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from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’ — Chapter 1 of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message

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 We are still at the dawn of the third great crisis of our civilization: it is no longer merely man confronted with his weakness (with the Greeks); no longer merely man confronted with his guilt (with Luther, at that tragic time for Europe, after the black plagues at the end of the Middle Ages); man today finds himself confronted with his solitude and with the desperate quest for a meaning to his life, confronted with the need to search for what would be an “authentic existence”, “true life”, which he fears never being able to enjoy. Among the innumerable witnesses that could be called to the stand in this interrogation, such as Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Dostoyevsky, Nietzsche, or Kundera, I have intentionally kept two cries, because they seem to express the question that was Thérèse’s own: “Here is my old anguish, right there in the hollow of my body, like a bad wound that every movement irritates; I know its name, it is the fear of eternal solitude. And I have the fear that there may not be any answer” (Camus).

I implored, I begged for a sign, I sent messages to the heavens: no response. The heavens do not even know my name. I wondered at every moment what I might be in the eyes of God. Now I knew the answer: Nothing. God does not see me, God does not know me, God does not hear me. You see this void over our heads? That is God. You see this hole in the earth? That is God. You see this opening in the door? That is God again. The silence is God. Absence is God. God is the solitude of men. [(Jean Paul Sartre, Le Diable et le bon Dieu, tableau 10, scene 4.)]

Thérèse was familiar with this anguish:

When I want to rest my heart fatigued by the darkness which surrounds it by the memory of the luminous country after which I aspire, my torment redoubles; it seems to me that the darkness, borrowing the voice of sinners, says mockingly to me: “You are dreaming about the light, about a fatherland embalmed in the sweetest perfumes; you are dreaming about the eternal possession of the Creator of all these marvels; you believe that one day you will walk out of this fog which surrounds you! Advance, advance; rejoice in death which will give you not what you hope for but a night still more profound, the night of nothingness.” (SS 213)

snip

I have experienced it; when I am feeling nothing, when I am INCAPABLE of praying, of practicing virtue, then is the moment for seeking opportunities, nothings, which please Jesus more than mastery of the world or even martyrdom suffered with generosity. For example, a smile, a friendly word, when I would want to say nothing, or put on a look of annoyance. (LT 143, GC 2:801)

To understand her secret as a warrior, we might go back to Nehru’s admission to Malraux: “I have three enemies: the Chinese, famine, and myself. But, of the three, the most difficult is myself.” Very quickly she learned that nothing can be done on the path of what for her was the true life without fighting against herself, against illusion. She, who, up to the end, had the childish fears of a little girl, would never fear the truth, never fear to “do the truth”, as Saint John says: whether about herself, her faults, her own limits, about her family, her community, her sisters, or one day about death itself. She did not fear that the truth would diminish her. Quite the contrary. It was never a malicious truth. For she found here the true way to be victorious: by disarming, by never resisting. Instead of sidestepping an issue, cheating, trying to justify herself, telling herself stories, she disarmed, and she disarmed from the very moment when the truth was at issue. Then she found something greater: a confidence that opened up freedom to her.

Her sister Céline, older than she, who entered Carmel six years after she did, reported that one day, in watching Thérèse live, she experienced a moment of discouragement and said to her: “Oh, when I think of all I have to acquire.” And Thérèse answered her at once: “Rather, how much you have to lose” (CSG 23).

— excerpted from ‘Mystic, Comic, Everything’, Chapter 1 of  Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Family, Her God, Her Message by Fr Bernard Bro, OP; posted on Ignatius Press’ Insight Scoop; link via Amy Welborn.

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 14-19

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One chapter down; forty to go! Today’s post concludes Part 1, Chapter 1 of my attempt to rewrite Crime and Punishment as a verse novel à la Eugene Onegin.

Click here and scroll down to review the story to date.

Thanks to all who have read along so far. As always, your comments — including, but not limited to, negative comments — would be very welcome.

Is the story bogging down at any point? Is the action or setting ever confusing? Are there any trite rhymes? Any syntactic absurdities, prosodic infelicities, or lapses of characterization?

And is there anything that ‘works’ especially well?

1.1.14
He scans the space: a table (smallish),
A sofa (tall), and chairs (a few) —
All cheap and old, yet bright with polish,
Immaculate; the floor gleams, too.
(‘Lizavéta’s work’, he thinks; ‘that’s certain.’)
Here hangs a small icon… A curtain
Hangs there, in lieu of bedroom doors;
Beyond it stands a chest of drawers,
He knows — though he has yet to enter
The shadow of that shrouded cell….
… His hostess pipes up sternly: ‘Well?’
‘I’d like to pawn…’ he says; presents her
A pocket watch (worn silver-plate).
‘Good sir, your payment’s two days late:

1.1.15
‘Your other pledge is past redemption.’
‘I know, Alyóna, ma’am — my ring….
Please give me just a month’s extension.’
‘I’ll do as I please with that thing.’
‘Well…. How much for this watch? It’s silver.’
‘Not even worth the work to pilfer
A piece of trash like that, my friend.’
‘It was my father’s…. If you’ll lend
Four roubles, ma’am, I will redeem it.’
‘I see. Before, I was too nice —
I lent you more than that ring’s price.
As for this watch, now, take or leave it:
A rouble and a half.’ ‘You might —
One and a half, good sir.’ ‘…….. All right.’

1.1.16
She takes her keys out of her pocket;
She takes his watch behind the shroud.
He strains his ears; hears her unlock it —
The top drawer, scraping high and loud….
While he had been discreetly peering
At her (right pocket’s) steely keyring,
One key’d looked larger than the rest:
(‘Not for a drawer…. A trunk? A chest?
… But this is all so nauseating!’)
‘You owe me thirty-five, all told.’
(She’s back!) ‘Here’s one-fifteen; I’ll hold
The watch.’ He stands there, hesitating —
Then speaks: ‘In one more day… or two
… I might… have another pledge… for you…

1.1.17
‘… A cigarette case… silver… fancy!’
‘All right. We’ll talk about it then.
Good night.’ ‘Your sister! Any chance she
Might sort of… sometimes… wander in?’
‘What do you want with Lizaveta?’
‘Oh, nothing, ma’am.’ ‘You want to meet her?’
‘No no, madame, I just… Good-bye.’
He turns, and goes — and starts to cry:
‘Oh God! Can I –? Can I imagine?
How could –? Is my mind capable –?
My heart, so hateful? Horrible!
A month! A month, bent to this passion –!’
His self-disgust is oceans wide….
He sinks, and chokes — and steps outside.

1.1.18
The evening sun continues bleeding
Its dying light upon the host
Of Petersburg, while, all unheeding,
Our Rodya passes like a ghost
Among them, heart and mind encumbered:
He reels, colliding like a drunkard
Along the boulevard, until
His feet and thoughts at last are still:
Up from a dingy basement tavern,
Two tipsy, cursing men emerge;
Raskolnikov now has the urge
To go spelunk that urban cavern.
A sticky table; frosty beer;
A gulp. His thoughts begin to clear!

1.1.19
‘No need to worry any longer,’
He says — and smiles! — with rising cheer.
‘A simple side-effect of hunger;
Just takes a little bread and beer!’
Smiles all around! Lighthearted, hearty,
He beams at one departing party
(Four men; a girl; accordion),
Grins at a fat Siberian.
Above the pale cucumber salads,
Black bread, and kippers past their peak
— Which emanate an evil reek —
Drone mediocre drinking ballads.
An ex-official sits aloof —
Alone, but for his eighty-proof.

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 11, 12, & 13

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The adaptation of Crime and Punishment into a verse novel à la Eugene Onegin continues.

Click here to catch up on the story.

1.1.11

If you’ll excuse the interruption,
Dear reader — Something in the way
Of a digression on the Russian
For ‘crime’: It’s ‘prestuplénie’,
Which (in more literal translation)
Means (to a close approximation)
Transgression, or ‘a step across’ —
Concision’s gain, nuance’s loss.
(I claim no special erudition;
I’m just repeating what I’ve read,
But this is what I think it said
In Norton’s Critical Edition.)
We here conclude our brief aside
And rejoin Rodya in mid-stride.

1.1.12

He’s in. His hostess glowers sharply —
Sharp little eyes, sharp little nose:
A tiny, desiccated harpy,
Of sixty years, one would suppose.
Her head is bare; her hair is sallow,
Just touched with grey, smeared thick with tallow.
Her neck is yellow, long, and thin —
Much like the leg of some old hen.
Upon her shoulders hangs a mangy
Old capelet cut from yellowed fur,
For even summer’s cold to her.
She coughs, regarding Rodya strangely.
(‘Does she suspect –? Of course, I must
Act all-correct… establish trust…

1.1.13

‘… show some respect — That’s always prudent!’),
He thinks, and makes a little bow.
‘Raskolnikov, madame — a student.
I came last month…. I’ve come back now.’
‘I know, good sir.’ She’s brusque and hurried.
(‘Was she this way before? I’m worried….
Her piercing eyes… her voice’s edge….’
)
‘I’m here about — about a pledge!’
She glares, then points — still coughing, groaning,
‘In there, good sir.’ And so he goes
Into a faded room that glows
With ruby hues before the gloaming…
Stained scarlet by a long, late ray….
(‘The sun will blaze like thisthat day!’)

Raskolnikov – Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 9 and 10

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In honor of Ss. Cyril and Methodius, Apostles to the Slavs, whose feast-day was 14 February, here are the latest stanzas in my ongoing project of adapting Crime and Punishment to the sonnet-stanza form of Eugene Onegin. It’s been thirteen-and-a-half months since the last update, but, plot-wise, things are, I daresay, on the verge of getting real.

Click here to read the previous stanzas.

I welcome your comments, whether effusive or abusive.

1.1.9

The stairs he climbs are dark and narrow.
‘Still dark… still safe…. That’s good… but think!
Just now, I’m frozen to the marrow!
How, then, will I feel… on the brink
Of –?
’ Rodya all but crashes into
A pair of porters — two old men who
Are lugging down the furniture
From someone’s flat… Fourth floor! He’s sure
It’s from the old crone’s only neighbor.
‘That German clerk is clearing out
… So no one else will be about
If I…. That’s good! Then why belabor
The point? It’s time. I’m doing well….’
He’s at the door. He rings the bell —

1.1.10

And flinches from its tinny tinkling:
Its feeble chime seems to recall
Some distant, half-remembered inkling.
‘That certain sound…? It’s nothing! All
These flats have bells like that! … I know this!
Why did I cringe? It goes to show this
Is still too soon; I’m still too weak
For now!’ The hinges groan and creak:
A little gap; a glimpse; the glitter
Of wary eyes that peek, then spy
The porters and the clerk nearby.
The hag seems reassured a bit: Her
Apartment door now opens wide —
And now, our Rodya steps inside.

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 7 and 8

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For those who never knew or have forgotten, I’ve been rewriting Crime and Punishment as a verse novel in the style of Eugene Onegin.

Click here for the story up to now.

Here’s the latest ladle of psycho-stroganoff. As before, your candid appraisal would be most welcome. That includes criticism, constructive or otherwise.

1.1.7

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.

1.1.8

Between canal and Sadóvaya,
It rises — the familiar shock:
Higher and higher, layer on layer,
That building hulks above its block.
Within its warrens dwell assorted
Tradespeople; Germans; unsupported
Young ladies…. Now the fading day’s
Rush-hour foot-traffic runs two ways:
Both back and forth; its hot disorder
Swarms two courtyards. Through one yard’s gate,
Into a stairwell, swift and straight,
Unseen by any lurking porter
(Four porters work here… maybe three?),
Slips Rodya, thinking ‘Lucky me!’

достоевщина

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.

The Subtle Korrektiv

The painter Bryullov once made a correction [sic] on a student’s sketch. The pupil, looking at the transformed sketch, said: ‘You hardly at all touched my study, yet it has become entirely different.’ Bryullov answered: ‘Hardly-at-all is where art begins.’

Tolstoy, Leo. ‘How Minute Changes of Consciousness Caused Raskolnikov to Commit Murder’. Excerpt from ‘Why Do Men Stupefy Themselves?’. Translated by George Gibian. In Crime and Punishment (a Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition), edited by George Gibian, 487. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1989. Originally published as introductory essay to a book on drunkenness by P.S. Alexeev (1890).

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanzas 5 and 5(b) 6

Piranesi, le Carceri d'Invenzione, Plate XIV

Two stanzas this time — but I think 1.5(b) is probably superfluous, hence the ‘(b)’.

1.1.5

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 games 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.

1.5(b) 1.1.6

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 calm. Look cheerful.’
Rodya, resolved, regains the street;
The cobbles flash beneath his feet!

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanza 4

Your advice on whether/how to improve this stanza is more than welcome. I suspect it’s one of the weakest.

1.1.4

‘My hat!’ At once, Rodion clutches
His topper (old, of German make). The toque that totters atop his hair.*
The drunk’s passed, but his jibe still touches
A nerve: ‘An amateur’s mistake! 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 undone me!
… I’ll wear some cap, some… “average” hat
The day that I go through with… that.’

Raskolnikov — Part 1: Chapter 1, Stanza 3

Chapter 1 continues. Constructive criticism of the writing would be helpful. Destructive criticism might be fun.

1.1.3

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, peasant, peddler, tramp —
Past migrant Finns and Poles and Prussians….
A drunk now points, and hurls a shout
At Rodya’s head: ‘Nice hat, you Kraut!’