The last day of July; for a thousand versts around, Russia, our native
An unbroken blue flooding the whole sky; a single cloudlet upon it, half
floating, half fading away. Windlessness, warmth ... air like new milk!
Larks are trilling; pouter-pigeons cooing; noiselessly the swallows dart to
and fro; horses are neighing and munching; the dogs do not bark and stand
peaceably wagging their tails.
A smell of smoke and of hay, and a little of tar, too, and a little of
hides. The hemp, now in full bloom, sheds its heavy, pleasant fragrance.
A deep but sloping ravine. Along its sides willows in rows, with big heads
above, trunks cleft below. Through the ravine runs a brook; the tiny
pebbles at its bottom are all aquiver through its clear eddies. In the
distance, on the border-line between earth and heaven, the bluish streak of
a great river.
Along the ravine, on one side, tidy barns, little storehouses with
close-shut doors; on the other side, five or six pinewood huts with boarded
roofs. Above each roof, the high pole of a pigeon-house; over each entry a
little short-maned horse of wrought iron. The window-panes of faulty glass
shine with all the colours of the rainbow. Jugs of flowers are painted on
the shutters. Before each door, a little bench stands prim and neat; on the
mounds of earth, cats are basking, their transparent ears pricked up alert;
beyond the high door-sills, is the cool dark of the outer rooms.
I lie on the very edge of the ravine, on an outspread horse-cloth; all
about are whole stacks of fresh-cut hay, oppressively fragrant. The
sagacious husbandmen have flung the hay about before the huts; let it get a
bit drier in the baking sunshine; and then into the barn with it. It will
be first-rate sleeping on it.
Curly, childish heads are sticking out of every haycock; crested hens are
looking in the hay for flies and little beetles, and a white-lipped pup is
rolling among the tangled stalks.
Flaxen-headed lads in clean smocks, belted low, in heavy boots, leaning
over an unharnessed waggon, fling each other smart volleys of banter, with
broad grins showing their white teeth.
A round-faced young woman peeps out of window; laughs at their words or at
the romps of the children in the mounds of hay.
Another young woman with powerful arms draws a great wet bucket out of the
well.... The bucket quivers and shakes, spilling long, glistening drops.
Before me stands an old woman in a new striped petticoat and new shoes.
Fat hollow beads are wound in three rows about her dark thin neck, her grey
head is tied up in a yellow kerchief with red spots; it hangs low over her
But there is a smile of welcome in the aged eyes; a smile all over the
wrinkled face. The old woman has reached, I dare say, her seventieth year
... and even now one can see she has been a beauty in her day.
With a twirl of her sunburnt finger, she holds in her right hand a bowl of
cold milk, with the cream on it, fresh from the cellar; the sides of the
bowl are covered with drops, like strings of pearls. In the palm of her
left hand the old woman brings me a huge hunch of warm bread, as though to
say, 'Eat, and welcome, passing guest!'
A cock suddenly crows and fussily flaps his wings; he is slowly answered by
the low of a calf, shut up in the stall.
'My word, what oats!' I hear my coachman saying.... Oh, the content, the
quiet, the plenty of the Russian open country! Oh, the deep peace and
And the thought comes to me: what is it all to us here, the cross on
the cupola of St. Sophia in Constantinople and all the rest that we are
struggling for, we men of the town?
'Neither the Jungfrau nor the Finsteraarhorn has yet been trodden by the
foot of man!'
The topmost peaks of the Alps ... A whole chain of rugged precipices ...
The very heart of the mountains.
Over the mountain, a pale green, clear, dumb sky. Bitter, cruel frost;
hard, sparkling snow; sticking out of the snow, the sullen peaks of the
ice-covered, wind-swept mountains.
Two massive forms, two giants on the sides of the horizon, the Jungfrau and
And the Jungfrau speaks to its neighbour: 'What canst thou tell that is
new? thou canst see more. What is there down below?'
A few thousand years go by: one minute. And the Finsteraarhorn roars back
in answer: 'Thick clouds cover the earth.... Wait a little!'
Thousands more years go by: one minute.
'Well, and now?' asks the Jungfrau.
'Now I see, there below all is the same. There are blue waters, black
forests, grey heaps of piled-up stones. Among them are still fussing to and
fro the insects, thou knowest, the bipeds that have never yet once defiled
thee nor me.'
Thousands of years go by: one minute.
'Well, and now?' asks the Jungfrau.
'There seem fewer insects to be seen,' thunders the Finsteraarhorn, 'it is
clearer down below; the waters have shrunk, the forests are thinner.' Again
thousands of years go by: one minute.
'What seeest thou?' says the Jungfrau.
'Close about us it seems purer,' answers the Finsteraarhorn, 'but there in
the distance in the valleys are still spots, and something is moving.' 'And
now?' asks the Jungfrau, after more thousands of years: one minute.
'Now it is well,' answers the Finsteraarhorn, 'it is clean everywhere,
quite white, wherever you look ... Everywhere is our snow, unbroken snow
and ice. Everything is frozen. It is well now, it is quiet.'
'Good,' said the Jungfrau. 'But we have gossipped enough, old fellow. It's
time to slumber.'
'It is time, indeed.'
The huge mountains sleep; the green, clear sky sleeps over the region of
THE OLD WOMAN
I was walking over a wide plain alone.
And suddenly I fancied light, cautious footsteps behind my back.... Some
one was walking after me.
I looked round, and saw a little, bent old woman, all muffled up in grey
rags. The face of the old woman alone peeped out from them; a yellow,
wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.
I went up to her.... She stopped.
'Who are you? What do you want? Are you a beggar? Do you seek alms?'
The old woman did not answer. I bent down to her, and noticed that both her
eyes were covered with a half-transparent membrane or skin, such as is seen
in some birds; they protect their eyes with it from dazzling light.
But in the old woman, the membrane did not move nor uncover the eyes ...
from which I concluded she was blind.
'Do you want alms?' I repeated my question. 'Why are you following me?'
But the old woman as before made no answer, but only shrank into herself a
I turned from her and went on my way.
And again I hear behind me the same light, measured, as it were, stealthy
'Again that woman!' I thought, 'why does she stick to me?' But then, I
added inwardly, 'Most likely she has lost her way, being blind, and now
is following the sound of my steps so as to get with me to some inhabited
place. Yes, yes, that's it.'
But a strange uneasiness gradually gained possession of my mind. I began
to fancy that the old woman was not only following me, but that she was
directing me, that she was driving me to right and to left, and that I was
unwittingly obeying her.
I still go on, however ... but, behold, before me, on my very road,
something black and wide ... a kind of hole.... 'A grave!' flashed through
my head. 'That is where she is driving me!'
I turned sharply back. The old woman faced me again ... but she sees! She
is looking at me with big, cruel, malignant eyes ... the eyes of a bird of
prey.... I stoop down to her face, to her eyes.... Again the same opaque
membrane, the same blind, dull countenance....
'Ah!' I think, 'this old woman is my fate. The fate from which there is no
escape for man!'
'No escape! no escape! What madness.... One must try.' And I rush away in
I go swiftly.... But light footsteps as before patter behind me, close,
close.... And before me again the dark hole.
Again I turn another way.... And again the same patter behind, and the same
menacing blur of darkness before.
And whichever way I run, doubling like a hunted hare ... it's always the
same, the same!
'Wait!' I think, 'I will cheat her! I will go nowhere!' and I instantly sat
down on the ground.
The old woman stands behind, two paces from me. I do not hear her, but I
feel she is there.
And suddenly I see the blur of darkness in the distance is floating,
creeping of itself towards me!
God! I look round again ... the old woman looks straight at me, and her
toothless mouth is twisted in a grin.
Us two in the room; my dog and me.... Outside a fearful storm is howling.
The dog sits in front of me, and looks me straight in the face.
And I, too, look into his face.
He wants, it seems, to tell me something. He is dumb, he is without words,
he does not understand himself--but I understand him.
I understand that at this instant there is living in him and in me the same
feeling, that there is no difference between us. We are the same; in each
of us there burns and shines the same trembling spark.
Death sweeps down, with a wave of its chill broad wing....
And the end!
Who then can discern what was the spark that glowed in each of us?
No! We are not beast and man that glance at one another....
They are the eyes of equals, those eyes riveted on one another.
And in each of these, in the beast and in the man, the same life huddles up
in fear close to the other.
I had a comrade who was my adversary; not in pursuits, nor in service, nor
in love, but our views were never alike on any subject, and whenever we
met, endless argument arose between us.
We argued about everything: about art, and religion, and science, about
life on earth and beyond the grave, especially about life beyond the grave.
He was a person of faith and enthusiasm. One day he said to me, 'You laugh
at everything; but if I die before you, I will come to you from the other
world.... We shall see whether you will laugh then.'
And he did, in fact, die before me, while he was still young; but the years
went by, and I had forgotten his promise, his threat.
One night I was lying in bed, and could not, and, indeed, would not sleep.
In the room it was neither dark nor light. I fell to staring into the grey
And all at once, I fancied that between the two windows my adversary was
standing, and was slowly and mournfully nodding his head up and down.
I was not frightened; I was not even surprised ... but raising myself a
little, and propping myself on my elbow, I stared still more intently at
the unexpected apparition.
The latter continued to nod his head.
'Well?' I said at last; 'are you triumphant or regretful? What is
this--warning or reproach?... Or do you mean to give me to understand that
you were wrong, that we were both wrong? What are you experiencing? The
torments of hell? Or the bliss of paradise? Utter one word at least!'
But my opponent did not utter a single sound, and only, as before,
mournfully and submissively nodded his head up and down.
I laughed ... he vanished.
I was walking along the street ... I was stopped by a decrepit old beggar.
Bloodshot, tearful eyes, blue lips, coarse rags, festering wounds.... Oh,
how hideously poverty had eaten into this miserable creature!
He held out to me a red, swollen, filthy hand. He groaned, he mumbled of
I began feeling in all my pockets.... No purse, no watch, not even a
handkerchief.... I had taken nothing with me. And the beggar was still
waiting ... and his outstretched hand feebly shook and trembled.
Confused, abashed, I warmly clasped the filthy, shaking hand ... 'Don't be
angry, brother; I have nothing, brother.'
The beggar stared at me with his bloodshot eyes; his blue lips smiled; and
he in his turn gripped my chilly fingers.
'What of it, brother?' he mumbled; 'thanks for this, too. That is a gift
I knew that I too had received a gift from my brother.
'THOU SHALT HEAR THE FOOL'S JUDGMENT....'--_PUSHKIN_
'Thou shalt hear the fool's judgment....' You always told the truth, O
great singer of ours. You spoke it this time, too.
'The fool's judgment and the laughter of the crowd' ... who has not known
the one and the other?
All that one can, and one ought to bear; and who has the strength, let him
But there are blows which pierce more cruelly to the very heart.... A man
has done all that he could; has worked strenuously, lovingly, honestly....
And honest hearts turn from him in disgust; honest faces burn with
indignation at his name. 'Be gone! Away with you!' honest young voices
scream at him. 'We have no need of you, nor of your work. You pollute our
dwelling-places. You know us not and understand us not.... You are our
What is that man to do? Go on working; not try to justify himself, and not
even look forward to a fairer judgment.
At one time the tillers of the soil cursed the traveller who brought the
potato, the substitute for bread, the poor man's daily food.... They shook
the precious gift out of his outstretched hands, flung it in the mud,
trampled it underfoot.
Now they are fed with it, and do not even know their benefactor's name.
So be it! What is his name to them? He, nameless though he be, saves them
Let us try only that what we bring should be really good food.
Bitter, unjust reproach on the lips of those you love.... But that, too,
can be borne....
'Beat me! but listen!' said the Athenian leader to the Spartan.
'Beat me! but be healthy and fed!' we ought to say.
A CONTENTED MAN
A young man goes skipping and bounding along a street in the capital. His
movements are gay and alert; there is a sparkle in his eyes, a smirk on his
lips, a pleasing flush on his beaming face.... He is all contentment and
What has happened to him? Has he come in for a legacy? Has he been
promoted? Is he hastening to meet his beloved? Or is it simply he has had a
good breakfast, and the sense of health, the sense of well-fed prosperity,
is at work in all his limbs? Surely they have not put on his neck thy
lovely, eight-pointed cross, O Polish king, Stanislas?
No. He has hatched a scandal against a friend, has sedulously sown it
abroad, has heard it, this same slander, from the lips of another friend,
and--_has himself believed it_!
Oh, how contented! how kind indeed at this minute is this amiable,
promising young man!
A RULE OF LIFE
'If you want to annoy an opponent thoroughly, and even to harm him,' said a
crafty old knave to me, 'you reproach him with the very defect or vice you
are conscious of in yourself. Be indignant ... and reproach him!
'To begin with, it will set others thinking you have not that vice.
'In the second place, your indignation may well be sincere.... You can turn
to account the pricks of your own conscience.
If you, for instance, are a turncoat, reproach your opponent with having no
'If you are yourself slavish at heart, tell him reproachfully that he is
slavish ... the slave of civilisation, of Europe, of Socialism!'
'One might even say, the slave of anti-slavishness,' I suggested.
'You might even do that,' assented the cunning knave.
THE END OF THE WORLD
I fancied I was somewhere in Russia, in the wilds, in a simple country
The room big and low pitched with three windows; the walls whitewashed; no
furniture. Before the house a barren plain; gradually sloping downwards, it
stretches into the distance; a grey monotonous sky hangs over it, like the
canopy of a bed.
I am not alone; there are some ten persons in the room with me. All quite
plain people, simply dressed. They walk up and down in silence, as it
were stealthily. They avoid one another, and yet are continually looking
anxiously at one another.
Not one knows why he has come into this house and what people there are
with him. On all the faces uneasiness and despondency ... all in turn
approach the windows and look about intently as though expecting something
Then again they fall to wandering up and down. Among us is a small-sized
boy; from time to time he whimpers in the same thin voice, 'Father, I'm
frightened!' My heart turns sick at his whimper, and I too begin to be
afraid ... of what? I don't know myself. Only I feel, there is coming
nearer and nearer a great, great calamity.
The boy keeps on and on with his wail. Oh, to escape from here! How
stifling! How weary! how heavy.... But escape is impossible.
That sky is like a shroud. And no wind.... Is the air dead or what?
All at once the boy runs up to the window and shrieks in the same piteous
voice, 'Look! look! the earth has fallen away!'
'How? fallen away?' Yes; just now there was a plain before the house, and
now it stands on a fearful height! The horizon has sunk, has gone down, and
from the very house drops an almost overhanging, as it were scooped-out,
We all crowded to the window.... Horror froze our hearts. 'Here it is ...
here it is!' whispers one next me.
And behold, along the whole far boundary of the earth, something began to
stir, some sort of small, roundish hillocks began heaving and falling.
'It is the sea!' the thought flashed on us all at the same instant. 'It
will swallow us all up directly.... Only how can it grow and rise upwards?
To this precipice?'
And yet, it grows, grows enormously.... Already there are not separate
hillocks heaving in the distance.... One continuous, monstrous wave
embraces the whole circle of the horizon.
It is swooping, swooping, down upon us! In an icy hurricane it flies,
swirling in the darkness of hell. Everything shuddered--and there, in
this flying mass--was the crash of thunder, the iron wail of thousands of
Ah! what a roaring and moaning! It was the earth howling for terror....
The end of it! the end of all!
The child whimpered once more.... I tried to clutch at my companions,
but already we were all crushed, buried, drowned, swept away by that
pitch-black, icy, thundering wave! Darkness ... darkness everlasting!
Scarcely breathing, I awoke.
When I lived, many years ago, in Petersburg, every time I chanced to hire a
sledge, I used to get into conversation with the driver.
I was particularly fond of talking to the night drivers, poor peasants from
the country round, who come to the capital with their little ochre-painted
sledges and wretched nags, in the hope of earning food for themselves and
rent for their masters.
So one day I engaged such a sledge-driver.... He was a lad of twenty, tall
and well-made, a splendid fellow with blue eyes and ruddy cheeks; his fair
hair curled in little ringlets under the shabby little patched cap that was
pulled over his eyes. And how had that little torn smock ever been drawn
over those gigantic shoulders!
But the handsome, beardless face of the sledge-driver looked mournful and
I began to talk to him. There was a sorrowful note in his voice too.
'What is it, brother?' I asked him; 'why aren't you cheerful? Have you some
The lad did not answer me for a minute. 'Yes, sir, I have,' he said at
last. 'And such a trouble, there could not be a worse. My wife is dead.'
'You loved her ... your wife?'
The lad did not turn to me; he only bent his head a little.
'I loved her, sir. It's eight months since then ... but I can't forget it.
My heart is gnawing at me ... so it is! And why had she to die? A young
thing! strong!... In one day cholera snatched her away.'
'And was she good to you?'
'Ah, sir!' the poor fellow sighed heavily, 'and how happy we were together!
She died without me! The first I heard here, they'd buried her already, you
know; I hurried off at once to the village, home--I got there--it was past
midnight. I went into my hut, stood still in the middle of the room, and
softly I whispered, "Masha! eh, Masha!" Nothing but the cricket chirping.
I fell a-crying then, sat on the hut floor, and beat on the earth with my
fists! "Greedy earth!" says I ... "You have swallowed her up ... swallow me
'Masha!' he added suddenly in a sinking voice. And without letting go of
the cord reins, he wiped the tears out of his eyes with his sleeve, shook
it, shrugged his shoulders, and uttered not another word.
As I got out of the sledge, I gave him a few coppers over his fare. He
bowed low to me, grasping his cap in both hands, and drove off at a walking
pace over the level snow of the deserted street, full of the grey fog of a
There lived a fool.
For a long time he lived in peace and contentment; but by degrees rumours
began to reach him that he was regarded on all sides as a vulgar idiot.
The fool was abashed and began to ponder gloomily how he might put an end
to these unpleasant rumours.
A sudden idea, at last, illuminated his dull little brain.... And, without
the slightest delay, he put it into practice.
A friend met him in the street, and fell to praising a well-known
'Upon my word!' cried the fool,' that painter was out of date long ago ...
you didn't know it? I should never have expected it of you ... you are
quite behind the times.'
The friend was alarmed, and promptly agreed with the fool.
'Such a splendid book I read yesterday!' said another friend to him.
'Upon my word!' cried the fool, 'I wonder you're not ashamed. That book's
good for nothing; every one's seen through it long ago. Didn't you know it?
You're quite behind the times.'
This friend too was alarmed, and he agreed with the fool.
'What a wonderful fellow my friend N. N. is!' said a third friend to the
fool. 'Now there's a really generous creature!'
'Upon my word!' cried the fool. 'N. N., the notorious scoundrel! He
swindled all his relations. Every one knows that. You're quite behind the
The third friend too was alarmed, and he agreed with the fool and deserted
his friend. And whoever and whatever was praised in the fool's presence, he
had the same retort for everything.
Sometimes he would add reproachfully: 'And do you still believe in
'Spiteful! malignant!' his friends began to say of the fool. 'But what a
'And what a tongue!' others would add, 'Oh, yes, he has talent!'
It ended in the editor of a journal proposing to the fool that he should
undertake their reviewing column.
And the fool fell to criticising everything and every one, without in the
least changing his manner, or his exclamations.
Now he, who once declaimed against authorities, is himself an authority,
and the young men venerate him, and fear him.
And what else can they do, poor young men? Though one ought not, as a
general rule, to venerate any one ... but in this case, if one didn't
venerate him, one would find oneself quite behind the times!
Fools have a good time among cowards.
AN EASTERN LEGEND
Who in Bagdad knows not Jaffar, the Sun of the Universe?
One day, many years ago (he was yet a youth), Jaffar was walking in the
environs of Bagdad.
Suddenly a hoarse cry reached his ear; some one was calling desperately for
Jaffar was distinguished among the young men of his age by prudence and
sagacity; but his heart was compassionate, and he relied on his strength.
He ran at the cry, and saw an infirm old man, pinned to the city wall by
two brigands, who were robbing him.
Jaffar drew his sabre and fell upon the miscreants: one he killed, the
other he drove away.
The old man thus liberated fell at his deliverer's feet, and, kissing the
hem of his garment, cried: 'Valiant youth, your magnanimity shall
not remain unrewarded. In appearance I am a poor beggar; but only in
appearance. I am not a common man. Come to-morrow in the early morning
to the chief bazaar; I will await you at the fountain, and you shall be
convinced of the truth of my words.'
Jaffar thought: 'In appearance this man is a beggar, certainly; but all
sorts of things happen. Why not put it to the test?' and he answered: 'Very
well, good father; I will come.'
The old man looked into his face, and went away.
The next morning, the sun had hardly risen, Jaffar went to the bazaar. The
old man was already awaiting him, leaning with his elbow on the marble
basin of the fountain.
In silence he took Jaffar by the hand and led him into a small garden,
enclosed on all sides by high walls.
In the very middle of this garden, on a green lawn, grew an
It was like a cypress; only its leaves were of an azure hue.
Three fruits--three apples--hung on the slender upward-bent twigs; one was
of middle size, long-shaped, and milk-white; the second, large, round,
bright-red; the third, small, wrinkled, yellowish.
The whole tree faintly rustled, though there was no wind. It emitted a
shrill plaintive ringing sound, as of a glass bell; it seemed it was
conscious of Jaffar's approach.
'Youth!' said the old man, 'pick any one of these apples and know, if you
pick and eat the white one, you will be the wisest of all men; if you pick
and eat the red, you will be rich as the Jew Rothschild; if you pick and
eat the yellow one, you will be liked by old women. Make up your mind! and
do not delay. Within an hour the apples will wither, and the tree itself
will sink into the dumb depths of the earth!'
Jaffar looked down, and pondered. 'How am I to act?' he said in an
undertone, as though arguing with himself. 'If you become too wise, maybe
you will not care to live; if you become richer than any one, every one
will envy you; I had better pick and eat the third, the withered apple!'
And so he did; and the old man laughed a toothless laugh, and said: 'O wise
young man! You have chosen the better part! What need have you of the white
apple? You are wiser than Solomon as it is. And you've no need of the red
apple either.... You will be rich without it. Only your wealth no one will
'Tell me, old man,' said Jaffar, rousing himself, 'where lives the honoured
mother of our Caliph, protected of heaven?'
The old man bowed down to the earth, and pointed out to the young man the
Who in Bagdad knows not the Sun of the Universe, the great, the renowned
There was once a town, the inhabitants of which were so passionately fond
of poetry, that if some weeks passed by without the appearance of any good
new poems, they regarded such a poetic dearth as a public misfortune.
They used at such times to put on their worst clothes, to sprinkle ashes on
their heads; and, assembling in crowds in the public squares, to shed tears
and bitterly to upbraid the muse who had deserted them.
On one such inauspicious day, the young poet Junius came into a square,
thronged with the grieving populace.
With rapid steps he ascended a forum constructed for this purpose, and made
signs that he wished to recite a poem.
The lictors at once brandished their fasces. 'Silence! attention!' they
shouted loudly, and the crowd was hushed in expectation.
'Friends! Comrades!' began Junius, in a loud but not quite steady voice:--
'Friends! Comrades! Lovers of the Muse!
Ye worshippers of beauty and of grace!
Let not a moment's gloom dismay your souls,
Your heart's desire is nigh, and light shall banish darkness.'
Junius ceased ... and in answer to him, from every part of the square, rose
a hubbub of hissing and laughter.
Every face, turned to him, glowed with indignation, every eye sparkled with
anger, every arm was raised and shook a menacing fist!
'He thought to dazzle us with that!' growled angry voices. 'Down with the
imbecile rhymester from the forum! Away with the idiot! Rotten apples,
stinking eggs for the motley fool! Give us stones--stones here!'
Junius rushed head over heels from the forum ... but, before he had got
home, he was overtaken by the sound of peals of enthusiastic applause,
cries and shouts of admiration.
Filled with amazement, Junius returned to the square, trying however to
avoid being noticed (for it is dangerous to irritate an infuriated beast).
And what did he behold?
High above the people, upon their shoulders, on a flat golden shield,
wrapped in a purple chlamys, with a laurel wreath on his flowing locks,
stood his rival, the young poet Julius.... And the populace all round him
shouted: 'Glory! Glory! Glory to the immortal Julius! He has comforted us
in our sorrow, in our great woe! He has bestowed on us verses sweeter than
honey, more musical than the cymbal's note, more fragrant than the rose,
purer than the azure of heaven! Carry him in triumph, encircle his inspired
head with the soft breath of incense, cool his brow with the rhythmic
movement of palm-leaves, scatter at his feet all the fragrance of the myrrh
of Arabia! Glory!'
Junius went up to one of the applauding enthusiasts. 'Enlighten me, O my
fellow-citizen! what were the verses with which Julius has made you happy?
I, alas! was not in the square when he uttered them! Repeat them, if you
remember them, pray!'
'Verses like those I could hardly forget!' the man addressed responded with
spirit. 'What do you take me for? Listen--and rejoice, rejoice with us!'
'Lovers of the Muse!' so the deified Julius had begun....
'Lovers of the Muse! Comrades! Friends
Of beauty, grace, and music, worshippers!
Let not your hearts by gloom affrighted be!
The wished-for moment comes! and day shall scatter night!'
'What do you think of them?'
'Heavens!' cried Junius; 'but that's my poem! Julius must have been in the
crowd when I was reciting them; he heard them and repeated them, slightly
varying, and certainly not improving, a few expressions.'
'Aha! Now I recognise you.... You are Junius,' the citizen he had stopped
retorted with a scowl on his face. 'Envious man or fool!... note only,
luckless wretch, how sublimely Julius has phrased it: "And day shall
scatter night!" While you had some such rubbish: "And light shall banish
darkness!" What light? What darkness?'
'But isn't that just the same?' Junius was beginning....
'Say another word,' the citizen cut him short, 'I will call upon the people
... they will tear you to pieces!'
Junius judiciously held his peace, but a grey-headed old man who had heard
the conversation went up to the unlucky poet, and laying a hand upon his
'Junius! You uttered your own thought, but not at the right moment; and he
uttered not his own thought, but at the right moment. Consequently, he is
all right; while for you is left the consolations of a good conscience.'
But while his conscience, to the best of its powers--not over successfully,
to tell the truth--was consoling Junius as he was shoved on one side--in
the distance, amid shouts of applause and rejoicing, in the golden radiance
of the all-conquering sun, resplendent in purple, with his brow shaded
with laurel, among undulating clouds of lavish incense, with majestic
deliberation, like a tsar making a triumphal entry into his kingdom, moved
the proudly erect figure of Julius ... and the long branches of palm rose
and fell before him, as though expressing in their soft vibration, in their
submissive obeisance, the ever-renewed adoration which filled the hearts of
his enchanted fellow-citizens!
I was returning from hunting, and walking along an avenue of the garden, my
dog running in front of me.
Suddenly he took shorter steps, and began to steal along as though tracking
I looked along the avenue, and saw a young sparrow, with yellow about its
beak and down on its head. It had fallen out of the nest (the wind was
violently shaking the birch-trees in the avenue) and sat unable to move,
helplessly flapping its half-grown wings.
My dog was slowly approaching it, when, suddenly darting down from a tree
close by, an old dark-throated sparrow fell like a stone right before his
nose, and all ruffled up, terrified, with despairing and pitiful cheeps, it
flung itself twice towards the open jaws of shining teeth.
It sprang to save; it cast itself before its nestling ... but all its tiny
body was shaking with terror; its note was harsh and strange. Swooning with
fear, it offered itself up!
What a huge monster must the dog have seemed to it! And yet it could not
stay on its high branch out of danger.... A force stronger than its will
flung it down.
My Trésor stood still, drew back.... Clearly he too recognised this force.
I hastened to call off the disconcerted dog, and went away, full of
Yes; do not laugh. I felt reverence for that tiny heroic bird, for its
impulse of love.
Love, I thought, is stronger than death or the fear of death. Only by it,
by love, life holds together and advances.
A sumptuous, brilliantly lighted hall; a number of ladies and gentlemen.
All the faces are animated, the talk is lively.... A noisy conversation is
being carried on about a famous singer. They call her divine, immortal....
O, how finely yesterday she rendered her last trill!
And suddenly--as by the wave of an enchanter's wand--from every head
and from every face, slipped off the delicate covering of skin, and
instantaneously exposed the deadly whiteness of skulls, with here and there
the leaden shimmer of bare jaws and gums.
With horror I beheld the movements of those jaws and gums; the turning,
the glistening in the light of the lamps and candles, of those lumpy bony
balls, and the rolling in them of other smaller balls, the balls of the
I dared not touch my own face, dared not glance at myself in the glass.
And the skulls turned from side to side as before.... And with their former
noise, peeping like little red rags out of the grinning teeth, rapid
tongues lisped how marvellously, how inimitably the immortal ... yes,
immortal ... singer had rendered that last trill!
THE WORKMAN AND THE MAN WITH WHITE HANDS
WORKMAN. Why do you come crawling up to us? What do ye want? You're none of
us.... Get along!
MAN WITH WHITE HANDS. I am one of you, comrades!
THE WORKMAN. One of us, indeed! That's a notion! Look at my hands. D'ye see
how dirty they are? And they smell of muck, and of pitch--but yours, see,
are white. And what do they smell of?
THE MAN WITH WHITE HANDS (_offering his hands_). Smell them.
THE WORKMAN (_sniffing his hands_). That's a queer start. Seems like a
smell of iron.
THE MAN WITH WHITE HANDS. Yes; iron it is. For six long years I wore chains
THE WORKMAN. And what was that for, pray?
THE MAN WITH WHITE HANDS. Why, because I worked for your good; tried to
set free the oppressed and the ignorant; stirred folks up against your
oppressors; resisted the authorities.... So they locked me up.
THE WORKMAN. Locked you up, did they? Serve you right for resisting!
_Two Years Later_.
THE SAME WORKMAN TO ANOTHER. I say, Pete.... Do you remember, the year
before last, a chap with white hands talking to you?
THE OTHER WORKMAN. Yes;... what of it?
THE FIRST WORKMAN. They're going to hang him to-day, I heard say; that's
THE SECOND WORKMAN. Did he keep on resisting the authorities?
THE FIRST WORKMAN. He kept on.
THE SECOND WORKMAN. Ah!... Now, I say, mate, couldn't we get hold of a bit
of the rope they're going to hang him with? They do say, it brings good
luck to a house!
THE FIRST WORKMAN. You're right there. We'll have a try for it, mate.
The last days of August.... Autumn was already at hand.
The sun was setting. A sudden downpour of rain, without thunder or
lightning, had just passed rapidly over our wide plain.
The garden in front of the house glowed and steamed, all filled with the
fire of the sunset and the deluge of rain.
She was sitting at a table in the drawing-room, and, with persistent
dreaminess, gazing through the half-open door into the garden.
I knew what was passing at that moment in her soul; I knew that, after a
brief but agonising struggle, she was at that instant giving herself up to
a feeling she could no longer master.
All at once she got up, went quickly out into the garden, and disappeared.
An hour passed ... a second; she had not returned.
Then I got up, and, getting out of the house, I turned along the walk by
which--of that I had no doubt--she had gone.
All was darkness about me; the night had already fallen. But on the damp
sand of the path a roundish object could be discerned--bright red even
through the mist.
I stooped down. It was a fresh, new-blown rose. Two hours before I had seen
this very rose on her bosom.
I carefully picked up the flower that had fallen in the mud, and, going
back to the drawing-room, laid it on the table before her chair.
And now at last she came back, and with light footsteps, crossing the whole
room, sat down at the table.
Her face was both paler and more vivid; her downcast eyes, that looked
somehow smaller, strayed rapidly in happy confusion from side to side.
She saw the rose, snatched it up, glanced at its crushed, muddy petals,
glanced at me, and her eyes, brought suddenly to a standstill, were bright
'What are you crying for?' I asked.
'Why, see this rose. Look what has happened to it.'
Then I thought fit to utter a profound remark.
'Your tears will wash away the mud,' I pronounced with a significant
'Tears do not wash, they burn,' she answered. And turning to the hearth she
flung the rose into the dying flame.
'Fire burns even better than tears,' she cried with spirit; and her lovely
eyes, still bright with tears, laughed boldly and happily.
I saw that she too had been in the fire.
TO THE MEMORY OF U. P. VREVSKY
On dirt, on stinking wet straw under the shelter of a tumble-down barn,
turned in haste into a camp hospital, in a ruined Bulgarian village, for
over a fortnight she lay dying of typhus.
She was unconscious, and not one doctor even looked at her; the sick
soldiers, whom she had tended as long as she could keep on her legs, in
their turn got up from their pestilent litters to lift a few drops of water
in the hollow of a broken pot to her parched lips.
She was young and beautiful; the great world knew her; even the highest
dignitaries had been interested in her. Ladies had envied her, men had
paid her court ... two or three had loved her secretly and truly. Life had
smiled on her; but there are smiles that are worse than tears.
A soft, tender heart ... and such force, such eagerness for sacrifice! To
help those who needed help ... she knew of no other happiness ... knew not
of it, and had never once known it. Every other happiness passed her by.
But she had long made up her mind to that; and all aglow with the fire of
unquenchable faith, she gave herself to the service of her neighbours.
What hidden treasure she buried there in the depth of her heart, in her
most secret soul, no one ever knew; and now, of course, no one will ever
Ay, and what need? Her sacrifice is made ... her work is done.
But grievous it is to think that no one said thanks even to her dead body,
though she herself was shy and shrank from all thanks.
May her dear shade pardon this belated blossom, which I make bold to lay
upon her grave!
THE LAST MEETING
We had once been close and warm friends.... But an unlucky moment came ...
and we parted as enemies.
Many years passed by.... And coming to the town where he lived, I learnt
that he was helplessly ill, and wished to see me.
I made my way to him, went into his room.... Our eyes met.
I hardly knew him. God! what sickness had done to him!
Yellow, wrinkled, completely bald, with a scanty grey beard, he sat clothed
in nothing but a shirt purposely slit open.... He could not bear the weight
of even the lightest clothes. Jerkily he stretched out to me his fearfully
thin hand that looked as if it were gnawed away, with an effort muttered
a few indistinct words--whether of welcome or reproach, who can tell? His
emaciated chest heaved, and over the dwindled pupils of his kindling eyes
rolled two hard-wrung tears of suffering.
My heart sank.... I sat down on a chair beside him, and involuntarily
dropping my eyes before the horror and hideousness of it, I too held out my
But it seemed to me that it was not his hand that took hold of me.
It seemed to me that between us is sitting a tall, still, white woman. A
long robe shrouds her from head to foot. Her deep, pale eyes look into
vacancy; no sound is uttered by her pale, stern lips.
This woman has joined our hands.... She has reconciled us for ever.
Yes.... Death has reconciled us....
I was sitting at the open window ... in the morning, the early morning of
the first of May.
The dawn had not yet begun; but already the dark, warm night grew pale and
chill at its approach.
No mist had risen, no breeze was astir, all was colourless and still ...
but the nearness of the awakening could be felt, and the rarer air smelt
keen and moist with dew.
Suddenly, at the open window, with a light whirr and rustle, a great bird
flew into my room.
I started, looked closely at it.... It was not a bird; it was a tiny winged
woman, dressed in a narrow long robe flowing to her feet.
She was grey all over, the colour of mother-of-pearl; only the inner side
of her wings glowed with the tender flush of an opening rose; a wreath of
valley lilies entwined the scattered curls upon her little round head; and,
like a butterfly's feelers, two peacock feathers waved drolly above her
lovely rounded brow.
She fluttered twice about the ceiling; her tiny face was laughing;
laughing, too, were her great, clear, black eyes.
The gay frolic of her sportive flight set them flashing like diamonds.
She held in her hand the long stalk of a flower of the steppes--'the Tsar's
sceptre,' the Russians call it--it is really like a sceptre.
Flying rapidly above me, she touched my head with the flower.
I rushed towards her.... But already she had fluttered out of window, and
In the garden, in a thicket of lilac bushes, a wood-dove greeted her with
its first morning warble ... and where she vanished, the milk-white sky
flushed a soft pink.
I know thee, Goddess of Fantasy! Thou didst pay me a random visit by the
way; thou hast flown on to the young poets.
O Poesy! Youth! Virginal beauty of woman! Thou couldst shine for me but for
a moment, in the early dawn of early spring!
A tall, bony old woman, with iron face and dull, fixed look, moves with
long strides, and, with an arm dry as a stick, pushes before her another
This woman--of huge stature, powerful, thick-set, with the muscles of a
Hercules, with a tiny head set on a bull neck, and blind--in her turn
pushes before her a small, thin girl.
This girl alone has eyes that see; she resists, turns round, lifts fair,
delicate hands; her face, full of life, shows impatience and daring.... She
wants not to obey, she wants not to go, where they are driving her ... but,
still, she has to yield and go.
Who will, may translate.
Near a large town, along the broad highroad walked an old sick man.
He tottered as he went; his old wasted legs, halting, dragging, stumbling,
moved painfully and feebly, as though they did not belong to him; his
clothes hung in rags about him; his uncovered head drooped on his
breast.... He was utterly worn-out.
He sat down on a stone by the wayside, bent forward, leant his elbows on
his knees, hid his face in his hands; and through the knotted fingers the
tears dropped down on to the grey, dry dust.
Remembered how he too had been strong and rich, and how he had wasted his
health, and had lavished his riches upon others, friends and enemies....
And here, he had not now a crust of bread; and all had forsaken him,
friends even before foes.... Must he sink to begging alms? There was
bitterness in his heart, and shame.
The tears still dropped and dropped, spotting the grey dust.
Suddenly he heard some one call him by his name; he lifted his weary head,
and saw standing before him a stranger.
A face calm and grave, but not stern; eyes not beaming, but clear; a look
penetrating, but not unkind.
'Thou hast given away all thy riches,' said a tranquil voice.... 'But thou
dost not regret having done good, surely?'
'I regret it not,' answered the old man with a sigh; 'but here I am dying
'And had there been no beggars who held out their hands to thee,' the
stranger went on, 'thou wouldst have had none on whom to prove thy
goodness; thou couldst not have done thy good works.'
The old man answered nothing, and pondered.
'So be thou also now not proud, poor man,' the stranger began again. 'Go
thou, hold out thy hand; do thou too give to other good men a chance to
prove in deeds that they are good.'
The old man started, raised his eyes ... but already the stranger had
vanished, and in the distance a man came into sight walking along the road.
The old man went up to him, and held out his hand. This man turned away
with a surly face, and gave him nothing.
But after him another passed, and he gave the old man some trifling alms.
And the old man bought himself bread with the coppers given him, and sweet
to him seemed the morsel gained by begging, and there was no shame in his
heart, but the contrary: peace and joy came as a blessing upon him.
I dreamed that we were sitting, a party of twenty, in a big room with open
Among us were women, children, old men.... We were all talking of some very
well-known subject, talking noisily and indistinctly.
Suddenly, with a sharp, whirring sound, there flew into the room a big
insect, two inches long ... it flew in, circled round, and settled on the
It was like a fly or a wasp. Its body dirt-coloured; of the same colour
too its flat, stiff wings; outspread feathered claws, and a head thick
and angular, like a dragon-fly's; both head and claws were bright red, as
though steeped in blood.
This strange insect incessantly turned its head up and down, to right and
to left, moved its claws ... then suddenly darted from the wall, flew with
a whirring sound about the room, and again settled, again hatefully and
loathsomely wriggling all over, without stirring from the spot.
In all of us it excited a sensation of loathing, dread, even terror....
No one of us had ever seen anything like it. We all cried: 'Drive that
monstrous thing away!' and waved our handkerchiefs at it from a distance
... but no one ventured to go up to it ... and when the insect began
flying, every one instinctively moved away.
Only one of our party, a pale-faced young man, stared at us all in
amazement He shrugged his shoulders; he smiled, and positively could not
conceive what had happened to us, and why we were in such a state of
excitement. He himself did not see an insect at all, did not hear the
ill-omened whirr of its wings.
All at once the insect seemed to stare at him, darted off, and dropping
on his head, stung him on the forehead, above the eyes.... The young man
feebly groaned, and fell dead.
The fearful fly flew out at once.... Only then we guessed what it was had
A peasant woman, a widow, had an only son, a young man of twenty, the best
workman in the village, and he died.
The lady who was the owner of the village, hearing of the woman's trouble,
went to visit her on the very day of the burial.
She found her at home.
Standing in the middle of her hut, before the table, she was, without
haste, with a regular movement of the right arm (the left hung listless at
her side), scooping up weak cabbage soup from the bottom of a blackened
pot, and swallowing it spoonful by spoonful.
The woman's face was sunken and dark; her eyes were red and swollen ... but
she held herself as rigid and upright as in church.
'Heavens!' thought the lady, 'she can eat at such a moment ... what coarse
feelings they have really, all of them!'
And at that point the lady recollected that when, a few years before, she
had lost her little daughter, nine months old, she had refused, in her
grief, a lovely country villa near Petersburg, and had spent the whole
summer in town! Meanwhile the woman went on swallowing cabbage soup.
The lady could not contain herself, at last. 'Tatiana!' she said ...
'Really! I'm surprised! Is it possible you didn't care for your son? How is
it you've not lost your appetite? How can you eat that soup!'
'My Vasia's dead,' said the woman quietly, and tears of anguish ran once
more down her hollow cheeks. 'It's the end of me too, of course; it's
tearing the heart out of me alive. But the soup's not to be wasted; there's
salt in it.'
The lady only shrugged her shoulders and went away. Salt did not cost her
THE REALM OF AZURE
O realm of azure! O realm of light and colour, of youth and happiness! I
have beheld thee in dream. We were together, a few, in a beautiful little
boat, gaily decked out. Like a swan's breast the white sail swelled below
the streamers frolicking in the wind.
I knew not who were with me; but in all my soul I felt that they were
young, light-hearted, happy as I!
But I looked not indeed on them. I beheld all round the boundless blue of
the sea, dimpled with scales of gold, and overhead the same boundless sea
of blue, and in it, triumphant and mirthful, it seemed, moved the sun.
And among us, ever and anon, rose laughter, ringing and gleeful as the
laughter of the gods!
And on a sudden, from one man's lips or another's, would flow words, songs
of divine beauty and inspiration, and power ... it seemed the sky itself
echoed back a greeting to them, and the sea quivered in unison.... Then
followed again the blissful stillness.
Riding lightly over the soft waves, swiftly our little boat sped on. No
wind drove it along; our own lightly beating hearts guided it. At our will
it floated, obedient as a living thing.
We came on islands, enchanted islands, half-transparent with the prismatic
lights of precious stones, of amethysts and emeralds. Odours of bewildering
fragrance rose from the rounded shores; some of these islands showered on
us a rain of roses and valley lilies; from others birds darted up, with
long wings of rainbow hues.
The birds flew circling above us; the lilies and roses melted away in the
pearly foam that glided by the smooth sides of our boat.
And, with the flowers and the birds, sounds floated to us, sounds sweet as
honey ... women's voices, one fancied, in them.... And all about us, sky,
sea, the heaving sail aloft, the gurgling water at the rudder--all spoke of
love, of happy love!
And she, the beloved of each of us--she was there ... unseen and close.
One moment more, and behold, her eyes will shine upon thee, her smile will
blossom on thee.... Her hand will take thy hand and guide thee to the land
of joy that fades not!
O realm of azure! In dream have I beheld thee.
TWO RICH MEN
When I hear the praises of the rich man Rothschild, who out of his immense
revenues devotes whole thousands to the education of children, the care of
the sick, the support of the aged, I admire and am touched.
But even while I admire it and am touched by it, I cannot help recalling a
poor peasant family who took an orphan niece into their little tumble-down
'If we take Katka,' said the woman, 'our last farthing will go on her,
there won't be enough to get us salt to salt us a bit of bread.'
'Well,... we'll do without salt,' answered the peasant, her husband.
Rothschild is a long way behind that peasant!
THE OLD MAN
Days of darkness, of dreariness, have come.... Thy own infirmities, the
sufferings of those dear to thee, the chill and gloom of old age. All that
thou hast loved, to which thou hast given thyself irrevocably, is falling,
going to pieces. The way is all down-hill.
What canst thou do? Grieve? Complain? Thou wilt aid not thyself nor others
On the bowed and withering tree the leaves are smaller and fewer, but its
green is yet the same.
Do thou too shrink within, withdraw into thyself, into thy memories, and
there, deep down, in the very depths of the soul turned inwards on itself,
thy old life, to which thou alone hast the key, will be bright again for
thee, in all the fragrance, all the fresh green, and the grace and power of
But beware ... look not forward, poor old man!
Two friends were sitting at a table drinking tea.
A sudden hubbub arose in the street. They heard pitiable groans, furious
abuse, bursts of malignant laughter.
'They're beating some one,' observed one of the friends, looking out of
'A criminal? A murderer?' inquired the other. 'I say, whatever he may be,
we can't allow this illegal chastisement. Let's go and take his part.'
'But it's not a murderer they're beating.'
'Not a murderer? Is it a thief then? It makes no difference, let's go and
get him away from the crowd.'
'It's not a thief either.'
'Not a thief? Is it an absconding cashier then, a railway director, an army
contractor, a Russian art patron, a lawyer, a Conservative editor, a social
reformer?... Any way, let's go and help him!'
'No ... it's a newspaper reporter they're beating.'
'A reporter? Oh, I tell you what: we'll finish our glasses of tea first
THE TWO BROTHERS
It was a vision ...
Two angels appeared to me ... two genii.
I say angels, genii, because both had no clothes on their naked bodies, and
behind their shoulders rose long powerful wings.
Both were youths. One was rather plump, with soft smooth skin and dark
curls. His eyes were brown and full, with thick eyelashes; his look
was sly, merry, and eager. His face was charming, bewitching, a little
insolent, a little wicked. His full soft crimson lips were faintly
quivering. The youth smiled as one possessing power--self-confidently and
languidly; a magnificent wreath of flowers rested lightly on his shining
tresses, almost touching his velvety eyebrows. A spotted leopard's skin,
pinned up with a golden arrow, hung lightly from his curved shoulder to
his rounded thigh. The feathers of his wings were tinged with rose colour;
the ends of them were bright red, as though dipped in fresh-spilt scarlet
blood. From time to time they quivered rapidly with a sweet silvery sound,
the sound of rain in spring.
The other was thin, and his skin yellowish. At every breath his ribs could
be seen faintly heaving. His hair was fair, thin, and straight; his eyes
big, round, pale grey ... his glance uneasy and strangely bright. All his
features were sharp; the little half-open mouth, with pointed fish-like
teeth; the pinched eagle nose, the projecting chin, covered with whitish
down. The parched lips never once smiled.
It was a well-cut face, but terrible and pitiless! (Though the face of the
first, the beautiful youth, sweet and lovely as it was, showed no trace of
pity either.) About the head of the second youth were twisted a few broken
and empty ears of corn, entwined with faded grass-stalks. A coarse grey
cloth girt his loins; the wings behind, a dull dark grey colour, moved
slowly and menacingly.
The two youths seemed inseparable companions. Each of them leaned upon the
other's shoulder. The soft hand of the first lay like a cluster of grapes
upon the bony neck of the second; the slender wrist of the second, with its
long delicate fingers, coiled like a snake about the girlish bosom of the
And I heard a voice. This is what it said: 'Love and Hunger stand before
thee--twin brothers, the two foundation-stones of all things living.
'All that lives moves to get food, and feeds to bring forth young.
'Love and Hunger--their aim is one; that life should cease not, the life of
the individual and the life of others--the same universal life.'
He had every qualification for becoming the scourge of his family.
He was born healthy, was born wealthy, and throughout the whole of his long
life, continuing to be wealthy and healthy, he never committed a single
sin, never fell into a single error, never once made a slip or a blunder.
He was irreproachably conscientious!... And complacent in the sense of
his own conscientiousness, he crushed every one with it, his family, his
friends and his acquaintances.
His conscientiousness was his capital ... and he exacted an exorbitant
interest for it.
His conscientiousness gave him the right to be merciless, and to do no good
deeds beyond what it dictated to him; and he was merciless, and did no good
... for good that is dictated is no good at all.
He took no interest in any one except his own exemplary self, and was
genuinely indignant if others did not take as studious an interest in it!
At the same time he did not consider himself an egoist, and was
particularly severe in censuring, and keen in detecting egoists and egoism.
To be sure he was. The egoism of another was a check on his own.
Not recognising the smallest weakness in himself he did not understand, did
not tolerate any weakness in any one. He did not, in fact, understand any
one or any thing, since he was all, on all sides, above and below, before
and behind, encircled by himself.
He did not even understand the meaning of forgiveness. He had never had to
forgive himself.... What inducement could he have to forgive others?
Before the tribunal of his own conscience, before the face of his own God,
he, this marvel, this monster of virtue, raised his eyes heavenwards, and
with clear unfaltering voice declared, 'Yes, I am an exemplary, a truly
He will repeat these words on his deathbed, and there will be no throb even
then in his heart of stone--in that heart without stain or blemish!
Oh, hideousness of self-complacent, unbending, cheaply bought virtue; thou
art almost more revolting than the frank hideousness of vice!
THE BANQUET OF THE SUPREME BEING
One day the Supreme Being took it into his head to give a great banquet in
his palace of azure.
All the virtues were invited. Only the virtues ... men he did not ask ...
There were a great many of them, great and small. The lesser virtues were
more agreeable and genial than the great ones; but they all appeared in
good humour, and chatted amiably together, as was only becoming for near
relations and friends.
But the Supreme Being noticed two charming ladies who seemed to be totally
The Host gave one of the ladies his arm and led her up to the other.
'Beneficence!' he said, indicating the first.
'Gratitude!' he added, indicating the second.
Both the virtues were amazed beyond expression; ever since the world had
stood, and it had been standing a long time, this was the first time they
Yellowish-grey sand, soft at the top, hard, grating below ... sand without
end, where-ever one looks.
And above this sandy desert, above this sea of dead dust, rises the immense
head of the Egyptian sphinx.
What would they say, those thick, projecting lips, those immutable,
distended, upturned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-drowsy,
half-watchful eyes under the double arch of the high brows?
Something they would say. They are speaking, truly, but only Oedipus can
solve the riddle and comprehend their mute speech.
Stay, but I know those features ... in them there is nothing Egyptian.
White, low brow, prominent cheek-bones, nose short and straight, handsome
mouth and white teeth, soft moustache and curly beard, and those wide-set,
not large eyes ... and on the head the cap of hair parted down the
middle.... But it is thou, Karp, Sidor, Semyon, peasant of Yaroslav, of
Ryazan, my countryman, flesh and blood, Russian! Art thou, too, among the
Wouldst thou, too, say somewhat? Yes, and thou, too, art a sphinx.
And thy eyes, those colourless, deep eyes, are speaking too ... and as mute
and enigmatic is their speech.
But where is thy Oedipus?
Alas! it's not enough to don the peasant smock to become thy Oedipus, oh
Sphinx of all the Russias!
I stood before a chain of beautiful mountains forming a semicircle. A
young, green forest covered them from summit to base.
Limpidly blue above them was the southern sky; on the heights the sunbeams
rioted; below, half-hidden in the grass, swift brooks were babbling.
And the old fable came to my mind, how in the first century after Christ's
birth, a Greek ship was sailing on the Aegean Sea.
The hour was mid-day.... It was still weather. And suddenly up aloft, above
the pilot's head, some one called distinctly, 'When thou sailest by the
island, shout in a loud voice, "Great Pan is dead!"'
The pilot was amazed ... afraid. But when the ship passed the island, he
obeyed, he called, 'Great Pan is dead!'
And, at once, in response to his shout, all along the coast (though
the island was uninhabited), sounded loud sobs, moans, long-drawn-out,
plaintive wailings. 'Dead! dead is great Pan!' I recalled this story ...
and a strange thought came to. 'What if I call an invocation?'
But in the sight of the exultant beauty around me, I could not think of
death, and with all my might I shouted, 'Great Pan is arisen! arisen!'
And at once, wonder of wonders, in answer to my call, from all the wide
half-circle of green mountains came peals of joyous laughter, rose the
murmur of glad voices and the clapping of hands. 'He is arisen! Pan is
arisen!' clamoured fresh young voices. Everything before me burst into
sudden laughter, brighter than the sun on high, merrier than the brooks
that babbled among the grass. I heard the hurried thud of light steps,
among the green undergrowth there were gleams of the marble white of
flowing tunics, the living flush of bare limbs.... It was the nymphs,
nymphs, dryads, Bacchantes, hastening from the heights down to the
All at once they appear at every opening in the woods. Their curls float
about their god-like heads, their slender hands hold aloft wreaths and
cymbals, and laughter, sparkling, Olympian laughter, comes leaping, dancing
Before them moves a goddess. She is taller and fairer than the rest; a
quiver on her shoulder, a bow in her hands, a silvery crescent moon on her
'Diana, is it thou?'
But suddenly the goddess stopped ... and at once all the nymphs following
her stopped. The ringing laughter died away.
I see the face of the hushed goddess overspread with a deadly pallor; I saw
her feet grew rooted to the ground, her lips parted in unutterable horror;
her eyes grew wide, fixed on the distance ... What had she seen? What was
she gazing upon?
I turned where she was gazing ...
And on the distant sky-line, above the low strip of fields, gleamed, like
a point of fire the golden cross on the white bell-tower of a Christian
church.... That cross the goddess had caught sight of.
I heard behind me a long, broken sigh, like the quiver of a broken string,
and when I turned again, no trace was left of the nymphs.... The broad
forest was green as before, and only here and there among the thick network
of branches, were fading gleams of something white; whether the nymphs'
white robes, or a mist rising from the valley, I know not.
But how I mourned for those vanished goddesses!
FRIEND AND ENEMY
A prisoner, condemned to confinement for life, broke out of his prison and
took to head-long flight.... After him, just on his heels flew his gaolers
He ran with all his might.... His pursuers began to be left behind.
But behold, before him was a river with precipitous banks, a narrow, but
deep river.... And he could not swim!
A thin rotten plank had been thrown across from one bank to the other. The
fugitive already had his foot upon it.... But it so happened that just
there beside the river stood his best friend and his bitterest enemy.
His enemy said nothing, he merely folded his arms; but the friend shrieked
at the top of his voice: 'Heavens! What are you doing? Madman, think what
you're about! Don't you see the plank's utterly rotten? It will break under
your weight, and you will inevitably perish!'
'But there is no other way to cross ... and don't you hear them in
pursuit?' groaned the poor wretch in despair, and he stepped on to the
'I won't allow it!... No, I won't allow you to rush to destruction!' cried
the zealous friend, and he snatched the plank from under the fugitive. The
latter instantly fell into the boiling torrent, and was drowned.
The enemy smiled complacently, and walked away; but the friend sat down on
the bank, and fell to weeping bitterly over his poor ... poor friend!
To blame himself for his destruction did not however occur to him ... not
for an instant.
'He would not listen to me! He would not listen!' he murmured dejectedly.
'Though indeed,' he added at last. 'He would have had, to be sure, to
languish his whole life long in an awful prison! At any rate, he is out
of suffering now! He is better off now! Such was bound to be his fate, I
'And yet I am sorry, from humane feeling!'
And the kind soul continued to sob inconsolably over the fate of his
I saw myself, in dream, a youth, almost a boy, in a low-pitched wooden
church. The slim wax candles gleamed, spots of red, before the old pictures
of the saints.
A ring of coloured light encircled each tiny flame. Dark and dim it was
in the church.... But there stood before me many people. All fair-haired,
peasant heads. From time to time they began swaying, falling, rising
again, like the ripe ears of wheat, when the wind of summer passes in slow
undulation over them.
All at once some man came up from behind and stood beside me.
I did not turn towards him; but at once I felt that this man was Christ.
Emotion, curiosity, awe overmastered me suddenly. I made an effort ... and
looked at my neighbour.
A face like every one's, a face like all men's faces. The eyes looked a
little upwards, quietly and intently. The lips closed, but not compressed;
the upper lip, as it were, resting on the lower; a small beard parted in
two. The hands folded and still. And the clothes on him like every one's.
'What sort of Christ is this?' I thought. 'Such an ordinary, ordinary man!
It can't be!'
I turned away. But I had hardly turned my eyes away from this ordinary man
when I felt again that it really was none other than Christ standing beside
Again I made an effort over myself.... And again the same face, like all
men's faces, the same everyday though unknown features.
And suddenly my heart sank, and I came to myself. Only then I realised that
just such a face--a face like all men's faces--is the face of Christ.
Have you seen an old grey stone on the seashore, when at high tide, on a
sunny day of spring, the living waves break upon it on all sides--break and
frolic and caress it--and sprinkle over its sea-mossed head the scattered
pearls of sparkling foam?
The stone is still the same stone; but its sullen surface blossoms out into
They tell of those far-off days when the molten granite had but begun to
harden, and was all aglow with the hues of fire.
Even so of late was my old heart surrounded, broken in upon by a rush of
fresh girls' souls ... and under their caressing touch it flushed with
long-faded colours, the traces of burnt-out fires!
The waves have ebbed back ... but the colours are not yet dull, though a
cutting wind is drying them.
I stood on the top of a sloping hillside; before me, a gold and silver sea
of shifting colour, stretched the ripe rye.
But no little wavelets ran over that sea; no stir of wind was in the
stifling air; a great storm was gathering.
Near me the sun still shone with dusky fire; but beyond the rye, not very
far away, a dark-blue storm-cloud lay, a menacing mass over full half of
All was hushed ... all things were faint under the malignant glare of
the last sun rays. No sound, no sight of a bird; even the sparrows hid
themselves. Only somewhere close by, persistently a great burdock leaf
flapped and whispered.
How strong was the smell of the wormwood in the hedges! I looked at the
dark-blue mass ... there was a vague uneasiness at my heart. 'Come then,
quickly, quickly!' was my thought, 'flash, golden snake, and roll thunder!
move, hasten, break into floods, evil storm-cloud; cut short this agony of
But the storm-cloud did not move. It lay as before, a stifling weight upon
the hushed earth ... and only seemed to swell and darken.
And lo, over its dead dusky-blue, something darted in smooth, even flight,
like a white handkerchief or a handful of snow. It was a white dove flying
from the direction of the village.
It flew, flew on straight ... and plunged into the forest. Some instants
passed by--still the same cruel hush.... But, look! Two handkerchiefs gleam
in the air, two handfuls of snow are floating back, two white doves are
winging their way homewards with even flight.
And now at last the storm has broken, and the tumult has begun!
I could hardly get home. The wind howled, tossing hither and thither in
frenzy; before it scudded low red clouds, torn, it seemed, into shreds;
everything was whirled round in confusion; the lashing rain streamed
in furious torrents down the upright trunks, flashes of lightning were
blinding with greenish light, sudden peals of thunder boomed like
cannon-shots, the air was full of the smell of sulphur....
But under the overhanging roof, on the sill of the dormer window, side by
side sat two white doves, the one who flew after his mate, and the mate he
brought back, saved, perhaps, from destruction.
They sit ruffling up their feathers, and each feels his mate's wing against
They are happy! And I am happy, seeing them.... Though I am alone ...
alone, as always.
How empty, dull, and useless is almost every day when it is spent! How few
the traces it leaves behind it! How meaningless, how foolish those hours as
they coursed by one after another!
And yet it is man's wish to exist; he prizes life, he rests hopes on it, on
himself, on the future.... Oh, what blessings he looks for from the future!
But why does he imagine that other coming days will not be like this day he
has just lived through?
Nay, he does not even imagine it. He likes not to think at all, and he does
'Ah, to-morrow, to-morrow!' he comforts himself, till 'to-morrow' pitches
him into the grave.
Well, and once in the grave, thou hast no choice, thou doest no more
I dreamed I had come into an immense underground temple with lofty arched
roof. It was filled with a sort of underground uniform light.
In the very middle of the temple sat a majestic woman in a flowing robe
of green colour. Her head propped on her hand, she seemed buried in deep
At once I was aware that this woman was Nature herself; and a thrill of
reverent awe sent an instantaneous shiver through my inmost soul.
I approached the sitting figure, and making a respectful bow, 'O common
Mother of us all!' I cried, 'of what is thy meditation? Is it of the future
destinies of man thou ponderest? or how he may attain the highest possible
perfection and happiness?'
The woman slowly turned upon me her dark menacing eyes. Her lips moved, and
I heard a ringing voice like the clang of iron.
'I am thinking how to give greater power to the leg-muscles of the flea,
that he may more easily escape from his enemies. The balance of attack and
defence is broken.... It must be restored.'
'What,' I faltered in reply, 'what is it thou art thinking upon? But are
not we, men, thy favourite children?'
The woman frowned slightly. 'All creatures are my children,' she
pronounced, 'and I care for them alike, and all alike I destroy.'
'But right ... reason ... justice ...' I faltered again.
'Those are men's words,' I heard the iron voice saying. 'I know not right
nor wrong.... Reason is no law for me--and what is justice?--I have given
thee life, I shall take it away and give to others, worms or men ... I care
not.... Do thou meanwhile look out for thyself, and hinder me not!'
I would have retorted ... but the earth uttered a hollow groan and
shuddered, and I awoke.
'It happened in 1803,' began my old acquaintance, 'not long before
Austerlitz. The regiment in which I was an officer was quartered in
'We had strict orders not to molest or annoy the inhabitants; as it was,
they regarded us very dubiously, though we were supposed to be allies.
'I had a servant, formerly a serf of my mother's, Yegor, by name. He was a
quiet, honest fellow; I had known him from a child, and treated him as a
'Well, one day, in the house where I was living, I heard screams of abuse,
cries, and lamentations; the woman of the house had had two hens stolen,
and she laid the theft at my servant's door. He defended himself, called me
to witness.... "Likely he'd turn thief, he, Yegor Avtamonov!" I assured the
woman of Yegor's honesty, but she would not listen to me.
'All at once the thud of horses' hoofs was heard along the street; the
commander-in-chief was riding by with his staff. He was riding at a walking
pace, a stout, corpulent man, with drooping head, and epaulettes hanging on
'The woman saw him, and rushing before his horse, flung herself on her
knees, and, bare-headed and all in disorder, she began loudly complaining
of my servant, pointing at him.
'"General!" she screamed; "your Excellency! make an inquiry! help me! save
me! this soldier has robbed me!"
'Yegor stood at the door of the house, bolt upright, his cap in his hand,
he even arched his chest and brought his heels together like a sentry, and
not a word! Whether he was abashed at all the general's suite halting there
in the middle of the street, or stupefied by the calamity facing him, I
can't say, but there stood my poor Yegor, blinking and white as chalk!
'The commander-in-chief cast an abstracted and sullen glance at him,
growled angrily, "Well?" ... Yegor stood like a statue, showing his teeth
as if he were grinning! Looking at him from the side, you'd say the fellow
'Then the commander-in-chief jerked out: "Hang him!" spurred his horse, and
moved on, first at a walking-pace, then at a quick trot. The whole staff
hurried after him; only one adjutant turned round on his saddle and took a
passing glance at Yegor.
'To disobey was impossible.... Yegor was seized at once and led off to
'Then he broke down altogether, and simply gasped out twice, "Gracious
heavens! gracious heavens!" and then in a whisper, "God knows, it wasn't
'Bitterly, bitterly he cried, saying good-bye to me. I was in despair.
"Yegor! Yegor!" I cried, "how came it you said nothing to the general?"
'"God knows, it wasn't me!" the poor fellow repeated, sobbing. The woman
herself was horrified. She had never expected such a dreadful termination,
and she started howling on her own account! She fell to imploring all and
each for mercy, swore the hens had been found, that she was ready to clear
it all up....
'Of course, all that was no sort of use. Those were war-times, sir!
Discipline! The woman sobbed louder and louder.
'Yegor, who had received absolution from the priest, turned to me.
'"Tell her, your honour, not to upset herself.... I've forgiven her."'
My acquaintance, as he repeated this, his servant's last words, murmured,
'My poor Yegor, dear fellow, a real saint!' and the tears trickled down his
WHAT SHALL I THINK?...
What shall I think when I come to die, if only I am in a condition to think
Shall I think how little use I have made of my life, how I have slumbered,
dozed through it, how little I have known how to enjoy its gifts?
'What? is this death? So soon? Impossible! Why, I have had no time to do
anything yet.... I have only been making ready to begin!'
Shall I recall the past, and dwell in thought on the few bright moments I
have lived through--on precious images and faces?
Will my ill deeds come back to my mind, and will my soul be stung by the
burning pain of remorse too late?
Shall I think of what awaits me beyond the grave ... and in truth does
anything await me there?
No.... I fancy I shall try not to think, and shall force myself to take
interest in some trifle simply to distract my own attention from the
menacing darkness, which is black before me.
I once saw a dying man who kept complaining they would not let him have
hazel-nuts to munch!... and only in the depths of his fast-dimming eyes,
something quivered and struggled like the torn wing of a bird wounded to
'HOW FAIR, HOW FRESH WERE THE ROSES ...'
Somewhere, sometime, long, long ago, I read a poem. It was soon forgotten
... but the first line has stuck in my memory--
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
Now is winter; the frost has iced over the window-panes; in the dark room
burns a solitary candle. I sit huddled up in a corner; and in my head the
line keeps echoing and echoing--
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
And I see myself before the low window of a Russian country house. The
summer evening is slowly melting into night, the warm air is fragrant of
mignonette and lime-blossom; and at the window, leaning on her arm, her
head bent on her shoulder, sits a young girl, and silently, intently gazes
into the sky, as though looking for new stars to come out. What candour,
what inspiration in the dreamy eyes, what moving innocence in the parted
questioning lips, how calmly breathes that still-growing, still-untroubled
bosom, how pure and tender the profile of the young face! I dare not speak
to her; but how dear she is to me, how my heart beats!
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
But here in the room it gets darker and darker.... The candle burns dim and
gutters, dancing shadows quiver on the low ceiling, the cruel crunch of the
frost is heard outside, and within the dreary murmur of old age....
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
There rise up before me other images. I hear the merry hubbub of home life
in the country. Two flaxen heads, bending close together, look saucily at
me with their bright eyes, rosy cheeks shake with suppressed laughter,
hands are clasped in warm affection, young kind voices ring one above the
other; while a little farther, at the end of the snug room, other hands,
young too, fly with unskilled fingers over the keys of the old piano, and
the Lanner waltz cannot drown the hissing of the patriarchal samovar ...
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
The candle flickers and goes out.... Whose is that hoarse and hollow cough?
Curled up, my old dog lies, shuddering at my feet, my only companion....
I'm cold ... I'm frozen ... and all of them are dead ... dead ...
'_How fair, how fresh were the roses ..._'
ON THE SEA
I was going from Hamburg to London in a small steamer. We were two
passengers; I and a little female monkey, whom a Hamburg merchant was
sending as a present to his English partner.
She was fastened by a light chain to one of the seats on deck, and was
moving restlessly and whining in a little plaintive pipe like a bird's.
Every time I passed by her she stretched out her little, black, cold hand,
and peeped up at me out of her little mournful, almost human eyes. I took
her hand, and she ceased whining and moving restlessly about.
There was a dead calm. The sea stretched on all sides like a motionless
sheet of leaden colour. It seemed narrowed and small; a thick fog overhung
it, hiding the very mast-tops in cloud, and dazing and wearying the eyes
with its soft obscurity. The sun hung, a dull red blur in this obscurity;
but before evening it glowed with strange, mysterious, lurid light.
Long, straight folds, like the folds in some heavy silken stuff, passed one
after another over the sea from the ship's prow, and broadening as they
passed, and wrinkling and widening, were smoothed out again with a shake,
and vanished. The foam flew up, churned by the tediously thudding wheels;
white as milk, with a faint hiss it broke up into serpentine eddies, and
then melted together again and vanished too, swallowed up by the mist.
Persistent and plaintive as the monkey's whine rang the small bell at the
From time to time a porpoise swam up, and with a sudden roll disappeared
below the scarcely ruffled surface.
And the captain, a silent man with a gloomy, sunburnt face, smoked a short
pipe and angrily spat into the dull, stagnant sea.
To all my inquiries he responded by a disconnected grumble. I was obliged
to turn to my sole companion, the monkey.
I sat down beside her; she ceased whining, and again held out her hand to
The clinging fog oppressed us both with its drowsy dampness; and buried
in the same unconscious dreaminess, we sat side by side like brother and
I smile now ... but then I had another feeling.
We are all children of one mother, and I was glad that the poor little
beast was soothed and nestled so confidingly up to me, as to a brother.
Calmly and gracefully thou movest along the path of life, tearless and
smileless, and scarce a heedless glance of indifferent attention ruffles
Thou art good and wise ... and all things are remote from thee, and of no
one hast thou need.
Thou art fair, and no one can say, whether thou prizest thy beauty or not.
No sympathy hast thou to give; none dost thou desire.
Thy glance is deep, and no thought is in it; in that clear depth is
So in the Elysian field, to the solemn strains of Gluck's melodies, move
without grief or bliss the graceful shades.
Stay! as I see thee now, abide for ever in my memory!
From thy lips the last inspired note has broken. No light, no flash is
in thy eyes; they are dim, weighed down by the load of happiness, of the
blissful sense of the beauty, it has been thy glad lot to express--the
beauty, groping for which thou hast stretched out thy yearning hands, thy
triumphant, exhausted hands!
What is the radiance--purer and higher than the sun's radiance--all about
thy limbs, the least fold of thy raiment?
What god's caressing breath has set thy scattered tresses floating?
His kiss burns on thy brow, white now as marble.
This is it, the mystery revealed, the mystery of poesy, of life, of love!
This, this is immortality! Other immortality there is none, nor need be.
For this instant thou art immortal.
It passes, and once more thou art a grain of dust, a woman, a child.... But
why need'st thou care! For this instant, thou art above, thou art outside
all that is passing, temporary. This thy instant will never end. Stay!
and let me share in thy immortality; shed into my soul the light of thy
I used to know a monk, a hermit, a saint. He lived only for the sweetness
of prayer; and steeping himself in it, he would stand so long on the cold
floor of the church that his legs below the knees grew numb and senseless
as blocks of wood. He did not feel them; he stood on and prayed.
I understood him, and perhaps envied him; but let him too understand me and
not condemn me; me, for whom his joys are inaccessible.
He has attained to annihilating himself, his hateful _ego_; but I too; it's
not from egoism, I pray not.
My _ego_, may be, is even more burdensome and more odious to me, than his
He has found wherein to forget himself ... but I, too, find the same,
though not so continuously.
He does not lie ... but neither do I lie.
WE WILL STILL FIGHT ON
What an insignificant trifle may sometimes transform the whole man!
Full of melancholy thought, I walked one day along the highroad.
My heart was oppressed by a weight of gloomy apprehension; I was
overwhelmed by dejection. I raised my head.... Before me, between two rows
of tall poplars, the road darted like an arrow into the distance.
And across it, across this road, ten paces from me, in the golden light of
the dazzling summer sunshine, a whole family of sparrows hopped one after
another, hopped saucily, drolly, self-reliantly!
One of them, in particular, skipped along sideways with desperate energy,
puffing out his little bosom and chirping impudently, as though to say he
was not afraid of any one! A gallant little warrior, really!
And, meanwhile, high overhead in the heavens hovered a hawk, destined,
perhaps, to devour that little warrior.
I looked, laughed, shook myself, and the mournful thoughts flew right away:
pluck, daring, zeal for life I felt anew. Let him, too, hover over me, _my_
hawk.... We will fight on, and damn it all!
Whatever a man pray for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces
to this: 'Great God, grant that twice two be not four.'
Only such a prayer is a real prayer from person to person. To pray
to the Cosmic Spirit, to the Higher Being, to the Kantian, Hegelian,
quintessential, formless God is impossible and unthinkable.
But can even a personal, living, imaged God make twice two not be four?
Every believer is bound to answer, _he can_, and is bound to persuade
himself of it.
But if reason sets him revolting against this senselessness?
Then Shakespeare comes to his aid: 'There are more things in heaven and
earth, Horatio,' etc.
And if they set about confuting him in the name of truth, he has but to
repeat the famous question, 'What is truth?' And so, let us drink and be
merry, and say our prayers.
THE RUSSIAN TONGUE
In days of doubt, in days of dreary musings on my country's fate, thou
alone art my stay and support, mighty, true, free Russian speech! But for
thee, how not fall into despair, seeing all that is done at home? But who
can think that such a tongue is not the gift of a great people!