Anton Chekhov – The steppe

Versailles, France

If only it had been a longer novel from Chekhov.

It is a journey through the steppes of Ukraine, at a time where the polish influence is still strongly felt, one element among others of the rich cultural make-up of this crossroad region. 

In the solitude of the steppe, a church is never too far, and neither are the most interesting characters : shepherds that look like they came out of the Old Testament, a woman singing in an Isba, craving for life, russian people who love to reminisce but do not love to live, for they have a glorious past but a bad present : progress has made life harder. 

For a russian, life is so terrifying and fantastic, that the russian man never doubts the veracity of adventure stories

The Steppe, Anton Chekhov

Chekhov conveys all the beauty of the steppe. You breathe, inhale, see and hear the steppe : the sky seems higher in the steppe, for there are no trees, except for some solitary poplar, and there is no better place than the steppe to stare at the immensity of the sky :

If one raises the eyes towards the green pale sky constellated with stars, pure of any cloud or any stain, we understand why the lukewarm air is static, why the entire nature is on its guard and fears moving : nature is frozen in fear and does not want to loose an instant of life. The unfathomable and infinite immensity of the sky are felt nowhere as much as in the see or in the steppe under the moonlight.

The Steppe, Anton Chekhov

The existence gets detached and seems hopeless – and certainly absurd –  if you stare too long at the sky. Life is never the same after you wander through the steppe. But who does wander in the steppe, if not out of the necessity of subsistence ? Men like Constantin Zvonyk, from Rovnoïe. Men whose loved one is far away. Or men deprived of love. The beauty of the steppe is not such a bad consolation after all.