I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think that they will sing to me.
- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
One night Evgeny seeks the side
Of Lensky, just before the duel
Too full of things he could not hide
Thinking that not to speak were cruel
Yet also fearing he will rue
The things he says, however true.
Lensky is in his plain nightgown.
He looks Evgeny up and down
As if to say: why did you come
To rake up things still unawoken?
Friend, some things are best unspoken.
The look he gives contains the sum
Of hidden looks and hidden ways
He's sought Evgeny, in happier days.
Watching Evgeny all the while
With wary eyes and lowered brow
He: "Are you here to reconcile?"
Evgeny, nonchalantly: "How?"
Vladimir, toying with his sheet,
Does not offer his friend a seat.
Evgeny, twiddling his thumb
Does not descend to ask for one,
But stood with half-averted face,
Still wearing his full evening dress
(Vladimir wearing rather less)
A visitor quite out of place
Trying to be cool, although
With what success he does not know.
Lensky regards a gold icon,
Cosmas and Damian, on the wall.
He says "Some things cannot be bygones."
Onegin replies "Not at all."
I came to see you, friend, once more
To memorise your face, before...
Evgeny's ready wit has failed
His confidence has been derailed.
Reader, when your courage rises,
Is it before or after when
The moment most wants courage? Then,
Or bitter years after the crisis?
Onegin's of the latter sort.
Alas, he's come here all for naught.
Vladimir, for his part, is still
Ready to meet his friend and fight,
And yet almost against his will.
He does not doubt that he is right,
But does not want to find, at last,
He's blighted present, future, past.
Not even looking at Evgeny,
He quietly says "Do you have any
Idea what you have done? Excuse?"
Evgeny remained dignified.
He says "Would you rather I lied?
And after all that, what's the use?"
Was that a trace of agitation,
Or only his imagination?
Onegin remembers, far away
In time before when they had played
Billiards: one specific day
When not a single word was said
Between them in the billiard room
When who had put his hand on whom
To help him pose to take the shot?
And who then, rooted to the spot
Wishing that it would last forever,
The simple and unasked-for aid
That made him suddenly afraid,
Knowing no matter what, he'd never
Admit he didn't need the hand?
Reader, do you understand?
Lensky is thinking of the time
When he and Evgeny drank wine
And he had said "Come with me, I'm
Visiting our neighbours. Dine
With me and them for friendship's sake.
He should have known how high the stake.
But now not only have they lost
Their sweet friendship, but it will cost
One of their lives. He hates to think
And cannot calculate the wrong
That he or Evgeny will sink
Into oblivion before long.
If he would just apologise!
Vladimir closes both his eyes.
Evgeny is still standing there
Watching Vladimir feign sleep
Wishing he could search somewhere
To find a way that he could keep
Both honour and friendship too.
Evgeny, it's up to you:
Make a full apology
And if, should he accept it, be
Ready then to go away.
But you cannot do that, for
You were hoping still for more.
Therefore, you can never say
"Friend, let all between us cease;
I will leave you now in peace."
Picture now some lines crossed over
Written not to a country maid
But dedicated to another
Laboured over in the shade
Of night, and also of denial
When the poet made a trial
Of an abstract beau-ideal
That had lately come to steal
On his mind. It had no name
And no face. This apparition
Did not rouse Lensky's suspicion,
Just his lines. When of the game
Vladimir began to tire
He consigned them to the fire.
Had he lived in a later era,
Evgeny might have ignored
Tatiana, Olga, Tasha, Vera,
Spent all night on a messageboard
With anon friends, abhorring light,
And might have, to his parents' fright,
Become what's called 'hikikomori'
But that is another story,
One where coldness, cynicism
Are not always all the fashion
Inspiring epistolary fashion
From young ladies lithe and lissom.
As it is, they snap their fan
At the romantic gentleman.
Vladimir is the perfect type
Of the poet pastoral.
Gentlemanly, harmless, ripe
For romances, but always moral,
Never inconvenable, not
Blowing too cold or too hot.
Always respectable, but, mind,
Still flesh and blood beneath. A wind
Makes the bedroom's curtains billow.
The silence all around them grows.
Without changing any status quos,
Vladimir toys with his pillow.
Perhaps he sees what might have been.
Perhaps that's all he's ever seen.
Evgeny, on his dilemma's horns,
Rubs his hands, rocks back on his heels,
Stretches, elaborately yawns
While inside his courage congeals.
To speak or not to speak? Hamlet,
The multitudes are in your debt
For this 'to this or not' locution.
It has become an institution.
Evgeny, the answer which you seek
Depends on if you're feeling brave.
It's always, in the past, to save
Yourself embarrassment, been 'not to speak.'
Will this time be much different,
Or is your nerve already spent?
Lenksy wants to take his rest
Before tomorrow's great event.
He doesn't care whether a jest
Was all Onegin's dancing meant.
It touched his honour, and a nerve
That Evgeny could thus observe
The person next-dearest to him
And taunt him with it, on a whim.
Silent, he wills his friend to go
Who stands there looking diffident
As if to beg him to repent,
Call off tomorrow's duel, although
Evgeny still remains quite mute,
Scuffing the heel of his best boot.
Within Evgeny is something broken
And also something unsaid.
The thing within him that's unspoken
Does not lie within his head.
The broken thing's his selfish heart
Now by Lensky blown apart.
But he did not break it first
That, Evgeny knows, is worst:
His far too-indulgent upbringing
Kept his lazy heart asleep.
Now awake, his heart will keep,
Along with that he can't say, stinging.
He cannot say it, even on pain
Of not having the chance again.
Now awake, his heart will be
Vulnerable to attacks
From all fronts. Now he can see
How his newly cracked heart lacks
Defences, and will break again
Like a greensick boy, and when
He succumbs, he'll lose his head
Abandoning the life he's led
Maybe over some young girl.
Even, maybe, one he knows
And should have pitied for her woes.
Evgeny wants to hurl
His heart far from him. He sighs.
Hopes he will be the one who dies.
I could not say: friend, when I taunted
You by dancing with your bride
It was always you I wanted.
So I hid behind my pride
And instead invoked your wrath.
The two enstranged friends watch a moth
Batting the glass around a flame.
Evgeny's sorry that he came.
A snowy owl hoots out a warning.
Vladimir puts his hand in his
And all their friendship comes to this.
And then they part, until the morning
Evgeny shoots his best friend dead.
My friends, there's no more to be said.