Old Izergil (Gorky)

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Starukha Izergil
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Summary of the Short Story
Microsummary: An old Romanian woman recalled her turbulent youth and told two legends: about the son of an eagle doomed to eternal loneliness for his pride, and about a young man who sacrificed himself to save his native tribe.

The chapter titles are tentative.

Chapter 1: The Legend of Larra

The narrator met old woman Isergil while he was gathering grapes in Bessarabia. One evening, resting on the seashore, he was talking to her. Suddenly the old woman pointed to the shadow of a low-swimming cloud, called it Larra, and told him "one of the glorious tales folded in the steppes."

Many thousands of years ago a tribe of hunters and farmers lived in the "land of the great river. One day one of the girls of this tribe was carried away by a huge eagle. The girl was sought for a long time, was not found and forgotten about her, and twenty years later she returned with a grown-up son, whom she bore from the eagle. The eagle himself, sensing the approach of old age, took his own life - he fell from a great height onto sharp rocks.

The eagle's son was a handsome fellow with cold, proud eyes. He had no respect for anyone, and he treated the elders as his equals. The elders did not want to accept the lad into their tribe, but that only made him laugh.

He went up to the beautiful girl and embraced her, but she pushed him away because she was the daughter of one of the elders and was afraid of her father's wrath. Then the son of the eagle killed the girl. They tied him up and began to devise "an execution worthy of the crime."

A wise man asked why he killed the girl, and the son of the eagle replied that he wanted her and she pushed him away. After a long conversation, the elders realized that the boy "thought he was first on earth and saw nothing but himself. He did not want to love anyone and was willing to take what he wanted.

For everything a man takes, he pays with himself: with his mind and strength, sometimes with his life.

The elders realized that the son of the eagle was condemning himself to terrible loneliness, decided that this would be the harshest punishment for him, and let him go.

The eagle's son was called Larra, the outcast. From then on he lived "free as a bird," coming into the tribe and stealing cattle and women. They shot at him, but they could not kill him because Larrah's body was covered by "an invisible veil of supreme punishment."

So Larrah lived for many decades. One day he approached the people and did not defend himself. The people realized that Larrah wanted to die and retreated, not wanting to ease his fate. He stabbed himself in the chest with a knife, but the knife broke, he tried to smash his head into the ground, but the ground pulled away from him, and the people realized that Larra could not die. Since then he has wandered the steppe as a disembodied shadow, punished for his great pride.

Chapter 2: Recollections of Old Woman Yzergil

Old Isergil dozed off, and the narrator sat on the shore, listening to the noise of the waves and the distant songs of the grape pickers.

Suddenly waking up, Old Woman IZergil began to remember those she had loved in her long life.

She lived with her mother in Romania by the river, weaving carpets. At fifteen, she fell in love with a young fisherman. He persuaded Isergil to go away with him, but by then she had had enough of the fisherman - "just singing and kissing, nothing more."

Leaving the fisherman, Izergil fell in love with a Hutsul - a cheerful, red-haired Carpathian young man from the gang of robbers. The fisherman could not forget Izyergyl and also stuck to the Hutsul. Thus they were hanged together - the fisherman and the Hutsul, and Izergil went to watch the execution.

Then Izergil met an important and rich Turk, lived for a week in his harem, and then got bored and ran away with his son, a dark-haired, flexible boy much younger than she, to Bulgaria. There she was stabbed in the chest by a Bulgarian woman, either for her fiancé or for her husband - Izergil does not remember.

Izergil was released in a nun's convent. A Polish nun, who took care of her, had a brother in a neighboring monastery. IZergil escaped to Poland with him, and the young Turk died of an excess of carnal love and homesickness.

The Pole was "ridiculous and mean" and could hit with words like a whip. One day he greatly offended Isergil. She took him in her arms, threw him into the river and left.

Never afterwards to meet those whom she once loved. It's not a good meeting, it's like meeting dead people anyway.

The people in Poland turned out to be "cold and deceitful," and it was difficult for Isergil to live among them. In the town of Bochnia she was bought by a Jew, "not for himself, but to trade." Isergil agreed, wanting to earn money and return home. The "rich gentlemen" came to have a feast with her and showered her with gold.

Izeergil loved many people, but most of all the handsome nobleman Arcadec. He was young, and Isergil had already lived four decades. Then Izeergil broke up with the kike and lived in Cracow, she was rich - a large house, servants. Arkadek sought her for a long time, and when he reached her, he left her. Then he went to fight the Russians and was taken prisoner.

Yzergil, pretending to be a beggar, kills the sentry and manages to free his beloved Arkadek from Russian captivity. He promised to love her, but Izergil did not stay with him - she did not want to be loved out of gratitude.

After that, Isergil went to Bessarabia and stayed there. Her Moldavian husband died, and now the old woman lives among young grape pickers, telling them her tales.

A storm cloud was coming in from the sea, and blue sparks began to appear in the steppe. Seeing them, Isergil told the narrator the legend of Danko.

Chapter 3 The Legend of Danko

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In the olden days, between the steppe and the impenetrable forest lived a tribe of strong and brave men. One day, stronger tribes came from the steppe and drove these people deep into the forest, where the air was poisoned by the poisonous fumes of the swamps.

The people began to get sick and die. It was necessary to leave the forest, but there were strong enemies behind, and the road ahead was blocked by swamps and giant trees that created a "ring of strong darkness" around the people.

The people could not return to the steppe and fight to the death because they had covenants that were not to disappear.

Nothing-not work or women-wear out the bodies and souls of men so much as they wear out the dreary thoughts.

The dreary thoughts created fear in the hearts of the people. The cowardly words about returning to the steppe and becoming slaves of the strongest were heard louder and louder.

And then young handsome Danko volunteered to lead the tribe out of the forest. The people believed and followed him. Their way was difficult, people were dying in the swamps, and every step was given to them with difficulty. Soon the exhausted tribesmen began to grumble against Danko.

One day a storm began, an impenetrable darkness fell over the forest, and the tribe fell in spirit. The people were ashamed to admit their powerlessness, and they began to reproach Danko for his inability to rule them.

Tired and angry people began to judge Danko, he replied that his tribesmen themselves failed to save their strength for the long journey and just walked like a flock of sheep. Then the people wanted to kill Danko, and there was no longer any kindness or nobility in their faces. Out of pity for his fellow tribesmen, Danko's heart burst into flames of desire to help them, and the rays of that mighty fire shone in his eyes.

Seeing Danko's eyes burning, the people decided he was angry, became alert, and began to surround him in order to capture and kill him. Danko understood their intent, and he became bitter and his heart flared even brighter. He "ripped open his chest with his hands," tore out his flaming heart, lifted it high above his head, and led the enchanted men onward, lighting their way.

Finally, the forest parted and the tribe saw the wide steppe, and Danko laughed joyously and died. His heart was still blazing beside his body. Some cautious man saw this and, frightened by something, "stepped on the proud heart with his foot". It scattered into sparks and died out.

Sometimes blue sparks appear in the steppe before the thunderstorm. These are the remains of Danko's burning heart.

Having finished her story, old woman Yzergil dozed off, and the narrator looked at her dried up body and wondered how many more "beautiful and strong legends" she knew. Having covered the old woman with her rags, the narrator lay down beside her and gazed for a long time at the cloud-covered sky, while the sea was "deaf and sorrowful" nearby.