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A poem by Ivan Turgenev

Two Four-Line Stanzas

Title:     Two Four-Line Stanzas
Author: Ivan Turgenev [More Titles by Turgenev]

Translated From The Russian By Isabel Hapgood

There existed once a city whose inhabitants were so passionately fond of poetry that if several weeks passed and no beautiful new verses had made their appearance they regarded that poetical dearth as a public calamity.

At such times they donned their worst garments, sprinkled ashes on their heads, and gathering in throngs on the public squares, they shed tears, and murmured bitterly against the Muse for having abandoned them.

On one such disastrous day the young poet Junius, presented himself on the square, filled to overflowing with the sorrowing populace.

With swift steps he ascended a specially-constructed tribune and made a sign that he wished to recite a poem.

The lictors immediately brandished their staves. "Silence! Attention!" they shouted in stentorian tones.

"Friends! Comrades!" began Junius, in a loud, but not altogether firm voice:

"Friends! Comrades! Ye lovers of verses!
Admirers of all that is graceful and fair!
Be not cast down by a moment of dark sadness!
The longed-for instant will come ... and light
will disperse the gloom!"[70]

FOOTNOTE: [70] These lines do not rhyme in the original.--TRANSLATOR.

Junius ceased speaking ... and in reply to him, from all points of the square, clamour, whistling, and laughter arose.

All the faces turned toward him flamed with indignation, all eyes flashed with wrath, all hands were uplifted, menaced, were clenched into fists.

"A pretty thing he has thought to surprise us with!" roared angry voices. "Away from the tribune with the talentless rhymster! Away with the fool! Hurl rotten apples, bad eggs, at the empty-pated idiot! Give us stones! Fetch stones!"

Junius tumbled headlong from the tribune ... but before he had succeeded in fleeing to his own house, outbursts of rapturous applause, cries of laudation and shouts reached his ear.

Filled with amazement, but striving not to be detected (for it is dangerous to irritate an enraged wild beast), Junius returned to the square.

And what did he behold?

High above the throng, above its shoulders, on a flat gold shield, stood his rival, the young poet Julius, clad in a purple mantle, with a laurel wreath on his waving curls.... And the populace round about was roaring: "Glory! Glory! Glory to the immortal Julius! He hath comforted us in our grief, in our great woe! He hath given us verses sweeter than honey, more melodious than the cymbals, more fragrant than the rose, more pure than heaven's azure! Bear him in triumph; surround his inspired head with a soft billow of incense; refresh his brow with the waving of palm branches; lavish at his feet all the spices of Arabia! Glory!"

Junius approached one of the glorifiers.--"Inform me, O my fellow-townsman! With what verses hath Julius made you happy?--Alas, I was not on the square when he recited them! Repeat them, if thou canst recall them, I pray thee!"

"Such verses--and not recall them?" briskly replied the man interrogated.--"For whom dost thou take me? Listen--and rejoice, rejoice together with us!"

'Ye lovers of verses!'--thus began the divine Julius....

"'Ye lovers of verses! Comrades! Friends!
Admirers of all that is graceful, melodious, tender!
Be not east down by a moment of heavy grief!
The longed-for moment will come--and day will chase away the night!'

"What dost thou think of that?"

"Good gracious!" roared Junius. "Why, those are my lines!--Julius must have been in the crowd when I recited them; he heard and repeated them, barely altering--and that, of course, not for the better--a few expressions!"

"Aha! Now I recognise thee.... Thou art Junius," retorted the citizen whom he had accosted, knitting his brows.--"Thou art either envious or a fool!... Only consider just one thing, unhappy man! Julius says in such lofty style: 'And day will chase away the night!'.... But with thee it is some nonsense or other: 'And the light will disperse the gloom!?'--What light?! What darkness?!"

"But is it not all one and the same thing...." Junius was beginning....

"Add one word more," the citizen interrupted him, "and I will shout to the populace, and it will rend thee asunder."

Junius prudently held his peace, but a grey-haired old man, who had overheard his conversation with the citizen, stepped up to the poor poet, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said:

"Junius! Thou hast said thy say at the wrong time; but the other man said his at the right time.--consequently, he is in the right, while for thee there remain the consolations of thine own conscience."

But while his conscience was consoling Junius to the best of its ability,--and in a decidedly-unsatisfactory way, if the truth must be told,--far away, amid the thunder and patter of jubilation, in the golden dust of the all-conquering sun, gleaming with purple, darkling with laurel athwart the undulating streams of abundant incense, with majestic leisureliness, like an emperor marching to his empire, the proudly-erect figure of Julius moved forward with easy grace ... and long branches of the palm-tree bent in turn before him, as though expressing by their quiet rising, their submissive obeisance, that incessantly-renewed adoration which filled to overflowing the hearts of his fellow-citizens whom he had enchanted!

April, 1878.

[The end]
Ivan Turgenev's poem: Two Four-Line Stanzas