Translators of Eugene Onegin have all had to adopt a trade-off between precision and preservation of poetic imperatives. This particular challenge and the importance of Eugene Onegin in Russian literature have resulted in an impressive number of competing translations.
Arndt and Nabokov
Walter W. Arndt's 1963 translation (ISBN 0-87501-106-3) was written keeping to the strict rhyme scheme of the Onegin stanza and won the Bollingen Prize for translation. It is still considered one of the best translations.
Vladimir Nabokov severely criticised Arndt's translation, as he had criticised many previous (and later) translations. Nabokov's main criticism of Arndt's and other translations is that they sacrificed literalness and exactness for the sake of preserving the melody and rhyme.
Accordingly, in 1964 he published in four volumes his own translation, which conformed scrupulously to the sense while completely eschewing melody and rhyme. The first volume contains an introduction by Nabokov and the text of the translation. The Introduction discusses the structure of the novel, the Onegin stanza in which it is written and Pushkin's opinion of Onegin (using Pushkin's letters to his friends); and gives a detailed account of both the time over which Pushkin wrote Onegin and the various forms any part of it appeared in publication before Pushkin's death (after which there is a huge proliferation of the number of different editions). The second and third volume consists of very detailed and rigorous notes to the text. The fourth volume contains a facsimile of the 1837 edition. The discussion of the Onegin stanza contains the poem On Translating "Eugene Onegin", which first appeared in print in The New Yorker on January 8, 1955, and is written in two Onegin stanzas. The poem is reproduced there both so that the reader of his translation would have some experience of this unique form, and also to act as a further defence of his decision to write his translation in prose.
Nabokov's previously close friend Edmund Wilson reviewed Nabokov's translation in the New York Review of Books, which sparked an exchange of letters there and an enduring falling-out between them.
John Bayley has described Nabokov's commentary as '"by far the most erudite as well as the most fascinating commentary in English on Pushkin's poem" and the commentary as being "as scrupulously accurate, in terms of grammar, sense and phrasing, as it is idiosyncratic and Nabokovian in its vocabulary". Some consider this "Nabokovian vocabulary" a failing, for it might require even educated speakers of English to reach for the dictionary on occasion – but most agree that the translation is extremely accurate.
Other English translations
Babette Deutsch published a translation in 1935 preserving the Onegin stanzas.
The Pushkin Press published a translation in 1937 (reprinted 1943) by the Oxford scholar Oliver Elton, with illustrations by M. V. Dobujinsky.
In 1977, Charles Johnston published another translation trying to preserve the Onegin stanza, which is generally considered to surpass Arndt's. Johnston's translation is influenced by Nabokov. Vikram Seth's novel The Golden Gate was inspired by this translation.
James E. Falen (the professor of Russian at the University of Tennessee) published a translation in 1995 which was also influenced by Nabokov's translation, but preserved the Onegin stanzas (ISBN 0809316307). This translation is considered to be the most faithful one to Pushkin's spirit according to Russian critics and translators.
Douglas Hofstadter published a translation in 1999, again preserving the Onegin stanzas, after having summarised the controversy (and severely criticised Nabokov's attitude towards verse translation) in his book Le Ton beau de Marot. Hofstadter's translation has a unique lexicon of both high and low register words, as well as unexpected and almost reaching rhymes that give the work a comedic flair.
Tom Beck published a translation in 2004, preserving the Onegin stanzas. (ISBN 1-903517-28-1)
In April 2008, Henry M. Hoyt published, through Dog Ear Publishing, a translation which preserves the meter of the Onegin stanza, but is unrhymed, his stated intention being to avoid the verbal changes forced by the invention of new rhymes in the target language while preserving the rhythm of the source. (ISBN 978-159858-340-3)
In September 2008, Stanley Mitchell, emeritus professor of aesthetics at the University of Derby, published, through Penguin Books, a complete translation, again preserving the Onegin stanzas in English. (ISBN 978-0-140-44810-8)
There are a number of lesser known English translations.
Into other languages
There are at least eight published French translations of Eugene Onegin. The most recent appeared in 2005: the translator, André Markovicz, respects Pushkin's original stanzas. Other translations include those of Paul Béesau (1868), Gaston Pérot (1902, in verse), Nata Minor (received the Prix Nelly Sachs, given to the best translation into French of poetry), Roger Legras, Maurice Colin, Michel Bayat and Jean-Louis Backès (does not preserve the stanzas). As a twenty-year-old, former French president Jacques Chirac also wrote a translation which was never published.
There are at least a dozen published translations of Onegin in German.
- Carl Friedrich von der Borg, Eugenius Onegin, first part published in "Der Refraktor. Ein Centralblatt Deutschen Lebens in Russland." Dorpat, 1836 in five series, starting with the 14th issue on 1 August 1836, ending with the 18th issue on 29 August 1836
- R. Lippert, Verlag von Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1840
- Friedrich von Bodenstedt, Verlag der Deckerschen Geheimen Ober-Hofbuchdruckerei, Berlin 1854
- Adolf Seubert, Reclam, Leipzig 1872/73
- Dr. Blumenthal, Moscow 1878
- Dr. Alexis Lupus, nur das 1. Kapitel, Leipzig and St. Petersburg 1899
- Theodor Commichau, Verlag G. Müller, Munich and Leipzig 1916
- Theodor Commichau and Arthur Luther, 1923
- Theodor Commichau, Arthur Luther and Maximilian Schick, SWA-Verlag, Leipzig and Berlin 1947
- Elfriede Eckardt-Skalberg, Verlag Bühler, Baden-Baden 1947
- Johannes von Guenther, Reclam, Leipzig 1949
- Theodor Commichau and Konrad Schmidt, Weimar 1958
- Theodor Commichau and Martin Remané, Reclam, Leipzig 1965
- Manfred von der Ropp and Felix Zielinski, Winkler, Munich 1972
- Kay Borowsky, Reclam, Stuttgart 1972 (translation of prose)
- Rolf-Dietrich Keil, Wilhelm Schmitz Verlag, Gießen 1980
- Ulrich Busch, Manesse, Zurich 1981
- Sabine Baumann, unter Mitarbeit von Christiane Körner, Stroemfeld, Frankfort on the Main 2009
There are several Italian translation of Onegin. One of the earliest was published by G. Cassone in 1906. Ettore Lo Gatto translated the novel twice, in 1922 in prose and in 1950 in hendecasyllables. More recent translations are those by Giovanni Giudici (a first version in 1975, a second one in 1990, in lines of unequal length) and by Pia Pera (1996).
- Avraham Shlonsky, 1937
- Avraham Levinson, 1937
- Trans. Nikolao Nekrasov, published by Sennacieca Asocio Tutmonda, 1931
- Eugene Onegin – Novel in Verse. Direct Spanish version Russian original poetic form, notes and illustrations by Alberto Musso Nicholas. Mendoza, Argentina, Zeta Publishers, April 2005