Here’s the latest ladle of psycho-stroganoff. As before, your candid appraisal would be most welcome. That includes criticism, constructive or otherwise.
Each fateful footfall draws him nearer:
His destination looms ahead,
Its details redrawn larger, clearer.
He counts each step with mounting dread
And racing heart as he retraces
The seven-hundred thirty paces
From his room to… that place’s door.
What seemed an ugly dream before
Now fills imagination’s page
With dialogue… direction… action.
Repulsion yields to the attraction
Of playing that scene on that stage.
Despite his nerves, he can’t reverse.
He mounts the stage; he must rehearse.
The street ahead is Sadovaya,
He knows — and yet, it’s still a shock
To stand before that building by the
Canal: A huge apartment block,
High-walled, with right- and left-hand gateway.
He falters… rallies!… forges straightway
Into the swarm around the hive –
Souls rushing out while souls arrive.
Amid the bustle and disorder
Of turbid tenantry that teems
The courtyard (bursting mortar seams!),
Unnoticed by some lurking porter
(How many work here? Four? Or three?)
He ducks in, thinking, ‘Lucky me!’
The strangeness of the Dostoevskian universe, so well conveyed by Virginia Woolf (‘We open the door and find ourselves in a room full of Russian generals, the tutors of Russian generals, their stepdaughters and cousins and crowds of miscellaneous people who are all talking at the tops of their voices about their most private affairs’), which foreigners tend to ascribe to some peculiarities of the Russian national character, is just as strongly felt and often resented by Russians themselves.
Russian dictionaries list a common noun, derived from the writer’s name, dostoevshchina, which is a derogatory term describing an undesirable mode of behavior. A person guilty of dostoevshchina is being deliberately difficult, hysterical or perverse. Another possible meaning of the word is excessive and morbid preoccupation with one’s own psychological processes. The word is part of the normal Russian vocabulary, incidentally.
Simon Karlinsky, ‘Dostoevsky as Rorschach Test’, New York Times, 13 June 1971. In Crime and Punishment (a Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition), edited by George Gibian, 615. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989.
Whether the lobe be attached or detached maketh no difference!
Two stanzas this time
— but I think 1.5(b) is probably superfluous, hence the ‘(b)’.
A languid month he’d lain — and waited –
Withdrawn into his attic room,
Had let that thought gestate — debated:
‘Shall I uproot that seed of doom?…
Why bother? It’s a plaything! Foolish!…
Starvation’s made my thinking ghoulish
And added to my stomach-pains
The morbid toys of addled brains…’
Yet as he viewed with deep derision
Those radical dark reveries
He’d once indulged, his fantasies…
His impotence and indecision –
He’d feel anew the desperate need
To do some — no… to do that deed.
But even now, the town surrounds him
With spying windows, statues, eyes.
Some thing – within? without him? – hounds him.
How compromised is his disguise?
He’s overdone with endless stewing –
Excessive thought, deficient doing:
Is he the gloomy dithering Dane,
Or Cawdor’s gory-handed thane?
… On third thought — fourth? — far better fearful
And yet uncaught than overbold.
(Siberia is very cold.)
So: ‘Step by step. Stay cool. Look cheerful.’
Rodya, resolved, regains the street;
The cobbles flash beneath his feet!
Your advice on whether/how to improve this stanza is more than welcome. I suspect it’s one of the weakest.
‘My hat!’ At once, Rodion clutches
The German toque that tops his pate.
The toque that totters atop his hair.*
The drunk goes, but his jibe still touches
A nerve; it makes him hesitate:
A nerve. It sparks an awful scare:
‘This brimless, tall, lopsided chimney-
pipe’s a clue! — It could condemn me!
Some sot would spot it, miles away,
Would notice as I passed… that day…
Would notice… Talk… Give testimony — !
It’s always small things men forget
That bring their ruin and regret…
Just so — This hat could have foredone me!
… I’ll wear some cap, some… “average” hat
The day that I go through with… that.’
Christ came, and seen by all Seville,
distracted good folk from feeding sticks
to a hot fire under an iron grill,
where lay well-done, screaming heretics.
Amidst His miracles passed the Roman
Catholic cardinal, erect gnomon
to His shadow, Grand Inquisitor,
finger pointed at the visitor.
“Is it thou? Be silent! Off to prison!
For fifteen hundred years, we ate bread
blessed by thou. Really now; the dread
spirit of dessert supplies the frisson
de plaisir we require. Enough tricks! We
prefer fire, crackling and whistling. Dixi!”
Chapter 1 continues. Constructive criticism of the writing would be helpful. Destructive criticism might be fun.
Past bridges, markets, intersections,
He lurches at an urgent pace
And marks of his dark introspections
Are marring his fine youthful face.
In Petersburg’s dank underbelly
(Packed thick with humans, humid, smelly)
He navigates a nasty maze
And shoots a darting, dark-eyed gaze
Right through a thousand fellow Russians –
Each wretched body bears some stamp:
Pickpocket, muzhik, monger, tramp –
Past migrant Finns and Poles and Prussians….
A drunk now points and bellows out
At Rodya’s head, ‘Nice hat, you Kraut!’