Boris Godunov

by Alexsander Pushkin

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Moscow. Palace of the Tsar


   TSAR. He is vanquished, but what profit lies in that?
   We are crowned with a vain conquest; he has mustered
   Again his scattered forces, and anew
   Threatens us from the ramparts of Putivl.
   Meanwhile what are our heroes doing? They stand
   At Krom, where from its rotten battlements
   A band of Cossacks braves them. There is glory!
   No, I am ill content with them; thyself
   I shall despatch to take command of them;
   I give authority not to birth, but brains.
   Their pride of precedence, let it be wounded!
   The time has come for me to hold in scorn
   The murmur of distinguished nobodies,
   And quash pernicious custom.

   BASMANOV.                  Ay, my lord
   Blessed a hundredfold will be that day
   When fire consumes the lists of noblemen
   With their dissensions, their ancestral pride.

   TSAR. That day is not far off; let me but first
   Subdue the insurrection of the people.

   BASMANOV. Why trouble about that? The people always
   Are prone to secret treason; even so
   The swift steed champs the bit; so doth a lad
   Chafe at his father's ruling. But what then?
   The rider quietly controls the steed,
   The father sways the son.

   TSAR.                   Sometimes the horse
   Doth throw the rider, nor is the son at all times
   Quite 'neath the father's will; we can restrain
   The people only by unsleeping sternness.
   So thought Ivan, sagacious autocrat
   And storm-subduer; so his fierce grandson thought.
   No, no, kindness is lost upon the people;
   Act well—it thanks you not at all; extort
   And execute—'twill be no worse for you.

   (Enter a boyar.)

   What now?

   BOYAR.  The foreign guests are come.

   TSAR.                              I go
   To welcome them. Basmanov, wait, stay here;
   I still have need to speak: a word with thee.


   BASMANOV. High sovereign spirit! God grant he may subdue
   The accurst Otrepiev; and much, still much
   Of good he'll do for Russia. A great thought
   Within his mind has taken birth; it must not
   Be suffered to grow cold. What a career
   For me when the ancestral horn he breaks
   Of the nobility. I have no rivals
   In war. I shall stand closest to the throne—
   And it may chance—But what is that strange sound?

   (Alarum. Boyars and court-attendants run in
   disorder, meet each other and whisper.)

   ONE. Fetch a physician!

   ANOTHER.              Quickly to the Patriarch!

   A THIRD. He calls for the tsarevich, the tsarevich!

   A FOURTH. A confessor!

   BASMANOV.            What has happened?

   A FIFTH AND SIXTH.                    The tsar is ill,
   The tsar is dying.

   BASMANOV.        Good God!

   A FIFTH.                 Upon the throne
   He sat, and suddenly he fell; blood gushed
   From his mouth and ears.

   (The TSAR is carried in on a chair. All the Tsar's
   household; all the boyars.)

   TSAR.                  Let all depart—alone
   Leave the tsarevich with me. (All withdraw.) I am dying;
   Let us embrace. Farewell, my son; this hour
   Thou wilt begin to reign.—O God, my God!
   This hour I shall appear before Thy presence—
   And have no time to purge my soul with shrift.
   But yet, my son, I feel thou art dearer to me
   Than is my soul's salvation—be it so!
   A subject was I born; it seemed ordained
   That I should die a subject in obscurity.
   Yet I attained to sovereignty; but how?
   Ask not. Enough that thou art innocent.
   In justice now thou'lt reign; and I alone
   Am answerable for all to God. Dear son,
   Cherish no false delusion, of thy free will
   Blind not thyself. Stormy the days wherein
   Thou dost assume the crown. He is dangerous,
   This strange pretender; with a fearful name
   He is armed. For many a year experienced
   In rule, I could restrain revolt and treason;
   They quaked with fear before me; treachery
   Dared not to raise its voice; but thou, a boy,
   An inexperienced ruler, how wilt thou
   Govern amid the tempests, quench revolt,
   Shackle sedition? But God is great! He gives
   Wisdom to youth, to weakness strength.—Give ear;
   Firstly, select a steadfast counsellor,
   Of cool, ripe years, loved of the people, honoured
   Mid the boyars for birth and fame—even Shuisky.
   The army craves today a skilful leader;
   Basmanov send, and firmly bear the murmurs
   Of the boyars. Thou from thy early years
   Didst sit with me in council, thou dost know
   The formal course of government; change not
   Procedure. Custom is the soul of states.
   Of late I have been forced to reinstate
   Bans, executions—these thou canst rescind;
   And they will bless thee, as they blessed thy uncle
   When he obtained the throne of the Terrible.
   At the same time, little by little, tighten
   Anew the reins of government; now slacken;
   But let them not slip from thy hands. Be gracious,
   Accessible to foreigners, accept
   Their service trustfully. Preserve with strictness
   The Church's discipline. Be taciturn;
   The royal voice must never lose itself
   Upon the air in emptiness, but like
   A sacred bell must sound but to announce
   Some great disaster or great festival.
   Dear son, thou art approaching to those years
   When woman's beauty agitates our blood.
   Preserve, preserve the sacred purity
   Of innocence and proud shamefacedness;
   He, who through passion has been wont to wallow
   In vicious pleasures in his youthful days,
   Becomes in manhood bloodthirsty and surly;
   His mind untimely darkens. Of thy household
   Be always head; show honour to thy mother,
   But rule thy house thyself; thou art a man
   And tsar to boot. Be loving to thy sister—
   Thou wilt be left of her the sole protector.

   FEODOR. (On his knees.) No, no; live on, my father, and reign long;
   Without thee both the folk and we will perish.

   TSAR. All is at end for me—mine eyes grow dark,
   I feel the coldness of the grave—

   (Enter the PATRIARCH and prelates; behind them all
   the boyars lead the TSARITSA by the hand; the
   TSAREVNA is sobbing.)

                                    Who's there?
   Ah, 'tis the vestment—so! The holy tonsure—
   The hour has struck. The tsar becomes a monk,
   And the dark sepulchre will be my cell.
   Wait yet a little, my lord Patriarch,
   I still am tsar. Listen to me, boyars:
   To this my son I now commit the tsardom;
   Do homage to Feodor. Basmanov, thou,
   And ye, my friends, on the grave's brink I pray you
   To serve my son with zeal and rectitude!
   As yet he is both young and uncorrupted.
   Swear ye?

   BOYARS. We swear.

   TSAR.           I am content. Forgive me
   Both my temptations and my sins, my wilful
   And secret injuries.—Now, holy father,
   Approach thou; I am ready for the rite.

   (The rite of the tonsure begins. The women are
   carried out swooning.)


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