"Gviu, Shooya, Glav-boom!"
from The Naked Year
"Russia...is a mirage.
...all wood demons,
witches, and water sprites."
The sultry sky pours out a sultry haze of heat. Sweltering in the sun on the threshold of his cell, a black monk hums old Russian songs. In the dark cell, the window is high in balsamine, the walls are unlit, a pitcher of water and bread are on the table amidst papers--and the cell is in the far corner, by the tower, overgrown with moss. The priest, overgrown with moss, is sitting at the table on a high stool, and Gleb Evgrafovich is sitting on a low stool opposite him. The black monk is murmuring a song:
Hey, on a Saturday, a day of foul weather
The sun is sweltering, the dusty sparrows chirp. Gleb speaks quietly. The priest's face: shiny like suede, with short grey hair; his eyes look slyly and sharply from out of his beard; a single yellowed fang protrudes from his beard; and his bald pate is like a coffin lid. The crafty priest listens:
"Our greatest artists," Gleb says quietly, "who stand higher than Da Vinci, Correggio and Perugino, are Andrei Rublev, Prokopy Chirin and those nameless ones scattered throughout the Novgorods, Pskovs, Suzdals, and Kolomnas in our monasteries and churches. And what art they had, what mastery! How they solved the most difficult artistic problems... Art must be heroic. The artist, the craftsman, is a hero. And he must choose for his work that which is majestic and beautiful. What is more majestic than Christ and the Holy Mother? Especially the Holy Mother. Our ancient craftsmen interpreted the Holy Mother as the most sweet secret, the spiritual secret of motherhood, of motherhood in general. It's not for nothing that even to this day Russian peasant women--all mothers--pray and confess their sins to the Holy Mother. She forgives and understands their sins, all for the sake of motherhood."
"About the revolution, my son, about the revolution," says the priest. "About the people's rebellion! What do you have to say? You see that bread over there? More is being brought little by little. And what do you think will be left in twenty years, after all the priests are dead? In twenty years!" And the priest grins slyly.
"It's hard for me to say, Bishop. I've been abroad a lot, and I was like an orphan there. People in bowler hats, frock coats, smoking jackets, tail-coats, trams, busses, subways, skyscrapers, dazzle, brilliance, hotels with every manner of amenity, with restaurants, bars, toilets, the finest linen, with night-time female attendants who come openly to satisfy unnatural masculine desires. And what social inequality, what bourgeois customs and rules! And every worker dreams about owning stocks, and so do the peasants! And everything is dead; everywhere it's machines and technology and comfort. The path of European culture led to war, 1914 was able to create this war. Machine culture forgot about the culture of the soul, the spiritual. And recent European art: in painting it's either posters or the hysterics of protest; in literature, either the stock market and detectives or adventures among savages. European culture is a dead end. The Russian state, for the past two centuries--since Peter--wanted to adopt this culture. Russia languished in suffocation, utterly Gogolian. The revolution set Russia up against Europe. And there's more. Now, since the first days of the revolution, Russia, with its everyday life, customs, and towns, has returned to the seventeenth century. At the border of the seventeenth century was Peter..."
("Pétra, Pétra!" the priest corrected him.)
"...there was Russian national painting, architecture, music, tales about Juliana Lazarevskaya. Peter came along, and Lomonosov became an unbelievable clod with his ode to glass; and genuine national creative work disappeared."
("Hey, on a Saturday!" the monk began to sing again in the sultry heat.)
"...in Russia there was no joy, but now there is. The Russian intelligentsia did not follow October. And it couldn't. Since the days of Peter, Europe was hanging over Russia, and beneath it, like beneath the hooves of a horse rearing up on its hind legs, our people lived like they had a thousand years ago; but the intelligentsia are true children of Peter. They say that Radishchev was the father of the Russian intelligentsia. Not so; it was Peter. After Radishchev, the intelligentsia began to repent, repent and seek out its mother, Russia. Every member of the intelligentsia repents, and each grieves for the people, and each one of them knows nothing about the people. But revolutions were unnecessary for popular rebellion--alien. Popular rebellion is the coming to power of genuine Russians who create their own genuine, Russian truth. And this is a blessing! The entire history of Russian muzhiks is the history of sectarianism. Who will win in this struggle--mechanized Europe, or sectarian, Orthodox, spiritual Russia?"
The sun blazes down. Gleb falls silent, and the priest says hurriedly:
"Sectarianism? Sectarianism, you say? Sectarianism didn't come from Peter, it came from the Schism. Popular rebellion, you say? Pugachevism, Razinovism? But Stepan Timofeevich was before Peter! Russia, you say? But Russia is a faction, a mirage because Russia is the Caucuses, Ukraine, and Moldavia! Great Russia--Great Russia it must be said is Pooche, Povolzhe, Pokame! Are you my grandson or nephew? I've
got everything mixed up, I've got everything mixed up! You know what kind of words have arrived: gviu, guvuz, gau, nachevak, kolkhoz*--it's a delusion. I've mixed everything up."
*Gviu, guvuz, gau, nachevak, kolkhoz: Accronyms and neologisms of the socialist era.
Soon, only the priest is speaking, archbishop Sylvester, a former prince and cavalry officer. The bald pate, like a coffin lid, moves closer to Gleb, his eyes looking sternly from his beard.
"How was our Great Russian state established? The beginning of our history is set in the defeat of the Kievian Rus--hiding from the Pechenegs, from the Tartars, from the external and internal fighting of the princes, in the forests, face to face with the Vyess and the Finns--our government was founded out of fear of government--they ran from government like from the plague! So there! And then when authority came, they rebelled, broke up into sects, ran off to the Don, Ukraine, Yaik. Didn't Great Russia put up with Tartar barbarianism and then German barbarianism because she was unnecessary to them, to herself in her governmentlessness, in her ethnography? Unnecessary. They ran off to the Don, the Yaik--and from there they went in rebellion to Moscow. And now they've reached Moscow, seized their own power and begun to build their own state--and they will build it. They'll build it so they don't bother each other, they won't crowd each other out like mushrooms in the forest. Look at the history of the muzhiks: like a forest path--a thousand years of wastelands, repair stations, churchyards, fallow fields--a thousand years. A state without a state, but it will grow like a mushroom. But the muzhik faith will remain. Fleeing from Kiev, they dragged themselves through forests, fields, glades, paths, country roads--and what do you think they dragged along with themselves? Songs, they brought their songs with them, their customs; they carried them over a thousand years, powerful, strong, spring songs, and their customs, where a cow is a member of the family and a chestnut gelding is a brother in adversity; instead of Easter, they abducted girls from the remote areas, on knolls in oak forests they prayed to Egory, the god of cattle. Orthodox Christianity came along with the tsars, with an alien power, and the people fled from it--to sects and sorcerers, whatever you like, just as they fled to the Don and the Yaik, away from authority. Just look, is there anything about Orthodoxy in folk tales? It's all wood demons, witches, and water sprites, no Lord of Hosts."
And the grey priest sniggers cunningly, laughs cunningly, and says in his laughter, his eyes screwed up in his beard:
"You see that piece of bread? They bring it? There! Hee-hee! Are you my grandson? Don't tell anybody. No one. It's all in my History. They opened up the sacred relics--straw? Listen here. The sectarians went into the fire for their faith, but the Orthodox were dragged into government churches by the scruff of the neck. Do as you like, but believe in the Orthodox way! Now muzhik power has arrived and Orthodoxy is treated like any other sect, with equal rights! Hee-hee-hee! The Orthodox sect! Hee-hee-hee-hee.... You don't drag people by the scruff of the neck into a sect! Orthodoxy lived for a thousand years, but it will perish, it will perish....hee-hee-hee!--in about twenty years, completely, just like the priests will die out. The Orthodox church, Greco-Roman, was already dead as an idea during the great Schism. And throughout Russia Egorys will wander, water sprites and witches, or Lev Tolstoy, or, watch out, even Darwin. Across the paths, forests, and cart-tracks. But they'll say it's a religious revival! You see that piece of bread? They bring it, those who were living on the three whales, the Orthodox Christians of one-pood candles. But they bring it less and less. Look at me, I'm an Orthodox archpastor, I go by foot, by foot...hee-hee-hee!"
The grey priest laughs happily and slyly, he shakes his coffin pate, he screws up his teary eyes in his beard. The brick walls of the cell are strong and dark. Gleb sits on the low stool, bent and silent, like an icon. In the corner, in a dark icon case, the black faces of the icons are gloomily silent in front of the lamps. And Gleb is silent for a long while. The scorching sun scorches, and in the scorching heat the priest sings. In the cell it is damp, cool.
"Yessss!....It's impossible to work in the field!"
"What is religion, Bishop?"
"An idea, culture," the priest answers, no longer sniggering.
"An idea. A fiction!" And the priest again sniggers. "Bishop, most venerable, you say? Am I going out of my mind? My mind...and me in my eighties... I don't believe it! It must be that they've broken me! They stuffed the relics with straw! Are you my grandson?"
"Bishop!" And Gleb's voice trembles painfully, and Gleb's hands are outstretched. "In what you're saying, if you change a few words to the words 'class, bourgeoisie, social inequality', you've got Bolshevism! But I want purity, truth--God, belief, immutable justice... Why blood?"
"But, but without blood? Everything is born in blood, everyone in blood, in red! And the flag is red! Everything is mixed up, confused, you don't understand! Listen how the revolution howls--like a witch in a blizzard!
Listen: Gviiuu, gviuu! Shooya, shoooya...gaau.* And the wood demon is drumming: Glav-boom! Glav-boooom! And the witches are wiggling their bottoms and boobs: Kvart-khoz! Kvart-khoz! The wood demon is furious: Nach-evak! Nach-evak! Khmu! But the wind, the pines, the snow: Shooya, shoooya, shooya...khmuuu. And the wind: Gviiuuu. Do you hear?"
*Gviiuu, Shooya, etc.: More socialist accronyms and neologisms.
Gleb is silent and painfully cracks his knuckles. The bishop sniggers slyly, fidgets on his high stool--the archbishop Sylvester, Prince Kirill Ordynin in the world, a demented old man. The sultry sky pours out a sultry haze of heat. The sultry sky is suffused with blue and bottomless, the day blooms with sun and scorching heat, but in the evening the dusk will be yellow and the bells in the cathedral ring: Dong-dong-dong!...
Translated by Eric Konkol
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