Alexander Pushkin: A Critical Study
This book of poems can be read quickly. It includes English translations by nine other poets, but most (33) of the 60 poems in this book have been translated by A. D. P. Briggs, who has devoted four books to Pushkin and has also edited four other volumes in the Everyman's Poetry series. Briggs also revised Chapter 8 of Oliver Elton's translation of Yevgeny Onegin, which he describes in the Introduction as, "A few stanzas from the end of the novel are included here in order to give a general impression of how the novel works." (p. xvii). Poem 16, "The Caucasus" is credited to F. Cornford on pages xxi and 19, but the Acknowledgements on page 104 credits a book, POEMS FROM THE RUSSIAN (1943), "trans. Frances Cornfield [this mistake might be due to the enormous number of actual cornfields that currently exist on this planet] and Esther Polianowski." Of the Pushkin poems translated by C. M. Bowra in a book from 1948, eight poems are included in this book.
The Contents lists the titles of the poems, and the Introduction explains poetic qualities which the translations in this volume attempt to match, "partly to ensure that interesting formal properties like these are not lost." (p. xv). The first paragraph on page xvi attempts to show how the poems "are grouped roughly thematically," into the order in which the themes are encountered in the first poem in this book, "Winter. What shall we do out in the country?" Pushkin's major themes are identified as the personal, the natural world, poetry, love, some poems of ideas, and his poems on those topics comprise the first half of the book. The longer works in the final portion of the book include the concluding stanzas of YEVGENY ONEGIN (which has 366 stanzas altogether), Chapter 8, Stanzas 33-51.
The poems "Remembrance" and "Elegy" are mentioned as examples of a Pushkinian philosophy of life. Thoughts "Settle in limpid twilight languidly distilled," as the third line of the poem "Remembrance" puts it. Pushkin is capable of other feats, and the introduction observes that one long poem, "(known in Russian as `Gavriiliada' after the angel Gabriel) is an overtly sacreligious re-enactment of several Bible stories (Adam and Eve, Joseph and Mary, the Annunciation, etc.) run together into an extended sexual romp." (p. xviii). This kind of thing is usually considered a catastrophe, as far as serious philosophy is concerned, and "In its day Pushkin could not acknowledge authorship; neither could Russian criticism until recently." (p. xviii). It reminds me of the poem, "the boys i mean are not refined," by e. e. cummings, which was only included in a limited edition of nine copies of his book, NO THANKS, in 1935, but was dropped in subsequent editions until after his death in 1962. Similarly, the introduction by A. D. P. Briggs notices Pushkin's use of "swearwords in `The Waggon of Life'," (p. xix) which Briggs called, "language unusable until recent times in both Russia and England." (p. xvii). Anything that I might say about such language might be considered totally off the subject here, but a revisionist view of the relationship between poetry and philosophy might make some personal comments appropriate here.
As author of the unpublished, unedited, and largely unwritten MY VIETNAM WAR JOKE BOOK, any claim that I might make to knowledge of philosophy is highly suspect, similarly to the status achieved by Martin Heidegger when he is considered the Nazi philosopher. In my case, the must dubious aspect of convergence might be expressed by using the phrase *peace with honor* instead of any swearword that might appear. This could be catastrophic for the poetic values involved, but purely for philosophical reasons, I would like to insert *peace with honor* in place of the swearwords in Pushkin's poem, "The Waggon of Life." The second and third stanza become:
We climb aboard the boards at dawn
Full of wild devilment and crowing;
Spurning the lanquid life with scorn,
We cry, `Go on, get *peace with honor* going!'
But by midday we've lost that boldness,
Feeling the wagon shake and judder.
Dread are the heights and dizzy gorges,
We cry, `Slow down you silly *peace with honor*!'
A few things about this book seemed British to me. The word which made the least sense to me was "judder," in the poem "The Waggon of Life," on page 39. If the word was made up to produce a rhyme, the line it was in would have made more sense if it had ended with the common word, shudder:
Feeling the waggon shake and shudder.
The stanza doesn't end with: "We cry, `Slow down you silly buggy!"