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Who Can Be Happy And Free In Russia? by Nicholas Nekrassov

Part 7 out of 7

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(The elder ones work
In the hay fields already).
He stopped awhile, seeking
For horse-chestnuts with them.
The sun was now hot;
To the river went Grsha
To bathe, and he had
A good view of the ruins
That three days before
Had been burnt. What a picture!
No house is left standing; 301
And only the prison
Is saved; just a few days
Ago it was whitewashed;
It stands like a little
White cow in the pastures.
The guards and officials
Have made it their refuge;
But all the poor peasants
Are strewn by the river 310
Like soldiers in camp.
Though they're mostly asleep now,
A few are astir,
And two under-officials
Are picking their way
To the tent for some vodka
'Mid tables and cupboards
And waggons and bundles.
A tailor approaches
The vodka tent also; 320
A shrivelled old fellow.
His irons and his scissors
He holds in his hands,
Like a leaf he is shaking.
The pope has arisen
From sleep, full of prayers.
He is combing his hair;
Like a girl he is holding
His long shining plait.
Down the Volga comes floating 330
Some wood-laden rafts,
And three ponderous barges
Are anchored beneath
The right bank of the river.
The barge-tower yesterday
Evening had dragged them
With songs to their places,
And there he is standing,
The poor harassed man!
He is looking quite gay though, 340
As if on a holiday,
Has a clean shirt on;
Some farthings are jingling
Aloud in his pocket.
Young Grsha observes him
For long from the river,
And, half to himself,
Half aloud, begins singing:

_The Barge-Tower_

With shoulders back and breast astrain,
And bathed in sweat which falls like rain,
Through midday heat with gasping song,
He drags the heavy barge along. 352
He falls and rises with a groan,
His song becomes a husky moan....
But now the barge at anchor lies,
A giant's sleep has sealed his eyes;
And in the bath at break of day
He drives the clinging sweat away.
Then leisurely along the quay
He strolls refreshed, and roubles three 360
Are sewn into his girdle wide;
Some coppers jingle at his side.
He thinks awhile, and then he goes
Towards the tavern. There he throws
Some hard-earned farthings on the seat;
He drinks, and revels in the treat,
The sense of perfect ease and rest.
Soon with the cross he signs his breast:
The journey home begins to-day.
And cheerfully he goes away; 370
On presents spends a coin or so:
For wife some scarlet calico,
A scarf for sister, tinsel toys
For eager little girls and boys.
God guide him home--'tis many a mile--
And let him rest a little while....

* * * * *

The barge-tower's fate
Lead the thoughts of young Grisha
To dwell on the whole
Of mysterious Russia-- 380
The fate of her people.
For long he was roving
About on the bank,
Feeling hot and excited,
His brain overflowing
With new and new verses.


"The Tsar was in mood
To dabble in blood:
To wage a great war.
Shall we have gold enough? 390
Shall we have strength enough?
Questioned the Tsar.

"(Thou art so pitiful,
Poor, and so sorrowful,
Yet thou art powerful,
Thy wealth is plentiful,
Russia, my Mother!)

"By misery chastened,
By serfdom of old,
The heart of thy people, 400
O Tsar, is of gold.

"And strong were the nation,
Unyielding its might,
If standing for conscience,
For justice and right.

"But summon the country
To valueless strife,
And no man will hasten
To offer his life.

"So Russia lies sleeping 410
In obstinate rest;--
But should the spark kindle
That's hid in her breast--

"She'll rise without summons,
Go forth without call,
With sacrifice boundless,
Each giving his all!

"A host she will gather
Of strength unsurpassed,
With infinite courage 420
Will fight to the last.

"(Thou art so pitiful,
Poor, and so sorrowful,
Yet of great treasure full,
Mighty, all-powerful,
Russia, my Mother!)"

* * * * *

Young Grsha was pleased
With his song; and he murmured.
"Its message is true;
I will sing it to-morrow 430
Aloud to the peasants.
Their songs are so mournful,
It's well they should hear
Something joyful,--God help them!
For just as with running
The cheeks begin burning,
So acts a good song
On the spirit despairing,
Brings comfort and strength."
But first to his brother 440
He sang the new song,
And his brother said, "Splendid!"

Then Grsha tried vainly
To sleep; but half dreaming
New songs he composed.
They grew brighter and stronger....

Our peasants would soon
Have been home from their travels
If they could have known
What was happening to Grsha: 450
With what exaltation
His bosom was burning;
What beautiful strains
In his ears began chiming;
How blissfully sang he
The wonderful anthem
Which tells of the freedom
And peace of the people.


[1] Many years later, after his mother's death, Nekrassov found this
letter among her papers. It was a letter written to her by her own
mother after her flight and subsequent marriage. It announced to her her
father's curse, and was filled with sad and bitter reproaches: "To whom
have you entrusted your fate? For what country have you abandoned
Poland, your Motherland? You, whose hand was sought, a priceless gift,
by princes, have chosen a savage, ignorant, uncultured.... Forgive
me, but my heart is bleeding...."

[2] Priest.

[3] Landowner.

[4] The peasants assert that the cuckoo chokes himself with young ears
of corn.

[5] A kind of home-brewed cider.

[6] _Laput_ is peasants' footgear made of bark of saplings.

[7] Priest

[8] New huts are built only when the village has been destroyed by fire.

[9] The lines of asterisks throughout the poem represent passages that
were censored in the original.

[10] There is a superstition among the Russian peasants that it is an
ill omen to meet the "pope" when going upon an errand.

[11] Landowners

[12] Dissenters in Russia are subjected to numerous religious
restrictions. Therefore they are obliged to bribe the local orthodox
pope, in order that he should not denounce them to the police.

[13] There is a Russian superstition that a round rainbow is sent as a
sign of coming dry weather.

[14] _Kasha_ and _stchee_ are two national dishes.

[15] The mud and water from the high lands on both sides descend and
collect in the villages so situated, which are often nearly transformed
into swamps during the rainy season.

[16] On feast days the peasants often pawn their clothes for drink.

[17] Well-known popular characters in Russia.

[18] Each landowner kept his own band of musicians.

[19] The halting-place for prisoners on their way to Siberia.

[20] The tax collector, the landlord, and the priest.

[21] Fire.

[22] Popular name for Petrograd.

[23] The primitive wooden plough still used by the peasants in Russia.

[24] Three pounds.

[25] Holy pictures of the saints.

[26] The Russian nickname for the bear.

[27] Chief of police.

[28] An administrative unit consisting of a group of villages.

[29] The end of the story is omitted because of the interference of the

[30] A three-horsed carriage.

[31] The Pomyeshchick is still bitter because his serfs have been set
free by the Government.

[32] The Russian warriors of olden times.

[33] Russian Easter dishes.

[34] Russians embrace one another on Easter Sunday, recalling the
resurrection of Christ.

[35] The Russians press their foreheads to the ground while worshipping.

[36] The official appointed to arrange terms between the Pomyshchicks
and their emancipated serfs.

[37] The haystacks.

[38] A long-skirted coat.

[39] The forced labour of the serfs for their owners.

[40] Holy images.

[41] Meenin--a famous Russian patriot in the beginning of the
seventeenth century. He is always represented with an immense beard.

[42] It is a sign of respect to address a person by his own name and
the name of his father.

[43] Ukh--fish soup.

[44] A national loose sleeveless dress worn with a separate shirt
or blouse.

[45] The marriage agent.

[46] The marriage agent.

[47] Inhabitants of the village Korojin.

[48] Germans were often employed as managers of the Pomyshchicks'

[49] In Russian vapour-baths there are shelves ranged round the walls
for the bathers to recline upon. The higher the shelf the hotter the

[50] Police-official.

[51] Heave-to!

[52] This paragraph refers to the custom of the country police in
Russia, who, on hearing of the accidental death of anybody in a village,
will, in order to extract bribes from the villagers, threaten to hold an
inquest on the corpse. The peasants are usually ready to part with
nearly all they possess in order to save their dead from what they
consider desecration.

[53] The Saviour's day.

[54] A reference to the arranging of terms between the Pomyshchicks
and peasants with regard to land at the time of the emancipation of
the serfs.

[55] There is a Russian superstition that a good memory is gained by
eating magpies' eggs.

[56] Chief of Police.

[57] A wooden splinter prepared and used for lighting purposes.

[58] Polish title for nobleman or gentleman.

[59] Serfs.

[60] Alexander II., who gave emancipation to the peasants.

[61] A popular Russian drink composed of hot water
and honey.

[62] There was a very heavy tax laid upon salt at the time.

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