The Marseillaise (Andreyev/Wolfe)

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For other English-language translations of this work, see The Marseillaise.

He was a nonentity: the spirit of a rabbit and the shameless patience of a beast of burden. When fate, with malicious mockery, had cast him into our somber ranks, we laughed with insane merriment. What ridiculous, absurd mistakes will happen! But he—he, of course, wept. Never in my life have I seen a man who could shed so many tears, and these tears seemed to flow so readily—from the eyes, from the nose, from the mouth, every bit like a water-soaked sponge compressed by a fist. And even in our ranks have I seen weeping men, but their tears were like a consuming flame from which savage beasts flee in terror. These manly tears aged the countenance and rejuvenated the eyes: like lava disgorged from the inflamed bowels of the earth they burned ineradicable traces and buried beneath their flow world upon world of trivial cravings and of petty cares. But he, when he wept, showed only a flushed nose, and a damp handkerchief. He doubtless later dried this handkerchief on a line, for otherwise where could he have procured so many?

And all through the days of his exile he made pilgrimages to the officials, to all the officials that counted, and even to such as he endowed with fancied authority. He bowed, he wept, he swore that he was innocent, he implored them to pity his youth, he promised on his oath never to open his mouth again excepting in prayer and praise. And they laughed at him even as we, and they called him "poor luckless little piggy" and yelled at him:

"Hey there, piggy!"

And he obediently responded to their call; he thought every time that he would hear a summons to return to his home, but they were only mocking him. They knew, even as we that he was innocent, but with his sufferings they meant to intimidate other "piggies," as though they were not sufficiently cowardly.

He used to come among us impelled by the animal terror of solitude, but stern and shut were our lips and in vain he sought the key. In confusion he called us dear comrades and friends, but we shook our heads and said:

"Look out! Someone might hear you!"

And he would permit himself to throw a glance at the door—the little pig that he was. Was it possible to remain serious? And we laughed, with voices that had long been strangers to laughter, while he, encouraged and comforted, sat down near us and spoke, weeping about his dear little books that were left on his table, about his mamma and his brothers, of whom he could not tell whether they were still living or had died with terror and anguish.

In the end we would drive him away.

When the hunger strike had started he was seized with terror, an inexpressibly comical terror. He was very fond of food, poor little piggy, and he was very much afraid of his dear comrades, and he was very much afraid of the authorities. Distractedly he wandered in our midst, and frequently wiped his brow with his handkerchief, and it was hard to tell whether the moisture was perspiration or tears.

And irresolutely he asked me:

"Will you starve a long time?"

"Yes, a long time," I answered sternly.

"And on the sly, will you not eat something?"

"Our mammas will send us cookies," I assented seriously. He looked at me suspiciously, shook his head and departed with a sigh.

The next day he declared, green with fear like a parrot:

"Dear comrades, I, too, will starve with you."

And we replied in unison:

"Starve alone."

And he starved. We did not believe it, even as you would not; we all thought that he was eating something on the sly, and even so thought the jailers. And when towards the end of the hunger strike he fell ill with starvation typhus, we only shrugged our shoulders: "Poor little piggy!" But one of us, he who never laughed, sullenly said:

"He is our comrade! Let us go to him."

He was delirious. And pitiful even as all of his life was this disconnected delirium. He spoke of his beloved books, of his mamma and of his brothers; he asked for cookies, icy cold, tasty cookies, and he swore that he was innocent and pleaded for pardon. And he called for his country, he called for dear France. Cursed be the weak heart of man, he tore our hearts into shreds by this call: dear France.

We were all in the ward as he was breathing his last. Consciousness returned to him before the moment of death. He was lying still, frail and feeble as he was; and still were we too, his comrades, standing by his side. And we, every one of us, heard him say:

"When I die, sing over me the Marseillaise!"

"What are you saying?" we exclaimed shuddering with joy and with gathering frenzy.

"When I die, sing over me the Marseillaise!"

And for the first time it happened that his eyes were dry and we wept; we wept, every one of us, and our tears glowed like the consuming fire before which savage beasts flee in terror.

He died, and we sang over him the Marseillaise. With voices young and mighty we sang the great hymn of freedom, and the ocean chanted a stern accompaniment, upon the crest of his mighty waves bearing back to dear France the pallor of dread and the bloody crimson of hope. And forever he became our guerdon—that nonentity with the body of a rabbit and of a beast of burden and with the great spirit of Man. On your knees before a hero, comrades and friends!

We were singing. Down upon us gazed the barrels of rifles; ominously clicked their triggers; menacingly stretched the points of bayonets towards our hearts—and ever more loudly, ever more joyously rang out the stern hymn, while in the tender hands of fighters gently rocked the black coffin.

We were singing the Marseillaise.