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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.

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

 

 

 


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
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


The demon


 

Part I

I

His way above the sinful earth
The melancholy Demon winged
And memories of happier days
About his exiled spirit thronged;
Of days when in the halls of light
He shone among the angels bright;
When comets in their headlong flight
Would joy to pay respect to him
As, chaste among the cherubim,
Among th' eternal nebulae
With eager mind and quick surmise
He'd trace their caravanserai
Through the far spaces of the skies;
When he had known both faith and love,
The happy firstling of creation!
When neither doubt nor dark damnation
Had whelmed him with the bitterness
Of fruitless exile year by year,
And when so much, so much...but this
Was more than memory could bear.

II

Outcast long since, he wandered lone,
Having no place to call his own,
Through the dull desert of the world
While age on age about him swirled,
Minute on minute - all the same.
Prince of this world - which he held cheap -
He scattered tares among the wheat....
A joyless task without remission,
Void of excitement, opposition -
Evil itself to him seemed tame.

III

And so - exiled from Paradise -
He soared above the peaks of ice
And saw the everlasting snows
Of Kazbek and the Caucasus,
And, serpentine, the winding deeps
Of that black, dragon-haunted pass
The Daryal gorge; then the wild leaps
Of Terek like a lion bounding
With mane of tangled spray that blows
Behind him, and a great roar sounding
Through all the hills, where beast and bird
On mountain scree and azure steeps
The river's mighty voice had heard;
And, as he flew, the golden clouds
Streaked from the South in tattered shrouds...
Companions on his Northbound course;
And the great cliffs came crowding in
And brooded darkly over him
Exuding some compelling force
Of somnolence above the stream...
And on the cliff-tops castles reared
Their towered heads and baleful stared
Out through the mists - wardens who wait
Colossal at the mighty gate
Of Caucasus - and all about
God's world lay wonderful and wild...
But the proud Spirit looked with doubt
And cool contempt on God's creation,
His brow unruffled and serene
Admitting no participation.

IV

Before him now another scene
In vivid beauty blooms.
The patterned vales' luxuriant green
Spread like a carpet on the looms
Of Georgia, rich and blessed ground!
These poplars like great pillars tower,
And sounding streams trip over pebbles
Of many colours in their courses.
And, ember-bright, the rose trees flower
Where nightingales forever warble
To marble beauties fond discourses
Forever deaf to their sweet sound.
On sultry days the timid deer
Seek out an ivy-curtained cave
To hide them from the midday heat;
How bright, how live the leaves are here!
A hundred voices soft conclave
A thousand flower-hearts that beat!
The sensuous warmth of afternoon,
The scented dew which falls to strew
The grateful foliage 'neath the moon,
The stars that shine as full and bright
As Georgian beauties' eyes by night!...
Yet in the outcast's barren breast
Abundant nature woke no new
Upsurge of forces long at rest,
Touched off no other sentiment
Than envy, hatred, cold contempt.

V

Right high the house, right wide the court
Grey-haired Gudaal has builded him...
In tears and labour dearly bought
By slaves submissive to his whim.
Across the neighbouring cliffs its shade
From sunrise dark and cool is laid
A steep stair in the cliff-face hewn
Leads from the corner-tower down
To the Aragva. Down this stair
Princess Tamara, young and fair,
Goes gleaming, snow white veils a-flutter,
To fetch her jars of river water.

VI

In austere silence heretofore
The house has looked across the valleys;
But now wide open stands the door
Gudaal holds feast to mark the marriage
Of his Tamara: now the wine
Flows freely and the zurna skirts;
The clan is gathered round to dine
And on the roof-top, richly spread
With orient rugs. the promised bride
Sits all amongst her laughing girls:
In games and songs their time is sped
And merriment. Beyond the hills
The semicircle of the sun
Has sunk already. Now the fun
Crows fast and furious. Now the steady
Rhythmic clapping and the singing
The bride brings to her feet, poised ready,
Her tambourine above her head
Is circling, she herself goes winging
Bird-light above rug, then stops,
Looks round, and lets her lashes drop
That envious hide her shining glance;
And now she raises raven brows,
Now suddenly sways forward slightly
Her slender foot peeps out, and lightly
It slides and swims into the dance;
And see she smiles - a joyous gleam
Aglow with childish merriment.
And yet... the white moon's sportive beam
In rippling water liquid bent
With such a smile could scarce compare
More live than life. than youth more fair.

VII

So by the midnight star I swear
By blazing East and beaming West
No Shah of Persia knew her peer
No King on earth was ever blessed
To kiss an eye so full and fine.
The harem's sparkling fountain never
Showered such a form with dewy pearls!
Nor had mortal fingers ever
Caressed a forehead so divine
To loose such splendid curls;
Indeed, since Eve was first undone
And man from Eden forth must fare
No beauty such as this, I swear,
Had bloomed beneath the Southern sun.

VIII

So now for the last time she danced
Atasi Tomorrow, she, the heir
Of old Gudaal, the daughter fair
Of liberty must bow her head
To a slave's fate like one entranced,
Adopt a country not her own,
A family she'd never known ä
Often a secret doubt would shed
A shadow on her radiant face;
Yet all her movements were so free
Appealing, redolent of grace
So full of sweet simplicity
That, had the Demon soaring high
Above looked down and chanced to see...
Then, mindful of his former race,
He had turned from her ä with a sigh....

IX

The Demon did see.... For one second
It seemed to him that heaven beckoned
To make his arid soul resound
With glorious, grace-bestowing sound -
And once again his thought embraced
The sacrosanct significance
Of Goodness, Beauty and of Love!
And, strangely moved, his memory traced
The joys that he had known above
A chain of long magnificence
Before him link on link unfolding
As though he watched the headlong flight
Of star on star shoot through the night....
And, long the touching scene beholding,
Held spell-bound by some Power unseen,
New sadness in his heart awoke.
Then. suddenly, emotion spoke
In accents once familiar;
Could this yet be regeneration?
The subtle promptings of temptation
Had gone as though they had not been...
Oblivion? - God gave this not yet: -
Nor would he, if he could, forget!...
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

X

Meanwhile, his galant steed all lathered
Hastening to join his kin forgathered
To celebrate his wedding day
The bridegroom made his urgent way....
Good fortune yet attended him
To bright Aragva's verdant bank.
A line of camels after him
So weighted down with costly gifts
They scarce from hoof to hoof could shift
Wound down the pathway, rank on rank,
Now clear to view, now lost to sight,
Bells chiming softly as they plod.
Their master rode on in the van
To guide his laden caravan
That followed where his horse had trod....
Erect, the tithe waste girdled tight;
Sabre and dagger-hilts shine bright
Beneath the sun; and on his back
A gleaming rifle, notched in black.
The wind is fluttering the sleeve
Of his chukhd - all bravely braided
His saddle-cloth of richest weave,
The saddle with gay silks is broidered
The reigns are tasseled - and his steed
Is of a priceless, golden breed.
Nostrils dilated,twitching ears
He glances down and snorts his fears
Of the deep drop, the flying foam
That crests the rapids' leaping waves.
How perilous the path they follow,
The cliff o'erhangs the way so narrow,
The deep ravine the torrent paves.
The hour is late. - The sunset glow
Is fading on the peaks of snow.
The caravan makes haste for home.

XI

But see - a chapel by the way....
Here now has rested many a day
Some prince, now canonized, but then
By vengeful hand untimely slain.-
And here the traveller must stay
Whether he haste to fight, or whether
To join the feast, here he must ever
Rein in his horse and humbly pray
The good saint to protect his life
Against the lurking Moslem's knife.
But now the bridegroom, overbold,
Forgot his forefathers of old
And, by perfidious dreams misled
Of how, beneath the cloak of night,
He would embrace his bride, instead
Of holding by their pious rite
He yielded to the Demon's will
Seduced by turbid thoughts - until
Two figures - then a shot - ahead
What was it? Rising in his stirrups
Cramming his high hat on his brow
The gallant lover, at the gallop,
Plunged like a hawk upon his foe!
No word he spoke, his whip cracked once
And once blazed forth his Turkish gun....
Another shot. Wild cries. The Prince
Goes thundering on. The groans behind
Long echoes in the valley find....
Not long the fight. Of timorous mind,
The Georgians turn and run!

XII

Now all is silence; sadly huddled
The camels stand and stare befuddled
Upon their erstwhile master ä man,
Lying dead amongst these silent fells.
The only sound their harness bells,
Ravaged and robbed their caravan;
And see, the owl flies softly round
The Christian bodies on the ground!
No peaceful tomb beneath the stones
Of some old church will take these bones
Like those in which their fathers lie;
Mothers nor sisters will not come
In their long floating veils to cry
Over these graves so far from home!
Instead, by zealous hands, a cross
Was raised to mark the dreadful loss
Just where the road hugs close the sheer
And towering cliff-wall, close to where
They perished in the raid....
And ivy, growing lush in spring,
An emerald net about it flings....
Here, weary of the toilsome road,
The traveller yet lays down his load
To rest in God's good shade....

XIII

Swift as a stag still runs the horse
Snorting as though he held his course
In some fierce charge, now plunging on
Now pulling up as though to harken
His nostrils flared to sniff the wind:
Then leaps up and comes ringing down
On all four hooves, sets sparking
The stones and, in his mad career,
His tangled mane streams out behind.
A silent rider he does bear
Who lurches forward now and then
To rest his head in that wild mane.
The reins lie slack in useless hands,
The feet are deep-thrust in the stirrups,
And on his saddle-cloth the bands
Of blood are broadening as they gallop
Ah gallant steed, your wounded master
You bore from battle swift as light
The ill-starred bullet sped yet faster
And overtook him in the night!

XIV

Gudaal's is now a house of mourning,
The people crowd into the court:
Whose horse comes galloping in terror
To fall before the rock-hewn gate?
The lifeless rider, who is he?
The battle fury on his face
Has left a deep inscribed trace
On coat and weapons they could see
Fresh bloodstains, and a wiry strand
Of mane was twisted in his hand,
Not long you waited, youthful bride,
And looked to see your bridegroom come:
Alas, though he has gained your side
To join the feasting at your home
His princely word he keeps in vain...
Never will he mount horse again.

XV

Like thunder, the Lord's judgement broke
About this unsuspecting house!
Tamara, sobbing on her couch,
Gives free rein to the heavy tears
Till, shaken, she on them must choke....
Then, suddenly, it seems she hears
Above her words of wonder spoke:
"Weep not, my child! Weep not in vain!
Those tears are no life-giving rain
To call an unresponsive corpse
Back to the living world again.
They only serve to dull their source
In those clear eyes, those cheeks to burn....
And he is far and will not learn
Of all your bitter sorrow now;
The winds of heaven now caress
His high, angelic brow;
And heavenly music, heavenly light....
What are the dreams and dark duress,
The little hopes and stifled sighs
Of earthly maidens in the sight
Of one who dwells in paradise?
Ah no, the lot of mortal man,
Believe, my earthly angel dear,
It merits not one second's span
Your precious sorrow here.

On the wastes of airy ocean
Rudderless and stripped of sail
Through the mists in listless motion
Stars in courses never fail;
Through the boundless fields of heaven
Traceless pass the fluffy sheep -
Clouds dissolving in the even
Reaches of the azure steppe.
Hour of parting, hour of meeting,
Brings them neither joy nor sorrow;
Nor regrets for past fast fleeting;
Nor desires for any morrow.
Let remembrance day be only
One long sorrow-laden day;
For the rest, be strong and lonely
Free of earthly cares as they!"

"As soon as night has spread her veil
To cover the Caucasian heights;
As soon as nature *neath the spell
Of magic words falls silent quite;
As soon as on the cliffs the wind
Runs rustling through the fading grass,
And the small bird that hides behind
The brittle blades flies up at last;
And, drinking in the evening dew
Beneath the vine-leaves in the gloom,
Night flowering blossoms come to bloom;
As soon as the great, golden moon
Above the mountain quietly peeps
To steal a stealthy glance at you;
I shall come flying to watch your sleep
And on your silken lashes lay
Enchanted dreams of golden day...."

XVI

And softly as a strange delusion
The voice fell silent, sound on sound.
The maid sprang up and gazed around,
An inexpressible confusion
Within her breast; - sorrow nor fear
Nor ecstasy could now compare
With this great upsurge of emotion.
The soul from its fast fetters broke
And burning fire coursed through her veins
It seemed as though the voice still spoke
Unknown and wonderful - and then
The sleep she craved came down to bless
Her weary eyes with heaviness;
But now he troubled even her thought
With dreams prophetic and unsought:
A stranger, mist-enshrouded, stood
Beside her bed and spoke no word
But, glimmering with unearthly beauty,
He looked at her with quiet devotion
And sadly, as it were in pity.
But this was not her guardian angel,
No visitant from realms divine:
About his head no radiant halo
Upon the shadowy curls did shine
Nor was it some tormented sprite
Some vicious spirit of hell - ah no!
Neither of darkness nor of light!...
More like the gentle afterglow
As evening deepens into night!...


 

 

 


Part II

I

"Ah, father, father, leave your threats
Scold not your daughter yet again.
For see these tears! I'm weeping yet
You know full well since when
The suitors come to seek my hand
From all the corners of the land....
As though in Georgia only one
Young maid there were they'd have as bride....
But I - I can be wife to none!...
Oh, father, father, do not chide,
You see yourself - a poison slow
Envenoms all my waking thought
The evil one won't let me go
By overwhelming dreams distraught
I fade and perish utterly!
Have pity, let your foolish girl
Seek refuge In a monastery
There, if I can but take the veil
The saviour will take care of me
And I shall tell Him all my woe.
The world, I know it all too well,
Holds nothing for me: let a cell
In twilit shadow shelter me...
As in a grave - precociously..."

II

And so Tamara's family
To a far convent brought their child,
And there in all humility
In hair-shirt rough the maiden mild
Enrobed her youthful breast.
Yet in this harsh, monastic garb
Her troubled heart found no more rest
From dreams forbidden and debarred
Than clad in velvet or brocade.
Before the altar at the hour,
Of shining candles, solemn prayer,
Through the sweet chanting of the choir
Familiar speech would reach her ear
And there, beneath the cupola,
A well-known figure would appear
To glide by as the incense rose....
Soundless, he leaves no trace, but goes
Gleaming before her like a star
Calling and beckoning afar
But whither? Ah, that no one knows.

III

The holy convent was secluded
In a cool glen between two hills
By poplars and acacias ringed....
And, when the night sank weary-winged
To rest in the ravine, the grills
Of the young sister's cell would gleam
Out through their foliage fitfully.
Without, beneath the almond tree
In whose thin shade dark crosses brooded
Like silent watchers on the graves,
The merry birds made sweet conclaves
Of melody. The spring-cold streams
Leapt down from rock to rock, and sang,
Then merged beneath the overhang
To foam away in rapid rushes
Beneath the frosty-flowering bushes....

IV

Way to the north there was a view,
A glimpse of mountains. At day's dawning,
When curling mists of smoky blue
Rose from the hollows of the hills,
And from his minaret the priest,
His face towards the brightening East,
Called all his flock to prayer at morning,
Then, too, the trembling resonance
Of chapel bells awoke the cloister;
The solemn hour did but enhance
The stillness of the place, the calm....
Tamara at this hour came forth
Bearing a pitcher on one arm
And, treading where the mists grew lighter
Down the steep hillside stepped for water.
The snowy summits to the North
Showed violet against the sky
And flung a cloak of rosier dye
About their shoulders in the evening;
And there between them, upheaving
His head between the clouds, their Tsar,
Kazbek, in robes of silver weaving,
Towered up towards the polar star.

V

Yet, full of tainted thoughts, her mind
Is shuttered to such pure delights,
And all her heart is filled with night
The whole world shadowed and unkind.
And morning ray and evening dark
Serve only to ignite the spark
Of further torment in her soul.
And, as the sweet, nocturnal cool
Over the thirsty earth came seeping,
Almost demented, she would fall
Before the sacred icon weeping;
And in the silence of the night
Her heavy sobbing would affright
The traveller upon his course;
"A mountain spirit", he'd surmise
"Bound in some cavern moaning lies!"
And hustle on his weary horse...

VI

So, filled with longing and unease,
Tamara would sit long and gaze
Engrossed in lonely meditation
All day, and sigh with expectation
Beside her window, staring out....
That he would come she had no doubt,
Why else then were her dreams so clear?
Why else then used he to appear
With eyes so infinitely sad
And speech so marvellously tender?
For many days on end she had
Been strangely moved - she knew not why....
She called the good saints to defend her
But in her heart she called on him;
And always, when the day grew dim,
Weary with staring she would lie
Down on her bed and try to sleep:
The pillow burnt her flaming cheek
Fear stifled her, she gasped for breath,
Then, from her pallet she would leap
With heaving shoulders, fevered breast
Trembling, a mist before her sight,
Her arms outstretched to clasp the night,
The kisses melting on her lips...
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

VII

The Georgian hills were scarcely veiled
In the transparent dusk of evening
Before the Demon downward sailed
Through the grey twilight wreathing
For long and long, though powerfully
The convent seemed to draw him, he
Could not make up his mind to break
That hallowed peace.... One moment more
And he was ready to forsake
His cruel intent. Beyond the door
He paced beneath the circling wall
Absorbed in thought. The shadowy leaves
Shook at his steps without a breeze
He raised his eyes: a quivering light
Throbbed from her window through the night.
So, she was waiting - and awake!
Through the soft silence all about
The chingar thrummed harmoniously
And over them a song rang out
A song that poured mellifluousty
Like tears that fall in measure slow,
A song so tender that at times
It seemed as though in loftier climbes
It had been made for earth below.
Some angel, maybe, had descended
To seek a being he'd once befriended
To bring him secret consolation,
To ease his pain, past bliss recall.
Love's anguish and love's exaltation
Now held the Demon fast in thrall
For the first time; he would have flown
But his great wings were turned to stone!
A miracle! His eyes are dim
And down his cheek there rolls one tear....
Now, to this day, the stones still bear
The fiery traces of its falling...
A tear of flame, a trace appalling,
But not a human tear!

VIII

And so he came, prepared to give
His heart in love, his soul to light.
He thought the time had come to live
A new life on this longed-for night.
As though at a first assignation
The proud soul felt a strange, shy thrill,
A shuddering, timid expectation:
It was a sign that boded ill!
He entered, looked around. Before him
The lovely sinner's Guardian stood,
Heaven's messenger, bright cherubim,
With smiling lips and brow of flame.
So. the fell enemy forestalling,
The brilliant spirit of the Good
Had gathered her beneath his wing.
The Demon looked for tender greeting -
But light divine upon him beating
And stern rebuke upon him came:

IX

"Spirit of idleness and sin,
At this dark hour who called you? say!
You have no servants here within
These sacred walls, nor to this day
Has breath of evil visited
This charge of mine, to you forbid....
Who called you?" - Subtly in reply
The Demon smiled but in him woke
The ancient hate of hell. His eye
Flashed fiery-jealous as he spoke
Upon the messenger divine:
"Leave her!" he said. "For she is mine!
Too late you came, good guardian - see
You are no judge of such as we
For her proud heart belongs to me.
No charge is she of powers above
Here I am lord, and here I love! -"
Sad-eyed, the angel bent his glance
Upon the evil spirit's prey
Then slowly flapped his great wings once
And through the ether soared away.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


 

X

Tamara

Who are you? You are perilous
Say - are you come from heaven or hell?
What do you want?
The Demon
What loveliness!
Tamara
But speak, who are you? You must tell.
The Demon
I am he to whom you barkened
In the stillness of the night,
He whose thought your mind has darkened,
He whose sadness you have felt,
Whose image haunts your waking sight,
Whose name the end of hope has spelt
To every soul with whom I treat.
I am he no man may love,
A scourge to all my mortal slaves,
The ill in nature. Enemy
To Heaven and all the powers above.
Lord of knowledge, liberty.
And, as you see, I'm at your feet.
Moved beyond all that I have known
I would speak softly in your ears
Quiet prayers of love. Tell of my pain,
My first on earth, and my first tears.
Ah hear me out, for pity's sake!
One word from you would quite restore me.
Robed in the love of your pure heart
I might again resume my part
In the angelic ranks and take
An aspect new and a new glory.
Ah, hear me, hear me I implore you,
I am your slave and I adore you!
No sooner did I see you than
I felt a sudden, veiled revulsion
For immortality and power;
And I was drawn by strange compulsion
To envy the frail joys of man;
Life without you became a torment
To be apart from you - a horror.
A living ray of warmth, a portent
Of fair renewal touched my heart
And set the cold blood coursing. Sorrow
Beneath the scar stirred like a serpent
Awakening an ancient pain.
For, tell me, without you what gain
Is there in my infinity?
Endless dominion, majesty?
Loud, empty words - a spacious fane
Devoid of all divinity!

Tamara
Leave me, false spirit of deceit
Be silent, for I will not trust
The Enemy. Ah God... some sweet
Insistent poison saps resolve -
I cannot say the prayer I must -
Your words are fire and I dissolve
And melt in them. I cannot see....
But say: how came you to love me?

The Demon
How, lovely one? - I do not know,
My life is wondrous full and new,
The crown of thorns I proudly cast
With my own hands from off my brow.
All that I have been shattered lies:
My heaven and hell are in your eyes.
I love you with a passion vast.
You cannot love as I love you,
With all the ecstasy and power
Of deathless thought and dreams sublime.
Since the beginning of all time
Your image on the eternal air
Has gone before me - till this hour.
My soul has long been troubled by
The sweet sounds of the name you bear;
And in my days of blessedness
You were my only lack. If only
You could but understand the lonely
Embittered boredom of existence
When, century on century,
Alone in suffering and Joy
In evil meeting no resistance,
For good receiving no reward,
Enclosed in self, by self most bored,
A never-ending war to wage
Past hope to triumph or destroy
Past hope of making peace again!
To pity where I would desire.
To know all things from age to age,
Seek hatred's all-consuming fire
And nought to find but cool disdain!
For since God's curse upon me came
All natural ardours have grown cold.
I saw my fellow-stars arrayed
In wedding garments as of old;
Through azure space before me flowing
They passed me by in crowns of flame;
And yet... of these, my one-time brothers,
Not one would recognise me now.
So, in despair, I called on others,
Outcasts like me, to join my growing
Battalions, but - I know not how -
In their embittered words and faces,
In their dark looks I in my turn
Knew no one. Then in terror I
Beat with my wings the earth to spurn
And launched myself into the sky,
And flew, and flew.... Whither? For why?
I do not know... By friends rejected,
Like those from Eden's gates ejected,
I saw the whole world pale and dim.
Abandoned to the current's whim,
Even so without a sail, may float
A rudderless and broken boat
Upon the surface of the sea
Knowing nor course nor destiny;
So, in the early morning hour,
Abandoned by some passing shower
Of thunderous rain, a lonely cloud
Black through the azure heights of heaven
May wander lost without a haven
Leaving no trace upon the ether
God only knows from whence - or whither!
For a short while myself I vowed
To teaching sin and spreading doubt
Of all things noble, all things fair.
But not for long ... mankind I wrenched
Too easily to my fell will.
The flame of faith, too easy quenched,
Left me triumphant, but without
An object worthy of my skill.
To mislead hypocrites and fools...
What profit was there for me there?
I hid away in mountains far
And wandered like a displaced star
In lonely, never ending flight:
And when some traveller belated
Would follow, deeming me a light
In some near dwelling; I would lead
Him to the cliff-edge ... hear the hated
Voice call up from the abyss...
And leave him - and his horse - to bleed....
Yet all too soon I tired of this
And other spiteful, sombre sports!
How often, raising storms of stones,
And, clad in mists and lightening,
I would go hurtling through the cloud
To cow the spirit of the crowd,
Rebellious upshoots frightening,
Drowning their murmuring in my groans,
Seeking escape from pursuant thoughts.
Seeking to expunge from memory
Things that may not forgotten be!
What is the tale of miseries,
The labours and the pains of man
Throughout the passing centuries,
Compared to but one minute's span
Of my great, unacknowledged anguish?
What of mankind? - their works and sorrow?
Here today - and gone tomorrow....
Then - they have hope in judgement just;
He may forgive, although He must
At first condemn them. I shall languish
Unshriven throughout eternity....
My torment has no end, like me,
And, deathless, it must ever wake,
Now creeping closer like a snake,
Now caustic, burning to the bone,
Now dull and heavy like a stone -
To live - the everlasting tomb
Of hope and passion is my doom!...

Tamara
What part have I in all this wild
And sorry tale? Why should I own
To pity? You have sinned....

Demon
My child, against you?

Tamara
Hush!

Demon
We are alone.

Tamara
And God!

Demon
Will not spare us a thought
Heaven, not earth, is his first care.

Tamara
The pains of hell, as we are taught?

Demon
What of them? I'll be with you there!

Tamara
Who e'er you are, my chance-met friend,
You, who have stolen my peace of mind,
Reluctantly, yet deeply moved,
I hear how you have suffered, loved...
Yet if you speak but to mislead
Yet if you lie - in part or whole -
Have mercy on me - For what need
Can you have of my maiden soul?
Surely 'tis not to heaven more dear
Than all those you have overlooked.
They too are beautiful and pure...
As here, no mortal hand was brooked
Their chaste couch to contaminate....
No! Swear to me a binding oath...
But say,- you see it all; how, loth
To cleanse the sweet fear from my heart,
I dream as women will; and start
Again in fear that you know all....
You have seen all and understood
And surely must be merciful!
Come, swear to me to leave behind
All evil wishes from this hour
Are there no oaths of lasting power,
No sacred promises you could
Swear to me now that should you bind?

Demon

By the first day of the creation
And by its latest day I swear,
By God's law and its violation
The triumph of eternal truth,
The bitter shame of sin I bear;
By the brief glory of this dream
I swear, and by our meeting here
And by the threat of separation;
I swear by all the spirit hosts
Whom Fate has set at my command,
On swords divine I take my oath
As wielded by my enemies
The impassive, sleepless angel band;
I swear by you, your life, your death,
Your last, long look and your first tear,
The gentle drawing of your breath,
The silken torrents of your hair;
I swear by suffering and bliss,
I swear even by this love of ours,-
I have renounced all vengefulness
I have renounced the pride of years;
From this day forth no false temptation
Will rise to trouble any soul;
I look for reconciliation,
I look for love, for adoration,
I look for faith in Higher Good.
And by a tear of true contrition
I'll wipe away the fiery trace
Of wroth divine from off a face
More worthy of you. May the whole
Wide world in calm rusticity
Bloom on, all unaware of me!
Believe me, I alone have vision
To love you: I have understood
Your greatness as no other could:
You are my holy one. This day
My power at your feet I lay.
And for your love one moment long
I'll give you all eternity.
For I am changeless, true and strong
In love as in malignity
Free spirit of the air, I'll bear you
High up above the stars to where you
Will reign in splendour as my queen,
Tamara, first love of my dream,
And you will come to look on earth
Without regret, without compassion
Unhappy planet, with its dearth
Of lasting beauty, with its fashion
For petty sentiments, small minds,
Where crime and executions grind
Their everlasting wheel of fear:
Men fear to love and fear to hate.
Or know you not what love is here?
The seething of young blood in spate -
But days go by and blood grows cold!
Who can resist the long temptation
Of boredom, change and novelty?
What love can outlive separation
Or rival dream's variety?
No! Not for my love to grow old
And fade in silence in the crude
Society of jealous slaves
Amidst ungenerous and cold
Pretended friends and real foes,
Burdened by useless works and rude
Endeavours, empty hopes and fears!
Your fate is not to wither here,
And, passionless, your soul to save
Behind these walls, a scentless rose
Unopened by the honey bee
And dull to the Divinity.
Ah no! My lovely one, your morrow
Is marked by different destiny,
A different depth of ecstasy,
A different scale of sorrow;
Leave then your former thoughts, desires
And leave the poor world to its fate.
Then, in return, you may aspire
To enter realms of knowledge true,
And there I shall present to you
The hosts of beings subordinate
Unto my will to serve your needs.
Light-handed, magical attendants
And from the morning star for you
I'll tear the crown of gold one night,
Take from the flowers the midnight dew
And shake the drops in showers bright
To make the crown resplendent.
The sunset's glowing ray I'll weave
To wind about you like a sheath;
I'll fill the air about us two
With freshness and delicious scent;
And constantly your ear I'll woo
With sweet sounds from soft instruments;
Of turquoise and of amber I
Shall build delightful halls for you,
I shall go soaring to the sky
Sink to the bottom of the sea -
All you could wish for I shall give
But love me...."


 

XI

And most gently he
Did touch his burning lips to hers;
Full of seduction were the words
In which he soothed her soft repining;
His mighty gaze held fast her eyes
And burnt her.- In the cloistered shade
He glinted poised above her, shining.
Inevitable as a blade.
The evil spirit overcomes her.
His kiss, like deadly poison, numbs her
And stills the heart within her breast.
One terrified and anguished cry
Aroused the silent night from rest.
It was a last, a desperate plea
Yet full of love, live agony,
Hopeless farewell, finality...
To her young life a last good-bye.

XII

The midnight watchman on his rounds
His hand upon his iron gong
Beneath the high wall passed along
His path appointed, paused and found
His mind in turmoil. What was this?
From the high windows of her cell
It seemed he heard a willing kiss,
A sudden cry, a groan suppressed....
Impious doubts rose in his breast
And the old man stood listening, ready
To sound the alarm. But silence fell
All round him. He could hear the steady
Rustling of leaves borne by the wind
And, from the shingle, clear but faint,
The mountain rivers' soft complaint.
He hastened to recall to mind
The prayers prescribed against illusions
And diabolical delusions;
Then crossed himself with trembling fingers
The last, luxurious dreams to lay
And, fearing longer there to linger,
With quickened pace strode on his way.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

XIII

As lovely as a Peri-sprite,
Tamara on her death bed rested.
Her brow was purer and more white
Than the chaste veil in which they vested
Their novice, so untimely dead.
The lashes were forever lowered
Yet who, oh God, would not have said
The eyes beneath them did but sleep,
Awaiting but the kiss empowered
To wake them from enchanted rest
Or but to feel the day-star peep?
Yet all in vain the sun caressed
Them with its golden, glowing beams;
Her fathers' kiss, his silent sorrow,
Could not awake her from her dreams....
No. none can break the seal of death
Nor give eternal night a morrow!

XIV

Never, in days of happiness
Was the poor maid so richly clad,
So festive and so bright her dress....
Such was the custom of her land.
Flowers from her native vallev breathed
Their scent around her and she had
Clasped them so tight in her dead hand
As though yet to this earth she cleaved!..
No hint was there in her still face
Of how she met her end - in ardent
Intoxication, fatal passion,
But rather seemed she of a race
Apart, the lovely features carven
Of marble, void of mind or feeling,
Expressionless, all fire concealing,
Mysterious as death itself.
About her lips there frozen dwelt
A strange smile, fixed even as it passed.
To those who looked in careful fashion
Unhappy was the tale it told:
A smile contemptuous and cold
As of a soul prepared to wither
And silentiv to bid a last
Farewell to all things of this hither
World, the last reflection
Of her last thought, vain recollection
Of all her life before, more dead
Than those eternally closed eyes;
To those who stood about her bed
Still more conducive to despair.
So, at the solemn sunset hour
When, melting in the golden air,
Day's chariot already flies
Into the Western seas to plummet,
For a brief instant yet his power
Dwells on the mountain tops, whose snow
Reflects a rosy, living glow
That gleams on through the distant dark.
Yet weak and fading is that ray,
And from its distant, ice-bound summit
To guide the traveller on his way
It can awake no answering spark!...

XV

The mourning kinsfolk and the crowd
Of neighbours are foregathered now.
Tearing the gray locks on his brow
Old Gudaal scorns to weep aloud
But silently mounts his great horse
And the procession takes the road.
Three days, three nights they hold their course
And then at last set down their load
Amidst her ancestors' remains.
Old GudaaFs forefather, they say,
A brigand whose ill-gotten gains
Disturbed his conscience, when one day
He was struck down by dread disease,
Had thought the memory to ease
Of his past sins by doing penance;
So he had promised in the presence
Of witnesses to build a church
Upon a lofty, granite perch
High in the hills where no sound came
Except the singing of the storm,
A fitting nest for kites and crows.
And soon amidst the Kazbek snows
A solitary temple rose,
And there the villain with his bones
Did finally inter his shame.
So was this cloud-capped rock transformed
Into a graveyard for his kin.
As though the nearer to the sky.
The warmer after death we lie?
As though the further from the din
Of life the sounder we should sleep...?
Vain hope! For dead men may not keep,
Even in dreams, the memory
Of joy or tears in days gone by....

XVI

Winging through heaven's spaces blue,
A holy angel golden-pinioned
Bearing her sinful spirit flew
Towards the Father's high dominions.
And, cradling her in mighty arms,
With words of hope dispelled her doubt
And washed the traces of alarm
And all transgression with his weeping.
The music of the spheres rang out
From Heaven to meet them as they rose
When, from the nether regions sweeping,
Came the infernal spirit hurtling
Between them and their goal divine....
And mighty was he as the whirlwind
Shot through with lightnings. Insolence
Consumed him and mad arrogance
With certainty he claimed her. "Mine!"

Circled by the strong arms which bore her,
Tamara's sinful soul shrank close
To the protecting angel's side
Seeking in prayer her fear to hide.
Now, once again, he stood before her
But - Heavens! Who would know him now?
His gaze so brooding and morose
So venomous with hate eternal...
It seemed a death-like cold infernal
Lay on that frozen face and brow.
"Spirit of darkness, get thee gone!"
Heaven's messenger then made reply:
"The victory has been yours for long
Enough, and now the end is nigh.
Just is the judgement of the Lord!
The days of trial are over, past:
With the frail flesh, know. she has cast
Off all the claims of evil too!
For long now we have waited for her:
Her soul was of those very few
Who at the price of martyr's pain
Endured one moment long attain
To tasting joy beyond compare.
The Maker span its living thread
Out of the finest, purest air
Not for the dull world was she made
No more that it was made for her.
She has redeemed at cruel price
Her wavering faith in powers above.
She suffered, loved, laid down her life -
And Heaven opened to her love!"

The angel bent his gaze severe
Upon the Tempter, eye to eye,
Then joyful soared ... to disappear
Into the boundless, shining sky.
The Demon watched the heating wings
Fading triumphantly from sight
And cursed his dreams of better things,
Doomed to defeat, venting his spite
And arrogance in that great curse....
Alone in all the universe,
Abandoned, without love or hope!...

---------------

Now, on the rocky mountain slope
Above the valley of Koyshaur
An ancient ruin's standing still
A broken-fanged, stony tower.
Tales hang thereby to send a chill
Down childish spines. A glimpse half-seen
Of bygone, legendary times,
Amongst the trees the silent pile
Shows black and menacing. Meanwhile
The aul, the mountain village, straggles
Beneath it and the earth is green,
The passing merchant loudly haggles,
The voices mingle with the chimes
Of camel-bells from caravans
That journey on from distant lands;
And through the mists the waterfall
Foams glittering down the rocky wall,
And nature glories laughingly,
As sportive as a carefree child,
In life renewed eternally,
In sun and shade and springtime wild.

Only the castle has outlasted
Its count of years and sadly ends
Its lonely days - a patriarchal
Old man who has outlived his friends
And family. Its inmates wait
In hiding for the moon to rise:
Then they hold feast, do as they will:
They run and buzz from gate to gate....
Then the grey spider, with slow skill,
Spins out her silken hermitage.
The lizards green beneath the skies
Play on the slates right merrily
And, cautiously, the serpent sage
Creeps from his cranny dark to crawl
Along the ancient porch's wall.
Now suddenly he twirls and twists
His body into three bright rings,
And now his supple brilliance slings
Into a straight, a steely rod
A lance left lying by the lists,
A dead man's sword - unmarked, unmissed
Unwanted now and quite forgot.
All has run wild, no trace is left
Of bygone years; the hand of time
Cautiously, carefully has swept
Them all away: The glorious prime
Of Gudaal - vanished without token.
His daughter's name no longer spoken!

Only the Church on its sheer height
Where the scant earth once took their bones
Preserved by some sacred might
Is guarded by black standing stones
Of granite, sentinels unarmoured
Save for th'eternal ice which glows
Like mail upon their fronts, their shoulders
Draped in heavy cloaks of snows.
And frowning avalanches brood
On the steep slopes, each frozen flood
Like some vast, frosted waterfall.
The howling wind keeps sentry-go
Blowing the snow-dust from the wall,
Now checks the watch, calling the roll,
Now singing songs sad, long and low;
And far and wide the church is known
In all the lands - a holy wonder:
And yet the orient clouds alone
Flock round to worship at the shrine
And yet upon the stones, whereunder
Tamara and her kin still sleep,
No weeping pilgrims sit and pine
Only the sullen mountain bent
Above them vigilance does keep:
That man's eternal discontent
Might not break in upon their slumber.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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!"

 

 



Mikhail Vrubel


Demon

 


The Head of Demon
 

 


Head of the Demon
 

 


The Demon Seated
 

 


Tamara's Dance
 

 


Demon and Tamara
 

 


Tamara in Coffin
 

 


Demon Seated
 

 


Demon Overthrown
 

 


Demon Overthrown
 

 


Demon Overthrown

 

 

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