The Significance Of Zhukovsky

’s “Svetlana” In Pushkin’s “Eugene Onegin” Essay, Research Paper

The significance of Zhukovsky’s Svetlana in Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin

Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin was first fully published in 1833. At that time, Neo-Classicism shifted to the rear view and Romanticism and Sentimentalism became the main genres of the writers and poets. Pushkin, however, employs various styles of writing in Eugene Onegin to convey the desired feelings and emotions about his characters, circumstances, nature, and the traditional Russian folklore to the reader. He alludes to many Western European and Russian writers and poets, who have influenced the theme and style of his poems by their famous works. Zhukovsky’s Svetlana was one of the well recognized traditionally written Russian ballads that Pushkin often mentions in Eugene Onegin. Pushkin alludes to Zhukovsky’s Svetlana in the Eugene Onegin to recognize his predecessor’s successful work and to demonstrate that his heroine, Tatyana, exhibits the same qualities and characteristics that Zhukovsky so masterfully portrayed in his heroine Svetlana.

Zhukovsky was born in 1783 and was able to translate and compose free adaptations of many famous Western European writings in the sixty-nine years of his life. He spoke five different languages and was one of the first people to introduce Romanticism to the Russian public, who believed that “the principal purpose of poetry was to assist in enhancing the image of the state and establish civil order”(Semenko, [1]). Since Zhukovsky’s writings often discussed the fundamental questions of human life, he was regarded as the person, who has “… reoriented poetry toward the disclosure of the inner world of the individual”(Semenko, [2]) and was able to make his writings “assume features of lofty dreaminess, lyricism, and melodious tenderness”(Semenko, [3]).

Belinsky has said, “Without Zhukovsky, we would not have had a Pushkin”(Semenko, [3]). In Eugene Onegin, Pushkin often uses similar themes and refers to the same romantic descriptions and national folklore that Zhukovsky portrays in his numerous writings and especially in Svetlana. Furthermore, since Zhukovsky was the first to give intimate, romantic poetry a philosophical, deep sense, Pushkin valued him as an eminent and a remarkable poet. In Eugene Onegin, Pushkin makes many direct allusions to Zhukovsky’s ballad Svetlana to exhibit the significance of the ballad. In epigraph to Chapter V he writes, “Know not those fearsome dreams, / O my Svetlana!” The allusion was intended to acknowledge Zhukovsky’s “varied and powerful”(Semenko, [3]) style that Pushkin inherited from his predecessor and was able to diffuse into many of his own poems. At the time when Zhukovsky was a tutor to future Tsar Alexander II, Pushkin wrote “The captivating sweetness of his verse / The centuries’ enviable distance will traverse” (Lindstrom, 87), thus, showing deep respect for Zhukovsky’s talents.

The ballad Svetlana was Zhukovsky’s third free adaptation of Lenore, writing of a German poet Burger. Zhukovsky attempted to bring poetry closer to Russian tradition by centering the ballad Svetlana on the essential parts of Russian folklore, such as dreams and fortune telling. Svetlana soon seized the popularity of the Russian people due to Zhukovsky’s vivid imagination and the thorough description of the traditional Russian themes. Zhukovsky “…was attracted chiefly by poems of melancholic mood and universal sorrow, so dear to the hearts of … Romanticists of Germany” (Slonim, 56). Svetlana was not an exception and Pushkin followed Zhukovsky’s steps in creating Eugene Onegin. Svetlana takes place on the Eve of Epiphany, when girls traditionally get involved in fortune telling. She is expecting her beloved to return home when a woman persuades her to take part in the rites. She dreams of seeing him and together “…gallop[ing] across the snowy midnight fields in a sleigh, passing churches and peasant huts”(Semenko, 92). Then, when she walks into one of the huts, she sees a corpse that struggles to rise from the coffin to seize her; the corpse turns out to be her betrothed. The dream is really troubles Svetlana, because she fears that her beloved had died. However, the next day, her fianc? returns home safely.

In Eugene Onegin, Pushkin uses a similar theme of a dream that Tatyana has where she sees Onegin having a feast with many different unnatural creatures. The dream really bothers her, but she cannot understand its meaning. Pushkin wanted to establish an extremely meaning connection by directly alluding to Svetlana in Chapter V.10:

But sudden dread befell Tatyana…

And I, too – thinking of Svetlana,

A dread befell me – never mind…

We will not be with her, I find,

To conjure.

Pushkin wants its audience to feel the same sentimental feelings towards Tatyana’s dream as they felt toward Zhukovsky’s Svetlana. The allusion to Svetlana preludes to something tragic, or dramatic that will happen to Tatyana. Moreover, by alluding to Svetlana, Pushkin exposes the reader to what will happen shortly. The epigraph to Chapter V, “Know not those fearsome dreams, O my Svetlana!”, serves the above purpose. Furthermore, Pushkin almost recreates the scenario of Zhukovsky’s ballad. He is suggesting that since Svetlana’s dream was not true, Tatyana’s dream is meaningless and is a mere reflection of her vigor imagination and unfulfilled love. In both poems, the heroines are walking in a snowy field, and both find their dream really puzzling, frightening, and enigmatic, however they are each reunited with their beloveds soon after.

“Zhukovsky undoubtedly wished to portray his heroine as a character type of national Russian girl in whom the qualities he highlights are gentleness, fidelity, and resignation” (Semenko, 94). In Eugene Onegin, Pushkin based his character of Tatyana on the above qualities. Thus, he directly refers to the already established characteristics of Svetlana, in order to reveal this relationship. Tatyana demonstrates loyalty and acceptance of her situation when she refuses Onegin’s offer of love, although she is still in love with him. In Chapter III.5, Pushkin illustrates Svetlana and Tatyana’s gentleness by writing:

“But tell me-which one is Tatyana?”

“Why, she who with an absent air,

Remote and wistful like Svetlana,

Came in and took the window chair.”

Pushkin suggests that both, Svetlana and Tatyana have a pensive and isolated nature. Pushkin’s Tatyana often takes walks alone and did not usually play with other kids as a child, are both references to her isolation. Thus, it is evident that Pushkin takes advantage of the power of association to express fully Tatyana’s character. Zhukovsky’s Svetlana is a model of tender love and the author often shows the excessive naivete of his sentimental heroine. Similarly, Tatyana’s character is revealed through Pushkin’s romantic descriptions of her love for Onegin, however Pushkin often parodies these emotional and sappy feelings.

“It was not without a reason that he [Pushkin] regarded himself as the pupil of the older poet”(Semenko, [3]). Although, Pushkin is a distinguished and a very popular poet, he recognized the influence that other writers, such as Zhukovsky, had on him. Thus, by alluding to Zhukovsky’s Svetlana in Eugene Onegin, Pushkin was able to acknowledge Zhukovsky’s significance. To the reader, the references to Svetlana provide extra insight to the understanding of Pushkin’s own heroine’s personality, simply through the power of association.

1. Lindstrom, Thais. “Zhukovsky.” A Concise History of Russian Literature. From

the Beginnings to Chekhov. Vol. 1. New York: New York University Press, 1966.

2. Pushkin, Alexander. Eugene Onegin. Trans. Walter Arndt. 2nd ed. Dana Point:

Ardis Publishers, 1992.

3. Semenko, Irina. Vasily Zhukovsky. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1976.

4. Slonim, Marc. The Epic of Russian Literature. From Its Origins to Tolstoy. New

York: Oxford University Press, 1964.


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