Facial Expression

The Sphinx By Ivan Turgenev

Translated from The Russian by Isabel Hapgood

Yellowish-grey, friable at the top, firm below, creaking sand … sand without end, no matter in which direction one gazes!

And above this sand, above this sea of dead dust, the huge head of the Egyptian Sphinx rears itself aloft.

What is it that those vast, protruding lips, those impassively dilated, up-turned nostrils, and those eyes, those long, half-sleepy, half-watchful eyes, beneath the double arch of the lofty brows, are trying to say?

For they are trying to say something! They even speak – but only Oedipus can solve the riddle and understand their mute speech.

Bah! Yes, I recognise those features … there is nothing Egyptian about the low white forehead, the prominent cheek-bones, the short, straight nose, the fine mouth with its white teeth, the soft moustache and curling beard, – and those small eyes set far apart … and on the head the cap of hair furrowed with a parting…. Why, it is thou, Karp, Sidor, Semyon, thou petty peasant of Yaroslavl, or of Ryazan, my fellow-countryman, the kernel of Russia! Is it long since thou didst become the Sphinx?

Or dost thou also wish to say something? Yes; and thou also art a Sphinx.

And thy eyes – those colourless but profound eyes – speak also…. And their speeches are equally dumb and enigmatic.

Only where is thine Oedipus?

Alas! ‘Tis not sufficient to don a cap to become thine Oedipus, O Sphinx of All the Russians!

December, 1878.


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