Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse/Smetana's Quartette "From My Life"
3. SMETANA'S QUARTETTE "FROM MY LIFE."
Out of the concert-hall, as I were drunken,
Amid the bustle of the throng I staggered . . .
The seats clattered, and the lamp-bulbs stifled
Their bluish glimmer. Mingled fragrances
Floated above the jostle of living creatures
From shawls in which the ladies wrapped themselves. . .
Still in the practice-room the pizzicato
Of a violin sobbed tenderly near by,
Beneath the player's finger; he was flushed with
The tempest of applause; with toying lilt
Echoing laughter shock; a lackey's voice
Trickled away, a girl's voice cooed and chirped;
And a broad stream of townsfolk suddenly
Began to surge along the corridors
With carpet-muffled gait . . .
The night was clear,
The azure frosty sky breathed on my face,
And piercing was the glisten of the snow.
There in a torrent from the staircase swayed
Blurred masses of a motley city crowd.
Cabs clattered on and carriage doors were slammed,
Somewhere the ambling trot of horses faded,
Merged in bewildering hubbub of the streets.
Oh, marvellous, oh magical quartette,
Setting the soul astir as genius can,
Rousing the spirit on to manful strivings!
Its mighty breath still fares along with me;
Ardour, youth's tempest, blitheness, melancholy,
Laden with wistfulness and suffering,
Dreams of young escapades and languishing,
Enticing musters of love-brimming words,
Placid noblesse, and then harsh storms again,
Singly the strains unloosen in my soul;
And then,—that note that ends itself in horror,
As if it were left hanging on a height!. . .
He quitted life with staid submissiveness,
When he had heard but this one lofty tone,
When voice of friends he caught not, nor the thunder
Heard of the orchestra, nor had he heard,
Even if earth were riven with a crash,—
He who heard not the tune of his own poor hands,
When the lights glowed above a marvelling throng,—
He who heard not acclaim nor mockery,
Only with sorely ailing brain tracked all,
And to its time-beats let his baton swing
Above the busy giant orchestra:
And tracing out the agile, speechless movements,
In sheer conception of the manifold strains,
He stood there in his dead, unmoving calm. . .
O master, master, this thy mighty song,
Wherewith we go to trade in mighty marts,
Whereby we thrust our culture on a booth,
God's pity, is unended, still unended:
In it is lacking still thy final outcry
Of one, who in the treachery of darkness
Is grappling with his dreadful malady
And cravingly he snatches at achievement,
Snatches at moments in his soundless void,
Snatches at light in his dismantled brain,
And gropes for cadences, but on a sudden,
They slink away like sullen, sneering lackeys,
Pillage the palace, setting it aflame,
Abandon it and leave their master crazed
And in a fearful bankruptcy of mind
Stretched headlong in some room upon the floor. . .
O master, in this deathless song of thine
There is no trace of gibing at the dogs
Who dragged thee in their crassness and abasement
Setting a felon seal upon thy ruin,—
It does not rail at them who welcomed thee
From Göteborg with craven buffetings,—
O master in this deathless song of thine,
The dreadful end of thy benighted brain
That dashed itself against a madhouse wall.
The ending of the end is lacking yet,
'Tis lacking there, 'tis lacking there, O master,
My master, pardon, but 'tis lacking there. . .
"A Shattered Soul" (1896).