Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869
Translated by Constance Garnett
Part Twelve – Chapter 15
Death of Prince Andrey:
"Could it be, or could it not be?" he was wondering
now as he watched her and listened to the slight click of the
needles. "Can fate have brought us together so strangely only for me
to die? ... Can the truth of life have been revealed to me only for
me to have spent my life in falsity? I love her more than anything
in the world! But what am I to do if I love her?" he said, and
suddenly he unconsciously moaned from the habit he had fallen into
in the course of his sufferings.
Hearing the sound, Natasha laid down her stocking,
and bent down closer to him, and suddenly noticing his shining eyes,
went up to him with a light step and stooped down.
"You are not asleep?"
"No; I have been looking at you for a long while, I
felt when you came in. No one but you gives me the same soft peace …
the same light. I want to weep with gladness!"
Natasha moved closer to him. He face beamed with
"Natasha, I love you too much! More than everything
in the world!"
"And I?" She turned away for a second. "Why too
much?" she said.
"Why too much? . . . Well, what do you think, what
do you feel in your heart, your whole heart, am I going to live?
What do you think?"
"I am sure of it; sure of it!" Natasha almost cried
out, taking both his hands with a passionate gesture.
He was silent for a while.
"How good it would be!" And taking her hand, he
Natasha was happy and deeply stirred; and she
recollected at once that this must not be, and that he must have
"But you are not asleep," she said, subduing her
joy. "Try and sleep . . . please do."
He pressed her hand and let it go, and she moved
back to the candle and sat down in the same position as before.
Twice she glanced round at him; his eyes were bright as she met
them. She set herself a task on her stocking, and told herself she
would not look round till she had finished it.
He did, in fact, soon after shut his eyes and fell
asleep. He did not sleep long, and woke up suddenly in a cold sweat
As he fell asleep, he was still thinking of what he
had been thinking about all the time —of life and of death. And
most of death. He felt he was closer to it.
"Love? What is love?" he thought.
"Love hinders death. Love is life. All, all that I
understand, I understand only because I love. All is, all exists
only because I love. All is bound up in love alone. Love is God, and
dying means for me a particle of love, to go back to the universal
and eternal source of love." These thoughts seemed to him
comforting. But they were only thoughts. Something was wanting in
them; there was something one-sided and personal, something
intellectual; they were not self-evident. And there was uneasiness
too and obscurity. He fell asleep.
He dreamed he was lying in the very room in which he
was lying in reality, but that he was not ill, but quite well. Many
people of various sorts, indifferent people of no importance, were
present. He was talking and disputing with them about some trivial
matter. They seemed to be preparing to set off somewhere. Prince
Andrey had a dim feeling that all this was of no consequence, and
that he had other matters of graver moment to think of, but he still
went on uttering empty witticisms of some sort that surprised them.
By degrees, all these people began to disappear, and the one thing
left was the question of closing the door. He got up and went
towards the door to close it and bolt it.
depended on whether he were in time to shut it or not. He was
going, he was hurrying, but his legs would not move, and he knew
that he would not have time to shut the door, but still he was
painfully straining every effort to do so. And an agonizing terror
came upon him. And that terror was the fear of death; behind the
while he is helplessly and clumsily struggling towards the door,
that something awful is already pressing against the other side of
it, and forcing the door open. Something not human —death—is
forcing the door open, and he must hold to it. He clutches at the
door with a last straining effort —to shut it is impossible, at
least to hold it — but his efforts are feeble and awkward; and,
under the pressure of that awful thing, the door opens and shuts
pressing on the door from without. His last, supernatural efforts
are vain, and both leaves of the door are noiselessly opened.
comes in, and it is
And Prince Andrey died.
But at the instant when in his dream he died, Prince
Andrey recollected that he was asleep; and at the instant when he
was dying, he made an effort and waked up.
"Yes, that was death. I died and I waked up. Yes,
death is an awakening," flashed with sudden light into his soul, and
the veil that had till then hidden the unknown was lifted before his
spiritual vision. He felt, as it were, set free from some force that
held him in bondage, and was aware of that strange lightness of
being that had not left him since.
When he waked up in a cold sweat and moved on the
couch, Natasha went up and asked him what was the matter. He did not
answer, and looked at her with strange eyes, not understanding her.
That was the change that had come over him two days
before Princess Marya’s arrival. The doctor said that from that day
the wasting fever had assumed a more serious aspect, but Natasha
paid little heed to what the doctor said; she saw the terrible moral
symptoms, that for her were far more convincing.
With his awakening from sleep that day began for
Prince Andrey an awakening from life. And in relation to the
duration of life it seemed to him not more prolonged than the
awakening from sleep in relation to the duration of a dream. There
was nothing violent or terrible in this relatively slow awakening.
His last days and hours passed in a simple and
commonplace way. Princess Marya and Natasha, who never left his
side, both felt that. They did not weep nor shudder, and toward the
last they both felt they were waiting not on him (he was no more; he
had gone far away from them), but on the nearest memory of him
—his body. The feeling of both of them were so strong that the
external, horrible side of death did not affect them, and they did
not find it needful to work up their grief. They did not weep either
in his presence nor away from him, and they never even talked of him
together. They felt that they could not express in words what they
They both saw that he was slowly and quietly
slipping further and further away from them, and both knew that this
must be so, and that it was well. He received absolution and extreme
unction; everyone came to bid him good-bye. When his son was
brought in to him, he pressed his lips to him and turned away, not
because it was painful or sad to him (Princess Marya and Natasha saw
that), but simply because he supposed he had done all that was
required of him. But he was told to give him his blessing, he did
what was required, and looked round as though to ask whether there
was anything else he must do. When the body, deserted by the spirit,
passed through its last struggles, Princess Marya and Natasha were
"It is over!" said Princess Marya, after the body
had lain for some moments motionless, and growing cold before them.
Natasha went close, glanced at the dead eyes, and made haste to shut
them. She closed them, and did not kiss them, but hung over what was
the nearest memory of him. "Where has he gone? Where is he now? . .
When the body lay, dressed and washed, in the coffin
on the table every one come to take leave of him, and every one
cried. Nikolushka cried from the agonizing bewilderment that was
rendering in his heart. The countless and Sonya cried from pity for
Natasha, and from grief that he was gone. The old count cried
because he felt that he too must soon take the same terrible step.
Natasha and Princess Marya wept now too. But they
did not weep for their personal sorrow; they wept from the emotion
and awe that filled their souls before the simple and solemn mystery
of death that had been accomplished before their eyes.
Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
Death of Anna Karenina
Just as she was talking to the porter, the coachman
Mikhail, red and cheerful in his smart blue coat and chain,
evidently proud of having so successfully performed his commission,
came up to her and gave her a letter. She broke it open, and her
heart ached before she had read it.
‘I am very sorry that your note did not reach me. I
will be home at ten,’ Vronsky had written carelessly.
‘Yes, that’s what I expected!’ she said to herself
with an evil smile.
‘Very good, you can go home now,’ she said softly,
addressing Miklhail. She spoke softly because the rapidity of her
heart’s beating hindered her breathing, ‘No, I won’t let Thee make
me miserable,’ she thought menacingly, addressing not him, not
herself, the power that made her suffer, and she walked along the
Two maidservants walking along the platform turned
their heads, staring at her and making some remarks about her dress.
‘Real’ they said of the lace she was wearing. The young men would
not leave her in peace. Again they passed by, peering into her face,
and with a laugh shouting something in an unnatural voice. The
stationmaster coming up asked her whether she was going by train. A
boy selling kvass never took his eyes off her. ‘My God! Where am I
to go?’ she thought, going further along the platform. At the end
she stopped. Some ladies and children, who had come to meet a
gentleman in spectacles, paused in their loud laughter and talking,
and stared at her as she reached them. She quickened her pace and
walked away from them to the edge of the platform. A goods train was
coming in. The platform began to sway, and she fancied she was in
the train again.
And all at once she thought of the man crushed by
the train the day she had first met Vronsky, and she knew what she
had to do. With a rapid, light step she went down the steps that led
from the platform to the rails and stopped quite near the
approaching train. She looked at the lower part of the carriages, at
the screws and chains, and the tall cast-iron wheels of the first
carriage slowly moving up, and tried to measure between the front
and back wheels, and the very minute when that middle point would be
‘There’ she said to herself, looking into the shadow
of the carriage, at the sand and coal dust which covered the
sleepers — ‘there, in the very middle, and I will punish him and
escape from everyone and from myself.’
She tried to fling herself below the wheels of the
first car as it reached her; but the red bag, which she tried to
drop out of her hand delayed her, and she was too late; she missed
the middle of the car. She had to wait for the next one. A feeling
such as she had known when about to take the first plunge in bathing
came to her, and she crossed herself. That familiar gesture of
crossing brought back into her soul a whole series of girlish and
childish memories, and suddenly the darkness that had covered
everything for her was torn apart, and life rose up before her for
an instant with all its bright past joys. But she did not take her
eyes from the wheels of the second car. And exactly at the moment
when the space between the wheels came opposite her, she dropped the
red bag, and drawing her head back into her shoulders, fell on her
hands under the car, and lightly, as though she would rise again at
once, dropped onto her knees. And at the same instant she was
terror-stricken at what she was doing. ‘Where am I" What am I doing?
What for?’ She tried to get up, dropped backward; but something huge
and merciless struck her on the head and drew along on her back.
‘Lord, forgive me all!’ she said, feeling it impossible to struggle.
A peasant, muttering something, was working at the iron. And the
candle by which she had been reading the book filled with troubles,
falsehoods, sorrow, and evil, flared up more brightly than
ever before, was quenched forever, lit up for her all that had
been in darkness, sputtered, began to grow dim, and went out
Translated by Lynn Solotaroff
Death of Ivan Ilych:
He had merely to recall what he had been like three
months earlier and what he was now, to remember how steadily he had
gone downhill, for all possibility of hope to be shattered.
During the last days of the isolation in which he
lived, lying on the sofa with his face to the wall, isolation in the
midst of a populous city among friends and relatives, an isolation
that could not have been greater anywhere, either in the depths of
the sea or the bowels of the earth — during the last days of that
terrible isolation, Ivan Ilyich lived only with memories of the
past. One after another images of his past came to mind. His
recollections always began with what was closest in time and shifted
back to what was most remote, to his childhood, and lingered there.
If he thought of the stewed prunes he had been served that day, he
remembered the raw, shriveled French prunes he had eaten as a child,
the special taste they had, the way his mouth watered when he got
down to the pit; and along with the memory of that taste came a
whole series of memories of those days: of his nurse, his brother,
his toys. "I mustn’t think about them — it’s too painful," he would
tell himself and shift back to the present. He would look at the
button on the back of the sofa and the crease in the morocco.
"Morocco is expensive, doesn’t wear well; we had a quarrel over it,
But there had been another morocco and another quarrel — the time he
tore papa’s briefcase and got punished, but mama brought us some
tarts." And again his memories centered on his childhood, and again
he found them painful and tried to drive them away by thinking about
And together with this train of recollections,
another flashed through his mind — recollections of how his illness
had progressed and become more acute. Here, too, the farther back in
time he went, the more life he found. There had been more goodness
in his life earlier and more of life itself. And the one fused with
the other. "Just as my torments are getting worse and worse, so my
whole life got worse and worse," he thought. There was only one
bright spot back in the beginning of life; after that things got
blacker and blacker, moved faster and faster. "In inverse ratio to
the square of the distance from death," thought Ivan Ilyich. And the
image of a stone hurtling downward with increase velocity became
fixed in his mind. Life, a series of increasing sufferings, falls
faster and faster toward its end — the most frightful suffering. "I
am falling …" He shuddered, shifted back and forth, wanted to
resist, but by then knew there was no resisting. And again, weary of
contemplating but unable to tear his eyes away from what was right
there before him, he stared at the back of the sofa and waited —
waited for that dreadful fall, shock, destruction.
"Resistance is impossible," he said to himself. "But
if only I could understand the reason for this agony. Yet even that
is impossible. It would make sense if one could say I had not lived
as I should have. But such an admission is impossible," he uttered
inwardly, remembering how his life had conformed to all the laws,
rules, and proprieties. "That is a point I cannot grant," he told
himself, smiling ironically, as though someone could see that smile
of his and be taken in by it, "There is no explanation. Agony.
That moment started three days of incessant
screaming, screaming so terrible that even two rooms away one could
not hear it without trembling. The moment he had answered his wife,
he realized that he was lost, that there was no return, that the end
had come, the very end, and that his doubts, still unresolved,
remained with him.
"Oh! Oh! No!" he screamed in varying tones. He had
begun by shouting: "I don’t want it! I don’t!" and went on uttering
screams with that "O" sound.
For three straight days, during which time ceased to
exist for him, he struggled desperately in that black sack into
which an unseen, invisible force was thrusting him. He struggled as
a man condemned to death struggles in the hand of an executioner,
knowing there was no escape. And he felt that with every minute,
despite his efforts to resist, he was coming closer and closer to
what terrified him. He felt he was in agony because he was being
shoved into that black hole, but even more because he was unable to
get right into it. What prevented him from getting into it was the
belief that his life had been a good one. This justification of his
life held him fast, kept him from moving forward, and caused him
more agony than anything else.
Suddenly some force struck him in the chest and the
side and made his breathing even more constricted: he plunged into
the hole and there at the bottom, something was shining. What had
happened to him was what one frequently experiences in a railway car
when one thinks one is going forward but actually moving backward,
and suddenly becomes aware of the actual direction.
"Yes, all of it was simply
real thing. But no matter, I can still make it the real thing —
I can. But what is
thing?" Ivan Ilyich asked himself and suddenly grew quiet.
This took place at the end of the third day, an hour
before his death. Just then his son crept quietly into the room and
went up to his bed. The dying man was still screaming desperately
and flailing his arms. One hand fell on the boy’s head. The boy
grasp it, pressed it to his lips, and began to cry. At that very
moment Ivan Ilyich fell through and saw a light, and it was revealed
to him that his life had not been what it should have but that he
could still rectify the situation. "But what is the real thing?" he
asked himself and grew quiet, listening. Just then he felt someone
kissing his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at his son. He
grieved for him. His wife came in and went up to him. He looked at
her. She gazed at him with an open mouth, with unwiped tears on her
nose and cheeks, with a look of despair on her face. He grieved for
"Yes, I’m torturing them," he thought. "They feel
sorry for me, but it will be better for them when I die." He wanted
to tell them this but lacked the strength to speak. "But why speak —
I must do something," he thought. He looked at his wife and,
indicating his son with a glance, said:
"Take him away…sorry for him…and you." He wanted to
add: Forgive" but instead said "Forget," and too feeble to correct
himself, dismissed it, knowing that He who needed to understand
And suddenly it became clear to him that what had
been oppressing him and would not leave him suddenly was vanishing
all at once — from two sides, ten sides, all sides. He felt sorry
for them, he had to do something to keep from hurting them. To
deliver them and himself from this suffering. "How good and how
simple!" he thought. "And the pain?" he asked himself. "Where has it
gone? Now, then, pain, where are you?"
He waited for it attentively.
"Ah, there it is. Well, what of it? Let it be."
"And death? Where is it?"
He searched for his accustomed fear of death and
could not find it. Where was death? What death? There was no fear
because there was no death.
Instead of death there was light.
"So that’s it!" he exclaimed. "What bliss!"
All this happened in a single moment, but the
significance of that moment was lasting. For those present, his
agony continued for another two hours. Something rattled in his
chest; his emaciated body twitched. Then the rattling and wheezing
"It is all over," said someone standing beside him.
Heard these words and repeated them in his soul.
"Death is over," he said to himself. "There is no
He drew in a breath, broke off in the middle of it, stretched
himself out, and died.