the guardian Fri 08 May 2009
One of the most striking things for an English-language reader approaching this classic of Russian literature is the central presence of Byron. The poem seems to echo the knowing ironies and confidentialities, the tongue-in-cheek worldiness of "Beppo" or "Don Juan" - "You'll find her portrait there - it's sweet, / Once I myself found it a treat, / But now it bores me beyond measure." Stanley Mitchell's new verse translation relishes this influence, but there's far more to this poem and Mitchell conjures the varied tones, the changes of pace, the vivid descriptions in language that echo and parallel the driving rhythms and rhymes of the original - "The pistols glistened; soon the mallets / Resoundingly on ramrods flicked, / Through cut-steel barrels went the bullets". In the end, the power of Pushkin's masterpiece lies in its fast-paced and wonderfully balanced storyline and in the interplay between Onegin and Tatiana. The latter, "Russian to the core", is repeatedly linked to the traditions and landscapes of an older, more intuitive Russia, in fierce contrast to the sophisticated posturings of Onegin.