There are many such luminous moments, often in the presence of his resilient, joyous grandmother, in the childhood memoirs of Gorky. These stand out all the more given the often staggering levels of cruelty to which he, and even she, were subjected. It was a world in which a patriarch was entirely within his rights to beat any family member nearly to death. This backdrop makes the resilience of Gorky himself, and a few of the people he’s close to, all the more humbling.
As a boy, Gorky often slept in the same room as his grandmother, who was a boundless fount of stories. I love their warming, lulling effect on him, rendering the darkness of night enchanting rather than frightening, and the morning of fabulous beauty.
Holding back her excitement, she would tell me things, clearly not caring whether I listened or not. And always she managed to choose a story that gave the night even more meaning and beauty. The rhythmic flow of her words would send me off to sleep and I would awake to the sound of the birds. The sun would be looking into my face, the morning air would waft gently as it grew warmer, the leaves of the apple tree would shake off their dew and the moist green grass shine brighter and brighter until it became transparent like a crystal, while a thin vapour rose from it. The rays of the sun would fan out across the sky which grew a deeper and deeper lilac. Somewhere, unseen, high above, a lark would sing and every flower and sound seeped like dew into my heart, filling me with a calm joy and making me want to get up right away, start work and live in close friendship with every living thing.
This was the most peaceful and impressionistic period of my life, and in that summer a feeling of confidence in my own powers was born in me and strengthened from day to day.
Source: Maxim Gorky, My Childhood, trans. Ronald Wilks (Harmondsworth: Penguin Classics, 1966), p. 203
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