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


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?

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:

‘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.’

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…

‘… 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.

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!

‘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.


  1. Jonathan Webb says

    I might redo the last two lines, but what the f do I know.

    Anyway, it’s great work.

    • Webb: “One-hundred-and-one” doesn’t fit the meter, though.

      Angelico: The musculature is impressive as ever. How much do you think your muse can press?


      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        Heh, thanks — and a good question, too! For this project, I think the muse has been training less for power than for endurance. We’ll see how she holds up.

  2. Angelico, I think one chapter should be enough to submit to the literary journals. It’s time to add lawyer-poet to banker-poet and insurance agent-poet and businessman-poet. You rhymed “party” and “hearty.” That is all.

  3. That was pleasing to read. I can’t offer criticism more than that.

  4. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Thank you, kind sirs.

    It all needs improvement, for sure; bits here and there still strike me as slow, stilted, or not vivid enough. But I would say this draft of Part 1, Chapter 1 is a decent proof of concept.

    On to Chapter 2, in which I shall attempt a pithy Pushkinesque abridgement of Marmeladov’s rambling, all-too-Dostoevskian monologue.

  5. I like 1.1.17, and feel sorry for Raskolnikov.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Excellent! One of my goals with this project is to introduce a dash of ‘defamiliarization’ (or, if you like, ‘Verfremdungseffekt‘) to Dostoevsky, yet to do so without completely losing the power and the ‘heart’ of his story and characters. It is important that the reader maintain some empathy for Raskolnikov and company, some investment in their fates, even when reading the tale filtered through the artifice of rigid stanzaic form, authorial asides, and a sometimes bemused, ‘above-it-all’ narrator’s voice that seeks to highlight the (intentional and unintentional) funniness of Dostoevsky’s text wherever possible.

      So, thanks!

      If JOB discerns the ‘musculature’ of the poetry, if Paul finds it fun to read, and if Rachel empathizes with Raskolnikov, then I feel pretty confident in continuing.

      In other words, if this ends up being a big fat boondoggle, I’m not the only one who’s going to have to answer for it.

      • Matthew Lickona says

        Take care, the companions you keep
        While you write, they’re all fast asleep
        Try this memory toggle:
        When your work’s a boondoggle
        They’ll all be scattered like sheep

Speak Your Mind