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The Tale of Tsar Nikita and His Forty Daughters:Tsar Nikita, Censor

The following humorous poem was written by the master Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. However, it is not widely known either in Russian, or outside of Russia, since it was not widely published and thus not widely translated. This is due to its somewhat risqué subject matter, which was frowned upon by the censors of Pushkin's time. The irony is that Pushkin wrote it in a way that subtly mocked censorship in Russia. Tsar Nikita once reigned widely, Richly, merrily, and idly, Did no good or evil thing: So his realm was flourishing. He kept clear of toil and bother, Ate and drank and praised our Father. With some ladies he had squired Forty daughters had he sired, Forty maids with charming faces, Four times ten celestial graces, Sweet of temper, full of love. Ah, what ankles, Heaven above! Chestnut curls, the heart rejoices, Eyes - a marvel, wondrous voices, Minds - enough to lose your mind: All from head to toe desired To beguile one's heart and spirit; There was but a sole demerit. Oh? What fault was there to find? None to speak of, never mind. Or at most the merest tittle. Still, a flaw (though very little). How explain it, how disguise So as not to scandalize That cantankerous old drip, Sanctimonious Censorship? Help me, Muse -your poet begs! Well - between the lassies' legs... Stop! Already too explicit, Too immodest, quite illicit... Indirection here is best: Aphrodite's lovely breast, Lips, and feet set hearts afire, But the focus of desire, Dreamed-of goal of sense and touch, What is that? Oh, nothing much. Well then, it was this in fact That the royal lassies lacked. This unheard-of malformation Caused dismay and consternation In each loyal courtly heart, And much sorrow on the part Of their Sire and stricken mothers. From the swaddling-women others Soon found out what had occurred; All the nation when it heard Ah'ed and oh'ed at such an earful, Gaped and gasped, amazed a fearful; Some guffawed, but most were leerier: (This could land you in Siberia!) Sternly Tsar Nikita summoned Courtiers, mummies, nannies, "Come and Hear the stricture I impose: Any one of you who sows In my daughters' minds suggestions Or provokes unseemly questions, Or so much as dreams to dare Hint at that which is not there, Deal in doubtful words and notions, Or perform improper motions- Let there be no shred of doubt: Wives will have their tongues cut out, Men a member more essential, Intumescent in potential." Stern but just, such was the Tsar, And his eloquence went far To induce a wise complaisance; All resolved with deep obeisance That the counsel of good health Was to hold one's mouth and wealth. Noble ladies went in terror Lest their men be found in error, While the men in secret thought: Oh, I wish my wife were caught! (Ah, disloyal hearts and base!) Our Tsarevnas grew apace. Sad their lot! Nikita's Grace Called his Council, put his case: Thus and so - not unavowedly But in whispers, not too loudly, Pas devant les domestiques.... Mute the nobles sat and wondered How to deal with such a freak. But a gray-haired Nestor pondered, Rose, and bowing to and fro, Dealt his pate a clanging blow, And with venerable stutters To the potentate he utters: "May it not, Enlightened Sire, Be accounted wanton slyness Or offend your Gracious Highness:- Sunken yet in carnal mire, A procuress once I knew, (Where's she now? What does she do? Likely in the same vocation.) She enjoyed the reputation Of a most accomplished witch, Curing any ache or itch, Making feeble members sound. Pray let my advice be heeded: If that witch could just be found, She'd install the thing that's needed." "Instantly," exclaimed and frowned, Thunder on his brow, Nikita, "Send for her and let me meet her, Let the sorceress be found! If, however, she deceive Us, Of Our shortage not relieve Us, Lead Us up the garden path With sly tricks - she'll know Our wrath! Let me be not Tsar but duffer If I do not make her suffer Death by fire - which is token This my prayer! I have spoken." Confidentially, discreetly, Envoys were dispatched who fleetly Sped by special courier post, Searched the realm from coast to coast, Scampered, scurried, faster, faster, Tracking witches for their Master. One year passes, nothing's heard, And another, not a word. Till at last a lad of mettle On a lucky trail did settle, Rode into a forest dread Just as though by Satan led; There he found the little cottage Where the witch lived in her dotage, Boldly passing gate and bar As an envoy of the Tsar, He saluted the magician And revealed the Tsar's commission: What the quest was all about, What his daughters were without. She, with instant understanding, Thrust him back onto the landing, Hustled him straight on and out: "Shake a leg, don't look about, Do not linger or I'll plague you, Strike your limbs with chills and ague; Wait three days and them come back For your answer and your pack; But no later than the crack Of that dawn!" Then she remembers To lock up, fans golden embers... Three-score hours she brewed her spell. Conjured up the Prince of Hell, And so soon as she could ask it, He produced a brassbound casket Stocked with countless feminine Wherewithals of men's sweet sin. Curly beauties, choice examples, Every size, design, and shade, What a marvelous parade! Sorting out her wealth of samples, Soon the sorc'ress had arrayed Forty of superior grade All in damask napkin dressed, And had locked them in the chest. This she handed to the willing Envoy with a silver shilling, And he rides...till in the west Sinking sun commends a rest. Just a bite to stay one's hunger, Spirit keeps the body younger, Vodka keeps the spirit mellow; This was a resourceful fellow, And he carried in his sack Victuals for the long way back. So he took this pleasant course, Loosed the harness of his horse, And sat munching in the shadow, While his charger cropped the meadow. Happily he sat and mused How the Tsar would be enthused With what nestled in his basket, Might appoint him, what a fluke, Knight or Baron, Viscount, Duke... What was hidden in the casket That the witch was sending him? Just that oaken lid to mask it For the journey's interim... Tightly grooved, though...all looks dim. Terror of the Tsar's decree Yields to curiosity, The temptation's too delicious: Ear laid close against the fissures, Long he listens - but in vain; Sniffs - familiar scent...Egad! What profusion there, what wonder! Just a glimpse could not be bad; If one pried the lock asunder... And before he knew, he had. Whoosh! the birdies, swarming out, Light on branches all about, Tails aflirt. In vain our lad Loudly calls them back to casket, Throws them biscuit from his basket, Scatters morsels - all no good. (Clearly such was not their diet); Why return if you could riot Sweetly chanting in the wood, To be cooped in gloom and quiet? Meanwhile in the distance stumbles, All bent double by her load, Some old woman down the road. Our poor envoy up and bumbles Quite distracted in her wake: "Granny, help, my head's at stake! Look, there sit my birdies scattered, Chattering as if nothing mattered, How can I entice them back?" That old woman craned her neck, Spat, and with her crook did beckon: "Though you asked for it, I reckon, Do not fret or worry so: All you need to do is show- And they'll all come back, I warrant." Our young fellow thanked the crone, And the moment he had shown- Down they fluttered in a torrent, Swarming off their firs and birches, And resumed their former perches In the envoy's box; and he, To forestall some new disaster, Clapped them under lock and key, And rode homeward to his Master, Thanking God he had retrieved them. When the princesses received them, Each one promptly found its cage; And the Tsar in royal glee Graciously was pleased to stage A gigantic jubilee. Seven days they spent in fêting And a month recuperating. The entire House of Lords He allotted rich rewards, Nor forgot the witch herself: On the Art Museum's ladders Reaching for the highest shelf, They brought down to send the elf Skeletons, a brace of adders, And in spirits in a jar And of course the envoy bold Had his prize. My tale is told. Some will ask me, eyebrows climbing, Why I wrought such fatuous rhyming, What the reason for it was? Let me answer them: Because.