Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Foot poems

As I've mentioned, we're reading multiple translations of Pushkin's Eugene Onegin right now. We just finished chapter three, I believe. Of course, it's taking us twice as long to read it as it would otherwise since we're reading two translations at once (and sometimes listening to the original Russian, just for kicks). 

In chapter one, Pushkin spends approximately five sonnets extolling ladies' feet. The kids were rolling with laughter. Here are a few excerpts from the Poetry in Translation version:

I love their little feet, confess
That, search all Russia though,
You’ll not find three lovely pair.
Ah, they made me long despair
Two slender feet…Now sad and cold
I still remember, and it seems
They yet can thrill me in my dreams.


Ah, little feet where do you stand?
On what spring flowers are you set?
Pampered in eastern luxury
On our northern snows, so gloomy,
You left no trace, but loved instead
The sensual touch, on rugs to tread
And carpeted voluptuousness.


Recall the sea before a storm,
How I envied the waves then,
Each falling there as they form
To lie at her feet, in peace again!
How I longed to be those seas
Kissing her dear feet as they please!


Their words, their looks, both are sweet,
Yet prove as faithless….as their feet.


My pen I find no longer wanders,
Sketching women’s legs and feet,
Beside some lines still incomplete.

Today I asked my kids to recap what we've read so far, to assess their understanding, à la Charlotte Mason Method. I was...not disappointed.

Miriam elected to write her recap as a sonnet, a Pushkin-style sonnet:

We start our story with Eugene
In the midst of high social class
For hours in the mirror would preen
Not tied down to any lass. 

Then one night at party grand
His life starts to feel quite bland—
An intermission for ladies' feet
The author felt that they were neat—

Onegin moves to countryside
Meets Lensky, his new friend
A romantic who poems penned,
Olga Larin will be his bride.

Tanya's lovesick for Onegin
They then quickly become akin.

The intermission, guys. I just couldn't even keep in my laughter at that line.

Zoë also couldn't forget about Pushkin's fascination with feet and wrote this little paragraph worrying about the future of the Alexander in her life:

Feet! Feet! Feet! Almost every word that Pushkin writes is about feet! He wrote 5 sonnets about feet! Weird, am I right? 5 sonnets about feet! That's like 70 lines about feet! Unbelievable! Wait, wait, wait a second. Pushkin's full name is Alexander Pushkin...does that mean my little brother Alexander will write about feet when he grows up? Will he? No, like, literally. Will he write about feet? I'm serious. Will he?

Each sonnet is 14 lines long. 5 × 14 = 70. This little lady is six years old. The way her mind works is incredible (though I do wish she'd write more stuff and less fluff; so much of what she writes is simply "filler words").

Benjamin wrote the following (he must have heard me laughing over Miriam's foot intermission because he decided to use that same phrase, but honestly, I think all the kids were simply as intent on writing about feet as Pushkin was himself):

Chapter one

I am Onegin. I was born on the shores of Neva River. I really want my uncle to die because I do not want to get my dad's inheritance because he wasted all his money but my uncle did not. I was raised by a French couple and got so fancy that one party I realized that that life was boring and I got a hobby: sulking. 

Okay, intermission: Pushkin likes feet but only ladies' feet!

 Then my uncle dies and I get a fancy house and my neighbours yell at me.

Chapter two

I got a new friend today. His name is Lensky and a girl named Olga. They are going to get married. Meanwhile, I still hate the world.

Chapter three

I am so excited because a girl likes me. Her name is Tatyana and she is boring and that is why I like her.

Finally, here's Rachel's response, which she also chose to write in sonnet form. She's always impressed with how quickly Miriam is able to come up with rhymes, and it's true that Miriam can spin a poem quite quickly, but there's no shame in needing to work through things more slowly. 

The story starts with our Eugene—
Superfluous, flamboyant dandy.
Not 'till noon is ever seen
Then through the night he parties grandly.
At first he likes his fancy life
But soon his spleen is filled with strife.
Society he finds quite boring
And girls in general have him snoring.
Let's take a detour from the story
And discuss—what was it? Feet,
Which the author thinks are sweet
(Keep your shoes on, I implore thee)!
In a moment we'll be back
To see if Yevgeny has cracked.

Rachel also admired Miriam's brevity; she was able to condense all three chapters into a single sonnet, since Rachel focused her sonnet on the first chapter. To be fair, Pushkin spent something like 40 sonnets on the first chapter, so even condensing that into a single sonnet is a feat!

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