Birth of A Man

This happened in 1892, a famine year, at a point between Sukhum and Ochemchiry, on the shore of the Kodor River, so near the sea that through the gay babble of the clear waters of the mountain stream the muffled thunder of the billows was distinctly heard.

It was an autumn day. Yellow cherry-laurel leaves were circling and glistening in the white foam of the Kodor like nimble salmon fry. I was sitting on some rocks near the bank and reflecting that the sea-gulls and cormorants, too, must be mistaking the leaves for fish, and that was why their cries were so fretful over there to the right, behind the trees where the sea was rumbling.

The chestnut trees overhead were decked out in gold; at my feet lay piles of leaves which looked like the palms of hands that had been cut off. On the opposite bank the hornbeam boughs were already bare, and hung in the air like a torn net; caught in it, as it were, a red and yellow mountain woodpecker hopped along, tapping the bark with his black beak, while adroit titmice and dove-colored nuthatches—visitors from the distant north—pecked the insects he drove out.

To the left, above the mountain peaks, hung smoky, heavy, rain-laden clouds; they cast shadows over the green slopes dotted with boxwood, “the dead tree.” Here in the hollows of old beeches and lindens is found that “heady honey,” the intoxicating sweetness of which nearly caused the downfall of the soldiers of Pompey the Great long ago, having overcome a whole legion of iron Romans. The bees make it from laurel and azalea blossoms, and tramps get it out of the hollows and eat it, spreading it on what the natives called lavash, a thin flat cake made of wheat flour. That is exactly what I was doing, as I sat under the chestnut trees. Stung all over by angry bees, I was dipping pieces of bread into a kettle full of honey and eating, while I admired the lazy play of the weary autumnal sun.

Autumn in the Caucasus is like a gorgeous cathedral built by great sages—these are always great sinners, too. To hide their past from the prying eyes of conscience, they have built an immense temple made of gold, turquoise, emeralds, hung the mountains with the finest carpets embroidered in silk by Turcomans at Samarkand, at Shemakha. They have plundered the whole world and brought everything here, to the sun, as if to say to it: “All these are Thine—from Thy people—for Thee!” I see bearded, white-haired giants with the huge eyes of merry children, descending from the mountains to embellish the earth. They generously scatter vari-colored gems, cover the mountain peaks with thick layers of silver, and their slopes with a living fabric of varied trees—and under their hands this piece of blessed earth becomes ravishingly beautiful.

It is a fine thing—to be a man of earth; you see so much that is marvelous; how painfully and sweetly the heart throbs in quiet ecstasy before beauty!

Of course, there are difficult moments: burning hatred fills the breast to overflowing, anguish greedily sucks the heart’s blood, but these moments pass. Even the sun is often sad as it looks at human beings: it has worked so hard for them, yet they are failures.…

Of course, there are not a few good people, but even they need mending, or better still, should be made over completely.

Suddenly, above the bushes, to my left, there appeared dark heads swaying, while through the thunder of the sea and the noise of the river the faint sound of human voices was heard. These were famine victims, tramping from Sukhum, where they had built a road, to Ochemchiry, where other work awaited them. I knew them: they were peasants from the province of Oryol. We had been working together and had been discharged together the previous day, but I had left before they did, at night, to meet sunrise on the beach.

Four men and a young peasant woman in the last stages of pregnancy were more familiar to me than the others. She had high cheekbones and gray-blue eyes bulging as though with fear. Above the bushes her head in a yellow kerchief was swaying like a blossoming sunflower in the wind. At Sukhum her husband had died, after eating too much fruit. I had lived in barracks with these people: according to the good

  By PanEris using Melati.

  Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.