The Serpent’s Story
by Leonid Andreyev
Hush! Hush! Hush! Come closer to me. Look into my eyes!
I always was a fascinating creature, tender, sensitive, and grateful. I was wise and I was noble. And I am so flexible in the writhing of my graceful body that it will afford you joy to watch my easy dance. Now I shall coil up into a ring, flash my scales dimly, wind myself around tenderly and clasp my steel body in my gentle, cold embraces. One in many! One in many!
Hush! Hush! Look into my eyes!
You do not like my writhing and my straight, open look? Oh, my head is heavy–therefore I sway about so quietly. Oh, my head is heavy– therefore I look so straight ahead, as I sway about. Come closer to me. Give me a little warmth; stroke my wise forehead with your fingers; in its fine outlines you will find the form of a cup into which flows wisdom, the dew of the evening-flowers. When I draw the air by my writhing, a trace is left in it–the design of the finest of webs, the web of dream-charms, the enchantment of noiseless movements, the inaudible hiss of gliding lines. I am silent and I sway myself. I look ahead and I sway myself. What strange burden am I carrying on my neck?
I love you.
I always was a fascinating creature, and loved tenderly those I loved. Come closer to me. Do you see my white, sharp, enchanting little teeth? Kissing, I used to bite. Not painfully, no–just a trifle. Caressing tenderly, I used to bite a little, until the first bright little drops appeared, until a cry came forth which sounded like the laugh produced by tickling. That was very pleasant–think not it was unpleasant; otherwise they whom I kissed would not come back for more kisses. It is now that I can kiss only once–how sad– only once! One kiss for each–how little for a loving heart, for a sensitive soul, striving for a great union! But it is only I, the sad one, who kiss but once, and must seek love again–he knows no other love any more: to him my one, tender, nuptial kiss is inviolable and eternal. I am speaking to you frankly; and when my story is ended–I will kiss you.
I love you.
Look into my eyes. Is it not true that mine is a magnificent, a powerful look? A firm look and a straight look? And it is steadfast, like steel forced against your heart. I look ahead and sway myself, I look and I enchant; in my green eyes I gather your fear, your loving, fatigued, submissive longing. Come closer to me. Now I am a queen and you dare not fail to see my beauty; but there was a strange time–Ah, what a strange time! Ah, what a strange time! At the mere recollection I am agitated–Ah, what a strange time! No one loved me. No one respected me. I was persecuted with cruel ferocity, trampled in the mud and jeered–Ah, what a strange time it was! One in many! One in many!
I say to you: Come closer to me.
Why did they not love me? At that time I was also a fascinating creature, but without malice; I was gentle and I danced wonderfully. But they tortured me. They burnt me with fire. Heavy and coarse beasts trampled upon me with the dull steps of terribly heavy feet; cold tusks of bloody mouths tore my tender body–and in my powerless sorrow I bit the sand, I swallowed the dust of the ground–I was dying of despair. Crushed, I was dying every day. Every day I was dying of despair. Oh, what a terrible time that was! The stupid forest has forgotten everything–it does not remember that time, but you have pity on me. Come closer to me. Have pity on me, on the offended, on the sad one, on the loving one, on the one who dances so beautifully.
I love you.
How could I defend myself? I had only my white, wonderful, sharp little teeth–they were good only for kisses. How could I defend myself? It is only now that I carry on my neck this terrible burden of a head, and my look is commanding and straight, but then my head was light and my eyes gazed meekly. Then I had no poison yet. Oh, my head is so heavy and it is hard for me to hold it up! Oh, I have grown tired of my look–two stones are in my forehead, and these are my eyes. Perhaps the glittering stones are precious–but it is hard to carry them instead of gentle eyes–they oppress my brain. It is so hard for my head! I look ahead and sway myself; I see you in a green mist–you are so far away. Come closer to me.
You see, even in sorrow I am beautiful, and my look is languid because of my love. Look into my pupil; I will narrow and widen it, and give it a peculiar glitter–the twinkling of a star at night, the playfulness of all precious stones–of diamonds, of green emeralds, of yellowish topaz, of blood-red rubies. Look into my eyes: It is I, the queen–I am crowning myself, and that which is glittering, burning and glowing–that robs you of your reason, your freedom and your life–it is poison. It is a drop of my poison.
How has it happened? I do not know. I did not bear ill-will to the living.
I lived and suffered. I was silent. I languished. I hid myself hurriedly when I could hide myself; I crawled away hastily. But they have never seen me weep–I cannot weep; and my easy dance grew ever faster and ever more beautiful. Alone in the stillness, alone in the thicket, I danced with sorrow in my heart–they despised my swift dance and would have been glad to kill me as I danced. Suddenly my head began to grow heavy–How strange it is!–My head grew heavy. Just as small and beautiful, just as wise and beautiful, it had suddenly grown terribly heavy; it bent my neck to the ground, and caused me pain. Now I am somewhat used to it, but at first it was dreadfully awkward and painful. I thought I was sick.
And suddenly… Come closer to me. Look into my eyes. Hush! Hush! Hush!
And suddenly my look became heavy–it became fixed and strange–I was even frightened! I want to glance and turn away–but cannot. I always look straight ahead, I pierce with my eyes ever more deeply, I am as though petrified. Look into my eyes. It is as though I am petrified, as though everything I look upon is petrified. Look into my eyes.
I love you. Do not laugh at my frank story, or I shall be angry. Every hour I open my sensitive heart, for all my efforts are in vain– I am alone. My one and last kiss is full of ringing sorrow–and the one I love is not here, and I seek love again, and I tell my tale in vain–my heart cannot bare itself, and the poison torments me and my head grows heavier. Am I not beautiful in my despair? Come closer to me.
I love you.
Once I was bathing in a stagnant swamp in the forest–I love to be clean–it is a sign of noble birth, and I bathe frequently. While bathing, dancing in the water, I saw my reflection, and as always, fell in love with myself. I am so fond of the beautiful and the wise! And suddenly I saw–on my forehead, among my other inborn adornments, a new, strange sign–Was it not this sign that has brought the heaviness, the petrified look, and the sweet taste in my mouth? Here a cross is darkly outlined on my forehead–right here– look. Come closer to me. Is this not strange? But I did not understand it at that time, and I liked it. Let there be no more adornment. And on the same day, on that same terrible day, when the cross appeared, my first kiss became also my last–my kiss became fatal. One in many! One in many!
You love precious stones, but think, my beloved, how far more precious is a little drop of my poison. It is such a little drop.– Have you ever seen it? Never, never. But you shall find it out. Consider, my beloved, how much suffering, painful humiliation, powerless rage devoured me: I had to experience in order to bring forth this little drop. I am a queen! I am a queen! In one drop, brought forth by myself, I carry death unto the living, and my kingdom is limitless, even as grief is limitless, even as death is limitless. I am queen! My look is inexorable. My dance is terrible! I am beautiful! One in many! One in many!
Do not fall. My story is not yet ended. Come closer to me.
And then I crawled into the stupid forest, into my green dominion.
Now it is a new way, a terrible way! I was kind like a queen; and like a queen I bowed graciously to the right and to the left. And they–they ran away! Like a queen I bowed benevolently to the right and to the left–and they, queer people–they ran away. What do you think? Why did they run away? What do you think? Look into my eyes. Do you see in them a certain glimmer and a flash? The rays of my crown blind your eyes, you are petrified, you are lost. I shall soon dance my last dance—do not fall. I shall coil into rings, I shall flash my scales dimly, and I shall clasp my steel body in my gentle, cold embraces. Here I am! Accept my only kiss, my nuptial kiss–in it is the deadly grief of all oppressed lives. One in many! One in many!
Bend down to me. I love you.