The party at the Larin's home comes to an end, and Onegin, once again bored with the festive life, drives back home alone. As the household and guests sleep soundly, Tatyana worries over the night's events.
In the morning, Onegin receives a visit from Zaretsy, a former troublemaker and duel enthusiast, who delivers a note from Lensky challenging him to a duel. Onegin accepts but then upon reflection feels deeply guilty for ruining the happiness of his innocent young friend.
Fearing that Onegin would not take his challenge seriously, Lensky is satisfied with the answer he receives. Convinced that Olga had intentionally toyed with his emotions the night before, Lensky resolves to not see her before the duel; but eventually he gives in and, his mind tormented and confused, he rides to the Larin house.
Instead of the reproachful confrontation he expected, Lensky is overwhelmed by Olga's simple and honest look, a sign that she still loves him as before. Nevertheless, he does not change his plans for the duel, now deciding that he must protect Olga from Onegin. Still unsettled, Lensky leaves at night without telling Olga of his potentially deadly intentions for the next day.
At home Lensky takes out a volume of the German poet Friedrich Schiller to read by candlelight, but the shining image of Olga in his mind makes him turn instead to writing a poem. In his verses, Lensky mourns the passage of time, considers that he may die the next morning, and expresses his hope that Olga will visit his grave should that happen.
Lensky awakes from his desk the morning of the duel and goes to the appointed dueling ground, a mill, with Zaretsky as his second. On the other hand, Onegin rises late and makes a tardy appearance with only his servant as a second. As Zaretsky calls them to the line, Onegin and Lensky approach, raise their pistols, and then Lensky falls.
As Onegin rushes to the side of his dead friend in great despair, Pushkin mourns the tragedy of a young, passionate life cut short. Lensky is buried simply in a spot under two pines, where farmers sometimes stop to take a drink from the nearby stream.
Pushkin ends the chapter by singing of the loss of his own poetic youth as he reaches the age of thirty, and he hopes that some of his past ardor will stay with him to keep him invigorated.
After the party ends and the household goes to sleep, Tatyana, as she has done so many times before, sits by the window in anguish and confusion over her love. Though she feels jealousy for the attention Onegin showed Olga, Tatyana nevertheless is devoid of any vengeful feeling and seems more concerned with figuring out Onegin's "true intention" (VI.3).
With the arrival of Zaretsky, Pushkin launches into one of his miniature biographies. Even though he is not a central character, the description of his history as a troublemaker, skilled shot, and a trickster adds yet more color to the picture of the Russian life that the novel paints. Moreover, Zaretsky's love for dueling will not only prove fitting for his coming role as Lensky's second but also one of many factors preventing the stop of the duel.
When Zaretsky comes to Onegin the morning after the name-day party with Lensky's challenge, he cuts off Onegin to declare his purpose and then leaves immediately after Onegin writes his acceptance. At no point does Zaretsky suggest reconciliation between the two embittered friends or even speak a word of warning, because he himself is too fond of dueling and not a very compassionate sort.
During the duel itself, Pushkin explains Zaretsky's dueling interest in greater detail. He describes him as "in duels a purist doctrinaire," a man who pays scrupulous attention to the forms and rules but less on the fatal nature of dueling (VI.26). When Onegin halfheartedly tries to pass off his servant Guillot instead of a proper man as his second after arriving late, "Zaretsky bit his lip, well vexed" for this violation yet does not try to stop the fight (VI. 27). Even though it is sometimes the duty of seconds to attempt a settlement before the duel takes place, Zaretsky seems more interested in making the duel happen, such that he and Guillot "sealed the solemn compact fast" (VI.27).
Throughout the entire process, Zaretsky represents a kind of fatalistic, mechanical force devoid of any feeling, whose only interest is to see the two friends pull triggers at each other. "Zaretsky paces off their fate /At thirty steps with fine precision / Then leads each man to where he'll stand" (VI.28). As such, Zaretsky is a symbol for the very tradition of dueling that he adheres to, one which Pushkin disapproves of by having the reader imagine himself killing a friend over a petty matter. Without Zaretsky, or rather the tradition of dueling, the quarrel would not have ended fatally. While Onegin grieves by Lensky's side, Zaretsky's chillingly casual words, "Well then, he's dead," disturb the guilty man and will later haunt him during his depression (VI.35).
In the time after the party and before the duel itself, Lensky is in a state of confusion, his mind frequently clouded by a "mist." In a way it could be his fear of death, but more accurately it is a combination of all of the thoughts that weigh on him, including his feeling of betrayal by Onegin and Olga. Simple in spirit as he is, Lensky cannot resist going to see Olga before his duel, and simple as she is, Olga smiles for him; the two are thus reconciled, but Lensky still holds to his fatal plan, now reframing it as protecting Olga rather than avenging himself. Perhaps not wanting to be stopped, he does not tell Olga of the duel and conceals, albeit poorly, his mental instability from her.
Lensky's choice of writing poetry about Olga over reading Schiller on his final night provides an important contrast - creating vs receiving/imitating, Russia vs Europe - one which is illuminated by the comparison of the candle by which Lensky was going to read and the "bright image" of "incandescent Olga" which outshines it (VI.20).
In his poem, he deals with fate and memory: his fate he accepts ("fate's decree is just"), even though it may rob him of his promising poetic youth, and he hopes that his memory may be kept alive by Olga (VI.21). Also, when Lensky is shot Pushkin remarks that, "the hour fated /has struck at last" (VI.30). Unfortunately, as the reader discovers in the next chapter, Olga will abandon Lensky's memory. However, Pushkin, as he tells us, still holds on to these poems of Lensky's and of course, through sharing them and Lensky's overall story with us, preserves Lensky's memory. On several occasions, Pushkin himself displays his worry for this most characteristically poetic of questions: will I be remembered?
It is interesting to note that, "Upon the modish word 'ideal' /Vladimir gentled dozed for real" (VI.24). Along with the mention of "romanticism" in the same stanza, Pushkin seems to suggest a departure from this youthful poetic spirit, which so loves to elevate things as ideals. Lensky is roused from his sweet dreams by the businesslike Zaretsky and then taken in a sense to his execution, just as Pushkin bids farewell to his own youth at the end of the chapter, and Lensky begins his poem saying goodbye to his own youth. Pushkin also writes that, "the years to solemn prose incline me; /The years chase playful rhyme behind me," indicating as he has at other points his transition from poetry to prose (VI.43).
Onegin despairs immediately after shooting Lensky, running to his side only to find his friend dead. His response to Zaretsky's cold and distasteful comment further indicates his emotional turmoil. However, this situation raises the question of Onegin's psychological state before and during the duel itself. The three descriptions Pushkin gives in fact involve both each time, showing them moving as mechanically as Zaretsky "as in a dreadful senseless dream" (VI.28). Hence the epigraph: "There, where the days are cloudy and short /Is born a race that has no fear of death." This lack of fear of death is, however, a deceptive and destructive social practice; once each commits himself to the duel, neither Onegin nor Lensky shows any inclination to avoid the senseless slaughter, whether for his own or his friend's safety.