The Demon

from Part One


The somber Demon, banished from the heights,
Soared aimlessly above the sinful earth,
And memories of better days gone by
Kept crowding countlessly before his eyes  —
Those days when he, secure in light’s abode,
Shone radiant, a cherub free from stain;
When incandescent comets, shooting past,
Would pause and lovingly reciprocate
His hailing smile of fond benevolence;
Those days when, through the timeless mists of space,
Desiring knowledge, he would keenly track
Nomadic caravans of shining stars
Strewn out by God across the dark expanse;
Those days when he believed — when he still loved!
Divine Creation’s fortunate first-born!
He knew no spiteful enmity, no doubt,
Nor was his mind yet menaced by the thought
Of barren ages in an endless train…
So much, so much was his, that all of it
He hadn’t strength enough to recollect!

Mikhail Vrubel, The Demon


Long since expelled from Heaven, he now roamed
The desert of this world, without repose;
One age after another passed for him
Just as the minutes pass for humankind:
In an unending and unchanging stream.
And in dominion o’er this paltry earth,
He sowed great evil — but without delight.
For nowhere did this artistry of his
Meet with resistance in the hearts of men —
And he grew tired of evil’s tedium.


And now and then the flying Demon’s shade
Would pass across the great Caucasian peaks:
Below, the diamond facets of Kazbek
Resplendent rose, beneath eternal snows;
And, yawning black — far, far below the peaks —
A fissure in the earth, a dragon’s den —
The Darial Gorge lay, winding back and forth,
Wherein the Terek, leaping like a lion,
A mane of rapids bristling down its back,
Did roar; and all the mountain beasts, the birds
Then circling in the vast cerulean heights,
Did hearken to the words its waters spoke,
As golden clouds, from distant southern lands,
Accompanied the river, racing north,
And mighty cliffs pressed in around the gorge;
Held spellbound by some enigmatic sleep,
They bowed their heads above the torrent’s waves,
And watched, enraptured, as the rapids danced.
Upon the cliffs, some fortress towers loomed
And looked down menacingly through the mists —
Gigantic sentries, ever keeping watch
Above the Caucasus’ colossal gates.
How wild, how wondrous, everywhere one looked,
Was God’s whole world; and yet the proud disdain
Of that demonic soul refused to see
The many mighty wonders God had wrought —
And His Creation no impression made
Upon that lofty and impassive brow.


And as the shade flew on, beneath it bloomed
The living beauty of a new tableau:
The Georgian kingdom’s fertile vales, unfurled
Like carpets, spreading riches far and wide.
O sumptuous and blessed realm of earth!
Your poplars rise, like pillars towering;
Your rivers racing, ringing all the while,
Along their beds of brightly colored stones;
Your groves of roses, where the nightingales
So sweetly serenade those beauties mute
Who never will requite their songs of love;
The blissful shade beneath the spreading boughs
Of your great plane trees, with their ivy crowns;
Your caves, where, in the searing heat of day,
The timid deer find shelter from the sun;
The sheen, the life, the rustling of your leaves,
The countless voices of your verdure’s choir,
Your flowers thousands-strong, their scented breath!
The languid swelter of your midday sun,
The shadows of your nights, that always quench
Day’s thirst with dew as fragrant as perfume;
Your brilliant stars, alive like human eyes —
As brilliant as the eyes of Georgian girls!
Yet nothing, save for envy, cold and grim,
Did nature’s beauty manage to arouse
Within the exiled spirit’s barren soul;
No newfound strength, no feeling was inspired:
For everything the Demon’s eyes surveyed
They failed to notice — or despised outright.


A great and lofty house, a sprawling court,
Did grizzled old Gudal decree be built.
Much toil and many tears did that house cost
The long-enduring slaves who raised its walls.
From dawn, its shadow creeps across the slopes
Of mountains ’round the rock whereon it looms;
And in that rock a staircase has been hewn,
Descending from a turret to the stream;
And down those stairs — a glimmer, now and then —
A figure hurries, in a cloak of white:
It is the princess — young Tamara — who
Descends to the Aragvi2 with her pail.


That somber dwelling was forever still,
Forever glaring at the vales below.
But on this day a great feast is at hand;
The zurna sounds as wine begins to flow.
Soon old Gudal will see his daughter wed;
He bade the whole clan gather for the feast.
There, on the roof, with carpets rich bespread,
The young bride sits among her friends, and laughs;
With carefree games and songs her wedding eve
Goes by. And evening falls: from distant peaks
The half-disc of the sun still spills its rays;
The revelers, now clapping rhythmically,
Burst out in song, and watch the lovely bride
Take up her tambourine and start to dance.
Behold, how with her hand so delicate
She twirls the tambourine above her head —
One moment fluttering just like a bird,
The next she sinks, alights — and, looking round,
Her moist eyes glimmer softly from beneath
The lashes keeping jealous watch above;

She raises one black eyebrow, playfully —
Then, with her supple body forward bowed,
Her nimble feet across the carpet glide;
Behold the smile she flashes all the while,
Alive with childhood’s fleeting happiness —
For not even a moonbeam, when it haps
To gently dance upon a rippling tide,
Could be compared to this exquisite smile —
The smile of youth, alive as life itself.


I swear to you by midnight’s brightest star,
By rays of setting and of rising suns:
Not even golden Persia’s mighty shah,
Nor any other king upon this earth,
Has ever pressed his lips to eyes like these;
Nor yet has any harem fountain’s mist
Descended soothingly, in midday heat,
In drops of water glistening like pearls,
Upon a body beautiful as hers!
Nor has the hand of any mortal man
Been blessed to dance across a lover’s brow
And unbraid hair as sumptuous as this.
No! Never, since the loss of paradise —
I swear it! — had a flower such as she
Spread wide its petals ’neath the southern sun.


This was the last time she would ever dance.
She well imagined what the future held —
Alas! — for Gudal’s heir and only child,
For one as used to freedom as was she:
The woeful station of a wife enslaved;
A homeland, new and as of yet unknown,
And equally unknown — her husband’s kin.
So, now and then, a surreptitious doubt
Obscured the smiling features of her face;
And yet her every movement, as she danced,
Was so full of expression and of grace,
Of effortless and sweet simplicity,
That should the Demon, in his lofty flight,
Have chanced to look down at her bridal dance,
Then, mindful of his lost angelic kin,
He might have looked away in pain, and sighed…


Indeed: the Demon saw her. In a flash
Some agitation inexplicable
Arose within him, not to be denied;
The silent desolation of his soul
Was filled now by a glad, salvific sound —
And once again he knew the sanctity
Of love, of all that’s good and beautiful!
Long, long did he now linger to admire
The precious spectacle — and long-dead dreams
Of his past glory, like an endless chain
Of star strung after star strung after star
Processed before his eyes as he looked on.
And, shackled by some great but unseen force,
He grew acquainted with a newfound pain:
For sentiment began to speak within
Him — in his long-abandoned native tongue.
Were all these signs but preludes of rebirth?
His menaced heart sought refuge in his mind,
And scoured it for shrewd and sneering words —
But no! Forgetting was forbidden him
By God. Indeed, he wished not to forget!

Mikhail Vrubel, Tamara and the Demon

(from Part Two)

The Demon (to Tamara):

I swear to you now — by creation’s dawn,
I swear to you now — by its final day,
I swear by evil’s base ignominy,
And by the triumph of eternal truth,
And by the bitter torment of defeat,
And by the short-lived dream of victory;
And by the hope of seeing you again,
By separation menacing anew.
I swear to you now by the spirit hosts,
And by the fate of demons in my thrall,
And by the swords of angels passionless —
Those ever-watchful enemies of mine;
I swear to you by Heaven and by Hell,
By all that’s holy on this earth — by you:
I swear to you now by your final glance,
And by the first tear that you ever shed,
And by the breath of your unspiteful lips,
By every ringlet of your silken locks;
I swear to you by bliss, by suffering —
And more than all of this: I swear by love.
I now renounce my lust for cold revenge;
I now renounce my every prideful thought;
From this day forth, false words of flattery
I will not pour, like poison, in men’s ears;
My inmost wish is to be reconciled
With God. I want to love, I want to pray,
I want now to believe — believe in good.
With this repentful tear, I’ll wipe away —
Upon a brow now worthy of your love —
The ashen traces left by Heaven’s fire;
And may this world, in placid ignorance,
Live on, and prosper — I’ll not interfere!

Believe me, lovely girl! I am the first
To understand you, and to know your worth.
In choosing you as my most sacred prize,
I choose to lay my power at your feet.
But for an instant of your gift of love,
I offer you all of eternity.
Have faith, Tamara, in my constancy,
My greatness both in evil and in love —
For I, the ether’s freedom-loving son,
Will transport you to realms above the stars,
And you will be the empress of the sky,
My sole companion, and my only love;
And there — without regret, without concern —
You’ll soon regard this earth for what it is:
A place where no true joy is to be found,
Nor any beauty that is long of life;
A place of naught but sin and sin’s reward;
A place where only petty passion dwells,
A place that’s home to no one capable
Of hating — or of loving — without fear.
Or do you truly not know what it is —
The momentary love of humankind?
The youthful agitation of the blood?
But as the days race by, the blood grows cold!
Do lovers long endure when forced apart?
Who can resist the lure of novelty?
Who can withstand the boredom, the fatigue
Of indefatigable fantasy?
No! Not for you, my love, are all these things!
Nor yet has cruel Fate ordained for you
To waste away in these repressive walls,
A slave to others’ jealous crudity,
Amidst the meager-spirited and cold,
Amidst false friends and outright enemies,
Amidst your anxious fears and fruitless hopes,
Amidst your empty and oppressive toil!
No! Woefully, behind these lofty walls,
You’ll not live on, your passion’s flame snuffed out,
Amidst orisons, equally removed
From the divine and from humanity.
No, no, my lovely creature: You were meant
For an entirely different kind of life;
A different sort of suffering awaits,
As do the depths of other, unknown joys.
Abandon all your previous desires,
And leave this wretched world unto its fate —
And in exchange, I’ll open up for you
Proud knowledge’s unplumbable abyss;
A host of spirits, bound to me in thrall,
I’ll cast before your feet, to serve your whim;
To you, my beautiful, my love, I’ll give
Maidservants magical and light as air;
And for your head, from off an eastern star
I’ll wrest a brilliant crown of purest gold;
I’ll rob some flowers of their midnight dew,
And set them in that crown like precious pearls;
I’ll steal some crimson from the setting sun,
And wrap it tenderly about your waist;
I’ll saturate the very air you breathe
With breath of flowers fragrant and pristine;
And every minute I’ll caress your ears
With wondrous notes of otherworldly strings;
I’ll raise exquisite mansions; you will dwell
In halls from turquoise and from amber wrought;
I’ll swim down to the bottom of the sea,
I’ll soar beyond the heavens’ highest clouds;
I’ll give you all, all that the earth can give —
Just love me!..

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