Tolstoy on mowing
Leo Tolstoy wrote ``Anna Karenina,'' from which we excerpt, on his estate on the Volga River in the 1870s. Here, Konstantin Levin, whose first marriage proposal to Kitty Shcherbatsky has just been turned down in Moscow, finds solace in simple work. Levin's concern for the peasants and respect for Titus, who teaches him to use a scythe, reflect Tolstoy's attitudes. Tolstoy had a school for the peasants' children on his estate. He took them increasingly to heart, later renouncing all but simple works of art -- even his own novels. The translation is by Constance Garnett. So they mowed the first row. And this long row seemed particularly hard work to Levin; but when the end was reached and Titus, shouldering his scythe, began with deliberate stride returning on the tracks left by his heels in the cut grass, and Levin walked back in the same way over the space he had cut, in spite of the sweat that ran in streams over his face and fell in drops down his nose, and drenched his back as though he had been soaked in water, he felt very happy. What delighted him particularly was that now he knew he would be able to hold out.
His pleasure was disturbed only by his row not being well cut. ``I will swing less with my arm and more with my whole body,'' he thought, comparing Titus's row, which looked as if it had been cut with a line, with his own unevenly and irregularly scattered grass.
The first row, as Levin noticed, Titus had mowed specially quick-ly, probably wishing to put his master to the test, and the row happened to be a long one. The next rows were easier, but still Levin had to strain every nerve not to drop behind the peasants.
He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of scythes, and saw before him Titus's grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where the rest would come.
Suddenly, in the midst of his toil, without understanding what it was or whence it came, he felt a pleasant sensation of chill on his hot, moist shoulders. He glanced at the sky during the interval for whetting the scythes. A heavy, lowering storm cloud had blown up, and big raindrops were falling. Some of the peasants went to their coats and put them on; others -- like Levin -- merely shrugged their shoulders, enjoying the pleasant coolness of it.
Another row, and yet another row, followed -- long rows and short rows, with good grass and with poor grass. Levin lost all sense of time, and could not have told whether it was late or early now. A change began to come over his work, which gave him immense satisfaction. In the midst of his toil there were moments during which he forgot what he was doing, and it came very easy to him, and at those same moments his row was almost as smooth and well cut as Titus's.