Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia?
Nicholas Nekrassov

Part 2 out of 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"God pardon our sins!"

"How thin you've got, Dashka!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, God will protect us!"

"Come, drink with us, Barin!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

"In what, then?" 30

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

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

"Be off, you lean scamp!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"But who is this Érmil,
A noble--a prince?"

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

"Well, tell us about him." 370

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"How's that?"

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

"You brigands! You cut-throats!
Don't move, or I shoot!"

"How can we be brigands?"
The peasants say, laughing,
"No knives and no pitchforks,
No hatchets have we!"

"Who are you? And what 30
Do you want?" said the Barin.

"A trouble torments us,
It draws us away
From our wives, from our children,
Away from our work,
Kills our appetites too,
Do give us your promise
To answer us truly,
Consulting your conscience
And searching your knowledge, 40
Not sneering, nor feigning
The question we put you,
And then we will tell you
The cause of our trouble."

"I promise. I give you
The oath of a noble."

"No, don't give us that--
Not the oath of a noble!
We're better content
With the word of a Christian. 50
The nobleman's oaths--
They are given with curses,
With kicks and with blows!
We are better without them!"

"Eh-heh, that's a new creed!
Well, let it be so, then.
And what is your trouble?"

"But put up the pistol!
That's right! Now we'll tell you:
We are not assassins, 60
But peaceable peasants,
From Government 'Hard-pressed,'
From District 'Most Wretched,'
From 'Destitute' Parish,
From neighbouring hamlets,--
'Patched,' 'Bare-Foot,' and 'Shabby,'
'Bleak,' 'Burnt-out,' and 'Hungry.'
From 'Harvestless,' too.
We met in the roadway,
And one asked another, 70
Who is he--the man
Free and happy in Russia?
Luká said, 'The pope,'
And Roman, 'The Pomyéshchick,'
Demyán, 'The official.'
'The round-bellied merchant,'
Said both brothers Goóbin,
Mitródor and Ívan;
Pakhóm said, 'His Highness,
The Tsar's Chief Adviser,' 80
And Prov said, 'The Tsar.'

"Like bulls are the peasants;
Once folly is in them
You cannot dislodge it,
Although you should beat them
With stout wooden cudgels,
They stick to their folly,
And nothing can move them!
We argued and argued,
While arguing quarrelled, 90
While quarrelling fought,
Till at last we decided
That never again
Would we turn our steps homeward
To kiss wives and children,
To see the old people,
Until we have settled
The subject of discord;
Until we have found
The reply to our question-- 100
Of who can, in Russia,
Be happy and free?

"Now tell us, Pomyéshchick,
Is your life a sweet one?
And is the Pomyéshchick
Both happy and free?"

Gavríl Afanásich
Springs out of the "troika"
And comes to the peasants.
He takes--like a doctor-- 110
The hand of each one,
And carefully feeling
The pulse gazes searchingly
Into their faces,
Then clasps his plump sides
And stands shaking with laughter.
The clear, hearty laugh
Of the healthy Pomyéshchick
Peals out in the pleasant
Cool air of the morning: 120
"Ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha!"
Till he stops from exhaustion.
And then he addresses
The wondering peasants:
"Put on your hats, _gentlemen_,
Please to be seated!"

(He speaks with a bitter[31]
And mocking politeness.)

"But we are not gentry;
We'd rather stand up 130
In your presence, your worship."

"Sit down, worthy _citizens_,
Here on the bank."

The peasants protest,
But, on seeing it useless,
Sit down on the bank.

"May I sit beside you?
Hey, Proshka! Some sherry,
My rug and a cushion!"
He sits on the rug. 140
Having finished the sherry,
Thus speaks the Pomyéshchick:

"I gave you my promise
To answer your question....
The task is not easy,
For though you are highly
Respectable people,
You're not very learned.
Well, firstly, I'll try
To explain you the meaning 150
Of Lord, or Pomyéshchick.
Have you, by some chance,
Ever heard the expression
The 'Family Tree'?
Do you know what it means?"

"The woods are not closed to us.
We have seen all kinds
Of trees," say the peasants.
"Your shot has miscarried!
I'll try to speak clearly; 160
I come of an ancient,
Illustrious family;
One, Oboldoóeff,
My ancestor, is
Amongst those who were mentioned
In old Russian chronicles
Written for certain
Two hundred and fifty
Years back. It is written,
''Twas given the Tartar, 170
A piece of cloth, value
Two roubles, for having
Amused the Tsaritsa
Upon the Tsar's birthday
By fights of wild beasts,
Wolves and foxes. He also
Permitted his own bear
To fight with a wild one,
Which mauled Oboldoóeff, 180
And hurt him severely.'
And now, gentle peasants,
Did you understand?"

"Why not? To this day
One can see them--the loafers
Who stroll about leading
A bear!"

"Be it so, then!
But now, please be silent,
And hark to what follows: 190
From this Oboldoóeff
My family sprang;
And this incident happened
Two hundred and fifty
Years back, as I told you,
But still, on my mother's side,
Even more ancient
The family is:
Says another old writing:
'Prince Schépin, and one 200
Vaska Goóseff, attempted
To burn down the city
Of Moscow. They wanted
To plunder the Treasury.
They were beheaded.'
And this was, good peasants,
Full three hundred years back!
From these roots it was
That our Family Tree sprang."

"And you are the ... as one 210
Might say ... little apple
Which hangs on a branch
Of the tree," say the peasants.

"Well, apple, then, call it,
So long as it please you.
At least you appear
To have got at my meaning.
And now, you yourselves
Understand--the more ancient
A family is 220
The more noble its members.
Is that so, good peasants?"

"That's so," say the peasants.
"The black bone and white bone
Are different, and they must
Be differently honoured."

"Exactly. I see, friends,
You quite understand me."
The Barin continued:
"In past times we lived, 230
As they say, 'in the bosom
Of Christ,' and we knew
What it meant to be honoured!
Not only the people
Obeyed and revered us,
But even the earth
And the waters of Russia....
You knew what it was
To be One, in the centre
Of vast, spreading lands, 240
Like the sun in the heavens:
The clustering villages
Yours, yours the meadows,
And yours the black depths
Of the great virgin forests!
You pass through a village;
The people will meet you,
Will fall at your feet;
Or you stroll in the forest;
The mighty old trees 250
Bend their branches before you.
Through meadows you saunter;
The slim golden corn-stems
Rejoicing, will curtsey
With winning caresses,
Will hail you as Master.
The little fish sports
In the cool little river;
Get fat, little fish,
At the will of the Master! 260
The little hare speeds
Through the green little meadow;
Speed, speed, little hare,
Till the coming of autumn,
The season of hunting,
The sport of the Master.
And all things exist
But to gladden the Master.
Each wee blade of grass
Whispers lovingly to him, 270
'I live but for thee....'

"The joy and the beauty,
The pride of all Russia--
The Lord's holy churches--
Which brighten the hill-sides
And gleam like great jewels
On the slopes of the valleys,
Were rivalled by one thing
In glory, and that
Was the nobleman's manor. 280
Adjoining the manor
Were glass-houses sparkling,
And bright Chinese arbours,
While parks spread around it.
On each of the buildings
Gay banners displaying
Their radiant colours,
And beckoning softly,
Invited the guest
To partake of the pleasures 290
Of rich hospitality.
Never did Frenchmen
In dreams even picture
Such sumptuous revels
As we used to hold.
Not only for one-day,
Or two, did they last--
But for whole months together!
We fattened great turkeys,
We brewed our own liquors, 300
We kept our own actors,
And troupes of musicians,
And legions of servants!
Why, I kept five cooks,
Besides pastry-cooks, working,
Two blacksmiths, three carpenters,
Eighteen musicians,
And twenty-two huntsmen....
My God!"...

The afflicted 310
Pomyéshchick broke down here,
And hastened to bury
His face in the cushion....
"Hey, Proshka!" he cried,
And then quickly the lackey
Poured out and presented
A glassful of brandy.
The glass was soon empty,
And when the Pomyéshchick
Had rested awhile, 320
He again began speaking:
"Ah, then, Mother Russia,
How gladly in autumn
Your forests awoke
To the horn of the huntsman!
Their dark, gloomy depths,
Which had saddened and faded,
Were pierced by the clear
Ringing blast, and they listened,
Revived and rejoiced, 330
To the laugh of the echo.
The hounds and the huntsmen
Are gathered together,
And wait on the skirts
Of the forest; and with them
The Master; and farther
Within the deep forest
The dog-keepers, roaring
And shouting like madmen,
The hounds all a-bubble 340
Like fast-boiling water.
Hark! There's the horn calling!
You hear the pack yelling?
They're crowding together!
And where's the red beast?
Hoo-loo-loo! Hoo-loo-loo!
And the sly fox is ready;
Fat, furry old Reynard
Is flying before us,
His bushy tail waving! 350
The knowing hounds crouch,
And each lithe body quivers,
Suppressing the fire
That is blazing within it:
'Dear guests of our hearts,
_Do_ come nearer and greet us,
We're panting to meet you,
We, hale little fellows!
Come nearer to us
And away from the bushes!' 360

"They're off! Now, my horse,
Let your swiftness not fail me!
My hounds, you are staunch
And you will not betray me!
Hoo-loo! Faster, faster!
Now, _at him_, my children!"...
Gavríl Afanásich
Springs up, wildly shouting,
His arms waving madly,
He dances around them! 370
He's certainly after
A fox in the forest!

The peasants observe him
In silent enjoyment,
They smile in their beards....

"Eh ... you, mad, merry hunters!
Although he forgets
Many things--the Pomyéshchick--
Those hunts in the autumn
Will not be forgotten. 380
'Tis not for our own loss
We grieve, Mother Russia,
But you that we pity;
For you, with the hunting
Have lost the last traces
Of days bold and warlike
That made you majestic....

"At times, in the autumn,
A party of fifty
Would start on a hunting tour; 390
Then each Pomyéshchick
Brought with him a hundred
Fine dogs, and twelve keepers,
And cooks in abundance.
And after the cooks
Came a long line of waggons
Containing provisions.
And as we went forward
With music and singing,
You might have mistaken 400
Our band for a fine troop
Of cavalry, moving!
The time flew for us
Like a falcon." How lightly
The breast of the nobleman
Rose, while his spirit
Went back to the days
Of Old Russia, and greeted


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