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Alexander Kuprin: Mounds and mountains of corpses under which moan the dying

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Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Russian writers on war

Alexander Kuprin: Selections on war

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Alexander Kuprin
From The Garden of the Holy Virgin (1917)
Translated by Leo Pasvolsky

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Far beyond the bounds of the Milky Way, upon a planet which will never be disclosed to the eye of the most diligent astronomer, blooms the wonderful, mysterious garden of the Holy Virgin Mary. All the flowers that exist upon our poor and sinful earth, bloom there for many long years, never fading, ever cared for by the patient hands of invisible gardeners. And each flower contains a particle of the soul of a man living on the earth, that particle which sleeps not during our nightly slumber, that leads us through marvelous lands, that shows us the centuries gone by, that conjures up before us the faces of our departed friends, that spins in our imagination the variegated tissues of our slumber-being, now sweet, now ludicrous, now terrible, now blissful, that makes us awaken in unreasonable joy, or in bitter tears, that often opens before us the impenetrable curtains, beyond which stretch out the dark paths of the future, discernible only to children, wise men, and blessed clairvoyants. These flowers are the souls of human dreams.

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On this night, too, the Holy Virgin walks through her garden. But sad is her beauteous face, lowered are the lashes of her bright eyes, powerless hang her arms along the folds of her blue chiton. Terrible visions float before her; red fields and pastures, still reeking with blood; burnt homes and churches; violated women, tortured clildren; mounds and mountains of corpses under which moan the dying; groans, curses, blasphemy that breaks through the death-rattle and the cries; mutilated bodies, withered breasts, fields of battle black with ravens…

Oppressive silence, as before a thunderstorm, overhangs the world. The air is perfectly motionless. But the flowers tremble and sway in fright as in a tempest, bending to the very ground and extending their heads to the Virgin with boundless entreaty.

Closed are her lips, and sad is her face. Again and again before her rises the image of Him whom human malice, envy, intolerance, cupidity, and ambition sentenced to unbearable tortures and a shameful death. She sees Him — beaten, bleeding, carrying upon His shoulders His heavy cross, and stumbling under its weight. Upon the dusty road she sees dark sprays, the drops of His divine blood. She sees His beautiful body, mutilated by torture, hanging by out-turned arms upon the cross, with protruding chest, and bloody sweat upon His deathly pale face. And again she hears His dreadful whisper: “I am thirsty!” And again, as then, a sword is plunged into the mother’s heart.

The sun rises, hidden beyond dark, heavy clouds. It burns in heaven like an enormous red blot, the bloody conflagration of the world. And lifting up her saddened eyes, the Holy Virgin asks timidly, her voice trembling:

“Lord ! Where are the bounds of Thy great wrath?”

But relentless is the wrath of God, and none knows its bounds! And when, in grief and sorrow, the Holy Virgin lowers her eyes again, she sees that the innocent cups of gentle flowers are filled with bloody dew.

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