Grist to the Mill

11 March, 2004


My recent(ish) 30th birthday triggered a mild panic about the passing of time. So when I read the following, at the close of Turgenev's 'First Love', it struck a chord. It’s great writing but a little turgid. I’ve read this passage time and again but I’m still not completely satisfied I’ve understood it to its fullest extent, and I wonder whether the translator did a bad job.

"O youth! youth! you go your way heedless, uncaring - as if you owned all the treasures of the world; even grief elates you, even sorrow sits well upon your brow. You are self-confident and insolent and you say, "I alone am alive - behold!" even while your own days fly past and vanish without trace and without number, and everything within you melts away like wax in the sun... like snow... and perhaps the whole secret of your enchantment lies not, indeed, in your power to do whatever you may will, but in your power to think that there is nothing you will not do: it is this that you scatter to the winds - gifts which you could never have used to any other purpose. Each of us feels most deeply convinced that he has been too prodigal of his gifts - that he has a right to cry "Oh, what could I not have done, if only I had not wasted my time ...."
..."What has come of it all - of all that I hoped for? And now when the shades of evening are beginning to close in upon my life, what have I left that is fresher, dearer to me, than the memories of that brief storm that came and went so swiftly one morning in the spring?"

It's not that I too think 'the shades of evening are closing in', but he describes youthful insolence and lack of care so well, and the rueful hindsight that comes later. “Even sorrow sits well upon your brow” brings teenage goths to mind - most of whom seem to enjoy cultivating an aura of misery. Teenage goths seem happy enough, in the main, though they'd all have you believe otherwise. It's also reminiscent of Dylan, too: “Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriousleee, he brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerousleeeeee”
But returning to Turgenev, what, *exactly*, is scattered to the winds? There are too many negative constructions in the first paragraph.

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