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This review is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

PUSHKIN PLAIN Alexander Pushkin, The Bronze Horseman and other poems, translated by D. M. Thomas (Penguin) £2.95

Until the advent of Charles Johnston's Onegin it had seemed that translations of Pushkin into English were doomed to be either accurate and unpoetic (Nabokov) or inaccurate and unpoetic (all those castigated by Nabokov). Johnston demonstrated that this need not be the case, and D. M. Thomas has provided supplementary proof of a slightly less compelling kind. Readers of poetry will know Thomas either for his five verse collections or for his much-praised version of Akhmatova, though Penguin have not unnaturally dubbed him 'Author of The White Hotel'. Very few of them will be able to read Russia's greatest poet in the original Russian and even fewer, surely, will have been stimulated to do so by pre-Johnston translations. In the wake of that marvellous Onegin what was obviously needed was a selection from Pushkin's other poetry, lyrical, narrative and dramatic. And Thomas was obviously the right man to tackle a formidably difficult job.

Pushkin was at his greatest, as Onegin makes abundantly clear, in an area that poets since Poe, with very few exceptions, have shown themselves reluctant or ill-equipped to explore: the long poem. In any selection, therefore, the long poems must occupy the bulk of the available space. Boris Godunov is too long and, some might say, too variable to be included entire. But no adequate selection could omit the immensely influential Bronze Horseman, the mesmeric Tale of Tsar Saltan, the complex and equivocal Mozart and Salieri and the brilliant tale of Count Nulin, one ...


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