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The reason why I did not finish my last letter, Makar
Alexievitch, was that I found it so difficult to write. There are
moments when I am glad to be alone--to grieve and repine without
any one to share my sorrow: and those moments are beginning to
come upon me with ever-increasing frequency. Always in my
reminiscences I find something which is inexplicable, yet
strongly attractive-so much so that for hours together I remain
insensible to my surroundings, oblivious of reality. Indeed, in
my present life there is not a single impression that I
encounter--pleasant or the reverse-- which does not recall to my
mind something of a similar nature in the past. More particularly
is this the case with regard to my childhood, my golden
childhood. Yet such moments always leave me depressed. They
render me weak, and exhaust my powers of fancy; with the result
that my health, already not good, grows steadily worse.
However, this morning it is a fine, fresh, cloudless day, such as
we seldom get in autumn. The air has revived me and I greet it
with joy. Yet to think that already the fall of the year has
come! How I used to love the country in autumn! Then but a child,
I was yet a sensitive being who loved autumn evenings better than
autumn mornings. I remember how beside our house, at the foot of
a hill, there lay a large pond, and how the pond--I can see it
even now!--shone with a broad, level surface that was as clear as
crystal. On still evenings this pond would be at rest, and not a
rustle would disturb the trees which grew on its banks and
overhung the motionless expanse of water. How fresh it used to
seem, yet how cold! The dew would be falling upon the turf,
lights would be beginning to shine forth from the huts on the
pond's margin, and the cattle would be wending their way home.
Then quietly I would slip out of the house to look at my beloved
pond, and forget myself in contemplation. Here and there a
fisherman's bundle of brushwood would be burning at the water's
edge, and sending its light far and wide over the surface. Above,
the sky would be of a cold blue colour, save for a fringe of
flame-coloured streaks on the horizon that kept turning ever
paler and paler; and when the moon had come out there would be
wafted through the limpid air the sounds of a frightened bird
fluttering, of a bulrush rubbing against its fellows in the
gentle breeze, and of a fish rising with a splash. Over the dark
water there would gather a thin, transparent mist; and though, in
the distance, night would be looming, and seemingly enveloping
the entire horizon, everything closer at hand would be standing
out as though shaped with a chisel--banks, boats, little islands,
and all. Beside the margin a derelict barrel would be turning
over and over in the water; a switch of laburnum, with yellowing
leaves, would go meandering through the reeds; and a belated gull
would flutter up, dive again into the cold depths, rise once
more, and disappear into the mist. How I would watch and listen
to these things! How strangely good they all would seem! But I
was a mere infant in those days--a mere child.
Yes, truly I loved autumn-tide--the late autumn when the crops
are garnered, and field work is ended, and the evening gatherings
in the huts have begun, and everyone is awaiting winter. Then
does everything become more mysterious, the sky frowns with
clouds, yellow leaves strew the paths at the edge of the naked
forest, and the forest itself turns black and blue--more
especially at eventide when damp fog is spreading and the trees
glimmer in the depths like giants, like formless, weird phantoms.
Perhaps one may be out late, and had got separated from one's
companions. Oh horrors! Suddenly one starts and trembles as one
seems to see a strange-looking being peering from out of the
darkness of a hollow tree, while all the while the wind is
moaning and rattling and howling through the forest--moaning with
a hungry sound as it strips the leaves from the bare boughs, and
whirls them into the air. High over the tree-tops, in a
widespread, trailing, noisy crew, there fly, with resounding
cries, flocks of birds which seem to darken and overlay the very
heavens. Then a strange feeling comes over one, until one seems
to hear the voice of some one whispering: "Run, run, little
child! Do not be out late, for this place will soon have become
dreadful! Run, little child! Run!" And at the words terror will
possess one's soul, and one will rush and rush until one's breath
is spent--until, panting, one has reached home.
At home, however, all will look bright and bustling as we
children are set to shell peas or poppies, and the damp twigs
crackle in the stove, and our mother comes to look fondly at our
work, and our old nurse, Iliana, tells us stories of bygone days,
or terrible legends concerning wizards and dead men. At the
recital we little ones will press closer to one another, yet
smile as we do so; when suddenly, everyone becomes silent. Surely
somebody has knocked at the door? . . . But nay, nay; it is only
the sound of Frolovna's spinning-wheel. What shouts of laughter
arise! Later one will be unable to sleep for fear of the strange
dreams which come to visit one; or, if one falls asleep, one will
soon wake again, and, afraid to stir, lie quaking under the
coverlet until dawn. And in the morning, one will arise as fresh
as a lark and look at the window, and see the fields overlaid
with hoarfrost, and fine icicles hanging from the naked branches,
and the pond covered over with ice as thin as paper, and a white
steam rising from the surface, and birds flying overhead with
cheerful cries. Next, as the sun rises, he throws his glittering
beams everywhere, and melts the thin, glassy ice until the whole
scene has come to look bright and clear and exhilarating; and as
the fire begins to crackle again in the stove, we sit down to the
tea-urn, while, chilled with the night cold, our black dog,
Polkan, will look in at us through the window, and wag his tail
with a cheerful air. Presently, a peasant will pass the window in
his cart bound for the forest to cut firewood, and the whole
party will feel merry and contented together. Abundant grain lies
stored in the byres, and great stacks of wheat are glowing
comfortably in the morning sunlight. Everyone is quiet and happy,
for God has blessed us with a bounteous harvest, and we know that
there will be abundance of food for the wintertide. Yes, the
peasant may rest assured that his family will not want for aught.
Song and dance will arise at night from the village girls, and on
festival days everyone will repair to God's house to thank Him
with grateful tears for what He has done . . . . Ah, a golden
time was my time of childhood! . . .
Carried away by these memories, I could weep like a child.
Everything, everything comes back so clearly to my recollection!
The past stands out so vividly before me! Yet in the present
everything looks dim and dark! How will it all end?--how? Do you
know, I have a feeling, a sort of sure premonition, that I am
going to die this coming autumn; for I feel terribly, oh so
terribly ill! Often do I think of death, yet feel that I should
not like to die here and be laid to rest in the soil of St.
Petersburg. Once more I have had to take to my bed, as I did last
spring, for I have never really recovered. Indeed I feel so
depressed! Thedora has gone out for the day, and I am alone. For
a long while past I have been afraid to be left by myself, for I
keep fancying that there is someone else in the room, and that
that someone is speaking to me. Especially do I fancy this when
I have gone off into a reverie, and then suddenly awoken from it,
and am feeling bewildered. That is why I have made this letter
such a long one; for, when I am writing, the mood passes away.
Goodbye. I have neither time nor paper left for more, and must
close. Of the money which I saved to buy a new dress and hat,
there remains but a single rouble; but, I am glad that you have
been able to pay your landlady two roubles, for they will keep
her tongue quiet for a time. And you must repair your wardrobe.
Goodbye once more. I am so tired! Nor can I think why I am
growing so weak--why it is that even the smallest task now
wearies me? Even if work should come my way, how am I to do it?
That is what worries me above all things.
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