Boris Godunov

by Alexsander Pushkin

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Cell in the Monastery of Chudov (A.D. 1603)


   PIMEN (Writing in front of a sacred lamp.)
   One more, the final record, and my annals
   Are ended, and fulfilled the duty laid
   By God on me a sinner. Not in vain
   Hath God appointed me for many years
   A witness, teaching me the art of letters;
   A day will come when some laborious monk
   Will bring to light my zealous, nameless toil,
   Kindle, as I, his lamp, and from the parchment
   Shaking the dust of ages will transcribe
   My true narrations, that posterity
   The bygone fortunes of the orthodox
   Of their own land may learn, will mention make
   Of their great tsars, their labours, glory, goodness—
   And humbly for their sins, their evil deeds,
   Implore the Saviour's mercy.—In old age
   I live anew; the past unrolls before me.—
   Did it in years long vanished sweep along,
   Full of events, and troubled like the deep?
   Now it is hushed and tranquil. Few the faces
   Which memory hath saved for me, and few
   The words which have come down to me;—the rest
   Have perished, never to return.—But day
   Draws near, the lamp burns low, one record more,
   The last. (He writes.)

   GREGORY. (Waking.) Ever the selfsame dream! Is 't possible?
   For the third time! Accursed dream! And ever
   Before the lamp sits the old man and writes—
   And not all night, 'twould seem, from drowsiness,
   Hath closed his eyes. I love the peaceful sight,
   When, with his soul deep in the past immersed,
   He keeps his chronicle. Oft have I longed
   To guess what 'tis he writes of. Is 't perchance
   The dark dominion of the Tartars? Is it
   Ivan's grim punishments, the stormy Council
   of Novgorod? Is it about the glory
   Of our dear fatherland?—I ask in vain!
   Not on his lofty brow, nor in his looks
   May one peruse his secret thoughts; always
   The same aspect; lowly at once, and lofty—
   Like some state Minister grown grey in office,
   Calmly alike he contemplates the just
   And guilty, with indifference he hears
   Evil and good, and knows not wrath nor pity.

   PIMEN. Wakest thou, brother?

   GREGORY.             Honoured father, give me
   Thy blessing.

   PIMEN.      May God bless thee on this day,
   Tomorrow, and for ever.

   GREGORY.              All night long
   Thou hast been writing and abstained from sleep,
   While demon visions have disturbed my peace,
   The fiend molested me. I dreamed I scaled
   By winding stairs a turret, from whose height
   Moscow appeared an anthill, where the people
   Seethed in the squares below and pointed at me
   With laughter. Shame and terror came upon me—
   And falling headlong, I awoke. Three times
   I dreamed the selfsame dream. Is it not strange?

   PIMEN. 'Tis the young blood at play; humble thyself
   By prayer and fasting, and thy slumber's visions
   Will all be filled with lightness. Hitherto
   If I, unwillingly by drowsiness
   Weakened, make not at night long orisons,
   My old-man's sleep is neither calm nor sinless;
   Now riotous feasts appear, now camps of war,
   Scuffles of battle, fatuous diversions
   Of youthful years.

   GREGORY.         How joyfully didst thou
   Live out thy youth! The fortress of Kazan
   Thou fought'st beneath, with Shuisky didst repulse
   The army of Litva. Thou hast seen the court,
   And splendour of Ivan. Ah! Happy thou!
   Whilst I, from boyhood up, a wretched monk,
   Wander from cell to cell! Why unto me
   Was it not given to play the game of war,
   To revel at the table of a tsar?
   Then, like to thee, would I in my old age
   Have gladly from the noisy world withdrawn,
   To vow myself a dedicated monk,
   And in the quiet cloister end my days.

   PIMEN. Complain not, brother, that the sinful world
   Thou early didst forsake, that few temptations
   The All-Highest sent to thee. Believe my words;
   The glory of the world, its luxury,
   Woman's seductive love, seen from afar,
   Enslave our souls. Long have I lived, have taken
   Delight in many things, but never knew
   True bliss until that season when the Lord
   Guided me to the cloister. Think, my son,
   On the great tsars; who loftier than they?
   God only. Who dares thwart them? None. What then?
   Often the golden crown became to them
   A burden; for a cowl they bartered it.
   The tsar Ivan sought in monastic toil
   Tranquility; his palace, filled erewhile
   With haughty minions, grew to all appearance
   A monastery; the very rakehells seemed
   Obedient monks, the terrible tsar appeared
   A pious abbot. Here, in this very cell
   (At that time Cyril, the much suffering,
   A righteous man, dwelt in it; even me
   God then made comprehend the nothingness
   Of worldly vanities), here I beheld,
   Weary of angry thoughts and executions,
   The tsar; among us, meditative, quiet
   Here sat the Terrible; we motionless
   Stood in his presence, while he talked with us
   In tranquil tones. Thus spake he to the abbot
   And all the brothers: "My fathers, soon will come
   The longed-for day; here shall I stand before you,
   Hungering for salvation; Nicodemus,
   Thou Sergius, Cyril thou, will all accept
   My spiritual vow; to you I soon shall come
   Accurst in sin, here the clean habit take,
   Prostrate, most holy father, at thy feet."
   So spake the sovereign lord, and from his lips
   Sweetly the accents flowed. He wept; and we
   With tears prayed God to send His love and peace
   Upon his suffering and stormy soul.—
   What of his son Feodor? On the throne
   He sighed to lead the life of calm devotion.
   The royal chambers to a cell of prayer
   He turned, wherein the heavy cares of state
   Vexed not his holy soul. God grew to love
   The tsar's humility; in his good days
   Russia was blest with glory undisturbed,
   And in the hour of his decease was wrought
   A miracle unheard of; at his bedside,
   Seen by the tsar alone, appeared a being
   Exceeding bright, with whom Feodor 'gan
   To commune, calling him great Patriarch;—
   And all around him were possessed with fear,
   Musing upon the vision sent from Heaven,
   Since at that time the Patriarch was not present
   In church before the tsar. And when he died
   The palace was with holy fragrance filled.
   And like the sun his countenance outshone.
   Never again shall we see such a tsar.—
   O, horrible, appalling woe! We have sinned,
   We have angered God; we have chosen for our ruler
   A tsar's assassin.

   GREGORY.         Honoured father, long
   Have I desired to ask thee of the death
   Of young Dimitry, the tsarevich; thou,
   'Tis said, wast then at Uglich.

   PIMEN.                        Ay, my son,
   I well remember. God it was who led me
   To witness that ill deed, that bloody sin.
   I at that time was sent to distant Uglich
   Upon some mission. I arrived at night.
   Next morning, at the hour of holy mass,
   I heard upon a sudden a bell toll;
   'Twas the alarm bell. Then a cry, an uproar;
   Men rushing to the court of the tsaritsa.
   Thither I haste, and there had flocked already
   All Uglich. There I see the young tsarevich
   Lie slaughtered: the queen mother in a swoon
   Bowed over him, his nurse in her despair
   Wailing; and then the maddened people drag
   The godless, treacherous nurse away. Appears
   Suddenly in their midst, wild, pale with rage,
   Judas Bityagovsky. "There, there's the villain!"
   Shout on all sides the crowd, and in a trice
   He was no more. Straightway the people rushed
   On the three fleeing murderers; they seized
   The hiding miscreants and led them up
   To the child's corpse yet warm; when lo! A marvel—
   The dead child all at once began to tremble!
   "Confess!" the people thundered; and in terror
   Beneath the axe the villains did confess—
   And named Boris.

   GREGORY.       How many summers lived
   The murdered boy?

   PIMEN.          Seven summers; he would now
   (Since then have passed ten years—nay, more—twelve years)
   He would have been of equal age to thee,
   And would have reigned; but God deemed otherwise.
   This is the lamentable tale wherewith
   My chronicle doth end; since then I little
   Have dipped in worldly business. Brother Gregory,
   Thou hast illumed thy mind by earnest study;
   To thee I hand my task. In hours exempt
   From the soul's exercise, do thou record,
   Not subtly reasoning, all things whereto
   Thou shalt in life be witness; war and peace,
   The sway of kings, the holy miracles
   Of saints, all prophecies and heavenly signs;—
   For me 'tis time to rest and quench my lamp.—
   But hark! The matin bell. Bless, Lord, Thy servants!
   Give me my crutch.


   GREGORY.         Boris, Boris, before thee
   All tremble; none dares even to remind thee
   Of what befell the hapless child; meanwhile
   Here in dark cell a hermit doth indite
   Thy stern denunciation. Thou wilt not
   Escape the judgment even of this world,
   As thou wilt not escape the doom of God.


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