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A. B. PEN’KOVSKIJ

RIDDLES OF PUSHKIN’S TEXT AND VOCABULARY
(«Евгений Онегин», 1, XXXVII, 13—14)

 
 
 



 

Summary

The article discusses an episode in Onegin’s life: No razliubil on nakonec // I bran’ i sabliu i svinec. Vladimir Nabokov wrote: “This is an irritatingly vague line <...> Bran’, implying, as it does, warfare, might lead one to suppose that <...> Onegin <...> had been on active duty in the army; it is, however, much more probable that the reference is to single combat, as suggested by a MS reading”. The latter assertion appears wrong in respect of the final wording, where sablia ‘sabre, sword’ and svinec ‘lead’ placed side by side with bran’ ‘warfare’ are equated as weapons of war, rather than those of a duel. Nabokov was aware of this, and therefore wondered: “And yet, why should it be bran’?” Nevertheless, most com-mentators and translators stick to the “duel” interpretation of this passage: In time he sickened and abhorred // The duel, pistol, and the sword (E. M. Kaydan); Our lad at length was overfed // With taunts and duels, sword and lead (W. Arndt); He did at last give up his love // Of pistol, sword and ready glove (J. E. Falen).

N. L. Brodskij supposed that Onegin, “just like Chackij”, could once have been keen on “an embroidered and beautiful uniform”, and was drawn to “the milieu of young military people”, but after a while became disillusioned with such “meetings”. This interpretation does not sustain criticism, but it does suggest the direction in which we should go. Brodskij’s idea may bear fruit, if sword and lead are not treated as real objects of military equip-ment, but the objects of a youthful romantic dream. The lines under discussion can be, without internal contradiction, understood as follows: “and even gave up his dreams about warfare and fighting with swords and gunplay”. Incidentally, this happened with Pushkin himself; in his Lycée poems he frequently relates his wish of going into military service, while in an epistle of 1819 he admits: Orlov, thou art right: I’m forgetting // My hussar dreams. The reconstructed meaning of the verb разлюбить is supported by Pushkin’s usage and that of other writers of his time: Ia razliubil svoi mechty = I gave up my dreams (Pushkin, “I outlived all my desires...”, 1821); and so on.

 



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