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A poem by Ivan Turgenev


Title:     Alms
Author: Ivan Turgenev [More Titles by Turgenev]

Translated From The Russian
By Isabel Hapgood

In the vicinity of a great city, on the broad, much-travelled road, an aged, ailing man was walking.

He was staggering as he went; his emaciated legs, entangling themselves, trailing and stumbling, trod heavily and feebly, exactly as though they belonged to some one else; his clothing hung on him in rags; his bare head drooped upon his breast.... He was exhausted.

He squatted down on a stone by the side of the road, bent forward, propped his elbows on his knees, covered his face with both hands, and between his crooked fingers the tears dripped on the dry, grey dust.

He was remembering....

He remembered how he had once been healthy and rich,--and how he had squandered his health, and distributed his wealth to others, friends and enemies.... And lo! now he had not a crust of bread, and every one had abandoned him, his friends even more promptly than his enemies.... Could he possibly humble himself to the point of asking alms? And he felt bitter and ashamed at heart.

And the tears still dripped and dripped, mottling the grey dust.

Suddenly he heard some one calling him by name. He raised his weary head and beheld in front of him a stranger: a face calm and dignified, but not stern; eyes not beaming, but bright; a gaze penetrating, but not evil.

"Thou hast given away all thy wealth," an even voice made itself heard.... "But surely thou art not regretting that thou hast done good?"

"I do not regret it," replied the old man, with a sigh, "only here am I dying now."

"And if there had been no beggars in the world to stretch out their hands to thee," pursued the stranger, "thou wouldst have had no one to whom to show thy beneficence; thou wouldst not have been able to exercise thyself therein?"

The old man made no reply, and fell into thought.

"Therefore, be not proud now, my poor man," spoke up the stranger again. "Go, stretch out thy hand, afford to other good people the possibility of proving by their actions that they are good."

The old man started, and raised his eyes ... but the stranger had already vanished,--but far away, on the road, a wayfarer made his appearance.

The old man approached him, and stretched out his hand.--The wayfarer turned away with a surly aspect and gave him nothing.

But behind him came another, and this one gave the old man a small alms.

And the old man bought bread for himself with the copper coins which had been given him, and sweet did the bit which he had begged seem to him, and there was no shame in his heart--but, on the contrary, a tranquil joy overshadowed him.

May, 1878.

[The end]
Ivan Turgenev's poem: Alms