Plyushkin’s garden…

Cover page of the first edition of Dead Souls

An old, far-flung garden, which stretched beyond the house, emerged beyond the estate and then lost itself in the fields, was all that seemed to impact a freshness, overgrown and overrun as it was, to this far-flung estate, and all that was perfectly picturesque in its picture-like desolation. In green clouds and in irregular quivering-leafed cupolas, the conjoined summits of trees which had burst into full and free growth lay against the horizon. The colossal white trunk of a birch, deprived of a top which had been broken off by a storm or a tempest, rose out of this green thicket rounded like an erect and gleaming marble column in the air; the angled, sharp-ended fracture, in which it terminated instead of a capital, showed dark against the snowy whiteness, like a hat or a black bird. The wild hop that choked the elder, rowan-berry and hazel bushes below, and then ran over the top of the entire palisade, at last ran upwards to twine round the broken birch tree. Having reached the middle, it was dangling and already beginning to clutch at the tops of other trees or hung in the air, twining its delicate, clinging ringlets into tendrils gently swayed by the wind. In places green, sun struck thickets parted to reveal a hollow between them, untouched by light and gaping like a dark maw, it was cast all in shadow, and its black depths afforded but the faintest glimpse of a coursing narrow path, the ruins of a railing, a tumbledown gazebo, a hollow, decayed trunk of a willow, and from behind the willow a gray thicket which thrust out a dense bristly of leaves and twigs, entangled and enmeshed, withered by the fearsome wild, and finally the young branch of a maple that had stretched from one side its green paw – leaves beneath one of which the sun had made its way. Lord knows how, and was turning it suddenly transparent and fiery, a wondrously shining thing in this thick darkness. Off to one side, at the very edge of the garden, several high-reaching aspen, taller than the others, raised enormous crows’ nest on their tremulous crowns. From some of these, branches, broken but not fully detached, hung down with their withered leaves. In a word, all was somehow desolate and splendid, as it is given to neither nature nor art to devise, but as it happens only when they join together, when across the often senselessly accumulated toil of man, nature passes a finishing touch of the chisel, lightens the heavy masses, eliminates the crudely palpable symmetry and the beggarly rips through which peers the unconcealed, bare plan, and confers a wondrous warmth on everything that has been created in the chill of calculated purity and tidiness.

This garden piece was a favorite of Gogol’s and has been admired as a set piece by a generation of its readers.

Book: Dead Souls; Author: Nikolay Gogol; Trans: Robert A. Maguire; Penguin Classics; Pgs: 424




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