A monologue from the play by Anton Chekhov
NOTE: This monologue is reprinted from The Moscow Arts Theatre Series of Plays. Ed. Oliver M. Sayler. New York: Brentanos, 1922.
ASTROFF: I have my own desk there in Ivan’s room. When I’m simply too worn out to go on with my work,
I drop everything and rush over here to forget myself in this pastime for an hour or two. Ivan Petrovitch and Sonya Alexandrovna rattle away at their counting frames, I feel warm and peaceful, the cricket chirps, and I sit near them at my table and paint.
But I don’t indulge in this luxury very often, only about once a month.
[Pointing to a picture] Look! This is a survey map of our country as it was fifty years ago.
The green tints, both light and dark, stand for forests. Half the map, you see, is covered with them. Where the green is striped with red, the forests were stocked with elk and goats.
Here in this lake were great flocks of swans and geese and ducks; as the old men say, there was a power of birds of every kind.
Now they have vanished like a mist.
Beside the towns and villages, you see, I have jotted down here and there the various settlements, farms, hermits’ caves and water-mills.
This country was rich in cattle and horses, as you can see by the expanse of blue. For instance, see how it deepens in this part; there were great herds of them here, an average of three horses to every house.
[A pause] Now, look lower down. This is the country as it was twenty-five years ago. Only a third of the map now is green with forests.
There are no goats remaining and no elk. The green and blue are lighter, and so on and so forth.
Now, we come to the third diagram, our country as it is to-day. Still we see spots of green, but very little.
The elk, the swans, the black-cock have disappeared. On the whole, it is the picture of a continuous and slow decline which will evidently come to completion in about ten or fifteen years.
Perhaps you may object that it is the march of progress, that the old order must give way to the new, and you would be right if roads had been built through these ruined forests, or if factories and schools had taken their place.
Then the people would have become better educated and healthier and richer, but as it is, we have nothing of the kind.
We have the same swamps and mosquitos; the same disease and misery: typhoid, diptheria, fires.
The degradation of our country confronts us, brought on by the human race’s fierce struggle for existence.
It is all the result of the ignorance and heedlessness of starving, shivering, ill humanity.
To save our children, we snatch instinctively at everything that can warm us and satisfy our hunger.
Therefore we consume everything on which we can lay our hands, without a thought for the future.
And so almost everything has been destroyed and nothing created to take its place. [Coldly] But I can see by your expression that it does not interest you.