The Brothers Karamazov

In the opening scenes of Dostoevsky’s masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, we meet the elder Zosima, a gentle old monk ensconced in a rural monastery and attended to in his illness by the novel’s hero, Alyosha. The context in which we first meet the elder is one that would try anyone’s faith, but Zosima handles the confrontation with a sagacity and charm that would warm (almost) any atheist’s heart. There is almost a Buddhist turn to his witticisms, when he gently parries the claims of nonbelievers on his time.

This fan poem is inspired by the elder’s remarks to a penitent peasant woman, on the topic of shame – perhaps the central virtue of Russian orthodoxy, at least in the hands of devoted Schiller fans like Dostoevsky.

Where is the shame in the liquid notes
the passer-by plucks on the lyre?
Where is the shame when their fragrance floats
from the lilies downstream to the weir?

The music of saints is no less a song,
their pageantry no less a dance.
But the saints are ashamed to pine and long
for their love when the world looks askance.

Young lovers with bells on their feet take flight
when a footfall presses a stair;
the very swans guarding the lake take flight
when a huntress pauses to stare.

But where is the shame in the rose’s blush
when the sun warms the jasmine nearby?
Where is the shame in the eager flush
of a pilot first learning to fly?

Moonlight goes softly, but not so the sun,
for gentleness longs not for day.
The shadows of twilight cannot be outrun,
nor the noon be compelled to stay.

Gather your secrets all into one pile,
consign the lot to a flame.
Relinquish your heartache, relearn to smile,
and burn brighter for love of your shame.

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Filed under Music, Poetry

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