HotFreeBooks.com
Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia?
by Nicholas Nekrassov
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

WHO CAN BE HAPPY AND FREE IN RUSSIA?

BY

NICHOLAS NEKRASSOV

Translated by Juliet M. Soskice

With an Introduction by Dr. David Soskice

1917



NICHOLAS ALEXEIEVITCH NEKRASSOV

Born, near the town Vinitza, province of Podolia, November 22, 1821

Died, St. Petersburg, December 27, 1877.

'Who can be Happy and Free in Russia?' was first published in Russia in 1879. In 'The World's Classics' this translation was first published in 1917.



CONTENTS:

NICHOLAS NEKRASSOV: A SKETCH OF HIS LIFE

PROLOGUE

PART I.

CHAP.

I. THE POPE II. THE VILLAGE FAIR III. THE DRUNKEN NIGHT IV. THE HAPPY ONES V. THE POMYESHCHICK

PART II.—THE LAST POMYESHCHICK

PROLOGUE I. THE DIE-HARD II. KLIM, THE ELDER

PART III.—THE PEASANT WOMAN

PROLOGUE I. THE WEDDING II. A SONG III. SAVYELI IV. DJOMUSHKA V. THE SHE-WOLF VI. AN UNLUCKY YEAR VII. THE GOVERNOR'S LADY VIII. THE WOMAN'S LEGEND

PART IV.—A FEAST FOR THE WHOLE VILLAGE

PROLOGUE I. BITTER TIMES—BITTER SONGS II. PILGRIMS AND WANDERERS III. OLD AND NEW

EPILOGUE



NICHOLAS NEKRASSOV: A SKETCH OF HIS LIFE

Western Europe has only lately begun to explore the rich domain of Russian literature, and is not yet acquainted with all even of its greatest figures. Treasures of untold beauty and priceless value, which for many decades have been enlarging and elevating the Russian mind, still await discovery here. Who in England, for instance, has heard the names of Saltykov, Uspensky, or Nekrassov? Yet Saltykov is the greatest of Russian satirists; Uspensky the greatest story-writer of the lives of the Russian toiling masses; while Nekrassov, "the poet of the people's sorrow," whose muse "of grief and vengeance" has supremely dominated the minds of the Russian educated classes for the last half century, is the sole and rightful heir of his two great predecessors, Pushkin and Lermontov.

Russia is a country still largely mysterious to the denizen of Western Europe, and the Russian peasant, the moujik, an impenetrable riddle to him. Of all the great Russian writers not one has contributed more to the interpretation of the enigmatical soul of the moujik than Russia's great poet, Nekrassov, in his life-work the national epic, Who can be Happy in Russia?

There are few literate persons in Russia who do not know whole pages of this poem by heart. It will live as long as Russian literature exists; and its artistic value as an instrument for the depiction of Russian nature and the soul of the Russian people can be compared only with that of the great epics of Homer with regard to the legendary life of ancient Greece.

Nekrassov seemed destined to dwell from his birth amid such surroundings as are necessary for the creation of a great national poet.

Nicholas Alexeievitch Nekrassov was the descendant of a noble family, which in former years had been very wealthy, but subsequently had lost the greater part of its estates. His father was an officer in the army, and in the course of his peregrinations from one end of the country to the other in the fulfilment of his military duties he became acquainted with a young Polish girl, the daughter of a wealthy Polish aristocrat. She was seventeen, a type of rare Polish beauty, and the handsome, dashing Russian officer at once fell madly in love with her. The parents of the girl, however, were horrified at the notion of marrying their daughter to a "Muscovite savage," and her father threatened her with his curse if ever again she held communication with her lover. So the matter was secretly arranged between the two, and during a ball which the young Polish beauty was attending she suddenly disappeared. Outside the house the lover waited with his sledge. They sped away, and were married at the first church they reached.

The bride, with her father's curse upon her, passed straight from her sheltered existence in her luxurious home to all the unsparing rigours of Russian camp-life. Bred in an atmosphere of maternal tenderness and Polish refinement she had now to share the life of her rough, uncultured Russian husband, to content herself with the shallow society of the wives of the camp officers, and soon to be crushed by the knowledge that the man for whom she had sacrificed everything was not even faithful to her.

During their travels, in 1821, Nicholas Nekrassov the future poet was born, and three years later his father left military service and settled in his estate in the Yaroslav Province, on the banks of the great river Volga, and close to the Vladimirsky highway, famous in Russian history as the road along which, for centuries, chained convicts had been driven from European Russia to the mines in Siberia. The old park of the manor, with its seven rippling brooklets and mysterious shadowy linden avenues more than a century old, filled with a dreamy murmur at the slightest stir of the breeze, stretched down to the mighty Volga, along the banks of which, during the long summer days, were heard the piteous, panting songs of the burlaki, the barge-towers, who drag the heavy, loaded barges up and down the river.

The rattling of the convicts' chains as they passed; the songs of the burlaki; the pale, sorrowful face of his mother as she walked alone in the linden avenues of the garden, often shedding tears over a letter she read, which was headed by a coronet and written in a fine, delicate hand; the spreading green fields, the broad mighty river, the deep blue skies of Russia,—such were the reminiscences which Nekrassov retained from his earliest childhood. He loved his sad young mother with a childish passion, and in after years he was wont to relate how jealous he had been of that letter[1] she read so often, which always seemed to fill her with a sorrow he could not understand, making her at moments even forget that he was near her.

The sight and knowledge of deep human suffering, framed in the soft voluptuous beauty of nature in central Russia, could not fail to sow the seed of future poetical powers in the soul of an emotional child. His mother, who had been bred on Shakespeare, Milton, and the other great poets and writers of the West, devoted her solitary life to the development of higher intellectual tendencies in her gifted little son. And from an early age he made attempts at verse. His mother has preserved for the world his first little poem, which he presented to her when he was seven years of age, with a little heading, roughly to the following effect:

My darling Mother, look at this, I did the best I could in it, Please read it through and tell me if You think there's any good in it.

The early life of the little Nekrassov was passed amid a series of contrasting pictures. His father, when he had abandoned his military calling and settled upon his estate, became the Chief of the district police. He would take his son Nicholas with him in his trap as he drove from village to village in the fulfilment of his new duties. The continual change of scenery during their frequent journeys along country roads, through forests and valleys, past meadows and rivers, the various types of people they met with, broadened and developed the mind of little Nekrassov, just as the mind of the child Ruskin was formed and expanded during his journeys with his father. But Ruskin's education lacked features with which young Nekrassov on his journeys soon became familiar. While acquiring knowledge of life and accumulating impressions of the beauties of nature, Nekrassov listened, perforce, to the brutal, blustering speeches addressed by his father to the helpless, trembling peasants, and witnessed the cruel, degrading corporal punishments he inflicted upon them, while his eyes were speedily opened to his father's addiction to drinking, gambling, and debauchery. These experiences would most certainly have demoralised and depraved his childish mind had it not been for the powerful influence the refined and cultured mother had from the first exercised upon her son. The contrast between his parents was so startling that it could not fail to awaken the better side of the child's nature, and to imbue him with pure and healthy notions of the truer and higher ideals of humanity. In his poetical works of later years Nekrassov repeatedly returns to and dwells upon the memory of the sorrowful, sweet image of his mother. The gentle, beautiful lady, with her wealth of golden hair, with an expression of divine tenderness in her blue eyes and of infinite suffering upon her sensitive lips, remained for ever her son's ideal of womanhood. Later on, during years of manhood, in moments of the deepest moral suffering and despondency, it was always of her that he thought, her tenderness and spiritual consolation he recalled and for which he craved.

When Nekrassov was eleven years of age his father one day drove him to the town nearest their estate and placed him in the local grammar-school. Here he remained for six years, gradually, though without distinction, passing upwards from one class to another, devoting a moderate amount of time to school studies and much energy to the writing of poetry, mostly of a satirical nature, in which his teachers figured with unfortunate conspicuity.

One day a copy-book containing the most biting of these productions fell into the hands of the headmaster, and young Nekrassov was summarily ejected from the school.

His angry father, deciding in his own mind that the boy was good for nothing, despatched him to St. Petersburg to embark upon a military career. The seventeen-year-old boy arrived in the capital with a copy-book of his poems and a few roubles in his pocket, and with a letter of introduction to an influential general. He was filled with good intentions and fully prepared to obey his father's orders, but before he had taken the final step of entering the nobleman's regiment he met a young student, a former school-mate, who captivated his imagination by glowing descriptions of the marvellous sciences to be studied in the university, and the surpassing interest of student life. The impressionable boy decided to abandon the idea of his military career, and to prepare for his matriculation in the university. He wrote to his father to this effect, and received the stern and laconic reply:

"If you disobey me, not another farthing shall you receive from me."

The youth had made his mind up, however, and entered the university as an unmatriculated student. And that was the beginning of his long acquaintance with the hardships of poverty.

"For three years," said Nekrassov in after life, "I was hungry all day, and every day. It was not only that I ate bad food and not enough of that, but some days I did not eat at all. I often went to a certain restaurant in the Morskaya, where one is allowed to read the paper without ordering food. You can hold the paper in front of you and nibble at a piece of bread behind it...."

While sunk in this state of poverty, however, Nekrassov got into touch with some of the richest and most aristocratic families in St. Petersburg; for at that time there existed a complete comradeship and equality among the students, whether their budget consisted of a few farthings or unlimited wealth. Thus here again Nekrassov was given the opportunity of studying the contrasts of life.

For several years after his arrival in St. Petersburg the true gifts of the poet were denied expression. The young man was confronted with a terrible uphill fight to conquer the means of bare subsistence. He had no time to devote to the working out of his poems, and it would not have "paid" him. He was obliged to accept any literary job that was offered him, and to execute it with a promptitude necessitated by the requirements of his daily bill of fare. During the first years of his literary career he wrote an amazing number of prose reviews, essays, short stories, novels, comedies and tragedies, alphabets and children's stories, which, put together, would fill thirty or forty volumes. He also issued a volume of his early poems, but he was so ashamed of them that he would not put his name upon the fly-leaf. Soon, however, his poems, "On the Road" and "My Motherland," attracted the attention of Byelinsky, when the young poet brought some of his work to show the great critic. With tears in his eyes Byelinsky embraced Nekrassov and said to him:

"Do you know that you are a poet, a true poet?"

This decree of Byelinsky brought fame to Nekrassov, for Byelinsky's word was law in Russia then, and his judgement was never known to fail. His approval gave Nekrassov the confidence he lacked, and he began to devote most of his time to poetry.

The epoch in which Nekrassov began his literary career in St. Petersburg, the early forties of last century, was one of a great revival of idealism in Russia. The iron reaction of the then Emperor Nicholas I. made independent political activity an impossibility. But the horrible and degrading conditions of serfdom which existed at that time, and which cast a blight upon the energy and dignity of the Russian nation, nourished feelings of grief and indignation in the noblest minds of the educated classes, and, unable to struggle for their principles in the field of practical politics, they strove towards abstract idealism. They devoted their energies to philosophy, literature, and art. It was then that Tolstoy, Turgenieff, and Dostoyevsky embarked upon their phenomenal careers in fiction. It was then that the impetuous essayist, Byelinsky, with his fiery and eloquent pen, taught the true meaning and objects of literature. Nekrassov soon joined the circles of literary people dominated by the spirit of Byelinsky, and he too drank at the fountain of idealism and imbibed the gospel of altruistic toil for his country and its people, that gospel of perfect citizenship expounded by Byelinsky, Granovsky, and their friends. It was at this period that his poetry became impregnated with the sadness which, later on, was embodied in the lines:

My verses! Living witnesses of tears Shed for the world, and born In moments of the soul's dire agony, Unheeded and forlorn, Like waves that beat against the rocks, You plead to hearts that scorn.

Nekrassov's material conditions meanwhile began to improve, and he actually developed business capacities, and soon the greatest writers of the time were contributing to the monthly review Sovremenik (the Contemporary) which Nekrassov bought in 1847. Turgenieff, Herzen, Byelinsky, Dostoyevsky gladly sent their works to him, and Nekrassov soon became the intellectual leader of his time. His influence became enormous, but he had to cope with all the rigours of the censorship which had become almost insupportable in Russia, as the effect of the Tsar's fears aroused by the events of the French Revolution of 1848.

Byelinsky died in that year from consumption in the very presence of the gendarmes who had come to arrest him for some literary offence. Dostoyevsky was seized, condemned to death, and when already on the scaffold, with the rope around his neck, reprieved and sent for life to the Siberian mines. The rigours still increased during the Crimean War, and it was only after the death of Nicholas I., the termination of the war, and the accession of the liberal Tsar, Alexander II., that Nekrassov and Russian literature in general began to breathe more freely. The decade which followed upon 1855 was one of the bright periods of Russian history. Serfdom was abolished and many great reforms were passed. It was then that Nekrassov's activity was at its height. His review Sovremenik was a stupendous success, and brought him great fame and wealth. During that year some of his finest poems appeared in it: "The Peasant Children," "Orina, the Mother of a Soldier," "The Gossips," "The Pedlars," "The Rail-way," and many others.

Nekrassov became the idol of Russia. The literary evenings at which he used to read his poems aloud were besieged by fervent devotees, and the most brilliant orations were addressed to him on all possible occasions. His greatest work, however, the national epic, Who can be Happy in Russia? was written towards the latter end of his life, between 1873 and 1877.

Here he suffered from the censor more cruelly than ever. Long extracts from the poem were altogether forbidden, and only after his death it was allowed, in 1879, to appear in print more or less in its entirety.

When gripped in the throes of his last painful illness, and practically on his deathbed, he would still have found consolation in work, in the dictation of his poems. But even then his sufferings were aggravated by the harassing coercions of the censor. His last great poem was written on his deathbed, and the censor peremptorily forbade its publication. Nekrassov one day greeted his doctor with the following remark:

"Now you see what our profession, literature, means. When I wrote my first lines they were hacked to pieces by the censor's scissors—that was thirty-seven years ago; and now, when I am dying, and have written my last lines, I am again confronted by the scissors."

For many months he lay in appalling suffering. His disease was the outcome, he declared, of the privations he had suffered in his youth. The whole of Russia seemed to be standing at his bedside, watching with anguish his terrible struggle with death. Hundreds of letters and telegrams arrived daily from every corner of the immense empire, and the dying poet, profoundly touched by these tokens of love and sympathy, said to the literary friends who visited him:

"You see! We wonder all our lives what our readers think of us, whether they love us and are our friends. We learn in moments like this...."

It was a bright, frosty December day when Nekrassov's coffin was carried to the grave on the shoulders of friends who had loved and admired him. The orations delivered above it were full of passionate emotion called forth by the knowledge that the speakers were expressing not only their own sentiments, but those of a whole nation.

Nekrassov is dead. But all over Russia young and old repeat and love his poetry, so full of tenderness and grief and pity for the Russian people and their endless woe. Quotations from the works of Nekrassov are as abundant and widely known in Russia as those from Shakespeare in England, and no work of his is so familiar and so widely quoted as the national epic, now presented to the English public, Who can be Happy in Russia?

DAVID SOSKICE.



PROLOGUE

The year doesn't matter, The land's not important, But seven good peasants Once met on a high-road. From Province "Hard-Battered," From District "Most Wretched," From "Destitute" Parish, From neighbouring hamlets— "Patched," "Barefoot," and "Shabby," "Bleak," "Burnt-Out," and "Hungry," From "Harvestless" also, 11 They met and disputed Of who can, in Russia, Be happy and free?

Luka said, "The pope," [2] And Roman, "The Pomyeshchick," [3] Demyan, "The official," "The round-bellied merchant," Said both brothers Goobin, Mitrodor and Ivan. 20 Pakhom, who'd been lost In profoundest reflection, Exclaimed, looking down At the earth, "'Tis his Lordship, His most mighty Highness, The Tsar's Chief Adviser," And Prov said, "The Tsar."

Like bulls are the peasants: Once folly is in them You cannot dislodge it 30 Although you should beat them With stout wooden cudgels: They stick to their folly, And nothing can move them. They raised such a clamour That those who were passing Thought, "Surely the fellows Have found a great treasure And share it amongst them!"

They all had set out 40 On particular errands: The one to the blacksmith's, Another in haste To fetch Father Prokoffy To christen his baby. Pakhom had some honey To sell in the market; The two brothers Goobin Were seeking a horse Which had strayed from their herd. 50

Long since should the peasants Have turned their steps homewards, But still in a row They are hurrying onwards As quickly as though The grey wolf were behind them. Still further, still faster They hasten, contending. Each shouts, nothing hearing, And time does not wait. 60 In quarrel they mark not The fiery-red sunset Which blazes in Heaven As evening is falling, And all through the night They would surely have wandered If not for the woman, The pox-pitted "Blank-wits," Who met them and cried:

"Heh, God-fearing peasants, 70 Pray, what is your mission? What seek ye abroad In the blackness of midnight?"

So shrilled the hag, mocking, And shrieking with laughter She slashed at her horses And galloped away.

The peasants are startled, Stand still, in confusion, Since long night has fallen, 80 The numberless stars Cluster bright in the heavens, The moon gliding onwards. Black shadows are spread On the road stretched before The impetuous walkers. Oh, shadows, black shadows, Say, who can outrun you, Or who can escape you? Yet no one can catch you, 90 Entice, or embrace you!

Pakhom, the old fellow, Gazed long at the wood, At the sky, at the roadway, Gazed, silently searching His brain for some counsel, And then spake in this wise: "Well, well, the wood-devil Has finely bewitched us! We've wandered at least 100 Thirty versts from our homes. We all are too weary To think of returning To-night; we must wait Till the sun rise to-morrow."

Thus, blaming the devil, The peasants make ready To sleep by the roadside. They light a large fire, And collecting some farthings 110 Send two of their number To buy them some vodka, The rest cutting cups From the bark of a birch-tree. The vodka's provided, Black bread, too, besides, And they all begin feasting: Each munches some bread And drinks three cups of vodka— But then comes the question 120 Of who can, in Russia, Be happy and free?

Luka cries, "The pope!" And Roman, "The Pomyeshchick!" And Prov shouts, "The Tsar!" And Demyan, "The official!" "The round-bellied merchant!" Bawl both brothers Goobin, Mitrodor and Ivan. Pakhom shrieks, "His Lordship, 130 His most mighty Highness, The Tsar's Chief Adviser!"

The obstinate peasants Grow more and more heated, Cry louder and louder, Swear hard at each other; I really believe They'll attack one another! Look! now they are fighting! Roman and Pakhom close, 140 Demyan clouts Luka, While the two brothers Goobin Are drubbing fat Prov, And they all shout together. Then wakes the clear echo, Runs hither and thither, Runs calling and mocking As if to encourage The wrath of the peasants. The trees of the forest 150 Throw furious words back:

"The Tsar!" "The Pomyeshchick!" "The pope!" "The official!" Until the whole coppice Awakes in confusion; The birds and the insects, The swift-footed beasts And the low crawling reptiles Are chattering and buzzing And stirring all round. 160 The timid grey hare Springing out of the bushes Speeds startled away; The hoarse little jackdaw Flies off to the top Of a birch-tree, and raises A harsh, grating shriek, A most horrible clamour. A weak little peewit Falls headlong in terror 170 From out of its nest, And the mother comes flying In search of her fledgeling. She twitters in anguish. Alas! she can't find it. The crusty old cuckoo Awakes and bethinks him To call to a neighbour: Ten times he commences And gets out of tune, 180 But he won't give it up....

Call, call, little cuckoo, For all the young cornfields Will shoot into ear soon, And then it will choke you— The ripe golden grain, And your day will be ended![4]

From out the dark forest Fly seven brown owls, And on seven tall pine-trees 190 They settle themselves To enjoy the disturbance. They laugh—birds of night— And their huge yellow eyes gleam Like fourteen wax candles. The raven—the wise one— Sits perched on a tree In the light of the fire, Praying hard to the devil That one of the wranglers, 200 At least, should be beaten To death in the tumult. A cow with a bell Which had strayed from its fellows The evening before, Upon hearing men's voices Comes out of the forest And into the firelight, And fixing its eyes, Large and sad, on the peasants, 210 Stands listening in silence Some time to their raving, And then begins mooing, Most heartily moos. The silly cow moos, The jackdaw is screeching, The turbulent peasants Still shout, and the echo Maliciously mocks them— The impudent echo 220 Who cares but for mocking And teasing good people, For scaring old women And innocent children: Though no man has seen it We've all of us heard it; It lives—without body; It speaks—without tongue.

The pretty white owl Called the Duchess of Moscow 230 Comes plunging about In the midst of the peasants, Now circling above them, Now striking the bushes And earth with her body. And even the fox, too, The cunning old creature, With woman's determined And deep curiosity, Creeps to the firelight 240 And stealthily listens; At last, quite bewildered, She goes; she is thinking, "The devil himself Would be puzzled, I know!"

And really the wranglers Themselves have forgotten The cause of the strife.

But after awhile Having pummelled each other 250 Sufficiently soundly, They come to their senses; They drink from a rain-pool And wash themselves also, And then they feel sleepy. And, meanwhile, the peewit, The poor little fledgeling, With short hops and flights Had come fluttering towards them. Pakhom took it up 260 In his palm, held it gently Stretched out to the firelight, And looked at it, saying, "You are but a mite, Yet how sharp is your claw; If I breathed on you once You'd be blown to a distance, And if I should sneeze You would straightway be wafted Right into the flames. 270 One flick from my finger Would kill you entirely. Yet you are more powerful, More free than the peasant: Your wings will grow stronger, And then, little birdie, You'll fly where it please you. Come, give us your wings, now, You frail little creature, And we will go flying 280 All over the Empire, To seek and inquire, To search and discover The man who in Russia— Is happy and free."

"No wings would be needful If we could be certain Of bread every day; For then we could travel On foot at our leisure," 290 Said Prov, of a sudden Grown weary and sad.

"But not without vodka, A bucket each morning," Cried both brothers Goobin, Mitrodor and Ivan, Who dearly loved vodka.

"Salt cucumbers, also, Each morning a dozen!" The peasants cry, jesting. 300

"Sour qwass,[5] too, a jug To refresh us at mid-day!"

"A can of hot tea Every night!" they say, laughing.

But while they were talking The little bird's mother Was flying and wheeling In circles above them; She listened to all, And descending just near them 310 She chirruped, and making A brisk little movement She said to Pakhom In a voice clear and human: "Release my poor child, I will pay a great ransom."

"And what is your offer?"

"A loaf each a day And a bucket of vodka, Salt cucumbers also, 320 Each morning a dozen. At mid-day sour qwass And hot tea in the evening."

"And where, little bird," Asked the two brothers Goobin, "And where will you find Food and drink for all seven?"

"Yourselves you will find it, But I will direct you To where you will find it." 330 "Well, speak. We will listen."

"Go straight down the road, Count the poles until thirty: Then enter the forest And walk for a verst. By then you'll have come To a smooth little lawn With two pine-trees upon it. Beneath these two pine-trees Lies buried a casket 340 Which you must discover. The casket is magic, And in it there lies An enchanted white napkin. Whenever you wish it This napkin will serve you With food and with vodka: You need but say softly, 'O napkin enchanted, Give food to the peasants!' 350 At once, at your bidding, Through my intercession The napkin will serve you. And now, free my child."

"But wait. We are poor, And we're thinking of making A very long journey," Pakhom said. "I notice That you are a bird Of remarkable talent. 360 So charm our old clothing To keep it upon us."

"Our coats, that they fall not In tatters," Roman said.

"Our laputs,[6] that they too May last the whole journey," Demyan next demanded.

"Our shirts, that the fleas May not breed and annoy us," Luka added lastly. 370

The little bird answered, "The magic white napkin Will mend, wash, and dry for you. Now free my child."

Pakhom then spread open His palm, wide and spacious, Releasing the fledgeling, Which fluttered away To a hole in a pine-tree. The mother who followed it 380 Added, departing: "But one thing remember: Food, summon at pleasure As much as you fancy, But vodka, no more Than a bucket a day. If once, even twice You neglect my injunction Your wish shall be granted; The third time, take warning: 390 Misfortune will follow."

The peasants set off In a file, down the road, Count the poles until thirty And enter the forest, And, silently counting Each footstep, they measure A verst as directed. They find the smooth lawn With the pine-trees upon it, 400 They dig all together And soon reach the casket; They open it—there lies The magic white napkin! They cry in a chorus, "O napkin enchanted, Give food to the peasants!"

Look, look! It's unfolding! Two hands have come floating From no one sees where; 410 Place a bucket of vodka, A large pile of bread On the magic white napkin, And dwindle away.

"The cucumbers, tea, And sour qwass—where are they then?" At once they appear!

The peasants unloosen Their waistbelts, and gather Around the white napkin 420 To hold a great banquet. In joy, they embrace One another, and promise That never again Will they beat one another Without sound reflection, But settle their quarrels In reason and honour As God has commanded; That nought shall persuade them 430 To turn their steps homewards To kiss wives and children, To see the old people, Until they have settled For once and forever The subject of discord: Until they've discovered The man who, in Russia, Is happy and free.

They swear to each other 440 To keep this, their promise, And daybreak beholds them Embosomed in slumber As deep and as dreamless As that of the dead.



PART I.



CHAPTER I.

THE POPE[7]

The broad sandy high-road With borders of birch-trees Winds sadly and drearily Into the distance; On either hand running Low hills and young cornfields, Green pastures, and often— More often than any— Lands sterile and barren. And near to the rivers 10 And ponds are the hamlets And villages standing— The old and the new ones. The forests and meadows And rivers of Russia Are lovely in springtime, But O you spring cornfields, Your growth thin and scanty Is painful to see.

"'Twas not without meaning 20 That daily the snow fell Throughout the long winter," Said one to another The journeying peasants:— "The spring has now come And the snow tells its story: At first it is silent— 'Tis silent in falling, Lies silently sleeping, But when it is dying 30 Its voice is uplifted: The fields are all covered With loud, rushing waters, No roads can be traversed For bringing manure To the aid of the cornfields; The season is late For the sweet month of May Is already approaching." The peasant is saddened 40 At sight of the dirty And squalid old village; But sadder the new ones: The new huts are pretty, But they are the token Of heartbreaking ruin.[8]

As morning sets in They begin to meet people, But mostly small people: Their brethren, the peasants, 50 And soldiers and waggoners, Workmen and beggars. The soldiers and beggars They pass without speaking. Not asking if happy Or grievous their lot: The soldier, we know, Shaves his beard with a gimlet, Has nothing but smoke In the winter to warm him,— 60 What joy can be his?

As evening is falling Appears on the high-road A pope in his cart. The peasants uncover Their heads, and draw up In a line on the roadway, Thus barring the passage In front of the gelding. The pope raised his head, 70 Looked inquiringly at them. "Fear not, we won't harm you," Luka said in answer. (Luka was thick-bearded, Was heavy and stolid, Was obstinate, stupid, And talkative too; He was like to the windmill Which differs in one thing Alone from an eagle: 80 No matter how boldly It waves its broad pinions It rises no higher.)

"We, orthodox peasants, From District 'Most Wretched,' From Province 'Hard Battered,' From 'Destitute' Parish, From neighbouring hamlets, 'Patched,' 'Barefoot,' and 'Shabby,' 'Bleak,' 'Burnt-Out,' and 'Hungry,' 90 From 'Harvestless' also, Are striving to settle A thing of importance; A trouble torments us, It draws us away From our wives and our children, Away from our work, Kills our appetites too. Pray, give us your promise To answer us truly, 100 Consulting your conscience And searching your knowledge, Not feigning nor mocking The question we put you. If not, we will go Further on."

"I will promise If you will but put me A serious question To answer it gravely, 110 With truth and with reason, Not feigning nor mocking, Amen!"

"We are grateful, And this is our story: We all had set out On particular errands, And met in the roadway. Then one asked another: Who is he,—the man 120 Free and happy in Russia? And I said, 'The pope,' And Roman, 'The Pomyeshchick,' And Prov said, 'The Tsar,' And Demyan, 'The official'; 'The round-bellied merchant,' Said both brothers Goobin, Mitrodor and Ivan; Pakhom said, 'His Lordship, The Tsar's Chief Adviser.' 130

"Like bulls are the peasants; Once folly is in them You cannot dislodge it Although you should beat them With stout wooden cudgels, They stick to their folly And nothing can move them. We argued and argued, While arguing quarrelled, While quarrelling fought, 140 Till at last we decided That never again Would we turn our steps homeward To kiss wives and children, To see the old people, Until we have found The reply to our question, Until we've discovered For once and forever The man who, in Russia, 150 Is happy and free. Then say, in God's truth, Is the pope's life a sweet one? Would you, honoured father, Proclaim yourself happy?"

The pope in his cart Cast his eyes on the roadway, Fell thoughtful and answered:

"Then, Christians, come, hear me: I will not complain 160 Of the cross that I carry, But bear it in silence. I'll tell you my story, And you try to follow As well as you can."

"Begin."

"But first tell me The gifts you consider As true earthly welfare; Peace, honour, and riches,— 170 Is that so, my children?"

They answer, "It is so."

"And now let us see, friends, What peace does the pope get? In truth, then, I ought To begin from my childhood, For how does the son Of the pope gain his learning, And what is the price That he pays for the priesthood? 180 'Tis best to be silent." [9]

* * * * *

"Our roadways are poor And our parishes large, And the sick and the dying, The new-born that call us, Do not choose their season: In harvest and hay-time, In dark nights of autumn, Through frosts in the winter, Through floods in the springtime, 190 Go—where they may call you. You go without murmur, If only the body Need suffer alone! But no,—every moment The heart's deepest feelings Are strained and tormented. Believe me, my children, Some things on this earth One can never get used to: 200 No heart there exists That can bear without anguish The rattle of death, The lament for the lost one, The sorrow of orphans, Amen! Now you see, friends, The peace that the pope gets."

Not long did the peasants Stand thinking. They waited To let the pope rest, 210 Then enquired with a bow: "And what more will you tell us?" "Well, now let us see If the pope is much honoured; And that, O my friends, Is a delicate question— I fear to offend you.... But answer me, Christians, Whom call you, 'The cursed Stallion breed?' Can you tell me?"

The peasants stand silent 221 In painful confusion; The pope, too, is silent.

"Who is it you tremble To meet in the roadway[10] For fear of misfortune?"

The peasants stand shuffling Their feet in confusion.

"Of whom do you make Little scandalous stories? 230 Of whom do you sing Rhymes and songs most indecent? The pope's honoured wife, And his innocent daughters, Come, how do you treat them? At whom do you shout Ho, ho, ho, in derision When once you are past him?"

The peasants cast downwards Their eyes and keep silent. 240 The pope too is silent. The peasants stand musing; The pope fans his face With his hat, high and broad-rimmed, And looks at the heavens....

The cloudlets in springtime Play round the great sun Like small grandchildren frisking Around a hale grandsire, And now, on his right side 250 A bright little cloud Has grown suddenly dismal, Begins to shed tears. The grey thread is hanging In rows to the earth, While the red sun is laughing And beaming upon it Through torn fleecy clouds, Like a merry young girl Peeping out from the corn. 260 The cloud has moved nearer, The rain begins here, And the pope puts his hat on. But on the sun's right side The joy and the brightness Again are established. The rain is now ceasing.... It stops altogether, And God's wondrous miracle, Long golden sunbeams, 270 Are streaming from Heaven In radiant splendour.

* * * * *

"It isn't our own fault; It comes from our parents," Say, after long silence, The two brothers Goobin. The others approve him: "It isn't our own fault, It comes from our parents."

The pope said, "So be it! 280 But pardon me, Christians, It is not my meaning To censure my neighbours; I spoke but desiring To tell you the truth. You see how the pope Is revered by the peasants; The gentry—" "Pass over them, Father—we know them." 290 "Then let us consider From whence the pope's riches. In times not far distant The great Russian Empire Was filled with estates Of wealthy Pomyeshchicks.[11] They lived and increased, And they let us live too. What weddings were feasted! What numbers and numbers 300 Of children were born In each rich, merry life-time! Although they were haughty And often oppressive, What liberal masters! They never deserted The parish, they married, Were baptized within it, To us they confessed, And by us they were buried. 310 And if a Pomyeshchick Should chance for some reason To live in a city, He cherished one longing, To die in his birthplace; But did the Lord will it That he should die suddenly Far from the village, An order was found In his papers, most surely, 320 That he should be buried At home with his fathers. Then see—the black car With the six mourning horses,— The heirs are conveying The dead to the graveyard; And think—what a lift For the pope, and what feasting All over the village! But now that is ended, 330 Pomyeshchicks are scattered Like Jews over Russia And all foreign countries. They seek not the honour Of lying with fathers And mothers together. How many estates Have passed into the pockets Of rich speculators! O you, bones so pampered 340 Of great Russian gentry, Where are you not buried, What far foreign graveyard Do you not repose in?

"Myself from dissenters[12] (A source of pope's income) I never take money, I've never transgressed, For I never had need to; Because in my parish 350 Two-thirds of the people Are Orthodox churchmen. But districts there are Where the whole population Consists of dissenters— Then how can the pope live?

"But all in this world Is subjected to changes: The laws which in old days Applied to dissenters 360 Have now become milder; And that in itself Is a check to pope's income. I've said the Pomyeshchicks Are gone, and no longer They seek to return To the home of their childhood; And then of their ladies (Rich, pious old women), How many have left us 370 To live near the convents! And nobody now Gives the pope a new cassock Or church-work embroidered. He lives on the peasants, Collects their brass farthings, Their cakes on the feast-days, At Easter their eggs. The peasants are needy Or they would give freely— 380 Themselves they have nothing; And who can take gladly The peasant's last farthing?

"Their lands are so poor, They are sand, moss, or boggy, Their cattle half-famished, Their crops yield but twofold; And should Mother Earth Chance at times to be kinder, That too is misfortune: 390 The market is crowded, They sell for a trifle To pay off the taxes. Again comes a bad crop—- Then pay for your bread Three times higher than ever, And sell all your cattle! Now, pray to God, Christians, For this year again A great misery threatens: 400 We ought to have sown For a long time already; But look you—the fields Are all deluged and useless.... O God, have Thou pity And send a round[13] rainbow To shine in Thy heavens!"

Then taking his hat off He crossed himself thrice, And the peasants did likewise.

"Our village is poor 411 And the people are sickly, The women are sad And are scantily nourished, But pious and laborious; God give them courage! Like slaves do they toil; 'Tis hard to lay hands On the fruits of such labour.

"At times you are sent for 420 To pray by the dying, But Death is not really The awful thing present, But rather the living— The family losing Their only support. You pray by the dead. Words of comfort you utter, To calm the bereaved ones; And then the old mother 430 Comes tottering towards you, And stretching her bony And toil-blistered hand out; You feel your heart sicken, For there in the palm Lie the precious brass farthings! Of course it is only The price of your praying. You take it, because It is what you must live on; 440 Your words of condolence Are frozen, and blindly, Like one deep insulted, You make your way homeward. Amen...."

* * * * *

The pope finished His speech, and touched lightly The back of the gelding. The peasants make way, And they bow to him deeply. 450 The cart moves on slowly, Then six of the comrades As though by agreement Attack poor Luka With indignant reproaches.

"Now, what have you got?— You great obstinate blockhead, You log of the village! You too must needs argue; Pray what did you tell us? 460 'The popes live like princes, The lords of the belfry, Their palaces rising As high as the heavens, Their bells set a-chiming All over God's world.

"'Three years,' you declared, 'Did I work as pope's servant. It wasn't a life— 'Twas a strawberry, brethren; 470 Pope's kasha[14] is made And served up with fresh butter. Pope's stchee[14] made with fish, And pope's pie stuffed to bursting; The pope's wife is fat too, And white the pope's daughter, His horse like a barrel, His bees are all swollen And booming like church bells.'

"Well, there's your pope's life,— 480 There's your 'strawberry,' boaster! For that you've been shouting And making us quarrel, You limb of the Devil! Pray is it because Of your beard like a shovel You think you're so clever? If so, let me tell you The goat walked in Eden With just such another 490 Before Father Adam, And yet down to our time The goat is considered The greatest of duffers!"

The culprit was silent, Afraid of a beating; And he would have got it Had not the pope's face, Turning sadly upon them, Looked over a hedge 500 At a rise in the road.



CHAPTER II

THE VILLAGE FAIR

No wonder the peasants Dislike a wet spring-tide: The peasant needs greatly A spring warm and early. This year, though he howl Like a wolf, I'm afraid That the sun will not gladden The earth with his brightness. The clouds wander heavily, Dropping the rain down 10 Like cows with full udders. The snow has departed, Yet no blade of grass, Not a tiny green leaflet, Is seen in the meadows. The earth has not ventured To don its new mantle Of brightest green velvet, But lies sad and bare Like a corpse without grave-clothes Beneath the dull heavens. 21 One pities the peasant; Still more, though, his cattle: For when they have eaten The scanty reserves Which remain from the winter, Their master will drive them To graze in the meadows, And what will they find there But bare, inky blackness? 30 Nor settled the weather Until it was nearing The feast of St. Nichol, And then the poor cattle Enjoyed the green pastures.

The day is a hot one, The peasants are strolling Along 'neath the birch-trees. They say to each other, "We passed through one village, 40 We passed through another, And both were quite empty; To-day is a feast-day, But where are the people?"

They reach a large village; The street is deserted Except for small children, And inside the houses Sit only the oldest Of all the old women. 50 The wickets are fastened Securely with padlocks; The padlock's a loyal And vigilant watch-dog; It barks not, it bites not, But no one can pass it.

They walk through the village And see a clear mirror Beset with green framework— A pond full of water; 60 And over its surface Are hovering swallows And all kinds of insects; The gnats quick and meagre Skip over the water As though on dry land; And in the laburnums Which grow on the banksides The landrails are squeaking.

A raft made of tree-trunks 70 Floats near, and upon it The pope's heavy daughter Is wielding her beetle, She looks like a hay-stack, Unsound and dishevelled, Her skirts gathered round her. Upon the raft, near her, A duck and some ducklings Are sleeping together.

And hark! from the water 80 The neigh of a horse comes; The peasants are startled, They turn all together: Two heads they see, moving Along through the water— The one is a peasant's, A black head and curly, In one ear an ear-ring Which gleams in the sunlight; A horse's the other, 90 To which there is fastened A rope of some yards length, Held tight in the teeth Of the peasant beside it. The man swims, the horse swims; The horse neighs, the man neighs; They make a fine uproar! The raft with the woman And ducklings upon it Is tossing and heaving. 100

The horse with the peasant Astride has come panting From out of the water, The man with white body And throat black with sunburn; The water is streaming From horse and from rider.

"Say, why is your village So empty of people? Are all dead and buried?" 110

"They've gone to Kousminsky; A fair's being held there Because it's a saint's day."

"How far is Kousminsky?" "Three versts, I should fancy." "We'll go to Kousminsky," The peasants decided, And each to himself thought, "Perhaps we shall find there The happy, the free one." 120

The village Kousminsky Is rich and commercial And terribly dirty. It's built on a hill-side, And slopes down the valley, Then climbs again upwards,— So how could one ask of it Not to be dirty?[15] It boasts of two churches. The one is "dissenting," 130 The other "Established." The house with inscription, "The School-House," is empty, In ruins and deserted; And near stands the barber's, A hut with one window, From which hangs the sign-board Of "Barber and Bleeder." A dirty inn also There is, with its sign-board 140 Adorned by a picture: A great nosy tea-pot With plump little tea-cups Held out by a waiter, Suggesting a fat goose Surrounded by goslings. A row of small shops, too, There is in the village.

The peasants go straight To the market-place, find there 150 A large crowd of people And goods in profusion. How strange!—notwithstanding There's no church procession The men have no hats on, Are standing bare-headed, As though in the presence Of some holy Image: Look, how they're being swallowed— The hoods of the peasants.[16] 160

The beer-shop and tavern Are both overflowing; All round are erected Large tents by the roadside For selling of vodka. And though in each tent There are five agile waiters, All young and most active, They find it quite hopeless To try to get change right. 170 Just look how the peasants Are stretching their hands out, With hoods, shirts, and waistcoats!

Oh, you, thirst of Russia, Unquenchable, endless You are! But the peasant, When once he is sated, Will soon get a new hood At close of the fair....

The spring sun is playing 180 On heads hot and drunken, On boisterous revels, On bright mixing colours; The men wear wide breeches Of corduroy velvet, With gaudy striped waistcoats And shirts of all colours; The women wear scarlet; The girls' plaited tresses Are decked with bright ribbons; 190 They glide about proudly, Like swans on the water. Some beauties are even Attired in the fashion Of Petersburg ladies; Their dresses spread stiffly On wide hoops around them; But tread on their skirts— They will turn and attack you, Will gobble like turkeys! 200

Blame rather the fashion Which fastens upon you Great fishermen's baskets!

A woman dissenter Looks darkly upon them, And whispers with malice: "A famine, a famine Most surely will blight us. The young growths are sodden, The floods unabated; 210 Since women have taken To red cotton dresses The forests have withered, And wheat—but no wonder!"

"But why, little Mother, Are red cotton dresses To blame for the trouble? I don't understand you." "The cotton is French, And it's reddened in dog's blood! 220 D'you understand now?"

The peasants still linger Some time in the market, Then go further upward, To where on the hill-side Are piled ploughs and harrows, With rakes, spades, and hatchets, And all kinds of iron-ware, And pliable wood To make rims for the cart-wheels. 230 And, oh, what a hubbub Of bargaining, swearing, Of jesting and laughter! And who could help laughing?

A limp little peasant Is bending and testing The wood for the wheel-rims. One piece does not please him; He takes up another And bends it with effort; 240 It suddenly straightens, And whack!—strikes his forehead. The man begins roaring, Abusing the bully, The duffer, the block-head. Another comes driving A cart full of wood-ware, As tipsy as can be; He turns it all over! The axle is broken, 250 And, trying to mend it, He smashes the hatchet.

He gazes upon it, Abusing, reproaching: "A villain, a villain, You are—not a hatchet. You see, you can't do me The least little service. The whole of your life You spend bowing before me, 260 And yet you insult me!"

Our peasants determine To see the shop windows, The handkerchiefs, ribbons, And stuffs of bright colour; And near to the boot-shop Is fresh cause for laughter; For here an old peasant Most eagerly bargains For small boots of goat-skin 270 To give to his grandchild. He asks the price five times; Again and again He has turned them all over; He finds they are faultless.

"Well, Uncle, pay up now, Or else be off quickly," The seller says sharply. But wait! The old fellow Still gazes, and fondles 280 The tiny boots softly, And then speaks in this wise:

"My daughter won't scold me, Her husband I'll spit at, My wife—let her grumble— I'll spit at my wife too. It's her that I pity— My poor little grandchild. She clung to my neck, And she said, 'Little Grandfather, 290 Buy me a present.' Her soft little ringlets Were tickling my cheek, And she kissed the old Grand-dad. You wait, little bare-foot, Wee spinning-top, wait then, Some boots I will buy you, Some boots made of goat-skin." And then must old Vavil Begin to boast grandly, 300 To promise a present To old and to young. But now his last farthing Is swallowed in vodka, And how can he dare Show his eyes in the village? "My daughter won't scold me, Her husband I'll spit at, My wife—let her grumble— I'll spit at my wife too. 310 It's her that I pity— My poor little grandchild."

And then he commences The story again Of the poor little grandchild. He's very dejected. A crowd listens round him, Not laughing, but troubled At sight of his sorrow.

If they could have helped him 320 With bread or by labour They soon would have done so, But money is money, And who has got tenpence To spare? Then came forward Pavloosha Varenko, The "gentleman" nicknamed. (His origin, past life, Or calling they knew not, But called him the 'Barin'.) 330 He listened with pleasure To talk and to jesting; His blouse, coat, and top-boots Were those of a peasant; He sang Russian folk-songs, Liked others to sing them, And often was met with At taverns and inns. He now rescued Vavil, And bought him the boots 340 To take home to his grandchild.

The old man fled blindly, But clasping them tightly, Forgetting to thank him, Bewildered with joy. The crowd was as pleased, too, As if had been given To each one a rouble.

The peasants next visit The picture and book stall; 350 The pedlars are buying Their stock of small pictures, And books for their baskets To sell on the road.

"'Tis generals, you want!" The merchant is saying.

"Well, give us some generals; But look—on your conscience— Now let them be real ones, Be fat and ferocious." 360

"Your notions are funny," The merchant says, smiling; "It isn't a question Of looks...."

"Well, of what, then? You want to deceive us, To palm off your rubbish, You swindling impostor! D'you think that the peasants Know one from another? 370 A shabby one—he wants An expert to sell him, But trust me to part with The fat and the fierce."

"You don't want officials?"

"To Hell with officials!"

However they took one Because he was cheap: A minister, striking In view of his stomach 380 As round as a barrel, And seventeen medals.

The merchant is serving With greatest politeness, Displaying and praising, With patience unyielding,— A thief of the first-class He is, come from Moscow. Of Bluecher he sells them A hundred small pictures, 390 As many of Fotyi[17] The archimandrite, And of Sipko[17] the brigand; A book of the sayings Of droll Balakireff[17] The "English Milord," too. The books were put into The packs of the pedlars; The pictures will travel All over great Russia, 400 Until they find rest On the wall of some peasant— The devil knows why!

Oh, may it come quickly The time when the peasant Will make some distinction Between book and book, Between picture and picture; Will bring from the market, Not picture of Bluecher, 410 Not stupid "Milord," But Belinsky and Gogol! Oh, say, Russian people, These names—have you heard them? They're great. They were borne By your champions, who loved you, Who strove in your cause, 'Tis their little portraits Should hang in your houses!

"I'd walk into Heaven 420 But can't find the doorway!" Is suddenly shouted By some merry blade. "What door do you want, man?" "The puppet-show, brothers!" "I'll show you the way!"

The puppet-show tempted The journeying peasants; They go to inspect it. A farce is being acted, 430 A goat for the drummer; Real music is playing— No common accordion. The play is not too deep, But not stupid, either. A bullet shot deftly Right into the eye Of the hated policeman. The tent is quite crowded, The audience cracking 440 Their nuts, and exchanging Remarks with each other. And look—there's the vodka! They're drinking and looking, And looking and drinking, Enjoying it highly, With jubilant faces, From time to time throwing A right witty word Into Peterkin's speeches, 450 Which you'd never hit on, Although you should swallow Your pen and your pad!...

Some folk there are always Who crowd on the platform (The comedy ended), To greet the performers, To gossip and chat.

"How now, my fine fellows, And where do you come from?" 460

"As serfs we used only To play for the masters,[18] But now we are free, And the man who will treat us Alone is our Master!" "Well spoken, my brothers; Enough time you've wasted Amusing the nobles; Now play for the peasants! Here, waiter, bring vodka, 470 Sweet wine, tea, and syrup, And see you make haste!"

The sweet sparkling river Comes rolling to meet them; They'll treat the musicians More handsomely, far, Than their masters of old.

It is not the rushing Of furious whirlwinds, Not Mother Earth shaking— 480 'Tis shouting and singing And swearing and fighting And falling and kissing— The people's carouse! It seems to the peasants That all in the village Was reeling around them! That even the church With the very tall, steeple Had swayed once or twice! 490

When things are in this state, A man who is sober Feels nearly as awkward As one who is naked....

The peasants recrossing The market-place, quitted The turbulent village At evening's approach.



CHAPTER III

THE DRUNKEN NIGHT

This village did not end, As many in Russia, In windmill or tavern, In corn-loft or barn, But in a large building Of wood, with iron gratings In small narrow windows. The broad, sandy high-road, With borders of birch-trees, Spread out straight behind it— 10 The grim etape—prison.[19] On week-days deserted It is, dull and silent, But now it is not so. All over the high-road, In neighbouring pathways, Wherever the eye falls, Are lying and crawling, Are driving and climbing, The numberless drunkards; 20 Their shout fills the skies.

The cart-wheels are screeching, And like slaughtered calves' heads Are nodding and wagging The pates limp and helpless Of peasants asleep.

They're dropping on all sides, As if from some ambush An enemy firing Is shooting them wholesale. 30 The quiet night is falling, The moon is in Heaven, And God is commencing To write His great letter Of gold on blue velvet; Mysterious message, Which neither the wise man Nor foolish can read.

The high-road is humming Just like a great bee-hive; 40 The people's loud clamour Is swelling and falling Like waves in the ocean.

"We paid him a rouble— The clerk, and he gave us A written petition To send to the Governor."

"Hi, you with the waggon, Look after your corn!"

"But where are you off to, 50 Olyenushka? Wait now— I've still got some cakes. You're like a black flea, girl, You eat all you want to And hop away quickly Before one can stroke you!"

"It's all very fine talk, This Tsar's precious Charter, It's not writ for us!"

"Give way there, you people!" 60 The exciseman dashes Amongst them, his brass plate Attached to his coat-front, And bells all a-jangle.

"God save us, Parasha, Don't go to St. Petersburg! I know the gentry: By day you're a maid, And by night you're a mistress. You spit at it, love...." 70

"Now, where are you running?" The pope bellows loudly To busy Pavloosha, The village policeman.

"An accident's happened Down here, and a man's killed."

"God pardon our sins!"

"How thin you've got, Dashka!"

"The spinning-wheel fattens By turning forever; 80 I work just as hard, But I never get fatter."

"Heh, you, silly fellow, Come hither and love me! The dirty, dishevelled, And tipsy old woman. The f—i—ilthy o—l—d woman!"

Our peasants, observing, Are still walking onwards. They see just before them 90 A meek little fellow Most busily digging A hole in the road.

"Now, what are you doing?" "A grave I am digging To bury my mother!"

"You fool!—Where's your mother? Your new coat you've buried! Roll into the ditch, Dip your snout in the water. 100 'Twill cool you, perhaps."

"Let's see who'll pull hardest!" Two peasants are squatting, And, feet to feet pressing, Are straining and groaning, And tugging away At a stick held between them. This soon fails to please them: "Let's try with our beards!" And each man then clutches 110 The jaw of the other, And tugs at his beard! Red, panting, and writhing, And gasping and yelping, But pulling and pulling! "Enough there, you madmen!"... Cold water won't part them!

And in the ditch near them Two women are squabbling; One cries, "To go home now 120 Were worse than to prison!" The other, "You braggart! In my house, I tell you, It's worse than in yours. One son-in-law punched me And left a rib broken; The second made off With my big ball of cotton; The cotton don't matter, But in it was hidden 130 My rouble in silver. The youngest—he always Is up with his knife out. He'll kill me for sure!"

"Enough, enough, darling! Now don't you be angry!" Is heard not far distant From over a hillock— "Come on, I'm all right!"

A mischievous night, this; 140 On right hand, on left hand, Wherever the eye falls, Are sauntering couples. The wood seems to please them; They all stroll towards it, The wood—which is thrilling With nightingales' voices. And later, the high-road Gets more and more ugly, And more and more often 150 The people are falling, Are staggering, crawling, Or lying like corpses. As always it happens On feast days in Russia— No word can be uttered Without a great oath. And near to the tavern Is quite a commotion; Some wheels get entangled 160 And terrified horses Rush off without drivers. Here children are crying, And sad wives and mothers Are anxiously waiting; And is the task easy Of getting the peasant Away from his drink?

Just near to the sign-post A voice that's familiar 170 Is heard by the peasants; They see there the Barin (The same that helped Vavil, And bought him the boots To take home to his grandchild). He chats with the men. The peasants all open Their hearts to the Barin; If some song should please him They'll sing it through five times; 180 "Just write the song down, sir!" If some saying strike him; "Take note of the words!" And when he has written Enough, he says quietly, "The peasants are clever, But one thing is bad: They drink till they're helpless And lie about tipsy, It's painful to see." 190

They listen in silence. The Barin commences To write something down In the little black note-book When, all of a sudden, A small, tipsy peasant, Who up to that moment Has lain on his stomach And gazed at the speaker, Springs up straight before him 200 And snatches his pencil Right out of his hand: "Wait, wait!" cries the fellow, "Stop writing your stories, Dishonest and heartless, About the poor peasant. Say, what's your complaint? That sometimes the heart Of the peasant rejoices? At times we drink hard, 210 But we work ten times harder; Among us are drunkards, But many more sober. Go, take through a village A pailful of vodka; Go into the huts— In one, in another, They'll swallow it gladly. But go to a third And you'll find they won't touch it! One family drinks, 221 While another drinks nothing, Drinks nothing—and suffers As much as the drunkards: They, wisely or foolishly, Follow their conscience; And see how misfortune, The peasants' misfortune, Will swallow that household Hard-working and sober! 230 Pray, have you seen ever The time of the harvest In some Russian village? Well, where were the people? At work in the tavern? Our fields may be broad, But they don't give too freely. Who robes them in spring-time, And strips them in autumn? You've met with a peasant 240 At nightfall, perchance, When the work has been finished? He's piled up great mountains Of corn in the meadows, He'll sup off a pea! Hey, you mighty monster! You builder of mountains, I'll knock you flat down With the stroke of a feather!

"Sweet food is the peasant's! 250 But stomachs aren't mirrors, And so we don't whimper To see what we've eaten.

"We work single-handed, But when we have finished Three partners[20] are waiting To share in the profits; A fourth[21] one there is, too, Who eats like a Tartar— Leaves nothing behind. 260 The other day, only, A mean little fellow Like you, came from Moscow And clung to our backs. 'Oh, please sing him folk-songs' And 'tell him some proverbs,' 'Some riddles and rhymes.' And then came another To put us his questions: How much do we work for? 270 How much and how little We stuff in our bellies? To count all the people That live in the village Upon his five fingers. He did not ask how much The fire feeds the wind with Of peasants' hard work. Our drunkenness, maybe, Can never be measured, 280 But look at our labour— Can that then be measured? Our cares or our woes?

"The vodka prostrates us; But does not our labour, Our trouble, prostrate us? The peasant won't grumble At each of his burdens, He'll set out to meet it, And struggle to bear it; 290 The peasant does not flinch At life-wasting labour, And tremble for fear That his health may be injured. Then why should he number Each cupful of vodka For fear that an odd one May topple him over? You say that it's painful To see him lie tipsy?— 300 Then go to the bog; You'll see how the peasant Is squeezing the corn out, Is wading and crawling Where no horse or rider, No man, though unloaded, Would venture to tread. You'll see how the army Of profligate peasants Is toiling in danger, 310 Is springing from one clod Of earth to another, Is pushing through bog-slime With backs nearly breaking! The sun's beating down On the peasants' bare heads, They are sweating and covered With mud to the eyebrows, Their limbs torn and bleeding By sharp, prickly bog-grass! 320

"Does this picture please you? You say that you suffer; At least suffer wisely. Don't use for a peasant A gentleman's judgement; We are not white-handed And tender-skinned creatures, But men rough and lusty In work and in play.

"The heart of each peasant 330 Is black as a storm-cloud, Its thunder should peal And its blood rain in torrents; But all ends in drink— For after one cupful The soul of the peasant Is kindly and smiling; But don't let that hurt you! Look round and be joyful! Hey, fellows! Hey, maidens! 340 You know how to foot it! Their bones may be aching, Their limbs have grown weary, But youth's joy and daring Is not quite extinguished, It lives in them yet!"

The peasant is standing On top of a hillock, And stamping his feet, And after being silent 350 A moment, and gazing With glee at the masses Of holiday people, He roars to them hoarsely.

"Hey you, peasant kingdom! You, hatless and drunken! More racket! More noise!" "Come, what's your name, uncle?" "To write in the note-book? Why not? Write it down: 360 'In Barefoot the village Lives old Jacob Naked, He'll work till he's taken, He drinks till he's crazed.'" The peasants are laughing, And telling the Barin The old fellow's story: How shabby old Jacob Had lived once in Peter,[22] And got into prison 370 Because he bethought him To get him to law With a very rich merchant; How after the prison He'd come back amongst them All stripped, like a linden, And taken to ploughing. For thirty years since On his narrow allotment He'd worked in all weathers, 380 The harrow his shelter From sunshine and storm. He lived with the sokha,[23] And when God would take him He'd drop from beneath it Just like a black clod.

An accident happened One year to old Jacob: He bought some small pictures To hang in the cottage 390 For his little son; The old man himself, too, Was fond of the pictures. God's curse had then fallen; The village was burnt, And the old fellow's money, The fruit of a life-time (Some thirty-five roubles),[24] Was lost in the flames. He ought to have saved it, 400 But, to his misfortune, He thought of the pictures And seized them instead. His wife in the meantime Was saving the icons.[25] And so, when the cottage Fell in, all the roubles Were melted together In one lump of silver. Old Jacob was offered 410 Eleven such roubles For that silver lump.

"O old brother Jacob, You paid for them dearly, The little chap's pictures! I warrant you've hung them Again in the new hut."

"I've hung them—and more," He replied, and was silent.

The Barin was looking, 420 Examining Jacob, The toiler, the earth-worm, His chest thin and meagre, His stomach as shrunk As though something had crushed it, His eyes and mouth circled By numberless wrinkles, Like drought-shrivelled earth. And he altogether Resembled the earth, 430 Thought the Barin, while noting His throat, like a dry lump Of clay, brown and hardened; His brick-coloured face; His hands—black and horny, Like bark on the tree-trunk; His hair—stiff and sandy....

The peasants, remarking That old Jacob's speech Had not angered the Barin, 440 Themselves took his words up: "Yes, yes, he speaks truly, We must drink, it saves us, It makes us feel strong. Why, if we did not drink Black gloom would engulf us. If work does not kill us Or trouble destroy us, We shan't die from drink!"

"That's so. Is it not, sir?" 450

"Yes, God will protect us!"

"Come, drink with us, Barin!"

They go to buy vodka And drink it together. To Jacob the Barin Has offered two cups. "Ah, Barin," says Jacob, "I see you're not angry. A wise little head, yours, And how could a wise head 460 Judge falsely of peasants? Why, only the pig Glues his nose to the garbage And never sees Heaven!"

Then suddenly singing Is heard in a chorus Harmonious and bold. A row of young fellows, Half drunk, but not falling, Come staggering onwards, 470 All lustily singing; They sing of the Volga, The daring of youths And the beauty of maidens ... A hush falls all over The road, and it listens; And only the singing Is heard, broadly rolling In waves, sweet and tuneful, Like wind-ruffled corn. 480 The hearts of the peasants Are touched with wild anguish, And one little woman Grows pensive and mournful, And then begins weeping And sobs forth her grief: "My life is like day-time With no sun to warm it! My life is like night With no glimmer of moon! 490 And I—the young woman— Am like the swift steed On the curb, like the swallow With wings crushed and broken; My jealous old husband Is drunken and snoring, But even while snoring He keeps one eye open, And watches me always, Me—poor little wife!" 500

And so she lamented, The sad little woman; Then all of a sudden Springs down from the waggon! "Where now?" cries her husband, The jealous old man. And just as one lifts By the tail a plump radish, He clutches her pig-tail, And pulls her towards him. 510

O night wild and drunken, Not bright—and yet star-lit, Not hot—but fanned softly By tender spring breezes, You've not left our peasants Untouched by your sweetness; They're thinking and longing For their little women. And they are quite right too; Still sweeter 'twould be 520 With a nice little wife! Cries Ivan, "I love you," And Mariushka, "I you!" Cries Ivan, "Press closer!" And Mariushka, "Kiss me!" Cries Ivan, "The night's cold," And Mariushka, "Warm me!"

They think of this song now, And all make their minds up To shorten the journey. 530

A birch-tree is growing Alone by the roadside, God knows why so lonely! And under it spreading The magic white napkin, The peasants sit round it:

"Hey! Napkin enchanted! Give food to the peasants!" Two hands have come floating From no one sees where, 540 Place a bucket of vodka, A large pile of bread, On the magic white napkin, And dwindle away.

The peasants feel strengthened, And leaving Roman there On guard near the vodka, They mix with the people, To try to discover The one who is happy. 550

They're all in a hurry To turn towards home.



CHAPTER IV

THE HAPPY ONES

In crowds gay and noisy Our peasants are mixing, Proclaiming their mission: "Let any man here Who esteems himself happy Stand forth! If he prove it A pailful of vodka Is at his disposal; As much as he wishes So much he shall have!" 10

This fabulous promise Sets sober folk smiling; The tipsy and wise ones Are ready to spit In the beards of the pushing Impertinent strangers! But many are willing To drink without payment, And so when our peasants Go back to the birch-tree 20 A crowd presses round them. The first to come forward, A lean discharged deacon, With legs like two matches, Lets forth a great mouthful Of indistinct maxims: That happiness lies not In broad lands, in jewels, In gold, and in sables—

"In what, then?" 30

A peaceful And undisturbed conscience. That all the dominions Of land-owners, nobles, And Tsars are but earthly And limited treasures; But he who is godly Has part in Christ's kingdom Of boundless extent: "When warm in the sun, 40 With a cupful of vodka, I'm perfectly happy, I ask nothing more!"

"And who'll give you vodka?" "Why, you! You have promised."

"Be off, you lean scamp!"

A one-eyed old woman Comes next, bent and pock-marked, And bowing before them She says she is happy; 50 That in her allotment A thousand fine turnips Have grown, this last autumn. "Such turnips, I tell you! Such monsters! and tasty! In such a small plot, too, In length only one yard, And three yards in width!"

They laugh at the woman, But give her no vodka; 60 "Go, get you home, Mother! You've vodka enough there To flavour the turnips!"

A soldier with medals, Quite drunk but still thirsty, Says firmly, "I'm happy!"

"Then tell us, old fellow, In what he is happy— The soldier? Take care, though, To keep nothing back!" 70

"Well, firstly, I've been Through at least twenty battles, And yet I'm alive. And, secondly, mark you (It's far more important), In times of peace, too, Though I'm always half-famished, Death never has conquered! And, third, though they flogged me For every offence, 80 Great or small, I've survived it!"

"Here, drink, little soldier! With you one can't argue; You're happy indeed!"

Then comes a young mason, A huge, weighty hammer Swung over his shoulder: "I live in content," He declares, "with my wife And beloved old mother; 90 We've nought to complain of." "In what are you happy?" "In this!"—like a feather He swings the great hammer. "Beginning at sunrise And setting my back straight As midnight draws near, I can shatter a mountain! Before now, it's happened That, working one day, 100 I've piled enough stones up To earn my five roubles!"

Pakhom tries to lift it— The "happiness." After Prodigiously straining And cracking all over, He sets it down, gladly, And pours out some vodka.

"Well, weighty it is, man! But will you be able 110 To bear in old age Such a 'happiness,' think you?"

"Don't boast of your strength!" Gasped a wheezing old peasant, Half stifled with asthma. (His nose pinched and shrivelled Like that of a dead man, His eyes bright and sunken, His hands like a rake— Stiffened, scraggy, and bony, 120 His legs long and narrow Like spokes of a wheel, A human mosquito.)

"I was not a worse man Than he, the young mason, And boasted of my strength. God punished me for it! The manager knew I was simple—the villain! He flattered and praised me. 130 I was but a youngster, And pleased at his notice I laboured like four men. One day I had mounted Some bricks to my shoulder, When, just then, the devil Must bring him in sight.

"'What's that!' he said laughing, 'Tis surely not Trifon With such a light burden? 140 Ho, does it not shame Such a strapping young fellow?' 'Then put some more bricks on, I'll carry them, master,' Said I, sore offended. For full half an hour I stood while he piled them, He piled them—the dog! I felt my back breaking, But would not give way, 150 And that devilish burden I carried right up To the high second story! He stood and looked on, He himself was astounded, And cried from beneath me: 'Well done, my brave fellow! You don't know yourself, man, What you have been doing! It's forty stone, Trifon, 160 You've carried up there!'

"I did know; my heart Struck my breast like a hammer, The blood stood in circles Round both of my eyeballs; My back felt disjointed, My legs weak and trembling ... 'Twas then that I withered. Come, treat me, my friends!"

"But why should we treat you? In what are you happy? 171 In what you have told us?"

"No, listen—that's coming, It's this: I have also, Like each of us peasants, Besought God to let me Return to the village To die. And when coming From Petersburg, after The illness I suffered 180 Through what I have told you, Exhausted and weakened, Half-dazed, half-unconscious, I got to the station. And all in the carriage Were workmen, as I was, And ill of the fever; And all yearned for one thing: To reach their own homes Before death overcame them. 190 'Twas then I was lucky; The heat then was stifling, And so many sick heads Made Hell of the waggon. Here one man was groaning, There, rolling all over The floor, like a lunatic, Shouting and raving Of wife or of mother. And many such fellows 200 Were put out and left At the stations we came to. I looked at them, thinking, Shall I be left too? I was burning and shaking, The blood began starting All over my eyeballs, And I, in my fever, Half-waking, was dreaming Of cutting of cocks' throats 210 (We once were cock-farmers, And one year it happened We fattened a thousand). They came to my thoughts, now, The damnable creatures, I tried to start praying, But no!—it was useless. And, would you believe me? I saw the whole party In that hellish waggon 220 Come quivering round me, Their throats cut, and spurting With blood, and still crowing, And I, with the knife, shrieked: 'Enough of your noise!' And yet, by God's mercy, Made no sound at all. I sat there and struggled To keep myself silent. At last the day ended, 230 And with it the journey, And God had had pity Upon His poor orphan; I crawled to the village. And now, by His mercy, I'm better again."

"Is that what you boast of— Your happiness, peasant?" Exclaims an old lackey With legs weak and gouty. 240 "Treat me, little brothers, I'm happy, God sees it! For I was the chief serf Of Prince Peremeteff, A rich prince, and mighty, My wife, the most favoured By him, of the women; My daughter, together With his, the young lady, Was taught foreign languages, 250 French and some others; And she was permitted To sit, and not stand, In her mistress's presence. Good Lord! How it bites!" (He stoops down to rub it, The gouty right knee-cap.) The peasants laugh loudly! "What laugh you at, stupids?" He cries, getting angry, 260 "I'm ill, I thank God, And at waking and sleeping I pray, 'Leave me ever My honoured complaint, Lord! For that makes me noble!' I've none of your low things, Your peasants' diseases, My illness is lofty, And only acquired By the most elevated, 270 The first in the Empire; I suffer, you villains, From gout, gout its name is! It's only brought on By the drinking of claret, Of Burgundy, champagne, Hungarian syrup, By thirty years' drinking! For forty years, peasants, I've stood up behind it— 280 The chair of His Highness, The Prince Peremeteff, And swallowed the leavings In plates and in glasses, The finest French truffles, The dregs of the liquors. Come, treat me, you peasants!"

"Excuse us, your Lordship, Our wine is but simple, The drink of the peasants! 290 It wouldn't suit you!" A bent, yellow-haired man Steals up to the peasants, A man from White Russia. He yearns for the vodka. "Oh, give me a taste!" He implores, "I am happy!"

"But wait! You must tell us In what you are happy."

"In bread I am happy; 300 At home, in White Russia, The bread is of barley, All gritty and weedy. At times, I can tell you, I've howled out aloud, Like a woman in labour, With pains in my stomach! But now, by God's mercy, I work for Gubonine, And there they give rye-bread, 310 I'm happy in that."

A dark-looking peasant, With jaw turned and twisted, Which makes him look sideways, Says next, "I am happy. A bear-hunter I am, And six of my comrades Were killed by old Mishka;[26] On me God has mercy."

"Look round to the left side." 320 He tries to, but cannot, For all his grimaces!

"A bear knocked my jaw round, A savage young female."

"Go, look for another, And give her the left cheek, She'll soon put it straight!"

They laugh, but, however, They give him some vodka. Some ragged old beggars 330 Come up to the peasants, Drawn near by the smell Of the froth on the vodka; They say they are happy.

"Why, right on his threshold The shopman will meet us! We go to a house-door, From there they conduct us Right back to the gate! When we begin singing 340 The housewife runs quickly And brings to the window A loaf and a knife. And then we sing loudly, 'Oh, give us the whole loaf, It cannot be cut And it cannot be crumbled, For you it is quicker, For us it is better!'"

The peasants observe 350 That their vodka is wasted, The pail's nearly empty. They say to the people, "Enough of your chatter, You, shabby and ragged, You, humpbacked and corny, Go, get you all home!"

"In your place, good strangers," The peasant, Fedocy, From "Swallow-Smoke" village, 360 Said, sitting beside them, "I'd ask Ermil Girin. If he will not suit you, If he is not happy, Then no one can help you."

"But who is this Ermil, A noble—a prince?"

"No prince—not a noble, But simply a peasant."

"Well, tell us about him." 370

"I'll tell you; he rented The mill of an orphan, Until the Court settled To sell it at auction. Then Ermil, with others, Went into the sale-room. The small buyers quickly Dropped out of the bidding; Till Ermil alone, With a merchant, Alternikoff, 380 Kept up the fight. The merchant outbid him, Each time by a farthing, Till Ermil grew angry And added five roubles; The merchant a farthing And Ermil a rouble. The merchant gave in then, When suddenly something Unlooked for occurred: 390 The sellers demanded A third of the money Paid down on the spot; 'Twas one thousand roubles, And Ermil had not brought So much money with him; 'Twas either his error, Or else they deceived him. The merchant said gaily, 'The mill comes to me, then?' 400 'Not so,' replied Ermil; He went to the sellers; 'Good sirs, will you wait Thirty minutes?' he asked.

"'But how will that help you?' 'I'll bring you the money.'

"'But where will you find it? You're out of your senses! It's thirty-five versts To the mill; in an hour now 410 The sales will be finished.'

"'You'll wait half an hour, sirs?' 'An hour, if you wish.' Then Ermil departed, The sellers exchanging Sly looks with the merchant, And grinning—the foxes! But Ermil went out And made haste to the market-place Crowded with people 420 ('Twas market-day, then), And he mounted a waggon, And there he stood crossing Himself, and low bowing In all four directions. He cried to the people, 'Be silent a moment, I've something to ask you!' The place became still And he told them the story: 430

"'Since long has the merchant Been wooing the mill, But I'm not such a dullard. Five times have I been here To ask if there would be A second day's bidding, They answered, 'There will.' You know that the peasant Won't carry his money All over the by-ways 440 Without a good reason, So I have none with me; And look—now they tell me There's no second bidding And ask for the money! The cunning ones tricked me And laughed—the base heathens! And said to me sneering: 'But, what can you do In an hour? Where find money?' 450

"'They're crafty and strong, But the people are stronger! The merchant is rich— But the people are richer! Hey! What is his worth To their treasury, think you? Like fish in the ocean The wealth of the people; You'll draw it and draw it— But not see its end! 460 Now, brother, God hears me, Come, give me this money! Next Friday I'll pay you The very last farthing. It's not that I care For the mill—it's the insult! Whoever knows Ermil, Whoever believes him, Will give what he can.'

"A miracle happened; 470 The coat of each peasant Flew up on the left As though blown by a wind! The peasants are bringing Their money to Ermil, Each gives what he can. Though Ermil's well lettered He writes nothing down; It's well he can count it So great is his hurry. 480 They gather his hat full Of all kinds of money, From farthings to bank-notes, The notes of the peasant All crumpled and torn. He has the whole sum now, But still the good people Are bringing him more.

"'Here, take this, too, Ermil, You'll pay it back later!' 490

"He bows to the people In all four directions, Gets down from the waggon, And pressing the hat Full of money against him, Runs back to the sale-room As fast as he can.

"The sellers are speechless And stare in amazement, The merchant turns green 500 As the money is counted And laid on the table.

"The sellers come round him All craftily praising His excellent bargain. But Ermil sees through them; He gives not a farthing, He speaks not a word.

"The whole town assembles At market next Friday, 510 When Ermil is paying His debt to the people. How can he remember To whom he must pay it? No murmur arises, No sound of discussion, As each man tells quietly The sum to be paid him.

"And Ermil himself said, That when it was finished 520 A rouble was lying With no one to claim it; And though till the evening He went, with purse open, Demanding the owner, It still was unclaimed. The sun was just setting When Ermil, the last one To go from the market, Assembled the beggars 530 And gave them the rouble." ...

"'Tis strange!" say the peasants, "By what kind of magic Can one single peasant Gain such a dominion All over the country?"

"No magic he uses Save truthfulness, brothers! But say, have you ever Heard tell of Prince Yurloff's 540 Estate, Adovshina?"

"We have. What about it?" "The manager there Was a Colonel, with stars, Of the Corps of Gendarmes. He had six or seven Assistants beneath him, And Ermil was chosen As principal clerk. He was but a boy, then, 550 Of nineteen or twenty; And though 'tis no fine post, The clerk's—to the peasants The clerk is a great man; To him they will go For advice and with questions. Though Ermil had power to, He asked nothing from them; And if they should offer He never accepted. 560 (He bears a poor conscience, The peasant who covets The mite of his brother!) Well, five years went by, And they trusted in Ermil, When all of a sudden The master dismissed him For sake of another. And sadly they felt it. The new clerk was grasping; 570 He moved not a finger Unless it was paid for; A letter—three farthings! A question—five farthings! Well, he was a pope's son And God placed him rightly! But still, by God's mercy, He did not stay long:

"The old Prince soon died, And the young Prince was master. 580 He came and dismissed them— The manager-colonel, The clerk and assistants, And summoned the peasants To choose them an Elder. They weren't long about it! And eight thousand voices Cried out, 'Ermil Girin!' As though they were one. Then Ermil was sent for 590 To speak with the Barin, And after some minutes The Barin came out On the balcony, standing In face of the people; He cried, 'Well, my brothers, Your choice is elected With my princely sanction! But answer me this: Don't you think he's too youthful?' 600

"'No, no, little Father! He's young, but he's wise!'

"So Ermil was Elder, For seven years ruled In the Prince's dominion. Not once in that time Did a coin of the peasants Come under his nail, Did the innocent suffer, The guilty escape him, 610 He followed his conscience."

"But stop!" exclaimed hoarsely A shrivelled grey pope, Interrupting the speaker, "The harrow went smoothly Enough, till it happened To strike on a stone, Then it swerved of a sudden. In telling a story Don't leave an odd word out 620 And alter the rhythm! Now, if you knew Ermil You knew his young brother, Knew Mityenka, did you?"

The speaker considered, Then said, "I'd forgotten, I'll tell you about it: It happened that once Even Ermil the peasant Did wrong: his young brother, 630 Unjustly exempted From serving his time, On the day of recruiting; And we were all silent, And how could we argue When even the Barin Himself would not order The Elder's own brother To unwilling service? And only one woman, 640 Old Vlasevna, shedding Wild tears for her son, Went bewailing and screaming: 'It wasn't our turn!' Well, of course she'd be certain To scream for a time, Then leave off and be silent. But what happened then? The recruiting was finished, But Ermil had changed; 650 He was mournful and gloomy; He ate not, he drank not, Till one day his father Went into the stable And found him there holding A rope in his hands. Then at last he unbosomed His heart to his father: 'Since Vlasevna's son Has been sent to the service, 660 I'm weary of living, I wish but to die!' His brothers came also, And they with the father Besought him to hear them, To listen to reason. But he only answered: 'A villain I am, And a criminal; bind me, And bring me to justice!' 670 And they, fearing worse things, Obeyed him and bound him. The commune assembled, Exclaiming and shouting; They'd never been summoned To witness or judge Such peculiar proceedings.

"And Ermil's relations Did not beg for mercy And lenient treatment, 680 But rather for firmness: 'Bring Vlasevna's son back Or Ermil will hang himself, Nothing will save him!' And then appeared Ermil Himself, pale and bare-foot, With ropes bound and handcuffed, And bowing his head He spoke low to the people: 'The time was when I was 690 Your judge; and I judged you, In all things obeying My conscience. But I now Am guiltier far Than were you. Be my judges!' He bowed to our feet, The demented one, sighing, Then stood up and crossed himself, Trembling all over; It pained us to witness 700 How he, of a sudden, Fell down on his knees there At Vlasevna's feet. Well, all was put right soon, The nobles have fingers In every small corner, The lad was brought back And young Mityenka started; They say that his service Did not weigh too heavy, 710 The prince saw to that. And we, as a penance, Imposed upon Ermil A fine, and to Vlasevna One part was given, To Mitya another, The rest to the village For vodka. However, Not quickly did Ermil Get over his sorrow: 720 He went like a lost one For full a year after, And—though the whole district Implored him to keep it— He left his position. He rented the mill, then, And more than of old Was beloved by the people. He took for his grinding No more than was honest, 730 His customers never Kept waiting a moment, And all men alike: The rich landlord, the workman. The master and servant, The poorest of peasants Were served as their turn came; Strict order he kept. Myself, I have not been Since long in that district, 740 But often the people Have told me about him. And never could praise him Enough. So in your place I'd go and ask Ermil."

"Your time would be wasted," The grey-headed pope, Who'd before interrupted, Remarked to the peasants, "I knew Ermil Girin, 750 I chanced in that district Some five years ago. I have often been shifted, Our bishop loved vastly To keep us all moving, So I was his neighbour. Yes, he was a peasant Unique, I bear witness, And all things he owned That can make a man happy: 760 Peace, riches, and honour, And that kind of honour Most valued and precious, Which cannot be purchased By might or by money, But only by righteousness, Wisdom and kindness. But still, I repeat it, Your time will be wasted In going to Ermil: 770 In prison he lies."

"How's that?"

"God so willed it. You've heard how the peasants Of 'Log' the Pomyeshchick Of Province 'Affrighted,' Of District 'Scarce-Breathing,' Of village 'Dumbfounded,' Revolted 'for causes Entirely unknown,' 780 As they say in the papers. (I once used to read them.) And so, too, in this case, The local Ispravnik,[27] The Tsar's high officials, And even the peasants, 'Dumbfounded' themselves. Never fathomed the reason Of all the disturbance. But things became bad, 790 And the soldiers were sent for, The Tsar packed a messenger Off in a hurry To speak to the people. His epaulettes rose To his ears as he coaxed them And cursed them together. But curses they're used to, And coaxing was lost, For they don't understand it: 800 'Brave orthodox peasants!' 'The Tsar—Little Father!' 'Our dear Mother Russia!' He bellowed and shouted Until he was hoarse, While the peasants stood round him And listened in wonder.

"But when he was tired Of these peaceable measures Of calming the riots, 810 At length he decided On giving the order Of 'Fire' to the soldiers; When all of a sudden A bright thought occurred To the clerk of the Volost:[28] 'The people trust Girin, The people will hear him!'

"'Then let him be brought!'" [29]

* * * * *

A cry has arisen 820 "Have mercy! Have mercy!" A check to the story; They hurry off quickly To see what has happened; And there on a bank Of a ditch near the roadside, Some peasants are birching A drunken old lackey, Just taken in thieving. A court had been summoned, 830 The judges deciding To birch the offender, That each of the jury (About three and twenty) Should give him a stroke Turn in turn of the rod....

The lackey was up And made off, in a twinkling, He took to his heels Without stopping to argue, 840 On two scraggy legs.

"How he trips it—the dandy!" The peasants cry, laughing; They've soon recognized him; The boaster who prated So much of his illness From drinking strange liquors.

"Ho! where has it gone to, Your noble complaint? Look how nimble he's getting!" 850

"Well, well, Little Father, Now finish the story!"

"It's time to go home now, My children,—God willing, We'll meet again some day And finish it then...."

The people disperse As the dawn is approaching. Our peasants begin To bethink them of sleeping, 860 When all of a sudden A "troika" [30] comes flying From no one sees where, With its silver bells ringing. Within it is sitting A plump little Barin, His little mouth smoking A little cigar. The peasants draw up In a line on the roadway, 870 Thus barring the passage In front of the horses; And, standing bareheaded, Bow low to the Barin.



CHAPTER V

THE POMYESHCHICK

The "troika" is drawing The local Pomyeshchick— Gavril Afanasich Obolt-Oboldooeff. A portly Pomyeshchick, With long grey moustaches, Some sixty years old. His bearing is stately, His cheeks very rosy, He wears a short top-coat, 10 Tight-fitting and braided, Hungarian fashion; And very wide trousers. Gavril Afanasich Was probably startled At seeing the peasants Unflinchingly barring The way to his horses; He promptly produces A loaded revolver 20 As bulky and round As himself; and directs it Upon the intruders:

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse