This effort at a "grand reportage" is within eighteen months of attaining its majority: but Russia is "the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever". Ivan the Terrible and his Boyars, Nicholas and his Barin, Stalin and his Commissars: tempus edax rerum breaks his steel jaws before he gets through the zakouski.
"Stand, Russia! Let thy freedom grow in peace,
Beneath the constant rule, the changing Tsar!
Thy many, thine inhospitable seas
Shall ring thee round, a zodiac to thy star;
And frost, the rampart of thine iron ease,
Laugh at the shock of war."
Three and forty years since I wrote that, and the ink glitters red with blood and glory for this Winter Solstice.
"Grand reportage"? Certainly: I wrote the verses that describe each incident immediately after (or as!) it took place.
This gaily-painted mask is my favourite wear when travelling on holiday: lovers of Truth should look into the eyes.
SMORGABORD, ANTIPASTO, HORS D'OEUVRES AND ZAKOUSKI
Here is a dish of caviare. Caviare ? la Crowley. No one else could serve such a feast in such a manner. The qualities of this "Reportage" — wit, irony, vigour, vividness, raciness, and verve — all are Crowleianized, all are plentifully endowed with that Crowleian surprisingness so alluring always to some and so infuriating always to others. Under the Byronic surface of this verse there show clearly the living shapes of that singular identity glancing and flashing like fish, strangely-finned, strangely-hued, strangely-tailed.
In its impressions of the Russia of 1913 lies the special interest, at this time, of The Fun of the Fair . Those who read it can no longer make the error of blaming the Russian Revolution for certain features of Russian life which, long before Lenin, were uncongenial and inconvenient to the Western European. They will see how such "un-English" customs should be treated: lightly and wisely, with urbane and philosophic wit. This particular bar to sympathetic understanding of our Russian Ally will weaken and fall as they read.
But the most important thing about this picaresque poem is that only Crowley could have written it. To say that a man's work is unmistakeably his own in every line is higher praise nowadays than it ever was: it is praise enough.
* * *
The Moscow Jeremiahs cry Ichabod
Over the Fair at Nijni Novgorod.
Railways, they say, its glories have diminished;
The merchants murmur, and the fun is finished.
But, as experience teaches, those who hoard
Their Schopenhauers are often just the bored,
And as I need no pepper-pot to spice
The simple soups of virtue and of vice,
Trusting the Cook of Life to season well
His masterpieces to my taste and smell,
I put my hope and confidence in God,
And booked my seat for Nijni Novgorod.
Nothing so desolates the heart and brain
As travel by the swiftest Russian train:
One might think coaching days were come again.
Stay! all philosophers pick purple plums
From every pudding that attracts their thumbs;
The train epitomizes life itself.
It is made tolerable by an elf
Who, though responsible for some disasters,
The best of servants and the worst of masters,
Is one who (awkward both to catch and cast off)
We shall be sorry when we see the last of.
Consider not thy place-card as a chain,
But seek thy "fortune" swiftly in the train.
First, see how primitive one's pleasure is,
Recalling, commenting on, Genesis.
Here is a problem for a Darwin's grapple:
The Elohist says Eve purloined an apple;
How comes it then that evolution's cares
In these six Chiliads produce only pairs?1
Conjecture, probe no more the mystery!
It matters nothing, least of all to thee.
Rather lament that, though thy limbs be supple,
Alone thou canst make only half a couple.
Lament no longer; when Dame Nature errs,
It is our duty to stop gaps in hers.
And here she speaks with no uncertain voice;
You pay no money, yet you take your choice.
Yes, a safe bet that twa-three fellow-travellers
Of Ennui's skein are looking for unravellers:
For which thank your Creator, then your sire,
Then your own efforts, and, before you tire
Of all thanksgiving, the exciting cause —
The vastness of the steppes and the slow pause
(To call it "motion" were to take in vain
That worthy concept) of the Russian train
That seems a tortoise indolent as weighty
Matched with the bicycles of 1880.
Four hundred versts — no more — from Moscow city
To take ten hours seems certainly a pity.
Still, woman, with some aid from wine and song,
Makes long a little, and a little long.
Who knows the ins-and-outs of travelling,
In spite of ups-and-downs, may feel a king.
Having thus fattened and bedecked the victim,
It is high time that my stiletto pricked him.
No theme Byronic my pure pen engages;
No new Tom Jones pollutes my pious pages;
At this stage of the journey my scenario
Borrows no lewdness from a loose Lothario,
Confessing, with the frankness of a Fosco,
I stirred no eyelid all the way from Moscow.
Behold the poet then, from drosky stepped
With the nonchalance of the born adept,
Enter the train, unfolding overcoat
To pose as pillow, titillating throat
With vodka, from wide nostrils spouting jet
Of smoke from all-too-Russian cigarette,
Beguiling Time, that double-witted foe
Who always moves too fast or else too slow,
With reading the advertisements and guides
To conduct which the Company provides.
(The Russian shows in carriage and in station
A pretty talent of alliteration:
"The grave grapes grim beyond window's gloomy gate"
"Woe worth the wight who waters when we wait!")
Ha! to my carriage come the destined three:
One, beaming vodka, from the Caspian Sea;
Two, with him like a snail he brought his bedding,
The sort of German one spends life in dreading;
Three, horribly obese, a Polish Jew.
As Coleridge says, we were a ghastly crew.
As I was snoring, and the night pitch dark,
The journey offers little to remark.
Even in the morning, at Gorokovetz,
Where the pale tea one's gummy throttle wets,
Nothing diversifies the train's slow lurches
But endless rows of pines and silver birches.
I prefer deserts to such petty greenery.
To cut the matter short, there is no scenery.
Baedeker, archetypal optimist,
Cooes "villages", purrs "churches"! I insist
I saw few villages and fewer churches.
What I did see, I've told you; pines and birches.
Nor, too, do men who call their souls their own
Support that soul on villages alone;
Not even churches noble or grotesque
Suffice my hunger for the picturesque.
And if they did, I pledge my everlasting
Welfare that I should, this time, have gone fasting.
(However, if a bivouac at leisure
Of fifty soldiers would afford you pleasure,
I will admit I saw one, smart, not fallen off,
A verst or two before we came to Zholnoff.)
Also some piles of wood, some heaps of stones,
The sinews of the railway and its bones,
Fields full of brushwood, uninviting scrub,
Flowers that would look much better in a tub,
But nothing else — or may I be accursed! —
Tried to distinguish verst from dreary verst.
(Though I say verst offhandedly, suppose
I know what every Russ surveyor knows:
A verst is worth five times five score sagSne,
Each with its three archine, and these again
Made of sixteen verchok — verchoks, by Peter,
Stretch Point O Four Four Four Five of a metre.
Not ignorance makes simple my narration,
But kindly forethought and consideration.
The Russian names, Lord knows, are hard enough
Without such technical and turgid stuff.)
9 Hail, Rastyapinko! (What am I to say Of Rastyapinko? Gloomy verse or gay? My Muse says this — and then her wells run dry; "We stopped a minute there — and God knows why!") 10 Now, neighbours, Nijni Novgorod is nigh. The Jew is dropping medicine in his eye; The sad Caucasian despairing droops; The German wakes to what he dreamt of — soups. Here's quite a town, with huts and spires and horses! Here's ducks and goats, and hills and watercourses; All heart could wish, the journey's period. Yet, this is surely Nijni Novgorod. 11 The railway station offers nothing new; The usual buffet, and a shrine or two. 12 The droskys2 here being happily designed To throw one out both sides and eke behind, I took a porter. Here I gravely erred, Having of Russian scarce a single word, And he no knowledge — not a glimmer, he! — Of where my Yermoleff Hotel might be. We wandered many a verst of mild inquiry, Through streets, some cobbled, but the most part miry: When sudden in the vista came a dip, And he forsooth decided to take ship. 13 The Volga has its spell to lure and bind; Strange craft, rafts, barges, bridges ill-designed, Piles on pontoons, on sandbanks planed across. (Here is truth's gain once more my poem's loss. This was no Volga of my boyhood's dream, But Oka's base and tributary stream!) However, here's the quay, and there's the hill Crowned with its Kremlin, — but the thoughts that fill My mind are not of these. I am grown deaf To nature; I desire the Yermoleff.3 Despair succeeds to doubt; with growing gall I had to take a drosky after all. We climbed a hill; we wandered up and down The blazing boulevards of this beastly town. At last I see the proud "Rossia" rise. Welcome! it echoes to the cloud-swept skies. I leap to earth; fate smiles its dreadful doom! In the Rossia they had got no room. 14 I left my bag, though, and set out on foot. An hour convinced me it was all no boot. Like Noah's dove, without an olive, back I wandered, life still growing bleak and black. Vodka and sturgeon<4> pulling me together, And cheered by contemplating the fine weather, I made a further effort to explain That man, who only wakes to sleep again, Needs, as the fox his hole, the bird his nest, Some kind of bed — his object being rest. Thus far I made my point, and, lunch dispatched, I went forth hopefully once more, and scratched. First, I passed through the Kremlin: I confess That the interior did not impress; It was, like Quakers when they fall to sin, Far better outside than it is within. However, from the parapet one gains A sight of Volga and her mother plains. Both might go on for ever, it appears; And so they do, if all is true one hears. <4 Horseradish sauce, with cucumber and cherries: Equal to anything you get at Verrey's.> 15 I agitated weary legs and found, Where the Rodjestvenskaya goes to ground, A cupboard. This I gladly haste to hire, Though it is not a land of heart's desire. For instance, bedclothes are not to be had. Towels and soap? The people think me mad. Things even more necessary to life than these Are not; the people smile and stand at ease. My plight would move a tyrant's stony bowels. No soap? — I brought soap. I did not bring towels! Nor did I bring that useful — well, you know — That the Peruvian ties to saddle bow. However, men like I am don't give up. I shaved and washed in some one's coffee cup, Dried myself on pyjamas — kindly note I sleep — if sleep I can! — in overcoat. If sleep I can? In Russia one lies snug? So do the other tenants of the rug. 16 Having come thus far, by the grace of God, I go exploring Nijni Novgorod. My luck being what it is, the rain comes down Like haystacks, falling on the damned old town. Till now I trust I've kept my venom hidden. Thunderstorms, damn it! fairly put the lid on. 'Twas in the middle of the bridge it caught me. No roof to shield, no vodka to support me, Stoic, beneath the eavage of my hat, I walked and dripped, and wished I were a rat. 17 What was it made me brave the elements Thus boldly? What historical events Depended on me? Easy to explain: I wanted to find out about my train. Yes, friends, the more of Nijni Novgorod I see, The more I weep my ill-advis,d Odyssey! The gods that I have always praised before, saw Me wishing sometimes that I were in Warsaw! Those who know Warsaw will appreciate The quality of anguish desperate That went to make that wish. Well, on I went; Shop after shop displayed its soap, its scent, Its furs, its boxes, knives, dalmatics, figs, Cottons and silks, dogs, oranges, and wigs, And every other article of trade In every quality and every grade And every quantity at every price. The sellers (doubtless slaves to every vice), Tartars, Caucasians, Russians, Poles, and Finns, (So like each other they might all be twins, Said my tired eyes) of many a mingled race In life's shop-window filling every case, Patriarch, matron, boy, man, mother, wench, All sorts: but not one sort that could speak French! As a French scholar was my sole desire, I mentally consigned them to hell-fire. Proof of the wisdom of creation's plan That God damns not so readily as man; For these were possibly quite decent folk, Despite the filthy jargon that they spoke! This attitude of easy tolerance Springs from a very simple circumstance: This, that my long walk ended happily — The station buffet, and a glass of tea! 18 Although I very rarely go to church, God never wholly leaves me in the lurch. Russians insure their lives in railway trains, Though why the young should do so beats my brains. Still, I am glad; for the insurance girl, — In Nijni Novgorod the one pure pearl! — Speaks German. My retreat thus made secure, I tempted destiny, fell to the lure Of yet another drosky. Back or side It lacked; it asked an acrobat to ride! Save one small knob perhaps they put a ring to, Nothing to lean against, or catch and cling to! I clutched an obol, needing it for Styx. A crazy stallion and a boy of six, Racing for life across uneven cobbles, Would turn the thoughts of a V.C. to obols! However, death shot wide. He felt no shame at The miss — I was a nasty mark to aim at! 20 Now the reward of courage I might reap. The lust of food exceeding that of sleep If only for an hour, I took a table At the Apollo, and, thank God, was able To order, in an icy silver jar, What they call Ikra, and we caviar.<5> Vodka prepared its passage through the pharynx, And vodka oiled my late lamenting larynx. (I wish to say, before it takes effect, I cannot warn you what you may expect; But this I say, that when the word occurs, The action follows.) Oh, censorious sirs! If ever man deserved a dam' long drink Of vodka, it is I, who did not shrink All day for your sakes sun and storm to dare, Parleying growls with many a Russian bear, And faithfully reporting what the fair Is like. Oh, where, in Satan's name, oh where Is my sweet shashlik? (Note the strange but true Effect of vodka — four rimes now for two!) Where is my shashlik? "What's a shashlik?" Slave Of prejudice and Brixton, to the grave From that fierce moment when some scissor-sword First snapt in twain thine umbilical cord, Travel, and taste of vodka! (You observe The effect of vodka on poetic nerve?) Hush! now the band starts; everybody tunes His instrument — oh joy beyond all Junes! Here's the Caucasian, grey and silver; high Above his head four skewers scare the sky, And every skewer holds the toasted mutton, For which Heaven's Son would give his yellow button, That is a shashlik! Oh, my waiter, pour The Riesling of Sebastopol! No more, No more the vodka! I've an intuition This drunk will come to exquisite fruition. The band is playing ragtime Wagner. Life Seems much more liveable. I have no wife, But here one's wants are readily supplied. The band begins. The curtains now divide, And — no! again I disappoint you, miss! A Russian caf,-concert lacks the bliss Of novelty. One hears of naughty Flo The golden-haired, who changed so much, you know, And other rubbish of ten years ago. However, as I wish my poem read When Havelock Ellis and the rest are dead, I may observe that the girl just behind me Is evidently quite prepared to find me Prince Charming. (Damn! I hope you understand. I do this as a duty. Love is banned By every honest Briton. I alone Do love by stealth, and blush to find it known! Here's truth and fiction curiously mingled. Mix them yourselves, and tell me if it tingled!) Now she is gone. It's really rather funny — She is an "artist": that costs too much money. Art for art's sake — no! there my aphorism Is cut like the sun's glory by a prism, For she comes back. Oh well! Expect a pause! When vodka takes the stage, the muse withdraws. I order coffee made in a machine; Why should it cost three roubles? I am mean, Maybe. Six shillings for a cup of coffee? If it were not for vodka, not for toffee! Well, if at birth God wrote upon my forehead That I was to be scalped, it may be horrid, But scalped I shall be. A prophetic gypsy Once augured that one night I should be tipsy. I mocked her scrutiny of the event. And now I know it was to-night she meant! <5 Note for the gourmet. If your lips grow scorny Over the Russian black-bread, yclept Ch"rny, You err. As nothing else its taste combines With caviar. And when you read these lines, Further observe that caviar best walks On stilts of finely chopped green onion stalks.> 21 This caf,-concert fake, as I'm a sinner, Spoils love — what odds? But also it spoils dinner. The finely meditative frame of mind That a well-ordered dinner leaves behind Were marred by interruption from a sage; A fortiori, from a stupid Stage. Gaiety, when I am or am not drunk, Makes me too jealous of a Buddhist monk Who in three robes, once yellow, later puce, Sends noise to nowhere, women to the deuce, And by the contemplation of his nose Gets good digestion, and divine repose. How can I emulate that monk, I ask you, While squeals Mademoiselle Borucharskya? I wait (in hell) for Aishye-Rustzma, martyr, Because she's billed as an "artistic Tartar". Is Tartar the comparative of tart? If so, come Aphrodite! farewell Art! . . . . . . . . . . . 22 This coffee has saved money in the long run. Near midnight, and it slackens not its strong run. . . . . . . . . . . . 23 This Tartar lady — vain were Cupid's rumours! She's like the rest exactly — but wears bloomers. I now sincerely wish I had confined My evening's wooing to the girl behind. . . . . . . . . . . . 24 My early training conquers, praise the Lord! With all this vice I am extremely bored. I shall arise, and gird myself, and pay My bill, and tip the man, and go away. Virtue has triumphed; it is not quite nice, This only happens when I'm bored by vice! 25 I walked across the bridge; I climbed afar By the funiculi funicular To where Vostotchny runs his lordly hall — Restaurant, concert, theatre, and ball. Careful of virtue, chary of expense, I passed it by, and footed gaily thence By darkling paths, suggested, it may be, By hope of finding Whistler's Battersea. In fact, if a mere layman dare to say so, Nijni by night is like his Valparaiso. An active and malicious beggar found me. I had a sword-stick, else he might have downed me. As things fell out, not I but he inspires The Nijni Sherlocks to Cumaean fires. Down the hillside I wandered in the dark Across the bridge again, a fading spark Still hoping virtue — ever prone to fall — Might witness vice's triumph after all. 26 In one thing Nijni Novgorod's no joke. Upon that beastly bridge you may not smoke: And, as I crossed it fourteen times — about! — This fact completely spoilt my evening out. Especially since vice remained as coy As I have been, two decades, man and boy. Weary, I sought my bedstead, there to stretch Chaste limbs of an uncomfortable wretch. Not even a candle in the room whereby To catch these loose impressions as they fly! I took a chair, and the hall lamp; and now Sleep spreads his angel wings upon my brow. (Life has no more to offer to a king.) So ends an uneventful evening, Barring, of course — well, no more need be said To those familiar with the Russian bed. 27 The story of my getting up I curtail. I cleaned my shoes upon a piece of shirt-tail, Went to the coffee-cup and made my toilet, (There's pathos — but another word would spoil it!) Sailed forth, resolved most potently to square Experience with the fulness of the fair. The day was fine, the hour was half past ten. I had of course refilled my fountain pen; But oh! the misery I might have spared Myself if I had properly prepared The victim for the ordeal by a glass Of tea. Oh well, no matter, let it pass! 28 Till One I wandered up and down the fair, And this is part of what I noticed there: Sausages, satchels, sables, samovars, Locks, studs, hats, flat-irons, rat-traps, motor-cars, Tea, stirrups, saws, straps, belts, coats, sandals, forks, Censers, rugs, ikons, beads, horns, carpets, corks, Handkerchiefs, banners, melons, bread, clocks, wheels, Fish, earrings, nuts, combs, onions, sharpening steels, Tomatoes, popguns, buttons, apples, screws, Books, rattles, pa-posh, safes, decoy-ducks, shoes, Cooking-pots, guns, galoshes, amber strings, Pearl, coral, balalaikas, carriage springs, Tin toys, accordeons, basins, gramophones, Powder flasks, typewriters, lamps, purses, bones.... And now, by Jesus Christ and Doctor Tanner, And all who have fasted in their well-known manner, I think I have earned food; and, as I eat it, I will look through the record and complete it By mention of each nation, gens, or clan, Kindred, tongue, people, race or tribe of man That ever scuttled ship or cut carotid, Whom with this eagle eye of mine I spotted, And in my note-book jotted them as potted. Russ, Finn, Lapp, Dane, Norwegian, Swiss, Greek, Pole, Turk, Persian, Spaniard, Portugee, Creole, Bulgar, Roumanian, Montenegrin, Serb, A cockney answering to the name of 'Erb, Belgian, Basque, Dutchman, Ghoorka, Sikh, Pathan, Madrasi, Cingalee, Chinese, Afghan, Jap, Siamese, Shan, Chin, Malay, Burmese; Tibetan, Balti, Zulu, Javanese, Hottentot, Krooboy, Veddah, Bushman, Gippy, Kanaka, Scot, men from the Mississippi; Khun-khus, Dewan, Yank, Taggara, Panjabi, Men who claimed pedigree from Hammurabi, Austrian, Cossack, German, Tartar, Swede, Bengali, Cappadocian, Samoyede, Folk from Andorra, men of Monaco, Italian, Jew, Sicilian, Esquimaux, — Here's where artistic feeling should have checked me. You'll think I'm lying. Well, you can't expect me To stick to truth all day and every day. Besides, I've tried it, and it doesn't pay. Still, if I did exaggerate a bit, I'll face the box and 'kiss the book on it' That I at least saw Russians. Ebb, thou tide Of incredulity, be off, subside, Skidoo, take hook, begone, scram, twenty-three! In future you may strictly credit me. 29 Beyond the block of shops there is a square Containing the diversions of the fair. The usual thing — monkeys, two-headed brats, A lion-tamer, wrestlers, acrobats, Nothing of note; but here the sons and daughters Of misery had set up their headquarters. Beggars! the halt, the maimed, the blind, the lame, Every one different — and so strangely same! Here if in nothing else this most erratic Town is emphatically Asiatic. 30 Beside the bridge were naked children bathing, When I perceived the prospect of a plaything In the slim person of a Tartar lass Of sixteen summers: so it came to pass I thus addressed her: "Maiden of Kashgar! Pearl of Herat! Bokhara's brightest star! Dawn on the desert! Siren of the Snows! Soul of the steppes! Dusky lily-bloom that blows In what a wilderness! Ah, leave that hand In mine; Love's office is to understand! Tulip of Tartary! New-born gazelle! Herald of heaven advancing into hell! "Wilt thou not come — wilt thou not fly with me?"<6> The bird, the river call us to the sea. There go the ships! Oh let the Volga bear The enchanted whispers of our love's own air By far Kaz?n where skulls adorn the plain, To sweet Sam?ra with its golden grain, To gay Sar?toff with its gardened hills, To Astrakh?n — oh! nature to it thrills, My love — your cheeks (through all their olive) glow! Your eyes are fixed in ecstasy! I know You love me — come! oh come, my love! what lack Hath heaven but kisses, strenuous and slack, Between your shoulders? Is not life a dream, Earth but a mote that revels in the stream Of sunlight? Why then, I am all on fire, I clench my fingers, and my lungs suspire Terrible sighs — and thou with tender eyes Welling with love, exchanging sighs for sighs From the young bosom's blossom that expands Its joy beneath the sunlight of my hands That press it — ah, thine head falls back, the lips Curl back as all the world is in eclipse, And ask — what here they may not have. We move Lost in the dream — the dream of virgin love — And find ourselves — oh in what garden of spice? What palace of desire? What Paradise? Angels fling flowers for a bridal bed; Cherubs drop perfume on my lady's head; The air awakes to singing seraphim; Archangels lead them to the song supreme That when God heard it, before Light was, curled His lips with passion to create the world — Where? Must I let the ancient secret out? The very room I have complained about! <6 Any sweet kiddie is sure to get giddy, on Hearing her lover quote Epipsychidion! — [Ed.]> 31 Then she: "Thou sun whose fiery beams enlarge My crescent! Tide that floats my gilded barge Out on the sea of rapture! Tower of strength That hast laid low my battlements at length! Bee that hast robbed the honey of my flower! Thief that hast had a lifetime in an hour! Thou stalwart that with sudden outrage and force Didst fling me across thy saddle, in thy course Spurning the stars with stallion hoofs! Thou god Of all my prayers, their perfect period! Tiger that leaping from thy lair hast torn My tender flesh! Insufferable thorn To pierce my rose! What clamour shall I make? Cry out on vengeance? Call on God to slake That thirst of blood? Murder me, yes or no, Monster and vampire — but I love thee so! Leave me no more! I give myself! I yield All the bright barley of my maiden field To brew thee wine! Intoxicating draught Of Love — no poison-potion Arab-quaffed So thrilled — my veins are raptured — blood and brain Dance as my tribe have never danced. Again! Again! Again! Thy kiss is molten fire Feeding delight, yet nourishing desire. Am I then lovely? All is thine! For thee I left the frozen fields of Tartary: For thee my mother travailed at my birth; For thee God sent me from the stars to earth! Take all thou wilt! I give thee all I can, My monster-master! I have found my man!" 32 And I: "God do so unto me, and more If ever I forget thee to adore Strange goddesses. Then, once again, thy breast! Give me thy throat to drain its burning best! Thy finger-nails torment my shrieking spine! Now — once again, fair Tartar, thou art mine! Once, twice, and thrice — oh, but let death decide The battle, swallow in his trembling tide Victor and vanquished! Stern arbitrament Of war! Dread god of the divine event! There — ay, 'twas there that H,r, yielded up The wine that never flowed in Hebe's cup: 'Twas there Antinous bid Adrian be: There Eli-gabel made the slave go free! Yea, what life gathers is but boyish bliss: Death's rite be ours — the first was naught to this! Then — " 33 . . . . . . . . . . . There was more, much more; let this suffice To hymn the triumph of virtue over vice! 34 I thought it right to enter in my log The details of this daring dialogue; And if the reader has been bored, advise Closing the book — I don't apologize. Most probably, his intellect will ask How we were fitted for the testing task Of making these remarks — a Tartar wench Is not the sort of person to talk French! Well, I've a shot left in my old portmanteau. Or, please suppose we spoke in Esperanto! 35 I climbed the hill again, to ponder thence The beauty of these rivers' confluence. There lies the Volga, mighty bar and bond Of Russia; rich green flats reach out beyond, So restful that the eye is hard to draw Back from their soft calm brilliance, till I saw Minute the churches, dotting it with white, And golden haycocks by the banks, alight With the sun's tragedy. To left and right The hill winds, wooded, with its greener roofs Putting even Nature to severer proofs, And, red and green and gold, Byzantine revel Of churches where one might invoke the devil, So all-fantastic are their twisted spires And domes aglow with their own monstrous fires! 36 Below me lies the Oka, grey and gold, Asleep, its shipping mightier in mould Than once Leviathan. The busy bridge, Each mannikin minuter than a midge, Leads to the square grown misty, dense and dun, Beneath the blazing agony of the sun That dies above them. What with pears and port, A stiffish hill-climb and still stiffer sport, I gladly notice on my left the bar That men do call the Vostotchny Bazaar. I could have found a shorter name, I think; To me it simply stands for "food and drink". 37 This food, this drink, — oh, lots of it! — are mine. From the great balcony I watch decline The sun, reluctant (I believe it true!) To set, in case his setting spoil my view! More golden and more green the domes and crosses Of great Saint — here the Muse again at loss is. This church was built since patient Baedeker Pencilled his volume, and I shall not stir To ask the waiter who the Saint is — dome And cross shine no less bright. A blue-grey gleam Subtly enfolds the steppes. Soft clouds lie grey About the north: earth's noises die away: Heaven's anthem wakes — 'tis but a hush increased! Great flights of birds come flickering from the east Like dead leaves down the wind; the Volga shines More silver-rose; still subtler grow the lines Of all the landscape; a vermilion haze Surrounds the sun, that still shoots out his rays Venomous, as a warrior in his death Spends utmost malice in the utmost breath. — And now all suddenly goes blue. The sky Flames into green and orange. Must thou die, BelovSd? This is the extreme of fate The whole world goes incalculably slate. The wind comes chill; the sun is dead. Oh death, I feel the first faint fondling of thy breath Even now. Bring wine! Bring food! Bring anything! It matters nothing: man must meet his king. 38 Well, Volga still extends, a silver streak, And the full moon is not so far to seek. Before an hour's gone she will countermand The sunset, make old Nijni fairy-land. In any case, I'm powerless in the matter; I'll eat, and take my chance of getting fatter. 39 However, it grows cold, and I am fain To go and catch my Tartar girl again, And, with a little bit of luck, my train. 40 My song resumes its melancholy tune. I reached the station just two hours too soon, Or else an unknown period too late. (Russia is never truly up to date: Is there no statesman to resolve "I shall end her Imbroglio of the antient Julian kalendar?") In any case, I am indeed ill-fated; My German lady has evaporated. 41 However, I command a glass of tea, Resolved, with Asquith, I would wait and see. So here I am, a miserable being From too much waiting and too little seeing. 42 (I might describe the buffet; but, my aunt! You bet your bottom dollar that I shan't. I split my light of genius in a prism; This ray's called "conscientious journalism"; But — they admit it, even at Scotland Yard — The strongest conscience may be worked too hard.) 43 One who is universally admitted In these degenerate days the keenest-witted Mahatma going — I am proud to boast I was the pupil that he scolded most — Once told me this important mystery Pertaining to the ninety-ninth degree: "Never do Magick; you will surely rue it." But what use is it, if you mustn't do it? 44 Accordingly, I first approached the shrine, Making no reverence:<7> then these words were mine: "Sir, since the sottish vote of a majority Has 'drest you in a little brief authority', (Angels would weep, indeed, to see you sainted, If they but knew how badly you were painted!) I introduce myself." (I did.) "I doubt If there is much we could agree about; But here's a basis for our bargainings; You want wax candles, and I want three things. First, no more trouble over this damned ticket. (Safe journey? Well, I'll trust you to play cricket.) Second, that no one steals my precious bag. Third, since the hours unconscionably lag, A lady's conversation. For the first, A candle of five kopecks. Next and worst A candle of ten kopecks. For the girl, A candle of five kopecks." Then I twirl Toes, and march off with a nonchalant nod. He put the situation before God. <7 This strikes the saint at once; in his high station Of life he sleepily soaks adoration. A man's approach gives him a nasty jar; He wonders who, by Vassily! you are. Familiar with the story of the past, His constant dread is an iconoclast. He feels relieved on hearing you mean trade; You get his whole attention and his aid. Afraid to haggle, glad to be well out of it, He gets you all you want; and more, no doubt of it.> 45 The booking-office opened with a rush. There, sweetly smiling, with a damask blush Mantling her cheeks, my German<8> girl. Both hands Offered her service to my least commands; There were my tickets. Venerable and mild, A porter with the spirit of a child, The courage of a lion, the address Of Cinquevalli, grasped my bag. I bless My saint already — almost I begin — "Say, what an all-fired place to travel in!" Fell on my ears. I naturally turned, And quite admitted that the saint had earned His twenty kopecks. She who thus addressed me Was just the person who could interest me. These were her merits: youth, rank, elegance, Beauty (though nothing had been left to chance), Strong common-sense, unquestionable pluck, Bright ways, strong intellect. Yes, this was luck! The conversation sparkled — cunning elf! She made me tell her all about myself! So that an hour passed charmingly. The saint, Now positively smiling through his paint At the tall candle with the small gilt pattern — My sense of gratitude was never slattern — Blazing before him, to encourage trade Threw in a bonus — the best car that's made! No Russian carriage with its worse than flea, Its cushions without elasticity, But the real thing — the hall-marked wagon-lit! Silver and velvet and mahogany! The bell that tinkles once, and in a trice Comes the Veuve Clicquot bucketed in ice! <8 Sie war nicht Deutsch; sie sprach es schlecht — no fit Art! So, sleep on both those long ears, xxxx xxxxxxxxxx!> 46 Here the Muse flags. Would great Apollo dare To string the lyre to joys beyond compare As these? Apollo is a golden god: — After three days of Nijni Novgorod, To find a bed with pillows, and fine linen Whiter than winter's self to stuff one's skin in, Were more than mere Olympians can equal. 47 Like all good yarns, the story has no sequel. I rose to greet the sun. The train ran smooth, As if it had a woman's heart to soothe, Through woods and gardens, dotted here and there With summer villas. Now, remote and rare, Is Moscow, all its myriad houses lying Still sleep-drenched in the shadow stupefying Of night, while all its thousand domes take fire Sparkling and glimmering toward day's desire, Their thousand throats of bronze in chorus one To hail the resurrection of the sun. * * * POLITICAL VOTE. B----Y SECRET Though little agitation was apparent in the general atmosphere of the Fair, the shrewd, astute, subtle, lynx-eyed, past master, analytical, psychic, eerie, hard-bitten Secret Service Chief could nose that there was a certain discontent with the regime. Witness the somewhat ribald music-hall song of which I have ventured to append a rough translation. The chorus of Lapland Witches was indubitably effective, and the verses evidently popular. I have taken the liberty to replace the unfamiliar names of Borodino and Poltawa, for the sake of intelligibility, by those of our own victories; and the awkward phrase "Imperial - Military - Academy - Diploma" by "old school tie". Pardon any anachronisms - or let them go, in the Ancient and Accepted manner, as phrophecies. ------------- LANDED GENTRY 1. Our inbred F.O.
families Produce their pullulating legions; Red-tape-worms in bled-White Hall tease Lapland's anaomic nether regions. Bridge, polo, cricket, pansy piety, Tart-and-great-lady so-society, Dumb devotees of Dividends - Ah! "who will save us from our friends", Our inbred F.O. families? 2. Bald ovoid soft-boiled addled Blimps, Brass-hatted hero Humpty-Dumpties, Cathedral choughs and Palace pimps, Burst-big-drum battling Rumty-Tumpties, U-boats and tanks and Messerschmitts Are dam-bad-form-Sir to the wits That stop with Agincourt and Ramillies! God bless our inbred F.O. families! 3. The Bolshie is a godless cad; What we want is devout servility; Maybe the Junker is the lad To 'leave us still our old nobility'. Maybe - I trust we shall not live To see the black alternative - To see the men of Lapland rise And strangle in their Old-School Ties Our inbred F.O. families. CHORUS Pontiffs in high places, Ravens of rapacity, Vultures of voracity, Sparrows of salacity, Parrots of loquacity, With intestinal statis, How you hate sagacity, Audacity, Vivacity, How you fear pugnacity, Baffle pertinacity, Punish perspicacity, You Imps of Incapacity!
Nonsense, my lad; the connoisseur can choose
The classic spinthria, now-a-days partouse. — [Ed.]
I have risked all but my immortal soul
Of yore in the Norwegian cariole;
In Baltistan I trust I learned the knack
Of braving Indus in the zany "zak";
In Mexico the Broncho's back confessed
My nerve — my skill's not equal to my zest.
Much mountaineering tends to make one staunch;
I often ride upon an avalanche.
But for the blas,, whom these things no longer
Thrill, on the look-out now for something stronger —
I shall be glad to call the man my friend,
And I can confidently recommend
That final test of the good help of God,
A drosky-ride through Nijni Novgorod.
To calm the reader's natural anxiety,
I solve this little problem with propriety.
No Yermoleff Hotel at all was here,
Yermoleff merely brews the local beer!
I must get even with the Moscow bloke
Who thought I should appreciate his joke!