Friday, December 28, 2012


Love of Country

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), "Native Land" (tr. A. Myers):
I love my native land with such perverse affection!
My better judgement has no standing here.
Not glory, won in bloody action,
nor yet that calm demeanour, trusting and austere,
nor yet age-hallowed rites or handed-down traditions;
not one can stir my soul to gratifying visions.

And yet I love — a mystery to me —
her dreary steppelands wrapped in icy silence,
her boundless, swaying, forest-mantled highlands,
the flood waters in springtime, ample as the sea;
I love to jolt along a narrow country byway
and, slowly peering through the darkness up ahead
while sighing for a lodging, glimpse across the highway
the mournful trembling fires of villages outspread.
I love the smoke of stubble blazing,
heaped wagons on the steppe at night,
a hill mid yellow cornfields raising,
a pair of birch trees silver-bright.
With pleasure few have yet discovered,
a laden granary I see,
a hut with straw thatch neatly covered,
carved window shutters swinging free.
On feast nights with the dew descending,
I'll watch till midnight, never fear
the dance, the stamps and whistles blending
with mumbling rustics full of beer.
The same (tr. Michael Wachtel):
I love my homeland, but with a strange love!
My reason cannot vanquish it.
Not glory, bought with blood,
Not peace full of proud faith,
Not the cherished legends of dark antiquity
Stir in me a joyous dream.

But I love — I know not why —
The cold silence of its steppes,
The swaying of its boundless forests,
The flooding of its rivers, which are like seas;
I love to gallop in a cart down a country road
And, penetrating the shadow of night with my slow gaze,
Sighing for night lodgings, to encounter off to the side
The quivering lights of sad villages;
I love the smoke of the burning field after harvest,
The caravan of carts spending the night in the steppe
And on the hill among the yellow meadows
A pair of birch trees showing white.
With a joy unfamiliar to many
I see a full barn,
A hut, covered with thatch,
A window with carved shutters;
And on a holiday, of a dewy evening,
I am ready to look until midnight
At the dance with stamping of feet and whistling
Accompanied by the speech of drunken peasants.
The same (tr. Dimitri Obolensky):
I love my country, but with a strange love. My reason cannot fathom it. Neither glory, purchased with blood, nor peace, steeped in proud confidence, nor the cherished traditions of the dim past will stir pleasant fancies within me.

But I love — I know not why — the cold silence of her plains, the swaying of her boundless forests, her flooded rivers, wide as the seas; I love to gallop along a country track in a cart and, peering slowly through the darnesss of night and longing for a shelter, to come across the scattered light of sad villages, flickering in the distance. I love the wispy smoke of the burnt stubble-field, the string of carts standing in the steppe at night, and a couple of birches, gleaming white in the yellow cornfield on the hill. With a pleasure unknown to many I see a well-stocked barn, a cottage covered with thatch, a window with carved shutters. And on a holiday, one dewy evening, I am ready to watch until midnight the dance, with its stamping and whistling, to the hum of drunken peasants' voices.

Isaak Levitan, House with Broom Trees

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