Boris Pilnyak: "Gviu, Shooya, Glav-boom!" from The Naked Year


The sultry sky pours out a sultry haze of heat. Sweltering in the sun on the threshold of his cell, a black monk hums old Russian songs. In the dark cell, the window is high in balsamine, the walls are unlit, a pitcher of water and bread are on the table amidst papers--and the cell is in the far corner, by the tower, overgrown with moss. The priest, overgrown with moss, is sitting at the table on a high stool, and Gleb Evgrafovich is sitting on a low stool opposite him. The black monk is murmuring a song:

Hey, on a Saturday, a day of foul weather

The sun is sweltering, the dusty sparrows chirp. Gleb speaks quietly. The priest's face: shiny like suede, with short grey hair; his eyes look slyly and sharply from out of his beard; a single yellowed fang protrudes from his beard; and his bald pate is like a coffin lid. The crafty priest listens:

"Our greatest artists," Gleb says quietly, "who stand higher than Da Vinci, Correggio and Perugino, are Andrei Rublev, Prokopy Chirin and those nameless ones scattered throughout the Novgorods, Pskovs, Suzdals, and Kolomnas in our monasteries and churches. And what art they had, what mastery! How they solved the most difficult artistic problems... Art must be heroic. The artist, the craftsman, is a hero. And he must choose for his work that which is majestic and beautiful. What is more majestic than Christ and the Holy Mother? Especially the Holy Mother. Our ancient craftsmen interpreted the Holy Mother as the most sweet secret, the spiritual secret of motherhood, of motherhood in general. It's not for nothing that even to this day Russian peasant women--all mothers--pray and confess their sins to the Holy Mother. She forgives and understands their sins, all for the sake of motherhood."

"About the revolution, my son, about the revolution," says the priest. "About the people's rebellion! What do you have to say? You see that bread over there? More is being brought little by little. And what do you think will be left in twenty years, after all the priests are dead? In twenty years!" And the priest grins slyly.

"It's hard for me to say, Bishop. I've been abroad a lot, and I was like an orphan there. People in bowler hats, frock coats, smoking jackets, tail-coats, trams, busses, subways, skyscrapers, dazzle, brilliance, hotels with every manner of amenity, with restaurants, bars, toilets, the finest linen, with night-time female attendants who come openly to satisfy unnatural masculine desires. And what social inequality, what bourgeois customs and rules! And every worker dreams about owning stocks, and so do the peasants! And everything is dead; everywhere it's machines and technology and comfort. The path of European culture led to war, 1914 was able to create this war. Machine culture forgot about the culture of the soul, the spiritual. And recent European art: in painting it's either posters or the hysterics of protest; in literature, either the stock market and detectives or adventures among savages. European culture is a dead end. The Russian state, for the past two centuries--since Peter--wanted to adopt this culture. Russia languished in suffocation, utterly Gogolian. The revolution set Russia up against Europe. And there's more. Now, since the first days of the revolution, Russia, with its everyday life, customs, and towns, has returned to the seventeenth century. At the border of the seventeenth century was Peter..."

("Pétra, Pétra!" the priest corrected him.)

"...there was Russian national painting, architecture, music, tales about Juliana Lazarevskaya. Peter came along, and Lomonosov became an unbelievable clod with his ode to glass; and genuine national creative work disappeared."

("Hey, on a Saturday!" the monk began to sing again in the sultry heat.)

"...in Russia there was no joy, but now there is. The Russian intelligentsia did not follow October. And it couldn't. Since the days of Peter, Europe was hanging over Russia, and beneath it, like beneath the hooves of a horse rearing up on its hind legs, our people lived like they had a thousand years ago; but the intelligentsia are true children of Peter. They say that Radishchev was the father of the Russian intelligentsia. Not so; it was Peter. After Radishchev, the intelligentsia began to repent, repent and seek out its mother, Russia. Every member of the intelligentsia repents, and each grieves for the people, and each one of them knows nothing about the people. But revolutions were unnecessary for popular rebellion--alien. Popular rebellion is the coming to power of genuine Russians who create their own genuine, Russian truth. And this is a blessing! The entire history of Russian muzhiks is the history of sectarianism. Who will win in this struggle--mechanized Europe, or sectarian, Orthodox, spiritual Russia?"

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