The First New Translation in Forty Years
Set sometime between the mid-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century, Gogol's epic tale recounts both a bloody Cossack revolt against the Poles (led by the bold Taras Bulba of Ukrainian folk mythology) and the trials of Taras Bulba's two sons.
As Robert Kaplan writes in his Introduction, "[Taras Bulba] has a Kiplingesque gusto . . . that makes it a pleasure to read, but central to its theme is an unredemptive, darkly evil violence that is far beyond anything that Kipling ever touched on. We need more works like Taras Bulba to better understand the emotional wellsprings of the threat we face today in places like the Middle East and Central Asia." And the critic John Cournos has noted, "A clue to all Russian realism may be found in a Russian critic's observation about Gogol: 'Seldom has nature created a man so romantic in bent, yet so masterly in portraying all that is unromantic in life.' But this statement does not cover the whole ground, for it is easy to see in almost all of Gogol's work his 'free Cossack soul' trying to break through the shell of sordid today like some ancient demon, essentially Dionysian. So that his works, true though they are to our life, are at once a reproach, a protest, and a challenge, ever calling for joy, ancient joy, that is no more with us. And they have all the joy and sadness of the Ukrainian songs he loved so much."
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April 01, 2003
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Excerpt from Taras Bulba by Nikolai Gogol
1 “Turn around and let me look at you! What a sight! What are you wearing there, a priest’s cassock or something? Is that how you run around at that academy of yours?” These were the words with which old Bulba greeted his two sons, who, having completed their studies at the Seminary in Kiev, had come home to their father. The sons had just dismounted from their horses. They were robust young men, with the sullen look one sees in all Seminary students recently released. Their strong, healthy faces were covered with a first down that had not yet been touched by a razor. Embarrassed by the way their father welcomed them, they stared sullenly at the ground. “Wait, wait! Let me get a good look at you!” Bulba continued, turning them around. “What are these long tunics you’re wearing, if you can even call them that? I’ve never seen the like! Take a few steps—I swear they’ll get caught between your legs, and you’ll go flying!” “Don’t make fun of us, Papa!” the older of the boys finally said. “Look how high and mighty he is! And why, pray, shouldn’t I make fun of you?” “Because, well . . . even though you’re my papa, if you make fun of me, then by God I’ll thrash you!” “Ha! You damn son of a you-know-what! Your own father?” Taras Bulba shouted, staggering back in surprise. “Yes, even though you’re my father. Insult me, and I don’t care who you are!” “So how do you want to fight, with your fists?” “Any way you want!” “Well then, show me your fists!” Taras Bulba said, pulling up his sleeves. “I’d like to see what kind of man you are with your fists!” Father and son, instead of greeting each other after their long separation, began throwing punches at each other’s stomach and chest, stepping back to glare at each other and then attacking again. “Neighbors, villagers!” shouted the boys’ pale, gaunt mother, who was standing on the threshold and had not had a chance to embrace her beloved children. “The old man’s gone mad! His mind’s unhinged! The boys come home, we haven’t seen them for over a year, and what does he do? Fly at them with his fists!” “He fights well, this one!” Bulba gasped, stopping for a moment. “By God, he fights well!” he continued, catching his breath. “So well that I’d have done better not to test him. He’ll make a good Cossack, this one! I welcome you, my son! Let us kiss!” And father and son kissed. “Well done, my boy! You can get the better of any man if you go at him the way you went at me! Show mercy to no one. But I still think you’re wearing the oddest clothes I’ve ever seen! What’s this string hanging there? And you,” he shouted, turning to his younger son. “You Grand Padishah, why are you standing there with your arms dangling?* You son of a dog, aren’t you going to punch me too?” * Padishah = “Great Emperor.” The title of the sultan of Turkey. “What will he think of next?” the mother gasped, throwing her arms around the boy. “He wants his own flesh and blood to raise a hand to him! That’s all we need! The boy is young, has had a long journey, and must be exhausted!” (The boy was nearly twenty and well over six feet tall.) “He has to rest and eat a bite of food, and the old fool wants to fight