Demon (1/2)

Sweet are the days of childhood; sweet are the dreams of youth. Blessed is he who had never woken up to feel all the bitterness of life and its waking moments.

Our days pass fleetly, time flies, events speed by us so quickly, and in this weird whirlwind of events, one cannot even dream; you have to wake up, even if you haven’t slept through the sweetest dreams of the happiest days of your youth.

Our hero had grasped the reality of life when he was twenty-one years old, during his studies at the Grande École.

The school was on holiday, so Đorđe went back home to spend the summer and enjoy the lovely forests of his birthplace, in the loving embrace of his parents.

The first morning upon his arrival, he took the narrow path through the forest, which leads to a spring on top of the hill. From the top, there is a beautiful view of the whole surroundings.

He sat on the bench he made himself under the linden tree by the spring, listened to the murmuring of water, and quaffed the fragrance and the fresh breath of the summer morning. He watched the forests, pathways and meadows he used to run along so many times in his childhood. He watched the white houses of his neighbours, standing out among the orchards and forested hills; countless childhood memories awakening in his mind.

He feels as though everything in this land knows him, everything loves him, even the sun warms him more kindly, and wind caresses him more gently, as if the whole nature greets him through the silent whisper of the stream, and rustling of the leaves: “Welcome home!”

Thousands of the most beautiful verses circled through his mind, and he recited them out loud passionately as if he was looking for help expressing his emotions.

He returned home fresh and merry, his face shining from inner happiness and pleasure.

After breakfast, he lay on the couch, and took a book – Lermontov. That is his most loved poet, maybe because he just started reading his books, or generally his best of all.

His father was sitting in the kitchen with two-three other farmers, discussing the prices of wheat and other crops.

Đorđe was reading, without listening to them, although the door to the kitchen was by chance left open.

The conversation stopped, so Đorđe also stopped reading and looked that way.

Someone greeted the room, and he could hear a saber rattling.

The farmers stood up and removed their hats.

“Must be the county scribe,” Đorđe thought to himself disinterestedly and continued reading.

Old Jakov, Đorđe’s father, immediately boasted to the scribe that his son had returned from studies, and he led him into the room filled of pride and joy.

It didn’t feel right for Đorđe to be interrupted, but he stopped reading, and greeted the scribe.

– You were reading, and we disturbed you! – said the scribe sitting down, taking off his service cap, and smoothing his hair.

– Never mind, never mind! I love to read, but I love company even more! – said Đorđe.

– Well, yes, that’s what we educated people enjoy! I read a lot myself, I must have read, truth be told, a basket of books that big! – said the scribe proudly, pointing at the laundry basket under the table.

Old man Jakov stood by the door, holding his breath, absorbed in the pleasure of seeing that his son knows how to talk to high-ranking people.

The farmers stood by the door in the kitchen, listening attentively, as if they were expecting to hear something new and good for themselves, about the taxes or something else.

Đorđe started browsing through the book idly.

— What is the young master reading, if I may ask? — The scribe interrupted the silence.

— Lermontov — Đorđe replied.

—Ri…i…i…ght! Very nice to hear that, it is a wonderful novel, I did read it somewhere before. Which volume are you reading?

— He is a poet! — said Đorđe.

— Yes, yes, a poem, what was I thinking! Oh, such a famous piece! — said the scribe vividly slapping his knee, and then he smiled, tapped himself on the head and waved his arm in a gesture of ridiculing himself as if he had forgotten something so familiar to him as his own name.

— Which volume is out now, you were saying?… I think I kept buying until the fifth volume!

— These are collected works, it does not come out in volumes!

— Oh, yeah, yeah, right, that’s right, I must’ve been thinking about a play by Branko Radičević[1], that’ll be it… What part were you reading just now?

— I’m just reading the “Demon”. Extraordinary piece, and verses so melodic that they couldn’t be more beautiful! – exclaimed Đorđe.

Scribe fell silent suddenly, and started rubbing his forehead, frowning, as if he were recollecting something.

“Seems like that’s one of those forbidden books!” – He thought, and suddenly postured himself as a person of authority. He wanted to jump up, grab the book, and shout at Đorđe: “Forwards, in the name of the law!” He had to restrain himself, because he was not yet entirely certain that is the case, so he decided to interrogate him skillfully, making sure that Đorđe will not notice as he leads him on, and then he will immediately go and report about his important finding.

So he smiled again and said in his most courteous tone:

– Young master would be so kind to read a nice segment to me. I enjoy listening to such things!

– With pleasure, – said Đorđe, glad to get to read, just to stop the conversation he was getting fed up with. He remembered that the scribe cannot speak Russian, so he didn’t even ask him, but took Zmaj’s[2] translation of the “Demon” and started from the beginning.

A Demon, soul of all the banished,
Sadly above the sinful world
Floated, and thoughts of days now vanished
Before him crowdingly unfurled.

This felt somehow obscure to the scribe, and he thought that therein lay the danger.

“Wait, let me dupe him like this a bit”, he said to himself, and interrupted Đorđe saying:

– Quite a beautiful piece!

– Extraordinary! – said Đorđe.

– But just as long as it is not somehow against the current state of affairs in the country!

Đorđe didn’t even listen to him, and had no idea what he wanted to say. He kept reading, and the scribe listened, and as he listened, one word or another evocated terrible images in his mind.

“That’s it, that’s it!” he thought to himself, but still there was something suspicious about Tamara!

“Which Tamara might that be…? A-ha!” he thought, explaining it to himself in his own way, “I know which one it is!”

Oh, soul of evil, soul unsleeping,
In midnight gloom, what tryst is keeping?
None of your votaries are here…

“Well, that’s that!” the scribe thought to himself and stood up. His belief was now stronger than suspicion.

– Nice, nice piece, really beautiful! – He said, smiling, and in a sweet tone apologized that he had to leave, which is a pity because he had had such a pleasant time.

“Now you’ll see your joy, you little fish!” he thought maliciously after he had left the house.

(next page)

 

[1] Branko Radičević (1824–1853) was one of the most influential Romantic poets in modern Serbian literature, especially since he was the first poet to use the simple language of the common people in his works. During his lifetime he published two collections of poems (in 1847 and 1851), and his remaining poems were collected in a third book that was published posthumously (1862); he did not write any plays.

[2] Jovan Jovanović (1833–1904), best known in Serbia mononymously by his nickname “Zmaj”, was one of the most prolific Serbian poets and translators of the XIX century. He translated from Hungarian, German and Russian, and he made it possible for Serbian audiences to enjoy works of Goethe, Heine, Tennyson, Petőfi, Lermontov and many others.

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