A Poem By Mikhail Lermontov: The Dispute

Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov

The Dispute

Once ‘mid group of native mountains
Hot dispute arose,
Elbrus, angry, did with Kasbek
Argument propose.
‘Now beware!’ the hoary Elbrus,
Warning did exclaim–
‘To enslave thee and enthrall thee
Is man’s evil aim!
Smoking huts he will be building
On thy mountain side,
Loudly through thy clefts resounding
Ring his hatchet wide!
The swift swinging iron shovel
Breast of stone will part,
Of thy bronze and stone will rob thee–
Pierce thee to the heart.
Caravans, e’en now, are passing
Through thy rocks afar,
Where before the fogs were swimming–
And the Eagle Tsar.
Ah, mankind is bold and fearless!
Dreads no lifted hand,
Guard thee! populous and mighty
Is the morning land!’
‘Threatens me the East?’ then queried
Kasbek with disdain,
‘There eight centuries already
Sleeping, man has lain.
See, in shadow the Grusine
Gloats in lustful greed,
On his many coloured raiment
Glints the winey bead!
Drugged with fumes of his nargileh,
Dreams the Mussulman–
By the fountains on his divan
Slumbers Teheran.
See! Jerusalem is lying
At his feet o’erthrown–
Deathly dumb and lifeless staring
As an earthly tomb.
And beyond the Nile is washing
O’er the burning steps
Of the Kingly mausoleums,
Yellow, shadowless.
In his tent, the hunt forgotten–
Now the Bedouin lies,
Sings the old ancestral legends,
Scans the starry skies.
See! far as the eye can venture,
All sleeps as before–
No, the threat of dreaming Orient
Frights me nevermore!’
‘Laugh thou not too early, Kasbek,’
Elbrus did persist–
‘Look! What vast mass is it turning
Northward, through the mist?’
Secretly the heart of Kasbek
Faltered,–as amazed,
Silent and with dark foreboding
To the North he gazed:
Full of woe stared in the distance;
What a thronging swarm!
Hark! there rings the clash of weapons!
Battle-cry alarm!
From the Don unto the Ural
What a human sea!
Regiments that wave and glitter
Past all counting be!
Feathers white like sedge of ocean,
Waving in a gust–
Many coloured Uhlans storming
Through the blowing dust.
The imperial battalions
Densely packed proceed,
Trumpets flaring, banners flying
In the victor’s lead.
Batteries with brasses rattling
Conquering advance,
With their blood-red splendor flashing
Cannon matches glance.
And a battle-proved commander
Leads the army there–
From whose eyes the lightning flashes,
‘Neath his snowy hair.
Swells the host until as Griesbach’s
Billows roaring loud,
From the Eastward nears the army
As a thunder cloud.
Kasbek peered with sinister boding
Through the clouds,–would fain
Count his enemies approaching–
Found it was in vain:
Threw one glance unto the mountains–
Anguished, overcome,
O’er his brow drew close the vapours,
Was forever dumb.

 

 

Mikhail Lermontov

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