The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent


The Science of the Tender Passion

Pushkin's great description of his great antihero.


Alexander Pushkin, by Orest Kripensky

For complicated reasons (having nothing to do with own biography!), I was just reminded this morning about Alexander Pushkin's famous Lothario Eugene Onegin, and one of my favorite stanzas from that novel-in-sonnets. Here is James Falen's brilliant translation (not quite as good as the original in this instance, I think, but still first-rate):

I have no leisure for retailing
The sum of all our hero's parts,
But where his genius proved unfailing,
The thing he'd learned above all arts,
What from his prime had been his pleasure,
His only torment, toil, and treasure,
What occupied, the livelong day,
His languid spirit's fretful play
Was love itself, the art of ardour,
Which Ovid sang in ages past,
And for which song he paid at last
By ending his proud days a martyr
In dim Moldavia's vacant waste,
Far from the Rome his heart embraced.

Perhaps I am overreading this, but the Ovid reference seems to me not just a nice classical touch (as well as a reference to Pushkin's own internal exile to Moldavia), but a foreshadowing of Onegin's own eventual emotional exile. "The art of ardour" is a reference to Ovid's Ars Amatoria, and a pretty close translation of that phrase. But I like Pushkin's version better—наука страсти нежной, the science of the tender passion.