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The Duel poem – Alexander Pushkin

A poem by Alexander Pushkin – Pouchkine, Pooshkin (1799-1837), in English translation


FROM “EUGENE ONEGIN “

28

Yes, foes!-How many days, bethink you,

Since hatred stepped the two between,

And since in hours of thought and leisure,

At work, at table, they have been

As comrades! Now, with purpose dread,

Like men in mutual loathing bred,

Each plans, as though in broadest day

A heavy nightmare on him lay,

The other’s downfall in his heart.

Oh, could they smile but once, while still

Their hands are pure from deed of ill,

And then their sev’ral ways depart!

But worldly hate, like worldly fame,

Shrinks at the breath of worldly shame.

30

-Now, come together!

                      Calmly, coldly,

Not aiming yet, with haughty glance,

And tread assured and light, though measured,

The combatants four steps advance,

Four steps to death-whereon Eugene,

Still forward moving o’er the green,

(The other likewise) first began

To raise his weapon, fix his man. . . .

N ine steps now of the fateful quest

Were counted-Lensky, with a frown,

His left eye closed, took aim-when down

Oniegin’s thumb the trigger prest. . . .

Reverse the sand-glass!-Lensky sighed-

No more!-and let his pistol glide.

31

He sought his breast with clutching fingers-

He fell, his glance grew dim, and still

It spoke of death alone, not torment,

As when upon some eastern hill

All sparkling in the morning light,

The snow-wreath vanishes from sight.

Oniegin, suddenly a-cold

With horror, saw his shot had told.

He hastened-o’er the poet’s form

He stooped, he called his name-too late!

He was no more-untimely fate!

The flower had perished in the storm-

The music on the broken lyre,

And on the altar-stone, the fire!

32

And there he lay! How unfamiliar

Upon his brow the languid grace !

Beneath his breast the ball had pierced him,

The smoking blood ran down apace,

Thence, where, a few brief moments past,

The pulse of life was bounding fast,

Where hate and hope and love were strong,

And warm emotions wont to throng.

The heart is now a house bereft

Of former inmates-every floor

Is dark and still for evermore,

With dusty panes. The host has left;

And whither went he ? Who shall say ?

His very trace is swept away.

33

To write an epigram, a sharp one,

Your stupid foe to irritate,

Is very nice. To see him lower

His sullen horns, still obstinate,

And, nolens volens, in the glass

With shame behold himself and pass.

Twere nicer still (the fool!), should he

Stand there and gape-” ‘Tis meant for me!”

And silently to dig your foe

An honoured grave, to aim with care-

Your mark, the pallid forehead there,

A generous distance off-we know,

Is nicest . But to see him fall

And lie, is scarcely nice at all!

34

We’ll just suppose, my friend, your pistol Has stretched a young acquaintance dead-

Because of forward look or answer,

Because some idle thing he said

Had stung you o’er the wine last night,

Or even called you out to fight

Himself in boyish anger-well,

What kind of feeling, pray you, tell,

Came o’er you with a whelming rush,

When laid before you on the ground,

Without a motion or a sound,

He stiffens in the sudden hush ?

When dumb, with blinded stare, he lies,

Stone-deaf to your despairing cries ?

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