Volume 20, No.1 - Spring 1974
Editors of this issue: Bronius Vaskelis
Copyright © 1974 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.



Ave Crux, spes unica!

At one of those mysterious moments, when dream seems reality, and reality dream, when the human spirit as though sinking into slumber, receives the gift of clairvoyance, a certain Demon took me on his wings and carried me to the edge of a darksome ravine, where, in sight of an inaccessible mountain range, a space was girt by the Limit of life. He set me down on the summit of a granite cliff, and gave me the power to see farther than man can see, and to hear more than man can hear.

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An endless wilderness lay before me, and I beheld how from all of its distances there stretched toward the ravine countless hosts of men. Some of these were only beginning their journey, others had already proceeded about half-way. Despite the enormous distance, equal to many thousands of versts, I distinctly made out the colors of the peoples' garments and the expressions of their individual faces, and I clearly heard frenzied songs, the rattle of arms, laughter, loud groans, and quiet, suppressed sighs.

An incomprehensible torpor sometimes took possession of these hosts and stayed their movement and their cries, but it soon passed, and the crowds of people once more moved noisily ahead, leaving behind them unfinished towers, sombre pyramids, the ruins of labyrinths that they themselves had raised, long lines of crosses and a countless multitude of tombs. Wild beasts followed at their heels; above the read they had traversed hovered flocks of birds of prey with piercing cries.

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Each of these hordes of people had its own leader; one of them followed an old man in the guise of an ancient prophet, another a stalwart athlete with an animal look, a third a half-naked woman. Some of them had before them only stone images or motley badges.

The uncertainty of the way and distrust of their leaders would strike the crowds of these wanderers with indifference and weariness, — even the blows of scourges were of little effect toward animating their masses, and it was only a Will, incomprehensible to them, that drove them stubbornly forward. But no one knew whither they were going, because their general near-sightedness and the unceasing tumult of their movement prevented their seeing and hearing even what was nearest at hand. Sometimes one would outstrip the others; detaching himself from the crowd; with gaze fixed on the horizon he would descry the object of their quest,— but no one would believe his promises, because none could be convinced but by his own eyes, and everyone trusted only his own immediate sensation.

Slaves of their crude feelings and tyrannical instincts, these wanderers in their movement were still guided by the indications of their dreams, by the traditions of common talk, and by the false prophecies of their soothsayers.

Sometimes mirages appeared before them, and they rejoiced in these phantoms, accepting every mirage as indubitable reality, and every reality as delusion.

For long the people proceeded over the dusky desert, and for long I watched their dreary procession. Finally one of the hosts approached an oasis. Thousands of men and women with frenzied cries hurled themselves on its fruits and fountains, crushed one another, quarreled with one another over every tree, every strip of shade. Tents were divided up, shelters constructed. Fire and axe destroyed everything. From enormous bonfires columns of dark smoke trailed to the sky. Of feasting, dancing and singing it seemed there would be no end.

And, without ceasing blindly and greedily to annihilate the fruits and vegetation of the oasis, the people offered frenzied prayers for life.

At last everything was exhausted, and the sated host began again to plod ahead, not knowing what to expect, and sticking close to the road because they all, to a man, were afraid of the unexpected.

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Wearied with the monotony of the spectacle, I closed my eyes. Whether something terrible happened in the whole wilderness, or whether the Demon gave me power to see differently — when I opened my eyes, the former picture had already changed. To my ears was borne a long-drawn rumble of alarm. Deep darkness enfolded the space. Amid the endless night not one star burned. Only the surface of the earth trembled with myriads of varicolored fires.

Not understanding what had happened, I raised my eyes to the Demon, and He said to me:

"The common light of heaven was but slightly apprehensible to their sight; now they have been deprived of it, and are lighting their way with torches. You see the fires, green, red, golden, blue... Over there are thousands of tongues of golden fire, which every moment are being put out by the wind and by the swiftness of their own movement. They are the torches of the dreamers. And see over there — little circles of bright red, the color of a burning coal, which now and then blaze up with bloody sparks, but for the most part smolder and smoke... they are the torches kindled by the gusts and joys of the passions. And there are flashes of emerald-golden flame that scatters itself in a beautiful rain of quickly extinguished sparks... Those are the torches of the ambitious..."

For a long while more the Demon enumerated to me the colors and characters of the torches of men, but I ceased to listen to him, because the spectacle of the fires had riveted all my attention.

Before me was an endless play of color. It was flowing slowly over the earth in a broad, sparkling stream, as though millions of varicolored luminaries were being reflected on the surface of black, quivering water. Some fires would go out, but in their places new ones would flare up, now of a different color, but just as short-lived. The position and brightness of the torches changed endlessly, as though in an endless round-dance, evoking a . feeling of something hectic, undulating, unstable. Sometimes a storm wind would break into the region of the fires, blow out everything in its path, and proceed on its way from darkness into darkness as a sinuous black strait of night.

The picture was so mobile in all its parts that in each successive moment it had become unrecognizable. But in the changing of the whole and the parts, the blinding white flame of certain torches remained forever unaltered. Its bright tongues were dispersed over the whole pattern of fires, and burned with an even, confident light. Only those few went out which had taken on the tint of one or another color. I marveled at the constancy of these torches, at the straightness of their movement in the space, at the brightness of the objects and paths which they illuminated.

The procession of the human hordes moved even farther and farther; the torches were incessantly going out, without shining for even a few steps. The people would exchange them for others, just as flaming and unsure, — only the bright white torches shone inextinguishably in the tormenting darkness. At times all the fires of the wilderness would go out at once, the darkness that had nearly receded would move like a crowd of enormous animal shadows from all sides upon the wanderers, the space would be deafened with curses and hoarse groans — but the bright white torches stubbornly and triumphantly pierced the night, like the glances of fearless, confident eyes. Their light was brighter than the light of stars, and those that bore them sang quiet songs of gladness.

As they approached the place where I sat, all the other torches grew pale and ever more quickly melted into the gloom, while the number of the bright white torches grew and grew; the dark ravine, that had drowsed hitherto, was as it were awakened, and all the slopes of its terrible labyrinth were alight at last with a reciprocal, effulgent radiance...

Bustling, everyday life once more surrounded me, and tossed spasmodically in its feverish delirium. But no longer was I able to take my former part in it. The remembrance of the bright, blinding flame tormented my soul with inexpressible longing. I sought for it among men and in the wilderness. But even wise men were not able to call it by its name. And I wandered forever in endless darkness, praying God in torment to reveal this light to me, if only in the lightning flash of a moment; and only now and then I encountered a reflection of it — in the eyes of an old man delighting in the carefree play of a babe, in the holy look of a mother when she prayed for her beloved son — and in the exultant gaze of a hero going to a great deed.

"Legenda o fakelach", Severnyje cvety, Moscow, 1902; translated by W. Edward Brown.