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The Duel

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin 1799 (Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin Moscow) – 1837 (Saint Petersburg)


Yes, foes!—How many days, bethink you,
Since hatred stepped the two between,
And since in hours of thought and leisure,
At work, at table, they have been
As comrades! Now, with purpose dread,
Like men in mutual loathing bred,
Each plans, as though in broadest day
A heavy nightmare on him lay,
The other's downfall in his heart.
Oh, could they smile but once, while still
Their hands are pure from deed of ill,
And then their sev'ral ways depart!
But worldly hate, like worldly fame,
Shrinks at the breath of worldly shame.

—Now, come together!
Calmly, coldly,
Not aiming yet, with haughty glance,
And tread assured and light, though measured,
The combatants four steps advance,
Four steps to death—whereon Eugene,
Still forward moving o'er the green,
(The other likewise) first began
To raise his weapon, fix his man. . . .
N ine steps now of the fateful quest
Were counted—Lensky, with a frown,
His left eye closed, took aim—when down
Oniegin's thumb the trigger prest. . . .
Reverse the sand-glass!—Lensky sighed—
No more!—and let his pistol glide.

He sought his breast with clutching fingers-
He fell, his glance grew dim, and still
It spoke of death alone, not torment,
As when upon some eastern hill
All sparkling in the morning light,
The snow-wreath vanishes from sight.
Oniegin, suddenly a-cold
With horror, saw his shot had told.
He hastened—o'er the poet's form
He stooped, he called his name—too late!
He was no more—untimely fate!
The flower had perished in the storm—
The music on the broken lyre,
And on the altar-stone, the fire!

And there he lay! How unfamiliar
Upon his brow the languid grace !
Beneath his breast the ball had pierced him,
The smoking blood ran down apace,
Thence, where, a few brief moments past,
The pulse of life was bounding fast,
Where hate and hope and love were strong,
And warm emotions wont to throng.
The heart is now a house bereft
Of former inmates—every floor
Is dark and still for evermore,
With dusty panes. The host has left;
And whither went he ? Who shall say ?
His very trace is swept away.

To write an epigram, a sharp one,
Your stupid foe to irritate,
Is very nice. To see him lower
His sullen horns, still obstinate,
And, nolens volens, in the glass
With shame behold himself and pass.
Twere nicer still (the fool!), should he
Stand there and gape—' 'Tis meant for me!'
And silently to dig your foe
An honoured grave, to aim with care—
Your mark, the pallid forehead there,
A generous distance off—we know,
Is nicest . But to see him fall
And lie, is scarcely nice at all!

We'll just suppose, my friend, your pistol Has stretched a young acquaintance dead—
Because of forward look or answer,
Because some idle thing he said
Had stung you o'er the wine last night,
Or even called you out to fight
Himself in boyish anger—well,
What kind of feeling, pray you, tell,
Came o'er you with a whelming rush,
When laid before you on the ground,
Without a motion or a sound,
He stiffens in the sudden hush ?
When dumb, with blinded stare, he lies,
Stone-deaf to your despairing cries ?

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Submitted on May 13, 2011

Modified on March 06, 2023

2:45 min read

Quick analysis:

Closest metre Iambic tetrameter
Characters 3,085
Words 545
Stanzas 7
Stanza Lengths 1, 15, 16, 15, 15, 15, 14

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin

Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was born into Russian nobility in Moscow. His father, Sergey Lvovich Pushkin, belonged to Pushkin noble families. His maternal great-grandfather was African-born general Abram Petrovich Gannibal. He published his first poem at the age of 15, and was widely recognized by the literary establishment by the time of his graduation from the Tsarskoye Selo Lyceum. Upon graduation from the Lycee, Pushkin recited his controversial poem "Ode to Liberty", one of several that led to his exile by Tsar Alexander I of Russia. While under the strict surveillance of the Tsar's political police and unable to publish, Pushkin wrote his most famous play, the drama Boris Godunov. His novel in verse, Eugene Onegin, was serialized between 1825 and 1832. Pushkin was fatally wounded in a duel with his brother-in-law, Georges-Charles de Heeckeren d'Anthès, also known as Dantes-Gekkern, a French officer serving with the Chevalier Guard Regiment, who attempted to seduce the poet's wife, Natalia Pushkina.  more…

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    "The Duel" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 5 Jun 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/574/the-duel>.

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