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How fair, how fresh were the roses by Ivan Turgenev

 

Somewhere, sometime, long, long ago, I read a poem. It was soon forgotten ... but the first line has stuck in my memory—

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

Now is winter; the frost has iced over the window-panes; in the dark room burns a solitary candle. I sit huddled up in a corner; and in my head the line keeps echoing and echoing—

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

And I see myself before the low window of a Russian country house. The summer evening is slowly melting into night, the warm air is fragrant of mignonette and lime-blossom; and at the window, leaning on her arm, her head bent on her shoulder, sits a young girl, and silently, intently gazes into the sky, as though looking for new stars to come out. What candour, what inspiration in the dreamy eyes, what moving innocence in the parted questioning lips, how calmly breathes that still-growing, still-untroubled bosom, how pure and tender the profile of the young face! I dare not speak to her; but how dear she is to me, how my heart beats!

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

But here in the room it gets darker and darker.... The candle burns dim and gutters, dancing shadows quiver on the low ceiling, the cruel crunch of the frost is heard outside, and within the dreary murmur of old age....

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

There rise up before me other images. I hear the merry hubbub of home life in the country. Two flaxen heads, bending close together, look saucily at me with their bright eyes, rosy cheeks shake with suppressed laughter, hands are clasped in warm affection, young kind voices ring one above the other; while a little farther, at the end of the snug room, other hands, young too, fly with unskilled fingers over the keys of the old piano, and the Lanner waltz cannot drown the hissing of the patriarchal samovar ...

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

The candle flickers and goes out.... Whose is that hoarse and hollow cough? Curled up, my old dog lies, shuddering at my feet, my only companion.... I'm cold ... I'm frozen ... and all of them are dead ... dead ...

  'How fair, how fresh were the roses ...'

Sept. 1879.