Levin went between them. In this hottest time the mowing did not seem so hard to him. The sweat that drenched him cooled him off, and the sun, burning on his back, head and arm with its sleeve rolled to the elbow, gave him firmness and perseverance in his work; more and more often those moments of unconsciousness came, when it was possible for him not to think of what he was doing. The scythe cut by itself. These were happy moments. More joyful still were the moments when, coming to the river, where the swaths ended, the old man would wipe his scythe with thick, wet grass, rinse its steel in the cool water, dip his whetstone box and offer it to Levin.
‘Have a sip of my kvass!* Good, eh?’ he said with a wink.
And, indeed, Levin had never before drunk such a drink as this warm water with green floating in it and tasting of the rusty tin box. And right after that came a blissfully slow walk with scythe in hand, during which he could wipe off the streaming sweat, fill his lungs with air, look at the whole stretched–out line of mowers and at what was going on around him in the woods and fields.
The longer Levin mowed, the more often he felt those moments of oblivion during which it was no longer his arms that swung the scythe, but the scythe itself that lent motion to his whole body, full of life and conscious of itself, and, as if by magic, without a thought of it, the work got rightly and neatly done on its own. These were the most blissful moments.
It was hard only when he had to stop this by now unconscious movement and think, when he had to mow around a tussock or an unweeded clump of sorrel. The old man did it easily. The tussock would come, he would change movement and, using the heel or tip of the scythe, cut around it on both sides with short strokes. And as he did so, he studied and observed what opened up before him; now he picked off a corn–flag, ate it or offered it to Levin, now flung aside a branch with the tip of his scythe, or examined a quail’s nest from which the female had flown up right under the scythe, or caught a snake that had got in his way and, picking it up with the scythe as with a fork, showed it to Levin and tossed it aside.
For Levin and the young lad behind him these changes of movement were difficult. Both of them, having got into one strenuous rhythm, were caught up in the passion of work and were unable to change it and at the same time observe what was in front of them.
Levin did not notice how the time passed. If he had been asked how long he had been mowing, he would have said half an hour – yet it was nearly dinner–time. Walking back down the swath, the old man drew Levin’s attention to the girls and boys, barely visible, coming towards the mowers from different directions, through the tall grass and along the road, their little arms weighed down with bundles of bread and jugs of kvass stoppered with rags.
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina, p. 179