin has given no name. To such, for the reader's convenience I have supplied names, but have put them in brackets, which accordingly are to be taken as indication that the name they enclose is not Pushkin's. Many of his most beautiful poems were addressed to individuals, and they appear in the original as "Lines to ———." The gem of this collection, for instance, to which I have supplied the title, "Inspiring Love"—inadequate enough, alas!—appears in the original as "To A. P. Kern." As none of these poems have any intrinsic bond with the personages addressed, their very greatness lying in their universality, I have supplied my own titles to such pieces, giving the original title in a note.9. It was my original intention to make a life of the poet part of this volume. But so varied was Pushkin's life, and so instructive withal, that only an extended account could be of value. What is worth doing at all is worth doing well. A mere sketch would here, for various reasons, be worse than useless. Critics, who always know better what an author ought to do than he himself, must kindly take this assertion of mine, for the present at least, on trust, and assume that I, who have done some thinking on the subject, am likely to know whereof I speak better than those whose only claim to an opinion is that they have done no thinking on the subject, resembling in this respect our modest friends, the agnostics, who set themselves up as the true, knowing solvers of the problems of life, because, forsooth, they know nothing.... Anyhow, even at the risk of offending critics, I have decided to misstate myself by not giving the life of Pushkin rather than to misstate poor Pushkin by giving an attenuated, vapid thing, which passes under the name of a "Sketch." The world judges a man by what is known of him, forgetting that underneath the thin film of the known lies the immeasurable abyss of the unknown, and that the true explanation of the man is found not in what is visible of him, but in what is invisible of him. Unless, therefore, I could present what is known of Pushkin in such a manner as to suggest the unknown (just as a study of nature should only help us to trust that what we do not know of God is likewise good!) I have no business to tell of his life. But to tell of it in such a way that it shall represent Pushkin, and not misrepresent him, is possible only in an extended life. Otherwise, I should be telling not how he was living, but how he was starving, dying; and this is not an edifying task, either for the writer or for the reader.10. Such a life is now well-nigh writ, but it is too long to make part of this volume.

Introduction: Critical

I. POETIC IDEAL.1. Pushkin was emphatically a subjective writer. Of intense sensibility, which is the indispensable condition of creative genius, he was first of all a feeler with an Æolian attachment. He did not even have to take the trouble of looking into his heart in order to write. So full of feeling was his heart that at the slightest vibration it poured itself out; and so deep was its feeling that what is poured out is already melted, fused, shaped, and his poems come forth, like Minerva from Jupiter's head, fully armed. There is a perfection about them which is self-attesting in its unstudiedness and artlessness; it is the perfection of the child, touching the hearts of its beholders all the more tenderly because of its unconsciousness, effortlessness; it is the perfection which Jesus had in mind when he uttered that sentence so profound and so little followed because of its very profundity: "Unless ye be like little children." So calm and poiseful is Pushkin's poetry that in spite of all his pathos his soul is a work of architecture,—a piece of frozen music in the highest sense. Even through his bitterest agony,—and pathos is the one chord which is never absent from Pushkin's song, as it is ever present in Chopin's strains, ay, as it ever must be present in any soul that truly lives,—there runneth a peace, a simplicity which makes the reader exclaim on reading him: Why, I could have done the self-same thing myself,—an observation which is made at the sight of Raphael's Madonna, at the oratory of a Phillips, at the reading of "The Vicar of Wakefield," at the acting of a Booth. Such art is of the highest, and is reached only through one road: Spontaneity, complete abandonment of self. The verse I have to think over I had better not write. Man is to become only a pipe through which the Spirit shall flow; and the Spirit shall flow only where the resistance is least. Ope the door, and the god shall enter! Seek not, pray not! To pray is to will, and to will is to obstruct. The virtue which Emerson praises so highly in a pipe—that it is smooth and hollow—is the very virtue which makes him like Nature, an ever open, yet ever sealed book. Bring to him your theories, your