History of Literature









Mikhail Lermontov


"Death of the Poet"



"Mtsyri"




"The Demon
"

Illustrations by
Mikhail Vrubel





 



Mikhail Lermontov


 

Mikhail Lermontov

Russian writer

born Oct. 15 [Oct. 3, Old Style], 1814, Moscow, Russia
died July 27 [July 15], 1841, Pyatigorsk

Main
the leading Russian Romantic poet and author of the novel Geroy nashego vremeni (1840; A Hero of Our Time), which was to have a profound influence on later Russian writers.

Life
Lermontov was the son of Yury Petrovich Lermontov, a retired army captain, and Mariya Mikhaylovna, née Arsenyeva. At the age of three he lost his mother and was brought up by his grandmother, Yelizaveta Alekseyevna Arsenyeva, on her estate in Penzenskaya province. Russia’s abundant natural beauty, its folk songs and tales, its customs and ceremonies, the hard forced labour of the serfs, and stories and legends of peasant mutinies all had a great influence in developing the future poet’s character. Because the child was often ill, he was taken to spas in the Caucasus on three occasions, where the exotic landscapes created lasting impressions on him.

In 1827 he moved with his grandmother to Moscow, and, while attending a boarding school for children of the nobility (at Moscow University), he began to write poetry and also studied painting. In 1828 he wrote the poems Cherkesy (“Circassians”) and Kavkazsky plennik (“Prisoner of the Caucasus”) in the vein of the English Romantic poet Lord Byron, whose influence then predominated over young Russian writers. Two years later his first verse, Vesna (“Spring”), was published. The same year he entered Moscow University, then one of the liveliest centres of culture and ideology, where such democratically minded representatives of nobility as Aleksandr Herzen, Nikolay Platonovich Ogaryov, and others studied. Students ardently discussed political and philosophical problems, the hard fate of serf peasantry, and the recent Decembrist uprising. In this atmosphere he wrote many lyrical verses, longer, narrative poems, and dramas. His drama Stranny chelovek (1831; “A Strange Man”) reflected the attitudes current among members of student societies: hatred of the despotic tsarist regime and of serfdom. In 1832, after clashing with a reactionary professor, Lermontov left the university and went to St. Petersburg, where he entered the cadet school. Upon his graduation in 1834 with the rank of subensign (or cornet), Lermontov was appointed to the Life-Guard Hussar Regiment stationed at Tsarskoye Selo (now Pushkin), close to St. Petersburg. As a young officer, he spent a considerable portion of his time in the capital, and his critical observations of aristocratic life there formed the basis of his play Maskarad (“Masquerade”). During this period his deep—but unreciprocated—attachment to Varvara Lopukhina, a sentiment that never left him, was reflected in Knyaginya Ligovskaya (“Duchess Ligovskaya”) and other works.



Mikhail Lermontov. A Skirmish in the Mountains of Dagestan
 

Lermontov was greatly shaken in January 1837 by the death of the great poet Aleksandr Pushkin in a duel. He wrote an elegy that expressed the nation’s love for the dead poet, denouncing not only his killer but also the court aristocracy, whom he saw as executioners of freedom and the true culprits of the tragedy. As soon as the verses became known to the court of Nicholas I, Lermontov was arrested and exiled to a regiment stationed in the Caucasus. Travel to new places, meetings with Decembrists (in exile in the Caucasus), and introduction to the Georgian intelligentsia—to the outstanding poet Ilia Chavchavadze, whose daughter had married a well-known Russian dramatist, poet, and diplomatist, Aleksandr Sergeyevich Griboyedov—as well as to other prominent Georgian poets in Tiflis (now Tbilisi) broadened his horizon. Attracted to the nature and poetry of the Caucasus and excited by its folklore, he studied the local languages and translated and polished the Azerbaijanian story “Ashik Kerib.” Caucasian themes and images occupy a strong place in his poetry and in the novel Geroy nashego vremeni, as well as in his sketches and paintings.

As a result of zealous intercession by his grandmother and by the influential poet V.A. Zhukovsky, Lermontov was allowed to return to the capital in 1838. His verses began to appear in the press: the romantic poem Pesnya pro tsarya Ivana Vasilyevicha, molodogo oprichnika i udalogo kuptsa Kalashnikova (1837; “A Song About Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, His Young Bodyguard, and the Valiant Merchant Kalashnikov”), the realistic satirical poems Tambovskaya kaznacheysha (1838; “The Tambov Paymaster’s Wife”) and Sashka (written 1839, published 1862), and the romantic poem Demon. Soon Lermontov became popular; he was called Pushkin’s successor and was lauded for having suffered and been exiled because of his libertarian verses. Writers and journalists took an interest in him, and fashionable ladies were attracted to him. He made friends among the editorial staff of Otechestvennye zapiski, the leading magazine of the Western-oriented intellectuals, and in 1840 he met the prominent progressive critic V.G. Belinsky, who envisioned him as the great hope of Russian literature. Lermontov had arrived among the circle of St. Petersburg writers.

At the end of the 1830s, the principal directions of his creative work had been established. His freedom-loving sentiments and his bitterly skeptical evaluation of the times in which he lived are embodied in his philosophical lyric poetry (“Duma” [“Thought”], “Ne ver sebye . . . ” [“Do Not Trust Yourself . . . ”]) and are interpreted in an original fashion in the romantic and fantastic images of his Caucasian poems, Mtsyri (1840) and Demon, on which the poet worked for the remainder of his life. Finally, Lermontov’s mature prose showed a critical picture of contemporary life in his novel Geroy nashego vremeni, containing the sum total of his reflections on contemporary society and the fortunes of his generation. The hero, Pechorin, is a cynical person of superior accomplishments who, having experienced everything else, devotes himself to experimenting with human situations. This realistic novel, full of social and psychological content and written in prose of superb quality, played an important role in the development of Russian prose.


In February 1840 Lermontov was brought to trial before a military tribunal for his duel with the son of the French ambassador at St. Petersburg—a duel used as a pretext for punishing the recalcitrant poet. On the instructions of Nicholas I, Lermontov was sentenced to a new exile in the Caucasus, this time to an infantry regiment that was preparing for dangerous military operations. Soon compelled to take part in cavalry sorties and hand-to-hand battles, he distinguished himself in the heavy fighting at Valerik River, which he describes in “Valerik” and in the verse “Ya k vam pishu . . . ” (“I Am Writing to You . . . ”). The military command made due note of the great courage and presence of mind displayed by the officer-poet.

As a result of persistent requests by his grandmother, Lermontov was given a short leave in February 1841. He spent several weeks in the capital, continuing work on compositions he had already begun and writing several poems noted for their maturity of thought and talent (“Rodina” [“Motherland”], “Lyubil i ya v bylye gody” [“And I Was in Love”]. Lermontov devised a plan for publishing his own magazine, planned new novels, and sought Belinsky’s criticism. But he soon received an order to return to his regiment and left, full of gloomy forebodings. During this long journey he experienced a flood of creative energy: his last notebook contains such masterpieces of Russian lyric poetry as “Utes” (“The Cliff”), “Spor” (“Argument”), “Svidanye” (“Meeting”), “Listok” (“A Leaf”), “Net, ne tebya tak pylko ya lyublyu” (“No, It Was Not You I Loved So Fervently”), “Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu . . . ” (“I go to the Road Alone . . . ”), and “Prorok” (“Prophet”), his last work.

On the way to his regiment, Lermontov lingered on in the health resort city of Pyatigorsk for treatment. There he met many fashionable young people from St. Petersburg, among whom were secret ill-wishers who knew his reputation in court circles. Some of the young people feared his tongue, while others envied his fame. An atmosphere of intrigue, scandal, and hatred grew up around him. Finally, a quarrel was provoked between Lermontov and another officer, N.S. Martynov; the two fought a duel that ended in the poet’s death. He was buried two days later in the municipal cemetery, and the entire population of the city gathered at his funeral. Later, Lermontov’s coffin was moved to the Tarkhana estate, and on April 23, 1842, he was buried in the Arsenyev family vault.



Assessment
Only 26 years old when he died, Lermontov had proved his worth as a brilliant and gifted poet-thinker, prose writer, and playwright, the successor of Pushkin, and an exponent of the best traditions of Russian literature. His youthful lyric poetry is filled with a passionate craving for freedom and contains calls to battle, agonizing reflections on how to apply his strengths to his life’s work, and dreams of heroic deeds. He was deeply troubled by political events, and the peasant mutinies of 1830 had suggested to him a time “when the crown of the tsars will fall.” Revolutionary ferment in western Europe met with an enthusiastic response from him (verses on the July 1830 revolution in France, on the fall of Charles X), and the theme of the French Revolution is found in his later works (the poem Sashka).

Civic and philosophical themes as well as subjective, deeply personal motifs were closely interwoven in Lermontov’s poetry. He introduced into Russian poetry the intonations of “iron verse,” noted for its heroic sound and its energy of intellectual expression. His enthusiasm for the future responded to the spiritual needs of Russian society. Lermontov’s legacy has found varied interpretations in the works of Russian artists, composers, and theatrical and cinematic figures. His dramatic compositions have played a considerable role in the development of theatrical art, and his life has served as material for many novels, poems, plays, and films.

Vladimir Viktorovich Zhdanov

 


Mikhail Lermontov. Tiflis, 1837



 

 



Death of the Poet


1837

The Bard is killed! The honor's striver
Fell, slandered by a gossip's dread,
With lead in breast and vengeful fire,
Drooped with his ever-proud head.
The Poet's soul did not bear
The shameful hurts of low breed,
He fought against the worldly "faire,"
Alone as always, ... and is killed!
He's killed! What for are late orations
Of useless praise; and weeps and moans,
And gibberish of explanations? --
The fate had brought her verdict on!
Had not you first so hard maltreated
His free and brave poetic gift,
And, for your pleasure, fanned and fitted
The fire that in ashes drifts?
You may be happy ... Those tortures
Had broken his strength, at last:
Like light, had failed the genius gorgeous;
The sumptuous wreath had weathered fast.

His murderer, without mercy,
Betook his aim and bloody chance,
His empty heart is calm and healthy,
The pistol did not tremble once.
And what is wonder? ... From a distance,
By road of manifold exiles,
He came to us, by fatal instance,
To catch his fortune, rank and price.
Detested he the alien lands
Traditions, language and discussions;
He couldn't spare The Fame of Russians
And fathom -- till last instant rushes --
What a disaster grips his hand! ...

And he is killed, and leaves from here,
As that young Bard, mysterious but dear,
The prey of vengeance, deaf and bland,
Who sang he of, so lyric and sincere,
Who too was put to death by similar a hand.

And why, from peaceful times and simple-hearted fellows,
He entered this high life, so stiff and so jealous
Of freedom-loving heart and passions full of flame?
Why did he give his hand to slanders, mean and worthless
Why trusted their words and their oaths, godless,
He, who from youth had caught the mankind's frame?

And then his wreath, a crown of sloe,
Woven with bays, they put on Poet's head;
The thorns, that secretly were grown,
Were stinging famous brow, yet.
His life's fast end was poisoned with a gurgle
And faithless whisper of the mocking fops,
And died he with burning thrust for struggle,
With hid vexation for his cheated hopes.
The charming lyre is now silent,
It will be never heard by us:
The bard's abode is grim and tightened,
And seal is placed on his mouth.

And you, oh, vainglory decedents
Of famous fathers, so mean and base,
Who've trod with ushers' feet the remnants
Of clans, offended by the fortune's plays!
In greedy crowd standing by the throne,
The foes of Freedom, Genius, and Repute --
You're hid in shadow of a law-stone,
For you, and truth and justice must be mute! ...

But there is Court of God, you, evil manifold! --
The terrible court: it waits;
It's not reached by a ring of gold,
It knows, in advance, all thoughts' and actions' weights.
Then you, in vain, will try to bring your evil voice on:
It will not help you to be right,
And you will not wash of with all your bloody poison,
The Poet's righteous blood!

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver
 


 

 

 

 

 



Mtsyri




I did but taste a little honey.
and, lo, I must die.

The First Book of the Kings


 

1

Where merge Aragva and her twin,
Kura, and fast rush onward, in
Times past, a lonely cloister stood;
By fields, a dense and o'ergrown wood
Encircled 'twas.... A wayfarer,
Toiling uphill, will see what were
A gate and gateposts once and, too,
A church.... To-day, no incense to
Its round dome coils, nor do a prayer
The humble monks chant, hoarse-voiced, there.
Alone, forgot by death and men,
A bent old greybeard, denizen
Of these remote and desolate hills,
Over the ruins watches still
And daily wipes the dust that clings
To tombs, of which the letterings
Of glories past speak and of things
Of like note. Of a tsar one such
Tells who by his gold crown was much
Weighed down, and did of Russia gain
The patronage o'er his domain.
Twas then God's love descended on
The land, and Georgia bloomed, and gone
Her old fears were and old suspense:
Of friendly bayonets a fence
Did, bristling, rise in her defence.

2

A Russian General on his
Way one day was, bound for Tiflis,
A captive bearing there, a child
Of six or so. As shy and wild
The lad was as a chamois and
Thin as a reed. Ill could he stand
The rigours of the journey, as
Soon became evident, and was
By fever stricken. But no plea
Or moan escaped him, sick as he
Endured and weak: his fathers' free,
Proud spirit had from babyhood
His own been.... Offered drink and food,
He touched them not, and day by day
Was wasting visibly away.
A monk did see and take him in
And minister to him. Within
The cloister walls the lad remained.
And, by the monk's art healed, regained
His former strength. In childish play
Indulged he not; it was his way
To keep from all aloof and roam
The grounds alone.... For his old home
He pined, and oft was seen to gaze
Eastward and sigh.... But as the days
And years wore on, accustomed to
Captivity he slowly grew,
Was in due time baptized, and sought,
Unknowing of the world and taught
Little about it, to become
A monk.... Then one dark evening, from
His cell he vanished. Cloaked by haze
The forest was. For three long days
They searched in vain, and only found
Him on the fourth: stretched on the ground
He senseless lay, the grassy plain
His body cradling. Back again
They bore him to the cloister. Pale
And weak he was, like one whose frail
Frame had a dire disease survived
Or hunger, and seemed nigh deprived
Of tongue.... Death hovered near him, fate
Had willed it so. To remonstrate
With him the monk, his saviour, came....
The sick man, who had speechless lain
Upon his bed, his waning strength
Now summoned and spoke up at length.

3

"I thank you, friend, for coming to
Hear my confession.... Aye, 'tis true
That to give utterance to my pain
Will ease it.... But you'll little gain
Of benefit from what I can
Relate to you. I harmed no man,
And for the rest - can one pour out
One's heart?... Nay, old one, this I doubt.
A captive's life has my life been
And brief.... Two such lives, calm if mean,
Would I exchange, if but I could,
For one, of risk, disquietude
And peril full.... As I recall,
One passion held me e'er in thrall;
It worm-like gnawed at me at first,
Then into flames devouring burst
And all of me consumed.... From prayer
And stifling celt to regions fair
Borne by my dreams was I, of strife
A wondrous world, where soaring cliff
Is hid by cloud, and men are free
As eagles.... Fed by misery
And tears my passion was, this now
Tore earth and Heaven I avow!...
Yet I - to this, pray, give you heed -
For absolution do not plead.

4

"Twas you, old man, who saved, I know,
My life, the others told me so.
Why did you this? A small leaf, torn
By tempest from its branch, forlorn,
I lived behind these walls of gloom.
At heart a child, I had become
A cenobite at fate's command.
What man could I call father, and
What woman mother?... That forget
I would those two sweet words you'd let
Yourself believe.... Vain hope! The sound
Of them with me was born, and hound
My heart they did.... Of all that here
Dwelt, I alone no home, no dear
Friend, no relation, nay, not e'en
A loved grave had! I could but dream
Of them and childlike long to cry...
But tears - what use were they? And I
Vowed that the day would dawn when to
My breast, content, I'd clasp one who,
Though but a stranger and unknown
To me and mine, hailed from yon lone
And distant range, the hills that gave
Me birth.... Alas, my friend, a slave
In alien parts, unloved, have I
Lived, and a slave am meant to die!...

5

"The grave I fear not: in its cold
And silent depths, grief, we are told,
And suffering sleep.... Tis that my heart
Is wrung with pain at thought that part
With life I must.... I'm young, do not
You see it? Young!... Have you forgot
Or never known youth's dreams? Have you
Not loved, not hated? Has the view
Of sunlit fields gained from the top
Of yonder tower ne'er made you stop
In breathless wonder? Have you ne'er
In avid thirst drunk of the air
That is so fragrant there, above,
And fresh? Have you not watched a dove
Cower in a crevice in the wall
During a storm?... Yet though to all
The beauty of the world you have
Blind in your old age grown, and crave
None of its sweet delights and rare -
What matter! - In your past there are
Things to forget - a happy lot!...
Aye, you have lived, and I have not.


 

6

"Shall I describe what I did see
While wandering, of my chains free,
Beyond these walls? Ñ Lush fields and leas,
Hills garlanded and crowned with trees
That moved like dancers in a ring
Around the slopes, and, too, a string,
A mass of hulking rocks cleft by
Swift streams and torrents.... Their thoughts I
Divined, by Heaven so to do
'Twas given me from birth.... I knew,
Watching their stone hands scratch the air,
How fervently, with what despair
These giants did in close embrace
Long to be locked!... Alas! The days
And, too, the years rush, fleeting, past
And bring them closer not.... Aghast,
Entranced at sight of mountains as
Strange as are dreams, I stood.... The rays
Of dawn their peaks touched.... To the skies
Like smoking altars they did rise,
And o'er them, high above the ground,
The clouds sailed swiftly, eastward bound,
Their hidden shelter of the night
Abandoning fore'er.... A flight
Of birds, a feathered caravan
Resembled they.... Ahead began
The Caucasus.... Skyward they rose,
Immovable, in glittering snows
As bright as diamonds clad.... Rejoice!
That is your home, a secret voice
Said, and at once my spirits soared Ñ
It was as if some hidden chord
Had touched been, for the past anew
Was born and ever clearer grew.

7

"My father's house recall I did,
And, in a shady canyon hid,
Our village.... Once again I heard
The sound of hoofs and saw a herd
Of horses at the fall of dark
Race home.... A dog began to bark,
Another joined it.... Strangely clear
All these sounds were.... The oldsters near
Our porch sat, bronze-faced, dignified,
Full of a kind of inbred pride
And lordliness.... Their daggers shone
And, too, their scabbards as upon
Them fell the moon's pale, steady beam....
These homely scenes as in a dream
Before me passed.... There, near me, stood
My father as from babyhood
I had remembered him, a proud,
Stern-featured man.... I heard the loud
Clanging of metal and did see
Him touch his gin.... My sisters three
Recalled I, too.... How tenderly
For me they cared, with what love rang
Their voices as to me they sang!...
Beside our house a stream did flow;
It was not deep, and I would go
At midday there, and on the sand
Lie idly, or play games, or stand
And watch a swallow with its wing
The water graze and promise bring
Of rain.... And oh, the nights when we
Would by the hearth sit quietly
And listen to long stories told
Of how men lived in times of old,
In a long past, a faraway
But richer and more sumptuous day.

8

"Know you how my three days I spent
Of freedom?.... Truly Heaven-sent
Were they.... I lived! And my life would
'Thout them have sadder been, my good
Friend, than your helpless old age is.
I had long yearned (and in this wise
To yearn is anguish) for a sight
Of distant fields.... Lured by earth's bright
Beauty I was, and longed to see
If born for dark captivity
We mortals were. or freedom.... Then,
One night, during a rainstorm, when
The rest of you did prostrate lie
In fear beside the altar, I
Fled.... Like a brother to my breast
The mighty storm I would have pressed!...
With greedy eye the clouds I sought,
And in my hand the lightning caught....
Say, what could these walls, dark with age,
Give me, a captive, in exchange
For that brief friendship, brief yet warm,
That bound my heart to raging storm?...

9

"I ran 'thout rest Ñ where, I knew not,
No star was out.... But, oh, with what
Delight I breathed of night's fresh air
And drank it in.... I was aware
Of little else but that the care
That had, a burden, lain upon
My heart, had lifted and was gone....
On, on I ran.... Hours must have passed
Before upon the grass at last
I fell, quite spent.... None had my trail
Picked up.... The storm was o'er.... A pale
Ribbon of light 'twixt dark earth lay
And darker sky.... Against it, grey,
The Jagged peaks of mountains could
Be seen.... I never moved.... The wood
And all in it was hushed and still;
From the ravine a jackal's shrill
Cry came that did an infant's seem
To imitate; the dullish gleam
I caught of scales as past me slid
A snake.... I felt no fear, for did
I not myself from human sight.
A beast, hide in the dark of night!

10

"I heard a stream rush down below;
The rains had fed it, and its low
Accents were fierce. It was as though
A hundred voices in dispute
At once were raised. I listened, mute....
That blurred and wordless speech to me
Was clear enough: impatiently
The stream the stubborn stones addressed
That barred its path, and, angry, pressed
Them to make way. The argument
Went ceaseless on; 'twas vehement
And stormy; now it louder grew,
Now less loud; in the misty blue
Above the birds sang, and the wind
The damp leaves stirred; its touch was kind
But woke the flowers; I, too, like they,
In welcome to the newborn day
My head raised. Close to an abyss
I now saw that I lay, and this
Put fear in me.... The stream did roar
And seethe below.... Down to its shore
Great, massive steps of grey stone led;
Here Satan had with halting tread
Walked down them when he'd banished been
To hell's dim depths, its dark demesne.

11

"Round me was paradise: the trees
Were brightly decked; of Heavenly tears
Their vivid garments bore the trace;
Grapevines embraced them, fine green lace
Resembling closely; here and there,
Like costly earrings made of rare
And lovely gems, great clusters of
Grapes hung, and on the boughs above
Perched birds; in flocks descended they
Upon the fruit, flew fast away,
Came back.... On to the ground anew
I sank and listened spellbound to
The strange and magic whispering
That filled the air and seemed to bring
To light the secrets of the sky
And of the earth; each breath and sigh,
All of the many voices clear
Of Nature, merging, reached my ear,
There, in her grand and beauteous bower,
But man's proud voice.... In that great hour
Of praise 'twas still.... What I felt then
I cannot ever feel again,
But when I speak of it I live,
If only in my thoughts.... Pray, give
Ear to my tale.... So clear and bright
The dome was that an angel's flight
Could easily perceived have been
By patient eye.... Ne'er had I seen
Such lucid skies, such a serene
And perfect blue! My heart and gaze
It tured... Came noon: the sun's hot blaze,
Its brilliant ray at once dispersed
My dreams and brought a lingering thirst.

12

"Wanting to reach the stream that ran
Roaring below, I now began
My steep descent. From ledge I crept
To rocky ledge, by bushes kept,
At which I clutched, from falling; my
Foot would a stone dislodge, and I
Would watch it downward roll, a cloud
Of dust behind it raising. Loud
Its booms were as it, leaping, went
Down, down, the surging billows rent,
And was engulfed.... Fearless, I hung
Above the chasm Ñ when one is young
And free, one's apt to laugh at death!...
The bottom gained, I felt the breath
Of mountain waters come to me,
And, o'er them kneeling, greedily
Drank... At the sound of footsteps light,
A voice in song raised, out of sight,
Behind a bush I hid. and there
Grouched in some fear. I did not dare
Look out, but that song my ear drew
And avidly I listened to
Its simple strains.... A soft caress
The Georgian maid's voice held, and yes,
A freedom and an artlessness,
As if it had been taught to speak
Naught but the names of friends.... Though weak
And ill I lie here, by its sound
Entranced am I and held spellbound.
When dusk steals nigh on silent wings,
To me that song a spirit sings.


 

13

"Along a narrow path that led
Down to the shore, above her head
A jug held high, the Georgian lass
Her way was slowly making. As
I watched, a slippery stone betrayed
Her cautious foot: she stumbled, swayed,
Laughed at herself and haltingly
Walked on.... Her clothes were poor, but she
Had pushed her veil back. and the rays
Of sun had gold shades on her face
And bosom traced; a warmth, a glow
Came from her lips and cheeks, and so
Deep and bewitching was her eye.
So full of love's sweet mystery,
Its secrets, that my heart and mind
Were set aflame, and I turned blind
To all about me.... Nothing now
Can I at all recall save how
The water, gurgling, flowed into
The tilted jug, and one or two
Like things.... When I my senses had
Regained at last, from me the maid
Was far.... The jug's forbidding weight
Seemed not to burden her; as straight
And graceful as the poplar-tree.
Queen of yon flowering fields, was she!...
I watched her slowly walk away....
Up in the hills two huts of clay
Like two fond mates perched side by side;
Glued to the rock they were and hid
In part by haze.... Smoke curled up o'er
A low, flat roof.... I saw a door
Glide open, then as softly shut....
You know not how I suffered, but
'Tis better so, 'tis for the best -
With me those simple scenes will rest.
With me. this will I not deny,
I want my memories to die.

14

"Worn by the labours of the past
Night, I lay down, and sleep did cast
O'er me its spell and my eyes close,
And 'fore me. in my dreams, there rose
The maid. the Georgian maid.... The same
Sweet ache was back, to my heart claim
It laid anew.... To wake I strove -
And did at last. High up above
The half-moon sailed; still numb with sleep,
I watched a cloud behind it creep
And stalk it greedily, as though
The crescent were its prey.... The glow
Of moon could not the dark dispel
The world was silent: no sound fell
Upon the ear but for the shy
Plash of the waves.... Against the sky
The mountains showed: proud they displayed
Their silver fringe.... A small light played,
A star of night resembling, in
One of the huts, whose shapes, though dim,
Were visible; now bright it burned.
Now of a sudden died.... I yearned
To climb the path that, winding, led
Up to the hut, but took instead
Another, that toward the wood
Ran.... I was famished, but of food
Refused to think. With my heart whole
My land I longed to find, a goal
That changeless stayed.... Tireless I strode
Past towering trees, but off the road
Strayed, and, in time, to my dismay,
Discovered that I'd lost my way.

15

"Seized by a kind of mad despair,
I would at moments stop and tear
At thorny shrubs and bushes which
With ivy leaves were twined. The rich,
Luxuriant forest round me spread,
Grew at each step more dense.... With dread,
A fear unknown but infinite,
My soul filled, for the eyes of night,
A million hungry eyes, at me
From every side stared wrathfully!...
My poor head swam.... I climbed a tree,
Another: nigh to heaven's end
The wood stretched and did, sombre, send
Its toothy shadows over all....
On to the dark grass I did fall
And gnaw at earth's wet breast, and sear,
And scorch, and burn it with my tears,
Those blazing drops of dew.... And yet
I scorned man's help, and did not let
Myself call out.... Had from me wrung
A single cry been, this my tongue,
My feeble tongue, of pity shorn,
From out my mouth I would have torn!

16

"Do you recall? - In my young years
I never cried. But now the tears
Poured freely from my eyes: alone
The forest saw them and the moon
That drifted slowly overhead....
Upon a glade'that carpeted
With moss and sand was, fell its light....
Thick walls of forest and of night
The glade fenced in. A shadow o'er
It darted suddenly. Before
My startled gaze two lights glowed, and
A huge beast leapt onto the sand.
It was a leopard, dweller of
The wilderness.... From out the grove
Emerging thus, he started to
Roll playfully about, and chew.
With growls that almost gay of tone
Seemed, at a Juicy piece of bone
He had with him.... His long. sleek tail
The beast was wagging, and the pale
Ray of the half-moon gave the sheen
Of silver to his coat.... Unseen
By him as yet, a spiky bough
I snatched up, and not knowing how
Soon we would clash, athirst for blood,
Did wait for him to spring, my mood
One of exultancy.... Had fate
Not interfered - I hesitate
To say it not - a hero in
My fathers' land I would have been!

17

"I waited, and the beast aware
Becoming of my presence there,
Howled, aye, let out a pitiful,
Long-drawn-out wail, of anger full,
Clawed at the sand, then on his hind
Legs for a moment rose, in blind
Fury crouched down.... His first wild leap
Might death have spelt - but I did keep
Cool and struck first! Swift was my blow
And sure. The blood began to flow
From his cleft brow.... He gave a low
Moan that was like a man's moan, and
Recoiled and fell.... I watched him land
Upon his side.... The blood did pour
Fast from his wound, and yet once more
The leopard pounced, by pain enraged,
And, hot and fierce, our battle raged!

18

"Before his claws my breast could rip,
My bough I did more firmly grip,
And, plunging it in his throat, twice
The weapon twisted. Loud rang his
Howl o'er the wood. He gave a bound.
And, like two friends their arms around
Each other, or two serpents wound
Into a ball, over the cold,
Dew-sprinkled moss and grass we rolled....
An untamed beast, as wild as my
Foe was I then; his savage cry,
His snarls were echoed by my own.
It was as if I'd only known
Of leopards and of wolves the ways,
Their company, and all my days
Had in the forest spent among
Its dwellers, and the human tongue
Forgot.... Within me, deep, was born
The terrifying and forlorn
Call of the wounded beast, and I
No other sound could utter, why
I cannot say.... Meanwhile, my foe
Was tiring, and his breath grew slow
And laboured.... All at once his hold
On me he tightened, then his gold
Eyes spark-like flashed and closed fore'er....
Yet, this am I prepared to swear:
That death had he in my embrace
Met like a soldier, face to face!...

19

"Behold - his sharp claws on my breast
Have left their mark, and well impressed
Is't on the skin.... No scars conceal
The ugly prints, and yet, I feel
That death is near and that 'twill heal
Them soon enough.... When 'fore me, slain,
My foe lay, I forgot my pain
And wounds and, all unaided, off
Made from the wood.... But fate did scoff
And jeer at me, and vainly I
Its will attempted to defy.


 

20

"The forest edge I reached when day
The orbs of night had with its ray
Dispersed.... The slumbering wood awoke
And rustled softly.... Wisps of smoke
Rose in the distance where the lone
Roofs of a hamlet showed.... The moan
Of wind now reached me, and, of tone
Harsh, a familiar sound.... I sat
And listened.... It was faint, and at
That moment, fainter growing, died....
Around me stretched a countryside
I seemed to recognise.... Oh no!
It could not be - had fate a blow
So cruel delivered?... From my dread
And hated prison had I fled
But to return to it again?
For long, long years, a slave, to pine
For blessed freedom, and then this -
A passing glimpse, a taste of bliss,
And after that, beyond recall,
The grave, and, in it buried, all
My longing for my motherland,
My dreams betrayed and broken, and,
Tinged with both anguish and remorse,
The shame of pity such as yours!...
And still to doubt I clung and fought
The voice of truth till my ear caught
Anew the tolling of a bell,
A sound I knew, alas, too well!
From early childhood had that dull
Clanging destroyed the beautiful
Visions that came at times to me
Of my lost home and family,
Of steppeland free, of fiery steeds,
Of valiant and heroic deeds
Performed, and wondrous battles on
Steep mountain pathways waged and won
By me alone!... Deep, deep within
Me did the belt sound.... Weak of limb
It left me, and bereft of tears:
Was not a hand of iron, fierce,
At my heart pounding without end?...
Twas then that I did comprehend
That what I craved was not to be,
That ne'er would I my birthplace see.

21

"Deserve I do my lot, I know....
A steed in alien steppe will throw
His clumsy rider, and, though mute,
Of instinct sure, the shortest route
Find to his stall.... Beside him what
Am I? I suffer but cannot
My plight, that does so irk me, change;
My dreams are futile and of strange
Delusions born, the undefined
And frenzied longing of the mind... .
My prison had on me its mark
Left: like a plant that in a dark
Cell springs to life, so was I; lone
And sapless, 'twixt two slabs of stone
It slowly sprouts, not daring to
Spread its young leaves, and, pale of hue,
Waits for the sun.... Its grief does move
The hand of pity to remove
It to a garden from the gloom
Of dank and murky cell; flowers bloom
About it, all is bliss and cheer
And sweetness.... But our prisoner
Cannot survive, and with the rise
Of dawn, 'tis scorched by sun and dies!

22

"Like that poor plant burnt was I by
The merciless, stinging sunlight. My
Head vainly did I strive to hide
Beneath the grasses: parched and dried
Their leaves were, and a kind of crown
Of thorns formed that sat strangely on
My aching brow.... Into my face
The ground breathed fire. Such was the blaze
And heat of day that bright sparks spun
High up above me, and the sun
Thin shreds of vapour forced the white
Cliffs to give off. All within sight
Lay torpid in the blinding glare:
The heavy sleep of blank despair
God's world bound fast. Not e'en the cry
Of land rail, nor the tiny, dry
Whirr of the gauze-winged dragonfly.
Nor yet the babbling of a brook
The quiet broke.... From its dark nook
A snake emerged; the zigzags on
Its gleaming yellow back made one
Think of a blade with lettering
Of gold adorned.... Into a ring,
A triple one, it coiled, and stayed
A while thus, bland and undismayed;
Then, as if stung by flame, a start
Gave and began to leap and dart
About in wild and frenzied play....

23

"The skies were tranquil.... Far away
Two hills showed black where they the veil
Of haze had pierced; like furbished mail
Behind them shone the turrets tall
Of this old cloister and its wall,
While far below, round isles of green,
The two twin streams snaked, with a gleam
Like that of silver.... I could see
Them flowing lightly, rapidly
O'er naked roots and onward run....
I tried to rise - around me spun
The world; I tried to speak - my tongue
Went dry and to my palate clung.
Doomed was I! As the minutes passed,
I knew that gruesome Death had cast
O'er me its shadow; overcome
Was I by dark delirium,
And on the bottom seemed to rest
Of some deep stream. The waves caressed
My face and hands, and o'er me rolled,
And quenched my burning thirst. As cold
The water was as ice and pure....
If but this moment could endure,
I told myself, this calm, this peace,
If only sleep would not drive these
Fond dreams away!... The light that through
The water seeped as soft and blue
And tender as the moon's became,
The harsh beams turning strangely tame
And mellow.... Near me, to and fro,
Bright fish did flit and fairly glow
With colour.... Silent and entranced,
I watched them. One fish frisked and danced
Just o'er my head. Fine scales of gold
Did cover it.... Against me, bold,
Now and again it brushed in play
And did its friendliness display
In like frank way. Its gaze met mine,
And, lo! - its silvery voice and thin
In song it raised. Full of content
I listened to't, and wonderment:
A strange song 'twas, and tinged with pain,
Now 'twould break off, now start again....

* * *
'Come, stay with me, it went, and you'll
Regret it not, my dear.
Calm are these watery wastes and cool,
In freedom live we here.

* * *
'We'll dance, my sisters fair and I,
A gay dance for a start,
And drive the sadness from your eye,
The darkness from your heart.

* * *
'Sleep, dear one! Soft and downy is
Your bed of sand and grass.
The fleeting, years and centuries
In dulcet dreams will pass.

* * *
'love you, love, the way I do
These rolling waves and free.
As precious and as dear are you
As life itself to me.

I listened patiently and long:
The water's murmur with the song
Sung by the goldfish seemed to blend....
Then, without warning, to an end
Came these odd dreams, the light of noon
Faded away, and in a swoon,
Oblivious to all, I lay....

24

"Twas there they found me.... I will say
No more, you know the rest. If you,
Whose sympathy I need not woo,
Believe me not, 'tis all the same
To me, but sorely grieved I am
By one thing: that my body will
In alien soil lie, cold and still,
That words writ by some stranger on
My grave will wake response in none,
And that to my dark fate and name
All will indifferent remain.

25

"Adieu!... Our parting let us seal
With hand-clasp, Father. Can you feel
How hot my hand is and how dry?...
Know this: a fire has e 'er in my
Breast lurked from youth, and in its greed
Devoured its captor - flesh, and freed
The spirit that must soon return
To one who does mete out, in turn,
To each of us, now pain, now peace....
But think not that I seek release
From worldly chains, my old friend - Nay!
Exchange I would for one short day,
For less, for but one hour amid
The jagged rocks where play I did,
A child, if  'twere but offered me,
Both Heaven and eternity!...

26

"When comes my end, for which to wait
Not long remains, for so has fate
Ordained, pray, have me taken to
The garden, to the spot where two
Acacia bushes grow, and lush
The grass is, and with golden brush
The sun the leaves tints, and the air
Is clear and heady.... Place me there,
Beneath that blue and boundless sky,
So that I may before I die
My eyes feast on the luminous,
Light-nourished day.... The Caucasus
From that spot can be seen, and will
Send me their last farewell, the chill
Breeze using for a messenger,
And my heart with the dear sounds stir
Of home, and make me think that by
My side my brother, as I lie
There quietly, or else an old
And trusted friend sits, and the cold
Drops patient wiping from my face,
In hushed tones sings a song of praise
To our dear homeland, his and mine....
With thought of it I'll sleep, and in
The moment 'fore oblivion
Curse no man and disparage none!"

 

 

 
     
         
 

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