Franz Kafka

Monday, July 31, 2017

"Il Passato" (The Past) by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. "Il Passato" (The Past) from the collection "Myricae" (1891-1900)

Giovanni Pascoli in 1882

The following translation of "Il Passato" (The Past) by Giovanni Pascoli is from the book "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!) 

The Past

I see again the places where once I wept:
now, a smile seems to me that weeping.
I see again the places where once I smiled...
Oh! how teary is that smile!

Il Passato

Rivedo i luoghi dove un giorno ho pianto:
un sorriso mi sembra ora quel pianto.
Rivedo i luoghi, dove ho già sorriso...
Oh! come lacrimoso quel sorriso!

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)

Monday, July 24, 2017

"24 Racconti," Short Stories (Italian Edition)

Cover of "24 Racconti," published by LiteraryJoint Press, 2017

Now available on both Printed and ebook edition on Amazon.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Gogol: "The Mysterious Portrait" from "Taras Bulba and Other Tales" (1835/1842) by Nikolai Gogol, English Translation, Full Text. (Russian: Тара́с Бу́льба; Ukrainian: Тара́с Бу́льба, Tarás Búl'ba)

"Zaporozhian Cossacks write to the Sultan of Turkey" by Ilya Repin (1844–1930)

The Mysterious Portrait


Nowhere did so many people pause as before the little picture-shop
in the Shtchukinui Dvor. This little shop contained, indeed, the
most varied collection of curiosities. The pictures were chiefly
oil-paintings covered with dark varnish, in frames of dingy yellow.
Winter scenes with white trees; very red sunsets, like raging
conflagrations, a Flemish boor, more like a turkey-cock in cuffs than a
human being, were the prevailing subjects. To these must be added a few
engravings, such as a portrait of Khozreff-Mirza in a sheepskin cap, and
some generals with three-cornered hats and hooked noses. Moreover,
the doors of such shops are usually festooned with bundles of those
publications, printed on large sheets of bark, and then coloured by
hand, which bear witness to the native talent of the Russian.

On one was the Tzarevna Miliktrisa Kirbitievna; on another the city of
Jerusalem. There are usually but few purchasers of these productions,
but gazers are many. Some truant lackey probably yawns in front of them,
holding in his hand the dishes containing dinner from the cook-shop for
his master, who will not get his soup very hot. Before them, too, will
most likely be standing a soldier wrapped in his cloak, a dealer
from the old-clothes mart, with a couple of penknives for sale, and a
huckstress, with a basketful of shoes. Each expresses admiration in
his own way. The muzhiks generally touch them with their fingers; the
dealers gaze seriously at them; serving boys and apprentices laugh, and
tease each other with the coloured caricatures; old lackeys in frieze
cloaks look at them merely for the sake of yawning away their time
somewhere; and the hucksters, young Russian women, halt by instinct to
hear what people are gossiping about, and to see what they are looking

At the time our story opens, the young painter, Tchartkoff, paused
involuntarily as he passed the shop. His old cloak and plain attire
showed him to be a man who was devoted to his art with self-denying
zeal, and who had no time to trouble himself about his clothes. He
halted in front of the little shop, and at first enjoyed an inward laugh
over the monstrosities in the shape of pictures.

At length he sank unconsciously into a reverie, and began to ponder
as to what sort of people wanted these productions? It did not seem
remarkable to him that the Russian populace should gaze with rapture
upon “Eruslanoff Lazarevitch,” on “The Glutton” and “The Carouser,”
 on “Thoma and Erema.” The delineations of these subjects were easily
intelligible to the masses. But where were there purchases for those
streaky, dirty oil-paintings? Who needed those Flemish boors, those red
and blue landscapes, which put forth some claims to a higher stage of
art, but which really expressed the depths of its degradation? They did
not appear the works of a self-taught child. In that case, in spite of
the caricature of drawing, a sharp distinction would have manifested
itself. But here were visible only simple dullness, steady-going
incapacity, which stood, through self-will, in the ranks of art, while
its true place was among the lowest trades. The same colours, the same
manner, the same practised hand, belonging rather to a manufacturing
automaton than to a man!

He stood before the dirty pictures for some time, his thoughts at length
wandering to other matters. Meanwhile the proprietor of the shop, a
little grey man, in a frieze cloak, with a beard which had not been
shaved since Sunday, had been urging him to buy for some time, naming
prices, without even knowing what pleased him or what he wanted. “Here,
I’ll take a silver piece for these peasants and this little landscape.
What painting! it fairly dazzles one; only just received from the
factory; the varnish isn’t dry yet. Or here is a winter scene--take the
winter scene; fifteen rubles; the frame alone is worth it. What a winter
scene!” Here the merchant gave a slight fillip to the canvas, as if to
demonstrate all the merits of the winter scene. “Pray have them put
up and sent to your house. Where do you live? Here, boy, give me some

“Hold, not so fast!” said the painter, coming to himself, and perceiving
that the brisk dealer was beginning in earnest to pack some pictures
up. He was rather ashamed not to take anything after standing so long
in front of the shop; so saying, “Here, stop! I will see if there is
anything I want here!” he stooped and began to pick up from the floor,
where they were thrown in a heap, some worn, dusty old paintings. There
were old family portraits, whose descendants, probably could not be
found on earth; with torn canvas and frames minus their gilding; in
short, trash. But the painter began his search, thinking to himself,
“Perhaps I may come across something.” He had heard stories about
pictures of the great masters having been found among the rubbish in
cheap print-sellers’ shops.

The dealer, perceiving what he was about, ceased his importunities,
and took up his post again at the door, hailing the passers-by with,
“Hither, friends, here are pictures; step in, step in; just received
from the makers!” He shouted his fill, and generally in vain, had a long
talk with a rag-merchant, standing opposite, at the door of his shop;
and finally, recollecting that he had a customer in his shop, turned
his back on the public and went inside. “Well, friend, have you chosen
anything?” said he. But the painter had already been standing motionless
for some time before a portrait in a large and originally magnificent
frame, upon which, however, hardly a trace of gilding now remained.

It represented an old man, with a thin, bronzed face and high
cheek-bones; the features seemingly depicted in a moment of convulsive
agitation. He wore a flowing Asiatic costume. Dusty and defaced as the
portrait was, Tchartkoff saw, when he had succeeded in removing the
dirt from the face, traces of the work of a great artist. The portrait
appeared to be unfinished, but the power of the handling was striking.
The eyes were the most remarkable picture of all: it seemed as though
the full power of the artist’s brush had been lavished upon them. They
fairly gazed out of the portrait, destroying its harmony with their
strange liveliness. When he carried the portrait to the door, the
eyes gleamed even more penetratingly. They produced nearly the same
impression on the public. A woman standing behind him exclaimed, “He
is looking, he is looking!” and jumped back. Tchartkoff experienced
an unpleasant feeling, inexplicable even to himself, and placed the
portrait on the floor.

“Well, will you take the portrait?” said the dealer.

“How much is it?” said the painter.

“Why chaffer over it? give me seventy-five kopeks.”


“Well, how much will you give?”

“Twenty kopeks,” said the painter, preparing to go.

“What a price! Why, you couldn’t buy the frame for that! Perhaps you
will decide to purchase to-morrow. Sir, sir, turn back! Add ten kopeks.
Take it, take it! give me twenty kopeks. To tell the truth, you are my
only customer to-day, and that’s the only reason.”

Thus Tchartkoff quite unexpectedly became the purchaser of the old
portrait, and at the same time reflected, “Why have I bought it? What
is it to me?” But there was nothing to be done. He pulled a twenty-kopek
piece from his pocket, gave it to the merchant, took the portrait under
his arm, and carried it home. On the way thither, he remembered that
the twenty-kopek piece he had given for it was his last. His thoughts at
once became gloomy. Vexation and careless indifference took possession
of him at one and the same moment. The red light of sunset still
lingered in one half the sky; the houses facing that way still gleamed
with its warm light; and meanwhile the cold blue light of the moon grew
brighter. Light, half-transparent shadows fell in bands upon the ground.
The painter began by degrees to glance up at the sky, flushed with a
transparent light; and at the same moment from his mouth fell the words,
“What a delicate tone! What a nuisance! Deuce take it!” Re-adjusting the
portrait, which kept slipping from under his arm, he quickened his pace.

Weary and bathed in perspiration, he dragged himself to Vasilievsky
Ostroff. With difficulty and much panting he made his way up the stairs
flooded with soap-suds, and adorned with the tracks of dogs and cats.
To his knock there was no answer: there was no one at home. He leaned
against the window, and disposed himself to wait patiently, until at
last there resounded behind him the footsteps of a boy in a blue blouse,
his servant, model, and colour-grinder. This boy was called Nikita,
and spent all his time in the streets when his master was not at home.
Nikita tried for a long time to get the key into the lock, which was
quite invisible, by reason of the darkness.

Finally the door was opened. Tchartkoff entered his ante-room, which was
intolerably cold, as painters’ rooms always are, which fact, however,
they do not notice. Without giving Nikita his coat, he went on into
his studio, a large room, but low, fitted up with all sorts of artistic
rubbish--plaster hands, canvases, sketches begun and discarded, and
draperies thrown over chairs. Feeling very tired, he took off his cloak,
placed the portrait abstractedly between two small canvasses, and threw
himself on the narrow divan. Having stretched himself out, he finally
called for a light.

“There are no candles,” said Nikita.

“What, none?”

“And there were none last night,” said Nikita. The artist recollected
that, in fact, there had been no candles the previous evening, and
became silent. He let Nikita take his coat off, and put on his old worn

“There has been a gentleman here,” said Nikita.

“Yes, he came for money, I know,” said the painter, waving his hand.

“He was not alone,” said Nikita.

“Who else was with him?”

“I don’t know, some police officer or other.”

“But why a police officer?”

“I don’t know why, but he says because your rent is not paid.”

“Well, what will come of it?”

“I don’t know what will come of it: he said, ‘If he won’t pay, why, let
him leave the rooms.’ They are both coming again to-morrow.”

“Let them come,” said Tchartkoff, with indifference; and a gloomy mood
took full possession of him.

Young Tchartkoff was an artist of talent, which promised great things:
his work gave evidence of observation, thought, and a strong inclination
to approach nearer to nature.

“Look here, my friend,” his professor said to him more than once, “you
have talent; it will be a shame if you waste it: but you are impatient;
you have but to be attracted by anything, to fall in love with it, you
become engrossed with it, and all else goes for nothing, and you won’t
even look at it. See to it that you do not become a fashionable artist.
At present your colouring begins to assert itself too loudly; and your
drawing is at times quite weak; you are already striving after the
fashionable style, because it strikes the eye at once. Have a care!
society already begins to have its attraction for you: I have seen you
with a shiny hat, a foppish neckerchief.... It is seductive to paint
fashionable little pictures and portraits for money; but talent is
ruined, not developed, by that means. Be patient; think out every piece
of work, discard your foppishness; let others amass money, your own will
not fail you.”

The professor was partly right. Our artist sometimes wanted to enjoy
himself, to play the fop, in short, to give vent to his youthful
impulses in some way or other; but he could control himself withal. At
times he would forget everything, when he had once taken his brush in
his hand, and could not tear himself from it except as from a delightful
dream. His taste perceptibly developed. He did not as yet understand all
the depths of Raphael, but he was attracted by Guido’s broad and rapid
handling, he paused before Titian’s portraits, he delighted in the
Flemish masters. The dark veil enshrouding the ancient pictures had not
yet wholly passed away from before them; but he already saw something
in them, though in private he did not agree with the professor that the
secrets of the old masters are irremediably lost to us. It seemed to him
that the nineteenth century had improved upon them considerably, that
the delineation of nature was more clear, more vivid, more close. It
sometimes vexed him when he saw how a strange artist, French or German,
sometimes not even a painter by profession, but only a skilful dauber,
produced, by the celerity of his brush and the vividness of his
colouring, a universal commotion, and amassed in a twinkling a funded
capital. This did not occur to him when fully occupied with his own
work, for then he forgot food and drink and all the world. But when dire
want arrived, when he had no money wherewith to buy brushes and colours,
when his implacable landlord came ten times a day to demand the rent for
his rooms, then did the luck of the wealthy artists recur to his hungry
imagination; then did the thought which so often traverses Russian
minds, to give up altogether, and go down hill, utterly to the bad,
traverse his. And now he was almost in this frame of mind.

“Yes, it is all very well, to be patient, be patient!” he exclaimed,
with vexation; “but there is an end to patience at last. Be patient! but
what money have I to buy a dinner with to-morrow? No one will lend me
any. If I did bring myself to sell all my pictures and sketches, they
would not give me twenty kopeks for the whole of them. They are useful;
I feel that not one of them has been undertaken in vain; I have learned
something from each one. Yes, but of what use is it? Studies, sketches,
all will be studies, trial-sketches to the end. And who will buy, not
even knowing me by name? Who wants drawings from the antique, or the
life class, or my unfinished love of a Psyche, or the interior of my
room, or the portrait of Nikita, though it is better, to tell the truth,
than the portraits by any of the fashionable artists? Why do I worry,
and toil like a learner over the alphabet, when I might shine as
brightly as the rest, and have money, too, like them?”

Thus speaking, the artist suddenly shuddered, and turned pale. A
convulsively distorted face gazed at him, peeping forth from the
surrounding canvas; two terrible eyes were fixed straight upon him; on
the mouth was written a menacing command of silence. Alarmed, he tried
to scream and summon Nikita, who already was snoring in the ante-room;
but he suddenly paused and laughed. The sensation of fear died away in
a moment; it was the portrait he had bought, and which he had quite
forgotten. The light of the moon illuminating the chamber had fallen
upon it, and lent it a strange likeness to life.

He began to examine it. He moistened a sponge with water, passed it over
the picture several times, washed off nearly all the accumulated and
incrusted dust and dirt, hung it on the wall before him, wondering yet
more at the remarkable workmanship. The whole face had gained new life,
and the eyes gazed at him so that he shuddered; and, springing back,
he exclaimed in a voice of surprise: “It looks with human eyes!” Then
suddenly there occurred to him a story he had heard long before from his
professor, of a certain portrait by the renowned Leonardo da Vinci, upon
which the great master laboured several years, and still regarded as
incomplete, but which, according to Vasari, was nevertheless deemed by
all the most complete and finished product of his art. The most finished
thing about it was the eyes, which amazed his contemporaries; the very
smallest, barely visible veins in them being reproduced on the canvas.

But in the portrait now before him there was something singular. It was
no longer art; it even destroyed the harmony of the portrait; they were
living, human eyes! It seemed as though they had been cut from a living
man and inserted. Here was none of that high enjoyment which takes
possession of the soul at the sight of an artist’s production, no matter
how terrible the subject he may have chosen.

Again he approached the portrait, in order to observe those wondrous
eyes, and perceived, with terror, that they were gazing at him. This
was no copy from Nature; it was life, the strange life which might have
lighted up the face of a dead man, risen from the grave. Whether it was
the effect of the moonlight, which brought with it fantastic thoughts,
and transformed things into strange likenesses, opposed to those of
matter-of-fact day, or from some other cause, but it suddenly became
terrible to him, he knew not why, to sit alone in the room. He draw back
from the portrait, turned aside, and tried not to look at it; but his
eye involuntarily, of its own accord, kept glancing sideways towards it.
Finally, he became afraid to walk about the room. It seemed as though
some one were on the point of stepping up behind him; and every time
he turned, he glanced timidly back. He had never been a coward; but his
imagination and nerves were sensitive, and that evening he could not
explain his involuntary fear. He seated himself in one corner, but even
then it seemed to him that some one was peeping over his shoulder into
his face. Even Nikita’s snores, resounding from the ante-room, did not
chase away his fear. At length he rose from the seat, without raising
his eyes, went behind a screen, and lay down on his bed. Through
the cracks of the screen he saw his room lit up by the moon, and the
portrait hanging stiffly on the wall. The eyes were fixed upon him in a
yet more terrible and significant manner, and it seemed as if they
would not look at anything but himself. Overpowered with a feeling
of oppression, he decided to rise from his bed, seized a sheet, and,
approaching the portrait, covered it up completely.

Having done this, he lay done more at ease on his bed, and began to
meditate upon the poverty and pitiful lot of the artist, and the thorny
path lying before him in the world. But meanwhile his eye glanced
involuntarily through the joint of the screen at the portrait muffled in
the sheet. The light of the moon heightened the whiteness of the sheet,
and it seemed to him as though those terrible eyes shone through the
cloth. With terror he fixed his eyes more steadfastly on the spot, as if
wishing to convince himself that it was all nonsense. But at length he
saw--saw clearly; there was no longer a sheet--the portrait was quite
uncovered, and was gazing beyond everything around it, straight at
him; gazing as it seemed fairly into his heart. His heart grew cold. He
watched anxiously; the old man moved, and suddenly, supporting himself
on the frame with both arms, raised himself by his hands, and, putting
forth both feet, leapt out of the frame. Through the crack of the
screen, the empty frame alone was now visible. Footsteps resounded
through the room, and approached nearer and nearer to the screen. The
poor artist’s heart began beating fast. He expected every moment, his
breath failing for fear, that the old man would look round the screen
at him. And lo! he did look from behind the screen, with the very same
bronzed face, and with his big eyes roving about.

Tchartkoff tried to scream, and felt that his voice was gone; he tried
to move; his limbs refused their office. With open mouth, and failing
breath, he gazed at the tall phantom, draped in some kind of a flowing
Asiatic robe, and waited for what it would do. The old man sat down
almost on his very feet, and then pulled out something from among the
folds of his wide garment. It was a purse. The old man untied it, took
it by the end, and shook it. Heavy rolls of coin fell out with a dull
thud upon the floor. Each was wrapped in blue paper, and on each was
marked, “1000 ducats.” The old man protruded his long, bony hand from
his wide sleeves, and began to undo the rolls. The gold glittered. Great
as was the artist’s unreasoning fear, he concentrated all his attention
upon the gold, gazing motionless, as it made its appearance in the bony
hands, gleamed, rang lightly or dully, and was wrapped up again. Then he
perceived one packet which had rolled farther than the rest, to the very
leg of his bedstead, near his pillow. He grasped it almost convulsively,
and glanced in fear at the old man to see whether he noticed it.

But the old man appeared very much occupied: he collected all his rolls,
replaced them in the purse, and went outside the screen without looking
at him. Tchartkoff’s heart beat wildly as he heard the rustle of the
retreating footsteps sounding through the room. He clasped the roll
of coin more closely in his hand, quivering in every limb. Suddenly he
heard the footsteps approaching the screen again. Apparently the old man
had recollected that one roll was missing. Lo! again he looked round
the screen at him. The artist in despair grasped the roll with all his
strength, tried with all his power to make a movement, shrieked--and

He was bathed in a cold perspiration; his heart beat as hard as it was
possible for it to beat; his chest was oppressed, as though his last
breath was about to issue from it. “Was it a dream?” he said, seizing
his head with both hands. But the terrible reality of the apparition
did not resemble a dream. As he woke, he saw the old man step into the
frame: the skirts of the flowing garment even fluttered, and his hand
felt plainly that a moment before it had held something heavy. The
moonlight lit up the room, bringing out from the dark corners here
a canvas, there the model of a hand: a drapery thrown over a chair;
trousers and dirty boots. Then he perceived that he was not lying in
his bed, but standing upright in front of the portrait. How he had come
there, he could not in the least comprehend. Still more surprised was
he to find the portrait uncovered, and with actually no sheet over it.
Motionless with terror, he gazed at it, and perceived that the living,
human eyes were fastened upon him. A cold perspiration broke out upon
his forehead. He wanted to move away, but felt that his feet had in some
way become rooted to the earth. And he felt that this was not a dream.
The old man’s features moved, and his lips began to project towards him,
as though he wanted to suck him in. With a yell of despair he jumped
back--and awoke.

“Was it a dream?” With his heart throbbing to bursting, he felt about
him with both hands. Yes, he was lying in bed, and in precisely the
position in which he had fallen asleep. Before him stood the screen.
The moonlight flooded the room. Through the crack of the screen, the
portrait was visible, covered with the sheet, as it should be, just as
he had covered it. And so that, too, was a dream? But his clenched fist
still felt as though something had been held in it. The throbbing of
his heart was violent, almost terrible; the weight upon his breast
intolerable. He fixed his eyes upon the crack, and stared steadfastly
at the sheet. And lo! he saw plainly the sheet begin to open, as though
hands were pushing from underneath, and trying to throw it off. “Lord
God, what is it!” he shrieked, crossing himself in despair--and awoke.

And was this, too, a dream? He sprang from his bed, half-mad, and could
not comprehend what had happened to him. Was it the oppression of a
nightmare, the raving of fever, or an actual apparition? Striving to
calm, as far as possible, his mental tumult, and stay the wildly rushing
blood, which beat with straining pulses in every vein, he went to the
window and opened it. The cool breeze revived him. The moonlight lay on
the roofs and the white walls of the houses, though small clouds passed
frequently across the sky. All was still: from time to time there struck
the ear the distant rumble of a carriage. He put his head out of the
window, and gazed for some time. Already the signs of approaching dawn
were spreading over the sky. At last he felt drowsy, shut to the window,
stepped back, lay down in bed, and quickly fell, like one exhausted,
into a deep sleep.

He awoke late, and with the disagreeable feeling of a man who has been
half-suffocated with coal-gas: his head ached painfully. The room was
dim: an unpleasant moisture pervaded the air, and penetrated the cracks
of his windows. Dissatisfied and depressed as a wet cock, he seated
himself on his dilapidated divan, not knowing what to do, what to set
about, and at length remembered the whole of his dream. As he recalled
it, the dream presented itself to his mind as so oppressively real that
he even began to wonder whether it were a dream, whether there were not
something more here, whether it were not really an apparition. Removing
the sheet, he looked at the terrible portrait by the light of day. The
eyes were really striking in their liveliness, but he found nothing
particularly terrible about them, though an indescribably unpleasant
feeling lingered in his mind. Nevertheless, he could not quite convince
himself that it was a dream. It struck him that there must have been
some terrible fragment of reality in the vision. It seemed as though
there were something in the old man’s very glance and expression which
said that he had been with him that night: his hand still felt the
weight which had so recently lain in it as if some one had but just
snatched it from him. It seemed to him that, if he had only grasped the
roll more firmly, it would have remained in his hand, even after his

“My God, if I only had a portion of that money!” he said, breathing
heavily; and in his fancy, all the rolls of coin, with their fascinating
inscription, “1000 ducats,” began to pour out of the purse. The rolls
opened, the gold glittered, and was wrapped up again; and he sat
motionless, with his eyes fixed on the empty air, as if he were
incapable of tearing himself from such a sight, like a child who sits
before a plate of sweets, and beholds, with watering mouth, other people
devouring them.

At last there came a knock on the door, which recalled him unpleasantly
to himself. The landlord entered with the constable of the district,
whose presence is even more disagreeable to poor people than is the
presence of a beggar to the rich. The landlord of the little house in
which Tchartkoff lived resembled the other individuals who own houses
anywhere in the Vasilievsky Ostroff, on the St. Petersburg side, or
in the distant regions of Kolomna--individuals whose character is as
difficult to define as the colour of a threadbare surtout. In his youth
he had been a captain and a braggart, a master in the art of flogging,
skilful, foppish, and stupid; but in his old age he combined all these
various qualities into a kind of dim indefiniteness. He was a widower,
already on the retired list, no longer boasted, nor was dandified, nor
quarrelled, but only cared to drink tea and talk all sorts of nonsense
over it. He walked about his room, and arranged the ends of the tallow
candles; called punctually at the end of each month upon his lodgers for
money; went out into the street, with the key in his hand, to look at
the roof of his house, and sometimes chased the porter out of his den,
where he had hidden himself to sleep. In short, he was a man on the
retired list, who, after the turmoils and wildness of his life, had only
his old-fashioned habits left.

“Please to see for yourself, Varukh Kusmitch,” said the landlord,
turning to the officer, and throwing out his hands, “this man does not
pay his rent, he does not pay.”

“How can I when I have no money? Wait, and I will pay.”

“I can’t wait, my good fellow,” said the landlord angrily, making a
gesture with the key which he held in his hand. “Lieutenant-Colonel
Potogonkin has lived with me seven years, seven years already; Anna
Petrovna Buchmisteroff rents the coach-house and stable, with the
exception of two stalls, and has three household servants: that is
the kind of lodgers I have. I say to you frankly, that this is not an
establishment where people do not pay their rent. Pay your money at
once, please, or else clear out.”

“Yes, if you rented the rooms, please to pay,” said the constable, with
a slight shake of the head, as he laid his finger on one of the buttons
of his uniform.

“Well, what am I to pay with? that’s the question. I haven’t a groschen
just at present.”

“In that case, satisfy the claims of Ivan Ivanovitch with the fruits
of your profession,” said the officer: “perhaps he will consent to take

“No, thank you, my good fellow, no pictures. Pictures of holy subjects,
such as one could hang upon the walls, would be well enough; or some
general with a star, or Prince Kutusoff’s portrait. But this fellow has
painted that muzhik, that muzhik in his blouse, his servant who grinds
his colours! The idea of painting his portrait, the hog! I’ll thrash
him well: he took all the nails out of my bolts, the scoundrel! Just
see what subjects! Here he has drawn his room. It would have been well
enough had he taken a clean, well-furnished room; but he has gone and
drawn this one, with all the dirt and rubbish he has collected. Just see
how he has defaced my room! Look for yourself. Yes, and my lodgers
have been with me seven years, the lieutenant-colonel, Anna Petrovna
Buchmisteroff. No, I tell you, there is no worse lodger than a painter:
he lives like a pig--God have mercy!”

The poor artist had to listen patiently to all this. Meanwhile the
officer had occupied himself with examining the pictures and studies,
and showed that his mind was more advanced than the landlord’s, and that
he was not insensible to artistic impressions.

“Heh!” said he, tapping one canvas, on which was depicted a naked woman,
“this subject is--lively. But why so much black under her nose? did she
take snuff?”

“Shadow,” answered Tchartkoff gruffly, without looking at him.

“But it might have been put in some other place: it is too conspicuous
under the nose,” observed the officer. “And whose likeness is this?” he
continued, approaching the old man’s portrait. “It is too terrible.
Was he really so dreadful? Ah! why, he actually looks at one! What a
thunder-cloud! From whom did you paint it?”

“Ah! it is from a--” said Tchartkoff, but did not finish his sentence:
he heard a crack. It seems that the officer had pressed too hard on the
frame of the portrait, thanks to the weight of his constable’s hands.
The small boards at the side caved in, one fell on the floor, and with
it fell, with a heavy crash, a roll of blue paper. The inscription
caught Tchartkoff’s eye--“1000 ducats.” Like a madman, he sprang to pick
it up, grasped the roll, and gripped it convulsively in his hand, which
sank with the weight.

“Wasn’t there a sound of money?” inquired the officer, hearing the noise
of something falling on the floor, and not catching sight of it, owing
to the rapidity with which Tchartkoff had hastened to pick it up.

“What business is it of yours what is in my room?”

“It’s my business because you ought to pay your rent to the landlord
at once; because you have money, and won’t pay, that’s why it’s my

“Well, I will pay him to-day.”

“Well, and why wouldn’t you pay before, instead of giving trouble to
your landlord, and bothering the police to boot?”

“Because I did not want to touch this money. I will pay him in full
this evening, and leave the rooms to-morrow. I will not stay with such a

“Well, Ivan Ivanovitch, he will pay you,” said the constable, turning to
the landlord. “But in case you are not satisfied in every respect this
evening, then you must excuse me, Mr. Painter.” So saying, he put on
his three-cornered hat, and went into the ante-room, followed by the
landlord hanging his head, and apparently engaged in meditation.

“Thank God, Satan has carried them off!” said Tchartkoff, as he heard
the outer door of the ante-room close. He looked out into the ante-room,
sent Nikita off on some errand, in order to be quite alone, fastened the
door behind him, and, returning to his room, began with wildly beating
heart to undo the roll.

In it were ducats, all new, and bright as fire. Almost beside himself,
he sat down beside the pile of gold, still asking himself, “Is not this
all a dream?” There were just a thousand in the roll, the exterior of
which was precisely like what he had seen in his dream. He turned them
over, and looked at them for some minutes. His imagination recalled
up all the tales he had heard of hidden hoards, cabinets with secret
drawers, left by ancestors for their spendthrift descendants, with firm
belief in the extravagance of their life. He pondered this: “Did
not some grandfather, in the present instance, leave a gift for his
grandchild, shut up in the frame of a family portrait?” Filled with
romantic fancies, he began to think whether this had not some secret
connection with his fate? whether the existence of the portrait was not
bound up with his own, and whether his acquisition of it was not due to
a kind of predestination?

He began to examine the frame with curiosity. On one side a cavity was
hollowed out, but concealed so skilfully and neatly by a little board,
that, if the massive hand of the constable had not effected a breach,
the ducats might have remained hidden to the end of time. On examining
the portrait, he marvelled again at the exquisite workmanship, the
extraordinary treatment of the eyes. They no longer appeared terrible
to him; but, nevertheless, each time he looked at them a disagreeable
feeling involuntarily lingered in his mind.

“No,” he said to himself, “no matter whose grandfather you were, I’ll
put a glass over you, and get you a gilt frame.” Then he laid his hand
on the golden pile before him, and his heart beat faster at the touch.
“What shall I do with them?” he said, fixing his eyes on them. “Now I
am independent for at least three years: I can shut myself up in my room
and work. I have money for colours now; for food and lodging--no one
will annoy and disturb me now. I will buy myself a first-class lay
figure, I will order a plaster torso, and some model feet, I will have
a Venus. I will buy engravings of the best pictures. And if I work three
years to satisfy myself, without haste or with the idea of selling, I
shall surpass all, and may become a distinguished artist.”

Thus he spoke in solitude, with his good judgment prompting him; but
louder and more distinct sounded another voice within him. As he glanced
once more at the gold, it was not thus that his twenty-two years and
fiery youth reasoned. Now everything was within his power on which he
had hitherto gazed with envious eyes, had viewed from afar with longing.
How his heart beat when he thought of it! To wear a fashionable coat, to
feast after long abstinence, to hire handsome apartments, to go at once
to the theatre, to the confectioner’s, to... other places; and seizing
his money, he was in the street in a moment.

First of all he went to the tailor, was clothed anew from head to foot,
and began to look at himself like a child. He purchased perfumes and
pomades; hired the first elegant suite of apartments with mirrors and
plateglass windows which he came across in the Nevsky Prospect, without
haggling about the price; bought, on the impulse of the moment, a costly
eye-glass; bought, also on the impulse, a number of neckties of every
description, many more than he needed; had his hair curled at the
hairdresser’s; rode through the city twice without any object whatever;
ate an immense quantity of sweetmeats at the confectioner’s; and went
to the French Restaurant, of which he had heard rumours as indistinct as
though they had concerned the Empire of China. There he dined, casting
proud glances at the other visitors, and continually arranging his curls
in the glass. There he drank a bottle of champagne, which had been known
to him hitherto only by hearsay. The wine rather affected his head; and
he emerged into the street, lively, pugnacious, and ready to raise
the Devil, according to the Russian expression. He strutted along the
pavement, levelling his eye-glass at everybody. On the bridge he caught
sight of his former professor, and slipped past him neatly, as if he did
not see him, so that the astounded professor stood stock-still on
the bridge for a long time, with a face suggestive of a note of

All his goods and chattels, everything he owned, easels, canvas,
pictures, were transported that same evening to his elegant quarters. He
arranged the best of them in conspicuous places, threw the worst into
a corner, and promenaded up and down the handsome rooms, glancing
constantly in the mirrors. An unconquerable desire to take the bull
by the horns, and show himself to the world at once, had arisen in his
mind. He already heard the shouts, “Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff! Tchartkoff
paints! What talent Tchartkoff has!” He paced the room in a state of

The next day he took ten ducats, and went to the editor of a popular
journal asking his charitable assistance. He was joyfully received
by the journalist, who called him on the spot, “Most respected sir,”
 squeezed both his hands, and made minute inquiries as to his name,
birthplace, residence. The next day there appeared in the journal, below
a notice of some newly invented tallow candles, an article with the
following heading:--


“We hasten to delight the cultivated inhabitants of the capital with a
discovery which we may call splendid in every respect. All are agreed
that there are among us many very handsome faces, but hitherto there
has been no means of committing them to canvas for transmission to
posterity. This want has now been supplied: an artist has been found
who unites in himself all desirable qualities. The beauty can now feel
assured that she will be depicted with all the grace of her charms,
airy, fascinating, butterfly-like, flitting among the flowers of spring.
The stately father of a family can see himself surrounded by his family.
Merchant, warrior, citizen, statesman--hasten one and all, wherever you
may be. The artist’s magnificent establishment (Nevsky Prospect, such
and such a number) is hung with portraits from his brush, worthy of Van
Dyck or Titian. We do not know which to admire most, their truth and
likeness to the originals, or the wonderful brilliancy and freshness of
the colouring. Hail to you, artist! you have drawn a lucky number in the
lottery. Long live Andrei Petrovitch!” (The journalist evidently liked
familiarity.) “Glorify yourself and us. We know how to prize you.
Universal popularity, and with it wealth, will be your meed, though some
of our brother journalists may rise against you.”

The artist read this article with secret satisfaction; his face beamed.
He was mentioned in print; it was a novelty to him: he read the lines
over several times. The comparison with Van Dyck and Titian flattered
him extremely. The praise, “Long live Andrei Petrovitch,” also pleased
him greatly: to be spoken of by his Christian name and patronymic in
print was an honour hitherto totally unknown to him. He began to pace
the chamber briskly, now he sat down in an armchair, now he sprang
up, and seated himself on the sofa, planning each moment how he would
receive visitors, male and female; he went to his canvas and made a
rapid sweep of the brush, endeavouring to impart a graceful movement to
his hand.

The next day, the bell at his door rang. He hastened to open it. A lady
entered, accompanied by a girl of eighteen, her daughter, and followed
by a lackey in a furred livery-coat.

“You are the painter Tchartkoff?”

The artist bowed.

“A great deal is written about you: your portraits, it is said, are the
height of perfection.” So saying, the lady raised her glass to her eyes
and glanced rapidly over the walls, upon which nothing was hanging. “But
where are your portraits?”

“They have been taken away” replied the artist, somewhat confusedly:
“I have but just moved into these apartments; so they are still on the
road, they have not arrived.”

“You have been in Italy?” asked the lady, levelling her glass at him, as
she found nothing else to point it at.

“No, I have not been there; but I wish to go, and I have deferred it for
a while. Here is an arm-chair, madame: you are fatigued?”

“Thank you: I have been sitting a long time in the carriage. Ah, at last
I behold your work!” said the lady, running to the opposite wall,
and bringing her glass to bear upon his studies, sketches, views and
portraits which were standing there on the floor. “It is charming. Lise!
Lise, come here. Rooms in the style of Teniers. Do you see? Disorder,
disorder, a table with a bust upon it, a hand, a palette; dust, see how
the dust is painted! It is charming. And here on this canvas is a woman
washing her face. What a pretty face! Ah! a little muzhik! So you do not
devote yourself exclusively to portraits?”

“Oh! that is mere rubbish. I was trying experiments, studies.”

“Tell me your opinion of the portrait painters of the present day. Is it
not true that there are none now like Titian? There is not that strength
of colour, that--that--What a pity that I cannot express myself in
Russian.” The lady was fond of paintings, and had gone through all the
galleries in Italy with her eye-glass. “But Monsieur Nohl--ah, how
well he paints! what remarkable work! I think his faces have been more
expression than Titian’s. You do not know Monsieur Nohl?”

“Who is Nohl?” inquired the artist.

“Monsieur Nohl. Ah, what talent! He painted her portrait when she was
only twelve years old. You must certainly come to see us. Lise, you
shall show him your album. You know, we came expressly that you might
begin her portrait immediately.”

“What? I am ready this very moment.” And in a trice he pulled forward an
easel with a canvas already prepared, grasped his palette, and fixed
his eyes on the daughter’s pretty little face. If he had been acquainted
with human nature, he might have read in it the dawning of a childish
passion for balls, the dawning of sorrow and misery at the length of
time before dinner and after dinner, the heavy traces of uninterested
application to various arts, insisted upon by her mother for the
elevation of her mind. But the artist saw only the tender little face,
a seductive subject for his brush, the body almost as transparent as
porcelain, the delicate white neck, and the aristocratically slender
form. And he prepared beforehand to triumph, to display the delicacy of
his brush, which had hitherto had to deal only with the harsh features
of coarse models, and severe antiques and copies of classic masters. He
already saw in fancy how this delicate little face would turn out.

“Do you know,” said the lady with a positively touching expression of
countenance, “I should like her to be painted simply attired, and
seated among green shadows, like meadows, with a flock or a grove in
the distance, so that it could not be seen that she goes to balls
or fashionable entertainments. Our balls, I must confess, murder the
intellect, deaden all remnants of feeling. Simplicity! would there
were more simplicity!” Alas, it was stamped on the faces of mother and
daughter that they had so overdanced themselves at balls that they had
become almost wax figures.

Tchartkoff set to work, posed his model, reflected a bit, fixed upon the
idea, waved his brush in the air, settling the points mentally, and then
began and finished the sketching in within an hour. Satisfied with it,
he began to paint. The task fascinated him; he forgot everything, forgot
the very existence of the aristocratic ladies, began even to display
some artistic tricks, uttering various odd sounds and humming to himself
now and then as artists do when immersed heart and soul in their work.
Without the slightest ceremony, he made the sitter lift her head, which
finally began to express utter weariness.

“Enough for the first time,” said the lady.

“A little more,” said the artist, forgetting himself.

“No, it is time to stop. Lise, three o’clock!” said the lady, taking out
a tiny watch which hung by a gold chain from her girdle. “How late it

“Only a minute,” said Tchartkoff innocently, with the pleading voice of
a child.

But the lady appeared to be not at all inclined to yield to his artistic
demands on this occasion; she promised, however, to sit longer the next

“It is vexatious, all the same,” thought Tchartkoff to himself: “I had
just got my hand in;” and he remembered no one had interrupted him or
stopped him when he was at work in his studio on Vasilievsky Ostroff.
Nikita sat motionless in one place. You might even paint him as long
as you pleased; he even went to sleep in the attitude prescribed him.
Feeling dissatisfied, he laid his brush and palette on a chair, and
paused in irritation before the picture.

The woman of the world’s compliments awoke him from his reverie. He flew
to the door to show them out: on the stairs he received an invitation to
dine with them the following week, and returned with a cheerful face to
his apartments. The aristocratic lady had completely charmed him. Up to
that time he had looked upon such beings as unapproachable, born solely
to ride in magnificent carriages, with liveried footmen and stylish
coachmen, and to cast indifferent glances on the poor man travelling
on foot in a cheap cloak. And now, all of a sudden, one of these very
beings had entered his room; he was painting her portrait, was invited
to dinner at an aristocratic house. An unusual feeling of pleasure took
possession of him: he was completely intoxicated, and rewarded himself
with a splendid dinner, an evening at the theatre, and a drive through
the city in a carriage, without any necessity whatever.

But meanwhile his ordinary work did not fall in with his mood at all. He
did nothing but wait for the moment when the bell should ring. At last
the aristocratic lady arrived with her pale daughter. He seated them,
drew forward the canvas with skill, and some efforts of fashionable
airs, and began to paint. The sunny day and bright light aided him not a
little: he saw in his dainty sitter much which, caught and committed
to canvas, would give great value to the portrait. He perceived that he
might accomplish something good if he could reproduce, with accuracy,
all that nature then offered to his eyes. His heart began to beat faster
as he felt that he was expressing something which others had not even
seen as yet. His work engrossed him completely: he was wholly taken up
with it, and again forgot the aristocratic origin of the sitter. With
heaving breast he saw the delicate features and the almost transparent
body of the fair maiden grow beneath his hand. He had caught every
shade, the slight sallowness, the almost imperceptible blue tinge under
the eyes--and was already preparing to put in the tiny mole on the brow,
when he suddenly heard the mother’s voice behind him.

“Ah! why do you paint that? it is not necessary: and you have made it
here, in several places, rather yellow; and here, quite so, like dark

The artist undertook to explain that the spots and yellow tinge would
turn out well, that they brought out the delicate and pleasing tones of
the face. He was informed that they did not bring out tones, and would
not turn out well at all. It was explained to him that just to-day Lise
did not feel quite well; that she never was sallow, and that her face
was distinguished for its fresh colouring.

Sadly he began to erase what his brush had put upon the canvas. Many
a nearly imperceptible feature disappeared, and with it vanished too
a portion of the resemblance. He began indifferently to impart to the
picture that commonplace colouring which can be painted mechanically,
and which lends to a face, even when taken from nature, the sort of cold
ideality observable on school programmes. But the lady was satisfied
when the objectionable tone was quite banished. She merely expressed
surprise that the work lasted so long, and added that she had heard that
he finished a portrait completely in two sittings. The artist could not
think of any answer to this. The ladies rose, and prepared to depart.
He laid aside his brush, escorted them to the door, and then stood
disconsolate for a long while in one spot before the portrait.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

"Il Tuono" (The Thunder) by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. " "Il Tuono" (The Thunder) from the collection "Myricae" (1891-1900)

"A ship against the mewstone, at the entrance to Plymouth Sound," by J.M.W. Turner

The following translation of "Il Tuono" (The Thunder) by Giovanni Pascoli is from the book "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!)  


The Thunder

And in the night black like nothingness,

at once, with the rumble of a steep precipice
falling, the thunder roared all of a sudden:
roared, bounced, rolled in a dull sound,
then fell silent, then waved and broke,
then vanished. Then was heard the gentle singing
of a mother, and the rocking of a cradle.

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)

Il Tuono

E nella notte nera come il nulla,

a un tratto, col fragor d’arduo dirupo
che frana, il tuono rimbombò di schianto:
rimbombò, rimbalzò, rotolò cupo,
e tacque, e poi rimareggiò rinfranto,
e poi vanì. Soave allora un canto
s’udì, di madre, e il moto di una culla.

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)