Onegin settles into his uncle's old-fashioned manor house with great boredom. He raises the indignation and disdain of his neighbors by instituting some clever agricultural reforms and preparing a horse to escape when they call on him. Into this picture enters the young, fiery poet Vladimir Lensky just back from Gottingen, Germany. A fierce devotee of the German Romanticists Goethe and Schiller, the 18-year old is the very archetype of immature passion directed especially towards love with the very kind of idealism and optimism Onegin lacks.
Like Onegin, Lensky finds his rural neighbors dull and uninteresting; uninterested in marriage, he spurns their evident plans to pair a daughter with him. Although Onegin, the jaded rake, and Lensky, the worshipper of the Muse, are diametrically opposed in their worldviews, their shared ennui and disdain of most of their fellow beings unite them in the bonds of a tight friendship. The two converse often on all imaginable intellectual topics from history to science to literature, but no topic is more evocative to the two than love. Recalling memories of amours past and future, Lensky sighs in excitement, while Onegin sighs in regret. Indeed, Onegin views Lensky as a naïve young friend who, however inexperienced in the actual ways of the world, is a pleasure to listen to stir remembrances of his, Onegin's own similar past. Pushkin devotes quite a few stanzas to the exposition of the poetic force that is Lensky; Lensky is forthright with his feelings, extreme in his emotions, and uniquely passionate in his love.
In his childhood, Lensky had fallen in love with Olga Larin, who thereby kindled his poetic flame; their two fathers destine their children for marriage. Pushkin, however, considers Olga a rather conventional girl and instead turns his attention to introducing her older sister Tatyana. Tatyana, an introverted and thoughtful girl, is entirely unlike her girlish and outgoing sister. Instead of playing with friends and dolls, Tatyana immerses herself in the beauty of nature and the romances of French novels. Similarly, Tatyana's mother had once fallen in love with a character from such a novel, though she only heard of it and never read it herself. Married off unwillingly to Tatyana's now father and whisked off to his country estate, she acts hysterical for a time but then settles into country life so well that she dominates the household.
When father Larin dies, Lensky goes to his burial place and composes verses in remembrance of him. Doing so, Lensky is painfully reminded of his own parents' deaths, and then Pushkin himself is reminded of the transience of life and the succession of generations. He ends the chapter by professing his hope that his work will preserve his name past his own departure from the world.
In the opening epigraph of the chapter, Pushkin quotes a line from the Roman poet Horace (Satires, II.6), "O rus!" referring to rus, the countryside where the chapter takes place, and appends his, Pushkin's, pun: "O Rus'" using an old name for Russia.
Yawning with boredom in his new provincial residence, Onegin finds no interest in the bucolic natural surroundings (as described in the previous chapter) or his simple-minded neighbors. An intelligent, urban, and modern man, Onegin holds no attachment to the land and its native traditions, such as holiday feasts the Larins hold, which sustain the rural population. He shows his forward, characteristically European thinking by reforming the required labor of his peasants, a progressive action which quickly earns his neighbors' distrust. Moreover, he shows a barely disguised dislike of them with his horse prepared for escape from social calls.
In this sentiment, he finds a comrade in the newly arrived Vladimir Lensky, who dislikes the neighbors for a different reason. Pushkin goes to great lengths to expound upon Lensky's poetic fervor, youthful ignorance, and characteristically German influences, all of which sets him in stark opposition to the decidedly non-poet Onegin. However, Lensky, "filled with Kantian truth," is no less repulsed and bored by the neighbors of the "barren dim dominion" of the countryside, and by these common enemies of sorts and special quality of mind the two share, Onegin and Lensky become fast friends (II.6, 11). Listening to Lensky's encomiums of love "with friendly condescension" and yet as much interest as "a soldier, old and lame/…Will strain to hear with bated breath/ The youngbloods' yarns of courting death," Onegin rather forebodingly reflects on what an unfairness it would be to destroy such young idealism (II.16, 18).
Pushkin describes the friendship as a union of opposites: "And so they met--like wave with mountain,/ Like verse with prose, like flame with fountain:/ Their natures distant and apart" (II.13). The energetic and youthful "wave," "verse," and "flame" refer, of course, to Lensky, while the weighty and mature "mountain," "prose," and "fountain" are attached to Onegin. Of these epithet dialectics, the most important is that of "verse" to "prose," for that is the whole structure of Eugene Onegin, Pushkin's innovation of a "novel in verse."
In introducing Lensky, Pushkin presents the two Larin sisters, Olga and Tatyana, whose dissimilarity reflects the Lensky-Onegin apposition. Like Lensky, who has loved her since the two were children, Olga is sprightly, beautiful, and youthful. However, after praising her as Lensky's original muse, Pushkin gives an important qualification on the girl's worth: "…But glance/ in any novel--you'll discover/ Her portrait there; it's charming, true;/ I liked it once no less than you,/ But round it boredom seems to hover" (II.23). Herein are contained two important points: one, Pushkin continues his theme of the meta-novel, a fiction that is aware that it is a fiction and thereby directly addresses its readers; and two, he blurs the line between reality and fiction by describing Olga as a stereotypical character haunted by the frightening specter of "boredom."
Pushkin then "plead[s] her elder sister's cause": Tatyana is immediately set apart from the conventional novelistic cast, in whose number is Olga, by her name, which Pushkin finds pleasing for its "intonation" and "association/ with olden days beyond recall," especially the native Russian peasant stock (II.23, 24).
While on the topic of choosing names, Pushkin makes one of his usual tangential but eminently important remarks: "Enlightenment has failed to mend us,/ And all we've learned from its great store/ Is affectation--nothing more" (II.24). The enlightenment in question is without a doubt the European Enlightenment, a culture which had dramatically entered into the previous isolated Russian culture around the eighteenth century. By Pushkin's time, the aristocratic classes were so thoroughly Europeanized that they were more fluent in French than in Russian, as is famously depicted in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace. Pushkin, Tolstoy, and many other Russian thinkers and writers lived in turbulent times as Russia tried to determine its national direction, whether towards European modernization or reestablishment of Russian tradition.
Back to Tatyana. In introducing her, Pushkin presents three salient features: Tatyana's introversion/thoughtfulness (she does not play with dolls), her love of nature, and her love of novels ("From early youth she read romances,/ And novels set her heart aglow.") (II.29). All three will determine her later actions in the novel.
With his characteristic mastery of narration, Pushkin moves seamlessly from one topic to another, whether describing an action, introducing a character, or reflecting on some political, philosophical, or artistic idea. He brings the chapter to a close by transitioning from Tatyana's genuine love of novels, to her mother's shallow appreciation of novels, to her mother's marriage into rural life, to her father's death, to Lensky's poetic reflection, and then finally to Pushkin's own poetic reflection, with which he closes many chapters in the novel.