A favorite among Russian tales, Ruslan and Ludmila was written in poetic form by Russia's most beloved writer, Alexander Pushkin. It was later the basis of Glinka's most successful opera. Here is a brief synopsis of the story, below which is a translation of the full text.
Once upon a time, in a land far away there was a great feast celebrating the marriage of the land's greatest warrior, Ruslan, to the land's most beautiful maiden, Ludmila. But tragedy happened upon the feast when the bride was kidnapped by the dwarf magician Chernomor. Enraged, Ludmila's father declared that only the warrior who rescues his daughter would be her husband.
Ruslan and his rivals Farlaf, Ratmir, and Rogdai prepared to rescue the beautiful girl. Only Ruslan understood that he would have to overcome great feats and magical powers to rescue his bride. Rogdai killed Ratmir and then attacked Ruslan. But Ruslan won the fight, and threw Rogdai into the River Dnieper. Ruslan wandered further into the unknown where he entered a thick fog and came upon a giant magic head. Underneath the head was a knife, which he knew he must retrieve. Ruslan defeated the head and took the knife. He then was able to defeat Chernomor. He used this knife to cut off the dwarf's beard, thus having diminished the dwarf's magical powers.
Having defeated Chernomor, Ruslan found his bride in a magical garden, he rescued Ludmila and took her back to the feast where they were finally married.
Summary composed and translated by
For you alone, enchanting beauties,
Queens of my spirit, for your sake
Did I convent to scribal duties
Some golden leisure hours, and make,
To whisperings of garrulous ages,
Once-on-a-time my faithful task.
Accept them, then, these playful pages;
And no one's praises do ask
From fate, but shall be pleased to thank it
If one young girl should love, and pine,
And peep, perhaps beneath her blanket,
At these unshriven songs of mine.
An oak tree greening by the ocean;
A golden chain about it would:
Whereon a learned cat, in motion
Both day and night, will walk around;
On walking left, he tells a lay.
A magic place: there wends his way
The woodsprite, there's a mermaid sitting
In branches, there on trails past knowing
Are tracks of beast you never met;
On chicken feet a hut is set
With neither door nor window showing.
There wood and dale with wonders teem;
At dawn of day the breakers stream
Upon the bare and barren lea,
And thirty handsome armored heroes
File from the waters' shining mirrors,
With them their Usher from the Sea.
There glimpse a prince, and in his slave;
Alot, before the people massing,
Across the wood, across the wave,
A warlock bears a warrior brave;
See Baba-Yaga's mortar glide
All of itself, with her astride.
There droops Kashey, on treasure bent;
There's Russia's spirit... Russian scent!
And there I stayed, and drank of mead;
That oak tree greening by the shore
I sat beneath, and of his lore
The learned cat would chant and read.
One tale of these I kept in mind,
And tell it now to all my kind...
CHANT THE FIRST
The lore of ages long gone by,
In hoar antiquity compounded.
A ducal wassail-chamber high;
By stalwart sons and friends surrounded,
Vladimir-Sun sat feasting there;
To valiant Price Ruslan his fair
Young maid in wedlock he was linking,
And from a heavy tankard sinking
His mead in honor of the pair.
Our forebears were no hasty eaters,
Not speedily, you would have found,
The jars and silver plunging-beakers
Of wine and ale went foaming round.
High cheer of spirit they would pour them,
The spume rose lisping to the brim,
With gravity the bearers bore them
To guest and deeply bowed to them.
Now speeches merge in hum and hubbub;
Abuzz the revelers' gay round;
When tuneful singing of a sudden
Blends with the gusli's nimble sound;
A hush descends; all hark Bayan,
The sweet-voiced bard, for praise to sound
Of fair Liudmila's grace, Ruslan,
And of the garland Lel had wound them.
But overwhelmed by fiery passion,
Ruslan takes neither drink nor ration;
Upon his heart's-love fixed his gaze,
He is now sigh, now scowl, now blaze,
And gnaws away, impatience mounting,
At his moustache, each moment counting.
With brow beclouded, untoward,
About the clamorous wedding-board
Three other youthful knights are seated;
Their sulking leaves the ladle bare,
The bumpers of their circling cheated,
They take no pleasure in the fare.
They do not hear the bard Bayan;
Their troubled gaze is downward bent:
They are the rivals of Ruslan;
Deep in their luckless hearts is pent
Of love and hate a venom blent.
One is Rogdai, the valiant lord
Who clove wide open with his sword
The bounds of Kiev's fields of gold;
The next-Farlaf, poltroon conceited,
In toping contests undefeated,
But in the sword-clash less than bold;
Fierce young Ratmir, intently brooding,
The Khazar khan, is last, not least:
All three are pale of cheek and moody,
No feast to them, this merry feast.
And now it ends. The diners, surging,
Arise, in noisy swarms converging,
All gazing at the newly wed:
The bride looked down, her color altered,
As if her modest spirit faltered,
The happy bridegroom cheered instead.
But nature lies in shadows huddled,
The hush of midnight drawing on;
The boyars, lately mead-befuddled,
Made their obeisance and are gone.
The groom, in rapturous elation,
Lets his enflamed imagination
Careless his lovely, bashful fair;
While, secret rue his heart o'er stealing,
The Duke confers with tender feeling
His blessing on the youthful pair.
And here they lead the bridal maiden
To couch her on the marriage-bed;
And Lel, as other lamps are fading,
Lights his nocturnal torch instead.
Now readies Love his gifts to lovers,
Long-cherished hopes are winning home;
And downward sink the grudging covers
Upon the rugs of Eastern Rome...
Can you not hear the lovelorn whispers,
The dulcet sounds of kisses there,
The gently intercepted lisping
Of final shyness?... Tokens fair
Of ecstasy beforehand given,
The groom now tastes it... Flash! By glare
Of lightning, thunder peal, is riven
The dusk, the flame dies, smoke is drifting,
All's sunk in sooty senseless in the gloom...
Then all died down, a voice half broke
The fearsome silence, twice resounding,
A shape from out the depths of smoke
Loomed darker than the haze surrounding...
The chamber hushed in mute repose,
The bridegroom, terrified, arose,
Cold sweat still coursing down his face;
His trembling fingers, chill and stark,
Went out to probe the soundless dark...
Woe! of his lovely friends no trace!
He seizes but on empty air,
Dense gloom: Liudmila is not there-
Snatched in nameless power's embrace.
Ah, if love's martyrdom condemns
A sufferer to hopeless passion,
Though sad his lot, he still, my friends,
May live to bear it in some fashion.
But let embrace, past endless years,
Close on your love and feel her in it,
The goal of longing, pining, tears,
And have the bride of but one minute
Snatched off and lost forever...I,
For one, my friends, would rather die!
Ruslan, though, worse for him, is living.
What did the Great Duke have to say?
Crushed by the fearful tiding given,
To fury at Ruslan a prey,
"Where, where's Liudmila?" asked he, trembling,
Dread glare of wrath upon his brow.
Ruslan is deaf. " Sons, vassals all!
Your former merits I recall,
Take pity on an old man now!
Well then, which one of you engages
In quest to save my daughter's life?
His exploit shall not lack for wages:
To him - yes, villain, wail and writhe!
Not man enough to guard his wife!-
Liudmila's hand I hereby proffer,
With half my ancestors' domain.
Who, sons and noble friends, will offer?..."
"I!" "I!" Rogdai's cry reinforces
Those of Farlaf and glad Ratmir.
"Straightway we saddle up our horses;
We'll ride the world through; do not fear,
Our Sire, a lengthy separation;
We'll fetch her from the earth's four ends!"
The aged prince to them extends,
By anguish bowed unto prostration,
In wordless gratitude his hands.
All four emerge - Ruslan appearing
Half dead from misery, and grim,
The thought of his lost consort searing
His soul and mortifying him.
And now they mount their mettled horses;
Along the Dnieper's smiling courses
They canter on in dusty swirls;
in haze afar their image furls;
And lost from sight are horse and man...
But long the Great Duke gazes, scanning
The face of the now empty land,
His anxious thought the distance spanning.
Ruslan pined mutely, in a limbo
Where memory and sense are lost.
Behind him rode, one arm akimbo,
Head arrogantly sideways tossed,
Farlaf, puffed up and all-defiant.
He crows: "It almost came to late,
This quest at large - I couldn't wait!
How soon will they bring up a giant?
Then, ahh...let streams of gore be poured,
The pledge that jealous ardors merit,
Rejoice, exult, my faithful sword,
Rejoice, exult, my steed of spirit!"
The Khazar khan, who clasped already
Liudmila in his mind's embrace,
Was fairy dancing in the saddle,
Youth's fervent spirits in him race;
Hope lighting up his gaze with cheer,
He now streaks on in full career,
Now falls to curveting, now teases
His eager stallion, makes him rear,
And change the hillocks as he pleases.
Grim is Rogdai and mute - what squeezes
His idly jealous heart is fear,
Fear of a dark fate that awaited;
He feels the most unease of all,
And oftentimes his scowl of hatred
On Prince Ruslan will darkly fall.
Throughout that day the rivals traveled
By Dnieper's bank a common trail,
Till shades of night from orient leveled
The sloping banks and filled the vale;
Deep Dnieper lies in mist; the horses
Must needs be rested now and fed.
A highway wide that slopes ahead.
"Here it is time to part," they voted,
"And chance the fated aftermath."
Each changer then, by steel ingoaded,
In freedom chose its random path.
What now, Ruslan, our luckless farer,
Alone in desert hush? It seems,
Liudmila and that night of terror
Are but the stuff of distant dreams.
Bronze helm on brow more tightly pressing,
From mighty hands the reins dismissing,
You walk your soul there slowly yields
Faith to despair - hope barely glimmers.
But there! A cave before him shimmers
With light within. Straightway he marches
Beneath its brooding vaults and arches,
With very Nature jointly raised.
He entered moodily, and gazed:
There sits an elder, bright of dome,
Of tranquil mien and whiskers white,
A lamp before him sheds its light
Upon an open parchment tome,
Which he is diligently reading.
"I bid you welcome here, my son,"
He hospitably greets Ruslan.
"I whiled my twilight age away
In here these twenty years preceding;
Now I have long anticipated.
This our encounter, son, is fated;
Sit down and hear what I shall say.
From you Liudmila has been wrested;
Your hardy spirit, sorely tested,
Would flag; yet woe will swiftly flee;
Brief is your clash with destiny.
Pluck up your faith and hope, serenely
Brave all, do not despond; fare forth,
And brace your heart and sword more keenly
To carve a pathway to the North.
Know then, Ruslan: your foul offender
Is the magician Chernomor,
The northern ranges' dread commander,
Fair maidens' predator of yore.
Not ever has his mansion's splendor
Been pierced by human gaze before;
But you, vile artifices' ender,
Shall beard the malefactor, and-
He is to perish by your hand.
No more than this may I uncover,
My son: your future, understand,
Henceforward is your own to govern.
Crouched at the elder's feet, the knight
Now kissed his hand in exultation.
The world before his eyes turned bright,
Forgot his spirit's sore vexation.
Then he bethought himself; again
Upon his flush a cloud descended.
"That qualm - I know its cause - be ended,"
The elder said, "for it is vain
And easily dispelled. Your terror
Is of the grizzled wizard's love;
But calm yourself, you are in error,
It has no force to harm your dove.
He plucks the stars from heaven's reaches,
He whistles, and the moon will quake,
But what the law of eons teaches
That all his magic cannot shake.
That jealous palpitating warder
Of his unyielding locks and gates
Is but an impotent marauder
To the sweet captive that he baits.
About her chambers mutely slinking,
He exacrated his fate unblest...
But goodly knight, the sun is sinking,
And you are much in need of rest."
Before the flame, now slowly dying,
Upon a yielding bed of moss,
Ruslan would plunge in sleep... but toss
And turn is all he does; and sighing,
At last he calls the elder here:
"Sleep, father, shuns my couch, I hear!
No wonder, for my soul is ailing;
Where life is torment, slumber flees;
Accord me for my spirit's ease
Your saintly speech. Forgive my failing
If too uncouth be my address:
Who are you, man of kind intention,
Fate's intimate, past comprehension,
Who sent you to this wilderness?"
Then with a rueful smile replying:
"I scarce recall the darksome earth
Of my far land," he said with sighting;
"A Finnish shepherd lad by birth,
In valleylands unknown to strangers
I drove the flocks of nearby granges
And knew in boyhood free of care
But streams, the brooding free of care
The caverns of our cliffsides bare,
And rustic poverty's gay bustle.
But not for long was it my lot
To haunt that gay and tranquil spot.
At that time in a nearby cleaning,
Like a lone wildwood flower endearing,
There lived Niana. She outshone
All maidens like the day at dawning.
One day I drove at early morning
My flocks to graze, and played upon
The bagpipe as the herd assembled;
A brook ran babbling through the health,
By which a fair young beauty rambled
Alone, and wove a flowery wreath.
I was foredoomed by having seen her...
Ah, goodly knight, it was Naina!
I joined her-and fateful spell
Repair the forward gaze with capture,
And love came in my heart to dwell,
Love seized it with his heavenly rapture
And with his agonies of hell.
My heart, as month on month succeeded,
Drove me in tremors to her side.
'I love you,' I confessed, and pleaded
My grief-but only selfish pride
Received the bashful plea I muttered.
Her beauty was her only joy,
And with indifference she uttered:
'I do not love you, shepherd boy!'
Then all was turned to gloom and folly,
My native groves, the sylvan shade,
The merry games the shepherds played-
No ray would pierce my melancholy,
In withering grief the spirit pined.
Then I bestirred my wounded mind
To leave the Finnish fields behind,
To scour with a fraternal band
The faithless billow of the oceans,
To stir Naina's proud emotions
By warlike fame, and win her hand.
Audacious boatmen I assembled
To quest for perils and for gold;
Then first the tranquil homeland trembled
With my intrepid band I threaded
My eager way twixt main and shore,
Ten years we quested thus and redded
The seas and snows with foemen's gore.
The tiding spreads: the foreign princes
Grow fearful or our daring raids,
Each vaunted band of champions winces
And wilts before the northern blades.
Thus gaily, cruelly, we battled,
The spoils and gifts to share increased,
With each defeated foe we settled
To share a hospitable feast.
My heart, though, mindful of Naina,
Amid both gaiety and gore,
Nursed secret sorrow, ever keener
To seek the native Finnish shore.
'Home beckons, fisherman and farmer,'
I cried, 'it's time for idle armor
'Neath native eaves to be confined.'
I spoke and forthwith called to quarters,
And mortal terror in out wake,
We sailed with pride and joy to make
The shelter of our homeland's waters.
Now were the dreams of old fulfilled,
Now slaked desires so fiercely burning!
Here was the moment, sought with yearning,
For ardor to be sweetly stilled!
At proud Naina's feet I scattered,
Atop my sabre blood-bespattered,
Of coral, gold, and pearl the prize.
In front of her, my mind confounded
With passion's thrall, I stood, surrounded
by girlish envy and surmise,
A bondsman meek to serve her truly;
The maiden, though, withdrew with cold
Sufficiency, announcing coolly:
'I do not love you, warrior bold!'
Why strain, my son, to tell or think
What it is torment to remember?
Why, now, alone, and at the blink
Of death, my spirit numbed, I tremble,
By grief resurging newly seared,
And then from memory's deep sources
At times along my frosty beard
A tear of desolation courses.
But listen: in my native fen,
Among the lonely fishermen
Are hid miraculous traditions:
in timeless hush past human ken,
In farthest forest darkness dreary,
There live the silver-haired magicians;
In steadfast quest of wisdom eerie
All potency of mind they spend.
By their awesome will is given
Both life and death, and very love.
Love's hunted huntsman unto madness,
I thought in my despairing sadness
To bend Naina's heart to me
And warm her chill disdain to gladness
At my pursuit-through sorcery.
I sped away where freedom beckoned,
The twilight of the trackless wood,
And there in long apprenticehood
I dwelt, for years untold, unreckoned.
At last I knew the dreamed-of second
When nature's fearful spell, long sought,
Was grasped by my illumined thought:
High magic to my mind accorded!
Love garlanded, desire rewarded!
Now, proud Naina, you are mine,
I thought, achieved the fond design!
Instead, though, the triumphant suitor
Was fate, my stubborn persecutor.
My hopes still youthfully alive,
And parched with passions to the marrow,
My spell I hastily contrive,
I call on spirits - and an arrow,
Like lightning, parts the leafy gloom,
A gall sets all awhirl, aboom,
A quaking seizes earth and tree...
Before me all at once I see
A snow-haired crone, decrepit, shrunken,
Her rheumy blinkers deeply sunken,
Hunched over, aged piteously,
Embodiment of senile blight-
It was Naina, goodly knight!...
Bereft of speech, I stood aghast.
My eyes, the loathly phantom ranging,
Would not accept the horrid changeling;
Then bursting into tears, I asked:
'You - my Naina? You...' I faltered,
'Naina - where did beauty flee?
Oh answer me - how could it be
You were so pitilessly altered?
Was it long since,' I asked in tears,
'That far from life and love I wandered?
How long ago?' 'Just forty years,'
The maiden's faithful tones responded;
'My age is seventy today.
Such is the way of things,' she quavered,
'In swarms the years have flown away.
My spring, or yours, will not be savored
Afresh - we both are old and gray.
But friend, is life without allure
Because inconstant youth forsook it?
My hair is white now, to be sure,
Perhaps I am a little crooked,
A trifle slower to entice,
Not quite as lively, quite as nice;
But them (she mouthed,) let me confess:
I have become a sorceress!'
And in good earnest it was true.
I stood and stared at her, dumbfounded,
And imbecile for all I knew,
For all the lore I had compounded.
There's worse to come! My sorcery
Took full effect, to my misfortune.
My wizened idol warmed to me
With passion, started to importune.
On withered lips a ghastly smile,
In churchyard tones she would beguile,
Avowals, hoarsely wheezed, she offered...
Can you imagine what I suffered?
I shuddered, looked away, while she
Poured out, as best she could for coughing,
A sultry, slow soliloquy:
'Yes, now I know my heart-for loving,
For tender passion it was fated;
My friend, whose heart devoutly waited,
My feelings are aroused, in anguish,
Come, thrill to my embraces, soon,
Ah, dearest, dearest, now! I swoon...
And all through this, her gazes lingered
On me so moonighly, Ruslan;
And all through this, she feebly fingered
The shrinking folds of my kaftan;
And all through this, I closed my eyes,
Revolution rising strong and stronger,
Till I could stand for it no longer
And broke away with stifled cries.
She started after. 'Shame!' she spattered,
'My maidenly repose you shattered,
Besieged my virginal retreat!
You begged Naina's love - you gain it-
And now - how like a man! - disdain it!
You all are steeped in vile decent!
Alas, I am myself to blame;
He flattered me, seducer fashion,
And I succumbed to reckless passion...
Deceiver, profligate! Oh shame!
But tremble, heartless libertine!'
With this we parted. 'Since!' that scene
I've lived in solitude and quiet;
The disenchanted soul's surcease,
The aging spirit's soothing diet,
Are nature, scholarship, and peace.
Bu now I bide the grave's release;
And yet the crone's repressed desire
Is not forgotten all the same,
and thwarted love's belated flame
Now fuels not chagrin but ire.
To malice prone her spirit's night,
I have no doubt, the old enchantress
Will make you too endure her spite;
But then, no grief on earth is endless."
With rapt attention did our knight
Drink in the eldest's tale, not hearing
The quiet winging of the night
In his bemusement; neither blearing
Nor drowsing blurred his lucid sight.
But day is breaking, rainbow-hued...
Ruslan in rueful gratitude
Embraces his magician friend;
His spirit buoyed with hope again,
He walks away. His thighs, astraddle,
With firmness grip the whinnying steed,
He whistles, straightening in the saddle-
"Be with me, father, in my need!"-
And canters down the empty clearing,
The silver-haired enchanter cheering
His pupil on: "God speed your ride!
Farewell, enjoy your lovely bride,
And grant the elder's counsel hearing!"
Competitors for martial glory,
Let not your revelry abate;
Bring up you sacrifices gory,
Be inexhaustible in hate!
Let peace still gaze aghast upon you,
At your dread banquets freeze in fear:
No one will waste compassion on you
Or stir himself to interfere.
Competitors of different station,
You knights of the Parnassian hills;
Try not to entertain the nation
With shameless clash of brawling quills;
By all means quarrel - but discreetly.
And you, competitors in love,
If you can manage, take it sweetly!
To whom unchanging fate above-
You may believe me, friends - assigns
A maiden's heart, he willy-nilly
Will thwart the whole wide world's designs;
Then anger is a sin - and silly.
When first Rogdai, the knight undaunted,
By nebulous forebodings haunted,
Had left his way-companions, and
By rugged trails of random choosing
Rode through deserted forest land,
His mind engrossed in heavy musing-
The evil spirit plagued and snared
The soul in ruminating labor;
The heartsick knight abruptly flared:
"I'll slash all barriers - with my saber!
Ruslan...now you shall find me out...
We'll see a maiden weeping sadly..."
At once he reined his steed about
And urged it back, and spurred it madly.
Meanwhile, the valorous Farlaf,
The morning sweetly slumbered off,
Has settled by a brook to eat;
Well sheltered form the noonday heat,
He solaces his moral tissues
In lone repose. But as he issues,
He sees a horseman down the mead
Come charging up on foaming steed;
Whereon, with all convenient speed;
Abandoning both lunch and gear,
His armor, helmet, gloves, and spear,
He gallops off and takes no chance
On venturing a backward glance.
"Rein in, dishonored, craven wooer!"
He hears the voice of his pursuer;
"Just wait till I catch up with you,
I'll trim you down a foot or two!"
Farlaf took in the voice, and finding
It was Rogdai, curled up with instead.
Just so a rabbit, wildly bolting,
His ears in panic downward folding,
Will streak through paddock, copse, and mount,
Ahead of the pursuing hound.
The spring had melted into torrents
The thawing snows along the crest,
And where the chase went, turbid currents
Were furrowing earth's dampened breast.
The mettled charger faced the ditch,
Flicked tail and snowy mane at it,
Took in his teeth the iron bit,
And leapt across without a hitch.
Less centuresome, the porty rider
Diverged into the turbid flood;
Legs weaving like a foundered spider,
He plumped inertly in the mud,
And gave up live with earth and sky...
Here came, with sword upraised, Rogdai;
"Now perish, coward; die!" he thundered;
Then saw it was Farlaf, and wondered,
And looked again, and dropped his sword,
Surprise, chagrin, and rage compounded
Upon his troubled features warred;
The hero ground his teeth, dumbfounded,
Then wheeled about, head low, and fairly
Raced from the runnel's muddy shelf.
He fumed, he cursed...yet barely, barely
Could keep from laughing at himself.
Then, riding up a hill, he found
A little crone, all feeble-jointed,
Hunched over, snowy-haired; she pointed
Her crutch to send him northward bound.
"There you will come on him," she urged him.
Rogdai, his confidence resurging,
From sheer elation caught his breath
And galloped off to certain death.
And our Farlaf? Still deep in mud,
Feet up, distrustful of survival,
Afraid of breathing lest his blood
Be forfeit to his raging rival...
But now he hears just overhead
The crone's sepulchral tones instead:
"Get up, my gallant: fear no more,
No further trials are in store.
Here, I have brought your charger too.
Get up, I have to speak to you."
The knight's bedraggled residue
Crawled from the ditch; still on all fours,
His strange surroundings shyly eyeing,
In blithe relief he uttered, sighing:
"Well, God be praised - no bumps, no sores!"
The crone went on: "Liudmila's search
Sets quite a riddle to unravel;
That bird is on a distant perch,
Too far for you or me to travel.
It's risky work to quest and roam,
Why, you yourself might come to suffer;
Accept the sound advice I offer
And amble peacefully back home.
Near Kiev, such is my opinion,
In your inherited dominion,
You'll prosper free of fear of fuss:
Liudmila won't escape from us."
This said, she vanished. All abustle,
Our knight, judicious man he was,
Set off for home without a pause,
Forgotten dreams of hardihood,
And those of love at least withstood;
The slightest murmur in the wood,
A babbling brook, a bluetit's rustle,
Sufficed to make him sweat and hustle.
Ruslan, far off by now, is coursing
Ahead through fields and forests wide,
His mind's insistent custom forcing
His pace toward his lovely bride.
He cries: "My love, my consort sweet!
How shall I win you back, where meet
Your converse gay with tenderness?
Are your sweet maidhood, soured and wizened,
Condemned to wilt in dungeon night?
Or will a rival, bold and lusty,
Outride me? No, love - never fret:
My shoulders wield a saber trusty,
And there's a head upon them yet."
One day at dusk Ruslan was riding
A bank that, steep like an abyss,
Plunged to a river darkly gliding
Deep down. All of a sudden, hiss!
An arrow hard beside him wailing,
The clink of mail, a whinny, hailing,
Withal a hollow thud and clout,
Then "Halt!" a challenge thunders out.
He looks around and sees downfield,
Raised to-the-ready spear and shield,
A horseman storming up-and grim,
He wheels to match him stride for stride.
"Stand still! Aha! caught up with him!
Exult the fierce assailant, flashing
His teeth -"now for a mortal slashing;
Here you lay down both life and pride;
Right here go questing for your bride."
Ruslan, outraged at his upbraiding-
He knew that blistering voice at once-
But reader! What about our maiden?
Let's leave the horsemen for the nonce;
We'll soon be back there, but before,
It's more than time now to be turning
To the fair prisoner and learning
Her fate with dreaded Chernomor.
Of my disorderly invention,
I took the liberty to mention
How one dark night Liudmila's charms
Were whisked away at one fell stroke
From eager hands in swathes of smoke.
Now, at the time - distressful plight!-
The fiend's inexorable might
Had swept you off the bridal pillows,
Spun like the whirlwind up and out,
And through black air and foggy billows,
Sped to his mountainous redoubt-
You, reft by the revolving vastness
Of nerve and sense, revived - in dread,
Still speechless, tremulous, half dead-
In the enchanter's fearsome fastness.
Thus, standing by my cabin door
Once in the summer time, I saw
The chicken-run's majestic pasha
Pursue one of his harem, rush her
About the yard, with outspread wings
In sensuous ecstasy already
Embrace his love; but aerial rings
Are drawn above him, shrewd and steady;
Pernicious stratagem in train,
The village poultry's ancient bane,
The gray kite hovered -veered to lunge,
And struck the yard with lightning plunge.
He soars up, spirals of safe crevasses,
Grim talons in his luckless prey.
Grieved at the murderous foray,
No less by chilling terror shattered,
The rooster vainly calls his love...
All that he sees in drifting fluff,
On drifting breezes slowly scattered...
The princess labored until morn
In throes of dreamlike indecision,
As one who in a nightmare vision
Lies paralyzed-until at dawn
She rose; her waking mind unsealing
Excitement mixed with nameless fear;
Her soul seeks flaming heights of feeling:
"Where is my spouse," she lisps, "my dear?"
She calls - and would recall the sound,
And gazes fearfully around.
Where is her chamber gone? Instead
The captive maiden's limbs are spread
On swells of down; above her hovers
A splendid silken canopy;
The tapestripes, the quilted covers
Are patterned, tasseled broidery;
Brocaded tapestries abounding,
Diffuse an aromatic haze;
Enough, though...luckily I needn't
Describe this realm of magic thrall:
Scheherezade, my antecedent
To those purloins, has done it all.
But rich appointments go unheeded
If our true love is not on call.
Three girls, of comeliness entrancing,
In charming light attire advancing
Upon the princess, with profound
Obeisance curtsied to the ground.
Then, all inaudibly, one darted
Up to Liudmila, light as air,
And with ethereal fingers started
To braid our maiden's golden hair,
(An art spent nowadays on curls),
Then pressed on her pale brow and parted
Fair hair a diadem of pearls.
With modestly averted glances
The second maiden now advances;
A saraphan of azure dims
The splendor of Luidmila's limbs;
A filmy veil descends, enfolding
Her shoulders, breast, and tresses golden,
Like mist at dawn in gauziness.
Begrudging covers now caress
Enchantments fit for Eden's dwellers,
And flimsy slippers lightly press
Those feet of which the gods are jealous.
The third girl hands her merry strains.
Alas-her heart derives no easing
From saraphans or pearly bands,
Form songs or entertainments pleasing,
Or jeweled clasps for golden strands.
Unseen, the looking glass might borrow
The glory of her form, her dress;
She, eyes cast down and motionless,
Persists in silence and in sorrow.
(Those who have gleaned the truth of ages
From heart's most dark and private pages,
Emerge confirmed in the belief
That if a lady, deep in grief,
Through tears, by stealth, in spite of reason,
Does not still look into the glass-
She must be in a hopeless pass.)
Liudmila, lonesome and forlorn,
Not knowing what to do, is drawn
Up to the latticed window yonder,
And lets her glances sadly wander
Across that vastness far and drear.
All speaks of death. The snowy highlands
For glaring carpets glitter near,
Whence, like immense and changeless islands
Of craggy white, the peaks procedure
And in eternal stillness brood.
No smoke from cottage chimneys stealing,
No snowy path a wanderer gropes,
No hunting pack's melodious pealing,
No horn-notes thrill these desert slopes.
At most you see a whirlwind sailing
That emptiness with dismal wailing,
And on the skyline's sallow gray
Denuded forests sadly sway.
In helpless tears, Luidmila stands
And thinks, face buried in her hands:
God-what awaits me, wretched mortal?...
She pushed against a silver portal;
It opened with a tuneful sound,
And the astonished maiden found
A park: far more enchanted ground
Than all the pleasances, we read,
Were roamed by pastoral Armide,
Than terraces King Solomon
Or dukes of Tauris sported on.
The world of green abouther harbors
Palm avenues, and laurel banks,
And myrtle of swaying, rustling arbors,
With cedar spires superbly towering,
And orange groves, part gold, part flowering.
Their shapes in tranquil pools revive;
Hills, glades, and valleys all around
In fervent spring's renewal thrive;
The cooling airs of May run throbbing
Along the wonderstriken ground,
In shades of trembling foliage sobbing
The Chinese nightingale is found.
Slim adamantine founts aspire
With merry splashing to the sky:
Beneath are statues to admire
That seem alive...if Phidias's eye,
Whom Pallas and Apollo taught,
Had seen them gleam there in the drizzle,
He would have dropped his magic chisel,
At first enchanted, then distraught.
On marble barries led to shatter
In winking arcs of nacreous flash,
Plunge waterfalls, foam up, and scatter;
While brooks in shade of birch and ash
With lazy ripples barely plash.
Like shelters from the verdant brilliance
For cool and quiet here and there,
There wink ethereal pavilions,
And eager roses everywhere
Lend flush and fragrance to the air.
Yet Liudmila, feeling tragic,
Walks by it all but does not see;
The gloss and luxury of magic
Have lost the charm of covelty.
She strolls, not caring whither bound,
And walks the garden all around,
And has her fill of bitter weeping,
At times with stricken glances sweeping
The sky's impenetrable vaults.
The lovely eyes abruptly brighten:
A finger on her lip, she halts;
It seems, a thought to tempt and frighten:
Has struck her... And escape she fears
Lies open: high above her, clinging
To facing boulders, there appears
A bridge across the fall-and wringing
Her hands, disconsolate, she nears
And stares into the foaming eddy
In tears, resolved to end it all;
Brow clutched, breast beaten, she is ready-
But does not jump into the fall
And goes on walking after all.
But tiring soon, our charming captive
(So long outdoors and on her feet),
Stopped, dried her tears, and grew receptive
When something in her murmured "eat"?
She sat and looked about-how easy!
For whoosh! an awning rustless down
To shelter her, all dim and breezy;
An exquisite repast is laid,
The setting sparks with crystal glitter;
From quiet depths of leafy shade
Clear runs of harp-notes trill and titter.
The princess marveled much at this,
In private though, took it amiss:
"Torn from my love, imprisoned, friendless-
Why should my stay on earth be endless?
Ah, jailer, whose pernicious lust
Would now indulge me, now torment me-
Your evil might cannot prevent me
From choosing death: I can! I must...
I have no stomach for your tents,
Your tedious songs, your blandishments-
I want no meals, no tunes, no meeting,
I'll die amidst your opulence!"
The princess thought, and - started eating.
Liudmila rose; which action banished
From sight the sumptuous repast,
The awning next, the music last,
Till all the sorcery had vanished.
Alone again, she roams the gardens,
From grove to glade she strays, forlorn,
Serenely through her sapphire stardoms
Selene, queen of night, is borne.
On every side the vapors thicken,
With streamers weaving hill to hill;
And she, abruptly slumber-stricken,
Feels lifted by an unknown will,
Which wafts her through the air and eases
More airily than vernal breezes
Through vesper incense of the rose
Her form across the chamber sill
Back on her couch, more gently still-
Her couch of mourning, Bed of woes.
In come, once more, the three young girls
And, bustling, set about their service
Unrobing her of gown and pearls;
But their expressions, sad and nervous,
Their downcast, taciturn constraint,
Speak unavailing reprimands
To Fate, a wordless shared complaint.
We hasten on: by tender hands
The slumbrous princess is undressed;
Sweet with the charm of careless ease,
In but a snowy-white chemise,
She beds herself at length for rest.
Obeisance rendered, heavy-hearted,
The maidens hastily departed
And gently pressed the portals to.
And now-how does out prisoner do?
Shakes like a leaf, her breathing stilled,
Eyes black with fear, her bosom chilled;
A fitful slumber leaves her troubled;
She strains to penetrate the gloom,
Unstirring, watchfulness redoubled:
Her heartbeat in the pitch-back room
Thrums in that silence of a tomb.
The darkness whispers...now she hears
A creeping sound behind her curtain-
She hides in pillows to her ears...
A noise outside her door. The night
War rent apart by sudden beaming,
The door became a shaft of light,
And wordlessly, majestic-seeming,
With scimitars unsheathed and gleaming,
A long twin file of moors appeared,
Most solemn of expressions wearing,
On pillows sedulously bearing
An equal length of silver beard.
And chin in air, there stalks behind it,
With measured gravity high-minded,
A hunchbacked dwarf of haughty mien;
A tall tarbosh protects the sheen
Upon his skull, completely shaven-
Those whiskers' launching place and haven.
He is quite near now! Like a streak
Liudmila hurtles through the curtain
And flies to clutch the grizzled freak,
With nimble fingers by the curtain
And flies to clutch the grizzled freak
With shaking fist she gives a tweak,
And, terrified, lets out a shriek
That all the moors are deafened quite.
The startled hunchback cringes, winces,
Turns paler than the frantic princess,
His hands clapped on his ears in fright;
He tried to run away, but tangled
In his own beard, fell down, half strangled
Got up, fell down; he lurched and swerved,
The dusky rain of thralls, unnerved,
Broke up and buzzled and whirled and wrangled,
Then picked the wizard off the mat
And whisked him off to be untangled,
Leaving Liudmila with his hat.
But what about our hero bright?
Recall that startling clash of gallants!
Orlovsky, lend your pencil's talents
To limn the slaughter and the night!
Upon that lurid moonlight stage
The heroes' fight to death advances,
Their heart are choked with silent rage,
Far off already hurled their lances,
The sabers shivered to the cage,
Blood from their iron tunics leaking,
Their bucklers chopped to chips and creaking...
They wrestle, matching wrench and thrust,
And, raising clouds of inky dust,
The blooded steeds beneath them battle;
With armors locked, the fighters bold,
Each as if welded to the saddle stranglehold.
Their limbs with hatred intergrow
And stiffen, as if fused forever;
Their veins abrim with fiery glow,
Each chest agasp on chest of foe-
But now they weaken, seem to sever-
One must go down...there! still astraddle,
My knight with arms of iron clasps
And wrests his foeman from the saddle;
He lifts him high above his head,
And-hurls him to the riverbed.
"Go under! vengefully he rasps.
"One faithless grudging foe is dead."
You guess, my friends, who shared the glory
Of that affray Ruslan has fought.
It was that battle-seeker gory,
Rogdai, the pride of Kiev's court,
The bright Liudmila's somber slave.
Along the Dnieper, northward bound,
He'd sought his rival's trail; had found,
Caught up; albeit the strength of yore
Forsook the fosterling of war;
And Kiev's champion, ever brave,
Found in the wilderness his grave.
They say, one of the river daughters,
a young rusalka of those waters,
Received him to her chilly breast,
And kissing him with laughing zest,
Drew him to share her moisty quarters.
And in the deep of night since then,
There stalks the quiet banks at random
The captive hero's mighty phantom,
The scare of lonely fishermen.
In vain you lingered in seclusion,
My verse, for happy friends to see!
You still must suffer the intrusion
Of evil-minded scrutiny.
Has not a sallow carper tried
To floor me with the fateful question:
Why do I call my hero's bride,
As if to wound her husband's pride,
"Princess" and "maid?" A fine suggestion!
You recognize, my gentle reader,
Aspersion's spiteful Judas-kiss!
Come, Zoilus, come mischief-breeder,
how am I to reply to this?
For shame! But I refuse to quarrel;
Blush, graceless wretch, and hie thee hence!
I know myself profoundly moral,
My lips are sealed by innocence.
You, though, will feel for me, Climene,
With sultry languor downward gazing,
Slave to an irksome Hymen's ban...
I see a fallen tear is hazing
My page, which to the heart is clear;
You flush, your eyes grow darker, glower;
A sign unspoken...speaks! Ah, fear,
sir Jealousy, here comes the hour;
Beware-for Love and Anger flouted
Have entered and audacious pact,
Your graceless brow will soon have sprouted
The mark of the avenging act.
A frigid dawn by now is gilding
The Borean summits' rugged hulks;
Still silent stands the magic building.
But Chernomor, in moody sulks,
Tarboosh-less, dressing-gowned, sits yawning
Upon his bed and chides the morning.
His flowing silver moors are serving;
And tenderly a comb of bone
Meanders down its every curving.
On his interminable whiskers
Are sprayed, for lure and benefit,
Sweet balm of musk and brisk hibiscus,
And cunning waves are crimped in it.
Abruptly through the window flashing
A dragon sailed on horny wings;
It set its scary armor clashing,
And coiling up in glistening rings,
Changed to Naina-yes, one other,
Before the wonder-stricken throng.
"Salute to you," she hailed, "Sir Brother,
Confrere I have esteemed so long!
By clamorous report alone
Great Chernomor to me was known;
Now secret fate has joined us stranger
In common enmity and dread;
Your are beset by certain danger,
Black clouds have gathered overhead;
To me, the voice of honor slighted
Is retribution's goad and spur.
The dwarf extends his hand to her,
His smile is crafty and delighted,
"August Naina," he exclaims,
"I truly cherish your alliance.
We'll set at naught the Finn's defiance,
I do not fear adversary he;
For learn my power's mysterious essence,
How Chernomor not randomly
Displays his hirsute efflorescence:
As long as these my whiskers white
A hostile saber does not server,
So long no mortal man, no knight,
No, not the boldest champion ever,
Can tamper with my least endeavor.
Liudmila stays my captive darling
Forever, and Ruslan is doomed."
The witch malignly echoed, snarling:
"To be entombed! To be entombed!"
With this, three times she stamped the ground,
Let out three hisses, shook her ruff,
And dragon-shaped again, flew off.
Resplendent in brocated gown,
The magus, cheered by reinforcement,
Once more decided to show off
For the fair prisoner's endorsement
His beard, his homage, and his love.
He follows, then, his fragrant skein
Into Liudmila room again;
He paces down the whole long floor-
No princess there. He tries the door
Out to the park; past cedars tall
Along the lake, around the fall,
In groves, in arbors tries to find her:
In vain! she left no trace behind her.
Who can describe his palsied quaking,
His bridling outrage, frenzied shaking?
The midget's strident bellow sounded;
Beside himself with rage, he rounded
Upon his thralls: "Here, at a run,
Look for Liudmila every one!
Off, I rely on you! At once!
Mark me-at once! I will be feared!
Just try to take me for a dunce,
And you'll be strangled in my beard!"
Well, reader mine, shall I relate
Just where our lonely one had flitted?
All night she had bethought her fate
In most-eyed wonderment and - tittered.
The beard still awed her, but the dwarf
No longer was a dreadful rumor;
She knew him, and he was a laught-
And terror sits but ill with humor.
The rays of morning slanting nearer,
Liudmila, rising to the dawn
Into a lofty limpid mirror.
From lily shoulders golden strands
Unthinkingly she culled and parted,
Unconsciously by careless hands
A glossy braid was somehow started.
Then, in corner, unawares
She came upon her first day's clothing;
She sighed, and dressed, and struck with loathing,
Gave way again to quiet tears.
Her eyes, however, did not leave
The faithful glass in her emotion;
And then she happened to conceive
A frivolously girlish notion:
To try for size the wizard's hat.
All private in her habitat,
No prying eyes-what could it matte?
What soft of headwear does not flatter
A girl of seventeen, at that?
and trying on is always fun!
She turned the hat: now backward slanted-
Down on one eyebrow-level-canted-
And font-to-back she put it on.
Just then-oh miracles of yore!
Liudmila vanished from the mirror;
She turned the hat back, ventured nearer,
Her image met her as before;
She turned it back-a void once more-
She took it off-back in somehow!
"Too bad, my spellster friend, too bad!
What price the great magician now?
This should dispose of you, my lad!"
The maiden, flushed with wicked pleasure,
Put on the hat of the old lecher
And turned it backward as she had.
Back to our hero, though. I blush
To have dilated long and late
On moors and whiskers and tarboosh,
Abandoning Ruslan to fate!
Fought off the onslaught of Rogdai,
He slowly rides through drowsing forest
Down to a valley broadly terraced
Beneath a lustrous morning sky.
He cannot help a shudder, sighting
a grim tableau of ancient fighting.
Bleak desolation: everywhere
Shine bleaching bones-now here, now there
Stray armor rusting in the field,
A broadsword, clutched in bony fingers,
A gorget, a corroded shield;
Weed-grown, a shaggy helmet lighegers,
Within, a shrunken deathead fraying,
Rise slanted from the softened site,
In peaceful ivy garlands swaying.
No sound appears about to alter
This spectacle of torpid blight;
The sun from his empyreal height
Illuminates the vale slaughter.
The prince looks all about with groans,
And murmurs, heavy-eyed and sighing:
"Oh field of battle, field of dying,
Who planted you to brittle bones?
What host in bloody battle-gear
Last stamped on you, whose noble prancer?
Who sank on you with glory here?
Whose prayers did the heavens answer?
Why have you fallen myte and yield
To rank oblivion's choking grasses?...
What if from time's black grip, oh field,
Not I, not anybody passes?
What if some hillock mute and grim
Becomes the grave of Prince Ruslan,
And bardic music of Bayan
Strikes up no memory of him?"
But a knight-errant needs a sword,
And armor-plating never harmed him;
So presently Ruslan recalled
That combat had of late disarmed him.
He strides about the battlefield;
'Mid bones with creepers interwoven,
In rustling piles of cuisse and shield,
Or sword and helmet bent and cloven,
He seeks a suit of mail or chain.
Then woke the steppe from numb abandon,
With clash and clatter shrilled the random,
A ringing horn, a helmet trim-
Alone a sword eluded him.
All kinds of carvers leaned a lay,
But all were flimsy or too short;
He was a fine substantial sort,
Not like the knights of latter-day.
In want of exercise and fun,
He picked a lance of steel for play,
Then pulled an iron tunic on
And thus continued on his way.
The ruddy western flares are paling
Above and earth to slumber soon;
From bluish swathes of vapor sailing
There now ascends a golden moon.
The steppe is shadowed, dark the track,
From it across nocturnal gloom
Ruslan, bemused, sees, deeper black,
Far off a massive hillock loom;
There something fearsome seems to snore.
He rides up closer, close-and hears:
The mound is breathing, it appears.
He looks and listens as before,
In perfect calm, his heart unflagging;
But, nervous ears erect and wagging,
The horse digs in his heels and quakes;
His stubborn head flung high, he shakes,
His bristling mane on end with fright.
Beneath the moon, no longer clouded,
The mound, in gauzy vapor shrouded,
Before the prince's eyes turns bright,
Revealing a portentous sight...
How bring it home to mind or sense?
It is a living head-immense,
Its massive eyelids closed in slumber;
It snores; from the prodigious rumble
The helmet rocks, its windblown plume
Fades out aloft in shadowy gloom.
In frightful comeliness, inert
Above the darkened prairie towering,
With overwhelming silence girt,
This desolation's guardian louring
Looms awesomely in front of him,
A misty hulk with menace grim.
Ruslan, incredulous, would close
With this gargantuan repose
And break it, if he might with profit.
He rode a watchful circuit of it
And, speechless, stopped before the nose.
Its nostrils with a spear-tip teased,
The head raised up its lids and shivered,
Then quickly puckered up and sneezed...
A whirlwind rose, the prairie quivered,
Dust swirled; from whisker, brow, and lash
A tumbling swarm of barn-owls crash;
From slumber waken brush and weed,
An echo-sneeze-the dauntless steed
Rears, neighs, speeds off on flying feet;
The rider barely keeps his seat.
And then a voice behind them thundered:
"Hoy, foolish knight, where have you blundered?
Come, let's enjoy our rendezvous!
I gobble cheeky boys like you!"
Ruslan looked back, by proud if painful
Exertion reined his steed about,
And gave laugh, his voice disdainful.
"What do you want?" the head cried out.
"What kind of visitor, God rest me,
Fate sends on purpose to molest me!
Run, while you can without a fight!
I'm going back to sleep, it's night,
Good-bye!" The knight, with indignation
Responding to this rude address,
Exclaimed in angry reprobation:
"Subside, you boom of hollowness!
Have you not heard the true refrain:
A giant skull, a midget brain?
I ride and ride, straight down the middle,
And when I strike, I do not fiddle!"
At this, dumbfounded by his daring,
The head, with pent-up fury glaring,
Swelled up; the bloodshot eyes resembled
Live embers with their scarlet gleam;
The lips, all flecked with lather, trembled,
While ears and mouth were wreathed in steam-
And suddenly, its cheeds delated,
It fell to blowing at out knight;
In vain his steed, its chest inflated,
Head straining sideways, eyes closed tight,
Tried to press forward unabated
Through all this whirlwind, rain, and night;
Exhausted, terrified, half-blinded,
Once more it flings its legs behind it
And flies for cover out of sight.
Once more the hero, stoutly tackling
The head, is blown away, alack!
That monster, for its part, is cackling
Behind him lide a maniac
And shouts: "Prince Charming! Hero! Clown!
You are not off?? Don't let me down!!
Tut, tut, he's running like a stag!
And you a champion fighter! Hear me,
Give one teensy slap to cheer me,
Before you've ruined your poor nag!"
With this the thins, for illustration,
Struck out its tongue and gave a leer;
Ruslan, concealing his frustration,
With silent menace weighed his spear.
His arm propelled it, sinews pliant,
The chilly iron hissed, defiant,
And quivered in the shameless tongue;
And blood came weltering in torrents
Where frin the frantic maw it hung.
The head, from pain, surprise, abhorrence
In a profoundly chastened mood,
Its crimson color fading, chewed
On steel; still seething, but subdued.
Thus on our stage you see at times
One of the Muse's lesser mimes,
From unexpected hissing deaf,
No longer know stage-right from left;
He pales, forgets his lines, sweats rivers,
His head droops to his chest, he shivers,
And with a gulp comes quite unglued
Before the hooting multitude.
To profit by the state of nerves
Which grips the head, our gallant swerves
And, hawk-like, swoops to the attack.
His doughty right hand, raised above,
Deals with its heavy armored glove
The giant cheek a frightful thwack;
The steppe reechoed with the crack,
Which carnadined its dewy heather
Both far and wide with bloody lather.
The head was rocking-teetered back,
Half wheeled, fell down, and started rolling,
Its iron helmet loudly tolling.
Look! on its recent base or source
A sword of chivaltry lay glinting.
The joyful prince with quick resource
Took hold of it, and followed, sprinting,
The head along its blood-daubed course,
The falcon is already raised,
Already starting down and swishing-
When suddenly he hears, amazed,
A plaintive moan of meek petition...
He drops the sword-arm, harks intently,
His wolfish wrath subsiding gently;
The vengeful soul is given pause,
Is mollified by mild entreating;
So in the vale the snow-bank thaws
Beneath the blazing noon-sun's beating.
"You have returned my to my senses,"
Confessed the head in contrite tone;
"I offered you unjust offences,
As your right hand has amply shown.
To your command I am obedient;
But you, oh noble knight, be lenient!
Worth your compassion is my plight.
I too was once a gallant knight!
In bloody fray I met no other
To equal me in pluck and brawn;
And happy me-had I not drawn
The rivalry of my young brother!
You, Chernomor, with craft and spite
Did all my dire misfortunes wreak!
The family escutcheon's blight,
A dwarf from birth, a bearded freak,
From early childhood he had started
To hate me for it in his soul.
I had been always somewhat simple,
Though tall of stature; and that wretch,
While not much bigger than a pimple,
Is devilish smart-and vile to match.
To my discomfiture, besides,
In his outlandish beard resides
Of sorceries some fateful junction;
Dismissing all humane compunction,
While yet the beard remains intact,
He shrinks from no unholy act...
Thus in fraternal accents warm-
"A word with you," one day he pleaded,
"Do not refuse-your gifts are needed
A weighty service to perform.
Beyond the mountains (say my parchments)
Upon a placid ocean beach,
Sequestered under dungeon archments,
A sword is kept-of fearful reach!
I am apprised by magic sources
That through the will of hostile forces
This sword shall know both you and me;
It would undo us both forever;
From me it is ordained to sever
My beard, from you-your head. You see
That it is vital we acquire
This tool of injury and shame!"
"Well, on with it-who's hanging fire?"
I told the midget, "I am game,
To the four corners of creation,"
On my right shoulder flung a pine,
And on my left, for consultation,
I set that viper kin of mine
And started on the long, long road.
Good luck would have it, as I strode,
That all, as if to spite the curse,
Went prosperously just at first;
Beyond far heights of orient sloping
TO sea, we found the fateful crypt;
With my bare hands I tore it open,
And the sequestered sword I gripped:
But not secured! Fate willed it, rather,
That we fell out with one another-
Nor was it over small reward!
But over who would own the sword.
I argued, he flared up, we gave
As good as got-till he invented
An underhanded trick, the knave,
Grew calm and outwardly relented.
"Let us break off this painful scene,"
Said Chernomor with pious mien,
'Which but dishonors out accord;
Both sense and heart to peace impel us;
Let us appeal to Fate to tell us
Who is the owner of this sword.
Let's hug the earth, start listening;
(How truly malice makes you clever!)
And which is first to hear a ring,
Let him posses the sword forever.'
With this he crouches, ear to ground,
And I, fool that I am, believe him;
I lie there, hearing not a sound
And gloating how I will deceive him-
But foully was myself undone!
The villain, when I could not see,
Rose soundlessly, stole up to me
Upon my blind side, straightened, spun,
And like a gale the blade hissed to it-
Ere I could look to my defense,
I had no head with which to do it.
Some supernatural influence
Preserved the head both life and sense.
In briars lies my ribwork rigid,
My buld is rotting uninterred
In distant land by man unheard;
This part of me the evil midget
Transferred to this forsaken land,
Where ceaseless watch I was to stand
Upon the sword you took today.
Oh knight! I see the fates preserve you:
Take it, and stoutly may it serve you!
Should chance decree that on your way
You meet this feeble-bodied charmer,
And feel in best of form and armor,
Avenge his treason and foul play!
This will rejoice my soul and save me,
Then I shall leave the earth content-
Nor in my gratitude resent
The unforgotten slap you gave me."
Each morning as I test conditions,
I render thanks to le bon Dieu
For making sure that our milieu
No longer buzzes with magicians.
And further, that-God bless this roof!-
Our marriages are burglar-proof...
Hence evil spell leave unaffected.
There's witchcraft overwise beguiling
Which I avoid like pestilence:
It's worked by eyes-oh my friends!
Do not believe them: they delude!
Eschew, observing my estrangement,
Their sweet, insidious derangement
And walk in sober quietude.
Most wondrous genius of verse,
Oh bard of reveries and revels,
Of love, of mysteries and devils,
Oh faithful mate of hearth and hearse,
And to my Muse (no stuffy matron)
Preserver, intimate, and patron!
Forgive me, Orpheus of the north,
If in my rambling back and forth
I briefly touch your lofty levels
And tilt your upright lyre awry
To trap it in a charming lie.
My friends, you all remember hearing
In days of old a sinner sell
His soul to the foul Friend, despairing,
And then his daughters' souls as well;
How after charitable giving,
Strict fasting, telling bead on bead,
And exemplary contrite living
He moved a saint to intercede;
How then he died, and how his dozen
Fair filial forfeits fell asleep-
And we sat gibbering and buzzing,
Rapt by the tale's mysterious sweep,
Those wonderfully vivid touches,
That wrath Divine, the devil's anger,
The sinner's writhing in his clutches,
Those blameless maidens' lovely languor.
We wrung our hands with them and wandered
Within that crenellated wall,
With floods of fulsome feeling pondered
Their silent sleep, their tranquil thrall;
We tried to haste Vadim's arrival,
To their poor father's burial-stead.
And all this time-we were misled!
But dare I let this out? I blush...
Ratmir, the hothead, southward guiding
His thoroughbred's impetuous rush,
Had thought before the vesper hush
To track Liudmila's place of hiding.
But day burnt out in crimson tapers;
The champion vainly peered ahead
To pierce the veil of distant vapors:
The river bank were bare and dead.
The setting sun was blazing brightly
Across the forest's gilded space,
And our contender, trotting lightly
Past shaded boulders, slowed his pace
To pick a sheltered sleeping-place.
But now he saw the woodland clearing,
A castle on a granite mound
Its crenellated bastions rearing;
Black keeps at every corner frowned.
Down by a parapeted stair,
Lone as a swan at sea and fair,
In vesper glow a maiden glides,
And faint across the distance rides
Her song upon the drowsing air.
"Now darkness shades the meadows over,
A chill is wafted from the sea.
Late is the hour, oh fair young rover,
Come, join our pleasant company.
Here days are gay with wine and song,
And nights enlanguored bliss ungender,
Come here, oh rover fair and young!
Of beauties you will find a swarm,
Their words, their blandishments are tender.
To ardor's mystic lure surrender,
Come here, young rover fair of form!
Tomorrow at the break of day
Your stirrup-cup we shall be speeding.
Surrender to the gentle pleading,
Come, fair young rover, turn our way!
Now darkness shades the meadows over,
A chill is wafted from the sea.
Late is the hour, oh fair young rover,
Come, join our pleasant company."
Here days are gay with wine and song,
And nights enlanguored bliss engender;
To friendship's soft appeal surrender,
Come, join our pleasant company.
Of beauties you will find a swarm,
Their words, their blandishments are tender.
To ardor's mystic lure surrender,
Come here, young rover fair of form!
Tomorrow at the break of day
Your stirrup-cup we shall be speeding.
Surrender to the gentle pleading,
Come, fair young rover, turn our way!
Now darkness shades the meadows over,
A chill is wafted from the sea.
Late is the hour, oh fair young rover,
Come, join our pleasant company."
She pleads with him, she sings to him,
By now the Khan is at her feet;
More maidens, fair as seraphim,
Throng up and make his welcome sweet;
Endearing speeches overbrim,
He is besieged; they seem unable
To take their melting eyes off him;
Two lead his charger off to stable;
Thus makes the Khan his entry here,
Fair hermits bringing up the rear.
One eases off his winged casque,
A third his sword, his dusty shield;
All armored panoply must yield
To raiment pliable and tender.
But first the noble youth is led
Into a bath of Ruslan splendor.
Already steaming floods are fed
Into the silver vats with splashing;
Cool founts, in turn, come hissing, plashing.
They spread rich fabrics of Iran,
Whereon reclines the weary Khan;
Fine wisps of steam about him loop;
Fond eyes cast down, the lovely troupe,
All eagerness to serve him, press
Their charming all-but-nakedness
About his couch, a playful group.
Above him, one of them is waving
The supple birch-twig's tender points,
His frame with rose, his stiffened joints;
As she most winsomely anoints
His dusky curls with fragrant balms.
'Mid such delight, Ratmir, enraptured,
Has lost all memory of captured
Liudmila's lately dreamed-of charms;
What roving eyes light up to see
He craves with pangs of sweet desire,
His heart is molten, caught on fire
With passionate expectancy.
Here from the fountain-house he issues,
Is gently swathed in velvet tissues,
And by these lovely hands released
But to be seated to a feast.
No Homer I: who else is able
The joys of Grecian youth at table,
The bellied goblets' swirl and ring;
No-following Parny, I might
More fifty bid my careless lyre
Adore dim nakedness at night,
And love's not unassuaged desire!
The castle dreams beneath the moon;
I see where in secluded chamber
Our champion, drugged by amorous languor,
Drifts into lonely slumber soon;
I see, too, that his brow, his cheek,
Now glow, now fade with ambient flushing,
And lips half-open seem to seek
Another pair's complaisant brushing!
His breathing hastens, fever-fashion,
In live illusion of their sight
He clasps the quilt in token passion...
There gapes the door, in deep of night-
And through the eerie lunar light
A maiden glides. Dream visions feckless,
Wing back your way, to realms unknown!
Wake up-now is the night your own!
Wake up-each moment's loss is reckless!...
She comes towards him, sees him spread
In charming sensuous abandon;
His coverlet slides off the bed,
Quick flushes paint his brow at random.
A moment there the maiden waits
Before a shepherd lad enchanting;
Then lifts a dimpled knee to crouch
Across the restless lover's couch;
All with a sigh, a quivering reach,
Draws from his dream the lucky sleeper
With lips that know but passion's speech...
But stay, the maiden lyre, oh friends,
Has fallen mute beneath my finger,
My bashful music fails and ends,
No more with young Ratmir to linger.
I dare not warble in this vein:
Ruslan should claim our mind again,
Ruslan, the bravest of the brave,
Fair knight, true lover to the grave.
Exhausted by the evening's fighting,
He found a restful sleeping-place
At the disbodied titan's base.
But now the flush of dawn is lighting
The quiet heaven's eastern face;
Soon playful sunbeams, winking, peering,
Across the shaggy forehead drift.
Ruslan springs up-his charger, rearing,
Propels him onward arrow-swift.
The grain turns gold; the foliage lingers,
Then sadly slips from crown and bough.
The autumn gusts outwhistle now
In plundered woods the feathered singers.
November fogs on fell and tarn
Have settled, pendulous and dreary;
It's winter striding up-Ruslan
Rode north, undaunted and unweary.
Each day some agency unknown
Would make a nuisance of itself:
A chap in arms, a witching crone,
Some clod absurdly overgrown,
A clearly deleterious elf,
Some wizard wallah-oh, you name it,
Our hero fought and overcame it.
He even saw, one moonlit night,
As through a dream or second sight,
Rusalkas, wreathed in silver vapor,
'Mid shady branches slimly taper,
And cradled so, they would beguile
The youth with deeply knowing smile
And say no word...But he, protected
By secret craft, is not deflected;
Of idle lust his soul is pure,
He never left the nixies' lure;
In him Liudmila reigns secure.
Meanwhile unseen, from nameless ruin
(Through lechery-cum-magic) shielded
By that tarboosh, adroitly wielded-
What's my elusive princess doing,
The arch-delectable Liudmila?
She, tuneless, cheerless Philomena,
At random strays through the plantation,
Thinks of her friend with desolation
Or lets imagination wander
Back to her native Kiev yonder,
And gives her heedless heart free play:
Embraces father, brothers, cheers
Her girlhood playmates' fond array,
Frail nannies of her infant years-
Forgotten bondage, separation!
But soon the luckless maiden's mind,
Recalled from happy aberration,
Once more is dismal and confined.
The minions of the love-struck midget,
Afraid to take a nap of fidget,
Both late and early pad about,
Patrolling gardens, keeps, and castle
In search of the delicious morsel
Mislaid; they beat the bushes, shout-
But all in vain as it turns out.
Liudmila had her sport with them:
Would in a clearly girl-less vista
Rise capless from some aspidistra
And call: Yoo-hoo, there! Here I am!
They'd all come charging over then,
While she, invisible again,
On feet unlike their grabbing claws.
There was no doubt of their beholding
Her passing's transitory signs:
It might be fruit that, ripe and golden,
Would vanish from the quivering vines,
Or they would gather with content
From freshly sprinkled water beads
Beside a rumpled shock of weeds
That she was taking nourishment.
In birch or cedar she would nestle
At fall of dark and seek relief
In slumber, were it but so brief-
But through the weary hours would wrestle
With anguish, call Ruslan, would weep,
Worn out between despair and yawning,
Her face against the rugged back,
And seldom, seldom by the dawning
Have drifted into shadow sleep.
When early purple flushed the dark,
She wandered to the cataract
To wash beneath its chilly arc.
The dwarf would know her in the act
Some mornings, seeing from the palace
Cupped hands like a transparent mark.
Then as before, in agitation
And grief until another dark,
She'd roam the ever gay plantation.
At times, before the sunset faded,
Her purling voice came to their ears,
Or in a bower, or by the fall,
They'd find a wreath which she had braided,
A tuftled off her Persian shawl,
A handkerchief still moist with tears.
No less by passion racked and saddened,
Than by defiance stung and maddened,
The magus vowed to have his way
And catch Liudmila, come what may.
Just so did Lemnos' crippled swith,
Endowed with the connubial wreath
By mind-disturbing Cyprid's arms,
Lay out net to guard her charms,
And trap them, tenderly misspent,
To quenchless godly merriment...
Cool in a marble summer-house,
The princess, sunk in sad inaction,
Gazed through the window in abstraction
Across the softly swaying boughs
Upon a flowery meadow nearest
Her perch. All of a sudden, "Dearest!"
She hears, and sees-Ruslan, her spouse,
His frame, his face, his every trait,
But blur-eyed, drained, with broken gait,
A gaping would along his flank-
"Ruslan!" The heart within her shrank,
"Ruslan! By heaven!.." All unheeding,
The captive flies across to him,
Distraught, unstrung in soul and limb,
"You here! ..what happened? ..you are bleeding!.."
She is upon him, arms outspread...
God! vanished is the phantom lover,
A net enmeshes her all over,
The magic cap slips from her head.
"Now she is mine!" With this dread word
Before her eyes the magus rises,
The maiden's piteous moan is heard-
A grateful magic swoon disguised
The infamy that has occurred.
Poor hapless lamb! Who but abhors
The sight: the wizened maiden-stealer
Lays insolent (if brittle) claws
Upon the charms of young Liudmila!
Will his vile stratagem reward him?
Hark! horn-notes view-halloo toward him,
Sharp challenge to the dwarf they bear;
He straightens, ashen-faced and drawn,
Puts back the magic cap on her-
Still nearer, louder blares the horn-
And flies to guard his priceless stake,
His whiskers streaming in his wake.
A darling girl, my princess! Royal
Or not, I hold her kind most dear:
She's sensitive and modest, loyal
To married duties less than clear,
A trifle flighty, if you will?..
That merely makers her sweeter still.
Her ways and whims incessantly
Contrive to charm our minds anew;
Now take Delphire's austerity-
You simply can't compare the two.
Upon the first her fate has lavished
Whatever heart and eye beguiles;
The way she speaks, the way she smiles
Leave me inspirited and ravished.
But that-hussar in petticoats?
Add spurs and whiskers and be done!
No-of an evening, blessed the one
On whom in blithe seclusion dotes
Liudmila's charming counterpart,
And calls him ruler of her heart!
And blithe no less in his career
Who breaks away from a Delphire,
Or never lets her get a start.
But we have wandered far astray!
Who blew that challenge then, compelling
The magus into mortal fray?
Who caused the sorcerer's dismay?
Ruslan-his heart with vengeance swelling,
Had reached the malefactor's dwelling.
Right to the bluff the knight progresses,
The trumpet keening like a storm;
The steed's impatient hoofbeat presses,
Into the snow its might form.
The prince is waiting. Of a sudden
From nowhere falls with crash and thudding
A blow upon his helm of steel,
as stunning as a thunder-peal.
Ruslan looks up, his sight grown dim
And sees, directly over him,
The bearded magus hovers winging,
A fearful bludgeon raised and swinging.
Ruslan bent low, his shield for ward,
Slashed, flourished upward with his sword;
But he soared up, past human ken
For some short while-then from his towering
Cloud eyrie hurtled down again.
Our champion sprang aside, unstruck,
And he, with impact overpowering,
Crashed to the show-and there he stuck.
Dismounting in a flash, refraining
From speech, Ruslan rushed over, neared,
Caught up the dwarf and gripped his beard;
The trapped magician, groaning, straining-
Loops up with him into the air!
Well might the fiery charger state-
They're up amid the clouds' dim scope;
Ruslan suspended by this rope.
They cross the wildwood's sullen verges,
They cross the frowning mountain gorges,
They fly above the plumbless deep;
Though stiffened from the strain and blistered,
Ruslan maintains upon the whiskered
Hellhound his unrelenting grip.
His buoyant magic draining, failing,
In awe by now of Russian strength,
The sorcerer, more slowly sailing,
Says slyly to Ruslan at length:
"I prize young valor-I feel guided
To cease from hurting you at last;
I pardon you, forger the past,
And start descending now-provided..."
"No! there is nothing to provide!"
The Prince flared up, "with Chernomor,
With the tormentor of his bride,
Ruslan knows neither truce nor law!
This ruthless sword shall pay your score.
Fly to the polar star, and still
Your beard is forfeit to my will!"
The tiring warlock, struck with panic,
Still loath to credit what he feared,
In mute chagrin, in wrath satanic
Jerked vainly at his captive beard;
Ruslan would not release it, and
From time to time would tweak a strand.
Two days the wizard bore the prince,
The third, he begged deliverance:
"Oh knight, have mercy on me, pray,
This plight is more than I can stand;
Spare me-I am at your command:
I'll land us anywhere you say."
"Ha! Worn and shaking at my hand!
Surrender, bow to Russian valor!
Conduct me, then, to my Liudmila."
The sorcerer listened, meek and weary,
And bearing homeward with our knight,
Descended-shortly to alight
Within his awesome mountain eyrie.
Then with his right the champion leveled
His sword-the lop-head giant's prey-
Seized with his left the beard and severed
The whiskers like a tuft of hay.
"Thus know my race!" he shouted grimly,
"Where is your famous furpiece, thief?
Where is your might?" and fastened trimly
About his helm the silvery sheaf.
He whistled for his mettled horse,
It cantered up with cheerful neighing;
The draft, a negligible force,
Into his saddle-pocket laying,
He faced, with not a minute's waste,
The crag, his riding wild joyous haste
Into the necromancer's palace.
Seeing his helm with whiskers graced,
Pledge of the fated fall of wrong,
The moorish servants' wondrous throng,
The timid corps of captive virgins,
Dissolve away at his emergence
Like wraiths, and vanish on all sides.
Down stately halls alone he strides
And calls for his beloved spouse;
His voice alone from vaulted ceilings
Re-echoes in the magic house;
In access of impatient feelings
He thrusts the park-door open, roves
The grounds-endeavor unavailing;
He scans the pleasance, spirit qualing,
Both nothing stirs there: silent groves,
Deserted bowers; up sloping alleys,
Along a stream-bed, down the valleys,
He nowhere sees Liudmila's trace,
And the acutest hearing fails him.
At this and inner chill assails him,
The world turns dark before his face
With thoughts from nights of fancy risen...
"Perhaps her grief... the gloom of prison...
There comes a time...the brook..." he borrows
This scene and others; numb with dread,
The shaken champion hangs his head;
He stands engrossed in forecast sorrows,
Oblivious like a cliff at flood.
His reason clouds; the savage daring,
The poison drug of love despairing
Hate started coursing in his blood.
Liudmila's presence, close delightful,
Had brushed his trembling lips, he felt,
And of a sudden, frantic, frightful,
He strode about the park and dealt
Destruction: called her name with roaring,
The slopes with wrenched-off boulders scoring,
All slashing, crushing with his sword-
Pavilions, pleasances are tumbling,
Trees, bridges, all awash and crumbling,
The park reduced to barren sward!
The distant hills re-echo, rumbling,
The rush and uproar, thud and crash;
His saber-passes ring and flash-
Despoiled the exquisite oasis!
For victims thirsts the maddened knight,
And with his saber-strokes crosslaces
The empty air on left and right...
There now! a random flourish carried
From the bewitched Liudmila's forehead
Foul Chernomor's departing gift...
At once, the spell was seen to lift,
The princess and the net revealing!
Then, slow to trust the happy shift
Of fortune, her redeemer, reeling
Beneath the shock of joy, was kneeling
Before his love, his faithful one,
Kissed her dear hands, tore up the net,
And shed glad tears of love rewon.
He called to her-but she was sunken
In slumber, lids and lips were closed;
With sensuous fancies sweetly drunken,
The youthful bosom sank and rose.
New devilment profoundly fearing,
He never lets her from his sight...
But then familiar accents cheer him-
The saintly Finnish anchorite:
"Take courage, Prince! Arise, make ready
For home now with your slumbering bride;
Keep lobe and honor for your guide!
Your strength of soul renew and steady.
God's thunderbolt will shatter malice,
And sweet tranquility provide-
In shining Kiev, in the palace,
Before Vladimir as you bend,
Liudmila's magic sleep will end."
Ruslan, much heartened by his mentor,
Now gathers up his precious find;
The eyrie of her late tormentor
Is gently, swiftly left behind,
As down a lonely glen they canter.
Ruslan rode silently along,
The dwarf behind his saddle slung;
In his bent arm Liudmila nested,
Fresh as the vernal dawn, and rested
Her peaceful rosy countenance
Against the shoulder of her prince.
The winds of wildernesses flutter
Her tresses in their ring-shaped braid;
How often, drowsy, she will utter
A sign, her quiet profile show
A flush of roses come and go!
Love and the sway of slumber bring
Ruslan before the sacred dreamer,
Her lips with fervent whispering
Pronounce the name of her redeemer...
Ruslan, in turn, has ear and eye
But for the wonder of her breathing,
Her smile, her tears, her tender sigh,
The slumbrous bosom's gentle heaving.
Through hills and dales, along, away,
In back of night, in white of day,
Course steed and knight, and never tire.
Still far the land of heart's desire-
The maiden sleeps...Did our young blade,
By fangs of fruitless ardor flayed,
Forewidowed for it felt like years,
Check all indecorous ideas?
Stand chastely at his guardian's station,
And from abstemious contemplation
Derive his frugal sustenance?
The monk who made my storied price
The subject of his faithful annal,
Posterity's unrivalled channel,
Assures us that he did no less.
And believe him!
Stripped of sharing,
Delights of love are coarse and wearing,
It does take two for happiness.
Liudmila, nymphets of the meadow,
Did not sleep in the least like you,
As in the pandering spring you do
Upon the mead, in sylvan shadow.
I well recall a grassy glade
Amidst a twilit grove of birches,
I well recall a deeper shade,
Where Lida's cunning slumber perches...
My kiss, a maiden lover's gift,
Too light, to shy, too unarousing,
Was not enough, alas, to lift
Her patient and determined drowsing...
But there! what nonsense I am prating!
Who needs these memories of love?
His ravages, their sweet abating,
I have been long oblivious of.
Back, to the topic I was on:
Liudmila, Chernomor, Ruslan.
Before them lay a spreading prairie
Where here and yonder spruces grew;
Then in the distance hove in view
A looming mound whose topmost aerie
Showed black against the radiant blue.
Our hero guessed as it grew larger
It was the giant head he knew;
More swiftly speeds his dashing charger;
The prodigy becomes distinct:
His gaze is fixed, the hair resembles
A gloomy forest-border inked
Across the towering brow and temples;
Down cheeks of life and color drenched
A wave of livid pallor darted,
The Brobdignagian lips were parted,
The rows of monstrous grinders clenched...
His day of final doom, none other,
Now overhung the failing head.
To him the valiant hero sped
Liudmila and the craven brother.
"We meet again, great head," he cried,
"I have brought back the chastened slayer,
Look! Here, in bonds, is your betrayer!"
Behold-the prince's words of pride
As if revivified the creature,
New feeling stirred each massive feature,
It rose from slumber as it were,
It gazed, and made a dreadful moaning...
Straightway it knew its conqueror,
And marked its kin with hate and groaning.
The nostrils swelled; with parting glare
Of crimson stains the cheeks were brindled,
The eyeballs, glazing as they were,
To final flames of fury kindled.
In throes of outrage, speechless wrath,
The titan grinders fell to gnashing,
The chilling tongue reviled the dwarf
With half-articulated passion...
But now the long-drawn pain was soothed,
The momentary furor faded,
The heaving breath was gently smoothed,
That superhuman vision shaded
And broke; prince and magician saw
Life shiver briefly, and withdraw...
Eternal slumber now it slept.
In sober mood the knight departed;
Shrunk in the bag where he was kept,
The kobold never stirred nor started,
But in black wizardry's argot
Sent fervent prayers to fiends below.
Upon the darkly sloping bank
Of a clear rivulet uncharted,
In forest twilight green and rank,
Half sunken in, a cabin shrank,
Where firs the densest shade imparted.
The water, somnolent and glassy,
In lazy ripples lapped in passing
A fence nearby of plaited reeds,
And barely chuckled in its sally
Above the soughing of the breeze.
Here ambled a sequestered valley
Its dim and solitary way,
Where sylvan silence lay the cove;
Beneath the efflorescent day
The valley and the brookside grove
Broke glinting through the morning haze.
Ruslan sank on the grass, and setting
His bride beside him, fell to fretting
His mind in sweet and rueful daze.
Then, straight ahead, he saw them furling
The canvas of a modest boat,
And heard a fisher's chanty float
Above the current's tranquil purling.
Cast far astream the heavy webbing,
The fisherman, bent to the oar,
Stood straight in for the leafy shore,
The threshold of the humble cabin.
Good Prince Ruslan sat up and watched;
The vessel reached the bank and lodged
Alongside; from the swarthy cabin
A maiden runs; her graceful habit,
Her tresses, loosely downward streaming,
Her quiet, steady gaze, her smile,
The breasts, the naked shoulders gleaming,
At once endear her, and beguile.
Not seated yet, they take their pleasure
Embracing by the water's cool,
Affection ushering in the rule
Of surcease and untroubled leisure.
To his incredulous surprise,
Whom does our hero recognize
In this young netter of great treasure?
The Khazar khan, for glory fated,
Who had in love and war been rated
His young competitor-the same!
Ratmir in lone and blissful places
had spurned Liudmila, cast off fame,
And waived forever quest and name
In this dear maiden's sweet embraces.
The prince approached, and with a start
The recluse knew Ruslan; he bounded
Across to him, a cry resounded...
Each pressed the other to his heart.
"What do I see?" the hero queried,
"Why are you here? Can you have wearied
Of laurels would on bloodied arms?"
Replied the fisherman: "In faith,
War's glory can no more deceive me,
That vacuous and baneful wraith!
Pastimes of innocence, believe me,
The green and peaceful wildwood, love,
My heart is tenfold fonder of.
Renounced the lust for blood and booty,
I pay that myth no further duty,
And, rich in bliss not soon to end,
I have forgotten all, dear friend,
All-even, yes, Liudmila's beauty."
"This is good tidings, my dear Khan,"
Remarked Ruslan, "she is with me."
"Here? By what you, then? May one see,
Allow... but no, this gives me pause;
I hold my lonely friend to dear;
The happy change which brought me here
Has her for authoress and cause;
In her is all my life, my laughter,
She has revived for me the lure,
The bloom of youth I hankered after,
And place, and love when it is pure.
In vain young sirens have caressed me
With whispered prophecies of bliss;
A dozen maidens have possessed me-
I left the lot of them for this;
I left behind their merry bower
There in the wildwood-sheltered realm,
Laid down my sword, the weighty helm,
Forswore renown and martial power.
Peace and obscurity in mind,
I chose this happy hermit's part,
With you, enchanting, ever kind,
With you, bright beacon of my heart!"
The charming shepherdess the while
Took in their converse unconstrained;
Her gaze upon her lover trained,
She offered him now sigh, now smile.
Thus knight and hermit by the landing
Sat talking all the evening long
All heart and soul upon the tongue-
Fleet hours departed undemanding.
Now wood and hill were shaded over,
The world in moonlit silence lay;
Our knight should long be on his way.
So, having gently thrown a cover
About the sleeping maid, Ruslan
Goes off to loose and mount his stallion;
While, silent and bemused, the khan
In spirit follows the young valiant
To wish him victories, fresh thriving
Of love's green garland, honor's bays;
Himself half-ruefully reviving
The dreams of youthful, prideful days.
Alack! why did the misanthropic
Fates disallow my fickle strings
To cling to the heroic topic,
and charming, quaint, historic things
Like love and friendship, long outdated?
Slave to sad fact, why am I fated
To bare for readers yet unborn
Disgrace and outrage contumacious,
And be melodiously veracious
To plots of villainy forsworn?
The princess' unworthy courter,
Farlaf, all thirst for glory gone,
Skulked in seclusion, known to none,
In some remote and lonely quarter.
Here was Naina to appear;
And now the solemn hour was here.
The witch appeared; in accents hollow
She spoke: "You know me well enough!
Mount; where I lead, you are to follow."
The charger saddled, she was off,
Transformed into a cat instanter;
And after her began to canter,
Down gloomy forest paths, Farlaf.
The tranquil valley had subsided
In misty coverings of night;
The moon in veils of vapor glided
From cloud to cloud and shed its light
But fitfully upon the barrow
At which, upon the day's long ride,
Ruslan, engrossed in his old sorrow,
Was seated by his slumbering bride.
Bemused he sat, new fancies covered
The old in swift imaginings,
Till slumber nebulously hovered
Above on cool-dispensing wings.
In torpor languorous and deep,
And, head and shoulders slowly sinking,
Against her feet, he fell asleep.
He dreams a dream of bodefulness,
In which it seems as if Liudmila
Hard on the brink of an abyss
Were standing pale and motionless...
Then of a sudden mists conceal her,
He stands atop the gulf alone...
The voice he knows, a call or moan
Re-echoes up the precipice...
Ruslan strains forth to reach his spouse,
Flies headlong in the plumbless gloom;
But next, he sees before him loom
The state-room of the ducal house,
Vladimir, gray-haired echelons
Of hero-knights, his dozen sons,
Of noted quests a goodly throng
The richly covered tables long.
The Duke, it seems, is just as wroth
As on the dreadful day of parting,
And all sit staring at the cloth,
No table talk or banter starting.
Gay shouts have yielded to unease,
The bowl and ladle stilled their rattle;
And now among the quests he sees
Rogdai, whom he has slain in battle:
The dead man, raises, as if living,
A foaming beaker, unaware
Of Prince Ruslan, and drains it, giving
No heed to his astonished stare.
There, too, he sees the youthful khan,
And others, friend and foe... again
Resounds the nimble gusli's strain,
The chanting of the bard Bayan,
Of valiant deeds and feasts the singer.
Farlaf steps in the chamber, and-
Draws in Liudmila by the hand.
The Duke, however, lifts no finger,
In mourning droops his diadem.
Boyars and princes, all are grim
And quell emotions without number.
Then all is gone-a deadly chill
Engulfs the hero in his slumber.
Too deeply snarled in coils unreal,
He sheds hot tears of fury thwarted;
It is a dream, his senses feel;
And yet he fails, all strength aborted,
To break the dreadful nightmare's seal.
The moon hangs low above the hills,
The night has hushed the dale and fills
The forest with a mortal gloom...
Here rides Naina's knavish groom.
Before his eyes a glade discloses
A mound; Liudmila on a mead,
Stretched at her feet, Ruslan reposes;
Around the barrow walks the steed.
Farlaf in quick alarm stands adle;
The witch becomes a wisp of mist;
As, quavering, he drops his wrist,
From clammy hands rein and bridle fall.
Advancing stealthily and drawing,
He hopes to cut in two our knight
By one fell stroke, without a fight...
In vain the hero's stallion, pawing
In anger as he sees him creep,
Lets out a whinny. Useless token!
It seems that nothing would have woken
Ruslan from his oppressive sleep...
Spurred by the witch, the traitor lunges-
Into the sleeper's breast he plunges
Three times the steel with impious hand...
Then rides in panic overland,
Propped on his mount his priceless prey.
Throughout the night the champion lay
insensible beside the barrow.
The hours flew past. The blood in narrow,
Pulsating fountains gushed away.
At dawn he lifted turbid eyes,
Gave out a feeble groan and, spurring
His utmost strength, made as to rise,
Peered, helmet-bowed, in dim surmise,
And sank, unbreathing and unstirring.
You order me, my heart's desire,
To keep the light and careless lyre
Resounding to the tales of old,
And for the Muse forbear to savor
The boon of leisure hours untold...
But drunken with your blessed favor,
Dear lady love, I shun those pains:
Your friend abhors the lonesome toil,
Estranged by now from midnight oil
Spent on ephemeral refrains.
Yes-from melodious allegories
I turned to vivid ecstasy...
I breathe by you, and other glories
Have lost their sorcery for me!
The knack of being fresh and clever
Eludes me, weaned from cool conceits;
My fancy's stage is haunted ever
By love and his celestial treats...
But you command, but you applauded
The tales related heretofore,
Accounts of glory and of love-
Of my Ruslan, his gentle dove,
The witch, Vladimir, Chernomor,
The Finn's true sorrow-were accorded
Your kindly reverie, and lauded;
As I meandered, you would linger,
A pensively indulgent quest;
At times your tender eye would rest
More tenderly upon the singer...
This stirs the mind and lends it wings:
Enamored prattler as before,
Back at your feet I twang once more
For knight and maid these lazy strings.
Where is Ruslan? Betrayal craven
Has stretched him on the level field,
His lifeblood horridly congealed;
Above him swoops a greedy raven;
His armor sprawls, the horn is muted,
The helmbush splayed as if uprooted.
Around Ruslan the charger plies,
His noble head now lowered sadly;
His eyes are dimmed, no longer flies
The golden mane he tossed so madly.
He neither frolics now nor leaps,
Entreating dumbly to be saddled...
But, cold and stark, his master sleeps;
It's long since spear and shield have rattled.
And Chernomor? Still saddlebagged,
He has not been in any state
To keep himself abreast of late;
Disgruntled, somnolent, and fagged,
His magic sway reduced to zero,
He damns the princess and my hero
Above his breath as well as under;
Hears nothing; peeps outside-oh wonder!
He sees the champion is no more-
Lies rigid in a pool of gore;
Liudmila gone, the place forsaken!
The dwarf, by evil chuckles shaken,
Crows: All is over, I am free!
But wrongly-it is not to be.
Meanwhile, watched over by Naina,
With calmly slumbering Liudmila
To Kiev hies himself Farlaf,
His mood both tremulous and heady;
Before him Dnieper's flow already
Meanders through familiar leas;
He sees the gold-topped city, sees
The streets and markets wheel about him;
There starts a running, swirling, shouting,
A crowd, in gladness long deferred,
Cheers in his wake, grows ever greater;
They run to bring the father word:
The Palace gate admits the traitor.
While this procession press on,
In his high hall above the borough
There brooded Vladimir the Sun,
Weighed down by unrelenting sorrow;
And, steeped in gravity profound,
The knights and heroes sat around.
About the gate a sudden sound
Of hubbub, shouting, shuffling centered,
The heavy portals swung apart,
An unknown knight-in-armor entered.
All present rise, dull mutterers start,
They marvel, gloomily enough:
"Liudmila back! And... What? Farlaf?"
Roused from his sorrow-stricken air,
The Great Duke rises from his chair,
With ponderous dispatch advances
To his afflicted daughter's side
To reassure his doubting glances
By father's touch; but bride
In the assassin's arms, attending
To no one, nothing... All are bending
Shy gazes on the aged prince,
Whose anxious wondering countenance
In silent query probes the knight.
A crafty finger at his lips,
Farlaf proclaims: "Liudmila sleeps;
In a forsaken forest site
I came on her in this condition,
The captive of an evil sprite;
There valor came to fine fruition:
Three days I fought with sword and lance,
Thrice rose the moon above the battle;
And when it set, the royal chattel
Fell in my hands, still in a trance.
And who can brake this wondrous sleep?
What might effect her resurrection?
Who knows-the ways of fate are deep!
From hope and patience we must reap
The balm of comforting reflection."
All through the capital ere long
There flew the word of gloom and pity;
From palace square a seething throng
Filled up the center of the city;
The house of grief throws wide its doors;
The concourse surges forward, pours
Where on an elevated trestle
Upon a cloth of silk brocade
The sleeping princess seems to nestle;
The knights and boyars stand arrayed
In sad observance; tympans thrumming,
Horns, gusli, muted trumpets, drumming
Swirl up about the kneeling prince,
Whose silver temples have been pressing
Liudmila's feet forever since
With tearful, prayerful caressing.
Am ashen-faced Farlaf looks on
In mute remorse and angry pity;
He trembles, glib assurance gone.
Dark fell, but no one in the city
That night of wonders closed and eye,
Men argued, huddled close together,
What such a bane might signify;
Too late, young husbands wondered whether
They even told their brides good-bye.
But hardly had the twin-horned crescent
At break of morning paled and lessened,
When Kiev shook to new alarms!
Harsh clamor, wailing, click of arms
Sprang up; the men of Kiev all
Came swarming up the city wall;
And through the mist they see, and shiver:
White tents have bloomed beyond the river;
Like surf aglitter shine their shields;
The mounted raiders churn the fields,
Black puffs of dust ascending, sinking;
One sees their carts crawl up and halt,
Along the hillside campfires winking...
Alarm! A Pecheneg assault!
All through this time the vatic Finn,
The spirits' mighty sovereign,
Had imperturbably awaited
In his retreat the imminent,
The ineluctable event.
Beyond the steppelands' torrid reaches,
Beyond a chain of savage mountains,
The home of winds, of thundering gales,
A realm which even brazen witches
Are loath to tread when daylight fails,
Deep in a dale two magic fountains
Have broken from the valley bed:
The one with living water dead.
There all is silent, nothing stirs,
With cooling breath, a stillness hushing
The sough of hundred-year-old firs
Undwelled by birds. No roe-fawn dares
To drink here; for twin spirit forces,
Mute in the very womb of calm,
Since earth spun off the Father's palm
Have stood on guard above these sources...
Two empty glagons in his hands,
The hermit came; the guardians started,
They broke their immemorial stance
And, filled with holy fear, departed.
The hermit, bending over, hung
The jars into the virgin waters;
He filled them full, and straightway swung
By sightless airways to those quarters
Where by a barrow, stark and cool,
Ruslan lay in a crimson pool.
The sage bent over him and sprinkled
Upon the corpse the drops of death:
Which made its gashes, raw and wrinkled,
Close up, and spread a rosy breath
Of comeliness; and next he sprinkled
The drops of life upon the form;
And resurrected, vital, warm,
Athrob with eagerness and vigor,
Ruslan stands up again, a figure
Of dazzling youth, who keenly eyes
The clear of day, while bygone rigor
Fades like a dream, a dim surmise...
He is alone, though! Where's his bride?
Fears freshly banned return to hound him;
He starts: the sage is by his side
And gently lays his arm around him:
"Foiled, son, is infamy accursed,
And bliss awaits-fulfilled your mission;
A bloody banquet calls you first;
Your sword is bid to spread perdition.
When gentle peace restores the land,
You take this ring before Liudmila;
The spell of evil will be banned,
Its touch against her brow will heal her.
Your countenance will rout the foe,
Peace will descend, and malice perish.
Prove worthy of your bliss, and cherish
Our friendship, knight! Your hand...for lo!
It is beyond the grave we twain,
Not sooner, are to meet again."
He spoke-and vanished as he told him.
Our hero, speechless with delight
To be restored to sound and sight,
Threw out his arms as if to hold him,
But did not hear a further sound;
Deserted are both air and ground.
Alert, the dwarf still bagged astraddle,
Ruslan's proud steed, in fighting vein,
Rears up and neighs and shakes his mane;
Now mounts the prince, now grips the saddle,
Now charges forward hale and bold
Across the fields, across the wold.
What aspect offers, while he speeds,
Beleaguered Kiev? Battle-tense
The people on its eminence
With horror scan their crops and seeds,
On battlement and turret crops and seeds,
In tremors bide the visitation.
The houses keen with mournful airs;
Pale fear has hushed the thoroughfares.
Next to his daughter, bowed and gray,
Vladimir stayed behind to pray;
His stalwart army, knights and yeomen
And paladins, prepares the foemen
A deadly, decimating fray.
The day had come. The raiders swarmed
Down from the hills in waves unformed;
The teeming plains, like seething caldrons,
Rolled forth indomitable squadrons
To lash the walls like surf the coast.
In Kiev, trumpets, banners flurried,
Defenders formed in ranks and hurried
To meet the reckless surging host.
They clashed-and slaughter raged unbridled.
Forescenting death, the war-steeds sidled
As sword and armor clashed head-on;
A cloud of arrows whirred and spun;
With blood the fields began to run.
The hordes plunged forward hell for leather,
Now mounted squadrons crashed together,
Each tightly locked fraternal rank
Hacks at the foemen, bank by bank.
Here's pawn and horsemen, slashing, jolting,
There's carnage, close-in, leg to leg,
A Russian falls, a Pecheneg,
The second maced, the first upended
By feathered death swift as a bird;
A heavy shield has crushed a third,
And maddened horses' hoofbeats end it...
Both sides outfought the light to gain
The battle-day, but neither could;
Behind the bleeding mounds of slain
The fighters tumbled where they stood.
And firm the armored sleep they slept;
But seldom from the field of horrors
The groan of fallen men was swept,
Or prayers of the Russian warriors.
There paled at length the shade of morn,
The ripples silvered in the water;
The day of destiny was born
On heaven's misty eastern quarter.
The skies unveiled themselves of night,
And hills and forest flushed with light.
But still in bonds of slumber sealed,
Inertly lay the battlefield.
Abruptly, loud alarums shattered
The silence in the hostile part,
Outcry and challenge, weapons clattered,
Unnerving to the Kiev heart.
The throngs crowd forward helter-skelter
And see amongst the foe, afar,
Steel-clad and flashing like a star,
A mounted warrior, in a welter
Of carnage, stabbing, slashing, keeping
The strident horn in his careening...
It was Ruslan. He raked the raiders
Like bolts of God the infidel;
The dwarf behind him still, he fell
Upon the terror-struck invaders.
Whereso his saber flashed, where steed
Had borne him in its angry darting,
There heads and shoulders started parting,
Ranks shrieked and sank like swathes of weed.
At once the martial sward appears
Bestrewn with bodies maimed and redded,
Still breathing, trampled down, beheaded,
And piles of armor, arrows, spears.
The battle sounds, the trumpet's wail
Sent armored Slav platoons with thunder
Of hooves upon the hero's trail
To slaughter... Infidel, go under!
Wild fosterlings of fell incursion,
The Pechenegs, in panic, wheel;
They call their scattered cobs to heel;
Averse to further armed exertion,
Down dusty fields in shrieking hordes
They flee the flash of Liev swords,
But all are sentenced to perdition,
A sacrifice to Slav renown;
Kiev exults...But on to town
The mighty prince pursues his mission.
The sword of vengeance in his right,
His brazen armor running gore,
His lance-tip like a streak of light,
His chest the pelt of Chernomor,
He seeks, all hope re-penetrated
Where wrapt within her wondrous spell
The sleeping maid was said to dwell.
The Duke sat at her feet, his head
Bowed low in sorrow and suspense.
He was alone; his friends had sped
To battle in the town's defense.
Alone Farlaf, averse to war,
Despising bellicose alarms,
Was standing vigil at the door,
Aloof from adversary arms.
The instant that he knew the prince
His blood ran cold, his stare grew senseless,
Pale terror froze his countenance,
He crumpled to his knees, defenseless...
The wage of treason, earned long since,
Was due! Ruslan remembers, clutches
The gift ring, takes a rapid pace
And with a trembling movement touches
The placed slumber-cradled face...
And lo! the petals drew asunder,
The flower-eyes opened, shining bright;
She sighed, as if in musing wonder
About so lingering a night.
It was as if she felt the trace
Of some dim nightmare-then she knew him,
And gave a gasp, cried out, and drew him
Into a bliss of her embrace.
His soul in fiery transports throbbing,
Ruslan stands deaf and blind and numb;
The noble ancient, overcome,
Caressed his long-lost children, sobbing.
How shall I end my endless drone?
Of course, my dearest, you have guessed it!
The ancient's groundless wrath was flown;
At Ruslan's feet and at his own
Farlaf in abject shame confessed it,
His foul and murderous stratagem;
The happy bridegroom pardoned him;
The dwarf, his magic mischief ended,
Was added to the Court supply;
Vladimir, toasting evils mended,
Sat in his wassail-chamber high,
By all his dearest ones surrounded.
The lore of ages long gone by,
In deep antiquity compounded.
And thus, a tranquil worldling, dwelling
Where idleness and quiet last,
I set my docile lyre retelling
Traditions of a trackless past.
I sang - and healed the harsh excesses
Of human spite and bumbling luck,
Deceits of flighty shepherdesses,
And idiot chatter run amuck.
On wings of inspiration lifted,
The mind outreached our earthen stead-
While unbeknownst a tempest drifted
With thunderclouds above my head!..
And I went down... August defender,
Who took my brash young manhood's part,
O friendship, borne of solace tender
Unto my lacerated heart!
You tempered then the tempest's rigor;
You pacified the spirit's ruth;
You saved my freedom-graven figure
Of worship to ebullient youth!
Far from the social swim that bore me
By the Neva's embabbled banks,
I now see looming up before me
Caucasian peaks in haughty ranks.
Upon their escarpments sheer and broken,
Atop their steep and craggy heights,
I feed on sentiments unspoken
And on the ever fresh delights
Of nature savage yet and bruising;
The spirit, as before, is bent
Each hour on melancholy musing-
But the poetic blaze is spent.
In vain I grope for stimulation:
The time of verse is gone, it seems,
The time of love, of merry dreams,
The time of spirit's evocation!
The span of ecstasy has sped-
Forever from my ken had fled
She of the whispering incantation...