THE OLD WOMAN
by: Ivan Turgenev (1818-1883)
- WAS walking over a wide plain
- And suddenly I fancied light, cautious footsteps behind my
back. . . . Some one was walking after me.
- I looked round, and saw a little, bent old woman, all muffled
up in grey rags. The face of the old woman alone peeped out from
them; a yellow, wrinkled, sharp-nosed, toothless face.
- I went up to her. . . . She stopped.
- 'Who are you? What do you want? Are you a beggar? Do you
- The old woman did not answer. I bent down to her, and noticed
that both her eyes were covered with a half-transparent membrane
or skin, such as is seen in some birds; they protect their eyes
with it from dazzling light.
- But in the old woman, the membrane did not move nor uncover
the eyes . . . from which I concluded she was blind.
- 'Do you want alms?' I repeated my question. 'Why are you
following me?' But the old woman as before made no answer, but
only shrank into herself a little.
- I turned from her and went on my way.
- And again I hear behind me the same light, measured, as it
were, stealthy steps.
- 'Again that woman!' I thought, 'why does she stick to me?'
But then, I added inwardly, 'Most likely she has lost her way,
being blind, and now is following the sound of my steps so as
to get with me to some inhabited place. Yes, yes, that's it.'
- But a strange uneasiness gradually gained possession of my
mind. I began to fancy that the old woman was not only following
me, but that she was directing me, that she was driving me to
right and to left, and that I was unwittingly obeying her.
- I still go on, however . . . but, behold, before me, on my
very road, something black and wide . . . a kind of hole . .
. 'A grave!' flashed through my head. 'That is where she is driving
- I turned sharply back. The old woman faced me again . . .
but she sees! She is looking at me with big, cruel, malignant
eyes . . . the eyes of a bird of prey. . . . I stoop down to
her face, to her eyes. . . . Again the same opaque membrane,
the same blind, dull countenance. . . .
- 'Ah!' I think, 'this old woman is my fate. The fate from
which there is no escape for man!'
- 'No escape! no escape! What madness. . . . One must try.'
And I rush away in another direction.
- I go swiftly. . . . But light footsteps as before patter
behind me, close, close. . . . And before me again the dark hole.
- Again I turn another way. . . . And again the same patter
behind, and the same menacing blur of darkness before.
- And whichever way I run, doubling like a hunted hare . .
. it's always the same, the same!
- 'Wait!' I think, 'I will cheat her! I will go nowhere!' and
I instantly sat down on the ground.
- The old woman stands behind, two paces from me. I do not
hear her, but I feel she is there.
- And suddenly I see the blur of darkness in the distance is
floating, creeping of itself towards me!
- God! I look around again . . . the old woman looks straight
at me, and her toothless mouth is twisted in a grin.
- No escape!
POEMS BY IVAN TURGENEV
"The Old Woman" is reprinted
from Dream Tales and Prose Poems. Ivan Turgenev. (Trans.
Constance Garnett). New York: The Macmillan Company, 1920.