Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/The Sphinx

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Yellowish-grey sand, soft at the top, hard, grating below . . . sand without end, where ever one looks.

And above this sandy desert, above this sea of dead dust, rises the immense head of the Egyptian sphinx.

What would they say, those thick, projecting lips, those immutable, distended, upturned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-drowsy, half-watchful eyes under the double arch of the high brows?

Something they would say. They are speaking, truly, but only Œdipus can solve the riddle and comprehend their mute speech.

Stay, but I know those features ... in them there is nothing Egyptian. White, low brow, prominent cheek-bones, nose short and straight, handsome mouth and white teeth, soft moustache and curly beard, and those wide-set, not large eyes . . . and on the head the cap of hair parted down the middle. . . . But it is thou, Karp, Sidor, Semyon, peasant of Yaroslav, of Ryazan, my countryman, flesh and blood, Russian! Art thou, too, among the sphinxes?

Wouldst thou, too, say somewhat? Yes, and thou, too, art a sphinx.

And thy eyes, those colourless, deep eyes, are speaking too . . . and as mute and enigmatic is their speech.

But where is thy Œdipus?

Alas! it's not enough to don the peasant smock to become thy Œdipus, oh Sphinx of all the Russias!

Dec. 1878.