Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Duckling: Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The Duckling

A little yellow duckling, flopping comically on its white belly in the wet grass and scarcely able to stand on its thin, feeble legs, runs in front of me and quacks: "Where's my mommy? Where's my family?"

He has no mommy, because he has been fostered by a hen: duck eggs were put in her nest, she sat on then and hatched them with her own. To shelter them from the bad weather, their home—an upturned basket with- out a bottom—has been moved into a shed and covered with sacking. They are all in there, but this one is lost Come on then, little thing, let me take you in my hand.

What keeps it alive? It weighs nothing; its little black eyes are like beads, its feet are like sparrows' feet, the slightest squeeze and it would be no more. Yet it is warm with life. Its little beak is pale pink and slightly splayed, like a manicured fingernail. Its feet are already webbed, there is yellow among its feathers, and its downy wings are starting to protrude. Its personality already sets it apart from its foster brothers.

And we men will soon be flying to Venus; if we a pooled our efforts, we could plough up the whole world in twenty minutes.

Yet, with all our atomic might, we shall never-never! — be able to make this feeble speck of a yellow duckling in a test tube; even if we were given the feathers and bones, we could never put such a creature together.

(From Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Short Stories and Prose Poems. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1971. Bantam 1972)