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12 July 2012

A slipper hangs from tiny toes: Our Lord –
A little child – has seen His cross and spear,
Has sped to her whose heart will know a sword.
She holds Him close. Her gaze is dark and clear.
They hang in golden silence…. Twitterings
Of careless birds bring day. Dawn fades the dark.
The clockwork clicks. The hammer hangs, then rings.
The planet turns, and swings along its arc….
The morning sun glides silent up the sky.
The moments pass beneath its sightless ray.
Some few hang solid like an ambered fly;
The rest, like Polaroids, fade fast away….
The noonday sun hangs high. Three things are all:
The point, the palm, the hammer poised to fall.

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 14-19

455px-Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Round_Tower_plate_III_from_Invenzioni_Capric_di_Carceri_-_Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi

One chapter down; forty to go! Today’s post concludes Part 1, Chapter 1 of my attempt to rewrite Crime and Punishment as a verse novel à la Eugene Onegin.

Click here and scroll down to review the story to date.

Thanks to all who have read along so far. As always, your comments — including, but not limited to, negative comments — would be very welcome.

Is the story bogging down at any point? Is the action or setting ever confusing? Are there any trite rhymes? Any syntactic absurdities, prosodic infelicities, or lapses of characterization?

And is there anything that ‘works’ especially well?

1.1.14
He scans the space: a table (smallish),
A sofa (tall), and chairs (a few) —
All cheap and old, yet bright with polish,
Immaculate; the floor gleams, too.
(‘Lizavéta’s work’, he thinks; ‘that’s certain.’)
Here hangs a small icon… A curtain
Hangs there, in lieu of bedroom doors;
Beyond it stands a chest of drawers,
He knows — though he has yet to enter
The shadow of that shrouded cell….
… His hostess pipes up sternly: ‘Well?’
‘I’d like to pawn…’ he says; presents her
A pocket watch (worn silver-plate).
‘Good sir, your payment’s two days late:

1.1.15
‘Your other pledge is past redemption.’
‘I know, Alyóna, ma’am — my ring….
Please give me just a month’s extension.’
‘I’ll do as I please with that thing.’
‘Well…. How much for this watch? It’s silver.’
‘Not even worth the work to pilfer
A piece of trash like that, my friend.’
‘It was my father’s…. If you’ll lend
Four roubles, ma’am, I will redeem it.’
‘I see. Before, I was too nice —
I lent you more than that ring’s price.
As for this watch, now, take or leave it:
A rouble and a half.’ ‘You might —
One and a half, good sir.’ ‘…….. All right.’

1.1.16
She takes her keys out of her pocket;
She takes his watch behind the shroud.
He strains his ears; hears her unlock it —
The top drawer, scraping high and loud….
While he had been discreetly peering
At her (right pocket’s) steely keyring,
One key’d looked larger than the rest:
(‘Not for a drawer…. A trunk? A chest?
… But this is all so nauseating!’)
‘You owe me thirty-five, all told.’
(She’s back!) ‘Here’s one-fifteen; I’ll hold
The watch.’ He stands there, hesitating —
Then speaks: ‘In one more day… or two
… I might… have another pledge… for you…

1.1.17
‘… A cigarette case… silver… fancy!’
‘All right. We’ll talk about it then.
Good night.’ ‘Your sister! Any chance she
Might sort of… sometimes… wander in?’
‘What do you want with Lizaveta?’
‘Oh, nothing, ma’am.’ ‘You want to meet her?’
‘No no, madame, I just… Good-bye.’
He turns, and goes — and starts to cry:
‘Oh God! Can I –? Can I imagine?
How could –? Is my mind capable –?
My heart, so hateful? Horrible!
A month! A month, bent to this passion –!’
His self-disgust is oceans wide….
He sinks, and chokes — and steps outside.

1.1.18
The evening sun continues bleeding
Its dying light upon the host
Of Petersburg, while, all unheeding,
Our Rodya passes like a ghost
Among them, heart and mind encumbered:
He reels, colliding like a drunkard
Along the boulevard, until
His feet and thoughts at last are still:
Up from a dingy basement tavern,
Two tipsy, cursing men emerge;
Raskolnikov now has the urge
To go spelunk that urban cavern.
A sticky table; frosty beer;
A gulp. His thoughts begin to clear!

1.1.19
‘No need to worry any longer,’
He says — and smiles! — with rising cheer.
‘A simple side-effect of hunger;
Just takes a little bread and beer!’
Smiles all around! Lighthearted, hearty,
He beams at one departing party
(Four men; a girl; accordion),
Grins at a fat Siberian.
Above the pale cucumber salads,
Black bread, and kippers past their peak
— Which emanate an evil reek —
Drone mediocre drinking ballads.
An ex-official sits aloof —
Alone, but for his eighty-proof.

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 11, 12, & 13

630px-Piranesi03 - Sawhorse

The adaptation of Crime and Punishment into a verse novel à la Eugene Onegin continues.

Click here to catch up on the story.

1.1.11

If you’ll excuse the interruption,
Dear reader — Something in the way
Of a digression on the Russian
For ‘crime’: It’s ‘prestuplénie’,
Which (in more literal translation)
Means (to a close approximation)
Transgression, or ‘a step across’ —
Concision’s gain, nuance’s loss.
(I claim no special erudition;
I’m just repeating what I’ve read,
But this is what I think it said
In Norton’s Critical Edition.)
We here conclude our brief aside
And rejoin Rodya in mid-stride.

1.1.12

He’s in. His hostess glowers sharply —
Sharp little eyes, sharp little nose:
A tiny, desiccated harpy,
Of sixty years, one would suppose.
Her head is bare; her hair is sallow,
Just touched with grey, smeared thick with tallow.
Her neck is yellow, long, and thin —
Much like the leg of some old hen.
Upon her shoulders hangs a mangy
Old capelet cut from yellowed fur,
For even summer’s cold to her.
She coughs, regarding Rodya strangely.
(‘Does she suspect –? Of course, I must
Act all-correct… establish trust…

1.1.13

‘… show some respect — That’s always prudent!’),
He thinks, and makes a little bow.
‘Raskolnikov, madame — a student.
I came last month…. I’ve come back now.’
‘I know, good sir.’ She’s brusque and hurried.
(‘Was she this way before? I’m worried….
Her piercing eyes… her voice’s edge….’
)
‘I’m here about — about a pledge!’
She glares, then points — still coughing, groaning,
‘In there, good sir.’ And so he goes
Into a faded room that glows
With ruby hues before the gloaming…
Stained scarlet by a long, late ray….
(‘The sun will blaze like thisthat day!’)

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 9 and 10

1024px-Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi_-_Prison_-_Google_Art_Project

In honor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs, whose feast-day was 14 February, here are the latest stanzas in my ongoing project of adapting Crime and Punishment to the sonnet-stanza form of Eugene Onegin. It’s been thirteen-and-a-half months since the last update, but, plot-wise, things are, I daresay, on the verge of getting real.

Click here to read the previous stanzas.

I welcome your comments, whether effusive or abusive.

1.1.9

The stairs he climbs are dark and narrow.
‘Still dark… still safe…. That’s good… but think!
Just now, I’m frozen to the marrow!
How, then, will I feel… on the brink
Of –?
’ Rodya all but crashes into
A pair of porters — two old men who
Are lugging down the furniture
From someone’s flat… Fourth floor! He’s sure
It’s from the old crone’s only neighbor.
‘That German clerk is clearing out
… So no one else will be about
If I…. That’s good! Then why belabor
The point? It’s time. I’m doing well….’
He’s at the door. He rings the bell —

1.1.10

And flinches from its tinny tinkling:
Its feeble chime seems to recall
Some distant, half-remembered inkling.
‘That certain sound…? It’s nothing! All
These flats have bells like that! … I know this!
Why did I cringe? It goes to show this
Is still too soon; I’m still too weak
For now!’ The hinges groan and creak:
A little gap; a glimpse; the glitter
Of wary eyes that peek, then spy
The porters and the clerk nearby.
The hag seems reassured a bit: Her
Apartment door now opens wide —
And now, our Rodya steps inside.

‘Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend’, by Gerard Manley Hopkins

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ji-Elle (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 7 and 8

Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi_-_Carceri_d'Invenzione_-_WGA17843

For those who never knew or have forgotten, I’ve been rewriting Crime and Punishment as a verse novel in the style of Eugene Onegin.

Click here for the story up to now.

Here’s the latest ladle of psycho-stroganoff. As before, your candid appraisal would be most welcome. That includes criticism, constructive or otherwise.

1.1.7

Each fateful footfall draws him nearer:
His destination looms ahead,
Its details redrawn larger, clearer.
He counts each step with mounting dread
And racing heart as he retraces
The seven-hundred thirty paces
From his room to… that place’s door.
What seemed an ugly dream before
Now fills imagination’s page
With dialogue… direction… action.
Repulsion yields to the attraction
Of playing that scene on that stage.
Despite his nerves, he can’t reverse.
He mounts the stage; he must rehearse.

1.1.8

Between canal and Sadóvaya,
It rises — the familiar shock:
Higher and higher, layer on layer,
That building hulks above its block.
Within its warrens dwell assorted
Tradespeople; Germans; unsupported
Young ladies…. Now the fading day’s
Rush-hour foot-traffic runs two ways:
Both back and forth; its hot disorder
Swarms two courtyards. Through one yard’s gate,
Into a stairwell, swift and straight,
Unseen by any lurking porter
(Four porters work here… maybe three?),
Slips Rodya, thinking ‘Lucky me!’

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 5 and 5(b) 6

Piranesi, le Carceri d'Invenzione, Plate XIV

Two stanzas this time — but I think 1.5(b) is probably superfluous, hence the ‘(b)’.

1.1.5

A languid month he’d lain — and waited —
Withdrawn into his attic room,
Had let that thought gestate — debated:
‘Shall I uproot that seed of doom?…
Why bother? It’s a plaything! Foolish!…
Starvation’s made my thinking ghoulish
And added to my stomach-pains
The morbid games of addled brains…’
Yet as he viewed with deep derision
Those radical dark reveries
He’d once indulged, his fantasies…
His impotence and indecision —
He’d feel anew the desperate need
To do some — no… to do that deed.

1.5(b) 1.1.6

But even now, the town surrounds him
With spying windows, statues, eyes.
Some thing – within? without him? – hounds him.
How compromised is his disguise?
He’s overdone with endless stewing —
Excessive thought, deficient doing:
Is he the gloomy dithering Dane,
Or Cawdor’s gory-handed thane?
… On third thought — fourth? — far better fearful
And yet uncaught than overbold.
(Siberia is very cold.)
So: ‘Step by step. Stay calm. Look cheerful.’
Rodya, resolved, regains the street;
The cobbles flash beneath his feet!

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.

1.1.4

‘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.’

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanza 3

Chapter 1 continues. Constructive criticism of the writing would be helpful. Destructive criticism might be fun.

1.1.3

Past bridges, markets, intersections,
He lurches at an urgent pace
And marks of his dark introspections
Are marring his fine youthful face.
In Petersburg’s dank underbelly
(Packed thick with humans, humid, smelly)
He navigates a nasty maze
And shoots a darting, dark-eyed gaze
Right through a thousand fellow Russians —
Each wretched body bears some stamp:
Pickpocket, peasant, peddler, tramp —
Past migrant Finns and Poles and Prussians….
A drunk now points, and hurls a shout
At Rodya’s head: ‘Nice hat, you Kraut!’

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanza 2

More of Crime and Punishment à la Pushkin.

If you read, please feel free to critique.

1.1.2

Although his clothes are all a motley
Old crazy quilt of rag and patch,
Down here, nobody eyes him oddly:
In this poor neighborhood, they match.
He’s in arrears to his landlady.
(He dodged her on the stairs.) He’s prayed he
Won’t be forced by fate to meet
Some former classmate in the street.
‘Raskolnikov!’ the fool would holler,
‘At last! What happened? Don’t pretend
You haven’t time to talk, old friend.
Here, let me help a fellow scholar….’
The fancied friendship makes him sick.
He strides the sidewalk triple-quick.