Friday, May 09, 2008

Lake Segden

Here's another of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "prose poems" which he sometimes called, "tiny stories." It is called "Lake Segden" and like others I've posted (and will post), it comes from from Solzhenitsyn's Short Stories and Prose Poems published by Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1971. The Bantam paperback came out in 1972.

No one writes about this lake and it is spoken of only in whispers. As though to an enchanted castle, all roads to it are barred and over each one hangs a forbidding sign—a plain, blunt straight line.

Man or beast, faced by that sign, must turn back. Some earthly power has put that sign there; past it none may ride, none may walk, crawl, or even fly.

Guards with swords and pistols lurk beside the path in the nearby pine grove.

You may circle and circle the silent wood searching for a way through to the lake, but you will find none and there will be no one to ask, for no one goes into this wood. They have all been frightened away. Your only chance to venture through will be one afternoon in the rain along a cattle track, in the wake of the dull clink of a cowbell. And from your first glimpse of it, vast and shimmering between the tree trunks, you know before you reach its banks that you will be in thrall to this place for the rest of your life.

Segden Lake is as round as though traced out with a pair of compasses. If you were to shout from one side (but you must not shout, or you will be heard), only a fading echo would reach the other bank. It is a long way across. Woods immure the lakeside entirely, a dense forest of row upon unbroken row of trees. As you come out of the wood to the water's edge, you can see the whole of the forbidden shore: here a strip of yellow sand, there a grey stubble of reeds, there a lush swathe of grass. The water is smooth, calm, and unruffled, apart from some patches of weed by the shore, the white lake bed gleams through the translucent water.

A secret lake in a secret forest. The water looks up and the sky gazes down upon it. If there is a world beyond the forest, it is unknown, invisible; if it exists, it has no place here.

Here is somewhere to settle forever, a place where a man could live in harmony with the elements and be inspired.

But it cannot be. An evil prince, a squint-eyed villain, has claimed the lake for his own: there is his house, there is his bathing place. His evil brood goes fishing here, shoots duck from his boat. First a wisp of blue smoke above the lake, then a moment later the shot.

Away beyond the woods, the people sweat and heave, whilst all the roads leading here are closed lest they intrude. Fish and game are bred for the villain's pleasure. Here there are traces where someone lit a fire but it was put out and he was driven away.

Beloved, deserted lake.

My native land …