Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia?
Nicholas Nekrassov

Part 6 out of 7


A very old willow
There is at the end
Of the village of "Earthworms,"
Where most of the folk
Have been diggers and delvers
From times very ancient
(Though some produced tar).
This willow had witnessed
The lives of the peasants:
Their holidays, dances, 10
Their communal meetings,
Their floggings by day,
In the evening their wooing,
And now it looked down
On a wonderful feast.

The feast was conducted
In Petersburg fashion,
For Klímka, the peasant
(Our former acquaintance),
Had seen on his travels 20
Some noblemen's banquets,
With toasts and orations,
And he had arranged it.

The peasants were sitting
On tree-trunks cut newly
For building a hut.
With them, too, our seven
(Who always were ready
To see what was passing)
Were sitting and chatting 30
With Vlass, the old Elder.
As soon as they fancied
A drink would be welcome,
The Elder called out
To his son, "Run for Trifon!"
With Trifon the deacon,
A jovial fellow,
A chum of the Elder's,
His sons come as well.

Two pupils they are 40
Of the clerical college
Named Sava and Grisha.
The former, the eldest,
Is nineteen years old.
He looks like a churchman
Already, while Grisha
Has fine, curly hair,
With a slight tinge of red,
And a thin, sallow face.
Both capital fellows 50
They are, kind and simple,
They work with the ploughshare,
The scythe, and the sickle,
Drink vodka on feast-days,
And mix with the peasants
Entirely as equals....

The village lies close
To the banks of the Volga;
A small town there is
On the opposite side. 60
(To speak more correctly,
There's now not a trace
Of the town, save some ashes:
A fire has demolished it
Two days ago.)

Some people are waiting
To cross by the ferry,
While some feed their horses
(All friends of the peasants).
Some beggars have crawled 70
To the spot; there are pilgrims,
Both women and men;
The women loquacious,
The men very silent.

The old Prince Yutiátin
Is dead, but the peasants
Are not yet aware
That instead of the hayfields
His heirs have bequeathed them
A long litigation. 80
So, drinking their vodka,
They first of all argue
Of how they'll dispose
Of the beautiful hayfields.

You were not all cozened,[54]
You people of Russia,
And robbed of your land.
In some blessed spots
You were favoured by fortune!
By some lucky chance-- 90
The Pomyéshchick's long absence,
Some slip of posrédnik's,
By wiles of the commune,
You managed to capture
A slice of the forest.
How proud are the peasants
In such happy corners!
The Elder may tap
At the window for taxes,
The peasant will bluster,-- 100
One answer has he:
"Just sell off the forest,
And don't bother me!"

So now, too, the peasants
Of "Earthworms" decided
To part with the fields
To the Elder for taxes.
They calculate closely:
"They'll pay both the taxes
And dues--with some over, 110
Heh, Vlásuchka, won't they?"

"Once taxes are paid
I'll uncover to no man.
I'll work if it please me,
I'll lie with my wife,
Or I'll go to the tavern."
"Bravo!" cry the peasants,
In answer to Klímka,
"Now, Vlásuchka, do you
Agree to our plan?" 120

"The speeches of Klímka
Are short, and as plain
As the public-house signboard,"
Says Vlásuchka, joking.
"And that is his manner:
To start with a woman
And end in the tavern."

"Well, where should one end, then?
Perhaps in the prison?
Now--as to the taxes, 130
Don't croak, but decide."

But Vlásuchka really
Was far from a croaker.
The kindest soul living
Was he, and he sorrowed
For all in the village,
Not only for one.
His conscience had pricked him
While serving his haughty
And rigorous Barin, 140
Obeying his orders,
So cruel and oppressive.
While young he had always
Believed in 'improvements,'
But soon he observed
That they ended in nothing,
Or worse--in misfortune.
So now he mistrusted
The new, rich in promise.
The wheels that have passed 150
O'er the roadways of Moscow
Are fewer by far
Than the injuries done
To the soul of the peasant.
There's nothing to laugh at
In that, so the Elder
Perforce had grown gloomy.
But now, the gay pranks
Of the peasants of "Earthworms"
Affected him too. 160
His thoughts became brighter:
No taxes ... no barschin ...
No stick held above you,
Dear God, am I dreaming?
Old Vlásuchka smiles....
A miracle surely!
Like that, when the sun
From the splendour of Heaven
May cast a chance ray
In the depths of the forest: 170
The dew shines like diamonds,
The mosses are gilded.

"Drink, drink, little peasants!
Disport yourselves bravely!"
'Twas gay beyond measure.
In each breast awakens
A wondrous new feeling,
As though from the depths
Of a bottomless gulf
On the crest of a wave, 180
They've been borne to the surface
To find there awaits them
A feast without end.

Another pail's started,
And, oh, what a clamour
Of voices arises,
And singing begins.

And just as a dead man's
Relations and friends
Talk of nothing but him 190
Till the funeral's over,
Until they have finished
The funeral banquet
And started to yawn,--
So over the vodka,
Beneath the old willow,
One topic prevails:
The "break in the chain"
Of their lords, the Pomyéshchicks.

The deacon they ask, 200
And his sons, to oblige them
By singing a song
Called the "Merry Song" to them.

(This song was not really
A song of the people:
The deacon's son Grisha
Had sung it them first.
But since the great day
When the Tsar, Little Father,
Had broken the chains 210
Of his suffering children,
They always had danced
To this tune on the feast-days.
The "popes" and the house-serfs
Could sing the words also,
The peasants could not,
But whenever they heard it
They whistled and stamped,
And the "Merry Song" called it.)



_The Merry Song_

* * * * *

The "Merry Song" finished,
They struck up a chorus,
A song of their own,
A wailing lament
(For, as yet, they've no others).
And is it not strange
That in vast Holy Russia,
With masses and masses
Of people unnumbered,
No song has been born 10
Overflowing with joy
Like a bright summer morning?
Yes, is it not striking,
And is it not tragic?
O times that are coming,
You, too, will be painted
In songs of the people,
But how? In what colours?
And will there be ever
A smile in their hearts? 20

"Eh, that's a fine song!
'Tis a shame to forget it."
Our peasants regret
That their memories trick them.
And, meanwhile, the peasants
Of "Earthworms" are saying,
"We lived but for 'barschin,'
Pray, how would you like it?
You see, we grew up
'Neath the snout of the Barin, 30
Our noses were glued
To the earth. We'd forgotten
The faces of neighbours,
Forgot how to speak.
We got tipsy in silence,
Gave kisses in silence,
Fought silently, too."

"Eh, who speaks of silence?
We'd more cause to hate it
Than you," said a peasant 40
Who came from a Volost
Near by, with a waggon
Of hay for the market.
(Some heavy misfortune
Had forced him to sell it.)
"For once our young lady,
Miss Gertrude, decided
That any one swearing
Must soundly be flogged.
Dear Lord, how they flogged us 50
Until we stopped swearing!
Of course, not to swear
For the peasant means--silence.
We suffered, God knows!
Then freedom was granted,
We feasted it finely,
And then we made up
For our silence, believe me:
We swore in such style
That Pope John was ashamed 60
For the church-bells to hear us.
(They rang all day long.)
What stories we told then!
We'd no need to seek
For the words. They were written
All over our backs."

"A funny thing happened
In our parts,--a strange thing,"
Remarked a tall fellow
With bushy black whiskers. 70
(He wore a round hat
With a badge, a red waistcoat
With ten shining buttons,
And stout homespun breeches.
His legs, to contrast
With the smartness above them,
Were tied up in rags!
There are trees very like him,
From which a small shepherd
Has stripped all the bark off 80
Below, while above
Not a scratch can be noticed!
And surely no raven
Would scorn such a summit
For building a nest.)

"Well, tell us about it."

"I'll first have a smoke."

And while he is smoking
Our peasants are asking,
"And who is this fellow? 90
What sort of a goose?"

"An unfortunate footman
Inscribed in our Volost,
A martyr, a house-serf
Of Count Sinegúsin's.
His name is Vikénti.
He sprang from the foot-board
Direct to the ploughshare;
We still call him 'Footman.'
He's healthy enough, 100
But his legs are not strong,
And they're given to trembling.
His lady would drive
In a carriage and four
To go hunting for mushrooms.
He'll tell you some stories:
His memory's splendid;
You'd think he had eaten
The eggs of a magpie." [55]

Now, setting his hat straight, 110
Vikénti commences
To tell them the story.

_The Dutiful Serf--Jacob the Faithful_

Once an official, of rather low family,
Bought a small village from bribes he had stored,
Lived in it thirty-three years without leaving it,
Feasted and hunted and drank like a lord.
Greedy and miserly, not many friends he made,
Sometimes he'd drive to his sister's to tea.
Cruel was his nature, and not to his serfs alone:
On his own daughter no pity had he, 120
Horsewhipped her husband, and drove them both penniless
Out of his house; not a soul dare resist.
Jacob, his dutiful servant,
Ever of orders observant,
Often he'd strike in the mouth with his fist.

Hearts of men born into slavery
Sometimes with dogs' hearts accord:
Crueller the punishments dealt to them
More they will worship their lord. 129

Jacob, it seems, had a heart of that quality,
Only two sources of joy he possessed:
Tending and serving his Barin devotedly,
Rocking his own little nephew to rest.
So they lived on till old age was approaching them,
Weak grew the legs of the Barin at last,
Vainly, to cure them, he tried every remedy;
Feast and debauch were delights of the past.

Plump are his hands and white,
Keen are his eyes and bright,
Rosy his cheek remains, 140
But on his legs--are chains!

Helpless the Barin now lies in his dressing-gown,
Bitterly, bitterly cursing his fate.
Jacob, his "brother and friend,"--so the Barin says,--
Nurses him, humours him early and late.
Winter and summer they pass thus in company,
Mostly at card-games together they play,
Sometimes they drive for a change to the sister's house,
Eight miles or so, on a very fine day.
Jacob himself bears his lord to the carriage then, 150
Drives him with care at a moderate pace,
Carries him into the old lady's drawing-room....
So they live peacefully on for a space.

Grisha, the nephew of Jacob, a youth becomes,
Falls at the feet of his lord: "I would wed."
"Who will the bride be?" "Her name is Arisha, sir."
Thunders the Barin, "You'd better be dead!"
Looking at her he had often bethought himself,
"Oh, for my legs! Would the Lord but relent!" 159
So, though the uncle entreated his clemency,
Grisha to serve in the army he sent.
Cut to the heart was the slave by this tyranny,
Jacob the Faithful went mad for a spell:
Drank like a fish, and his lord was disconsolate,
No one could please him: "You fools, go to Hell!"
Hate in each bosom since long has been festering:
Now for revenge! Now the Barin must pay,
Roughly they deal with his whims and infirmities,
Two quite unbearable weeks pass away.
Then the most faithful of servants appeared again, 170
Straight at the feet of his master he fell,
Pity has softened his heart to the legless one,
Who can look after the Barin so well?
"Barin, recall not your pitiless cruelty,
While I am living my cross I'll embrace."
Peacefully now lies the lord in his dressing-gown,
Jacob, once more, is restored to his place.
Brother again the Pomyéshchick has christened him.
"Why do you wince, little Jacob?" says he.
"Barin, there's something that stings ... in my memory...." 180
Now they thread mushrooms, play cards, and drink tea,
Then they make brandy from cherries and raspberries,
Next for a drive to the sister's they start,
See how the Barin lies smoking contentedly,
Green leaves and sunshine have gladdened his heart.
Jacob is gloomy, converses unwillingly,
Trembling his fingers, the reins are hung slack,
"Spirits unholy!" he murmurs unceasingly,
"Leave me! Begone!" (But again they attack.)
Just on the right lies a deep, wooded precipice,
Known in those parts as "The Devil's Abyss," 191
Jacob turns into the wood by the side of it.
Queries his lord, "What's the meaning of this?"
Jacob replies not. The path here is difficult,
Branches and ruts make their steps very slow;
Rustling of trees is heard. Spring waters noisily
Cast themselves into the hollow below.
Then there's a halt,--not a step can the horses move:
Straight in their path stand the pines like a wall;
Jacob gets down, and, the horses unharnessing,
Takes of the Barin no notice at all. 201

Vainly the Barin's exclaiming and questioning,
Jacob is pale, and he shakes like a leaf,
Evilly smiles at entreaties and promises:
"Am I a murderer, then, or a thief?
No, Barin, _you_ shall not die. There's another way!"
Now he has climbed to the top of a pine,
Fastened the reins to the summit, and crossed himself,
Turning his face to the sun's bright decline.
Thrusting his head in the noose ... he has hanged himself! 210
Horrible! Horrible! See, how he sways
Backwards and forwards.... The Barin, unfortunate,
Shouts for assistance, and struggles and prays.
Twisting his head he is jerking convulsively,
Straining his voice to the utmost he cries,
All is in vain, there is no one to rescue him,
Only the mischievous echo replies.

Gloomy the hollow now lies in its winding-sheet,
Black is the night. Hear the owls on the wing,
Striking the earth as they pass, while the horses stand 220
Chewing the leaves, and their bells faintly ring.
Two eyes are burning like lamps at the train's approach,
Steadily, brightly they gleam in the night,
Strange birds are flitting with movements mysterious,
Somewhere at hand they are heard to alight.
Straight over Jacob a raven exultingly
Hovers and caws. Now a hundred fly round!
Feebly the Barin is waving his crutch at them,
Merciful Heaven, what horrors abound!

So the poor Barin all night in the carriage lies,
Shouting, from wolves to protect his old bones. 231
Early next morning a hunter discovers him,
Carries him home, full of penitent groans:
"Oh, I'm a sinner most infamous! Punish me!"
Barin, I think, till you rest in your grave,
One figure surely will haunt you incessantly,
Jacob the Faithful, your dutiful slave.

"What sinners! What sinners!"
The peasants are saying,
"I'm sorry for Jacob, 240
Yet pity the Barin,
Indeed he was punished!
Ah, me!" Then they listen
To two or three more tales
As strange and as fearful,
And hotly they argue
On who must be reckoned
The greatest of sinners:
"The publican," one says,
And one, "The Pomyéshchick," 250
Another, "The peasant."
This last was a carter,
A man of good standing
And sound reputation,
No ignorant babbler.
He'd seen many things
In his life, his own province
Had traversed entirely.
He should have been heard.
The peasants, however, 260
Were all so indignant
They would not allow him
To speak. As for Klímka,
His wrath is unbounded,
"You fool!" he is shouting.

"But let me explain."

"I see you are _all_ fools,"
A voice remarks roughly:
The voice of a trader
Who squeezes the peasants 270
For laputs or berries
Or any spare trifles.
But chiefly he's noted
For seizing occasions
When taxes are gathered,
And peasants' possessions
Are bartered at auction.
"You start a discussion
And miss the chief point.
Why, who's the worst sinner? 280
Consider a moment."

"Well, who then? You tell us."

"The robber, of course."

"You've not been a serf, man,"
Says Klímka in answer;
"The burden was heavy,
But not on your shoulders.
Your pockets are full,
So the robber alarms you;
The robber with this case 290
Has nothing to do."

"The case of the robber
Defending the robber,"
The other retorts.

"Now, pray!" bellows Klímka,
And leaping upon him,
He punches his jaw.
The trader repays him
With buffets as hearty,
"Take leave of your carcase!" 300
He roars.

"Here's a tussle!"
The peasants are clearing
A space for the battle;
They do not prevent it
Nor do they applaud it.
The blows fall like hail.

"I'll kill you, I'll kill you!
Write home to your parents!"

"I'll kill you, I'll kill you! 310
Heh, send for the pope!"

The trader, bent double
By Klímka, who, clutching
His hair, drags his head down,
Repeating, "He's bowing!"
Cries, "Stop, that's enough!"
When Klímka has freed him
He sits on a log,
And says, wiping his face
With a broadly-checked muffler, 320
"No wonder he conquered:
He ploughs not, he reaps not,
Does nothing but doctor
The pigs and the horses;
Of course he gets strong!"

The peasants are laughing,
And Klímka says, mocking,
"Here, try a bit more!"

"Come on, then! I'm ready,"
The trader says stoutly, 330
And rolling his sleeves up,
He spits on his palms.

"The hour has now sounded
For me, though a sinner,
To speak and unite you,"
Ióna pronounces.
The whole of the evening
That diffident pilgrim
Has sat without speaking,
And crossed himself, sighing. 340
The trader's delighted,
And Klímka replies not.
The rest, without speaking,
Sit down on the ground.



We know that in Russia
Are numbers of people
Who wander at large
Without kindred or home.
They sow not, they reap not,
They feed at the fountain
That's common to all,
That nourishes likewise
The tiniest mouse
And the mightiest army:
The sweat of the peasant. 10
The peasants will tell you
That whole populations
Of villages sometimes
Turn out in the autumn
To wander like pilgrims.
They beg, and esteem it
A paying profession.
The people consider
That misery drives them 20
More often than cunning,
And so to the pilgrims
Contribute their mite.
Of course, there are cases
Of downright deception:
One pilgrim's a thief,
Or another may wheedle
Some cloth from the wife
Of a peasant, exchanging
Some "sanctified wafers" 30
Or "tears of the Virgin"
He's brought from Mount Athos,
And then she'll discover
He's been but as far
As a cloister near Moscow.
One saintly old greybeard
Enraptured the people
By wonderful singing,
And offered to teach
The young girls of the village 40
The songs of the church
With their mothers' permission.
And all through the winter
He locked himself up
With the girls in a stable.
From thence, sometimes singing
Was heard, but more often
Came laughter and giggles.
Well, what was the upshot?
He taught them no singing, 50
But ruined them all.

Some Masters so skilful
There are, they will even
Lay siege to the ladies.
They first to the kitchens
Make sure of admission,
And then through the maids
Gained access to the mistress.
See, there he goes, strutting
Along through the courtyard 60
And jingling the keys
Of the house like a Barin.
And soon he will spit
In the teeth of the peasants;
The pious old women,
Who always before
At the house have been welcome,
He'll speedily banish.
The people, however,
Can see in these pilgrims 70
A good side as well.
For, who begs the money
For building the churches?
And who keeps the convent's
Collecting-box full?
And many, though useless,
Are perfectly harmless;
But some are uncanny,
One can't understand them:
The people know Fóma, 80
With chains round his middle
Some six stones in weight;
How summer and winter
He walks about barefoot,
And constantly mutters
Of Heaven knows what.
His life, though, is godly:
A stone for his pillow,
A crust for his dinner.

The people know also 90
The old man, Nikífor,
Adherent, most strange,
Of the sect called "The Hiders."
One day he appeared
In Usólovo village
Upbraiding the people
For lack of religion,
And calling them forth
To the great virgin forest
To seek for salvation. 100
The chief of police
Of the district just happened
To be in the village
And heard his oration:
"Ho! Question the madman!"

"Thou foe of Christ Jesus!
Thou Antichrist's herald!"
Nikífor retorts.
The Elders are nudging him:
"Now, then, be silent!" 110
He pays no attention.
They drag him to prison.
He stands in the waggon,
Undauntedly chiding
The chief of police,
And loudly he cries
To the people who follow him:

"Woe to you! Woe to you! Bondsmen, I mourn for you!
Though you're in rags, e'en the rags shall be torn from you!
Fiercely with knouts in the past did they mangle you: 120
Clutches of iron in the future will strangle you!"

The people are crossing
Themselves. The Nachálnik[56]
Is striking the prophet:
"Remember the Judge
Of Jerusalem, sinner!"
The driver's so frightened
The reins have escaped him,
His hair stands on end....

And when will the people 130
Forget Yevressína,
Miraculous widow?
Let cholera only
Break out in a village:
At once like an envoy
Of God she appears.
She nurses and fosters
And buries the peasants.
The women adore her,
They pray to her almost. 140

It's evident, then,
That the door of the peasant
Is easily opened:
Just knock, and be certain
He'll gladly admit you.
He's never suspicious
Like wealthier people;
The thought does not strike him
At sight of the humble
And destitute stranger, 150
"Perhaps he's a thief!"
And as to the women,
They're simply delighted,
They'll welcome you warmly.

At night, in the Winter,
The family gathered
To work in the cottage
By light of "luchina," [57]
Are charmed by the pilgrim's
Remarkable stories. 160
He's washed in the steam-bath,
And dipped with his spoon
In the family platter,
First blessing its contents.
His veins have been thawed
By a streamlet of vodka,
His words flow like water.
The hut is as silent
As death. The old father
Was mending the laputs, 170
But now he has dropped them.

The song of the shuttle
Is hushed, and the woman
Who sits at the wheel
Is engrossed in the story.
The daughter, Yevgénka,
Her plump little finger
Has pricked with a needle.
The blood has dried up,
But she notices nothing; 180
Her sewing has fallen,
Her eyes are distended,
Her arms hanging limp.
The children, in bed
On the sleeping-planks, listen,
Their heads hanging down.
They lie on their stomachs
Like snug little seals
Upon Archangel ice-blocks.
Their hair, like a curtain, 190
Is hiding their faces:
It's yellow, of course!

But wait. Soon the pilgrim
Will finish his story--
(It's true)--from Mount Athos.
It tells how that sinner
The Turk had once driven
Some monks in rebellion
Right into the sea,--
Who meekly submitted, 200
And perished in hundreds.

(What murmurs of horror
Arise! Do you notice
The eyes, full of tears?)
And now conies the climax,
The terrible moment,
And even the mother
Has loosened her hold
On the corpulent bobbin,
It rolls to the ground.... 210
And see how cat Vaska
At once becomes active
And pounces upon it.
At times less enthralling
The antics of Vaska
Would meet their deserts;
But now he is patting
And touching the bobbin
And leaping around it
With flexible movements, 220
And no one has noticed.
It rolls to a distance,
The thread is unwound.

Whoever has witnessed
The peasant's delight
At the tales of the pilgrims
Will realise this:
Though never so crushing
His labours and worries,
Though never so pressing 230
The call of the tavern,
Their weight will not deaden
The soul of the peasant
And will not benumb it.
The road that's before him
Is broad and unending....
When old fields, exhausted,
Play false to the reaper,
He'll seek near the forest
For soil more productive. 240
The work may be hard,
But the new plot repays him:
It yields a rich harvest
Without being manured.
A soil just as fertile
Lies hid in the soul
Of the people of Russia:
O Sower, then come!

The pilgrim Ióna
Since long is well known 250
In the village of "Earthworms."
The peasants contend
For the honour of giving
The holy man shelter.
At last, to appease them,
He'd say to the women,
"Come, bring out your icons!"
They'd hurry to fetch them.
Ióna, prostrating
Himself to each icon, 260
Would say to the people,
"Dispute not! Be patient,
And God will decide:
The saint who looks kindest
At me I will follow."
And often he'd follow
The icon most poor
To the lowliest hovel.
That hut would become then
A Cup overflowing; 270
The women would run there
With baskets and saucepans,
All thanks to Ióna.

And now, without hurry
Or noise, he's beginning
To tell them a story,
"Two Infamous Sinners,"
But first, most devoutly,
He crosses himself.

_Two Infamous Sinners_

Come, let us praise the Omnipotent! 280
Let us the legend relate
Told by a monk in the Priory.
Thus did I hear him narrate:

Once were twelve brigands notorious,
One, Kudeár, at their head;
Torrents of blood of good Christians
Foully the miscreants shed.

Deep in the forest their hiding-place,
Rich was their booty and rare;
Once Kudeár from near Kiev Town 290
Stole a young maiden most fair.

Days Kudeár with his mistress spent,
Nights on the road with his horde;
Suddenly, conscience awoke in him,
Stirred by the grace of the Lord.

Sleep left his couch. Of iniquity
Sickened his spirit at last;
Shades of his victims appeared to him,
Crowding in multitudes vast.

Long was this monster most obdurate, 300
Blind to the light from above,
Then flogged to death his chief satellite,
Cut off the head of his love,--

Scattered his gang in his penitence,
And to the churches of God
All his great riches distributed,
Buried his knife in the sod,

Journeyed on foot to the Sepulchre,
Filled with repentance and grief;
Wandered and prayed, but the pilgrimage
Brought to his soul no relief. 311

When he returned to his Fatherland
Clad like a monk, old and bent,
'Neath a great oak, as an anchorite,
Life in the forest he spent.

There, from the Maker Omnipotent,
Grace day and night did he crave:
"Lord, though my body thou castigate,
Grant that my soul I may save!"

Pity had God on the penitent, 320
Showed him the pathway to take,
Sent His own messenger unto him
During his prayers, who thus spake:

"Know, for this oak sprang thy preference,
Not without promptings divine;
Lo! take the knife thou hast slaughtered with,
Fell it, and grace shall be thine.

"Yea, though the task prove laborious,
Great shall the recompense be,
Let but the tree fall, and verily 330
Thou from thy load shalt be free."

Vast was the giant's circumference;
Praying, his task he begins,
Works with the tool of atrociousness,
Offers amends for his sins.

Glory he sang to the Trinity,
Scraped the hard wood with his blade.
Years passed away. Though he tarried not,
Slow was the progress he made.

'Gainst such a mighty antagonist 340
How could he hope to prevail?
Only a Samson could vanquish it,
Not an old man, spent and frail.

Doubt, as he worked, began plaguing him:
Once of a voice came the sound,
"Heh, old man, say what thy purpose is?"
Crossing himself he looked round.

There, Pan[58] Glukhóvsky was watching him
On his brave Arab astride,
Rich was the Pan, of high family, 350
Known in the whole countryside.

Many cruel deeds were ascribed to him,
Filled were his subjects with hate,
So the old hermit to caution him
Told him his own sorry fate.

"Ho!" laughed Glukhóvsky, derisively,
"Hope of salvation's not mine;
These are the things that I estimate--
Women, gold, honour, and wine.

"My life, old man, is the only one; 360
Many the serfs that I keep;
What though I waste, hang, and torture them--
You should but see how I sleep!"

Lo! to the hermit, by miracle,
Wrath a great strength did impart,
Straight on Glukhóvsky he flung himself,
Buried the knife in his heart.

Scarce had the Pan, in his agony,
Sunk to the blood-sodden ground,
Crashed the great tree, and lay subjugate,
Trembled the earth at the sound. 371

Lo! and the sins of the anchorite
Passed from his soul like a breath.
"Let us pray God to incline to us,
Slaves in the shadow of Death...."



Ióna has finished.
He crosses himself,
And the people are silent.
And then of a sudden

The trader cries loudly
In great irritation,
"What's wrong with the ferry?
A plague on the sluggards!
Ho, ferry ahoy!"

"You won't get the ferry 10
Till sunrise, for even
In daytime they're frightened
To cross: the boat's rotten!
About Kudeár, now--"

"Ho, ferry ahoy!"

He strides to his waggon.
A cow is there tethered;
He churlishly kicks her.
His hens begin clucking;
He shouts at them, "Silence!" 20
The calf, which is shifting
About in the cart.
Gets a crack on the forehead.
He strikes the roan mare
With the whip, and departing
He makes for the Volga.
The moon is now shining,
It casts on the roadway
A comical shadow,
Which trots by his side. 30

"Oho!" says the Elder,
"He thought himself able
To fight, but discussion
Is not in his line....
My brothers, how grievous
The sins of the nobles!"

"And yet not as great
As the sin of the peasant,"
The carter cannot here
Refrain from remarking. 40

"A plaguey old croaker!"
Says Klím, spitting crossly;
"Whatever arises
The raven must fly
To his own little brood!
What is it, then, tell us,
The sin of the peasant?"

_The Sin of Gleb the Peasant_

A'miral Widower sailed on the sea,
Steering his vessels a-sailing went he. 49
Once with the Turk a great battle he fought,
His was the victory, gallantly bought.
So to the hero as valour's reward
Eight thousand souls[59] did the Empress award.
A'miral Widower lived on his land
Rich and content, till his end was at hand.
As he lay dying this A'miral bold
Handed his Elder a casket of gold.
"See that thou cherish this casket," he said,
"Keep it and open it when I am dead.
There lies my will, and by it you will see
Eight thousand souls are from serfdom set free." 61
Dead, on the table, the A'miral lies,
A kinsman remote to the funeral hies.
Buried! Forgotten! His relative soon
Calls Gleb, the Elder, with him to commune.
And, in a trice, by his cunning and skill,
Learns of the casket, and terms of the will.
Offers him riches and bliss unalloyed,
Gives him his freedom,--the will is destroyed!
Thus, by Gleb's longing for criminal gains,
Eight thousand souls were left rotting in chains, 71
Aye, and their sons and their grandsons as well,
Think, what a crowd were thrown back into Hell!
God forgives all. Yes, but Judas's crime
Ne'er will be pardoned till end of all time.
Peasant, most infamous sinner of all,
Endlessly grieve to atone for thy fall!

Wrathful, relentless,
The carter thus finished
The tale of the peasant 80
In thunder-like tones.
The others sigh deeply
And rise. They're exclaiming,
"So, that's what it is, then,
The sin of the peasant.
He's right. 'Tis indeed
A most terrible sin!"

"The story speaks truly;
Our grief shall be endless,
Ah, me!" says the Elder. 90
(His faith in improvements
Has vanished again.)
And Klímka, who always
Is swayed in an instant
By joy or by sorrow,
Despondingly echoes,
"A terrible sin!"

The green by the Volga,
Now flooded with moonlight,
Has changed of a sudden: 100
The peasants no longer
Seem men independent
With self-assured movements,
They're "Earthworms" again--
Those "Earthworms" whose victuals
Are never sufficient,
Who always are threatened
With drought, blight, or famine,
Who yield to the trader
The fruits of extortion 110
Their tears, shed in tar.
The miserly haggler
Not only ill-pays them,
But bullies as well:
"For what do I pay you?
The tar costs you nothing.
The sun brings it oozing
From out of your bodies
As though from a pine."

Again the poor peasants 120
Are sunk in the depths
Of the bottomless gulf!
Dejected and silent,
They lie on their stomachs
Absorbed in reflection.
But then they start singing;
And slowly the song,
Like a ponderous cloud-bank,
Rolls mournfully onwards.
They sing it so clearly 130
That quickly our seven
Have learnt it as well.

_The Hungry One_

The peasant stands
With haggard gaze,
He pants for breath,
He reels and sways;

From famine food,
From bread of bark,
His form has swelled,
His face is dark. 140

Through endless grief
Suppressed and dumb
His eyes are glazed,
His soul is numb.

As though in sleep,
With footsteps slow,
He creeps to where
The rye doth grow.

Upon his field
He gazes long, 150
He stands and sings
A voiceless song:

"Grow ripe, grow ripe,
O Mother rye,
I fostered thee,
Thy lord am I.

"Yield me a loaf
Of monstrous girth,
A cake as vast
As Mother-Earth. 160

"I'll eat the whole--
No crumb I'll spare;
With wife, with child,
I will not share."

"Eh, brothers, I'm hungry!"
A voice exclaims feebly.
It's one of the peasants.
He fetches a loaf
From his bag, and devours it.

"They sing without voices, 170
And yet when you listen
Your hair begins rising,"
Another remarks.

It's true. Not with voices
They sing of the famine--
But something within them.
One, during the singing,
Has risen, to show them
The gait of the peasant
Exhausted by hunger, 180
And swayed by the wind.
Restrained are his movements
And slow. After singing
"The Hungry One," thirsting
They make for the bucket,
One after another
Like geese in a file.
They stagger and totter
As people half-famished,
A drink will restore them. 190
"Come, let us be joyful!"
The deacon is saying.
His youngest son, Grísha,
Approaches the peasants.
"Some vodka?" they ask him.

"No, thank you. I've had some.
But what's been the matter?
You look like drowned kittens."

"What should be the matter?"
(And making an effort 200
They bear themselves bravely.)
And Vlass, the old Elder,
Has placed his great palm
On the head of his godson.

"Is serfdom revived?
Will they drive you to barschin
Or pilfer your hayfields?"
Says Grísha in jest.

"The hay-fields? You're joking!"

"Well, what has gone wrong, then?
And why were you singing 211
'The Hungry One,' brothers?
To summon the famine?"

"Yes, what's all the pother?"
Here Klímka bursts out
Like a cannon exploding.
The others are scratching
Their necks, and reflecting:
"It's true! What's amiss?"
"Come, drink, little 'Earthworms,'
Come, drink and be merry! 221
All's well--as we'd have it,
Aye, just as we wished it.
Come, hold up your noddles!
But what about Gleb?"

A lengthy discussion
Ensues; and it's settled
That they're not to blame
For the deed of the traitor:
'Twas serfdom's the fault. 230
For just as the big snake
Gives birth to the small ones,
So serfdom gave birth
To the sins of the nobles,
To Jacob the Faithful's
And also to Gleb's.
For, see, without serfdom
Had been no Pomyéshchick
To drive his true servant
To death by the noose, 240
No terrible vengeance
Of slave upon master
By suicide fearful,
No treacherous Gleb.

'Twas Prov of all others
Who listened to Grísha
With deepest attention
And joy most apparent.
And when he had finished
He cried to the others 250
In accents of triumph,
Delightedly smiling,
"Now, brothers, mark _that_!"
"So now, there's an end
Of 'The Hungry One,' peasants!"
Cries Klímka, with glee.
The words about serfdom
Were quickly caught up
By the crowd, and went passing
From one to another: 260
"Yes, if there's no big snake
There cannot be small ones!"
And Klímka is swearing
Again at the carter:
"You ignorant fool!"
They're ready to grapple!
The deacon is sobbing
And kissing his Grísha:
"Just see what a headpiece
The Lord is creating! 270
No wonder he longs
For the college in Moscow!"
Old Vlass, too, is patting
His shoulder and saying,
"May God send thee silver
And gold, and a healthy
And diligent wife!"

"I wish not for silver
Or gold," replies Grísha.
"But one thing I wish: 280
I wish that my comrades,
Yes, all the poor peasants
In Russia so vast,
Could be happy and free!"
Thus, earnestly speaking,
And blushing as shyly
As any young maiden,
He walks from their midst.

The dawn is approaching.
The peasants make ready 290
To cross by the ferry.
"Eh, Vlass," says the carter,
As, stooping, he raises
The span of his harness,
"Who's this on the ground?"

The Elder approaches,
And Klímka behind him,
Our seven as well.
(They're always most anxious
To see what is passing.) 300

Some fellow is lying
Exhausted, dishevelled,
Asleep, with the beggars
Behind some big logs.
His clothing is new,
But it's hanging in ribbons.
A crimson silk scarf
On his neck he is wearing;
A watch and a waistcoat;
His blouse, too, is red. 310
Now Klímka is stooping
To look at the sleeper,
Shouts, "Beat him!" and roughly
Stamps straight on his mouth.

The fellow springs up,
Rubs his eyes, dim with sleep,
And old Vlásuchka strikes him.
He squeals like a rat
'Neath the heel of your slipper,
And makes for the forest 320
On long, lanky legs.
Four peasants pursue him,
The others cry, "Beat him!"
Until both the man
And the band of pursuers
Are lost in the forest.

"Who is he?" our seven
Are asking the Elder,
"And why do they beat him?"

"We don't know the reason, 330
But we have been told
By the people of Tískov
To punish this Shútov
Whenever we catch him,
And so we obey.
When people from Tískov
Pass by, they'll explain it.
What luck? Did you catch him?"
He asks of the others
Returned from the chase. 340

"We caught him, I warrant,
And gave him a lesson.
He's run to Demyánsky,
For there he'll be able
To cross by the ferry."

"Strange people, to beat him
Without any cause!"
"And why? If the commune
Has told us to do it
There must be some reason!" 350
Shouts Klím at the seven.
"D'you think that the people
Of Tískov are fools?
It isn't long since, mind,
That many were flogged there,
One man in each ten.
Ah, Shútov, you rendered
A dastardly service,
Your duties are evil,
You damnable wretch! 360
And who deserves beating
As richly as Shútov?
Not we alone beat him:
From Tískov, you know,
Fourteen villages lie
On the banks of the Volga;
I warrant through each
He's been driven with blows."

The seven are silent.
They're longing to get 370
At the root of the matter.
But even the Elder
Is now growing angry.

It's daylight. The women
Are bringing their husbands
Some breakfast, of rye-cakes
And--goose! (For a peasant
Had driven some geese
Through the village to market,
And three were grown weary, 380
And had to be carried.)
"See here, will you sell them?
They'll die ere you get there."
And so, for a trifle,
The geese had been bought.

We've often been told
How the peasant loves drinking;
Not many there are, though,
Who know how he eats.
He's greedier far 390
For his food than for vodka,
So one man to-day
(A teetotaller mason)
Gets perfectly drunk
On his breakfast of goose!
A shout! "Who is coming?
Who's this?" Here's another
Excuse for rejoicing
And noise! There's a hay-cart
With hay, now approaching, 400
And high on its summit
A soldier is sitting.
He's known to the peasants
For twenty versts round.
And, cosy beside him,
Justínutchka sits
(His niece, and an orphan,
His prop in old age).
He now earns his living
By means of his peep-show, 410
Where, plainly discerned,
Are the Kremlin and Moscow,
While music plays too.
The instrument once
Had gone wrong, and the soldier,
No capital owning,
Bought three metal spoons,
Which he beat to make music;
But the words that he knew
Did not suit the new music, 420
And folk did not laugh.
The soldier was sly, though:
He made some new words up
That went with the music.

They hail him with rapture!
"Good-health to you, Grandad!
Jump down, drink some vodka,
And give us some music."

"It's true I got _up_ here,
But how to get-down?" 430

"You're going, I see,
To the town for your pension,
But look what has happened:
It's burnt to the ground."

"Burnt down? Yes, and rightly!
What then? Then I'll go
To St. Petersburg for it;
For all my old comrades
Are there with their pensions,
They'll show me the way." 440

"You'll go by the train, then?"

The old fellow whistles:
"Not long you've been serving
Us, orthodox Christians,
You, infidel railway!
And welcome you were
When you carried us cheaply
From Peters to Moscow.
(It cost but three roubles.)
But now you want seven, 450
So, go to the devil!

"Lady so insolent, lady so arrogant!
Hiss like a snake as you glide!
_Fig for you! Fig for you! Fig for you! Fig for you!_
Puff at the whole countryside!
Crushing and maiming your toll you extort,
Straight in the face of the peasant you snort,
Soon all the people of Russia you may
Cleaner than any big broom sweep away!"

"Come, give us some music," 460
Says Vlass to the soldier,
"For here there are plenty
Of holiday people,
'Twill be to your profit.
You see to it, Klímka!"
(Though Vlass doesn't like him,
Whenever there's something
That calls for arranging
He leaves it to Klímka:
"You see to it, Klímka!" 470
And Klimka is pleased.)

And soon the old soldier
Is helped from the hay-cart:
He's weak on his legs,--tall,
And strikingly thin.
His uniform seems
To be hung from a pole;
There are medals upon it.

It cannot be said
That his face is attractive, 480
Especially when
It's distorted by _tic_:
His mouth opens wide
And his eyes burn like charcoal,--
A regular demon!

The music is started,
The people run back
From the banks of the Volga.
He sings to the music.

* * * * *

A spasm has seized him: 490
He leans on his niece,
And his left leg upraising
He twirls it around
In the air like a weight.
His right follows suit then,
And murmuring, "Curse it!"
He suddenly masters
And stands on them both.

"You see to it, Klímka!"
Of course he'll arrange it 500
In Petersburg fashion:
He stands them together,
The niece and the uncle;
Takes two wooden dishes
And gives them one each,
Then springs on a tree-trunk
To make an oration.

(The soldier can't help
Adding apt little words
To the speech of the peasant, 510
And striking his spoons.)

* * * * *

The soldier is stamping
His feet. One can hear
His dry bones knock together.
When Klímka has finished
The peasants come crowding,
Surrounding the soldier,
And some a kopéck give,
And others give half:
In no time a rouble 520
Is piled on the dishes.




The feast was continued
Till morning--a splendid,
A wonderful feast!
Then the people dispersing
Went home, and our peasants
Lay down 'neath the willow;
Ióna--meek pilgrim
Of God--slept there too.
And Sáva and Grísha,
The sons of the deacon, 10
Went home, with their parent
Unsteady between them.
They sang; and their voices,
Like bells on the Volga,
So loud and so tuneful,
Came chiming together:

"Praise to the hero
Bringing the nation
Peace and salvation!

"That which will surely 20
Banish the night
He[60] has awarded--
Freedom and Light!

"Praise to the hero
Bringing the nation
Peace and salvation!

"Blessings from Heaven,
Grace from above,
Rained on the battle,
Conquered by Love. 30

"Little we ask Thee--
Grant us, O Lord,
Strength to be honest,
Fearing Thy word!

"Brotherly living,
Sharing in part,
That is the roadway
Straight to the heart.

"Turn from that teaching
Tender and wise-- 40
Cowards and traitors
Soon will arise.

"People of Russia,
Banish the night!
You have been granted
That which is needful--
Freedom and Light!"

The deacon was poor
As the poorest of peasants:
A mean little cottage 50
Like two narrow cages,
The one with an oven
Which smoked, and the other
For use in the summer,--
Such was his abode.
No horse he possessed
And no cow. He had once had
A dog and a cat,
But they'd both of them left him.

His sons put him safely 60
To bed, snoring loudly;
Then Sávushka opened
A book, while his brother
Went out, and away
To the fields and the forest.

A broad-shouldered youth
Was this Grísha; his face, though,
Was terribly thin.
In the clerical college
The students got little 70
To eat. Sometimes Grísha
Would lie the whole night
Without sleep; only longing
For morning and breakfast,--
The coarse piece of bread
And the glassful of sbeeten.[61]
The village was poor
And the food there was scanty,
But still, the two brothers
Grew certainly plumper 80
When home for the holidays--
Thanks to the peasants.

The boys would repay them
By all in their power,
By work, or by doing
Their little commissions
In town. Though the deacon
Was proud of his children,
He never had given
Much thought to their feeding. 90
Himself, the poor deacon,
Was endlessly hungry,
His principal thought
Was the manner of getting
The next piece of food.
He was rather light-minded
And vexed himself little;
But Dyómna, his wife,
Had been different entirely:
She worried and counted, 100
So God took her soon.
The whole of her life
She by salt[62] had been troubled:
If bread has run short
One can ask of the neighbours;
But salt, which means money,
Is hard to obtain.
The village with Dyómna
Had shared its bread freely;
And long, long ago 110
Would her two little children
Have lain in the churchyard
If not for the peasants.

And Dyómna was ready
To work without ceasing
For all who had helped her;
But salt was her trouble,
Her thought, ever present.
She dreamt of it, sang of it,
Sleeping and waking, 120
While washing, while spinning,
At work in the fields,
While rocking her darling
Her favourite, Grísha.
And many years after
The death of his mother,
His heart would grow heavy
And sad, when the peasants
Remembered one song,
And would sing it together 130
As Dyómna had sung it;
They called it "The Salt Song."

_The Salt Song_

Now none but God
Can save my son:
He's dying fast,
My little one....

I give him bread---
He looks at it,
He cries to me,
"Put salt on it." 140
I have no salt--
No tiny grain;
"Take flour," God whispers,
"Try again...."

He tastes it once,
Once more he tries;
"That's not enough,
More salt!" he cries.

The flour again....
My tears fall fast 150
Upon the bread,--
He eats at last!

The mother smiles
In pride and joy:
Her tears so salt
Have saved the boy.

* * * * *

Young Grísha remembered
This song; he would sing it
Quite low to himself
In the clerical college. 160
The college was cheerless,
And singing this song
He would yearn for his mother,
For home, for the peasants,
His friends and protectors.
And soon, with the love
Which he bore to his mother,
His love for the people
Grew wider and stronger....
At fifteen years old 170
He was firmly decided
To spend his whole life
In promoting their welfare,
In striving to succour
The poor and afflicted.
The demon of malice
Too long over Russia
Has scattered its hate;
The shadow of serfdom
Has hidden all paths 180
Save corruption and lying.
Another song now
Will arise throughout Russia;
The angel of freedom
And mercy is flying
Unseen o'er our heads,
And is calling strong spirits
To follow the road
Which is honest and clean.

Oh, tread not the road 190
So shining and broad:
Along it there speed
With feverish tread
The multitudes led
By infamous greed.

There lives which are spent
With noble intent
Are mocked at in scorn;
There souls lie in chains,
And bodies and brains 200
By passions are torn,

By animal thirst
For pleasures accurst
Which pass in a breath.
There hope is in vain,
For there is the reign
Of darkness and death.

* * * * *

In front of your eyes
Another road lies--
'Tis honest and clean. 210
Though steep it appears
And sorrow and tears
Upon it are seen:

It leads to the door
Of those who are poor,
Who hunger and thirst,
Who pant without air.
Who die in despair--
Oh, there be the first!

The song of the angel 220
Of Mercy not vainly
Was sung to our Grísha.
The years of his study
Being passed, he developed
In thought and in feeling;
A passionate singer
Of Freedom became he,
Of all who are grieving,
Down-trodden, afflicted,
In Russia so vast. 230

* * * * *

The bright sun was shining,
The cool, fragrant morning
Was filled with the sweetness
Of newly-mown hay.
Young Grísha was thoughtful,
He followed the first road
He met--an old high-road,
An avenue, shaded
By tall curling birch trees.
The youth was now gloomy, 240
Now gay; the effect
Of the feast was still with him;
His thoughts were at work,
And in song he expressed them:

"I know that you suffer,
O Motherland dear,
The thought of it fills me with woe:
And Fate has much sorrow
In store yet, I fear,
But you will not perish, I know. 250

"How long since your children
As playthings were used,
As slaves to base passions and lust;
Were bartered like cattle,
Were vilely abused
By masters most cruel and unjust?

"How long since young maidens
Were dragged to their shame,
Since whistle of whips filled the land,
Since 'Service' possessed 260
A more terrible fame
Than death by the torturer's hand?

"Enough! It is finished,
This tale of the past;
'Tis ended, the masters' long sway;
The strength of the people
Is stirring at last,
To freedom 'twill point them the way.

"Your burden grows lighter,
O Motherland dear, 270
Your wounds less appalling to see.
Your fathers were slaves,
Smitten helpless by fear,
But, Mother, your children are free!"

* * * * *

A small winding footpath
Now tempted young Grísha,
And guided his steps
To a very broad hayfield.
The peasants were cutting
The hay, and were singing 280
His favourite song.
Young Grísha was saddened
By thoughts of his mother,
And nearly in anger
He hurried away
From the field to the forest.
Bright echoes are darting
About in the forest;
Like quails in the wheat
Little children are romping 290


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