The Pushkin Sonnet, also known as the Onegin stanza, is a verse form created by Russian poet and novelist Alexander Pushkin for his novel in verse, Eugine Onegin. It is a more unusual sonnet than the English or Italian, and rarely used.
It again has 14 lines, but they have a peculiar rhyme scheme of aBaBccDDeFFeGG. The lower case letters denote lines with feminine endings in Russian, which is hard to replicate in English. It is not, however, impossible. We learned earlier how Shakespeare might make a pentameter feminine by adding an extra unstressed syllable to the end. Here, we’ll just ensure a masculine line ends with a stressed syllable and a feminine with an unstressed.
The only poet/novelist to use the Onegin stanza in English that I could find is Vikram Seth. He doesn’t actually stick to tetrameter, either, though he does keep to the masculine/feminine scheme.
It’s Friday night, the unfettered city
Resounds with hedonistic glee.
John feels a cold cast of self pity
Envelop him. No family
Cushions his solitude, or rather
His mother’s dead, his English father
Retired in his native Kent,
Rarely responds to letters sent
(If rarely) by his transatlantic
Offspring. In letters to The Times
He rails against the nameless crimes
Of the post office. Waxing frantic
About delays from coast to coast
He hones his wit and damns the post.
It should be noted that this, like any example from, Eugine Onegin, is part of a larger narrative and is not a single poem. However, since it ends with a couplet, I see no reason why it can’t potentially stand alone.
Let’s give it a go!
To whom I speak, I will speak softly
When I tell of the only breeze
That splits the boughs and passes roughly
Through woods of hearts, not woods of trees.
Betrayal’s den, it gives no quarter,
Nor to thickets of Sorrow’s daughter.
For jealous thoughts, it does not stop,
And down solitude’s timber chops.
When pain has grown its fearful bracken
Around your soul, across your heart;
Before its constriction can start,
Because of this, you’ll feel it slacken
And now that we draw to the end
The wind I speak of is your friend.
Laurence Thompson, 16th December 2011
Oh shite, what a sentimental poem. I think I can be forgiven for this, because the Onegin stanza is almost fucking impossible to write! I’ve stuck reasonably tightly to iambic tetrameter, throwing in an extra end syllable for feminine endings, but Christ, that ridiculous rhyme scheme on top was bloody hard. No wonder Seth varied up the metre. I have new-found respect for the man as possibly the most skilled English-language novelist going if the whole of The Golden Gate is like that!
As usual, the final version of the poem will be found in the anthology, to be posted at a later date. I think the sentimentality is actually enhanced by the tetrameter (more thoughts on this vs pentameter can be found here), and reduced slightly by the rhyme scheme.