Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanza 4

Your advice on whether/how to improve this stanza is more than welcome. I suspect it’s one of the weakest.


‘My hat!’ At once, Rodion clutches
His topper (old, of German make). The toque that totters atop his hair.*
The drunk’s passed, but his jibe still touches
A nerve: ‘An amateur’s mistake! A nerve. It sparks an awful scare:
This brimless, tall, lopsided chimney-
pipe’s a clue! — It could condemn me!
Some sot would spot it, miles away,
Would notice as I passed… that day
Would notice… Talk… Give testimony — !
It’s always small things men forget
That bring their ruin and regret…
Just so…. This hat could have undone me!
… I’ll wear some cap, some… “average” hat
The day that I go through with… that.’


  1. These are delightful, Angelico.

    Where are you finding your illustrations? They look like renderings for theater sets. I could stare at them for hours.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Mrs Darwin,

      Your delight delights me. Thank you very much for the response. Though I am dead serious about wanting criticism for these experiments, positive feedback means a lot, too — especially from a reader as well-read as you.

      These illustrations are, as you may have guessed, not by Fra Angelico. They are etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, an 18th-century engraver who studied architecture and engineering (and who did, incidentally, train to design stage sets):

      Here’s a fine ‘thematic essay’ on Piranesi.

      Piranesi did some excellent etchings of Rome — see here and here. But all the illustrations for the Raskolnikov posts have come from Piranesi’s sixteen-plate series le Carceri d’Invenzione (‘Imaginary Prisons’), available here.

      • Ah, yes, I see it now. Stage design in the 18th century drew heavily on forced perspective, and I believe (though I’m not going to take the five steps over to the bookcase to verify) that Piranesi was mentioned, with illustration, in my college Stage Design tome.

        The big question is: why has Piranesi not become a steampunk icon?

        I have no negative criticism to offer, since my informed opinions on poetry could fit on the head of the angelic pin. However, it’s been years since I read Crime and Punishment, and these poems are not only a reminder of the plot, but delve into the mood of the story as well. I love the jerky rhythm of this stanza — it’s very evocative of Raskolnikov’s precarious mental state.

        • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

          ‘I love the jerky rhythm of this stanza — it’s very evocative of Raskolnikov’s precarious mental state.’

          Thanks, Mrs Darwin! Wish we could get someone to translate it into Russian, preserving the meter and rhyme scheme. Mr Finnegan, some help?

          And you’re right about Piranesi’s cyclopean sublimity: A towering, steam-powered robot would look right at home in one of these etchings, especially if it were a little damaged.

  2. Angelico –

    Good stuff – I’m amazed at the economy. Recession, what recession?

    P’raps: “talk now – testimony – say!”


    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says


      Thanks much for the suggestion! I can’t see where to fit it, though, so that it matches the sense, meter, and rhyme scheme. What line would it amend? Anyhow, specific advice like this is one of the big things my frienemy the author and I were hoping for — so, extra thanks.

      I also appreciate your judgment on the economy of expression here. Compare the current version of the above stanza with the prodigal and self-indulgent early draft below, which out-rambles Dostoevsky:

      ‘My hat!’ At once, his heart’s blood freezes.
      The drunkard drifts on unaware,
      But Rodya stands stock-still and seizes
      The leaning tower on his hair:
      ‘This massive, moldering, moldy, musty,
      Rusty, cracked, dust-caked, old, crusty,
      Brimless, battered, tattered, torn,
      Absurd, bent, dented, weathered, worn,
      Appalling, tall, lopsided chimney:
      They’d spot it from a mile away,
      Recall that I passed by that day;
      They’d testify, they would condemn me…
      Yes… I must wear an “average” hat
      The day I go take care of — that.’

  3. Matthew Lickona says

    Though I am dead serious about wanting criticism for these experiments…

    Nobody’s a critic.

    That’s the advantage of working in materials (or meters?) that are utterly alien. The critical gag reflex is numbed, and people are free to simply delight in things. You may have to look elsewhere for the really nasty editing you seek.

  4. Jonathan Potter says

    I like the focus on the hat and all that this one does with it. The choppiness makes for some good relief from the meter, too. So, no, I don’t think it’s a weak stanza at all. It fits well and makes me want to keep reading.

    The only word I balk at (only just a little, though) is “atop my hair” — I think I’d go with head or some other synonym for head — or even brain or seething thoughts or some such — rather than hair. I’m not sure I can explain exactly why. Hair is too nebulous somehow, and at the same time too specific.

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