Pushkin in English

In response to:

Translating Pushkin from the October 28, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

F. D. Reeve’s recent attempt to pin the tail on Nabokov is perhaps the most disappointing of all. Highly respected critics should stop trying to beat Mr. Nabokov at his own game: they are destined to fail, if only because Mr. Nabokov writes his own rules and scrupulously observes them. Furthermore, they are in danger of appearing to grind personal axes.

I agree that “Mr. Nabokov has been indecently unkind to Mr. Arndt.” This, however, hardly justifies supporting Mr. Wilson’s embarrassing and extensive attack upon Mr. Nabokov’s translation of pochuya. F. D. Reeve’s insinuation that Nabokov’s haggling interrupts the reading of a major literary work is in the present instance unfortunate since 1) It was Mr. Wilson who brought the pochuya matter up and who proceeded to insist so elaborately upon the very point Professor Reeve tells us was not the point: “The point is not what form it is but what it means.” (Obviously, the two are not mutually exclusive considerations, and just as obviously, Mr. Nabokov was faithful to the meaning: “Upon sensing.”) 2) Mr. Wilson subsequently confessed to most of his inaccuracies, slowly but subtly. 3) It was Mr. Nabokov who took the trouble to translate the work, whatever we may think of his translation. 4) Professor Reeve informs us that “the strength of Mr. Wilson’s review was that it directed our attention to Pushkin’s ‘novel in verse’.”

I too was disappointed in the Nabokov translation of Eugene Onegin, not because I find Mr. Nabokov’s English “alas, not good enough,” but because I had hoped for something closer to “Pushkin in English” from a man who is unquestionably and enviably a master of both English and Russian.

Woodin Rowe

New York City