Translator's notes

Extract from Yevgeni Onegin

By Pushkin

No literary work I know gives one such a sense of the full personality of the author as does Onegin.  Its unique stanza form – fourteen lines of intricately rhymed tetrameters, with almost as many feminine line endings as masculine –  makes it formidably hard to translate. As feminine rhymes are much more readily available in Russian, the ‘same’ stanza form in English sounds different, heavier, more deliberately willed, than the Russian.   There are bound to be times when finding perfect rhymes is going to distract from what Pushkin is saying, and not fully reflect the original’s emotional tone. Likewise there is a temptation to pad out a tetrameter – which is fatal. On the other hand, a prose version, such as Nabokov’s, is simply not Onegin.

My attempted solution has been to tone down the rhymes, free them up somewhat, by using a lot of half-rhymes, assonance and enjambement. If there was a conflict between being faithful to the letter, and faithful to the spirit, I have preferred the spirit. The months I spent attempting it were extraordinarily happy ones;  a bit like a love affair.  For I love Pushkin, and the act of translation is a wonderful form of intimacy.

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