Reymont’s Peasants, Autumn (fragments with illustrations)

 

Orka

Stanislaw Witkiewicz Tillage 1875

Pulling the silver bright share out of the furrow, he deftly lifted up the plough, swung the horses round, and thrust the shining steel into the earth again. At a crack of the whip, the horses set tugging till the crossbar creaked again; and on they went, ploughing away at the great strip of land which, stretching out at right angles to the road, descended the slope, and, not unlike the woof of some coarse hempen stuff, ran down as far as the low-lying hamlet nestling amongst the red and yellow leaves of its orchards.

Chełmoński_Indian_summer

Józef Chełmoński Indian summer 1875

It was near the end of autumn, but the weather was still warm and rather drowsy. The sun was still hot enough and, hanging in the south-west above the woods, made the shrubs and the pear-trees, and even the hard, dry clods, cast strong, cold shadows. Ineffable sweetness and serenity reigned in the air, full of golden haze of sunlit dust over the fields lately harvested; while above in the azure heaven, enormous white clouds floated here and there like great wind-tormented snow-drifts.

Józef_Chełmoński,_Bociany

Józef Chełmoński Storks 1900

Here and there, the ground was still being ploughed for sowing. On the fallows a herd of brindled cows was feeding. The ashen-grey hue of certain lands was beginning to take on a ruddy tint from the blades of corn already sprouting there. On the close-cropped, tawny grass of the meadows, the geese showed up like white snowflakes. A cow was heard lowing afar. Fires had been lit, and long blue clouds of smoke trailed over the cornfields.

Siewca

Leon Wyczółkowski Sower 1896

Elsewhere harrows were at work, a dim cloud of dust rising in the wake of each and settling down at the foot of the hills. From beneath it, coming as it were out of a cloud, a bareheaded, barefooted peasant, with a cloth full of corn tied round his waist, was pacing leisurely, taking handfuls of grain and scattering them all over the earth with a solemn gesture, as one bestowing a blessing. On reaching the end of the ploughed fields, he would turn and slowly ascend the slope, his shock of touzled hair first appearing above the skyline, then his shoulders, and finally his whole body, still with the same solemn gesture, the sower’s benediction, that shed forth upon the soil, a holy thing as it were – the golden seed which fell in a semicircle round him.

Ksiezyc

Gustaw Gwozdecki Moon circa 1908

Night had already enshrouded the earth. The stars glistened in the sky’s sombre depths like silver dew-drops, and all was still, save for an occasional bark of a dog or two. Faintly and far between, a few lights twinkled athwart the orchard trees, and now and then a breath of damp air blew up from the meadows, making the boughs wave slightly and their leaves whisper soft sounds […] The moon, now in her full, had risen above the forest trees, silvering their tops, throwing its radiance through their boughs and upon the pond, and peeping down into the cottage windows. The dogs no longer barked. An unfathomable stillness had settled over the village and over all nature.

Droga_w_lesie

Józef Chełmoński Road in the forest 1887

The forest was very old and very great. It stood, compact and thick, in the majesty of age and strength combined. Nearly all the trees were pines; but not unfrequently an ancient spreading oak would appear, or some birches, in their smocks of white bark, let their tangled yellow foliage float in the air. The lower growths – the hazelnut, the dwarf hornbeam, and the trembling aspen – were crowded around the mighty red pine-trunks, so closely and with branches so intertwined, that the sunbeams could but seldom touch the ground, where they seemed to be crawling, like bright-hued insects, over the mosses and reddish faded ferns.

Procesja

Włodzimierz Tetmajer Procession in Bronowice 1900

Intoning the hymn, the Celebrant slowly descended the altar-steps and into the lane at once formed for him – a lane of singers, of flickering lights, and gaudy colours, and droning voices. The procession began to move, the organ thundered mightily, the bells joined in with clamorous uproar, and the congregation took up the chant with voices raised in the grand unison of faith. In front of the crowd, and of the twinkling sinuous lines of tapers moving on, there gleamed a silver crucifix; following this came the holy images, dimly seen through a haze of cambric, and surrounded with flowers and lace and ornaments of tinsel.

 

Przed_karczma

Józef Chełmoński In front of the inn 1876

More and more people had by now thronged into the tavern, for the twilight had deepened, and the lamps were lit. The music sounded to a quicker measure; the noise waxed loud; the folk formed groups around the bar, or along the walls, or in the centre of the room. They talked, gossiped, grumbled; and some drank one to another. But as a rule this was at rare intervals. For how could they do otherwise ? They had not come to carouse, but only – well, so : to meet in a neighbourly way, and confabulate, and learn what there was to be learned. It was Sunday, and there was surely no sin in indulging one’s curiosity a little, and drinking a few glasses here and there with one’s acquaintances.

 

Wschod_ksiezyca

 Stanisław Masłowski Moonrise 1884

The moon, large and splendid, was floating through the dark space; like silver nails in the firmament, a few stars shone, sparsely scattered about; a thin grey tissue of mist hung over the pond like a veil, and waved its folds above the village. The world had entered into that unfathomable quiet of the autumn night, save that the few who were going home sang as they went, and dogs were heard to bark now and then.

Dziad_proszalny

Roman Kochanowski Beggar circa 1905

Beggars too, now passed through the village more and more frequently; not only those of the usual kind, who went from house to house with their cavernous wallets and their lengthy prayers, and at whose approach the house-dogs always fell a-baying; but also certain others of a very different sort. These had travelled much and far, to many holy places; they knew Chenstohova, and Ostrobrama, and Kalvarya well, and in the long evenings they would willingly entertain the village folk by tales of what was going on in the world, and the strange things done in foreign parts. And there were some who told of the Holy Land, and related such marvels about the vast seas they had crossed, and the adventures which had befallen them, that the people listened in pious amazement, and more than one could scarcely believe that such things could be.

Józef Chełmoński The rain 1873

Ah, it was autumn, late autumn now! Neither rollicking songs, nor merry shouts, nor even the chirruping of little birds, could be heard in the village any more: only the blast howling over the thatched roofs, the icy rain pouring glass-like films down the rattling panes, and the quick dull thudding of the flails on the threshing-floors, which grew daily louder and louder. It was indeed Autumn, the mother of Winter.

chelm_burza

A livid whirling downpour had covered the land, taken all colour out of it, quenched its tints, and plunged the world into twilight. All seemed confused, and as in a dream.

Józef Chełmoński Thunderstorm 1896

Przeczucie

Henryk Weyssenhoff Premonition 1893

A sadness rose up from the mouldering fields, from the palsy-stricken woods, from the dead wilderness; thence it floated like a heavy cloud, lingering about the melancholy cross-ways, under the crucifixes which stretched forth their mournful arms and on the waste roads, where the trees would suddenly quake as with dread, and sob as if in anguish; it looked with vacant stare into each deserted nest, and on each fallen cabin; it crept about the burial-places around the graves of the forgotten dead and the decaying crosses; it spread over all the country.

Odlot_zurawi_2

 Józef Chełmoński The departure of cranes 1870

And still the flocks of birds increased, even to the dismay and stupefaction of the people; for now they flew lower, ever in vaster multitudes, sprinkling the sky as with scattered specks of soot; and the dull flapping and croaking were now louder, more boisterous, more turbulent—like a storm that is drawing nigh. They swept in circles over the village : and as a heap of dead leaves the blast plays with, so they wheeled over the ploughed lands, floated down to the woods, hung above the skeleton poplar-trees, took possession of the lindens round about the church, and perched upon the trees in the burial-ground.

 

Modlitwa

 

Stanisław Dębicki A prayer 1887

“ All must die ! ” they muttered, in tones of torpid palsy-stricken resignation, and went on further, to sit by the graves of their fathers, and either recite orisons, or remain motionless, in a reverie that deadened both love of life and fear of death – aye, and even abhorrence of pain. They were like trees, bowing Iow in the blast; and, like them, their souls quivered slumberously : dismayed, yet benumbed. “ O my Jesus ! O merciful Lord ! O Mary ! ”- such were the ejaculations which burst forth from their tormented souls. They raised their faces – now expressionless with grief – and fixed their hollow eyes on the crosses, and on those trees in drowsy yet perpetual motion: and falling on their knees at the feet of the crucified Christ, they laid before Him their fear-stricken hearts, and shed tears of resignation and self-surrender.

 

Ubogi_pogrzeb

Ludwik de Laveaux Paupers’ funeral 1889

There the forgotten ones lay – those whose very memory had perished long ago, with their days, and the times they lived in, and all the past. There, only ill- omened birds uttered hoarse croakings, and the bushes rustled mournfully near some cross of rotting wood that still remained standing here and there. In this forgotten nook lay side by side whole families, hamlets, generations : no one came there to pray, to shed tears, to light lamps any more. The gale alone blew fiercely through the boughs, tore off the last of their leaves, and tossed them away into the night, to be lost therein. And voices howled that were not voices; and shadows moved—but were they only shadows ? — striking at random against the trees, as though they had been blinded birds, and seeming to moan and beg for pity!

Na_swojska_nute

Wincenty Wodzinowski A familiar tune 1889

Together they marched, shoulder to shoulder, down the middle of the road, the ground echoing under the tramping of their boots : with such merry dare-devil looks, and so gaiły adorned, that they killed the whole scene – a vision of striped trousers glancing in the sun, of scarlet jackets, hats decked with bunches of floating ribbons, and white capotes, open and flapping in the breeze like wings. Uttering shrill cries, and humming joyful tunes, on they dashed, tramping noisily in measure – a young pine-grove in motion and rushing with the blast! The musicians played polonaises, going from hut to hut to cali the wedding guests; here vodka was offered them; there they were asked in; elsewhere a song would answer to their tunes; while on all sides the folk came out, dressed in their best raiment, and went swelling the main body.

 

Nowozency

Fryderyk Pautsch Newlyweds 1910

In the midst of this crimson conflagration they walked on slowly. It made the eyes blink to see them as they went – with ribbons and peacock plumes and flowers; gay in red trousers, petticoats of orange tints, rainbow kerchiefs, snowy capotes : just as if a whole field full of flowers in bloom had arisen and moved forward, swaying in the wind ! Aye, and singing too !

Kolomyjka

 

Teodor Axentowicz Kolomyjka 1895

The musicians had struck up for the greatest performance of all; and forward now came the dancers, and the trampling of many feet was heard. They crowded thickly, couple close to couple, cheek by jowl, moving ever more swiftly as the dance went on. Capotes flew open and flapped wide, heels stamped, hats waved – now and then a snatch of song burst forth – the girls hummed the burden, “ da dana,” and tore on more quickly still, and swayed in measure in the mighty, swirling, headlong rush ! No one could any longer distinguish his neighbour in the throng; and when the violins burst forth in quick sharp volleys of clean-cut separate notes, a hundred feet echoed on the floor at once, a hundred mouths gave tongue, a hundred dancers, seized as by a cyclone, whirled round and round; and the rustling of capotes, skirts, kerchiefs waving about the room, was like the flight of a flock of many-coloured birds. On they went, on continually – dancing without the slightest pause for breath, the floor clattering like a drum, the walls vibrating, the room a seething cauldron. And the rapture of the dance waxed greater, greater yet.

 

(The full text of Ladislas Reymont Peasants (Autumn) can be found at https://sbc.org.pl/Content/271613/tmp2c89.pdf)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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