I Was Thirteen
I was thirteen. I herded lambs
Beyond the village on the lea.
The magic of the sun, perhaps,
Or what was it affected me?
I felt with joy all overcome,
As though with God….
The time for lunch had long passed by,
And still among the weeds I lay
And prayed to God…. I know not why
It was so pleasant then to pray
For me, an orphan peasant boy,
Or why such bliss so filled me there?
The sky seemed bright, the village fair,
The very lambs seemed to rejoice!
The sun’s rays warmed but did not sear!
But not for long the sun stayed kind,
Not long in bliss I prayed….
It turned into a ball of fire
And set the world ablaze.
As though just wakened up, I gaze:
The hamlet’s drab and poor,
And God’s blue heavens – even they
Are glorious no more.
I look upon the lambs I tend –
Those lambs are not my own!
I eye the hut wherein I dwell –
I do not have a home!
God gave me nothing, naught at all….
I bowed my head and wept
Such bitter tears…. And then a lass*
Who had been sorting hemp
Not far from there, down by the path,
Heard my lament and came
Across the field to comfort me;
She spoke a soothing phrase
And gently dried my weeping eyes
And kissed my tear-wet face….
It was as though the sun had smiled,
As though all things on earth were mine,
My own…. the orchards, fields and groves!…
And, laughing merrily the while,
The master’s lambs to drink we drove.
Oh, how disgusting!… Yet, when I
Recall those days, my heart is sore
That there my brief life’s span the Lord
Did not grant me to live and die.
There, plowing, I’d have passed away,
With ignorance my life-long lot,
I’d not an outcast be today,
I’d not be cursing Man and God! …
Orsk Fortress, 1847
Translated by John Weir Toronto, 1961