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The Queen Of Spades

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French connoisseurs already know Pushkin's The Queen of Spades in

Mйrimйe's translation. It might appear impertinent to offer now a new

version, and I do not doubt that the earlier one will appear more elegant

than this one, which has no merit other than its scrupulous exactness.

That is its justification. A preoccupation with explaining and rounding off

induced Mйrimйe to blunt somewhat the crystalline peaks of the tale. We

have resisted adding anything to Pushkin's clean and spare style, with its

slender grace, which hums like a taut string. When Pushkin writes:

Herman quivered like a tiger, Mйrimйe adds: ... lying in wait. When he

has Lisaveta bend over a book, Mйrimйe says gracefully. This charming

writer thus marks his own manner, and if some criticize his dryness it is

clear here that the criticism is ill-founded, or, at least, that only by

comparison with the lush style of the writers of his period can Mйrimйe's

style seem so unadorned to us. The clarity of Pushkin, on the other hand,

chafes him, and nothing shows that better than a study of this

translation. Poets, Pushkin wrote, often sin by neglect of simplicity

and truth; they pursue all manner of external effects. The pursuit of form

sweeps them toward exaggeration and bombast. He criticized in Hugo,

whom he admired, an absence of simplicity. Life is lacking in him, he

wrote. In other words, truth is absent.

The strangeness of most Russian writers, including the greatest among

them, often baffles the French reader, and indeed, sometimes repels him;

but I confess that it is the absence of strangeness in Pushkin that

confounds me. Or at least what baffles me, is to see that Dostoevsky,

that genius so prodigiously distant from us (despite all the secret

affinities that some of us find in his profoundly human work) considered

Pushkin as the most national of the Russian writers that preceded him. In

vain would we seek here what we are accustomed to consider as

characteristically Russian: disorder, penumbra, overabundance, disarray.

In the majority of Pushkin's works, all is clarity, balance, harmony. No

bitterness, no resigned pessimism; but a profound love, perhaps even

somewhat primitive, of all the joys, all the delights of life, tempered

always by the requirements of his cult of beauty.

Russian? Yes, doubtless; but if so we have formed a false notion of the

Russians. Enamored of classical art from his early years, Pushkin

translated Anacreon, Athenaeux, Xenophon, Catullus, Horace. He wrote

in 1834: Every cultivated European must have a sufficient and clear idea

of the immortal works of

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