Monday, April 20, 2009


Night. The nanny Varka, a girl of about thirteen, is rocking a cradle in which a baby lies, and murmuring barely audibly:
Hush-a-bye, baby,
I’ll sing you a song…
A green oil lamp is burning before an icon; a rope is stretched across the whole room from corner to corner, with swaddling clothes and large black trouser hanging on it. A big green spot from the icon lamp falls on the ceiling, and the swaddling clothes and trousers cast long shadows on the stove, the cradle, and Varka…When the icon lamp begins to flicker, the spot and the shadows come alive and start moving as if in the wind. It is stuffy. There is a smell of cabbage soup and shoemaker’s supplies.
The baby is crying. He became hoarse and exhausted from crying long ago, but he goes on howling, and no one knows when he will quiet down. And Varka is sleepy. Her eyes close, her head droops down, her neck aches. She cannot move her eyelids or her lips, and it seems to her that her face has become dry and stiff and her head is as small as the head of a pin.
“Hush-a-bye, baby,” she murmurs, “I’ll feed you by and by…”
A cricket chirps from the stove. In the next room, behind the door, the master and his apprentice Afanasy are snoring…The cradle creaks pitifully, Varka herself is murmuring—and all this merges into the lulling night music that is so sweet to hear when you are going to bed. But now this music is only vexing and oppressive, because it makes her drowsy, yet she cannot sleep. God forbid that Varka should fall asleep, or the masters will give her a beating.

--Sleepy, Anton Chekhov (1888)



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