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Чернец (3)

April 27, 2010

Kozlov’s poema Чернец is introduced here, and the first half is summarized here.  This post will be on sections 8-14.


8 (18 lines): For seven years the protagonist wanders far from his home, wailing with grief.  In contrast with section 7, he remembers his dead wife and the reason for his despair the whole time, and even savors it, as he feels his suffering keeps him somehow connected to her.

9 (57 lines): After seven years the main character has a religious epiphany: he may be reunited with his wife and son in heaven.  His ferocious grief turns into a quiet sadness, tempered by the hope that his suffering may lead to the exact eternal reward he desires.  Forgetting his unhappiness and the злодей, he wants only to be as pure as she was.  He makes his peace with death but wants to return to the area he is from to die, so he can see the Dnieper again and return to his wife’s grave.

10 (72 lines): Returning to his homeland on the Dnieper, the future monk finds everything as he remembered it except that his wife is gone.  He goes to her and their son’s grave and prays with “otherworldly hope.”  A rustling in the bushes proves to be a peasant family: a reaper with his подруга молодая and their infant child.  This reminds the main character of what he has lost, and he throws himself on the grave in a fit of renewed despair.  He comes to himself when the fresh air and damp of the night awakens him, still on the grave and surrounded by silence.

11 (55 lines divided into 30 + 25): First half: walking away aimlessly from the grave, the main character suddenly encounters the “murderer of his son and wife.”  He had not been looking for him or thinking of revenge, and he tries to forgive him but cannot; instead, untrue to his “sacred hope,” he kills him with a dagger before he can draw his sword.  Second half: it is still before dawn and the main character walks back.  There is silence all around except for the sounds of a riderless horse galloping.  What happened seems like a bad dream.  He hears a church bell and stands and looks at the church, wondering what the point of praying would be when he, a murderer, could not hope to be reunited with his pure and beloved wife in heaven.

12 (40 lines): The monk explains, explicitly addressing the Father Superior, that he came to live among the monks in search of “tears and repentance.”  He contrasts his current situation to the time after his wife had died, but before his great crime had robbed him of the hope of living with her eternally.  Though he says he thought he could obtain forgiveness through “fasting, prayer, labor,” he seems convinced that the blood on his hands has cost him any chance at heaven, and to be vainly trying to find psychological peace. Instead, thoughts of his wife never leave him, and she is even “in the prayer on his lips.”

13 (57 lines):  The monk tells the Father Superior how the previous night he was afraid of dying and prayed to “the merciful one” for forgiveness before an icon with exceptional fervor.  Suddenly he has a vision of his wife holding their infant son.  Convinced he has been forgiven, he rushes toward her and tries to embrace her, but her heart is not beating, she is silent, and she vanishes, leaving his arms embracing nothing.  He wonders if his prayers have been rejected and considers the possibility that she, ever faithful to him, wanted to see him one more time before he died.  At this point the monk’s long story ends and we return to the third-person narration for the final 8 lines of section 13 plus section 14.

In lines 50-57 the monk has a second vision, which follows the first so quickly that it is disorienting to read.  He falls to his knees and stops talking to the Father Superior.  Then his gaze comes to life, he reaches out his arms to “something” the narrator evidently cannot see, and he speaks again for 3 lines, but now to his beloved.  His disjointed words make it clear that he believes this vision unambiguously means he will spend eternity with her.

The two visions are almost identical, but shown to us from different perspectives and interpreted in opposite ways by the main character.

14 (44 lines):  The monk lives another two days and two nights, suffering, crying, and praying, and he dies on the third night.  The other monks perform a funeral service, at the end of which the bell is rung three times.  Sound travels well along the river, and the narrator describes how four sets of people hear and react to the ringing of the bell.  A схимник (is the English equivalent of this degree of monasticism really “schemamonk”?) in a cave whispers “покойник!” and takes out his beads.  Some fishermen are woken from their sleep.  An infant starts to cry, and its half-asleep mother makes the sign of the cross over it, begins to pray, and rocks the cradle.  A married couple walking through a field cross themselves, embrace, and walk on sadder than before.  The sound of the bell fades to nothing in the dark of night.


Remarks on the second half of the poem:

Section 11. Note the lines

Как в небе ангела обнять

Окровавленными руками?

In sections 9-13 the protagonist takes the idea of a (non-)reunion in heaven seriously.  It seems odd to see an unironic treatment of this kind of memento mori theme with a character who is not, say, marked as a peasant by his speech.

Section 14.  The four groups who hear the bell correspond to what we know of the stages of the main character’s life, if we take the fishermen to reflect his fondness for the Dnieper.  At the end, marriage and parenthood are separated: the mother and infant hear the bell, then a separate couple with no children in evidence hears it.  In section 10 the main character had come upon a family of three all together when visiting his wife and son’s grave.  And in his own case, the loss of the son he never knew was never treated separately from the loss of his wife: either both deaths were jointly and equally tragic, or the wife was mourned with the son an afterthought.

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