Monday, April 05, 2010

Pushkin's "Scene from Faust"

the ache/toská: No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody or something specific, nostalgia, lovesickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom, skuka

- from Vladimir Nabokov's commentary on Eugene Onegin

I refer to that quote from my summary page for Eugene Onegin because Pushkin's "Scene from Faust" centers on skuka. The New Criterion has Pushkin's scene available online in a translation by Alan Shaw.

"Scene from Faust", translated by Alan Shaw

Shaw's introduction to the scene

One of Shaw's comments in the introduction:

We could read it [Pushkin's scene] as either a critique of, or a tribute to Goethe, or Byron, or both. What’s most striking in it, as in so much of Pushkin, is its extreme compression. In this, it anticipates, and even excels, the “little tragedies” that Pushkin would write a few years later—Mozart and Salieri, The Miserly Knight, The Stone Guest, and A Feast During the Plague. In one of his priceless notes to Eugene Onegin, Nabokov informs us in passing that “there are those” (he does not say he is one of them) who prefer Pushkin’s little scene to the whole of Goethe’s Faust.

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