Franz Kafka

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

 
PART I

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.

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
string!”

“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.”

“No.”

“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
dressing-gown.

“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
awoke.

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
awakening.

“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
pictures.”

“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
business.”

“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
landlord.”

“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
interrogation.

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
rapture.

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:--

“TCHARTKOFF’S IMMENSE TALENT

“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
is!”

“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
time.

“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
spots.”

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)



 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Wife" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; (1898) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, from "The Wife, and Other Stories" (translated in English by Constance Garnett)

Portrait of Anton Chekhov


THE WIFE AND OTHER STORIES


THE WIFE

I

I RECEIVED the following letter:

“DEAR SIR, PAVEL ANDREITCH!

“Not far from you--that is to say, in the village of Pestrovo--very
distressing incidents are taking place, concerning which I feel it
my duty to write to you. All the peasants of that village sold their
cottages and all their belongings, and set off for the province of
Tomsk, but did not succeed in getting there, and have come back. Here,
of course, they have nothing now; everything belongs to other people.
They have settled three or four families in a hut, so that there are no
less than fifteen persons of both sexes in each hut, not counting the
young children; and the long and the short of it is, there is nothing
to eat. There is famine and there is a terrible pestilence of hunger, or
spotted, typhus; literally every one is stricken. The doctor’s assistant
says one goes into a cottage and what does one see? Every one is sick,
every one delirious, some laughing, others frantic; the huts are filthy;
there is no one to fetch them water, no one to give them a drink, and
nothing to eat but frozen potatoes. What can Sobol (our Zemstvo doctor)
and his lady assistant do when more than medicine the peasants need
bread which they have not? The District Zemstvo refuses to assist them,
on the ground that their names have been taken off the register of this
district, and that they are now reckoned as inhabitants of Tomsk; and,
besides, the Zemstvo has no money.

“Laying these facts before you, and knowing your humanity, I beg you not
to refuse immediate help.

“Your well-wisher.”

Obviously the letter was written by the doctor with the animal name* or
his lady assistant. Zemstvo doctors and their assistants go on for years
growing more and more convinced every day that they can do _nothing_,
and yet continue to receive their salaries from people who are living
upon frozen potatoes, and consider they have a right to judge whether I
am humane or not.

     *Sobol in Russian means “sable-marten.”--TRANSLATOR’S NOTE.

Worried by the anonymous letter and by the fact that peasants came every
morning to the servants’ kitchen and went down on their knees there, and
that twenty sacks of rye had been stolen at night out of the barn, the
wall having first been broken in, and by the general depression which
was fostered by conversations, newspapers, and horrible weather--worried
by all this, I worked listlessly and ineffectively. I was writing
“A History of Railways”; I had to read a great number of Russian
and foreign books, pamphlets, and articles in the magazines, to make
calculations, to refer to logarithms, to think and to write; then again
to read, calculate, and think; but as soon as I took up a book or began
to think, my thoughts were in a muddle, my eyes began blinking, I would
get up from the table with a sigh and begin walking about the big rooms
of my deserted country-house. When I was tired of walking about I would
stand still at my study window, and, looking across the wide courtyard,
over the pond and the bare young birch-trees and the great fields
covered with recently fallen, thawing snow, I saw on a low hill on the
horizon a group of mud-coloured huts from which a black muddy road ran
down in an irregular streak through the white field. That was Pestrovo,
concerning which my anonymous correspondent had written to me. If it had
not been for the crows who, foreseeing rain or snowy weather, floated
cawing over the pond and the fields, and the tapping in the carpenter’s
shed, this bit of the world about which such a fuss was being made
would have seemed like the Dead Sea; it was all so still, motionless,
lifeless, and dreary!

My uneasiness hindered me from working and concentrating myself; I did
not know what it was, and chose to believe it was disappointment. I had
actually given up my post in the Department of Ways and Communications,
and had come here into the country expressly to live in peace and
to devote myself to writing on social questions. It had long been my
cherished dream. And now I had to say good-bye both to peace and to
literature, to give up everything and think only of the peasants. And
that was inevitable, because I was convinced that there was absolutely
nobody in the district except me to help the starving. The people
surrounding me were uneducated, unintellectual, callous, for the most
part dishonest, or if they were honest, they were unreasonable and
unpractical like my wife, for instance. It was impossible to rely on
such people, it was impossible to leave the peasants to their fate, so
that the only thing left to do was to submit to necessity and see to
setting the peasants to rights myself.

I began by making up my mind to give five thousand roubles to the
assistance of the starving peasants. And that did not decrease, but only
aggravated my uneasiness. As I stood by the window or walked about
the rooms I was tormented by the question which had not occurred to me
before: how this money was to be spent. To have bread bought and to go
from hut to hut distributing it was more than one man could do, to say
nothing of the risk that in your haste you might give twice as much to
one who was well-fed or to one who was making money out of his fellows
as to the hungry. I had no faith in the local officials. All these
district captains and tax inspectors were young men, and I distrusted
them as I do all young people of today, who are materialistic and
without ideals. The District Zemstvo, the Peasant Courts, and all the
local institutions, inspired in me not the slightest desire to appeal to
them for assistance. I knew that all these institutions who were busily
engaged in picking out plums from the Zemstvo and the Government pie
had their mouths always wide open for a bite at any other pie that might
turn up.

The idea occurred to me to invite the neighbouring landowners and
suggest to them to organize in my house something like a committee or
a centre to which all subscriptions could be forwarded, and from
which assistance and instructions could be distributed throughout the
district; such an organization, which would render possible frequent
consultations and free control on a big scale, would completely meet
my views. But I imagined the lunches, the dinners, the suppers and the
noise, the waste of time, the verbosity and the bad taste which that
mixed provincial company would inevitably bring into my house, and I
made haste to reject my idea.

As for the members of my own household, the last thing I could look
for was help or support from them. Of my father’s household, of the
household of my childhood, once a big and noisy family, no one remained
but the governess Mademoiselle Marie, or, as she was now called, Marya
Gerasimovna, an absolutely insignificant person. She was a precise
little old lady of seventy, who wore a light grey dress and a cap with
white ribbons, and looked like a china doll. She always sat in the
drawing-room reading.

Whenever I passed by her, she would say, knowing the reason for my
brooding:

“What can you expect, Pasha? I told you how it would be before. You can
judge from our servants.”

My wife, Natalya Gavrilovna, lived on the lower storey, all the rooms of
which she occupied. She slept, had her meals, and received her visitors
downstairs in her own rooms, and took not the slightest interest in how
I dined, or slept, or whom I saw. Our relations with one another were
simple and not strained, but cold, empty, and dreary as relations are
between people who have been so long estranged, that even living under
the same roof gives no semblance of nearness. There was no trace now of
the passionate and tormenting love--at one time sweet, at another bitter
as wormwood--which I had once felt for Natalya Gavrilovna. There
was nothing left, either, of the outbursts of the past--the loud
altercations, upbraidings, complaints, and gusts of hatred which had
usually ended in my wife’s going abroad or to her own people, and in my
sending money in small but frequent instalments that I might sting her
pride oftener. (My proud and sensitive wife and her family live at my
expense, and much as she would have liked to do so, my wife could not
refuse my money: that afforded me satisfaction and was one comfort in
my sorrow.) Now when we chanced to meet in the corridor downstairs or in
the yard, I bowed, she smiled graciously. We spoke of the weather, said
that it seemed time to put in the double windows, and that some one with
bells on their harness had driven over the dam. And at such times I read
in her face: “I am faithful to you and am not disgracing your good name
which you think so much about; you are sensible and do not worry me; we
are quits.”

I assured myself that my love had died long ago, that I was too much
absorbed in my work to think seriously of my relations with my wife.
But, alas! that was only what I imagined. When my wife talked aloud
downstairs I listened intently to her voice, though I could not
distinguish one word. When she played the piano downstairs I stood up
and listened. When her carriage or her saddlehorse was brought to the
door, I went to the window and waited to see her out of the house; then
I watched her get into her carriage or mount her horse and ride out of
the yard. I felt that there was something wrong with me, and was afraid
the expression of my eyes or my face might betray me. I looked after my
wife and then watched for her to come back that I might see again
from the window her face, her shoulders, her fur coat, her hat. I felt
dreary, sad, infinitely regretful, and felt inclined in her absence to
walk through her rooms, and longed that the problem that my wife and
I had not been able to solve because our characters were incompatible,
should solve itself in the natural way as soon as possible--that is,
that this beautiful woman of twenty-seven might make haste and grow old,
and that my head might be grey and bald.

One day at lunch my bailiff informed me that the Pestrovo peasants
had begun to pull the thatch off the roofs to feed their cattle. Marya
Gerasimovna looked at me in alarm and perplexity.

“What can I do?” I said to her. “One cannot fight single-handed, and I
have never experienced such loneliness as I do now. I would give a great
deal to find one man in the whole province on whom I could rely.”

“Invite Ivan Ivanitch,” said Marya Gerasimovna.

“To be sure!” I thought, delighted. “That is an idea! _C’est raison_,”
 I hummed, going to my study to write to Ivan Ivanitch. “_C’est raison,
c’est raison_.”

II

Of all the mass of acquaintances who, in this house twenty-five to
thirty-five years ago, had eaten, drunk, masqueraded, fallen in love,
married, bored us with accounts of their splendid packs of hounds and
horses, the only one still living was Ivan Ivanitch Bragin. At one time
he had been very active, talkative, noisy, and given to falling in love,
and had been famous for his extreme views and for the peculiar charm of
his face, which fascinated men as well as women; now he was an old man,
had grown corpulent, and was living out his days with neither views nor
charm. He came the day after getting my letter, in the evening just
as the samovar was brought into the dining-room and little Marya
Gerasimovna had begun slicing the lemon.

“I am very glad to see you, my dear fellow,” I said gaily, meeting him.
“Why, you are stouter than ever....”

“It isn’t getting stout; it’s swelling,” he answered. “The bees must
have stung me.”

With the familiarity of a man laughing at his own fatness, he put his
arms round my waist and laid on my breast his big soft head, with the
hair combed down on the forehead like a Little Russian’s, and went off
into a thin, aged laugh.

“And you go on getting younger,” he said through his laugh. “I wonder
what dye you use for your hair and beard; you might let me have some of
it.” Sniffing and gasping, he embraced me and kissed me on the cheek.
“You might give me some of it,” he repeated. “Why, you are not forty,
are you?”

“Alas, I am forty-six!” I said, laughing.

Ivan Ivanitch smelt of tallow candles and cooking, and that suited him.
His big, puffy, slow-moving body was swathed in a long frock-coat like a
coachman’s full coat, with a high waist, and with hooks and eyes
instead of buttons, and it would have been strange if he had smelt of
eau-de-Cologne, for instance. In his long, unshaven, bluish double chin,
which looked like a thistle, his goggle eyes, his shortness of breath,
and in the whole of his clumsy, slovenly figure, in his voice, his
laugh, and his words, it was difficult to recognize the graceful,
interesting talker who used in old days to make the husbands of the
district jealous on account of their wives.

“I am in great need of your assistance, my friend,” I said, when we were
sitting in the dining-room, drinking tea. “I want to organize relief for
the starving peasants, and I don’t know how to set about it. So perhaps
you will be so kind as to advise me.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said Ivan Ivanitch, sighing. “To be sure, to be sure,
to be sure....”

“I would not have worried you, my dear fellow, but really there is no
one here but you I can appeal to. You know what people are like about
here.”

“To be sure, to be sure, to be sure.... Yes.”

I thought that as we were going to have a serious, business consultation
in which any one might take part, regardless of their position or
personal relations, why should I not invite Natalya Gavrilovna.

“_Tres faciunt collegium_,” I said gaily. “What if we were to ask
Natalya Gavrilovna? What do you think? Fenya,” I said, turning to the
maid, “ask Natalya Gavrilovna to come upstairs to us, if possible at
once. Tell her it’s a very important matter.”

Thursday, June 22, 2017

"Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka: English version. "Schakale und Araber, Jackals and Arabs" by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German

 

Franz Kafka at age 5  (1888)

The following is an excerpt from "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.  


Jackals and Arabs



"...We were camping in the oasis. My companions were asleep. An Arab, tall and white, went past me; he had tended to his camels and was going to his sleeping place.
I threw myself on my back on the grass; I wanted to sleep; I couldn’t; the howling of a jackal in the distance; I sat up straight again. And what had been so far away was suddenly close by. A multitude of jackals around me; their eyes flashing dull gold and then extinguishing; lean bodies moving in a nimble, coordinated manner, as if responding to a whip.
One of them came from behind, pushed himself under my arm, right against me, as if it needed my warmth, then stepped in front of me and spoke, almost eye to eye with me:
“I’m the oldest jackal far and wide. I’m happy that I’m still able to welcome you here. I had almost given up hope, for we’ve been waiting for you an infinitely long time. My mother waited, and her mother, and all her mothers, right back to the mother of all jackals. Believe it!”

“That surprises me,” I said, forgetting to light the pile of wood which laid ready to keep the jackals away with its smoke, “That surprises me to hear. Only by chance I’ve come from the high north and I meant to be just in a short trip. What do you jackals want then?”
As if encouraged by this, perhaps too friendly, conversation they drew their circle more closely around me, all of them panting and snarling.
“We know,” the oldest began, “that you come from the north, and on that alone rests our hope. In the north there is a way of understanding things, that one cannot find here among the Arabs. From their cool arrogance, you know, one cannot beat a spark of common sense. They kill animals to eat them, and they disregard the carcasses.”
“Don’t speak so loud,” I said, “there are Arabs sleeping close by.”
“You really are a stranger,” said the jackal, “otherwise you would know that throughout the history of the world a jackal has never yet feared an Arab. Should we fear them? Is it not misfortune enough that we have been outcasted under such people?”
“Maybe, maybe,” I said. “I’m not up to judging things which are so far from me; it seems to be a very old fight; it’s probably in the blood and so, perhaps, will only end with blood.”
“You are very clever,” said the old jackal; and they all breathed even more quickly, with harried lungs, although they were standing still; a bitter smell, which I could temporarily bear only by clenching my teeth, emanated from their open mouths. “You are very clever. What you said corresponds to our ancient doctrine. So we take their blood, and the fight is over.”
“Oh,” I said, in a wilder manner than I intended, “they’ll defend themselves. They’ll shoot you down in droves with their guns.” “You misunderstand us,” he said, “a trait of human beings which has not disappeared, not even in the high north. We are not going to kill them. The Nile does not have enough water to wash us clean. At the mere sight of their living bodies, we immediately run away into cleaner air, into the desert, that is therefore our home.”
 All the jackals around, including many more that in the meantime had joined coming from afar, lowered their heads between the forelegs and wiped them with their paws; it was as if they wanted to conceal an aversion, which was so dreadful that I would have much preferred to escape beyond their circle with a high jump.

 “So what do you intend to do?” I asked. I wanted to stand up, but I couldn’t; two young animals were holding me firmly from behind, biting my jacket and shirt. I had to remain seated. “They are holding your train,” said the old jackal seriously, by way of explanation, “a sign of respect.”
 “They should let me go,” I cried out, turning now to the old one, now to the young ones. “They will, of course,” said the old one, “if that’s what you ask. But it will take a little while, for, as is our habit, they have dug in their teeth deep and must disengage their bites gradually. Meanwhile, listen to our prayer.” “Your conduct has not made me very receptive to it,” I said. “Don’t make us pay for our clumsiness,” he said, and now for the first time he brought the wailing tone of his natural voice to his assistance. “We are poor animals, all we have is our teeth; for everything we want to do, the good and the bad, only our teeth we have.” “So what do you want?” I asked, only slightly appeased.
“Sir,” he cried, and all the jackals howled; very remotely it sounded to me like a melody.
 “Sir, you should end the fight which divides the world..."


Schakale und Araber


Wir lagerten in der Oase. Die Gefährten schliefen. Ein Araber, hoch und weiß, kam an mir vorüber; er hatte die Kamele versorgt und ging zum Schlafplatz.
Ich warf mich rücklings ins Gras; ich wollte schlafen; ich konnte nicht; das Klagegeheul eines Schakals in der Ferne; ich saß wieder aufrecht. Und was so weit gewesen war, war plötzlich nah. Ein Gewimmel von Schakalen um mich her; in mattem Gold erglänzende, verlöschende Augen; schlanke Leiber, wie unter einer Peitsche gesetzmäßig und flink bewegt.
Einer kam von rückwärts, drängte sich, unter meinem Arm durch, eng an mich, als brauche er meine Wärme, trat dann vor mich und sprach, fast Aug in Aug mit mir:
»Ich bin der älteste Schakal, weit und breit. Ich bin glücklich, dich noch hier begrüßen zu können. Ich hatte schon die Hoffnung fast aufgegeben, denn wir warten unendlich lange auf dich; meine Mutter hat gewartet und ihre Mutter und weiter alle ihre Mütter bis hinauf zur Mutter aller Schakale. Glaube es!«
»Das wundert mich«, sagte ich und vergaß, den Holzstoß anzuzünden, der bereitlag, um mit seinem Rauch die Schakale abzuhalten, »das wundert mich sehr zu hören. Nur zufällig komme ich aus dem hohen Norden und bin auf einer kurzen Reise begriffen. Was wollt ihr denn, Schakale?«
Und wie ermutigt durch diesen vielleicht allzu freundlichen Zuspruch zogen sie ihren Kreis enger um mich; alle atmeten kurz und fauchend.
»Wir wissen«, begann der Älteste, »daß du vom Norden kommst, darauf eben baut sich unsere Hoffnung. Dort ist der Verstand, der hier unter den Arabern nicht zu finden ist. Aus diesem kalten Hochmut, weißt du, ist kein Funken Verstand zu schlagen. Sie töten Tiere, um sie zu fressen, und Aas mißachten sie.«
»Rede nicht so laut«, sagte ich, »es schlafen Araber in der Nähe.«
»Du bist wirklich ein Fremder«, sagte der Schakal, »sonst wüßtest du, daß noch niemals in der Weltgeschichte ein Schakal einen Araber gefürchtet hat. Fürchten sollten wir sie? Ist es nicht Unglück genug, daß wir unter solches Volk verstoßen sind?«
»Mag sein, mag sein«, sagte ich, »ich maße mir kein Urteil an in Dingen, die mir so fern liegen; es scheint ein sehr alter Streit; liegt also wohl im Blut; wird also vielleicht erst mit dem Blute enden.«
»Du bist sehr klug«, sagte der alte Schakal; und alle atmeten noch schneller; mit gehetzten Lungen, trotzdem sie doch stillestanden; ein bitterer, zeitweilig nur mit zusammengeklemmten Zähnen erträglicher Geruch entströmte den offenen Mäulern, »du bist sehr klug; das, was du sagst, entspricht unserer alten Lehre. Wir nehmen ihnen also ihr Blut und der Streit ist zu Ende.«
»Oh!« sagte ich wilder, als ich wollte, »sie werden sich wehren; sie werden mit ihren Flinten euch rudelweise niederschießen.«
»Du mißverstehst uns«, sagte er,»nach Menschenart, die sich also auch im hohen Norden nicht verliert. Wir werden sie doch nicht töten. So viel Wasser hätte der Nil nicht, um uns rein zu waschen. Wir laufen doch schon vor dem bloßen Anblick ihres lebenden Leibes weg, in reinere Luft, in die Wüste, die deshalb unsere Heimat ist.«
Und alle Schakale ringsum, zu denen inzwischen noch viele von fern her gekommen waren, senkten die Köpfe zwischen die Vorderbeine und putzten sie mit den Pfoten; es war, als wollten sie einen Widerwillen verbergen, der so schrecklich war, daß ich am liebsten mit einem hohen Sprung aus ihrem Kreis entflohen wäre.
»Was beabsichtigt ihr also zu tun?« fragte ich und wollte aufstehn; aber ich konnte nicht; zwei junge Tiere hatten sich mir hinten in Rock und Hemd festgebissen; ich mußte sitzenbleiben. »Sie halten deine Schleppe«, sagte der alte Schakal erklärend und ernsthaft, »eine Ehrbezeigung.« »Sie sollen mich loslassen!« rief ich, bald zum Alten, bald zu den Jungen gewendet. »Sie werden es natürlich«, sagte der Alte, »wenn du es verlangst. Es dauert aber ein Weilchen, denn sie haben nach der Sitte tief sich eingebissen und müssen erst langsam die Gebisse voneinander lösen. Inzwischen höre unsere Bitte.« »Euer Verhalten hat mich dafür nicht sehr empfänglich gemacht«, sagte ich. »Laß uns unser Ungeschick nicht entgelten«, sagte er und nahm jetzt zum erstenmal den Klageton seiner natürlichen Stimme zu Hilfe, »wir sind arme Tiere, wir haben nur das Gebiß; für alles, was wir tun wollen, das Gute und das Schlechte, bleibt uns einzig das Gebiß.« »Was willst du also?« fragte ich, nur wenig besänftigt.
»Herr« rief er, und alle Schakale heulten auf; in fernster Ferne schien es mir eine Melodie zu sein. »Herr, du sollst den Streit beenden, der die Welt entzweit. So wie du bist, haben unsere Alten den beschrieben, der es tun wird. Frieden müssen wir haben von den Arabern; atembare Luft; gereinigt von ihnen den Ausblick rund am Horizont; kein Klagegeschrei eines Hammels, den der Araber absticht; ruhig soll alles Getier krepieren; ungestört soll es von uns leergetrunken und bis auf die Knochen gereinigt werden. Reinheit, nichts als Reinheit wollen wir«, – und nun weinten, schluchzten alle – »wie erträgst nur du es in dieser Welt, du edles Herz und süßes Eingeweide? Schmutz ist ihr Weiß; Schmutz ist ihr Schwarz; ein Grauen ist ihr Bart; speien muß man beim Anblick ihrer Augenwinkel; und heben sie den Arm, tut sich in der Achselhöhle die Hölle auf. Darum, o Herr, darum, o teuerer Herr, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände, mit Hilfe deiner alles vermögenden Hände schneide ihnen mit dieser Schere die Hälse durch!« Und einem Ruck seines Kopfes folgend kam ein Schakal herbei, der an einem Eckzahn eine kleine, mit altem Rost bedeckte Nähschere trug.
»Also endlich die Schere und damit Schluß!« rief der Araberführer unserer Karawane, der sich gegen den Wind an uns herangeschlichen hatte und nun seine riesige Peitsche schwang.
Alles verlief sich eiligst, aber in einiger Entfernung blieben sie doch, eng zusammengekauert, die vielen Tiere so eng und starr, daß es aussah wie eine schmale Hürde, von Irrlichtern umflogen.
»So hast du, Herr, auch dieses Schauspiel gesehen und gehört«, sagte der Araber und lachte so fröhlich, als es die Zurückhaltung seines Stammes erlaubte. »Du weißt also, was die Tiere wollen?« fragte ich. »Natürlich, Herr«, sagte er, »das ist doch allbekannt; solange es Araber gibt, wandert diese Schere durch die Wüste und wird mit uns wandern bis ans Ende der Tage. Jedem Europäer wird sie angeboten zu dem großen Werk; jeder Europäer ist gerade derjenige, welcher ihnen berufen scheint. Eine unsinnige Hoffnung haben diese Tiere; Narren, wahre Narren sind sie. Wir lieben sie deshalb; es sind unsere Hunde; schöner als die eurigen. Sieh nur, ein Kamel ist in der Nacht verendet, ich habe es herschaffen lassen.«
Vier Träger kamen und warfen den schweren Kadaver vor uns hin. Kaum lag er da, erhoben die Schakale ihre Stimmen. Wie von Stricken unwiderstehlich jeder einzelne gezogen, kamen sie, stockend, mit dem Leib den Boden streifend, heran. Sie hatten die Araber vergessen, den Haß vergessen, die alles auslöschende Gegenwart des stark ausdunstenden Leichnams bezauberte sie. Schon hing einer am Hals und fand mit dem ersten Biß die Schlagader. Wie eine kleine rasende Pumpe, die ebenso unbedingt wie aussichtslos einen übermächtigen Brand löschen will, zerrte und zuckte jede Muskel seines Körpers an ihrem Platz. Und schon lagen in gleicher Arbeit alle auf dem Leichnam hoch zu Berg.
Da strich der Führer kräftig mit der scharfen Peitsche kreuz und quer über sie. Sie hoben die Köpfe; halb in Rausch und Ohnmacht; sahen die Araber vor sich stehen; bekamen jetzt die Peitsche mit den Schnauzen zu fühlen; zogen sich im Sprung zurück und liefen eine Strecke rückwärts. Aber das Blut des Kamels lag schon in Lachen da, rauchte empor, der Körper war an mehreren Stellen weit aufgerissen. Sie konnten nicht widerstehen; wieder waren sie da; wieder hob der Führer die Peitsche; ich faßte seinen Arm. »Du hast recht, Herr«, sagte er, »wir lassen sie bei ihrem Beruf, auch ist es Zeit aufzubrechen. Gesehen hast du sie. Wunderbare Tiere, nicht wahr? Und wie sie uns hassen!«