Anthology of Modern Slavonic Literature in Prose and Verse/The River
5. THE RIVER.
It was like to a child,—slender the springlet
Glistening among the coarse-grained sand—
In gigantic, unpeopled stillness
Old Earth brought it forth
Under the trees coloured with mistletoe,
Under twilit depths of shaggy firs,
In gigantic stillness it sang through the grass
From serried wedges of lime-stone rocks.
Unwieldy black pine-stems were lying
Like transparencies of the yellowish sun
Upon its crinkled surface.
Their bloated roots were like swarthy leeches,
And wavering shadow came only to drink of it. . .
While in glory it sang and in rhythm of life. . .
O passing winsome it was in the murk of the night,
When forests were ending their song unto it,
Into the moon-lit plain it poured from the hollow,
How the black clattering mills seized it
Craftily into their unwieldy circlings,
That, grievously crushed into lissom dust,
It screeched and simmered, stormily tumbling!
As if stunned, upon tip-toe, it slipped through the grass,
As if stunned, softly upon tip-toe,
To sorrow-girt coverts, where the silver of the moon
Soldered the spare birches to their ground-plots
And osiered fields in the twilit hazes.
O, was it fain to set the glorious vaultage of heaven
And all creation glittering in warm tranquility,
The song of the stars chanted to the Unknown.
Aquiver upon its surface
And glory of night ere birth of the day
And its golden foot-print?
Came forth then the first tortured mortal
Unto the radiant sheen of shifting vapours.
From mists the vagrant hobbled over the pastures. . .
Slipped his bloodstained tatters over his feet
Livid with foulness and canker, in which Death squatted,
He plunged his running wounds therein. . .
And the sky-line grew dim and dim afar,
Thickening mists in the fens, where a bird faltered,
Canker of grave yards, stench of mortal remains
Wafted from the banks a burial requiem. . .
Through gulleys leaked foul contagions,
Mouldering in quagmires, from the rended lining
Like ulcers they burst forth therein, meadows,
Water-logged marsh-land they lulled there to slumber,
In the wake of the wind sobbed a burial requiem. . .
Here it floated into the city cess-pool. . . Windows
Hurled their sheds of light upon its surface
And magic of homesteads was trailing eerily
On the wrinkled waters
And trees dipped their sickly green, garlands loosened from cornices
Straggled down in the tarnished mirror of the waters.
Here mockeries of mortal being were revelling,
Here shrieked the song of unmolested espousals,
Writhing orgies of man the carnal
Of herds that are huddled and wedged together
By sharing the pangs of inherited sins.
Days, straggling levies of muffled martyrs,
Breathed out plague on the torrid paving
With stench of serried throngs in decay,—
Of beings unperished. . .
Despair cheek by jowl with rejoicing glittered,
fruit of their thoughts in their gaze
Like lamps consumed by tardy ages
Of dismantled souls on a lengthy journey,
Beings remoulding their birth in creation. . .
And roaring from the city cess-pool, it carried
The first poisoned corpses in a greenish slime
It carried them forth, roaring a burial requiem
To torrid sands of days without hope. . .
Whither away, O my soul? Already I behold
New Sorrows plunging in thee from afar
Pinnacles of their loftiest turrets. . .
"Overmastered Sorrows" (1897).