Boris Godunov by Alexander Pushkin

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Boris Godunov – Contents

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TSAR. He is vanquished, but what profit lies in that?
We are crowned with a vain conquest; he has mustered
Again his scattered forces, and anew
Threatens us from the ramparts of Putivl.
Meanwhile what are our heroes doing? They stand
At Krom, where from its rotten battlements
A band of Cossacks braves them. There is glory!
No, I am ill content with them; thyself
I shall despatch to take command of them;
I give authority not to birth, but brains.
Their pride of precedence, let it be wounded!
The time has come for me to hold in scorn
The murmur of distinguished nobodies,
And quash pernicious custom.

BASMANOV. Ay, my lord
Blessed a hundredfold will be that day
When fire consumes the lists of noblemen
With their dissensions, their ancestral pride.

TSAR. That day is not far off; let me but first
Subdue the insurrection of the people.

BASMANOV. Why trouble about that? The people always
Are prone to secret treason; even so
The swift steed champs the bit; so doth a lad
Chafe at his father’s ruling. But what then?
The rider quietly controls the steed,
The father sways the son.

TSAR. Sometimes the horse
Doth throw the rider, nor is the son at all times
Quite ‘neath the father’s will; we can restrain
The people only by unsleeping sternness.
So thought Ivan, sagacious autocrat
And storm-subduer; so his fierce grandson thought.
No, no, kindness is lost upon the people;
Act well—it thanks you not at all; extort
And execute—’twill be no worse for you.

(Enter a boyar.)

What now?

BOYAR. The foreign guests are come.

TSAR. I go
To welcome them. Basmanov, wait, stay here;
I still have need to speak: a word with thee.


BASMANOV. High sovereign spirit! God grant he may subdue
The accurst Otrepiev; and much, still much
Of good he’ll do for Russia. A great thought
Within his mind has taken birth; it must not
Be suffered to grow cold. What a career
For me when the ancestral horn he breaks
Of the nobility. I have no rivals
In war. I shall stand closest to the throne—
And it may chance—But what is that strange sound?

(Alarum. Boyars and court-attendants run in
disorder, meet each other and whisper.)

ONE. Fetch a physician!

ANOTHER. Quickly to the Patriarch!

A THIRD. He calls for the tsarevich, the tsarevich!

A FOURTH. A confessor!

BASMANOV. What has happened?

A FIFTH AND SIXTH. The tsar is ill,
The tsar is dying.


A FIFTH. Upon the throne
He sat, and suddenly he fell; blood gushed
From his mouth and ears.

(The TSAR is carried in on a chair. All the Tsar’s
household; all the boyars.)

TSAR. Let all depart—alone
Leave the tsarevich with me. (All withdraw.) I am dying;
Let us embrace. Farewell, my son; this hour
Thou wilt begin to reign.—O God, my God!
This hour I shall appear before Thy presence—
And have no time to purge my soul with shrift.
But yet, my son, I feel thou art dearer to me
Than is my soul’s salvation—be it so!
A subject was I born; it seemed ordained
That I should die a subject in obscurity.
Yet I attained to sovereignty; but how?
Ask not. Enough that thou art innocent.
In justice now thou’lt reign; and I alone
Am answerable for all to God. Dear son,
Cherish no false delusion, of thy free will
Blind not thyself. Stormy the days wherein
Thou dost assume the crown. He is dangerous,
This strange pretender; with a fearful name
He is armed. For many a year experienced
In rule, I could restrain revolt and treason;
They quaked with fear before me; treachery
Dared not to raise its voice; but thou, a boy,
An inexperienced ruler, how wilt thou
Govern amid the tempests, quench revolt,
Shackle sedition? But God is great! He gives
Wisdom to youth, to weakness strength.—Give ear;
Firstly, select a steadfast counsellor,
Of cool, ripe years, loved of the people, honoured
Mid the boyars for birth and fame—even Shuisky.
The army craves today a skilful leader;
Basmanov send, and firmly bear the murmurs
Of the boyars. Thou from thy early years
Didst sit with me in council, thou dost know
The formal course of government; change not
Procedure. Custom is the soul of states.
Of late I have been forced to reinstate
Bans, executions—these thou canst rescind;
And they will bless thee, as they blessed thy uncle
When he obtained the throne of the Terrible.
At the same time, little by little, tighten
Anew the reins of government; now slacken;
But let them not slip from thy hands. Be gracious,
Accessible to foreigners, accept
Their service trustfully. Preserve with strictness
The Church’s discipline. Be taciturn;
The royal voice must never lose itself
Upon the air in emptiness, but like
A sacred bell must sound but to announce
Some great disaster or great festival.
Dear son, thou art approaching to those years
When woman’s beauty agitates our blood.
Preserve, preserve the sacred purity
Of innocence and proud shamefacedness;
He, who through passion has been wont to wallow
In vicious pleasures in his youthful days,
Becomes in manhood bloodthirsty and surly;
His mind untimely darkens. Of thy household
Be always head; show honour to thy mother,
But rule thy house thyself; thou art a man
And tsar to boot. Be loving to thy sister—
Thou wilt be left of her the sole protector.

FEODOR. (On his knees.) No, no; live on, my father, and reign long;
Without thee both the folk and we will perish.

TSAR. All is at end for me—mine eyes grow dark,
I feel the coldness of the grave—

(Enter the PATRIARCH and prelates; behind them all
the boyars lead the TSARITSA by the hand; the
TSAREVNA is sobbing.)

Who’s there?
Ah, ’tis the vestment—so! The holy tonsure—
The hour has struck. The tsar becomes a monk,
And the dark sepulchre will be my cell.
Wait yet a little, my lord Patriarch,
I still am tsar. Listen to me, boyars:
To this my son I now commit the tsardom;
Do homage to Feodor. Basmanov, thou,
And ye, my friends, on the grave’s brink I pray you
To serve my son with zeal and rectitude!
As yet he is both young and uncorrupted.
Swear ye?

BOYARS. We swear.

TSAR. I am content. Forgive me
Both my temptations and my sins, my wilful
And secret injuries.—Now, holy father,
Approach thou; I am ready for the rite.

(The rite of the tonsure begins. The women are
carried out swooning.)

< < < A Forest
A Tent > > >

Russian LiteratureChildren BooksRussian PoetryAlexander Pushkin – Boris Godunov – Contents

Copyright holders –  Public Domain Book

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