Some Thoughts About the Soul


Arts & Culture

A textile design by Varvara Stepanova, 1924.


In the opinion of well-read governesses and educated governors’ wives, the soul is an indeterminable entity of psychological substance. I have no reason to disagree with this.

One scholar writes: “To discover the soul, take a man just given a dressing-down by management and tie off his foot with a belt. Make an incision in the heel and you’ll find what’s sought.”

I believe in the transmigration of souls … I’ve come to this belief through experience. My own soul, in all the time of my earthly suffering, has traversed many animals and plants, and endured all the stages and realms spoken of by the Buddha …

I was a pup when I was born, and a goose when I entered public life. Starting in government service, I became small potatoes. My boss dubbed me a brick, friends—a jackass, freethinkers—a sheep. Traveling along the railroads, I was a rabbit; living in a village among peasants, I felt myself a leech. After one instance of embezzlement I was for some time a scapegoat. Marrying, I became horned cattle. Embarking, finally, on the one true path, I acquired a belly and became a triumphant swine.1

1. A reference to “The Triumphant Swine, or The Swine’s Conversation with the Truth,” an 1881 dramatic scene by Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, in which the truth chats with a pig, and by the end gets eaten.

Translated from the Russian by Elina Alter. 

Alter is a writer and translator in New York. Look for her translations of Chekhov sketches each day this week on the Daily.