Lazarus

Leonid Andreyev (1906), Translated by Dmitry Fadeyev (2017)

I

When Lazarus emerged from the tomb, in which for three days and three nights he remained under the mysterious dominion of death, and returned alive to his dwelling place, for a long time people did not notice in him those sinister oddities, which, in time, made his very name a thing of terror. Rejoicing with bright joy about the one brought back to life, friends and acquaintances cared for him ceaselessly, appeasing their greedy attention by providing food, drink, and new clothes. And they covered him lavishly in the bright colors of hope and laughter, and when, in the manner of a groom in wedding garments, he again sat among them at the table, and again ate, and again drank, they cried from emotion and called their neighbors to look upon the one who was miraculously resurrected. Neighbors came and rejoiced with emotion; strangers came from faraway towns and settlements and in thundering exclamations expressed their reverence for the miracle—truly bees buzzed above the house of Mary and Martha.

And that which appeared new in Lazarus’ face and movements they put down to natural causes, marks left from having endured heavy sickness and suffering. Clearly, death’s destructive work on the corpse was only halted by divine power, it was not altogether wiped out; and that which death had already managed to do with the face and body of Lazarus was like an unfinished sketch of a painter under a thin layer of glass. On Lazarus’ temples, under his eyes, and in the depressions of his cheeks there was a thick, sallow blueness; the fingers of his hands were the same sallow-blue, and on the nails, grown in the tomb, the blue turned purple and dark. In some places on the lips and on the body, the skin, inflated in the tomb, had burst, and in those places there remained thin reddish cracks, glimmering as if covered by transparent mica. And he grew fat. The body, inflated in the tomb, retained its monstrous proportions, those frightening bulges under which one could sense the odious moisture of decomposition. But the heavy smell of a corpse, which infused Lazarus’ funeral clothes, and, it seemed, his very body, soon completely disappeared, and after some time the blueness of his hands and face softened, and, although they never completely went away, the reddish cracks in the skin became smoother. This is the face with which he appeared before men in his second life; yet it seemed natural to those who have seen him buried.

Apart from the face, it seemed that Lazarus’ temper had changed, but this too did not surprise anyone and did not attract to itself due attention. Until his death, Lazarus was always cheerful and carefree, enjoyed laughter and harmless jokes. It was for this pleasant and constant cheerfulness, devoid of spite and gloom, that the Teacher came to love him. Now he was serious and quiet; did not himself make jokes and did not laugh at the jokes of others; and those words, which he seldom uttered, were very simple, ordinary and necessary words, just as devoid of content and depth as those noises that animals use to express pain and joy, thirst and hunger. A man can say these words all his life and nobody will ever discover the sorrows and joys of his inner spirit.

Thus, with the face of a corpse, which for three days lay in darkness under the dominion of death—in lavish wedding garments, gleaming with yellow gold and bloody crimson, heavy and quiet, already horrifyingly different and odd, yet still unrecognized as such by anyone—he sat at the feasting table among friends and acquaintances. The jubilations moved around him in broad waves, at times gentle, at times turbulent-sonorous; and warm glances of love stretched towards his face, which still retained the coldness of the tomb; and the warm hand of a friend caressed his heavy blue hand. And music played. They invited musicians, and they played merrily: drum and pipe, zither and gusli. Truly bees buzzed—truly cicadas crackled—truly birds sang above the happy house of Mary and Martha.

II

Someone careless lifted the veil. With one careless whiff of a word let fly, someone destroyed the bright charms and revealed the truth in its ugly nakedness. The thought had not yet crystallized in that head of his when the mouth asked, smiling:

“Why don’t you tell us, Lazarus, what was there?”

And, struck by the question, everyone fell silent. It was as if they had only just realized that for three days Lazarus was dead, and they stared curiously, waiting for an answer. But Lazarus was silent.

“Don’t you want to tell us,” the questioner was taken aback. “Is it really that dreadful there?”

And again his thought followed his words; if it went in front he would not offer the question, which, at that very moment, made his heart tense up from an intolerable fear. And everyone became anxious, and already with anguish they awaited Lazarus’ words, but he remained silent, cold and stern, and his eyes were lowered. And now again, as if for the first time, they noticed the frightening blueness of his face and his repulsive corpulence; on the table, as if forgotten by Lazarus, lay his blue-purple hand—and all eyes were helplessly riveted to it, as if they were waiting for it to give them the answer they desired. The musicians were still playing; but now the silence had reached them too, and, like water poured over smoldering coals, it extinguished the merry sounds. The pipe fell silent; so too did the resonant drums and the bubbling gusli; and, as if a string had snapped, the zither called out in a trembling, broken note. And all was silent.

“You don’t want to?” repeated the questioner, unable to hold back his talkative tongue. All was silent, and the blue-purple hand lay motionless. And now it stirred a little, and everyone sighed with relief and raised their eyes: solemnly and dreadfully, taking them all in with a single gaze, the resurrected Lazarus was staring back at them.

This was the third day after Lazarus left the tomb. From that time on many experienced the destructive power of his gaze, but neither those who were broken by it forever, nor those who, in the very springs of life, just as mysterious as death, found the will to resist, could ever explain that dreadful thing that lay motionless inside his black pupils. Lazarus’ stare was calm and plain, having neither the wish to conceal anything nor a desire to say anything—a cold stare even, like that of someone infinitely indifferent to life. And many careless people encountered him up close and did not notice him, and afterwards with surprise and fear found out who that calm fat man was who brushed them with the edge of his lavish, bright garments. When he stared, the sun did not stop shining, the fountain did not cease burbling, and the native sky remained just as clear blue, but a human being, caught by his mysterious gaze, would at once stop sensing the sun, would at once cease hearing the fountain, and he would no longer recognize his native sky. Sometimes a man would weep bitterly; sometimes he would rip out his hair in despair and call other people for help, but what often happened was that he would begin to die, calmly and indifferently, and he would continue dying for many years, would die before everyone’s eyes, would die colorless, listless and dull, like a tree, silently drying out on rocky soil. And the former, those who shouted and raged, sometimes returned to life, but the latter—never.

“So you don’t want to tell us, Lazarus, what you saw there?” repeated the questioner for the third time. But by now his voice was indifferent and dim, and a dead, gray boredom blandly peered through his eyes. And that same dead boredom covered all their faces, like dust, and the guests looked at each other with dull stupefaction, and they could not understand why they gathered and why they sat at the rich table. They stopped talking. They thought with indifference that, perhaps, it was time to go home, but they could not overcome the viscous and lazy boredom that fatigued their muscles, and they continued to sit, all torn apart from one another like faint lights scattered across the night sky.

But the musicians were paid to play, and once again they took their instruments, and once again the sounds of studied joy and studied sadness began to flow and dance. The same familiar harmony unfolded in them, but the guests listened in bewilderment: they did not know why it was necessary and why it was good for people to pull strings, inflate their cheeks, blow into thin pipes and make strange, discordant noises.

“Oh, how badly they play!” someone said.

The musicians felt insulted and left. After them, one by one, followed the guests, for night had already arrived. And when darkness fell all around them and it was already becoming easier to breathe—suddenly, before every one of them appeared the image of Lazarus in a dread glow: the blue face of a corpse, the garments of a bridegroom, lavish and bright, and a cold gaze, in the depths of which something dreadful was frozen. They stood in every corner as if turned to stone, and darkness surrounded them, and in that darkness the terrible vision burned brighter and brighter, a supernatural image of the one who for three days remained under the mysterious dominion of death. For three days he was dead: for three days the sun rose and set, and he was dead; children played, water burbled over the rocks, hot dust rose above the road—but he was dead. And now he is again among people—touching them—looking at them—looking at them!—and through the black circles of his pupils, as if through dark panes of glass, the ungraspable Beyond was staring back at them.

III

Nobody took care of Lazarus, he no longer had any relatives or friends, and the great desert, which embraced the holy city, approached the very threshold of his dwelling place. And she came into his house, and she sprawled across his bed, like a wife, and she extinguished the fires. Nobody took care of Lazarus. One by one his sisters left him—Mary and Martha—for a long time Martha did not want to leave him as she did not know who would feed him and care for him, and she cried and prayed. But one night, when the wind rushed over the desert and the whistling cypress trees leaned over the roof, she dressed quietly and left. It is likely that Lazarus heard the door bang, and how, not being securely closed, gusts of wind made it rattle against the doorframe—but he did not stand up, did not go out, did not take a look. And all night the cypresses whistled above his head, and the door tapped pitifully, letting the cold, greedily prowling desert into the dwelling. Everyone avoided him as if he was a leper, and, like a leper, wanted to hang a bell on his neck so that they could avoid him should their paths cross. But someone, growing pale, suggested that it would be very frightening if at night, under the windows, there would sound the jingling of Lazarus’ bell—and everyone, turning pale, agreed with him.

And since he did not take care of himself he may well have died of hunger if not for the neighbors, who, fearful of something, gave him food. The children brought it; they weren’t afraid of Lazarus, but neither did they laugh at him, as, with an innocent cruelty, they laugh at the unfortunate. They were indifferent to him, and Lazarus repaid them with that same indifference: he did not have any desire to caress a little black head and look into its little innocent, gleaming eyes. His house, surrendered to the dominion of time and sands, was being destroyed, and his hungry bleating goats have long ago fled to his neighbors. And his wedding garments have become shabby. He wore them without changing, just as he put them on on that happy day, when the musicians played, as if he did not see the difference between new and old, between ragged and strong. The bright colors burned out and faded; angry city dogs and sharp desert thorns turned the soft cloth into tatters.

During the day, when the merciless sun become the murderer of all living things, when even the scorpions pressed themselves under rocks, their bodies writhing from a mad desire to sting, he sat motionless under its rays, lifting up his blue face and his disheveled, wild beard.

Back then, when people still talked to him, they asked him one time:

“Poor Lazarus! Is it pleasant for you to sit and look at the sun?”

And he answered:

“Yes, it’s pleasant.”

It seems that the three day grave was so cold, its darkness so deep, that there was nothing on earth so hot, nor so bright, that could warm Lazarus and illuminate the gloom of his pupils—thus thought those who inquired, and departed with a sigh.

And when the crimson-red, flattened orb descended to earth, Lazarus went out into the desert and walked right towards the sun, as if he was trying to catch up with it. He always walked straight towards the sun, and those who tried to track his path and find out what he did in the desert during the black night have been left with an indelible imprint in their memory of a black silhouette of a tall, fat man in the foreground of an enormous compressed red disc. The night drove them away with its horrors, and so they never did find out what Lazarus did in the desert, but the black on red image was burned into their minds and never went away. Like a beast that, with its eyes clogged, violently rubs its face with its paws, so too they rubbed their eyes, but that which Lazarus gave them was indelible, and, perhaps, could be forgotten only upon death.

But there were people that lived far away who have never seen Lazarus but only heard about him. With an impudent curiosity, which is stronger than fear and which feeds on fear, with a concealed frivolity in their soul, they came to the one sitting under the sun and engaged him in conversation. By this time Lazarus’ appearance had already changed for the better and was no longer frightening; and for the first minute they snapped their fingers and thought disapprovingly about the stupidity of the residents of the holy city. But when the short conversation ended and they went back home, their appearance was such that the residents of the holy city could instantly identify them, and they said:

“Here goes another crazy person upon whom Lazarus laid his gaze,” and in pity they smacked their lips and raised their hands.

Thus came brave warriors in ratting armor who did not know fear; and merry youth with songs and laughter; and anxious merchants, money jingling, ran in for a minute; and haughty servants of the temple placed their staves before Lazarus’ doors—and no one returned the same. One and the same terrible shadow descended onto their souls, giving a new appearance to the old, familiar world.

This is how those who still had the desire to speak conveyed their feelings:

All things visible to the eye and tangible to the hand have become empty, light and transparent—they have become like light shadows in the gloom of the night; for neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars, could disperse that great darkness that envelops the universe, covering the earth in a black veil, embracing it, like a mother; she would permeate everything, iron and stone, and every particle, losing connection, would become lonely; and she would permeate the depths of the particles themselves, and the particles of particles would become lonely; for neither the sun, nor the moon, nor the stars can fill that great emptiness that embraces the universe, reigning boundlessly, permeating everything, disconnecting everything: body from body, particle from particle; trees spread their roots into emptiness and were themselves empty; in emptiness, foreshadowed by their spectral fall, towered temples, palaces and houses, and were themselves empty; and in emptiness man moved carelessly, and was himself empty and light, like a shadow; for time did not exist, and the beginning of everything had approached its end: a building was only just being built, and workers were striking their hammers, but already one could see its ruins, and emptiness in place of the ruins; a man was only just born, and already funeral candles were being lit above his head, and already they were extinguished, and already there was emptiness in place of the man and the funeral candles; and, embraced by emptiness and gloom, man trembled hopelessly before the dread of the infinite.

So they said, those who still had the desire to speak. But it is likely that a great deal more could be said by those who did not want to speak and perished in silence.

IV

At this time there lived in Rome a famous sculptor. From clay, marble and bronze he created bodies of gods and men, and such was their divine beauty that people called it immortal. But he himself was not satisfied and insisted that there was something truly beautiful which he could not yet set into marble or bronze. “I still haven’t gathered moon’s luster”, he said, “I still haven’t drank my fill of sun’s light, and there is no soul in my marble, no life in my beautiful bronze.” And when he slowly walked along the road during moonlit nights, his white tunic flickering under the moon as he crossed the black shadows of cypress trees, passersby laughed amicably and said:

“Off to gather the moonlight Aurelius? Why didn’t you bring some baskets with you?”

And thus, laughing, he pointed at his eyes:

“Here are my baskets with which I gather the light of the moon and the radiance of the sun.”

And that was true: the moon shined in his eyes, and the sun gleamed in them. But he could not translate them into marble, and this was the happy struggle of his life.

He came from a long line of patricians, had a kind wife and children, and could not tolerate imperfection.

When the dark rumors of Lazarus reached him, he consulted with his wife and friends and undertook a faraway journey to Judaea in order to look upon the one miraculously resurrected. He was somewhat bored of late, and he had hoped that the road would sharpen his wearied attention. That which people told him about the resurrected did not frighten him: he had long contemplated death, he did not like it, but he also did not like those who mixed it with life. On this side—wonderful life, on that side—mysterious death, he reasoned, and man cannot conceive anything better than to rejoice in life and the beauty of the living while he is alive. And he even had a vain wish: to convince Lazarus in the truth of his view and return his soul to life, as was returned his body. Besides, it all seemed so vacuous, that the rumors about the resurrected, fearful and strange, did not give the whole truth about him but only vaguely cautioned against something terrible.

As Lazarus was getting up from a rock to go into the desert after the setting sun, the wealthy Roman approached him and cried out loudly after him:

“Lazarus!”

And Lazarus saw the noble, proud face, awash in glory, and he saw bright garments, and precious gemstones sparkling under the sun. Its reddish rays gave the head and face the appearance of dimly glimmering bronze—and this too Lazarus saw. Obediently he sat back at his place and wearily lowered his eyes.

“Yeah, you are not a pretty sight, my poor Lazarus,” calmly said the Roman as he played with his golden chain, “you are even frightening, my poor friend; and death was not lazy on the day when you so carelessly fell into its grasp. But you’re fat, like a barrel, and fat people are never evil, so said the great Caesar, and I don’t understand why people are afraid of you so much. Will you let me spend the night at your house? It’s already late, and I have nowhere to stay.”

Nobody has yet asked Lazarus to spend the night at his house.

“I don’t have a bed,” he said.

“I’m a little bit of a soldier so I can sleep sitting down,” answered the Roman. “We’ll light a fire…”

“I don’t have a fire.”

“Then in darkness, like two friends, we’ll lead a conversation. I think we might find a little wine…”

“I don’t have wine.”

The Roman laughed.

“Now I understand why you’re so gloomy and don’t like your second life. No wine! Well then, we’ll stay like this: for, after all, there are speeches that can make your head spin no worse than a Falernian.”

With a motion of his hand he let his slave go, and they were left alone. And once again the sculptor began to talk, but it was as if life had left his words with the setting sun, and they were becoming pale and empty, as if they were shaking on unsteady legs, as if they were slipping and falling, drunk with the wine of anguish and despair. And now rifts have appeared between them—like distant hints at the great emptiness and the great gloom.

“Now I am your guest, and you won’t upset me Lazarus!” he spoke. “Hospitality is a duty even for those who were dead for three days. Three days, they told me, you spent in the grave. It must be cold there… and from there you brought back this nasty habit of living without fire and wine. But I like fire, it grows dark here so quickly… Your brows and forehead have very interesting lines: as if they are covered by ash from some palace ruins after an earthquake. But why are you in such strange and ugly dress? I have seen bridegrooms in your country, and they wear this same dress—such a funny dress—such a frightening dress… But are you really a bridegroom?”

The sun had already disappeared, a giant black shadow rushed from the east—it was as if huge feet swished across the sand, and the gust from the hasty sprint sent a cold breeze over his back.

“In the darkness you appear even larger Lazarus, you’ve really grown fatter during these minutes. Are you, perhaps, feeding off the darkness?.. But I would love a fire—even a tiny flame, a tiny flame. And I am a little cold, you have such barbarously cold nights… If it wasn’t so dark I’d say that you are looking at me Lazarus. Yes, it seems you are looking… You are looking at me, aren’t you, I can feel it—and now you are smiling.”

The night came and a heavy darkness filled the air.

“How nice it will be tomorrow, when the sun rises again… You know, I am a famous sculptor—so my friends call me. I create, yes, it’s called creation… but for that you need the day. I give life to cold marble, and melt ringing bronze above a fire, above a bright, hot fire… Why did you touch me with your hand!”

“Come,” said Lazarus. “You are my guest.”

And they went into the house. And a long night fell upon the earth. By the time the sun had risen and stood high, the slave could no longer wait for his master and went after him. And this is what he saw: right under the sun’s scorching rays there sat Lazarus and his master, looking upwards in silence. The slave began to weep and loudly cried:

“Master, what’s with you? Master!”

That day he went back to Rome. Throughout the journey Aurelius remained silent and lost in thought, attentively gazing at everything—at the people, at the ship, and at the sea, as if he was trying to commit it to memory. At sea they were caught in a strong storm, and all this time Aurelius remained on deck and peered greedily at the oncoming and falling waves. At home everyone was frightened by the terrible change that has occurred in the sculptor, but he put the household at rest by declaring:

“I found it.”

And, in those same dirty clothes, which he did not change throughout his journey, he began to work, and the marble rang out submissively under the booming strikes of his hammer. He worked greedily for a long time, without letting anyone in, when finally one morning he said that the creation was complete, and he told them to fetch their friends, harsh critics and connoisseurs of art. And, awaiting them, he dressed in lavish, bright ceremonial garments, gleaming with yellow gold, reddened by crimson linen.

“Here is what I created,” he said thoughtfully.

His friends took a look, and a shadow of deep sorrow covered their faces. It was something monstrous, it did not possess a single form familiar to the eye, though it did retain a hint of some new, unknown design. On a thin, crooked twig, or on some such ugly likeness, there lay, in a strange and askew manner, a blindly formed, grotesque, mangled mass of something turned inside in, something turned inside out, some hideous scraps, helplessly trying to get away from themselves. And by chance, under one of the hideous, screaming projections, they saw a wonderfully carved butterfly, with little translucent wings, almost trembling from a helpless desire to fly.

“Why the wonderful butterfly, Aurelius?” someone asked reluctantly.

“I don’t know,” answered the sculptor.

But they had to tell him the truth, and one of his friends, the one who loved Aurelius the most, said firmly:

“This is grotesque, my poor friend. It must be destroyed. Give me the hammer.”

And with two strikes he shattered the monstrous mass, leaving only the wonderfully sculpted butterfly.

From that time onwards Aurelius created nothing more. With a deep indifference he looked upon marble and bronze and his former divine creations, embodied by immortal beauty. Wishing to inspire within him his former passion for work and to awake his lifeless soul, they took him to see the marvelous creations of other artists—but he remained just as indifferent, and there was no smile to warm his sealed lips. And only when they spoke to him about beauty at great length would he object, wearily and feebly:

“But it’s all a lie.”

And during the day, when the sun was shining, he came out into his rich, skillfully designed garden, and, after finding a place without shade, he would yield his uncovered head and dull eyes to light and heat. Red and white butterflies flittered; water flowed and splashed into a marble basin from the mouth of a blissfully-drunk satyr, but he sat motionless—like a shadow of the one who, in remote depths, before the very gates of the rocky desert, sat just as motionless under the fiery sun.

V

And now Lazarus was summoned by the great, divine Augustus himself.

They dressed Lazarus in lavish, ceremonial wedding garments—as if time has ratified them and until his very death he was to remain the groom of an unknown bride. It looked like an old, rotting coffin, already beginning to fall apart, was gilded anew and decorated with fresh, merry tassels. And they carried him in a ceremonious fashion, all dressed up and bright, as if it really was a wedding procession, and those at the head loudly sounded their pipes so that the people would clear the road for the emperor’s envoys. But the paths Lazarus took were deserted: the whole of his native country already cursed the hated name of the miraculously resurrected, and the people scattered from the first word of his dread approach. The copper pipes sounded alone, and only the desert replied with its lingering echo.

Then he was carried by sea. And this was the most decorated and the most unhappy ship that was ever reflected in the azure waves of the Mediterranean Sea. There were many people on it but it was quiet and mute, like a tomb, and it was as if the hopeless water, skirting around the beautifully curved bow, was itself crying. Lazarus sat there alone, offering the sun his uncovered head, and silently listened to the murmur of the streams, and, some distance away, the sailors and envoys feebly sat and lay like a hazy crowd of mournful shadows. If at this moment thunder struck and wind tore their sails, it is likely that the ship would perish since no one on board had either the strength or the will to fight for his life. With the last of their strength some approached the side of the ship and peered greedily into the deep, translucent abyss: would not a pink shoulder of a naiad flash in the waves, would not a merry mad centaur rush past, hooves splashing. But the sea was empty, and the marine abyss was mute and deserted.

With indifference Lazarus stepped onto the streets of the Eternal City. It was as if all its riches, all the greatness of its buildings, erected by giants, all the glitter and beauty and music of refined life were but a wind’s echo in a desert, were but a glimmer of shifting sands. Chariots raced, crowds of strong, beautiful, haughty men moved about, builders of the Eternal City and the participants of its life; songs played—fountains and women laughed with their pearly laughter—the drunks philosophized—the sober listened to them with a smile—and horseshoes pounded, horseshoes pounded the cobblestones. And, surrounded from all sides by merry noise, in a cold patch of silence moved a fat, heavy man, seeding wrath, sorrow and murky, draining melancholy in his path. “Who dares be sad in Rome?”, the citizens frowned indignantly, and already two days later the whole of the chattering Rome knew about the miraculously resurrected and fearfully avoided him.

But there were also many brave people here who wished to try their strength, and Lazarus obediently answered their thoughtless calls. Busy with the affairs of the state, the emperor delayed his reception, and for seven whole days the miraculously resurrected called on people.

Now Lazarus visited a jolly drunk, and the drunk greeted him with the laughter of his red lips.

“Drink, Lazarus, drink!” he shouted. “Oh how Augustus will laugh when he sees you drunk!”

And the naked drunk women laughed, and rose petals fell upon Lazarus’ blue hands. But the drunk looked into his eyes—and his joy was forever ended. He remained drunk for the rest of his life; he no longer drank anything, but he remained drunk—but, instead of the happy reveries furnished by wine, terrible dreams overshadowed his unfortunate head. Terrible dreams became the only nourishment for his afflicted soul. Day and night terrible dreams held him in a daze of their monstrous creations, and death itself was no more frightening than the manifestations of its harbingers.

Now Lazarus visited a young man and a girl who loved each other and were beautiful in their love. The young man, hugging his beloved proudly and firmly with his hand, spoke with a soft compassion:

“Look at us, Lazarus, and be happy with us. Is there anything more powerful than love?”

And Lazarus looked at them. And for the rest of their lives they continued to love each other, but their love became gloomy and melancholy, like those cypress trees that grow atop graves, nourishing their roots with decaying coffins and vainly seeking the sky with the points of their black peaks in the quiet evening hour. With the mysterious force of life they threw themselves into each other’s grasp, mixing kisses with tears, pleasure with pain, and twice felt themselves slaves: as obedient slaves to the necessities of life, and as compliant servants of the silent Nothingness. Forever coming together, forever drawing apart, they flashed, like sparks, and, like sparks, were extinguished in the boundless darkness.

Now Lazarus visited a proud sage, and the sage said to him:

“I already know of all the terrible things you can tell me Lazarus. What else can you frighten me with?”

Only a little time had passed, but already the sage could feel that the knowledge of what is terrible is not the terrible thing itself, and that the vision of death is not death itself. And he felt that wisdom and folly are equal before the face of the Infinite, for the Infinite knows them not. And the boundary between knowledge and ignorance, between truth and falsehood, between top and bottom, had disappeared, and his formless thought was left hanging in emptiness. He then gripped his gray head and cried deliriously:

“I cannot think! I cannot think!” Thus everything which affirms life, its meaning and its joys, died under the indifferent gaze of the miraculously resurrected. And people started saying that it would be dangerous to let him see the emperor, that it would be better to kill him, and, having buried him in secret, say that he fled no one knows where. Swords were already being sharpened and selfless young men, dedicated to the common good, were preparing themselves for the assassination, when Augustus ordered that Lazarus was to come see him next morning, thus upsetting their cruel plans.

If they could not eliminate Lazarus then they wanted to at least soften a little that heavy impression produced by his face. And with this aim they gathered skilled painters, barbers, and artists, and they spent the whole night laboring over Lazarus’ head. They trimmed his beard, curled it and gave it an attractive appearance. The deathly blue hue of his hands and face was unpleasant, and so they removed it with paint: whitened his hands and rosied his cheeks. The wrinkles of misery that plowed across his old face were repulsive, so they were covered up, painted over, completely smoothed out, and with a fine brush over the clean background they traced out the wrinkles of good-natured laughter and pleasant, amicable mirth.

Indifferently Lazarus submitted to all that they did to him and soon he turned into a naturally fat, handsome old man, a calm and good-natured grandfather of numerous grandchildren. The smile, with which he told funny tales, had not yet left his lips, the quiet softness of an old man still lingered in the corner of his eyes—thus he appeared. But they did not dare remove his wedding garments, and they could not change his eyes—dark and terrible panes of glass through which the ungraspable Beyond gazed upon men.

VI

Lazarus was not touched by the grandeur of the imperial palace. It was as if he did not see the difference between his dilapidated house, to which the desert has made her approach, and the strong, beautiful palace built of stone—with such an indifference did he look, and did not look, as he walked past. And under his gaze the hard marble under his feet became like the desert’s quicksand, and the multitude of well dressed haughty men became like the emptiness of air. They did not look at his face when he walked past, wary of being subjected to the terrible influence of his eyes; but when, from the sounds of heavy steps, they concluded that he had passed—they lifted their heads and with an apprehensive curiosity inspected the figure of the fat, tall, slightly stooping old man, slowly making his way into the very heart of the imperial palace. The people could not become any more frightened if death itself went passing by, for until this time only the dead knew death, and the living knew only life—and there was no bridge between them. But this abnormal man knew death, and this cursed knowledge was mysterious and frightening. “He will kill our great, divine Augustus,” thought the people with fear and sent powerless curses after Lazarus, who was walking slowly and indifferently further and further, deeper and deeper.

By now Caesar himself knew about who Lazarus was, and he prepared himself for the meeting. But he was a brave man, he felt his great, invincible power, and he chose not to lean on the weak help of others in his mortal duel with the miraculously resurrected. One on one, face to face he confronted Lazarus.

“Don’t lift your gaze at me, Lazarus,” he ordered the new arrival. “I have heard that your head is like the head of Medusa, turning to stone everyone upon whom falls your gaze. And I wish to inspect you and speak with you before I turn to stone,” he added with a royal humor, not devoid of fear.

Having come close, he carefully inspected Lazarus’ face and his strange ceremonial dress. And he was deceived by the skillful forgery, even though his sight was keen and sharp.

“Well. Your appearance is not frightening, respectable old man. But so much the worse for the people when the terrible assumes such a respectable and pleasant appearance. Now we will speak.”

Augustus sat down, and, interrogating with his gaze as well as words, began the conversation:

“Why did you not greet me when you entered?”

Lazarus answered indifferently:

“I did not know that it was necessary.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“No.”

Augustus nodded his head in approval.

“That’s good. I do not like Christians. They shake the tree of life without first letting the fruits fill it, scattering its fragrant petals into the wind. But who are you?”

With some effort, Lazarus answered:

“I was dead.”

“I have heard about that. But who are you now?”

Lazarus hesitated giving his answer when finally he repeated, dimly and indifferently:

“I was dead.”

“Listen to me, unknown one,” said the emperor, clearly and sternly speaking about the things on which he had previously meditated. “My kingdom: the kingdom of the living, my people: the living, not the dead. And you are not wanted here. I don’t know who you are, I don’t know what you’ve seen there—but if you are lying, I hate your lies, and if you are telling the truth—I hate your truth. I feel the trembling of life within my chest; I feel my might within my hands—and my proud thoughts, like eagles, soar across space. And there, behind my back, under the protection of my authority, under the shadow of the laws which I created, there live, and labor, and rejoice men. Do you hear that wondrous harmony of life? Do you hear that war cry that men throw into the face of what’s to come, calling it to battle?

Augustus stretched out his hands as if in prayer and triumphantly exclaimed:

“Great, divine life, be blessed!”

But Lazarus remained silent, and the emperor continued more sternly:

“You are not wanted here. You are a pitiful remnant of that which death had failed to consume, you instill anguish and denial of life into men; like a caterpillar, you devour the fat kernel of joy and excrete the slime of sorrow and despair. Your truth is like a rusty sword in the hands of a murderer in the night—and, like a murderer, I will put you to death. But before I do this I wish to look into your eyes. Maybe only cowards are afraid of them, and in the brave they will awake a thirst for battle and victory: in which case you deserve a reward and not an execution… Take a look at me, Lazarus.”

And at first it seemed to divine Augustus that a friend was looking at him—so soft, so gentle was Lazarus’ gaze. It had the promise not of dread but of quiet peace, and the Infinite seemed like a tender lover, like a compassionate sister, like a mother. But the gentle embrace was growing ever tighter, and already the mouth, eager to kiss, was cutting off his breath, and already through the soft tissue of his body he could feel the iron of bones, bound by an iron coil—and someone’s cold bones touched his heart and slowly sank into it.

“I’m hurt,” said divine Augustus, growing pale. “But look, Lazarus, look!”

It was as if some heavy gates, locked for eternity, were slowly parting, and into the growing gap, slowly and coldly, flowed in the terrible horror of the Infinite. Now the boundless emptiness and the boundless gloom entered as two shadows and extinguished the sun, took away the earth from under one’s feet, and took away the roof over one’s head. And the icy heart ceased to hurt.

“Look, look, Lazarus!” ordered Augustus, shaking.

Time stopped, and the beginning of everything made a frightening approach towards its end. Augustus’ throne, just now erected, had already fallen apart, and already emptiness took the place of the throne and Augustus. Rome fell apart silently, and a new city arose in its place and was itself absorbed by emptiness. Like spectral giants, cities, governments and states fell and disappeared into emptiness, and indifferently, without ever satiating, the black maw of the Infinite swallowed them all up.

“Stop,” ordered the emperor. Already there was indifference in his voice, and his arms drooped down feebly, and his eagle eyes lit up and faded in his vain battle with the oncoming gloom.

“You have killed me, Lazarus,” he said dimly and feebly.

And these words of hopelessness saved him. He remembered his people, to be whose shield he was chosen, and a sharp pain of salvation pierced his deadened heart. “Destined to perish”, he thought with anguish. “Bright shadows in the gloom of the Infinite,”—he thought with dread. “Fragile vessels with living, animated blood, with a heart that knows sorrow and great joy,”—he thought with tenderness.

And thus, contemplating and feeling, shifting the scales now to the side of life, now to the side of death, he slowly returned to life so that in its suffering and joy he could find protection against the gloom, the emptiness, and the dread of the infinite.

“No, you did not kill me, Lazarus,” he said sternly. “But I will kill you. Go!”

That evening divine Augustus tasted his food and his drink with unusual joy. But there were moments when his raised arm froze in the air and a dim sheen took the place of the bright radiance of his eyes—and at times a feeling of dread ran past his feet like an icy wave. Defeated, but not killed, coldly awaiting his hour, he became like a black shadow at his bedside, possessing the nights and obediently yielding the bright days to the sorrows and joys of life.

The next day, on the orders of the emperor, they burned out Lazarus’ eyes with hot iron and sent him back to his native land. The divine Augustus did not dare put him to death.


Lazarus returned to the desert, and the desert greeted him with the whistling breath of the wind and the heat of the burning sun. Again he sat on a rock, raising upwards his disheveled, wild beard, and, in place of his eyes, two black holes peered horribly and blankly at the sun. In the distance, the holy city stirred and bustled, but nearby it was deserted and mute: nobody came near the place where the miraculously resurrected lived out his days, and by this time the neighbors have long abandoned their houses. His cursed knowledge, pushed back into the depths of his skull by the hot iron, lurked there as if in ambush; and just like an ambush it burrowed into man with a thousand invisible eyes—and by now nobody dared to even take a peek at Lazarus.

And in the evening, when the sun, reddening and growing, descended towards the horizon, the blind Lazarus slowly moved after it. He bumped into rocks and fell, fat and weak, then slowly rose and kept going; and before the sunset’s red canopy his black torso and outstretched hands bore a terrible resemblance to a cross.

It happened that one day he went out and never returned. Thus, it seems, ended the second life of Lazarus, who for three days remained under the mysterious dominion of death and was miraculously resurrected.

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“For even falsehood, uttered by the tongue of man, seemed like truth and light before this hopelessly-deaf and unresponsive silence.”

My new book: a translation of selected short stories by Leonid Andreyev, the father of Russian Expressionism from the Silver Age of Russian literature. A piercing, pitiless glance into the heart of the human condition.

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