Franz Kafka

Thursday, December 29, 2016

December, a Poem (English and Italian edition)

Edvard Munch's "New Snow in the Avenue,"  1906, Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway.

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I climbed back up the steep path of the mountain
Much long after the last shepherd
Had descended it to lead
His flocks back to the homestead.
The woods in the mist of December
Were dark, bare ghosts
Which I was crossing through with the firm
And light feet of the vagrant.
In the wind, which was blowing all around
With a breath of ice,
It seemed as if the dead were beckoning us:
Their call descended the bare peaks.
I felt within a peace of other worlds,
As, undauntedly, I ascended, ascended, ascended.

Original Italian version below:

Saturday, December 24, 2016

A short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man," 1877. Full Text in English. (Russian: Сон смешного человека)

Portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov, 1872



I am a ridiculous person. Now they call me a madman. That would be a
promotion if it were not that I remain as ridiculous in their eyes as
before. But now I do not resent it, they are all dear to me now, even when
they laugh at me--and, indeed, it is just then that they are particularly
dear to me. I could join in their laughter--not exactly at myself, but
through affection for them, if I did not feel so sad as I look at them. Sad
because they do not know the truth and I do know it. Oh, how hard it is to
be the only one who knows the truth! But they won't understand that. No,
they won't understand it.

In old days I used to be miserable at seeming ridiculous. Not seeming, but
being. I have always been ridiculous, and I have known it, perhaps, from
the hour I was born. Perhaps from the time I was seven years old I knew I
was ridiculous. Afterwards I went to school, studied at the university,
and, do you know, the more I learned, the more thoroughly I understood that
I was ridiculous. So that it seemed in the end as though all the sciences I
studied at the university existed only to prove and make evident to me as I
went more deeply into them that I was ridiculous. It was the same with life
as it was with science. With every year the same consciousness of the
ridiculous figure I cut in every relation grew and strengthened. Every one
always laughed at me. But not one of them knew or guessed that if there
were one man on earth who knew better than anybody else that I was absurd,
it was myself, and what I resented most of all was that they did not know
that. But that was my own fault; I was so proud that nothing would have
ever induced me to tell it to any one. This pride grew in me with the
years; and if it had happened that I allowed myself to confess to any one
that I was ridiculous, I believe that I should have blown out my brains the
same evening. Oh, how I suffered in my early youth from the fear that I
might give way and confess it to my schoolfellows. But since I grew to
manhood, I have for some unknown reason become calmer, though I realised my
awful characteristic more fully every year. I say "unknown," for to this
day I cannot tell why it was. Perhaps it was owing to the terrible misery
that was growing in my soul through something which was of more consequence
than anything else about me: that something was the conviction that had
come upon me that _nothing in the world mattered_. I had long had an
inkling of it, but the full realisation came last year almost suddenly. I
suddenly felt that it was all the same to me whether the world existed or
whether there had never been anything at all: I began to feel with all my
being that there was _nothing existing_. At first I fancied that many
things had existed in the past, but afterwards I guessed that there never
had been anything in the past either, but that it had only seemed so for
some reason. Little by little I guessed that there would be nothing in the
future either. Then I left off being angry with people and almost ceased to
notice them. Indeed this showed itself even in the pettiest trifles: I
used, for instance, to knock against people in the street. And not so much
from being lost in thought: what had I to think about? I had almost given
up thinking by that time; nothing mattered to me. If at least I had solved
my problems! Oh, I had not settled one of them, and how many they were! But
I gave up caring about anything, and all the problems disappeared.

And it was after that that I found out the truth. I learnt the truth last
November--on the third of November, to be precise--and I remember every
instant since. It was a gloomy evening, one of the gloomiest possible
evenings. I was going home at about eleven o'clock, and I remember that I
thought that the evening could not be gloomier. Even physically. Rain had
been falling all day, and it had been a cold, gloomy, almost menacing rain,
with, I remember, an unmistakable spite against mankind. Suddenly between
ten and eleven it had stopped, and was followed by a horrible dampness,
colder and damper than the rain, and a sort of steam was rising from
everything, from every stone in the street, and from every by-lane if one
looked down it as far as one could. A thought suddenly occurred to me, that
if all the street lamps had been put out it would have been less cheerless,
that the gas made one's heart sadder because it lighted it all up. I had
had scarcely any dinner that day, and had been spending the evening with an
engineer, and two other friends had been there also. I sat silent--I fancy
I bored them. They talked of something rousing and suddenly they got
excited over it. But they did not really care, I could see that, and only
made a show of being excited. I suddenly said as much to them. "My
friends," I said, "you really do not care one way or the other." They were
not offended, but they all laughed at me. That was because I spoke without
any note of reproach, simply because it did not matter to me. They saw it
did not, and it amused them.

As I was thinking about the gas lamps in the street I looked up at the sky.
The sky was horribly dark, but one could distinctly see tattered clouds,
and between them fathomless black patches. Suddenly I noticed in one of
these patches a star, and began watching it intently. That was because that
star gave me an idea: I decided to kill myself that night. I had firmly
determined to do so two months before, and poor as I was, I bought a
splendid revolver that very day, and loaded it. But two months had passed
and it was still lying in my drawer; I was so utterly indifferent that I
wanted to seize a moment when I would not be so indifferent--why, I don't
know. And so for two months every night that I came home I thought I would
shoot myself. I kept waiting for the right moment. And so now this star
gave me a thought. I made up my mind that it should certainly be that
night. And why the star gave me the thought I don't know.

And just as I was looking at the sky, this little girl took me by the
elbow. The street was empty, and there was scarcely any one to be seen. A
cabman was sleeping in the distance in his cab. It was a child of eight
with a kerchief on her head, wearing nothing but a wretched little dress
all soaked with rain, but I noticed particularly her wet broken shoes and I
recall them now. They caught my eye particularly. She suddenly pulled me by
the elbow and called me. She was not weeping, but was spasmodically crying
out some words which she could not utter properly, because she was
shivering and shuddering all over. She was in terror about something, and
kept crying, "Mammy, mammy!" I turned facing her, I did not say a word and
went on; but she ran, pulling at me, and there was that note in her voice
which in frightened children means despair. I know that sound. Though she
did not articulate the words, I understood that her mother was dying, or
that something of the sort was happening to them, and that she had run out
to call some one, to find something to help her mother. I did not go with
her; on the contrary, I had an impulse to drive her away. I told her first
to go to a policeman. But clasping her hands, she ran beside me sobbing and
gasping, and would not leave me. Then I stamped my foot, and shouted at
her. She called out "Sir! sir!..." but suddenly abandoned me and rushed
headlong across the road. Some other passer-by appeared there, and she
evidently flew from me to him.

I mounted up to my fifth storey. I have a room in a flat where there are
other lodgers. My room is small and poor, with a garret window in the
shape of a semicircle. I have a sofa covered with American leather, a table
with books on it, two chairs and a comfortable arm-chair, as old as old can
be, but of the good old-fashioned shape. I sat down, lighted the candle,
and began thinking. In the room next to mine, through the partition wall, a
perfect Bedlam was going on. It had been going on for the last three days.
A retired captain lived there, and he had half a dozen visitors, gentlemen
of doubtful reputation, drinking vodka and playing _stoss_ with old cards.
The night before there had been a fight, and I know that two of them had
been for a long time engaged in dragging each other about by the hair. The
landlady wanted to complain, but she was in abject terror of the captain.
There was only one other lodger in the flat, a thin little regimental lady,
on a visit to Petersburg, with three little children who had been taken ill
since they came into the lodgings. Both she and her children were in mortal
fear of the captain, and lay trembling and crossing themselves all night,
and the youngest child had a sort of fit from fright. That captain, I know
for a fact, sometimes stops people in the Nevsky Prospect and begs. They
won't take him into the service, but strange to say (that's why I am
telling this), all this month that the captain has been here his behaviour
has caused me no annoyance. I have, of course, tried to avoid his
acquaintance from the very beginning, and he, too, was bored with me from
the first; but I never care how much they shout the other side of the
partition nor how many of them there are in there: I sit up all night and
forget them so completely that I do not even hear them. I stay awake till
daybreak, and have been going on like that for the last year. I sit up all
night in my arm-chair at the table, doing nothing. I only read by day. I
sit--don't even think; ideas of a sort wander through my mind and I let
them come and go as they will. A whole candle is burnt every night. I sat
down quietly at the table, took out the revolver and put it down before
me. When I had put it down I asked myself, I remember, "Is that so?" and
answered with complete conviction, "It is." That is, I shall shoot myself.
I knew that I should shoot myself that night for certain, but how much
longer I should go on sitting at the table I did not know. And no doubt I
should have shot myself if it had not been for that little girl.


You see, though nothing mattered to me, I could feel pain, for instance. If
any one had struck me it would have hurt me. It was the same morally: if
anything very pathetic happened, I should have felt pity just as I used to
do in old days when there were things in life that did matter to me. I had
felt pity that evening. I should have certainly helped a child. Why, then,
had I not helped the little girl? Because of an idea that occurred to me at
the time: when she was calling and pulling at me, a question suddenly arose
before me and I could not settle it. The question was an idle one, but I
was vexed. I was vexed at the reflection that if I were going to make an
end of myself that night, nothing in life ought to have mattered to me. Why
was it that all at once I did not feel that nothing mattered and was sorry
for the little girl? I remember that I was very sorry for her, so much so
that I felt a strange pang, quite incongruous in my position. Really I do
not know better how to convey my fleeting sensation at the moment, but the
sensation persisted at home when I was sitting at the table, and I was very
much irritated as I had not been for a long time past. One reflection
followed another. I saw clearly that so long as I was still a human being
and not nothingness, I was alive and so could suffer, be angry and feel
shame at my actions. So be it. But if I am going to kill myself, in two
hours, say, what is the little girl to me and what have I to do with shame
or with anything else in the world? I shall turn into nothing, absolutely
nothing. And can it really be true that the consciousness that I shall
_completely_ cease to exist immediately and so everything else will cease
to exist, does not in the least affect my feeling of pity for the child nor
the feeling of shame after a contemptible action? I stamped and shouted at
the unhappy child as though to say--not only I feel no pity, but even if I
behave inhumanly and contemptibly, I am free to, for in another two hours
everything will be extinguished. Do you believe that that was why I shouted
that? I am almost convinced of it now. It seemed clear to me that life and
the world somehow depended upon me now. I may almost say that the world now
seemed created for me alone: if I shot myself the world would cease to be
at least for me. I say nothing of its being likely that nothing will exist
for any one when I am gone, and that as soon as my consciousness is
extinguished the whole world will vanish too and become void like a
phantom, as a mere appurtenance of my consciousness, for possibly all this
world and all these people are only me myself. I remember that as I sat and
reflected, I turned all these new questions that swarmed one after another
quite the other way, and thought of something quite new. For instance, a
strange reflection suddenly occurred to me, that if I had lived before on
the moon or on Mars and there had committed the most disgraceful and
dishonourable action and had there been put to such shame and ignominy as
one can only conceive and realise in dreams, in nightmares, and if, finding
myself afterwards on earth, I were able to retain the memory of what I had
done on the other planet and at the same time knew that I should never,
under any circumstances, return there, then looking from the earth to the
moon--_should I care or not_? Should I feel shame for that action or not?
These were idle and superfluous questions for the revolver was already
lying before me, and I knew in every fibre of my being that it would happen
for certain, but they excited me and I raged. I could not die now without
having first settled something. In short, the child had saved me, for I
put off my pistol shot for the sake of these questions. Meanwhile the
clamour had begun to subside in the captain's room: they had finished their
game, were settling down to sleep, and meanwhile were grumbling and
languidly winding up their quarrels. At that point I suddenly fell asleep
in my chair at the table--a thing which had never happened to me before. I
dropped asleep quite unawares.

Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented
with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish
of jewellery, while others one gallops through, as it were, without
noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time. Dreams seem
to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the
heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has played sometimes in
dreams, what utterly incomprehensible things happen to it! My brother died
five years ago, for instance. I sometimes dream of him; he takes part in my
affairs, we are very much interested, and yet all through my dream I quite
know and remember that my brother is dead and buried. How is it that I am
not surprised that, though he is dead, he is here beside me and working
with me? Why is it that my reason fully accepts it? But enough. I will
begin about my dream. Yes, I dreamed a dream, my dream of the third of
November. They tease me now, telling me it was only a dream. But does it
matter whether it was a dream or reality, if the dream made known to me the
truth? If once one has recognised the truth and seen it, you know that it
is the truth and that there is no other and there cannot be, whether you
are asleep or awake. Let it be a dream, so be it, but that real life of
which you make so much I had meant to extinguish by suicide, and my dream,
my dream--oh, it revealed to me a different life, renewed, grand and full
of power!



I have mentioned that I dropped asleep unawares and even seemed to be still
reflecting on the same subjects. I suddenly dreamt that I picked up the
revolver and aimed it straight at my heart--my heart, and not my head; and
I had determined beforehand to fire at my head, at my right temple. After
aiming at my chest I waited a second or two, and suddenly my candle, my
table, and the wall in front of me began moving and heaving. I made haste
to pull the trigger.

In dreams you sometimes fall from a height, or are stabbed, or beaten, but
you never feel pain unless, perhaps, you really bruise yourself against the
bedstead, then you feel pain and almost always wake up from it. It was the
same in my dream. I did not feel any pain, but it seemed as though with my
shot everything within me was shaken and everything was suddenly dimmed,
and it grew horribly black around me. I seemed to be blinded and benumbed,
and I was lying on something hard, stretched on my back; I saw nothing, and
could not make the slightest movement. People were walking and shouting
around me, the captain bawled, the landlady shrieked--and suddenly another
break and I was being carried in a closed coffin. And I felt how the coffin
was shaking and reflected upon it, and for the first time the idea struck
me that I was dead, utterly dead, I knew it and had no doubt of it, I could
neither see nor move and yet I was feeling and reflecting. But I was soon
reconciled to the position, and as one usually does in a dream, accepted
the facts without disputing them.

And now I was buried in the earth. They all went away, I was left alone,
utterly alone. I did not move. Whenever before I had imagined being buried
the one sensation I associated with the grave was that of damp and cold. So
now I felt that I was very cold, especially the tips of my toes, but I felt
nothing else.

I lay still, strange to say I expected nothing, accepting without dispute
that a dead man had nothing to expect. But it was damp. I don't know how
long a time passed--whether an hour, or several days, or many days. But all
at once a drop of water fell on my closed left eye, making its way through
a coffin lid; it was followed a minute later by a second, then a minute
later by a third--and so on, regularly every minute. There was a sudden
glow of profound indignation in my heart, and I suddenly felt in it a pang
of physical pain. "That's my wound," I thought; "that's the bullet...." And
drop after drop every minute kept falling on my closed eyelid. And all at
once, not with my voice, but with my whole being, I called upon the power
that was responsible for all that was happening to me:

"Whoever you may be, if you exist, and if anything more rational than what
is happening here is possible, suffer it to be here now. But if you are
revenging yourself upon me for my senseless suicide by the hideousness and
absurdity of this subsequent existence, then let me tell you that no
torture could ever equal the contempt which I shall go on dumbly feeling,
though my martyrdom may last a million years!"

I made this appeal and held my peace. There was a full minute of unbroken
silence and again another drop fell, but I knew with infinite unshakable
certainty that everything would change immediately. And behold my grave
suddenly was rent asunder, that is, I don't know whether it was opened or
dug up, but I was caught up by some dark and unknown being and we found
ourselves in space. I suddenly regained my sight. It was the dead of night,
and never, never had there been such darkness. We were flying through space
far away from the earth. I did not question the being who was taking me; I
was proud and waited. I assured myself that I was not afraid, and was
thrilled with ecstasy at the thought that I was not afraid. I do not know
how long we were flying, I cannot imagine; it happened as it always does in
dreams when you skip over space and time, and the laws of thought and
existence, and only pause upon the points for which the heart yearns. I
remember that I suddenly saw in the darkness a star. "Is that Sirius?" I
asked impulsively, though I had not meant to ask any questions.

"No, that is the star you saw between the clouds when you were coming
home," the being who was carrying me replied.

I knew that it had something like a human face. Strange to say, I did not
like that being, in fact I felt an intense aversion for it. I had expected
complete non-existence, and that was why I had put a bullet through my
heart. And here I was in the hands of a creature not human, of course, but
yet living, existing. "And so there is life beyond the grave," I thought
with the strange frivolity one has in dreams. But in its inmost depth my
heart remained unchanged. "And if I have got to exist again," I thought,
"and live once more under the control of some irresistible power, I won't
be vanquished and humiliated."

"You know that I am afraid of you and despise me for that," I said suddenly
to my companion, unable to refrain from the humiliating question which
implied a confession, and feeling my humiliation stab my heart as with a
pin. He did not answer my question, but all at once I felt that he was not
even despising me, but was laughing at me and had no compassion for me, and
that our journey had an unknown and mysterious object that concerned me
only. Fear was growing in my heart. Something was mutely and painfully
communicated to me from my silent companion, and permeated my whole being.
We were flying through dark, unknown space. I had for some time lost sight
of the constellations familiar to my eyes. I knew that there were stars in
the heavenly spaces the light of which took thousands or millions of years
to reach the earth. Perhaps we were already flying through those spaces. I
expected something with a terrible anguish that tortured my heart. And
suddenly I was thrilled by a familiar feeling that stirred me to the
depths: I suddenly caught sight of our sun! I knew that it could not be
_our_ sun, that gave life to _our_ earth, and that we were an infinite
distance from our sun, but for some reason I knew in my whole being that it
was a sun exactly like ours, a duplicate of it. A sweet, thrilling feeling
resounded with ecstasy in my heart: the kindred power of the same light
which had given me light stirred an echo in my heart and awakened it, and I
had a sensation of life, the old life of the past for the first time since
I had been in the grave.

"But if that is the sun, if that is exactly the same as our sun," I cried,
"where is the earth?"

And my companion pointed to a star twinkling in the distance with an
emerald light. We were flying straight towards it.

"And are such repetitions possible in the universe? Can that be the law of
Nature?... And if that is an earth there, can it be just the same earth as
ours ... just the same, as poor, as unhappy, but precious and beloved for
ever, arousing in the most ungrateful of her children the same poignant
love for her that we feel for our earth?" I cried out, shaken by
irresistible, ecstatic love for the old familiar earth which I had left.
The image of the poor child whom I had repulsed flashed through my mind.

"You shall see it all," answered my companion, and there was a note of
sorrow in his voice.

But we were rapidly approaching the planet. It was growing before my eyes;
I could already distinguish the ocean, the outline of Europe; and suddenly
a feeling of a great and holy jealousy glowed in my heart.

"How can it be repeated and what for? I love and can love only that earth
which I have left, stained with my blood, when, in my ingratitude, I
quenched my life with a bullet in my heart. But I have never, never ceased
to love that earth, and perhaps on the very night I parted from it I loved
it more than ever. Is there suffering upon this new earth? On our earth we
can only love with suffering and through suffering. We cannot love
otherwise, and we know of no other sort of love. I want suffering in order
to love. I long, I thirst, this very instant, to kiss with tears the earth
that I have left, and I don't want, I won't accept life on any other!"

But my companion had already left me. I suddenly, quite without noticing
how, found myself on this other earth, in the bright light of a sunny day,
fair as paradise. I believe I was standing on one of the islands that make
up on our globe the Greek archipelago, or on the coast of the mainland
facing that archipelago. Oh, everything was exactly as it is with us, only
everything seemed to have a festive radiance, the splendour of some great,
holy triumph attained at last. The caressing sea, green as emerald,
splashed softly upon the shore and kissed it with manifest, almost
conscious love. The tall, lovely trees stood in all the glory of their
blossom, and their innumerable leaves greeted me, I am certain, with their
soft, caressing rustle and seemed to articulate words of love. The grass
glowed with bright and fragrant flowers. Birds were flying in flocks in the
air, and perched fearlessly on my shoulders and arms and joyfully struck me
with their darling, fluttering wings. And at last I saw and knew the people
of this happy land. They came to me of themselves, they surrounded me,
kissed me. The children of the sun, the children of their sun--oh, how
beautiful they were! Never had I seen on our own earth such beauty in
mankind. Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might
find some remote, faint reflection of this beauty. The eyes of these happy
people shone with a clear brightness. Their faces were radiant with the
light of reason and fullness of a serenity that comes of perfect
understanding, but those faces were gay; in their words and voices there
was a note of childlike joy. Oh, from the first moment, from the first
glance at them, I understood it all! It was the earth untarnished by the
Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned. They lived just in such a
paradise as that in which, according to all the legends of mankind, our
first parents lived before they sinned; the only difference was that all
this earth was the same paradise. These people, laughing joyfully, thronged
round me and caressed me; they took me home with them, and each of them
tried to reassure me. Oh, they asked me no questions, but they seemed, I
fancied, to know everything without asking, and they wanted to make haste
and smoothe away the signs of suffering from my face.


And do you know what? Well, granted that it was only a dream, yet the
sensation of the love of those innocent and beautiful people has remained
with me for ever, and I feel as though their love is still flowing out to
me from over there. I have seen them myself, have known them and been
convinced; I loved them, I suffered for them afterwards. Oh, I understood
at once even at the time that in many things I could not understand them at
all; as an up-to-date Russian progressive and contemptible Petersburger, it
struck me as inexplicable that, knowing so much, they had, for instance, no
science like ours. But I soon realised that their knowledge was gained and
fostered by intuitions different from those of us on earth, and that their
aspirations, too, were quite different. They desired nothing and were at
peace; they did not aspire to knowledge of life as we aspire to understand
it, because their lives were full. But their knowledge was higher and
deeper than ours; for our science seeks to explain what life is, aspires to
understand it in order to teach others how to live, while they without
science knew how to live; and that I understood, but I could not understand
their knowledge. They showed me their trees, and I could not understand the
intense love with which they looked at them; it was as though they were
talking with creatures like themselves. And perhaps I shall not be mistaken
if I say that they conversed with them. Yes, they had found their language,
and I am convinced that the trees understood them. They looked at all
Nature like that--at the animals who lived in peace with them and did not
attack them, but loved them, conquered by their love. They pointed to the
stars and told me something about them which I could not understand, but I
am convinced that they were somehow in touch with the stars, not only in
thought, but by some living channel. Oh, these people did not persist in
trying to make me understand them, they loved me without that, but I knew
that they would never understand me, and so I hardly spoke to them about
our earth. I only kissed in their presence the earth on which they lived
and mutely worshipped them themselves. And they saw that and let me worship
them without being abashed at my adoration, for they themselves loved much.
They were not unhappy on my account when at times I kissed their feet with
tears, joyfully conscious of the love with which they would respond to
mine. At times I asked myself with wonder how it was they were able never
to offend a creature like me, and never once to arouse a feeling of
jealousy or envy in me? Often I wondered how it could be that, boastful and
untruthful as I was, I never talked to them of what I knew--of which, of
course, they had no notion--that I was never tempted to do so by a desire
to astonish or even to benefit them.

They were as gay and sportive as children. They wandered about their lovely
woods and copses, they sang their lovely songs; their fare was light--the
fruits of their trees, the honey from their woods, and the milk of the
animals who loved them. The work they did for food and raiment was brief
and not laborious. They loved and begot children, but I never noticed in
them the impulse of that _cruel_ sensuality which overcomes almost every
man on this earth, all and each, and is the source of almost every sin of
mankind on earth. They rejoiced at the arrival of children as new beings to
share their happiness. There was no quarrelling, no jealousy among them,
and they did not even know what the words meant. Their children were the
children of all, for they all made up one family. There was scarcely any
illness among them, though there was death; but their old people died
peacefully, as though falling asleep, giving blessings and smiles to those
who surrounded them to take their last farewell with bright and loving
smiles. I never saw grief or tears on those occasions, but only love, which
reached the point of ecstasy, but a calm ecstasy, made perfect and
contemplative. One might think that they were still in contact with the
departed after death, and that their earthly union was not cut short by
death. They scarcely understood me when I questioned them about
immortality, but evidently they were so convinced of it without reasoning
that it was not for them a question at all. They had no temples, but they
had a real living and uninterrupted sense of oneness with the whole of the
universe; they had no creed, but they had a certain knowledge that when
their earthly joy had reached the limits of earthly nature, then there
would come for them, for the living and for the dead, a still greater
fullness of contact with the whole of the universe. They looked forward to
that moment with joy, but without haste, not pining for it, but seeming to
have a foretaste of it in their hearts, of which they talked to one

In the evening before going to sleep they liked singing in musical and
harmonious chorus. In those songs they expressed all the sensations that
the parting day had given them, sang its glories and took leave of it. They
sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making
songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were
the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one's
heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to
do nothing but admire one another. It was like being in love with each
other, but an all-embracing, universal feeling.

Some of their songs, solemn and rapturous, I scarcely understood at all.
Though I understood the words I could never fathom their full significance.
It remained, as it were, beyond the grasp of my mind, yet my heart
unconsciously absorbed it more and more. I often told them that I had had a
presentiment of it long before, that this joy and glory had come to me on
our earth in the form of a yearning melancholy that at times approached
insufferable sorrow; that I had had a foreknowledge of them all and of
their glory in the dreams of my heart and the visions of my mind; that
often on our earth I could not look at the setting sun without tears ...
that in my hatred for the men of our earth there was always a yearning
anguish: why could I not hate them without loving them? why could I not
help forgiving them? and in my love for them there was a yearning grief:
why could I not love them without hating them? They listened to me, and I
saw they could not conceive what I was saying, but I did not regret that I
had spoken to them of it: I knew that they understood the intensity of my
yearning anguish over those whom I had left. But when they looked at me
with their sweet eyes full of love, when I felt that in their presence my
heart, too, became as innocent and just as theirs, the feeling of the
fullness of life took my breath away, and I worshipped them in silence.

Oh, every one laughs in my face now, and assures me that one cannot dream
of such details as I am telling now, that I only dreamed or felt one
sensation that arose in my heart in delirium and made up the details myself
when I woke up. And when I told them that perhaps it really was so, my God,
how they shouted with laughter in my face, and what mirth I caused! Oh,
yes, of course I was overcome by the mere sensation of my dream, and that
was all that was preserved in my cruelly wounded heart; but the actual
forms and images of my dream, that is, the very ones I really saw at the
very time of my dream, were filled with such harmony, were so lovely and
enchanting and were so actual, that on awakening I was, of course,
incapable of clothing them in our poor language, so that they were bound to
become blurred in my mind; and so perhaps I really was forced afterwards to
make up the details, and so of course to distort them in my passionate
desire to convey some at least of them as quickly as I could. But on the
other hand, how can I help believing that it was all true? It was perhaps a
thousand times brighter, happier and more joyful than I describe it.
Granted that I dreamed it, yet it must have been real. You know, I will
tell you a secret: perhaps it was not a dream at all! For then something
happened so awful, something so horribly true, that it could not have been
imagined in a dream. My heart may have originated the dream, but would my
heart alone have been capable of originating the awful event which happened
to me afterwards? How could I alone have invented it or imagined it in my
dream? Could my petty heart and my fickle, trivial mind have risen to such
a revelation of truth? Oh, judge for yourselves: hitherto I have concealed
it, but now I will tell the truth. The fact is that I ... corrupted them


Yes, yes, it ended in my corrupting them all! How it could come to pass I
do not know, but I remember it clearly. The dream embraced thousands of
years and left in me only a sense of the whole. I only know that I was the
cause of their sin and downfall. Like a vile trichina, like a germ of the
plague infecting whole kingdoms, so I contaminated all this earth, so happy
and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of lying, and
discovered the charm of falsehood. Oh, at first perhaps it began
innocently, with a jest, coquetry, with amorous play, perhaps indeed with a
germ, but that germ of falsity made its way into their hearts and pleased
them. Then sensuality was soon begotten, sensuality begot jealousy,
jealousy--cruelty.... Oh, I don't know, I don't remember; but soon, very
soon the first blood was shed. They marvelled and were horrified, and began
to be split up and divided. They formed into unions, but it was against one
another. Reproaches, upbraidings followed. They came to know shame, and
shame brought them to virtue. The conception of honour sprang up, and every
union began waving its flags. They began torturing animals, and the animals
withdrew from them into the forests and became hostile to them. They began
to struggle for separation, for isolation, for individuality, for mine and
thine. They began to talk in different languages. They became acquainted
with sorrow and loved sorrow; they thirsted for suffering, and said that
truth could only be attained through suffering. Then science appeared. As
they became wicked they began talking of brotherhood and humanitarianism,
and understood those ideas. As they became criminal, they invented justice
and drew up whole legal codes in order to observe it, and to ensure their
being kept, set up a guillotine. They hardly remembered what they had lost,
in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They
even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called
it a dream. They could not even imagine it in definite form and shape, but,
strange and wonderful to relate, though they lost all faith in their past
happiness and called it a legend, they so longed to be happy and innocent
once more that they succumbed to this desire like children, made an idol of
it, set up temples and worshipped their own idea, their own desire; though
at the same time they fully believed that it was unattainable and could not
be realised, yet they bowed down to it and adored it with tears!
Nevertheless, if it could have happened that they had returned to the
innocent and happy condition which they had lost, and if some one had shown
it to them again and had asked them whether they wanted to go back to it,
they would certainly have refused. They answered me:

"We may be deceitful, wicked and unjust, we _know_ it and weep over it, we
grieve over it; we torment and punish ourselves more perhaps than that
merciful Judge Who will judge us and whose Name we know not. But we have
science, and by means of it we shall find the truth and we shall arrive at
it consciously. Knowledge is higher than feeling, the consciousness of life
is higher than life. Science will give us wisdom, wisdom will reveal the
laws, and the knowledge of the laws of happiness is higher than happiness."

That is what they said, and after saying such things every one began to
love himself better than any one else, and indeed they could not do
otherwise. All became so jealous of the rights of their own personality
that they did their very utmost to curtail and destroy them in others, and
made that the chief thing in their lives. Slavery followed, even voluntary
slavery; the weak eagerly submitted to the strong, on condition that the
latter aided them to subdue the still weaker. Then there were saints who
came to these people, weeping, and talked to them of their pride, of their
loss of harmony and due proportion, of their loss of shame. They were
laughed at or pelted with stones. Holy blood was shed on the threshold of
the temples. Then there arose men who began to think how to bring all
people together again, so that everybody, while still loving himself best
of all, might not interfere with others, and all might live together in
something like a harmonious society. Regular wars sprang up over this idea.
All the combatants at the same time firmly believed that science, wisdom
and the instinct of self-preservation would force men at last to unite into
a harmonious and rational society; and so, meanwhile, to hasten matters,
"the wise" endeavoured to exterminate as rapidly as possible all who were
"not wise" and did not understand their idea, that the latter might not
hinder its triumph. But the instinct of self-preservation grew rapidly
weaker; there arose men, haughty and sensual, who demanded all or nothing.
In order to obtain everything they resorted to crime, and if they did not
succeed--to suicide. There arose religions with a cult of non-existence and
self-destruction for the sake of the everlasting peace of annihilation. At
last these people grew weary of their meaningless toil, and signs of
suffering came into their faces, and then they proclaimed that suffering
was a beauty, for in suffering alone was there meaning. They glorified
suffering in their songs. I moved about among them, wringing my hands and
weeping over them, but I loved them perhaps more than in old days when
there was no suffering in their faces and when they were innocent and so
lovely. I loved the earth they had polluted even more than when it had been
a paradise, if only because sorrow had come to it. Alas! I always loved
sorrow and tribulation, but only for myself, for myself; but I wept over
them, pitying them. I stretched out my hands to them in despair, blaming,
cursing and despising myself. I told them that all this was my doing, mine
alone; that it was I had brought them corruption, contamination and
falsity. I besought them to crucify me, I taught them how to make a cross.
I could not kill myself, I had not the strength, but I wanted to suffer at
their hands. I yearned for suffering, I longed that my blood should be
drained to the last drop in these agonies. But they only laughed at me, and
began at last to look upon me as crazy. They justified me, they declared
that they had only got what they wanted themselves, and that all that now
was could not have been otherwise. At last they declared to me that I was
becoming dangerous and that they should lock me up in a madhouse if I did
not hold my tongue. Then such grief took possession of my soul that my
heart was wrung, and I felt as though I were dying; and then ... then I

       *       *       *       *       *

It was morning, that is, it was not yet daylight, but about six o'clock. I
woke up in the same arm-chair; my candle had burnt out; every one was
asleep in the captain's room, and there was a stillness all round, rare in
our flat. First of all I leapt up in great amazement: nothing like this had
ever happened to me before, not even in the most trivial detail; I had
never, for instance, fallen asleep like this in my arm-chair. While I was
standing and coming to myself I suddenly caught sight of my revolver lying
loaded, ready--but instantly I thrust it away! Oh, now, life, life! I
lifted up my hands and called upon eternal truth, not with words but with
tears; ecstasy, immeasurable ecstasy flooded my soul. Yes, life and
spreading the good tidings! Oh, I at that moment resolved to spread the
tidings, and resolved it, of course, for my whole life. I go to spread the
tidings, I want to spread the tidings--of what? Of the truth, for I have
seen it, have seen it with my own eyes, have seen it in all its glory.

And since then I have been preaching! Moreover I love all those who laugh
at me more than any of the rest. Why that is so I do not know and cannot
explain, but so be it. I am told that I am vague and confused, and if I am
vague and confused now, what shall I be later on? It is true indeed: I am
vague and confused, and perhaps as time goes on I shall be more so. And of
course I shall make many blunders before I find out how to preach, that is,
find out what words to say, what things to do, for it is a very difficult
task. I see all that as clear as daylight, but, listen, who does not make
mistakes? And yet, you know, all are making for the same goal, all are
striving in the same direction anyway, from the sage to the lowest robber,
only by different roads. It is an old truth, but this is what is new: I
cannot go far wrong. For I have seen the truth; I have seen and I know
that people can be beautiful and happy without losing the power of living
on earth. I will not and cannot believe that evil is the normal condition
of mankind. And it is just this faith of mine that they laugh at. But how
can I help believing it? I have seen the truth--it is not as though I had
invented it with my mind, I have seen it, seen it, and _the living image_
of it has filled my soul for ever. I have seen it in such full perfection
that I cannot believe that it is impossible for people to have it. And so
how can I go wrong? I shall make some slips no doubt, and shall perhaps
talk in second-hand language, but not for long: the living image of what I
saw will always be with me and will always correct and guide me. Oh, I am
full of courage and freshness, and I will go on and on if it were for a
thousand years! Do you know, at first I meant to conceal the fact that I
corrupted them, but that was a mistake--that was my first mistake! But
truth whispered to me that I was _lying_, and preserved me and corrected
me. But how establish paradise--I don't know, because I do not know how to
put it into words. After my dream I lost command of words. All the chief
words, anyway, the most necessary ones. But never mind, I shall go and I
shall keep talking, I won't leave off, for anyway I have seen it with my
own eyes, though I cannot describe what I saw. But the scoffers do not
understand that. It was a dream, they say, delirium, hallucination. Oh! As
though that meant so much! And they are so proud! A dream! What is a dream?
And is not our life a dream? I will say more. Suppose that this paradise
will never come to pass (that I understand), yet I shall go on preaching
it. And yet how simple it is: in one day, _in one hour_ everything could be
arranged at once! The chief thing is to love others like yourself, that's
the great thing, and that's everything; nothing else is wanted--you will
find out at once how to arrange it all. And yet it's an old truth which has
been told and retold a billion times--but it has not formed part of our
lives! The consciousness of life is higher than life, the knowledge of the
laws of happiness is higher than happiness--that is what one must contend
against. And I shall. If only every one wants it, it can all be arranged at

       *       *       *       *       *

And I tracked out that little girl ... and I shall go on and on!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "Bobok," 1876. Full Text in English

Portrait of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1847



Semyon Ardalyonovitch said to me all of a sudden the day before yesterday:
"Why, will you ever be sober, Ivan Ivanovitch? Tell me that, pray."

A strange requirement. I did not resent it, I am a timid man; but here they
have actually made me out mad. An artist painted my portrait as it
happened: "After all, you are a literary man," he said. I submitted, he
exhibited it. I read: "Go and look at that morbid face suggesting

It may be so, but think of putting it so bluntly into print. In print
everything ought to be decorous; there ought to be ideals, while instead of

Say it indirectly, at least; that's what you have style for. But no, he
doesn't care to do it indirectly. Nowadays humour and a fine style have
disappeared, and abuse is accepted as wit. I do not resent it: but God
knows I am not enough of a literary man to go out of my mind. I have
written a novel, it has not been published. I have written articles--they
have been refused. Those articles I took about from one editor to another;
everywhere they refused them: you have no salt they told me. "What sort of
salt do you want?" I asked with a jeer. "Attic salt?"

They did not even understand. For the most part I translate from the French
for the booksellers. I write advertisements for shopkeepers too: "Unique
opportunity! Fine tea, from our own plantations ..." I made a nice little
sum over a panegyric on his deceased excellency Pyotr Matveyitch. I
compiled the "Art of pleasing the ladies," a commission from a bookseller.
I have brought out some six little works of this kind in the course of my
life. I am thinking of making a collection of the _bon mots_ of Voltaire,
but am afraid it may seem a little flat to our people. Voltaire's no good
now; nowadays we want a cudgel, not Voltaire. We knock each other's last
teeth out nowadays. Well, so that's the whole extent of my literary
activity. Though indeed I do send round letters to the editors gratis and
fully signed. I give them all sorts of counsels and admonitions, criticise
and point out the true path. The letter I sent last week to an editor's
office was the fortieth I had sent in the last two years. I have wasted
four roubles over stamps alone for them. My temper is at the bottom of it

I believe that the artist who painted me did so not for the sake of
literature, but for the sake of two symmetrical warts on my forehead, a
natural phenomenon, he would say. They have no ideas, so now they are out
for phenomena. And didn't he succeed in getting my warts in his
portrait--to the life. That is what they call realism.

And as to madness, a great many people were put down as mad among us last
year. And in such language! "With such original talent" ... "and yet, after
all, it appears" ... "however, one ought to have foreseen it long ago."
That is rather artful; so that from the point of view of pure art one may
really commend it. Well, but after all, these so-called madmen have turned
out cleverer than ever. So it seems the critics can call them mad, but they
cannot produce any one better.

The wisest of all, in my opinion, is he who can, if only once a month, call
himself a fool--a faculty unheard of nowadays. In old days, once a year at
any rate a fool would recognise that he was a fool, but nowadays not a bit
of it. And they have so muddled things up that there is no telling a fool
from a wise man. They have done that on purpose.

I remember a witty Spaniard saying when, two hundred and fifty years ago,
the French built their first madhouses: "They have shut up all their fools
in a house apart, to make sure that they are wise men themselves." Just so:
you don't show your own wisdom by shutting some one else in a madhouse. "K.
has gone out of his mind, means that we are sane now." No, it doesn't mean
that yet.

Hang it though, why am I maundering on? I go on grumbling and grumbling.
Even my maidservant is sick of me. Yesterday a friend came to see me. "Your
style is changing," he said; "it is choppy: you chop and chop--and then a
parenthesis, then a parenthesis in the parenthesis, then you stick in
something else in brackets, then you begin chopping and chopping again."

The friend is right. Something strange is happening to me. My character is
changing and my head aches. I am beginning to see and hear strange things,
not voices exactly, but as though some one beside me were muttering,
"_bobok, bobok, bobok_!"

What's the meaning of this _bobok_? I must divert my mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

I went out in search of diversion, I hit upon a funeral. A distant
relation--a collegiate counsellor, however. A widow and five daughters, all
marriageable young ladies. What must it come to even to keep them in
slippers. Their father managed it, but now there is only a little pension.
They will have to eat humble pie. They have always received me
ungraciously. And indeed I should not have gone to the funeral now had it
not been for a peculiar circumstance. I followed the procession to the
cemetery with the rest; they were stuck-up and held aloof from me. My
uniform was certainly rather shabby. It's five-and-twenty years, I believe,
since I was at the cemetery; what a wretched place!

To begin with the smell. There were fifteen hearses, with palls varying in
expensiveness; there were actually two catafalques. One was a general's and
one some lady's. There were many mourners, a great deal of feigned
mourning and a great deal of open gaiety. The clergy have nothing to
complain of; it brings them a good income. But the smell, the smell. I
should not like to be one of the clergy here.

I kept glancing at the faces of the dead cautiously, distrusting my
impressionability. Some had a mild expression, some looked unpleasant. As a
rule the smiles were disagreeable, and in some cases very much so. I don't
like them; they haunt one's dreams.

During the service I went out of the church into the air: it was a grey
day, but dry. It was cold too, but then it was October. I walked about
among the tombs. They are of different grades. The third grade cost thirty
roubles; it's decent and not so very dear. The first two grades are tombs
in the church and under the porch; they cost a pretty penny. On this
occasion they were burying in tombs of the third grade six persons, among
them the general and the lady.

I looked into the graves--and it was horrible: water and such water!
Absolutely green, and ... but there, why talk of it! The gravedigger was
baling it out every minute. I went out while the service was going on and
strolled outside the gates. Close by was an almshouse, and a little further
off there was a restaurant. It was not a bad little restaurant: there was
lunch and everything. There were lots of the mourners here. I noticed a
great deal of gaiety and genuine heartiness. I had something to eat and

Then I took part in the bearing of the coffin from the church to the grave.
Why is it that corpses in their coffins are so heavy? They say it is due to
some sort of inertia, that the body is no longer directed by its owner ...
or some nonsense of that sort, in opposition to the laws of mechanics and
common sense. I don't like to hear people who have nothing but a general
education venture to solve the problems that require special knowledge; and
with us that's done continually. Civilians love to pass opinions about
subjects that are the province of the soldier and even of the
field-marshal; while men who have been educated as engineers prefer
discussing philosophy and political economy.

I did not go to the requiem service. I have some pride, and if I am only
received owing to some special necessity, why force myself on their
dinners, even if it be a funeral dinner. The only thing I don't understand
is why I stayed at the cemetery; I sat on a tombstone and sank into
appropriate reflections.

I began with the Moscow exhibition and ended with reflecting upon
astonishment in the abstract. My deductions about astonishment were these:

"To be surprised at everything is stupid of course, and to be astonished at
nothing is a great deal more becoming and for some reason accepted as good
form. But that is not really true. To my mind to be astonished at nothing
is much more stupid than to be astonished at everything. And, moreover, to
be astonished at nothing is almost the same as feeling respect for nothing.
And indeed a stupid man is incapable of feeling respect."

"But what I desire most of all is to feel respect. I _thirst_ to feel
respect," one of my acquaintances said to me the other day.

He thirsts to feel respect! Goodness, I thought, what would happen to you
if you dared to print that nowadays?

At that point I sank into forgetfulness. I don't like reading the epitaphs
of tombstones: they are everlastingly the same. An unfinished sandwich was
lying on the tombstone near me; stupid and inappropriate. I threw it on the
ground, as it was not bread but only a sandwich. Though I believe it is not
a sin to throw bread on the earth, but only on the floor. I must look it up
in Suvorin's calendar.

I suppose I sat there a long time--too long a time, in fact; I must have
lain down on a long stone which was of the shape of a marble coffin. And
how it happened I don't know, but I began to hear things of all sorts
being said. At first I did not pay attention to it, but treated it with
contempt. But the conversation went on. I heard muffled sounds as though
the speakers' mouths were covered with a pillow, and at the same time they
were distinct and very near. I came to myself, sat up and began listening

"Your Excellency, it's utterly impossible. You led hearts, I return your
lead, and here you play the seven of diamonds. You ought to have given me a
hint about diamonds."

"What, play by hard and fast rules? Where is the charm of that?"

"You must, your Excellency. One can't do anything without something to go
upon. We must play with dummy, let one hand not be turned up."

"Well, you won't find a dummy here."

What conceited words! And it was queer and unexpected. One was such a
ponderous, dignified voice, the other softly suave; I should not have
believed it if I had not heard it myself. I had not been to the requiem
dinner, I believe. And yet how could they be playing preference here and
what general was this? That the sounds came from under the tombstones of
that there could be no doubt. I bent down and read on the tomb:

"Here lies the body of Major-General Pervoyedov ... a cavalier of such and
such orders." Hm! "Passed away in August of this year ... fifty-seven....
Rest, beloved ashes, till the joyful dawn!"

Hm, dash it, it really is a general! There was no monument on the grave
from which the obsequious voice came, there was only a tombstone. He must
have been a fresh arrival. From his voice he was a lower court councillor.

"Oh-ho-ho-ho!" I heard in a new voice a dozen yards from the general's
resting-place, coming from quite a fresh grave. The voice belonged to a man
and a plebeian, mawkish with its affectation of religious fervour.

"Oh, here he is hiccupping again!" cried the haughty and disdainful voice
of an irritated lady, apparently of the highest society. "It is an
affliction to be by this shopkeeper!"

"I didn't hiccup; why, I've had nothing to eat. It's simply my nature.
Really, madam, you don't seem able to get rid of your caprices here."

"Then why did you come and lie down here?"

"They put me here, my wife and little children put me here, I did not lie
down here of myself. The mystery of death! And I would not have lain down
beside you not for any money; I lie here as befitting my fortune, judging
by the price. For we can always do that--pay for a tomb of the third

"You made money, I suppose? You fleeced people?"

"Fleece you, indeed! We haven't seen the colour of your money since
January. There's a little bill against you at the shop."

"Well, that's really stupid; to try and recover debts here is too stupid,
to my thinking! Go to the surface. Ask my niece--she is my heiress."

"There's no asking any one now, and no going anywhere. We have both reached
our limit and, before the judgment-seat of God, are equal in our sins."

"In our sins," the lady mimicked him contemptuously. "Don't dare to speak
to me."


"You see, the shopkeeper obeys the lady, your Excellency."

"Why shouldn't he?"

"Why, your Excellency, because, as we all know, things are different here."

"Different? How?"

"We are dead, so to speak, your Excellency."

"Oh, yes! But still...."

Well, this is an entertainment, it is a fine show, I must say! If it has
come to this down here, what can one expect on the surface? But what a
queer business! I went on listening, however, though with extreme

       *       *       *       *       *

"Yes, I should like a taste of life! Yes, you know ... I should like a
taste of life." I heard a new voice suddenly somewhere in the space between
the general and the irritable lady.

"Do you hear, your Excellency, our friend is at the same game again. For
three days at a time he says nothing, and then he bursts out with 'I should
like a taste of life, yes, a taste of life!' And with such appetite,

"And such frivolity."

"It gets hold of him, your Excellency, and do you know, he is growing
sleepy, quite sleepy--he has been here since April; and then all of a
sudden 'I should like a taste of life!'"

"It is rather dull, though," observed his Excellency.

"It is, your Excellency. Shall we tease Avdotya Ignatyevna again, he-he?"

"No, spare me, please. I can't endure that quarrelsome virago."

"And I can't endure either of you," cried the virago disdainfully. "You are
both of you bores and can't tell me anything ideal. I know one little story
about you, your Excellency--don't turn up your nose, please--how a
man-servant swept you out from under a married couple's bed one morning."

"Nasty woman," the general muttered through his teeth.

"Avdotya Ignatyevna, ma'am," the shopkeeper wailed suddenly again, "my dear
lady, don't be angry, but tell me, am I going through the ordeal by torment
now, or is it something else?"

"Ah, he is at it again, as I expected! For there's a smell from him which
means he is turning round!"

"I am not turning round, ma'am, and there's no particular smell from me,
for I've kept my body whole as it should be, while you're regularly high.
For the smell is really horrible even for a place like this. I don't speak
of it, merely from politeness."

"Ah, you horrid, insulting wretch! He positively stinks and talks about

"Oh-ho-ho-ho! If only the time for my requiem would come quickly: I should
hear their tearful voices over my head, my wife's lament and my children's
soft weeping!..."

"Well, that's a thing to fret for! They'll stuff themselves with funeral
rice and go home.... Oh, I wish somebody would wake up!"

"Avdotya Ignatyevna," said the insinuating government clerk, "wait a bit,
the new arrivals will speak."

"And are there any young people among them?"

"Yes, there are, Avdotya Ignatyevna. There are some not more than lads."

"Oh, how welcome that would be!"

"Haven't they begun yet?" inquired his Excellency.

"Even those who came the day before yesterday haven't awakened yet, your
Excellency. As you know, they sometimes don't speak for a week. It's a good
job that to-day and yesterday and the day before they brought a whole lot.
As it is, they are all last year's for seventy feet round."

"Yes, it will be interesting."

"Yes, your Excellency, they buried Tarasevitch, the privy councillor,
to-day. I knew it from the voices. I know his nephew, he helped to lower
the coffin just now."

"Hm, where is he, then?"

"Five steps from you, your Excellency, on the left.... Almost at your feet.
You should make his acquaintance, your Excellency."

"Hm, no--it's not for me to make advances."

"Oh, he will begin of himself, your Excellency. He will be flattered. Leave
it to me, your Excellency, and I...."

"Oh, oh! ... What is happening to me?" croaked the frightened voice of a
new arrival.

"A new arrival, your Excellency, a new arrival, thank God! And how quick
he's been! Sometimes they don't say a word for a week."

"Oh, I believe it's a young man!" Avdotya Ignatyevna cried shrilly.

"I ... I ... it was a complication, and so sudden!" faltered the young man
again. "Only the evening before, Schultz said to me, 'There's a
complication,' and I died suddenly before morning. Oh! oh!"

"Well, there's no help for it, young man," the general observed graciously,
evidently pleased at a new arrival. "You must be comforted. You are kindly
welcome to our Vale of Jehoshaphat, so to call it. We are kind-hearted
people, you will come to know us and appreciate us. Major-General Vassili
Vassilitch Pervoyedov, at your service."

"Oh, no, no! Certainly not! I was at Schultz's; I had a complication, you
know, at first it was my chest and a cough, and then I caught a cold: my
lungs and influenza ... and all of a sudden, quite unexpectedly ... the
worst of all was its being so unexpected."

"You say it began with the chest," the government clerk put in suavely, as
though he wished to reassure the new arrival.

"Yes, my chest and catarrh and then no catarrh, but still the chest, and I
couldn't breathe ... and you know...."

"I know, I know. But if it was the chest you ought to have gone to Ecke and
not to Schultz."

"You know, I kept meaning to go to Botkin's, and all at once...."

"Botkin is quite prohibitive," observed the general.

"Oh, no, he is not forbidding at all; I've heard he is so attentive and
foretells everything beforehand."

"His Excellency was referring to his fees," the government clerk corrected

"Oh, not at all, he only asks three roubles, and he makes such an
examination, and gives you a prescription ... and I was very anxious to see
him, for I have been told.... Well, gentlemen, had I better go to Ecke or
to Botkin?"

"What? To whom?" The general's corpse shook with agreeable laughter. The
government clerk echoed it in falsetto.

"Dear boy, dear, delightful boy, how I love you!" Avdotya Ignatyevna
squealed ecstatically. "I wish they had put some one like you next to me."

No, that was too much! And these were the dead of our times! Still, I ought
to listen to more and not be in too great a hurry to draw conclusions. That
snivelling new arrival--I remember him just now in his coffin--had the
expression of a frightened chicken, the most revolting expression in the
world! However, let us wait and see.

       *       *       *       *       *

But what happened next was such a Bedlam that I could not keep it all in my
memory. For a great many woke up at once; an official--a civil
councillor--woke up, and began discussing at once the project of a new
sub-committee in a government department and of the probable transfer of
various functionaries in connection with the sub-committee--which very
greatly interested the general. I must confess I learnt a great deal that
was new myself, so much so that I marvelled at the channels by which one
may sometimes in the metropolis learn government news. Then an engineer
half woke up, but for a long time muttered absolute nonsense, so that our
friends left off worrying him and let him lie till he was ready. At last
the distinguished lady who had been buried in the morning under the
catafalque showed symptoms of the reanimation of the tomb. Lebeziatnikov
(for the obsequious lower court councillor whom I detested and who lay
beside General Pervoyedov was called, it appears, Lebeziatnikov) became
much excited, and surprised that they were all waking up so soon this time.
I must own I was surprised too; though some of those who woke had been
buried for three days, as, for instance, a very young girl of sixteen who
kept giggling ... giggling in a horrible and predatory way.

"Your Excellency, privy councillor Tarasevitch is waking!" Lebeziatnikov
announced with extreme fussiness.

"Eh? What?" the privy councillor, waking up suddenly, mumbled, with a lisp
of disgust. There was a note of ill-humoured peremptoriness in the sound of
his voice.

I listened with curiosity--for during the last few days I had heard
something about Tarasevitch--shocking and upsetting in the extreme.

"It's I, your Excellency, so far only I."

"What is your petition? What do you want?"

"Merely to inquire after your Excellency's health; in these unaccustomed
surroundings every one feels at first, as it were, oppressed.... General
Pervoyedov wishes to have the honour of making your Excellency's
acquaintance, and hopes...."

"I've never heard of him."

"Surely, your Excellency! General Pervoyedov, Vassili Vassilitch...."

"Are you General Pervoyedov?"

"No, your Excellency, I am only the lower court councillor Lebeziatnikov,
at your service, but General Pervoyedov...."

"Nonsense! And I beg you to leave me alone."

"Let him be." General Pervoyedov at last himself checked with dignity the
disgusting officiousness of his sycophant in the grave.

"He is not fully awake, your Excellency, you must consider that; it's the
novelty of it all. When he is fully awake he will take it differently."

"Let him be," repeated the general.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Vassili Vassilitch! Hey, your Excellency!" a perfectly new voice shouted
loudly and aggressively from close beside Avdotya Ignatyevna. It was a
voice of gentlemanly insolence, with the languid pronunciation now
fashionable and an arrogant drawl. "I've been watching you all for the last
two hours. Do you remember me, Vassili Vassilitch? My name is Klinevitch,
we met at the Volokonskys' where you, too, were received as a guest, I am
sure I don't know why."

"What, Count Pyotr Petrovitch?... Can it be really you ... and at such an
early age? How sorry I am to hear it."

"Oh, I am sorry myself, though I really don't mind, and I want to amuse
myself as far as I can everywhere. And I am not a count but a baron, only a
baron. We are only a set of scurvy barons, risen from being flunkeys, but
why I don't know and I don't care. I am only a scoundrel of the
pseudo-aristocratic society, and I am regarded as 'a charming _polis-son_.'
My father is a wretched little general, and my mother was at one time
received _en haut lieu_. With the help of the Jew Zifel I forged fifty
thousand rouble notes last year and then I informed against him, while
Julie Charpentier de Lusignan carried off the money to Bordeaux. And only
fancy, I was engaged to be married--to a girl still at school, three months
under sixteen, with a dowry of ninety thousand. Avdotya Ignatyevna, do you
remember how you seduced me fifteen years ago when I was a boy of fourteen
in the Corps des Pages?"

"Ah, that's you, you rascal! Well, you are a godsend, anyway, for here...."

"You were mistaken in suspecting your neighbour, the business gentleman,
of unpleasant fragrance.... I said nothing, but I laughed. The stench came
from me: they had to bury me in a nailed-up coffin."

"Ugh, you horrid creature! Still, I am glad you are here; you can't imagine
the lack of life and wit here."

"Quite so, quite so, and I intend to start here something original. Your
Excellency--I don't mean you, Pervoyedov--your Excellency the other one,
Tarasevitch, the privy councillor! Answer! I am Klinevitch, who took you to
Mlle. Furie in Lent, do you hear?"

"I do, Klinevitch, and I am delighted, and trust me...."

"I wouldn't trust you with a halfpenny, and I don't care. I simply want to
kiss you, dear old man, but luckily I can't. Do you know, gentlemen, what
this _grand-père's_ little game was? He died three or four days ago, and
would you believe it, he left a deficit of four hundred thousand government
money from the fund for widows and orphans. He was the sole person in
control of it for some reason, so that his accounts were not audited for
the last eight years. I can fancy what long faces they all have now, and
what they call him. It's a delectable thought, isn't it? I have been
wondering for the last year how a wretched old man of seventy, gouty and
rheumatic, succeeded in preserving the physical energy for his
debaucheries--and now the riddle is solved! Those widows and orphans--the
very thought of them must have egged him on! I knew about it long ago, I
was the only one who did know; it was Julie told me, and as soon as I
discovered it, I attacked him in a friendly way at once in Easter week:
'Give me twenty-five thousand, if you don't they'll look into your accounts
to-morrow.' And just fancy, he had only thirteen thousand left then, so it
seems it was very apropos his dying now. _Grand-père, grand-père_, do you

"_Cher_ Klinevitch, I quite agree with you, and there was no need for
you ... to go into such details. Life is so full of suffering and
torment and so little to make up for it ... that I wanted at last to be
at rest, and so far as I can see I hope to get all I can from here too."

"I bet that he has already sniffed Katiche Berestov!"

"Who? What Katiche?" There was a rapacious quiver in the old man's voice.

"A-ah, what Katiche? Why, here on the left, five paces from me and ten from
you. She has been here for five days, and if only you knew, _grand-père_,
what a little wretch she is! Of good family and breeding and a monster, a
regular monster! I did not introduce her to any one there, I was the only
one who knew her.... Katiche, answer!"

"He-he-he!" the girl responded with a jangling laugh, in which there was a
note of something as sharp as the prick of a needle. "He-he-he!"

"And a little blonde?" the _grand-père_ faltered, drawling out the


"I ... have long ... I have long," the old man faltered breathlessly,
"cherished the dream of a little fair thing of fifteen and just in such

"Ach, the monster!" cried Avdotya Ignatyevna.

"Enough!" Klinevitch decided. "I see there is excellent material. We shall
soon arrange things better. The great thing is to spend the rest of our
time cheerfully; but what time? Hey, you, government clerk, Lebeziatnikov
or whatever it is, I hear that's your name!"

"Semyon Yevseitch Lebeziatnikov, lower court councillor, at your service,
very, very, very much delighted to meet you."

"I don't care whether you are delighted or not, but you seem to know
everything here. Tell me first of all how it is we can talk? I've been
wondering ever since yesterday. We are dead and yet we are talking and seem
to be moving--and yet we are not talking and not moving. What jugglery is

"If you want an explanation, baron, Platon Nikolaevitch could give you one
better than I."

"What Platon Nikolaevitch is that? To the point. Don't beat about the

"Platon Nikolaevitch is our home-grown philosopher, scientist and Master of
Arts. He has brought out several philosophical works, but for the last
three months he has been getting quite drowsy, and there is no stirring him
up now. Once a week he mutters something utterly irrelevant."

"To the point, to the point!"

"He explains all this by the simplest fact, namely, that when we were
living on the surface we mistakenly thought that death there was death. The
body revives, as it were, here, the remains of life are concentrated, but
only in consciousness. I don't know how to express it, but life goes on, as
it were, by inertia. In his opinion everything is concentrated somewhere in
consciousness and goes on for two or three months ... sometimes even for
half a year.... There is one here, for instance, who is almost completely
decomposed, but once every six weeks he suddenly utters one word, quite
senseless of course, about some _bobok_,[1] 'Bobok, bobok,' but you see
that an imperceptible speck of life is still warm within him."

[Footnote 1: _i. e._ small bean.]

"It's rather stupid. Well, and how is it I have no sense of smell and yet I
feel there's a stench?"

"That ... he-he.... Well, on that point our philosopher is a bit foggy.
It's apropos of smell, he said, that the stench one perceives here is, so
to speak, moral--he-he! It's the stench of the soul, he says, that in these
two or three months it may have time to recover itself ... and this is, so
to speak, the last mercy.... Only, I think, baron, that these are mystic
ravings very excusable in his position...."

"Enough; all the rest of it, I am sure, is nonsense. The great thing is
that we have two or three months more of life and then--bobok! I propose
to spend these two months as agreeably as possible, and so to arrange
everything on a new basis. Gentlemen! I propose to cast aside all shame."

"Ah, let us cast aside all shame, let us!" many voices could be heard
saying; and strange to say, several new voices were audible, which must
have belonged to others newly awakened. The engineer, now fully awake,
boomed out his agreement with peculiar delight. The girl Katiche giggled

"Oh, how I long to cast off all shame!" Avdotya Ignatyevna exclaimed

"I say, if Avdotya Ignatyevna wants to cast off all shame...."

"No, no, no, Klinevitch, I was ashamed up there all the same, but here I
should like to cast off shame, I should like it awfully."

"I understand, Klinevitch," boomed the engineer, "that you want to
rearrange life here on new and rational principles."

"Oh, I don't care a hang about that! For that we'll wait for Kudeyarov who
was brought here yesterday. When he wakes he'll tell you all about it. He
is such a personality, such a titanic personality! To-morrow they'll bring
along another natural scientist, I believe, an officer for certain, and
three or four days later a journalist, and, I believe, his editor with him.
But deuce take them all, there will be a little group of us anyway, and
things will arrange themselves. Though meanwhile I don't want us to be
telling lies. That's all I care about, for that is one thing that matters.
One cannot exist on the surface without lying, for life and lying are
synonymous, but here we will amuse ourselves by not lying. Hang it all, the
grave has some value after all! We'll all tell our stories aloud, and we
won't be ashamed of anything. First of all I'll tell you about myself. I am
one of the predatory kind, you know. All that was bound and held in check
by rotten cords up there on the surface. Away with cords and let us spend
these two months in shameless truthfulness! Let us strip and be naked!"

"Let us be naked, let us be naked!" cried all the voices.

"I long to be naked, I long to be," Avdotya Ignatyevna shrilled.

"Ah ... ah, I see we shall have fun here; I don't want Ecke after all."

"No, I tell you. Give me a taste of life!"

"He-he-he!" giggled Katiche.

"The great thing is that no one can interfere with us, and though I see
Pervoyedov is in a temper, he can't reach me with his hand. _Grand-père_,
do you agree?"

"I fully agree, fully, and with the utmost satisfaction, but on condition
that Katiche is the first to give us her biography."

"I protest! I protest with all my heart!" General Pervoyedov brought out

"Your Excellency!" the scoundrel Lebeziatnikov persuaded him in a murmur of
fussy excitement, "your Excellency, it will be to our advantage to agree.
Here, you see, there's this girl's ... and all their little affairs."

"There's the girl, it's true, but...."

"It's to our advantage, your Excellency, upon my word it is! If only as an
experiment, let us try it...."

"Even in the grave they won't let us rest in peace."

"In the first place, General, you were playing preference in the grave, and
in the second we don't care a hang about you," drawled Klinevitch.

"Sir, I beg you not to forget yourself."

"What? Why, you can't get at me, and I can tease you from here as though
you were Julie's lapdog. And another thing, gentlemen, how is he a general
here? He was a general there, but here is mere refuse."

"No, not mere refuse.... Even here...."

"Here you will rot in the grave and six brass buttons will be all that will
be left of you."

"Bravo, Klinevitch, ha-ha-ha!" roared voices.

"I have served my sovereign.... I have the sword...."

"Your sword is only fit to prick mice, and you never drew it even for

"That makes no difference; I formed a part of the whole."

"There are all sorts of parts in a whole."

"Bravo, Klinevitch, bravo! Ha-ha-ha!"

"I don't understand what the sword stands for," boomed the engineer.

"We shall run away from the Prussians like mice, they'll crush us to
powder!" cried a voice in the distance that was unfamiliar to me, that was
positively spluttering with glee.

"The sword, sir, is an honour," the general cried, but only I heard him.
There arose a prolonged and furious roar, clamour, and hubbub, and only the
hysterically impatient squeals of Avdotya Ignatyevna were audible.

"But do let us make haste! Ah, when are we going to begin to cast off all

"Oh-ho-ho!... The soul does in truth pass through torments!" exclaimed the
voice of the plebeian, "and ..."

And here I suddenly sneezed. It happened suddenly and unintentionally, but
the effect was striking: all became as silent as one expects it to be in a
churchyard, it all vanished like a dream. A real silence of the tomb set
in. I don't believe they were ashamed on account of my presence: they had
made up their minds to cast off all shame! I waited five minutes--not a
word, not a sound. It cannot be supposed that they were afraid of my
informing the police; for what could the police do to them? I must conclude
that they had some secret unknown to the living, which they carefully
concealed from every mortal.

"Well, my dears," I thought, "I shall visit you again." And with those
words, I left the cemetery.

No, that I cannot admit; no, I really cannot! The _bobok_ case does not
trouble me (so that is what that bobok signified!)

Depravity in such a place, depravity of the last aspirations, depravity of
sodden and rotten corpses--and not even sparing the last moments of
consciousness! Those moments have been granted, vouchsafed to them, and ...
and, worst of all, in such a place! No, that I cannot admit.

I shall go to other tombs, I shall listen everywhere. Certainly one ought
to listen everywhere and not merely at one spot in order to form an idea.
Perhaps one may come across something reassuring.

But I shall certainly go back to those. They promised their biographies and
anecdotes of all sorts. Tfoo! But I shall go, I shall certainly go; it is a
question of conscience!

I shall take it to the _Citizen_; the editor there has had his portrait
exhibited too. Maybe he will print it.

Friday, December 16, 2016

A short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "The Peasant Marey," 1876. Full Text in English

The New Testament that Dostoyevsky took with him to prison in Siberia


It was the second day in Easter week. The air was warm, the sky was blue,
the sun was high, warm, bright, but my soul was very gloomy. I sauntered
behind the prison barracks. I stared at the palings of the stout prison
fence, counting the movers; but I had no inclination to count them, though
it was my habit to do so. This was the second day of the "holidays" in the
prison; the convicts were not taken out to work, there were numbers of men
drunk, loud abuse and quarrelling was springing up continually in every
corner. There were hideous, disgusting songs and card-parties installed
beside the platform-beds. Several of the convicts who had been sentenced by
their comrades, for special violence, to be beaten till they were half
dead, were lying on the platform-bed, covered with sheepskins till they
should recover and come to themselves again; knives had already been drawn
several times. For these two days of holiday all this had been torturing me
till it made me ill. And indeed I could never endure without repulsion the
noise and disorder of drunken people, and especially in this place. On
these days even the prison officials did not look into the prison, made no
searches, did not look for vodka, understanding that they must allow even
these outcasts to enjoy themselves once a year, and that things would be
even worse if they did not. At last a sudden fury flamed up in my heart. A
political prisoner called M. met me; he looked at me gloomily, his eyes
flashed and his lips quivered. "_Je haïs ces brigands!_" he hissed to me
through his teeth, and walked on. I returned to the prison ward, though
only a quarter of an hour before I had rushed out of it, as though I were
crazy, when six stalwart fellows had all together flung themselves upon
the drunken Tatar Gazin to suppress him and had begun beating him; they
beat him stupidly, a camel might have been killed by such blows, but they
knew that this Hercules was not easy to kill, and so they beat him without
uneasiness. Now on returning I noticed on the bed in the furthest corner of
the room Gazin lying unconscious, almost without sign of life. He lay
covered with a sheepskin, and every one walked round him, without speaking;
though they confidently hoped that he would come to himself next morning,
yet if luck was against him, maybe from a beating like that, the man would
die. I made my way to my own place opposite the window with the iron
grating, and lay on my back with my hands behind my head and my eyes shut.
I liked to lie like that; a sleeping man is not molested, and meanwhile one
can dream and think. But I could not dream, my heart was beating uneasily,
and M.'s words, "_Je haïs ces brigands!_" were echoing in my ears. But why
describe my impressions; I sometimes dream even now of those times at
night, and I have no dreams more agonising. Perhaps it will be noticed that
even to this day I have scarcely once spoken in print of my life in prison.
_The House of the Dead_ I wrote fifteen years ago in the character of an
imaginary person, a criminal who had killed his wife. I may add by the way
that since then, very many persons have supposed, and even now maintain,
that I was sent to penal servitude for the murder of my wife.

Gradually I sank into forgetfulness and by degrees was lost in memories.
During the whole course of my four years in prison I was continually
recalling all my past, and seemed to live over again the whole of my life
in recollection. These memories rose up of themselves, it was not often
that of my own will I summoned them. It would begin from some point, some
little thing, at times unnoticed, and then by degrees there would rise up a
complete picture, some vivid and complete impression. I used to analyse
these impressions, give new features to what had happened long ago, and
best of all, I used to correct it, correct it continually, that was my
great amusement. On this occasion, I suddenly for some reason remembered an
unnoticed moment in my early childhood when I was only nine years old--a
moment which I should have thought I had utterly forgotten; but at that
time I was particularly fond of memories of my early childhood. I
remembered the month of August in our country house: a dry bright day but
rather cold and windy; summer was waning and soon we should have to go to
Moscow to be bored all the winter over French lessons, and I was so sorry
to leave the country. I walked past the threshing-floor and, going down the
ravine, I went up to the dense thicket of bushes that covered the further
side of the ravine as far as the copse. And I plunged right into the midst
of the bushes, and heard a peasant ploughing alone on the clearing about
thirty paces away. I knew that he was ploughing up the steep hill and the
horse was moving with effort, and from time to time the peasant's call
"come up!" floated upwards to me. I knew almost all our peasants, but I did
not know which it was ploughing now, and I did not care who it was, I was
absorbed in my own affairs. I was busy, too; I was breaking off switches
from the nut trees to whip the frogs with. Nut sticks make such fine whips,
but they do not last; while birch twigs are just the opposite. I was
interested, too, in beetles and other insects; I used to collect them, some
were very ornamental. I was very fond, too, of the little nimble red and
yellow lizards with black spots on them, but I was afraid of snakes.
Snakes, however, were much more rare than lizards. There were not many
mushrooms there. To get mushrooms one had to go to the birch wood, and I
was about to set off there. And there was nothing in the world that I loved
so much as the wood with its mushrooms and wild berries, with its beetles
and its birds, its hedgehogs and squirrels, with its damp smell of dead
leaves which I loved so much, and even as I write I smell the fragrance of
our birch wood: these impressions will remain for my whole life. Suddenly
in the midst of the profound stillness I heard a clear and distinct shout,
"Wolf!" I shrieked and, beside myself with terror, calling out at the top
of my voice, ran out into the clearing and straight to the peasant who was

It was our peasant Marey. I don't know if there is such a name, but every
one called him Marey--a thick-set, rather well-grown peasant of fifty, with
a good many grey hairs in his dark brown, spreading beard. I knew him, but
had scarcely ever happened to speak to him till then. He stopped his horse
on hearing my cry, and when, breathless, I caught with one hand at his
plough and with the other at his sleeve, he saw how frightened I was.

"There is a wolf!" I cried, panting.

He flung up his head, and could not help looking round for an instant,
almost believing me.

"Where is the wolf?"

"A shout ... some one shouted: 'wolf' ..." I faltered out.

"Nonsense, nonsense! A wolf? Why, it was your fancy! How could there be a
wolf?" he muttered, reassuring me. But I was trembling all over, and still
kept tight hold of his smock frock, and I must have been quite pale. He
looked at me with an uneasy smile, evidently anxious and troubled over me.

"Why, you have had a fright, _aïe, aïe_!" He shook his head. "There,
dear.... Come, little one, _aïe_!"

He stretched out his hand, and all at once stroked my cheek.

"Come, come, there; Christ be with you! Cross yourself!"

But I did not cross myself. The corners of my mouth were twitching, and I
think that struck him particularly. He put out his thick, black-nailed,
earth-stained finger and softly touched my twitching lips.

"_Aïe_, there, there," he said to me with a slow, almost motherly smile.
"Dear, dear, what is the matter? There; come, come!"

I grasped at last that there was no wolf, and that the shout that I had
heard was my fancy. Yet that shout had been so clear and distinct, but such
shouts (not only about wolves) I had imagined once or twice before, and I
was aware of that. (These hallucinations passed away later as I grew

"Well, I will go then," I said, looking at him timidly and inquiringly.

"Well, do, and I'll keep watch on you as you go. I won't let the wolf get
at you," he added, still smiling at me with the same motherly expression.
"Well, Christ be with you! Come, run along then," and he made the sign of
the cross over me and then over himself. I walked away, looking back almost
at every tenth step. Marey stood still with his mare as I walked away, and
looked after me and nodded to me every time I looked round. I must own I
felt a little ashamed at having let him see me so frightened, but I was
still very much afraid of the wolf as I walked away, until I reached the
first barn half-way up the slope of the ravine; there my fright vanished
completely, and all at once our yard-dog Voltchok flew to meet me. With
Voltchok I felt quite safe, and I turned round to Marey for the last time;
I could not see his face distinctly, but I felt that he was still nodding
and smiling affectionately to me. I waved to him; he waved back to me and
started his little mare. "Come up!" I heard his call in the distance again,
and the little mare pulled at the plough again.

All this I recalled all at once, I don't know why, but with extraordinary
minuteness of detail. I suddenly roused myself and sat up on the
platform-bed, and, I remember, found myself still smiling quietly at my
memories. I brooded over them for another minute.

When I got home that day I told no one of my "adventure" with Marey. And
indeed it was hardly an adventure. And in fact I soon forgot Marey. When I
met him now and then afterwards, I never even spoke to him about the wolf
or anything else; and all at once now, twenty years afterwards in Siberia,
I remembered this meeting with such distinctness to the smallest detail. So
it must have lain hidden in my soul, though I knew nothing of it, and rose
suddenly to my memory when it was wanted; I remembered the soft motherly
smile of the poor serf, the way he signed me with the cross and shook his
head. "There, there, you have had a fright, little one!" And I remembered
particularly the thick earth-stained finger with which he softly and with
timid tenderness touched my quivering lips. Of course any one would have
reassured a child, but something quite different seemed to have happened in
that solitary meeting; and if I had been his own son, he could not have
looked at me with eyes shining with greater love. And what made him like
that? He was our serf and I was his little master, after all. No one would
know that he had been kind to me and reward him for it. Was he, perhaps,
very fond of little children? Some people are. It was a solitary meeting in
the deserted fields, and only God, perhaps, may have seen from above with
what deep and humane civilised feeling, and with what delicate, almost
feminine tenderness, the heart of a coarse, brutally ignorant Russian serf,
who had as yet no expectation, no idea even of his freedom, may be filled.
Was not this, perhaps, what Konstantin Aksakov meant when he spoke of the
high degree of culture of our peasantry?

And when I got down off the bed and looked around me, I remember I suddenly
felt that I could look at these unhappy creatures with quite different
eyes, and that suddenly by some miracle all hatred and anger had vanished
utterly from my heart. I walked about, looking into the faces that I met.
That shaven peasant, branded on his face as a criminal, bawling his
hoarse, drunken song, may be that very Marey; I cannot look into his heart.

I met M. again that evening. Poor fellow! he could have no memories of
Russian peasants, and no other view of these people but: "_Je haïs ces
brigands!_" Yes, the Polish prisoners had more to bear than I.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Christmas Tale: Free ebook on Amazon Prime -- L'Inverno e il Re Triste, una Favola (Italian Edition)

L'Inverno e il Re Triste, una Favola (Italian Edition), published by LiteraryJoint Press

Download as free ebook on Amazon Prime;  Borrow for free from your Kindle device.
"Alle soglie dell'inverno, al limitare dei suoi giorni, un Re si spinge fin nei meandri del bosco, ove una creatura delle foreste gli confiderà un segreto fuggevole e misterioso..."

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: "The Heavenly Christmas Tree," 1876. Full Text in English

Picture of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, in 1876

The Heavenly Christmas Tree

I am a novelist, and I suppose I have made up this story. I write "I
suppose," though I know for a fact that I have made it up, but yet I keep
fancying that it must have happened somewhere at some time, that it must
have happened on Christmas Eve in some great town in a time of terrible

I have a vision of a boy, a little boy, six years old or even younger. This
boy woke up that morning in a cold damp cellar. He was dressed in a sort of
little dressing-gown and was shivering with cold. There was a cloud of
white steam from his breath, and sitting on a box in the corner, he blew
the steam out of his mouth and amused himself in his dullness watching it
float away. But he was terribly hungry. Several times that morning he went
up to the plank bed where his sick mother was lying on a mattress as thin
as a pancake, with some sort of bundle under her head for a pillow. How had
she come here? She must have come with her boy from some other town and
suddenly fallen ill. The landlady who let the "corners" had been taken two
days before to the police station, the lodgers were out and about as the
holiday was so near, and the only one left had been lying for the last
twenty-four hours dead drunk, not having waited for Christmas. In another
corner of the room a wretched old woman of eighty, who had once been a
children's nurse but was now left to die friendless, was moaning and
groaning with rheumatism, scolding and grumbling at the boy so that he was
afraid to go near her corner. He had got a drink of water in the outer
room, but could not find a crust anywhere, and had been on the point of
waking his mother a dozen times. He felt frightened at last in the
darkness: it had long been dusk, but no light was kindled. Touching his
mother's face, he was surprised that she did not move at all, and that she
was as cold as the wall. "It is very cold here," he thought. He stood a
little, unconsciously letting his hands rest on the dead woman's shoulders,
then he breathed on his fingers to warm them, and then quietly fumbling for
his cap on the bed, he went out of the cellar. He would have gone earlier,
but was afraid of the big dog which had been howling all day at the
neighbour's door at the top of the stairs. But the dog was not there now,
and he went out into the street.

Mercy on us, what a town! He had never seen anything like it before. In the
town from which he had come, it was always such black darkness at night.
There was one lamp for the whole street, the little, low-pitched, wooden
houses were closed up with shutters, there was no one to be seen in the
street after dusk, all the people shut themselves up in their houses, and
there was nothing but the howling of packs of dogs, hundreds and thousands
of them barking and howling all night. But there it was so warm and he was
given food, while here--oh, dear, if he only had something to eat! And what
a noise and rattle here, what light and what people, horses and carriages,
and what a frost! The frozen steam hung in clouds over the horses, over
their warmly breathing mouths; their hoofs clanged against the stones
through the powdery snow, and every one pushed so, and--oh, dear, how he
longed for some morsel to eat, and how wretched he suddenly felt. A
policeman walked by and turned away to avoid seeing the boy.

Here was another street--oh, what a wide one, here he would be run over for
certain; how everyone was shouting, racing and driving along, and the
light, the light! And what was this? A huge glass window, and through the
window a tree reaching up to the ceiling; it was a fir tree, and on it were
ever so many lights, gold papers and apples and little dolls and horses;
and there were children clean and dressed in their best running about the
room, laughing and playing and eating and drinking something. And then a
little girl began dancing with one of the boys, what a pretty little girl!
And he could hear the music through the window. The boy looked and wondered
and laughed, though his toes were aching with the cold and his fingers were
red and stiff so that it hurt him to move them. And all at once the boy
remembered how his toes and fingers hurt him, and began crying, and ran on;
and again through another window-pane he saw another Christmas tree, and on
a table cakes of all sorts--almond cakes, red cakes and yellow cakes, and
three grand young ladies were sitting there, and they gave the cakes to any
one who went up to them, and the door kept opening, lots of gentlemen and
ladies went in from the street. The boy crept up, suddenly opened the door
and went in. Oh, how they shouted at him and waved him back! One lady went
up to him hurriedly and slipped a kopeck into his hand, and with her own
hands opened the door into the street for him! How frightened he was. And
the kopeck rolled away and clinked upon the steps; he could not bend his
red fingers to hold it tight. The boy ran away and went on, where he did
not know. He was ready to cry again but he was afraid, and ran on and on
and blew his fingers. And he was miserable because he felt suddenly so
lonely and terrified, and all at once, mercy on us! What was this again?
People were standing in a crowd admiring. Behind a glass window there were
three little dolls, dressed in red and green dresses, and exactly, exactly
as though they were alive. One was a little old man sitting and playing a
big violin, the two others were standing close by and playing little
violins and nodding in time, and looking at one another, and their lips
moved, they were speaking, actually speaking, only one couldn't hear
through the glass. And at first the boy thought they were alive, and when
he grasped that they were dolls he laughed. He had never seen such dolls
before, and had no idea there were such dolls! And he wanted to cry, but
he felt amused, amused by the dolls. All at once he fancied that some one
caught at his smock behind: a wicked big boy was standing beside him and
suddenly hit him on the head, snatched off his cap and tripped him up. The
boy fell down on the ground, at once there was a shout, he was numb with
fright, he jumped up and ran away. He ran, and not knowing where he was
going, ran in at the gate of some one's courtyard, and sat down behind a
stack of wood: "They won't find me here, besides it's dark!"

He sat huddled up and was breathless from fright, and all at once, quite
suddenly, he felt so happy: his hands and feet suddenly left off aching and
grew so warm, as warm as though he were on a stove; then he shivered all
over, then he gave a start, why, he must have been asleep. How nice to have
a sleep here! "I'll sit here a little and go and look at the dolls again,"
said the boy, and smiled thinking of them. "Just as though they were
alive!..." And suddenly he heard his mother singing over him. "Mammy, I am
asleep; how nice it is to sleep here!"

"Come to my Christmas tree, little one," a soft voice suddenly whispered
over his head.

He thought that this was still his mother, but no, it was not she. Who it
was calling him, he could not see, but some one bent over and embraced him
in the darkness; and he stretched out his hands to him, and ... and all at
once--oh, what a bright light! Oh, what a Christmas tree! And yet it was
not a fir tree, he had never seen a tree like that! Where was he now?
Everything was bright and shining, and all round him were dolls; but no,
they were not dolls, they were little boys and girls, only so bright and
shining. They all came flying round him, they all kissed him, took him and
carried him along with them, and he was flying himself, and he saw that his
mother was looking at him and laughing joyfully. "Mammy, Mammy; oh, how
nice it is here, Mammy!" And again he kissed the children and wanted to
tell them at once of those dolls in the shop window. "Who are you, boys?
Who are you, girls?" he asked, laughing and admiring them.

"This is Christ's Christmas tree," they answered. "Christ always has a
Christmas tree on this day, for the little children who have no tree of
their own...." And he found out that all these little boys and girls were
children just like himself; that some had been frozen in the baskets in
which they had as babies been laid on the doorsteps of well-to-do
Petersburg people, others had been boarded out with Finnish women by the
Foundling and had been suffocated, others had died at their starved
mother's breasts (in the Samara famine), others had died in the third-class
railway carriages from the foul air; and yet they were all here, they were
all like angels about Christ, and He was in the midst of them and held out
His hands to them and blessed them and their sinful mothers.... And the
mothers of these children stood on one side weeping; each one knew her boy
or girl, and the children flew up to them and kissed them and wiped away
their tears with their little hands, and begged them not to weep because
they were so happy.

And down below in the morning the porter found the little dead body of the
frozen child on the woodstack; they sought out his mother too.... She had
died before him. They met before the Lord God in heaven.

Why have I made up such a story, so out of keeping with an ordinary diary,
and a writer's above all? And I promised two stories dealing with real
events! But that is just it, I keep fancying that all this may have
happened really--that is, what took place in the cellar and on the
woodstack; but as for Christ's Christmas tree, I cannot tell you whether
that could have happened or not.