The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Chapter 3

The Confession of a Passionate Heart — in Verse

ALYOSHA remained for some time irresolute after hearing the command his father shouted to him from the carriage. But in spite of his uneasiness he did not stand still. That was not his way. He went at once to the kitchen to find out what his father had been doing above. Then he set off, trusting that on the way he would find some answer to the doubt tormenting him. I hasten to add that his father’s shouts, commanding him to return home “with his mattress and pillow” did not frighten him in the least. He understood perfectly that those peremptory shouts were merely “a flourish” to produce an effect. In the same way a tradesman in our town who was celebrating his name-day with a party of friends, getting angry at being refused more vodka, smashed up his own crockery and furniture and tore his own and his wife’s clothes, and finally broke his windows, all for the sake of effect. Next day, of course, when he was sober, he regretted the broken cups and saucers. Alyosha knew that his father would let him go back to the monastery next day, possibly even that evening. Moreover, he was fully persuaded that his father might hurt anyone else, but would not hurt him. Alyosha was certain that no one in the whole world ever would want to hurt him, and, what is more, he knew that no one could hurt him. This was for him an axiom, assumed once for all without question, and he went his way without hesitation, relying on it.

But at that moment an anxiety of sort disturbed him, and worried him the more because he could not formulate it. It was the fear of a woman, of Katerina Ivanovna, who had so urgently entreated him in the note handed to him by Madame Hohlakov to come and see her about something. This request and the necessity of going had at once aroused an uneasy feeling in his heart, and this feeling had grown more and more painful all the morning in spite of the scenes at the hermitage and at the Father Superior’s. He was not uneasy because he did not know what she would speak of and what he must answer. And he was not afraid of her simply as a woman. Though he knew little of women, he spent his life, from early childhood till he entered the monastery, entirely with women. He was afraid of that woman, Katerina Ivanovna. He had been afraid of her from the first time he saw her. He had only seen her two or three times, and had only chanced to say a few words to her. He thought of her as a beautiful, proud, imperious girl. It was not her beauty which troubled him, but something else. And the vagueness of his apprehension increased the apprehension itself. The girl’s aims were of the noblest, he knew that. She was trying to save his brother Dmitri simply through generosity, though he had already behaved badly to her. Yet, although Alyosha recognised and did justice to all these fine and generous sentiments, a shiver began to run down his back as soon as he drew near her house.

He reflected that he would not find Ivan, who was so intimate a friend, with her, for Ivan was certainly now with his father. Dmitri he was even more certain not to find there, and he had a foreboding of the reason. And so his conversation would be with her alone. He had a great longing to run and see his brother Dmitri before that fateful interview. Without showing him the letter, he could talk to him about it. But Dmitri lived a long way off, and he was sure to be away from home too. Standing still for a minute, he reached a final decision. Crossing himself with a rapid and accustomed gesture, and at once smiling, he turned resolutely in the direction of his terrible lady.

He knew her house. If he went by the High Street and then across the market-place, it was a long way round. Though our town is small, it is scattered, and the houses are far apart. And meanwhile his father was expecting him, and perhaps had not yet forgotten his command. He might be unreasonable, and so he had to make haste to get there and back. So he decided to take a short cut by the backway, for he knew every inch of the ground. This meant skirting fences, climbing over hurdles, and crossing other people’s back-yards, where everyone he met knew him and greeted him. In this way he could reach the High Street in half the time.

He had to pass the garden adjoining his father’s, and belonging to a little tumbledown house with four windows. The owner of this house, as Alyosha knew, was a bedridden old woman, living with her daughter, who had been a genteel maid-servant in generals’ families in Petersburg. Now she had been at home a year, looking after her sick mother. She always dressed up in fine clothes, though her old mother and she had sunk into such poverty that they went every day to Fyodor Pavlovitch’s kitchen for soup and bread, which Marfa gave readily. Yet, though the young woman came up for soup, she had never sold any of her dresses, and one of these even had a long train — a fact which Alyosha had learned from Rakitin, who always knew everything that was going on in the town. He had forgotten it as soon as he heard it, but now, on reaching the garden, he remembered the dress with the train, raised his head, which had been bowed in thought, and came upon something quite unexpected.

Over the hurdle in the garden, Dmitri, mounted on something, was leaning forward, gesticulating violently, beckoning to him, obviously afraid to utter a word for fear of being overheard. Alyosha ran up to the hurdle.

“It’s a good thing you looked up. I was nearly shouting to you,” Mitya said in a joyful, hurried whisper. “Climb in here quickly! How splendid that you’ve come! I was just thinking of you”

Alyosha was delighted too, but he did not know how to get over the hurdle. Mitya put his powerful hand under his elbow to help him jump. Tucking up his cassock, Alyosha leapt over the hurdle with the agility of a bare-legged street urchin.

“Well done! Now come along,” said Mitya in an enthusiastic whisper.

“Where?” whispered Alyosha, looking about him and finding himself in a deserted garden with no one near but themselves. The garden was small, but the house was at least fifty paces away.

“There’s no one here. Why do you whisper?” asked Alyosha.

“Why do I whisper? Deuce take it” cried Dmitri at the top of his voice. “You see what silly tricks nature plays one. I am here in secret, and on the watch. I’ll explain later on, but, knowing it’s a secret, I began whispering like a fool, when there’s no need. Let us go. Over there. Till then be quiet. I want to kiss you.

Glory to God in the world,

Glory to God in me . . .

I was just repeating that, sitting here, before you came.”

The garden was about three acres in extent, and planted with trees only along the fence at the four sides. There were apple-trees, maples, limes and birch-trees. The middle of the garden was an empty grass space, from which several hundredweight of hay was carried in the summer. The garden was let out for a few roubles for the summer. There were also plantations of raspberries and currants and gooseberries laid out along the sides; a kitchen garden had been planted lately near the house.

Dmitri led his brother to the most secluded corner of the garden. There, in a thicket of lime-trees and old bushes of black currant, elder, snowball-tree, and lilac, there stood a tumbledown green summer-house; blackened with age. Its walls were of lattice-work, but there was still a roof which could give shelter. God knows when this summer-house was built. There was a tradition that it had been put up some fifty years before by a retired colonel called von Schmidt, who owned the house at that time. It was all in decay, the floor was rotting, the planks were loose, the woodwork smelled musty. In the summer-house there was a green wooden table fixed in the ground, and round it were some green benches upon which it was still possible to sit. Alyosha had at once observed his brother’s exhilarated condition, and on entering the arbour he saw half a bottle of brandy and a wineglass on the table.

“That’s brandy,” Mitya laughed. “I see your look: ‘He’s drinking again” Distrust the apparition.

Distrust the worthless, lying crowd,

And lay aside thy doubts.

I’m not drinking, I’m only ‘indulging,’ as that pig, your Rakitin, says. He’ll be a civil councillor one day, but he’ll always talk about ‘indulging.’ Sit down. I could take you in my arms, Alyosha, and press you to my bosom till I crush you, for in the whole world — in reality — in real-i-ty — (can you take it in?) I love no one but you!

He uttered the last words in a sort of exaltation.

“No one but you and one ‘jade’ I have fallen in love with, to my ruin. But being in love doesn’t mean loving. You may be in love with a woman and yet hate her. Remember that! I can talk about it gaily still. Sit down here by the table and I’ll sit beside you and look at you, and go on talking. You shall keep quiet and I’ll go on talking, for the time has come. But on reflection, you know, I’d better speak quietly, for here — here — you can never tell what ears are listening. I will explain everything; as they say, ‘the story will be continued.’ Why have I been longing for you? Why have I been thirsting for you all these days, and just now? (It’s five days since I’ve cast anchor here.) Because it’s only to you I can tell everything; because I must, because I need you, because to-morrow I shall fly from the clouds, because to-morrow life is ending and beginning. Have you ever felt, have you ever dreamt of falling down a precipice into a pit? That’s just how I’m falling, but not in a dream. And I’m not afraid, and don’t you be afraid. At least, I am afraid, but I enjoy it. It’s not enjoyment though, but ecstasy. Damn it all, whatever it is! A strong spirit, a weak spirit, a womanish spirit — what, ever it is! Let us praise nature: you see what sunshine, how clear the sky is, the leaves are all green, it’s still summer; four o’clock in the afternoon and the stillness! Where were you going?”

“I was going to father’s, but I meant to go to Katerina Ivanovna’s first.”

“To her, and to father! Oo! what a coincidence! Why was I waiting for you? Hungering and thirsting for you in every cranny of my soul and even in my ribs? Why, to send you to father and to her, Katerina Ivanovna, so as to have done with her and with father. To send an angel. I might have sent anyone, but I wanted to send an angel. And here you are on your way to see father and her.”

“Did you really mean to send me?” cried Alyosha with a distressed expression.

“Stay! You knew it And I see you understand it all at once. But be quiet, be quiet for a time. Don’t be sorry, and don’t cry.”

Dmitri stood up, thought a moment, and put his finger to his forehead.

“She’s asked you, written to you a letter or something, that’s why you’re going to her? You wouldn’t be going except for that?”

“Here is her note.” Alyosha took it out of his pocket. Mitya looked through it quickly.

“And you were going the backway! Oh, gods, I thank you for sending him by the backway, and he came to me like the golden fish to the silly old fishermen in the fable! Listen, Alyosha, listen, brother! Now I mean to tell you everything, for I must tell someone. An angel in heaven I’ve told already; but I want to tell an angel on earth. You are an angel on earth. You will hear and judge and forgive. And that’s what I need, that someone above me should forgive. Listen! If two people break away from everything on earth and fly off into the unknown, or at least one of them, and before flying off or going to ruin he comes to someone else and says, ‘Do this for me’ — some favour never asked before that could only be asked on one’s deathbed — would that other refuse, if he were a friend or a brother?”

“I will do it, but tell me what it is, and make haste,” said Alyosha.

“Make haste! H’m! . . . Don’t be in a hurry, Alyosha, you hurry and worry yourself. There’s no need to hurry now. Now the world has taken a new turning. Ah, Alyosha, what a pity you can’t understand ecstasy. But what am I saying to him? As though you didn’t understand it. What an ass I am! What am I saying? ‘Be noble, O man!’— who says that?”

Alyosha made up his mind to wait. He felt that, perhaps, indeed, his work lay here. Mitya sank into thought for a moment, with his elbow on the table and his head in his hand. Both were silent.

“Alyosha,” said Mitya, “you’re the only one who won’t laugh. I should like to begin — my confession — with Schiller’s Hymn to Joy, An die Freude! I don’t know German, I only know it’s called that. Don’t think I’m talking nonsense because I’m drunk. I’m not a bit drunk. Brandy’s all very well, but I need two bottles to make me drunk:

Silenus with his rosy phiz

Upon his stumbling ass.

But I’ve not drunk a quarter of a bottle, and I’m not Silenus. I’m not Silenus, though I am strong,3 for I’ve made a decision once for all. Forgive me the pun; you’ll have to forgive me a lot more than puns to-day. Don’t be uneasy. I’m not spinning it out. I’m talking sense, and I’ll come to the point in a minute. I won’t keep you in suspense. Stay, how does it go?”

3 In Russian, silen.

He raised his head, thought a minute, and began with enthusiasm:

Wild and fearful in his cavern

Hid the naked troglodyte,

And the homeless nomad wandered

Laying waste the fertile plain.

Menacing with spear and arrow

In the woods the hunter strayed. . . .

Woe to all poor wretches stranded

On those cruel and hostile shores!

From the peak of high Olympus

Came the mother Ceres down,

Seeking in those savage regions

Her lost daughter Proserpine.

But the Goddess found no refuge,

Found no kindly welcome there,

And no temple bearing witness

To the worship of the gods.

From the fields and from the vineyards

Came no fruits to deck the feasts,

Only flesh of bloodstained victims

Smouldered on the altar-fires,

And where’er the grieving goddess

Turns her melancholy gaze,

Sunk in vilest degradation

Man his loathsomeness displays

Mitya broke into sobs and seized Alyosha’s hand.

“My dear, my dear, in degradation, in degradation now, too. There’s a terrible amount of suffering for man on earth, a terrible lot of trouble. Don’t think I’m only a brute in an officer’s uniform, wallowing in dirt and drink. I hardly think of anything but of that degraded man — if only I’m not lying. I pray God I’m not lying and showing off. I think about that man because I am that man myself.

Would he purge his soul from vileness

And attain to light and worth,

He must turn and cling for ever

To his ancient Mother Earth.

But the difficulty is how am I to cling for ever to Mother Earth. I don’t kiss her. I don’t cleave to her bosom. Am I to become a peasant or a shepherd? I go on and I don’t know whether I’m going to shame or to light and joy. That’s the trouble, for everything in the world is a riddle! And whenever I’ve happened to sink into the vilest degradation (and it’s always been happening) I always read that poem about Ceres and man. Has it reformed me? Never! For I’m a Karamazov. For when I do leap into the pit, I go headlong with my heels up, and am pleased to be falling in that degrading attitude, and pride myself upon it. And in the very depths of that degradation I begin a hymn of praise. Let me be accursed. Let me be vile and base, only let me kiss the hem of the veil in which my God is shrouded. Though I may be following the devil, I am Thy son, O Lord, and I love Thee, and I feel the joy without which the world cannot stand.

Joy everlasting fostereth

The soul of all creation,

It is her secret ferment fires

The cup of life with flame.

’Tis at her beck the grass hath turned

Each blade towards the light

And solar systems have evolved

From chaos and dark night,

Filling the realms of boundless space

Beyond the sage’s sight.

At bounteous Nature’s kindly breast,

All things that breathe drink Joy,

And birds and beasts and creeping things

All follow where She leads.

Her gifts to man are friends in need,

The wreath, the foaming must,

To angels — vision of God’s throne,

To insects — sensual lust.

But enough poetry! I am in tears; let me cry. It may be foolishness that everyone would laugh at. But you won’t laugh. Your eyes are shining, too. Enough poetry. I want to tell you now about the insects to whom God gave ‘sensual lust.’

To insects — sensual lust.

I am that insect, brother, and it is said of me specially. All we Karamazovs are such insects, and, angel as you are, that insect lives in you, too, and will stir up a tempest in your blood. Tempests, because sensual lust is a tempest worse than a tempest! Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but riddles. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many riddles weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Madonna and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man. But a man always talks of his own ache. Listen, now to come to facts.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:49