Franz Kafka

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Gogol: "St. John's Eve" from the collection "Tales at a Farmhouse near Dikanka" or "Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka" (1831–1832) by Nikolai Gogol, English Translation, Full Text. Ukrainian: Вечори на Хуторі Близ Диканьки

"Evenings on the Farm Near Dikanka," Tales, Published by the Beekeeper Rudyi Panko (First Edition.)

"St. John's Eve," by  Nikolai Gogol. Translated by Isabel F. Hapgood.

Thoma Grigorovitch had a very strange sort of eccentricity: to the day
of his death he never liked to tell the same thing twice.  There were
times when, if you asked him to relate a thing afresh, behold, he would
interpolate new matter, or alter it so that it was impossible to
recognize it.  Once on a time, one of those gentlemen (it is hard for
us simple people to put a name to them, to say whether they are
scribblers or not scribblers: but it is just the same thing as the
usurers at our yearly fairs; they clutch and beg and steal every sort
of frippery, and issue mean little volumes, no thicker than an ABC
book, every month, or even every week),--one of these gentlemen wormed
this same story out of Thoma Grigorovitch, and he completely forgot
about it.  But that same young gentleman in the pea-green caftan, whom
I have mentioned, and one of whose Tales you have already read, I
think, came from Poltava, bringing with him a little book, and, opening
it in the middle, shows it to us.  Thoma Grigorovitch was on the point
of setting his spectacles astride of his nose, but recollected that he
had forgotten to wind thread about them, and stick them together with
wax, so he passed it over to me.  As I understand something about
reading and writing, and do not wear spectacles, I undertook to read
it.  I had not turned two leaves, when all at once he caught me by the
hand, and stopped me.

"Stop! tell me first what you are reading."

I confess that I was a trifle stunned by such a question.

"What! what am I reading, Thoma Grigorovitch?  These were your very

"Who told you that they were my words?"

"Why, what more would you have?  Here it is printed: RELATED BY SUCH

"Spit on the head of the man who printed that! he lies, the dog of a
Moscow pedler!  Did I say that?  'TWAS JUST THE SAME AS THOUGH ONE
HADN'T HIS WITS ABOUT HIM.  Listen.  I'll tell it to you on the spot."

We moved up to the table, and he began.

          *          *          *          *

My grandfather (the kingdom of heaven be his! may he eat only wheaten
rolls and makovniki [FOOTNOTE: Poppy-seeds cooked in honey, and dried
in square cakes.] with honey in the other world!) could tell a story
wonderfully well.  When he used to begin on a tale, you wouldn't stir
from the spot all day, but keep on listening.  He was no match for the
story-teller of the present day, when he begins to lie, with a tongue
as though he had had nothing to eat for three days, so that you snatch
your cap and flee from the house.  As I now recall it,--my old mother
was alive then,--in the long winter evenings when the frost was
crackling out of doors, and had so sealed up hermetically the narrow
panes of our cottage, she used to sit before the hackling-comb, drawing
out a long thread in her hand, rocking the cradle with her foot, and
humming a song, which I seem to hear even now.

The fat-lamp, quivering and flaring up as though in fear of something,
lighted us within our cottage; the spindle hummed; and all of us
children, collected in a cluster, listened to grandfather, who had not
crawled off the oven for more than five years, owing to his great age.
But the wondrous tales of the incursions of the Zaporozhian Cossacks,
the Poles, the bold deeds of Podkova, of Poltor-Kozhukh, and
Sagaidatchnii, did not interest us so much as the stories about some
deed of old which always sent a shiver through our frames, and made our
hair rise upright on our heads.  Sometimes such terror took possession
of us in consequence of them, that, from that evening on, Heaven knows
what a marvel everything seemed to us.  If you chance to go out of the
cottage after nightfall for anything, you imagine that a visitor from
the other world has lain down to sleep in your bed; and I should not be
able to tell this a second time were it not that I had often taken my
own smock, at a distance, as it lay at the head of the bed, for the
Evil One rolled up in a ball!  But the chief thing about grandfather's
stories was, that he never had lied in all his life; and whatever he
said was so, was so.

I will now relate to you one of his marvellous tales.  I know that
there are a great many wise people who copy in the courts, and can even
read civil documents, who, if you were to put into their hand a simple
prayer-book, could not make out the first letter in it, and would show
all their teeth in derision--which is wisdom.  These people laugh at
everything you tell them.  Such incredulity has spread abroad in the
world!  What then?  (Why, may God and the Holy Virgin cease to love me
if it is not possible that even you will not believe me!)  Once he said
something about witches; . . .  What then?  Along comes one of these
head-breakers,--and doesn't believe in witches!  Yes, glory to God that
I have lived so long in the world!  I have seen heretics, to whom it
would be easier to lie in confession than it would to our brothers and
equals to take snuff, and those people would deny the existence of
witches!  But let them just dream about something, and they won't even
tell what it was!  There's no use in talking about them!

          *          *          *          *


No one could have recognized this village of ours a little over a
hundred years ago: a hamlet it was, the poorest kind of a hamlet.  Half
a score of miserable izbas, unplastered, badly thatched, were scattered
here and there about the fields.  There was not an inclosure or decent
shed to shelter animals or wagons.  That was the way the wealthy lived;
and if you had looked for our brothers, the poor,--why, a hole in the
ground,--that was a cabin for you!  Only by the smoke could you tell
that a God-created man lived there.  You ask why they lived so?  It was
not entirely through poverty: almost every one led a wandering, Cossack
life, and gathered not a little plunder in foreign lands; it was rather
because there was no reason for setting up a well-ordered khata (wooden
house).  How many people were wandering all over the
country,--Crimeans, Poles, Lithuanians!  It was quite possible that
their own countrymen might make a descent, and plunder everything.
Anything was possible.

In this hamlet a man, or rather a devil in human form, often made his
appearance.  Why he came, and whence, no one knew.  He prowled about,
got drunk, and suddenly disappeared as if into the air, and there was
not a hint of his existence.  Then, again, behold, he seemed to have
dropped from the sky, and went flying about the streets of the village,
of which no trace now remains, and which was not more than a hundred
paces from Dikanka.  He would collect together all the Cossacks he met;
then there were songs, laughter, money in abundance, and vodka flowed
like water. . . .  He would address the pretty girls, and give them
ribbons, earrings, strings of beads,--more than they knew what to do
with.  It is true that the pretty girls rather hesitated about
accepting his presents: God knows, perhaps they had passed through
unclean hands.  My grandfather's aunt, who kept a tavern at that time,
in which Basavriuk (as they called that devil-man) often had his
carouses, said that no consideration on the face of the earth would
have induced her to accept a gift from him.  And then, again, how avoid
accepting?  Fear seized on every one when he knit his bristly brows,
and gave a sidelong glance which might send your feet, God knows
whither; but if you accept, then the next night some fiend from the
swamp, with horns on his head, comes to call, and begins to squeeze
your neck, when there is a string of beads upon it; or bite your
finger, if there is a ring upon it; or drag you by the hair, if ribbons
are braided in it.  God have mercy, then, on those who owned such
gifts!  But here was the difficulty: it was impossible to get rid of
them; if you threw them into the water, the diabolical ring or necklace
would skim along the surface, and into your hand.

There was a church in the village,--St. Pantelei, if I remember
rightly. There lived there a priest, Father Athanasii of blessed
memory. Observing that Basavriuk did not come to church, even on
Easter, he determined to reprove him, and impose penance upon him.
Well, he hardly escaped with his life.  "Hark ye, pannotche!"
[Footnote: Sir] he thundered in reply, "learn to mind your own business
instead of meddling in other people's, if you don't want that goat's
throat of yours stuck together with boiling kutya."  [Footnote: A dish
of rice or wheat flour, with honey and raisins, which is brought to the
church on the celebration of memorial masses]  What was to be done with
this unrepentant man?  Father Athanasii contented himself with
announcing that any one who should make the acquaintance of Basavriuk
would be counted a Catholic, an enemy of Christ's church, not a member
of the human race.

In this village there was a Cossack named Korzh, who had a laborer whom
people called Peter the Orphan--perhaps because no one remembered
either his father or mother.  The church starost, it is true, said that
they had died of the pest in his second year; but my grandfather's aunt
would not hear to that, and tried with all her might to furnish him
with parents, although poor Peter needed them about as much as we need
last year's snow.  She said that his father had been in Zaporozhe,
taken prisoner by the Turks, underwent God only knows what tortures,
and having, by some miracle, disguised himself as a eunuch, had made
his escape.  Little cared the black-browed youths and maidens about his
parents.  They merely remarked, that if he only had a new coat, a red
sash, a black lambskin cap, with dandified blue crown, on his head, a
Turkish sabre hanging by his side, a whip in one hand and a pipe with
handsome mountings in the other, he would surpass all the young men.
But the pity was, that the only thing poor Peter had was a gray svitka
with more holes in it than there are gold-pieces in a Jew's pocket.
And that was not the worst of it, but this: that Korzh had a daughter,
such a beauty as I think you can hardly have chanced to see.  My
deceased grandfather's aunt used to say--and you know that it is easier
for a woman to kiss the Evil One than to call anybody a beauty, without
malice be it said--that this Cossack maiden's cheeks were as plump and
fresh as the pinkest poppy when just bathed in God's dew, and, glowing,
it unfolds its petals, and coquets with the rising sun; that her brows
were like black cords, such as our maidens buy nowadays, for their
crosses and ducats, of the Moscow pedlers who visit the villages with
their baskets, and evenly arched as though peeping into her clear eyes;
that her little mouth, at sight of which the youths smacked their lips,
seemed made to emit the songs of nightingales; that her hair, black as
the raven's wing, and soft as young flax (our maidens did not then
plait their hair in clubs interwoven with pretty, bright-hued ribbons)
fell in curls over her kuntush.  [Footnote: Upper garment in Little
Russia.] Eh! may I never intone another alleluia in the choir, if I
would not have kissed her, in spite of the gray which is making its way
all through the old wool which covers my pate, and my old woman beside
me, like a thorn in my side! Well, you know what happens when young men
and maids live side by side. In the twilight the heels of red boots
were always visible in the place where Pidorka chatted with her Petrus.
But Korzh would never have suspected anything out of the way, only one
day--it is evident that none but the Evil One could have inspired
him--Petrus took it into his head to kiss the Cossack maiden's rosy
lips with all his heart in the passage, without first looking well
about him; and that same Evil One--may the son of a dog dream of the
holy cross!--caused the old graybeard, like a fool, to open the
cottage-door at that same moment.  Korzh was petrified, dropped his
jaw, and clutched at the door for support.  Those unlucky kisses had
completely stunned him.  It surprised him more than the blow of a
pestle on the wall, with which, in our days, the muzhik generally
drives out his intoxication for lack of fuses and powder.

Recovering himself, he took his grandfather's hunting-whip from the
wall, and was about to belabor Peter's back with it, when Pidorka's
little six-year-old brother Ivas rushed up from somewhere or other,
and, grasping his father's legs with his little hands, screamed out,
"Daddy, daddy! don't beat Petrus!"  What was to be done?  A father's
heart is not made of stone.  Hanging the whip again upon the wall, he
led him quietly from the house.  "If you ever show yourself in my
cottage again, or even under the windows, look out, Petro! by Heaven,
your black moustache will disappear; and your black locks, though wound
twice about your ears, will take leave of your pate, or my name is not
Terentiy Korzh."  So saying, he gave him a little taste of his fist in
the nape of his neck, so that all grew dark before Petrus, and he flew
headlong.  So there was an end of their kissing.  Sorrow seized upon
our doves; and a rumor was rife in the village, that a certain Pole,
all embroidered with gold, with moustaches, sabres, spurs, and pockets
jingling like the bells of the bag with which our sacristan Taras goes
through the church every day, had begun to frequent Korzh's house.
Now, it is well known why the father is visited when there is a
black-browed daughter about.  So, one day, Pidorka burst into tears,
and clutched the hand of her Ivas.  "Ivas, my dear!  Ivas, my love! fly
to Petrus, my child of gold, like an arrow from a bow.  Tell him all: I
would have loved his brown eyes, I would have kissed his white face,
but my fate decrees not so.  More than one towel have I wet with
burning tears.  I am sad, I am heavy at heart.  And my own father is my
enemy.  I will not marry that Pole, whom I do not love.  Tell him they
are preparing a wedding, but there will be no music at our wedding:
ecclesiastics will sing instead of pipes and kobzas. [Footnote:
Eight-stringed musical instrument.] I shall not dance with my
bridegroom: they will carry me out.  Dark, dark will be my
dwelling,--of maple wood; and, instead of chimneys, a cross will stand
upon the roof."

Petro stood petrified, without moving from the spot, when the innocent
child lisped out Pidorka's words to him.  "And I, unhappy man, thought
to go to the Crimea and Turkey, win gold and return to thee, my beauty!
But it may not be.  The evil eye has seen us.  I will have a wedding,
too, dear little fish, I too; but no ecclesiastics will be at that
wedding. The black crow will caw, instead of the pope, over me; the
smooth field will be my dwelling; the dark blue clouds my roof-tree.
The eagle will claw out my brown eyes: the rain will wash the Cossack's
bones, and the whirlwinds will dry them.  But what am I?  Of whom, to
whom, am I complaining?  'T is plain, God willed it so.  If I am to be
lost, then so be it!" and he went straight to the tavern.

My late grandfather's aunt was somewhat surprised on seeing Petrus in
the tavern, and at an hour when good men go to morning mass; and she
stared at him as though in a dream, when he demanded a jug of brandy,
about half a pailful.  But the poor fellow tried in vain to drown his
woe.  The vodka stung his tongue like nettles, and tasted more bitter
than wormwood.  He flung the jug from him upon the ground.  "You have
sorrowed enough, Cossack," growled a bass voice behind him.  He looked
round--Basavriuk!  Ugh, what a face!  His hair was like a brush, his
eyes like those of a bull.  "I know what you lack: here it is."  Then
he jingled a leather purse which hung from his girdle, and smiled
diabolically.  Petro shuddered.  "He, he, he! yes, how it shines!" he
roared, shaking out ducats into his hand: "he, he, he! and how it
jingles!  And I only ask one thing for a whole pile of such
shiners."--"It is the Evil One!" exclaimed Petro: "Give them here!  I'm
ready for anything!"  They struck hands upon it.  "See here, Petro, you
are ripe just in time: to-morrow is St. John the Baptist's day.  Only
on this one night in the year does the fern blossom.  Delay not.  I
will await thee at midnight in the Bear's ravine."

I do not believe that chickens await the hour when the woman brings
their corn with as much anxiety as Petrus awaited the evening.  And, in
fact, he looked to see whether the shadows of the trees were not
lengthening, if the sun were not turning red towards setting; and the
longer he watched, the more impatient he grew.  How long it was!
Evidently, God's day had lost its end somewhere.  And now the sun is
gone.  The sky is red only on one side, and it is already growing dark.
It grows colder in the fields.  It gets dusky and more dusky, and at
last quite dark.  At last!  With heart almost bursting from his bosom,
he set out on his way, and cautiously descended through the dense woods
into the deep hollow called the Bear's ravine.  Basavriuk was already
waiting there.  It was so dark, that you could not see a yard before
you.  Hand in hand they penetrated the thin marsh, clinging to the
luxuriant thorn bushes, and stumbling at almost every step.  At last
they reached an open spot.  Petro looked about him: he had never
chanced to come there before. Here Basavriuk halted.

"Do you see, before you stand three hillocks?  There are a great many
sorts of flowers upon them.  But may some power keep you from plucking
even one of them.  But as soon as the fern blossoms, seize it, and look
not round, no matter what may seem to be going on behind thee."

Petro wanted to ask--and behold he was no longer there.  He approached
the three hillocks--where were the flowers?  He saw nothing.  The wild
steppe-grass darkled around, and stifled everything in its luxuriance.
But the lightning flashed; and before him stood a whole bed of flowers,
all wonderful, all strange: and there were also the simple fronds of
fern.  Petro doubted his senses, and stood thoughtfully before them,
with both hands upon his sides.

"What prodigy is this? one can see these weeds ten times in a day: what
marvel is there about them? was not devil's-face laughing at me?"

Behold! the tiny flower-bud crimsons, and moves as though alive.  It is
a marvel, in truth.  It moves, and grows larger and larger, and flushes
like a burning coal.  The tiny star flashes up, something bursts
softly, and the flower opens before his eyes like a flame, lighting the
others about it.  "Now is the time," thought Petro, and extended his
hand.  He sees hundreds of shaggy hands reach from behind him, also for
the flower; and there is a running about from place to place, in the
rear. He half shut his eyes, plucked sharply at the stalk, and the
flower remained in his hand.  All became still.  Upon a stump sat
Basavriuk, all blue like a corpse.  He moved not so much as a finger.
His eyes were immovably fixed on something visible to him alone: his
mouth was half open and speechless.  All about, nothing stirred.  Ugh!
it was horrible!--But then a whistle was heard, which made Petro's
heart grow cold within him; and it seemed to him that the grass
whispered, and the flowers began to talk among themselves in delicate
voices, like little silver bells; the trees rustled in waving
contention;--Basavriuk's face suddenly became full of life, and his
eyes sparkled.  "The witch has just returned," he muttered between his
teeth.  "See here, Petro: a beauty will stand before you in a moment;
do whatever she commands; if not--you are lost for ever."  Then he
parted the thorn-bush with a knotty stick, and before him stood a tiny
izba, on chicken's legs, as they say. Basavriuk smote it with his fist,
and the wall trembled.  A large black dog ran out to meet them, and
with a whine, transforming itself into a cat, flew straight at his
eyes.  "Don't be angry, don't be angry, you old Satan!" said Basavriuk,
employing such words as would have made a good man stop his ears.
Behold, instead of a cat, an old woman with a face wrinkled like a
baked apple, and all bent into a bow: her nose and chin were like a
pair of nut-crackers.  "A stunning beauty!" thought Petro; and cold
chills ran down his back.  The witch tore the flower from his hand,
bent over, and muttered over it for a long time, sprinkling it with
some kind of water.  Sparks flew from her mouth, froth appeared on her

"Throw it away," she said, giving it back to Petro.

Petro threw it, and what wonder was this? the flower did not fall
straight to the earth, but for a long while twinkled like a fiery ball
through the darkness, and swam through the air like a boat: at last it
began to sink lower and lower, and fell so far away, that the little
star, hardly larger than a poppy-seed, was barely visible.  "Here!"
croaked the old woman, in a dull voice: and Basavriuk, giving him a
spade, said: "Dig here, Petro: here you will see more gold than you or
Korzh ever dreamed of."

Petro spat on his hands, seized the spade, applied his foot, and turned
up the earth, a second, a third, a fourth time. . . .  There was
something hard: the spade clinked, and would go no farther.  Then his
eyes began to distinguish a small, iron-bound coffer.  He tried to
seize it; but the chest began to sink into the earth, deeper, farther,
and deeper still: and behind him he heard a laugh, more like a
serpent's hiss.  "No, you shall not see the gold until you procure
human blood," said the witch, and led up to him a child of six, covered
with a white sheet, indicating by a sign that he was to cut off his
head.  Petro was stunned.  A trifle, indeed, to cut off a man's, or
even an innocent child's, head for no reason whatever!  In wrath he
tore off the sheet enveloping his head, and behold! before him stood
Ivas.  And the poor child crossed his little hands, and hung his head.
. . .  Petro flew upon the witch with the knife like a madman, and was
on the point of laying hands on her. . . .

"What did you promise for the girl?" . . . thundered Basavriuk; and
like a shot he was on his back.  The witch stamped her foot: a blue
flame flashed from the earth; it illumined it all inside, and it was as
if moulded of crystal; and all that was within the earth became
visible, as if in the palm of the hand.  Ducats, precious stones in
chests and kettles, were piled in heaps beneath the very spot they
stood on.  His eyes burned, . . . his mind grew troubled. . . .  He
grasped the knife like a madman, and the innocent blood spurted into
his eyes.  Diabolical laughter resounded on all sides.  Misshaped
monsters flew past him in herds.  The witch, fastening her hands in the
headless trunk, like a wolf drank its blood. . . .  All went round in
his head.  Collecting all his strength, he set out to run.  Everything
turned red before him.  The trees seemed steeped in blood, and burned
and groaned.  The sky glowed and glowered. . . .  Burning points, like
lightning, flickered before his eyes. Utterly exhausted, he rushed into
his miserable hovel, and fell to the ground like a log.  A death-like
sleep overpowered him.

Two days and two nights did Petro sleep, without once awakening.  When
he came to himself, on the third day, he looked long at all the corners
of his hut; but in vain did he endeavor to recollect; his memory was
like a miser's pocket, from which you cannot entice a quarter of a
kopek. Stretching himself, he heard something clash at his feet.  He
looked, . . . two bags of gold.  Then only, as if in a dream, he
recollected that he had been seeking some treasure, that something had
frightened him in the woods. . . .  But at what price he had obtained
it, and how, he could by no means understand.

Korzh saw the sacks,--and was mollified.  "Such a Petrus, quite unheard
of! yes, and did I not love him?  Was he not to me as my own son?"  And
the old fellow carried on his fiction until it reduced him to tears.
Pidorka began to tell him how some passing gypsies had stolen Ivas; but
Petro could not even recall him--to such a degree had the Devil's
influence darkened his mind!  There was no reason for delay.  The Pole
was dismissed, and the wedding-feast prepared; rolls were baked, towels
and handkerchiefs embroidered; the young people were seated at table;
the wedding-loaf was cut; banduras, cymbals, pipes, kobzi, sounded, and
pleasure was rife . . .

A wedding in the olden times was not like one of the present day.  My
grandfather's aunt used to tell--what doings!--how the maidens--in
festive head-dresses of yellow, blue, and pink ribbons, above which
they bound gold braid; in thin chemisettes embroidered on all the seams
with red silk, and strewn with tiny silver flowers; in morocco shoes,
with high iron heels--danced the gorlitza as swimmingly as peacocks,
and as wildly as the whirlwind; how the youths--with their ship-shaped
caps upon their heads, the crowns of gold brocade, with a little slit
at the nape where the hair-net peeped through, and two horns
projecting, one in front and another behind, of the very finest black
lambskin; in kuntushas of the finest blue silk with red
borders--stepped forward one by one, their arms akimbo in stately form,
and executed the gopak; how the lads--in tall Cossack caps, and light
cloth svitkas, girt with silver embroidered belts, their short pipes in
their teeth--skipped before them, and talked nonsense.  Even Korzh
could not contain himself, as he gazed at the young people, from
getting gay in his old age. Bandura in hand, alternately puffing at his
pipe and singing, a brandy-glass upon his head, the gray-beard began
the national dance amid loud shouts from the merry-makers.  What will
not people devise in merry mood! They even began to disguise their
faces.  They did not look like human beings.  They are not to be
compared with the disguises which we have at our weddings nowadays.
What do they do now?  Why, imitate gypsies and Moscow pedlers.  No!
then one used to dress himself as a Jew, another as the Devil: they
would begin by kissing each other, and ended by seizing each other by
the hair. . . .  God be with them! you laughed till you held your
sides.  They dressed themselves in Turkish and Tartar garments.  All
upon them glowed like a conflagration, . . . and then they began to
joke and play pranks. . . .  Well, then away with the saints!  An
amusing thing happened to my grandfather's aunt, who was at this
wedding.  She was dressed in a voluminous Tartar robe, and, wine-glass
in hand, was entertaining the company.  The Evil One instigated one man
to pour vodka over her from behind.  Another, at the same moment,
evidently not by accident, struck a light, and touched it to her; . . .
the flame flashed up; poor aunt, in terror, flung her robe from her,
before them all. . . . Screams, laughter, jest, arose, as if at a fair.
In a word, the old folks could not recall so merry a wedding.

Pidorka and Petrus began to live like a gentleman and lady.  There was
plenty of everything, and everything was handsome. . . .  But honest
people shook their heads when they looked at their way of living.
"From the Devil no good can come," they unanimously agreed.  "Whence,
except from the tempter of orthodox people, came this wealth?  Where
else could he get such a lot of gold?  Why, on the very day that he got
rich, did Basavriuk vanish as if into thin air?"  Say, if you can, that
people imagine things!  In fact, a month had not passed, and no one
would have recognized Petrus.  Why, what had happened to him?  God
knows.  He sits in one spot, and says no word to any one: he thinks
continually, and seems to be trying to recall something.  When Pidorka
succeeds in getting him to speak, he seems to forget himself, carries
on a conversation, and even grows cheerful; but if he inadvertently
glances at the sacks, "Stop, stop!  I have forgotten," he cries, and
again plunges into reverie, and again strives to recall something.
Sometimes when he has sat long in a place, it seems to him as though it
were coming, just coming back to mind, . . . and again all fades away.
It seems as if he is sitting in the tavern: they bring him vodka; vodka
stings him; vodka is repulsive to him.  Some one comes along, and
strikes him on the shoulder; . . . but beyond that everything is veiled
in darkness before him.  The perspiration streams down his face, and he
sits exhausted in the same place.

What did not Pidorka do?  She consulted the sorceress; and they poured
out fear, and brewed stomach ache,[Footnote: "To pour out fear," is
done with us in case of fear; when it is desired to know what caused
it, melted lead or wax is poured into water, and the object whose form
it assumes is the one which frightened the sick person; after this, the
fear departs.  Sonyashnitza is brewed for giddiness, and pain in the
bowels.  To this end, a bit of stump is burned, thrown into a jug, and
turned upside down into a bowl filled with water, which is placed on
the patient's stomach: after an incantation, he is given a spoonful of
this water to drink.]--but all to no avail.  And so the summer passed.
Many a Cossack had mowed and reaped: many a Cossack, more enterprising
than the rest, had set off upon an expedition.  Flocks of ducks were
already crowding our marshes, but there was not even a hint of

It was red upon the steppes.  Ricks of grain, like Cossacks' caps,
dotted the fields here and there.  On the highway were to be
encountered wagons loaded with brushwood and logs.  The ground had
become more solid, and in places was touched with frost.  Already had
the snow begun to besprinkle the sky, and the branches of the trees
were covered with rime like rabbit-skin.  Already on frosty days the
red-breasted finch hopped about on the snow-heaps like a foppish Polish
nobleman, and picked out grains of corn; and children, with huge
sticks, chased wooden tops upon the ice; while their fathers lay
quietly on the stove, issuing forth at intervals with lighted pipes in
their lips, to growl, in regular fashion, at the orthodox frost, or to
take the air, and thresh the grain spread out in the barn.  At last the
snow began to melt, and the ice rind slipped away: but Petro remained
the same; and, the longer it went on, the more morose he grew.  He sat
in the middle of the cottage as though nailed to the spot, with the
sacks of gold at his feet.  He grew shy, his hair grew long, he became
terrible; and still he thought of but one thing, still he tried to
recall something, and got angry and ill-tempered because he could not
recall it.  Often, rising wildly from his seat, he gesticulates
violently, fixes his eyes on something as though desirous of catching
it: his lips move as though desirous of uttering some long-forgotten
word--and remain speechless.  Fury takes possession of him: he gnaws
and bites his hands like a man half crazy, and in his vexation tears
out his hair by the handful, until, calming down, he falls into
forgetfulness, as it were, and again begins to recall, and is again
seized with fury and fresh tortures. . . .  What visitation of God is

Pidorka was neither dead nor alive.  At first it was horrible to her to
remain alone in the cottage; but, in course of time, the poor woman
grew accustomed to her sorrow.  But it was impossible to recognize the
Pidorka of former days.  No blush, no smile: she was thin and worn with
grief, and had wept her bright eyes away.  Once, some one who evidently
took pity on her advised her to go to the witch who dwelt in the Bear's
ravine, and enjoyed the reputation of being able to cure every disease
in the world.  She determined to try this last remedy: word by word she
persuaded the old woman to come to her.  This was St. John's Eve, as it
chanced.  Petro lay insensible on the bench, and did not observe the
new-comer.  Little by little he rose, and looked about him.  Suddenly
he trembled in every limb, as though he were on the scaffold: his hair
rose upon his head, . . . and he laughed such a laugh as pierced
Pidorka's heart with fear.  "I have remembered, remembered!" he cried
in terrible joy; and, swinging a hatchet round his head, he flung it at
the old woman with all his might.  The hatchet penetrated the oaken
door two vershok (three inches and a half).  The old woman disappeared;
and a child of seven in a white blouse, with covered head, stood in the
middle of the cottage. . . .  The sheet flew off.  "Ivas!" cried
Pidorka, and ran to him; but the apparition became covered from head to
foot with blood, and illumined the whole room with red light. . . .
She ran into the passage in her terror, but, on recovering herself a
little, wished to help him; in vain! the door had slammed to behind her
so securely that she could not open it.  People ran up, and began to
knock: they broke in the door, as though there was but one mind among
them.  The whole cottage was full of smoke; and just in the middle,
where Petrus had stood, was a heap of ashes, from which smoke was still
rising.  They flung themselves upon the sacks: only broken potsherds
lay there instead of ducats.  The Cossacks stood with staring eyes and
open mouths, not daring to move a hair, as if rooted to the earth, such
terror did this wonder inspire in them.

I do not remember what happened next.  Pidorka took a vow to go upon a
pilgrimage, collected the property left her by her father, and in a few
days it was as if she had never been in the village.  Whither she had
gone, no one could tell.  Officious old women would have despatched her
to the same place whither Petro had gone; but a Cossack from Kief
reported that he had seen in a cloister, a nun withered to a mere
skeleton, who prayed unceasingly; and her fellow villagers recognized
her as Pidorka, by all the signs,--that no one had ever heard her utter
a word; that she had come on foot, and had brought a frame for the ikon
of God's mother, set with such brilliant stones that all were dazzled
at the sight.

But this was not the end, if you please.  On the same day that the Evil
One made way with Petrus, Basavriuk appeared again; but all fled from
him.  They knew what sort of a bird he was,--none else than Satan, who
had assumed human form in order to unearth treasures; and, since
treasures do not yield to unclean hands, he seduced the young.  That
same year, all deserted their earth huts, and collected in a village;
but, even there, there was no peace, on account of that accursed
Basavriuk. My late grandfather's aunt said that he was particularly
angry with her, because she had abandoned her former tavern, and tried
with all his might to revenge himself upon her.  Once the village
elders were assembled in the tavern, and, as the saying goes, were
arranging the precedence at the table, in the middle of which was
placed a small roasted lamb, shame to say.  They chattered about this,
that, and the other,--among the rest about various marvels and strange
things.  Well, they saw something; it would have been nothing if only
one had seen it, but all saw it; and it was this: the sheep raised his
head; his goggling eyes became alive and sparkled; and the black,
bristling moustache, which appeared for one instant, made a significant
gesture at those present.  All, at once, recognized Basavriuk's
countenance in the sheep's head: my grandfather's aunt thought it was
on the point of asking for vodka. . . .  The worthy elders seized their
hats, and hastened home.

Another time, the church starost [Footnote: Elder] himself, who was
fond of an occasional private interview with my grandfather's
brandy-glass, had not succeeded in getting to the bottom twice, when he
beheld the glass bowing very low to him.  "Satan take you, let us make
the sign of the cross over you!" . . .  And the same marvel happened to
his better-half.  She had just begun to mix the dough in a huge
kneading-trough, when suddenly the trough sprang up.  "Stop, stop!
where are you going?" Putting its arms akimbo, with dignity, it went
skipping all about the cottage. . . .  You may laugh, but it was no
laughing-matter to our grandfathers.  And in vain did Father Athanasii
go through all the village with holy water, and chase the Devil through
all the streets with his brush; and my late grandfather's aunt long
complained that, as soon as it was dark, some one came knocking at her
door, and scratching at the wall.

Well!  All appears to be quiet now, in the place where our village
stands; but it was not so very long ago--my father was still
alive--that I remember how a good man could not pass the ruined tavern,
which a dishonest race had long managed for their own interest.  From
the smoke-blackened chimneys, smoke poured out in a pillar, and rising
high in the air, as if to take an observation, rolled off like a cap,
scattering burning coals over the steppe; and Satan (the son of a dog
should not be mentioned) sobbed so pitifully in his lair, that the
startled ravens rose in flocks from the neighboring oak-wood, and flew
through the air with wild cries.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

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

 Claude Monet's The Hunt, 1876,  Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Paris.
The following translation of "Sera d’ottobre" ("October Evening") 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!) and  on Kobo.

The Hunter

Flutters the sketch of an idea in the still
air; it sings in the sky. The hunter sees it,
listens to it; follows it: his heart swims within.

Then, when with the dart, like sunlight’s blade,
shiny and straight, he strikes it down,
Oh, the poet! he was rejoicing, now lies in pain.

Ha! golden throat and beryllium eyes,
little siren of the high sky,
see, you no longer soar, nor shine,
nor sing: and don’t suffice this supper of mine.

Il Cacciatore

Frulla un tratto l’idea nell’aria immota;
canta nel cielo. Il cacciator la vede,
l’ode; la segue: il cuor dentro gli nuota.

Se poi col dardo, come fil di sole
lucido e retto, bàttesela al piede,
oh il poeta! gioiva; ora si duole.

Deh! gola d’oro e occhi di berilli,
piccoletta del cielo alto sirena,
ecco, tu più non voli, più non brilli,
più non canti: e non basti alla mia cena.

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)

Saturday, October 14, 2017

"Sera d’ottobre" (October Evening) by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. "Sera d’ottobre" (October Evening) from the collection "Myricae" (1891-1900)

Autumn Landscape with Four Trees, Vincent van Gogh, 1885; Nuenen, Netherlands

The following translation of "Sera d’ottobre" ("October Evening") 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!)  


October Evening

Along the street you see on the hedge
red berries laughing in clusters:
in the plowed fields to the shed make
             a late return the cows.

Along the road a poor lad with a tired tread is 
shuffling along slowly on the crispy leaves:
in the fields a young girl to the wind starts to sing:
                        Flower of thorns!...

Sera d’Ottobre

Lungo la strada vedi su la siepe
ridere a mazzi le vermiglie bacche:
nei campi arati tornano al presepe
                tarde le vacche.

Vien per la strada un povero che il lento
passo tra foglie stridule trascina:
nei campi intuona una fanciulla al vento:
                    Fiore di spina!...

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)

Saturday, October 7, 2017

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

Girl in White in the Woods, August 1882, Oil on paper mounted on canvas, Kröller-Müller Museum, the Netherlands

The following translation of "Il Bosco" ("The Wood") 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 Wood

Oh, old wood full of arbutuses,
which smells of mushrooms and casts a spell,
which I already heard ringing loud
with invisible cicadas and birds:

within you live the mischievous fauns
at the mercy of which are airs that whisper;
lives the nymph, who the slow steps spies,
her blonde hair in the flickering shadows.

At dawn, through the brushwood the nymphs 
appear at times, if the desire wins them over,
some the eye catches, and the sun kisses.

And they disappear; yet alive is the thicket,
always alive in the flowers of the periwinkle
and in the great wisps of the acacia shrubs.

Il Bosco

O vecchio bosco pieno d'albatrelli,
che sai di funghi e spiri la malìa,
cui tutto io già scampanellare udia
di cicale invisibili e d'uccelli:

in te vivono i fauni ridarelli
ch'hanno le sussurranti aure in balìa;
vive la ninfa, e i passi lenti spia,
bionda tra le interrotte ombre i capelli.

Di ninfe albeggia in mezzo alla ramaglia
or sì or no, che se il desio le vinca,
l'occhio alcuna ne attinge, e il sol le bacia.

Dileguano; e pur viva è la boscaglia,
viva sempre ne' fior della pervinca
e nelle grandi ciocche dell'acacia.

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)