But the novel cuts off at mid-scene in a most capricious manner. If the well-made novel ends with a wedding or a death, Pushkin gives us neither. The novelistic dimension encourages openness, surprise, uncertainty.
Representing the poetic aspect is, first of all, the “Onegin stanza” itself, the novel’s structural ‘paragraph’: a fourteen-line verse unit in iambic tetrameter, arranged in three differently rhymed quatrains (alternating, then pair, then ‘ring’ construction) followed by a rhyming couplet, with a regular scheme of feminine and masculine rhymes (AbAb CCdd EffE gg). With several notable interruptions, eight chapters (over five thousand lines) of these sturdy, rhymed stanzas propel the plot of Onegin
forward with an intoxicating and self-confident momentum.
But the poeticality of Onegin
pertains not only to its formal structure. Events also unfold in a mirrored way. The narrator repeatedly asserts that no act is evil or good in itself but that timing is all: he or she is ‘blessed’ who manages to live through life’s challenges in the right order, at the right age, for the right length of time. Pushkin combines this neoclassical sense of the proper place for things, the proper ‘pitch’, pace, and rhythm for the events of our lives, with the classical ideals of public honor, duty, fearlessness in facing death, taking risks while young and letting go of one’s fantasies when old.
Caryl Emerson is the A. Watson Armour III University Professor of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Princeton University. Ms. Emerson earned her B.A. at Cornell University (Russian Literature), MAT at Harvard University (Russian Language Teaching, and Russian Studies), and her PhD from the University of Texas at Austin (Comparative Literature).
Costume sketches by Santo Loquasto. © Copyright 2012 Ballet Theatre Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.