The poem begins with a description of the Moscow ball. The guests came together, the elderly ladies in magnificent dresses sit near the walls and look at the crowd with “dull attention”. Grandees in ribbons and stars sit behind cards and sometimes come to look at the dancers. Young beauties are whirling, “The Hussar twists his mustache, / The writer stiffens primly.” Suddenly everyone was embarrassed; questions fell down. Princess Nina suddenly left the ball. “In the quadrille cheerfully turning, / Suddenly it died down!” “What’s the cause? / Ah, my God! Tell me, prince, / Tell me, what about Princess Nina, / Your wife?” – “God knows,” the prince, engaged in his Boston, answers with conjugal indifference. The poet answers instead of the prince. The answer is the poem.
About the black-eyed beauty Princess Nina much is cursed, and not without reason: her house was recently filled with both memorable red tape and pretty young men, seductive links replaced one another; to true love Nina, it seems, is not capable: “In her, the fever of a drunken Bacchante, / Hot fever is not the heat of love.” In her lovers she sees not themselves, but the “wayward face” created in her dreams; the charm passes, and she leaves them cold and without regret.
But recently, Nina’s life has changed: “the messenger of fate appeared to her.”
Arseny recently returned from foreign lands. It does not have the pampered beauty of ordinary visitors to Nina’s house; on his face there are traces of a hard experience, in his eyes “carelessness gloomy,” not a smile on his lips, but a grin. In conversations Arseny discovers knowledge of people, his jokes are crafty and sharp, he chooses to judge art; he is reserved and outwardly cold, but it is clear that he is capable of experiencing strong feelings.
Experienced enough, Arseny does not immediately succumb to Nina’s charm, although she uses all the means known to her to attract him; Finally, the “all-powerful moment” brings them closer together. Nina “is full of the bliss of life new”; But in two or three days Arseny is again the same as before: severe, dull and diffused. All Nina’s attempts to entertain him are useless.
Finally she demands an explanation: “Tell me, what is your contempt?” Nina is afraid that Arseny repels the thought
of her turbulent past; memories are heavy for herself. She asks Arseny to flee with her – at least to Italy, which he loves so much – and there, in obscurity and tranquility, spend the rest of his life. Arseny is silent, and Nina can not help noticing the “stubborn coldness” of his soul; desperate Nina cries and calls her unhappy love an execution from above for her sins. Here, with assurances of love, Arseny calm Nina for a while.
The next evening lovers peacefully sit in Nina’s house; Nina is dozing, Arseny, in thoughtfulness, draws something carelessly on a business card and suddenly inadvertently exclaims: “How similar!” Nina is sure that Arseny drew her portrait; looks – and sees a woman who does not look like her at all: “a cute girl / With a sweet stupidity in her eyes, / In curly hair, like a lapdog, / With a sleepy smile on her lips!” First, Nina proudly declares that she does not believe that such a person could be a rival to her; but jealousy torments her: his face is deadly pale and covered with a cold sweat, she breathes slightly, her lips turn blue, and for a “long moment” she almost loses her speech. Finally Nina begs Arseny to tell her everything, admits that jealousy is killing her, and says, among other things, that she has a ring with poison – a mascot of the East.
Arseny takes Nina by the hand and says that he had a bride Olga, blue-eyed and curly; he grew up with her together. After the engagement, Arseny introduced his friend to Olga’s house and soon became jealous of him; to reproach Arseny Olga responds with “childish laughter”; furious Arseny leaves her, starts a quarrel with her rival, they shoot, Arseny is seriously wounded. After recovering, Arseny leaves abroad. For the first time to be comforted, he said, he could only with Nina.
To confession Arseny Nina does not answer anything; you can only see that she is exhausted.
A few more weeks passed in the quarrels and “unhappy” reconciliation. One day – Arseny had not been with Nina for several days – Nina brought a letter, in it Arseny said goodbye to her: he met Olga and realized that his jealousy was “wrong and funny.”
Nina does not leave and does not accept anyone, refuses food and “motionless, dumb, / Sits and from the place of one / Does not take her own.” Suddenly her husband comes to her: embarrassed by the strange behavior of Nina, he reproaches her for “fads” and calls to the ball, where, among other things, there should be young – Arseniy and Olga. “Strangely animating,” Nina agrees, takes on the long-forgotten outfits and, seeing how she has grown fat, decides for the first time to be bristled, not to let the young rival triumph over her. However, she did not have the strength to withstand the ball: she became ill and she leaves home.
Deep night. In the bedroom of Nina the lamp before the icon burns weakly. “A deep, dead dream is all around!” The princess sits “immovable,” in a ball gown. An old nurse Nina appears, fixes the lamp, “and the light is unexpected and alive / Suddenly it illuminates all the rest.” Praying, the nurse is about to leave, suddenly notices Nina and begins to regret and reproach her: “And what about the fate of your evil?” You have forgotten God… “Kissing farewell to Nina’s hand, the nurse feels that she is” icy cold ” face, sees: “On her hasty death move: / Eyes stand, and in the foam mouth…” Nina fulfilled this promise to Arseny and was poisoned.
The poem ends with a satirical description of a lavish funeral: one carriage after another comes to the prince’s house; the important silence of the crowd is replaced by a noisy conversation, and the widower himself is soon occupied with a “hot theological prene” with some kind of hypocrite. Nina is buried peacefully, like a Christian: she did not recognize the suicide. The poet, who had dined with her on Thursdays, deprived of dinner, honored her memory with rhymes; they were printed in the Ladies’ Journal.