Petersburg Arguments in the Street Became More Frequent

The days were foggy, strange: over the north of Russia poisonous October walked with frozen tread; and in the south he spread muggy mists. Poisonous October blew a golden sylvine whisper, and humbly that whisper lay down on the earth, – and humbly a rustling aspen crimson lay down on the earth, in order to twine and chase at the feet of the passing pedestrian, and to whisper, weaving from the leaves the yellow-red alluvial deposits of words. That sweet peeping of the blue tit, which in September bathes in a leafy wave, had not bathed in a leafy wave for a long time: and the blue tit itself now hopped lonely in a black mesh of branches, which like the mumbling of a toothless old man all autumn sends its whistle out of woodlands, leafless groves, front gardens and parks.

The days were foggy, strange; an icy hurricane was already approaching in shreds of pewter and dark blue cloud; but everyone believed in the spring: the spring was what the newspapers wrote about, the spring was what the civil servants of the fourth class18 argued; the spring was what a certain government minister, popular at the time, pointed to; the scent, nay, even the violets of early May themselves were what the effusions of a certain Petersburg coursiste breathed.

The ploughmen had long ago ceased to claw their eroding lands; the ploughmen left their harrows and wooden ploughs for a while; the ploughmen gathered under the cottages in their wretched little groups for the joint discussion of newspaper reports; talked and argued, in order suddenly in a unanimous throng to rush towards the barin’s colonnaded house, reflected in the torrents of the Volga, the Kama or even the Dnieper; through all the long nights above Russia shone the bloody glow of estates on fire, resolving itself by day into the blackness of smoky columns. But then in the deciduous brushwood thicket one could see a hidden detachment of shaggy-headed Cossacks aiming the muzzles of their rifles, as the shrieking alarm sounded; thereupon the Cossack detachment darted out on their shaggy horses: dark blue, bearded men, brandishing whips, rushed whooping for a long, long time here and there across the autumn meadows.

Thus it was in the villages.

But thus it was in the towns also. In workshops, print shops, barbers’ shops, dairies, little taverns, the same loquacious character hung about; with his black shaggy hat pulled down over his eyes and forehead, a hat that had evidently been acquired on the fields of bloodstained Manchuria;19 and with a Browning that had been borrowed from somewhere stuck in his side pocket, the loquacious character repeatedly shoved into the hands of the first person he encountered a badly typeset leaflet.

Everyone was waiting for something, afraid of something, hoping for something; at the slightest noise they poured quickly on to the street, gathered into a crowd and again dispersed; in Arkhangelsk that was how the Lapps, the Karelians and the Finns acted; in Nizhne-Kolymsk – the Tungus; on the Dnieper – both Yids and khokhols. In Petersburg, in Moscow everyone acted like that: in the intermediate, higher and lower institutes of learning: waited, were afraid, hoped; at the slightest rustle poured quickly on to the street; gathered into a crowd and again dispersed.

Arguments in the street became more frequent: with yardkeepers, caretakers; arguments in the streets with shabby non-commissioned police officers; the yardkeeper, the policeman and especially the district superintendent were most insolently picked on by: the worker, the sixth-form pupil, the artisan Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov and his spouse Ivanikha, even the shopkeeper – the merchant of the First Guild Puzanov, from whom in better and recently past days the superintendent had ‘obtained’ at times sturgeon, at times salmon, now unpressed caviare; but now in place of salmon, sturgeon and caviare against the district superintendent together with other ‘riffraff’ rose the merchant of the First Guild, his worthiness, Puzanov, a person not unknown, who had many times visited the governor’s house, for after all, – a fishery and then a steamship line on the Volga; after all, an ‘opportunity’ like this had kept the superintendent quiet. Grey himself, in his grey little coat he now walked like an imperceptible shadow, deferentially tucking up his sword and keeping his eyes down: and at his back were wordy comments, reprimands, laughter and even indecent abuse; while to all this the district militia officer said: ‘You won’t be able to win the trust of the population, go into retirement.’ But he went on trying to win their trust: whether by rebelling against the caprice of the government, or by entering into a special agreement with the inhabitants of the transit prison.

Thus in those days was the district superintendent dragging out his life in Kemi: similarly did he drag it out in Petersburg, Moscow, Orenburg, Tashkent, Solvychevodsk, in a word, in those towns (provincial, district, downgraded) that go to make up the Russian Empire.

Petersburg is surrounded by a ring of many-chimneyed factories.

A many-thousand human swarm makes its way to them in the morning; and the suburbs seethe; and swarm with people. All the factories were at that time in fearful agitation, and the worker-representatives of the crowds had all to a man turned into loquacious characters; among them the Browning circulated; and one or two other things as well. There in those days the usual swarms were growing exceedingly and fusing one with another into a many-headed, many-voiced, enormous blackness; and then the factory inspector reached for the telephone receiver: whenever he reached for the telephone receiver, that meant: a hail of stones would fly from the crowd at the window-panes.

The agitation that embraced Petersburg in a ring seemed to penetrate even into the very centres of Petersburg, began to grip first the islands, then rushed across the Liteyny and Nikolayevsky Bridges; and from there went surging on to Nevsky Prospect: and although on Nevsky Prospect there was always the same circulation of the human myriapod, the constitution of the myriapod was changing in a striking manner; the observer’s experienced gaze had already long noted the appearance of the black shaggy hat, pulled down over the eyes, brought here from the fields of bloodstained Manchuria: then the loquacious character had begun to step along Nevsky Prospect, and suddenly the percentage of passing top hats had fallen; the loquacious character displayed here his true quality: he bustled with his shoulders, the fingers of his chilled and frozen hands stuffed into his sleeves; there also appeared on Nevsky the restless cries of the anti-government urchins who rushed at full tilt from the station to the Admiralty waving little journals, red in colour.

In all the rest there were no changes: only once – crowds inundated the Nevsky in the company of clergy:20 they bore upon their arms a certain professor’s coffin, moving towards the station: but before them went a sea of green; bloodstained satin ribbons fluttered.

The days were foggy, strange: poisonous October walked with frozen tread; the frozen dust rushed about the city in brown whirlwinds; and humbly the golden whisper of leaves lay down on the paths of the Summer Garden, and humbly at one’s feet a rustling crimson laid itself down, in order to twine and chase at the feet of the passing pedestrian, and to whisper, weaving from the leaves the yellow-red alluvial deposits of words: that sweet peeping of the blue tit, which all August bathed in the leafy wave, had not bathed in the leafy wave for a long time, and the blue tit of the Summer Garden itself now hopped lonely in a black mesh of branches, along the bronze fencing and over the roof of Peter’s little house.21

Such were the days. And the nights – have you ever gone out at night, penetrated into the god-forsaken suburban vacant lots, in order to listen to the nagging, angry note on ‘oo’? Ooo-ooo-ooo: thus did space resound; the sound – was it a sound? If it was a sound, it was indubitably a sound from some other world; this sound attained a rare strength and clarity: ‘ooo-ooo-ooo’ resounded low in the fields of suburban Moscow, Petersburg, Saratov: but no factory siren blew, there was no wind; and the dogs were silent.

Have you heard this October song of the year 1905? This song did not exist earlier; this song will not exist again: ever.