Their teacher had advised them not to read Tolstoy novels, because they were very long and would easily confuse the clear ideas which they had learned from reading critical studies of him. - Alexander Solzhenitsyn<
I did but taste a little honey.
and, lo, I must die.
The First Book of the Kings
Where merge Aragva and her twin,
Kura, and fast rush onward, in
Times past, a lonely cloister stood;
By fields, a dense and o'ergrown wood
Encircled 'twas.... A wayfarer,
Toiling uphill, will see what were
A gate and gateposts once and, too,
A church.... To-day, no incense to
Its round dome coils, nor do a prayer
The humble monks chant, hoarse-voiced, there.
Alone, forgot by death and men,
A bent old greybeard, denizen
Of these remote and desolate hills,
Over the ruins watches still
And daily wipes the dust that clings
To tombs, of which the letterings
Of glories past speak and of things
Of like note. Of a tsar one such
Tells who by his gold crown was much
Weighed down, and did of Russia gain
The patronage o'er his domain.
Twas then God's love descended on
The land, and Georgia bloomed, and gone
Her old fears were and old suspense:
Of friendly bayonets a fence
Did, bristling, rise in her defence.
A Russian General on his
Way one day was, bound for Tiflis,
A captive bearing there, a child
Of six or so. As shy and wild
The lad was as a chamois and
Thin as a reed. Ill could he stand
The rigours of the journey, as
Soon became evident, and was
By fever stricken. But no plea
Or moan escaped him, sick as he
Endured and weak: his fathers' free,
Proud spirit had from babyhood
His own been.... Offered drink and food,
He touched them not, and day by day
Was wasting visibly away.
A monk did see and take him in
And minister to him. Within
The cloister walls the lad remained.
And, by the monk's art healed, regained
His former strength. In childish play
Indulged he not; it was his way
To keep from all aloof and roam
The grounds alone.... For his old home
He pined, and oft was seen to gaze
Eastward and sigh.... But as the days
And years wore on, accustomed to
Captivity he slowly grew,
Was in due time baptized, and sought,
Unknowing of the world and taught
Little about it, to become
A monk.... Then one dark evening, from
His cell he vanished. Cloaked by haze
The forest was. For three long days
They searched in vain, and only found
Him on the fourth: stretched on the ground
He senseless lay, the grassy plain
His body cradling. Back again
They bore him to the cloister. Pale
And weak he was, like one whose frail
Frame had a dire disease survived
Or hunger, and seemed nigh deprived
Of tongue.... Death hovered near him, fate
Had willed it so. To remonstrate
With him the monk, his saviour, came....
The sick man, who had speechless lain
Upon his bed, his waning strength
Now summoned and spoke up at length.
"I thank you, friend, for coming to
Hear my confession.... Aye, 'tis true
That to give utterance to my pain
Will ease it.... But you'll little gain
Of benefit from what I can
Relate to you. I harmed no man,
And for the rest - can one pour out
One's heart?... Nay, old one, this I doubt.
A captive's life has my life been
And brief.... Two such lives, calm if mean,
Would I exchange, if but I could,
For one, of risk, disquietude
And peril full.... As I recall,
One passion held me e'er in thrall;
It worm-like gnawed at me at first,
Then into flames devouring burst
And all of me consumed.... From prayer
And stifling celt to regions fair
Borne by my dreams was I, of strife
A wondrous world, where soaring cliff
Is hid by cloud, and men are free
As eagles.... Fed by misery
And tears my passion was, this now
Tore earth and Heaven I avow!...
Yet I - to this, pray, give you heed -
For absolution do not plead.
"Twas you, old man, who saved, I know,
My life, the others told me so.
Why did you this? A small leaf, torn
By tempest from its branch, forlorn,
I lived behind these walls of gloom.
At heart a child, I had become
A cenobite at fate's command.
What man could I call father, and
What woman mother?... That forget
I would those two sweet words you'd let
Yourself believe.... Vain hope! The sound
Of them with me was born, and hound
My heart they did.... Of all that here
Dwelt, I alone no home, no dear
Friend, no relation, nay, not e'en
A loved grave had! I could but dream
Of them and childlike long to cry...
But tears - what use were they? And I
Vowed that the day would dawn when to
My breast, content, I'd clasp one who,
Though but a stranger and unknown
To me and mine, hailed from yon lone
And distant range, the hills that gave
Me birth.... Alas, my friend, a slave
In alien parts, unloved, have I
Lived, and a slave am meant to die!...
"The grave I fear not: in its cold
And silent depths, grief, we are told,
And suffering sleep.... Tis that my heart
Is wrung with pain at thought that part
With life I must.... I'm young, do not
You see it? Young!... Have you forgot
Or never known youth's dreams? Have you
Not loved, not hated? Has the view
Of sunlit fields gained from the top
Of yonder tower ne'er made you stop
In breathless wonder? Have you ne'er
In avid thirst drunk of the air
That is so fragrant there, above,
And fresh? Have you not watched a dove
Cower in a crevice in the wall
During a storm?... Yet though to all
The beauty of the world you have
Blind in your old age grown, and crave
None of its sweet delights and rare -
What matter! - In your past there are
Things to forget - a happy lot!...
Aye, you have lived, and I have not.