“The earth will take my body, but heaven will receive my soul.”

An excerpt from Hadji Murat, in my view the greatest story Tolstoy wrote; but I’ll probably say the same thing about each of his The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Master and Man, Alyosha Gorshok,¬†and Father Sergius.

“Butler also made the acquaintance of and became close with shaggy Hanefi, Hadji Murat’s sworn brother. Hanefi knew many mountaineer songs and sang them well. Hadji Murat, to please Butler, would send for Hanefi and order him to sing, naming the songs he considered good. Hanefi had a high tenor voice, and sang with extraordinary distinctness and expression. Hadji Murat especially liked one song, and Butler was struck by its solemn, sad melody. Butler asked the interpreter to tell over its content and wrote it down.

The song had to do with a blood feud–the very one that had existed between Hanefi and Hadji Murat.

It went like this:

“The earth will dry on my grave, and you will forget me, my mother! The graveyard will overgrow with the grass of the graves, and the grass will stifle your grief, my old father. The tears will dry in my sister’s eyes, and the grief will fly from her heart.

“But you will not forget me, my older brother, as long as you have not avenged my death. And you will not forget me, my second brother, as long as you’re not lying here beside me.

“Hot you are, bullet, and it’s death you bear, but have you not been my faithful slave? Black, black earth, you will cover me, but did I not trample you with my horse? Cold you are, death, but I was your master. The earth will take my body, but heaven will receive my soul.”

(Note: From Pevear/Volokhonsky translation.)

Raj Karamchedu