Sunbirds.comUnique & Exquisite Russian Art


Search by:






Subscribe to news

Your E-mail

Comes out once a month!

We accept PayPal

We accept PayPal


Merchant Kalashnikov--The Complete Story:Kalashnikov, Ivan the Terrible, Oprichnik, Alyona Dmitrievna, boxing, bodyguard, Lermontov, kiribeyevich

A Song about Tsar Ivan Vasilyevish, the Young Bodyguard, and the Valorous Merchant Kalashnikov Prefatory note Written in 1837, shortly after Lermontov's first banishment to the Caucasus, "Kalashnikov" was published anonymously in the spring of 1838. The censors had at first refused categorically to permit the publication of anything from the pen of the recently court-martialed young officer; and it was only through the vigorous intervention of Zhukovsky that "Kalashnikov" was allowed to appear in print. Lermontov's characterization of Ivan the Terrible ('the Dread," "the Awesome," or whatever) in this poem has been much discussed. The consensus seems to be that it coincides closely with the image of Ivan IV as it developed in the popular imagination. Incidentally, the word "bodyguard" is only a partial equivalent for the Russian oprichnik, denoting a member of the oprichnina ("separate court") set up by Ivan in 1564, which terrorized the country for some years before it was disbanded. Rhythmically, "Kalashnikov" is patterned after the commonest features of the bylina, or folk epic; viz., a three-stress line usually ending in a dactylic foot (though it may be hyperdactylic on the one hand, or even iambic on the other) with very irregular stress distribution against which a trochaic internal pattern struggles to assert itself. Thus the first line goes: Okh ty goy yesi, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich! This is an awkward vehicle (the bylina line should really be sung) and I have striven to reproduce that awkwardness as closely as possible. Exact reproduction is of course impossible, owing to the differences between the nature of stress in Russian and in English (cf. A Few Technicalities); e.g., the frequent series of three or four very weak phonemes in the Russian are intolerable to the resiliency of English. Still and all, English can come closer to this kind of accentual verse than any other major language. - Ed. Now all hail to thee, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich! 'Tis of thee we have fashioned the song we sing' Yes, of thee, thy favorite bodyguard, And the valorous young merchant, Kalashnikov. We have fashioned our song in the olden style; We have sung it while strumming our citharas, With lamenting, ornamenting it. All the Orthodox folk have been comforted. The boyar, good Matvey Romodanovsky, Served us mead that did foam in the drinking cup; And his lady, the fair-faced boyarynya. Did bring forth, on a tray of fine silver work, A newly woven napkin-cloth, with silk embroidery. They regaled us for three days, three evenings; And they listened long, never languishing. I It is not the sun so far, shining high above, Nor is blue-tinted cloudless admiring him: At his banquet board doth sit, in his golden crown, The most Awesome Tsar, Ivan Vasilyevich. Just in black of him stand his dopifers, And across from him are the princes and boyars, While on either side sit his bodyguards. The Tsar doth revel now, the Lord to glorify - For his own good pleasure, too, and his merriment. With a smile, the Tsar bade a serving man Fill his golden bowl with a sparkling wine - Sweet to taste, and from a foreign land - And then proffer it to the bodyguards. All drank deeply, loudly praising him. Only one of them, of the bodyguards, A most fearless weight, ever quick to fight, Did not wet his lips in the golden bowl. His dark eyes were downcast, never glancing up; And his head drooped heavily on his mighty breast; And within that breast dwelt a dark despondency. Then his Sovereign, frowning angrily, Fixed his sharp-sighted eyes on the younger man, As a hawk might look down from the heaven's vault At a poor little pigeon with wings of gray. But the warrior youth did not look at him. Then the Awesome Tsar brought his scepter down In a crashing blow, and its iron tip Sank a handbreadth or more in the oaken floor. But the bodyguard still did not flinch at this. Then at last the Tsar uttered direful words; And the younger man stirred, and paid heed to him. "Eh thou vassal good and true, Kiribeyevich! Art thou harboring a thought of an evil kind? Does our glory make thee to envy us? Has thy honorable service grown wearisome? When the moon arises, the stars are gladdened thereby. For their heavenly paths are better lighted. But the star that would seek to hide himself In a cloud, falls earthward, plummeting. Most unseemly 'tis that thou, Kiribeyevich, Sorn'st the reveling of thy Sovereign. For the blood in thy veins is Skuratov blood; Thou wert bred in Mayuta's own family." Kiribeyevich thus made answer then To the Awesome One, bowing reverently: "O my liege and lord, Ivan Vasilyevich! Do not censure thy slave, an unworthy one! For a heart on fire is not damped with wine, Nor are brooding thoughts eased by merriment. If thy wrath I have provoked let thy will be done: Have me put to death - have my head cut off. It hangs heavily on these brawny shoulders, Sire, And doth weigh toward mother earth of its own accord." In this wise replied Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich: "But what is it then, gallant lad, thou grievest for? Has a fine brocade of thy long cloak worn thin? Has thy sable-trimmed cap lost all its shapeliness? Hast thou squandered all the gold in thy treasure hoard? Hast thou nicked the edge of thy tempered saber blade? Or wast knocked from thy feet by a trading man's son While at fisticuffs on Moskva-Reka?" Kiribeyevich thus replied to him, With a shake of his head and his curly locks: "No man living has an arm of such magic puissance, Either mongst the boyars, or the merchant class. My swift thoroughbred steed gallops easily; As a mirror bright, gleams my keen-edged blade; And on festival days, thanks to thee, my lord, My attire is the equal of any man's. When along the far bank of Moskva-Reka On my rich velvet cap, with its sable trimming, I wear jauntily, at a rakish angle. At the wooden gates, made of slender planks, Stand the pretty maids, and young matrons, too. They admire me, and trade whispered words about me. Only one never looks or admires me, But instead hides her face in her striped veil. "In all Holy Rus", our dear motherland, Thou may'st seek, but shan't find another fair as she. Smooth her gait is, as of the gliding swam; Soft her gaze is, as the turtledove's; Sweet her voice is, as the nightingales. The warm flush in her cheeks is a rosy red, As when dawn first tinges morning skies. And her flaxen braids, glinting goldenly, Plaited prettily with bright ribbon-bands, To her shoulders fall, where they twine about And do seem to kiss her snowy breast. She is of a family of the merchant class, And her name is Alyona Dmitrevna. "When I recognize her, I am not myself; These strong arms of mine dangle listlessly, And dimness comes to my sparkling eyes. Weary, dreary, then, Tsar of the Orthodox, Seems this sad and lonely life I lead. No delight to me is a swift-paced steed, And no pleasure, my garments of fine brocade. Of no use to me is a treasure hoard. For with whom should I share all my treasure now? Before whom should I show off my bravely? And to whom should I boast of my finery? "Give me leave to go off to the Volga lands - To a life of liberty, in the Cossack style. I'll lay down, there, this turbulent head of mine - Lay it down on the spear of an infidel. And the impious Tatars will divide the spoils: My good thoroughbred, and my keen-edged sword, And my warrior's saddle of Circassian make. Carrion birds will pluck from me, these sad eyes of mine; Driving rains will beat upon my abandoned bones; And my wretched dust, with no burial rites, Will be wafted everywhere by wailing winds." With a smile, thus spoke Ivan Vasilyevich: "Well, our loyal young liege, we will do our best To relieve thy distress and thy sorrowfulness. Do thou take, then this ring set with precious rubies; And take, also, this necklace of orient pearls. Pay a call on some clever old matchmaker; And then send these gifts, so invaluable, To thy dear Alyona Dmitrevna. Is she like thee well, hold thy wedding feast. If she like thee not, be not wroth with her." All hail to thee, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich! Thy deceitful slave did inveigle thee: What he said to thee was not Gospel truth; For he never revealed that the lady fair Had been duly wed in the Holy Church - Had been duly wed to a merchant youth, In accordance with the Christian marriage law. Ai, my hearties, sing out! But keep your zithers tuned! Ai, my hearties, drink up! But do your duty, too! Ye will pleasure the good Romodanovsky And his lady, the fair-faced boyarynya. At his shop counter doth sit the young trading man, A sturdy, handsome lad, Stepan Paramonovich, With the family name of Kalashnikov. His silk stuffs he lays out and scrutinizes, Coaxing passars-by in tones sweetly supplicating, As he counts, meanwhile, gold and silver pieces. But the day has been very bad for him: Folk of wealth and fashion have sauntered past, Never noticing his neat shop interior. All the church bells have sounded for the vespers hour. A dim sunset glows behind the Kremlin walls; In the heavens, clouds are scurrying, Driven by the raging of a blizzard wind; And the great bazaar is quite empty now. The young merchant, Stepan Paramonovich, Locks the stout, oaken door of his market stall With a German padlock with a spring in it; Then affixes a chain, an iron one, To a mastiff with fangs long and fearsome-looking. To deep in thought, he goes home to his youthful wife Far across the river, the Moskva-Reka. When he comes at last to his lofty house, Full amazed in Stepan Paramonovich. His young wife is not there for his welcoming; On the oaken table boards, no white cloth is laid; And the flame of the icon lamp is scarce flickering. He rings for the venerable old housekeeper: "Tell me quickly now, Yeremeyevna, Where has my Alyona Dmitrevna Gone to hide herself at such a late ones? Did they run too hard, or else play too much, And go straight to bed at an early hour?" "O good master mine, Stepan Paramonovich! I will tell thee things that are wondrous strange. Alyona Dmitrevna went to hear evensong. Then the priest came back, his young wife on his arm; They made light and sat down for the evening meal. But thy goodwife, sir, even at that late hour, Still had not come back here from the parish church And thy children - precious little things - Neither sleeping are they, nor gone off to play: They keep weeping, and won't make an end of it." Then an ominous thought sore discomfited The young trading man, Kalashnikov. He went to the window and looked out of it. In the street outside it was darkest night: Snow fell thick and fast, spreading everywhere, Filling in the track left by human feet. Then he heard, from the hall, a door closed noisily, And steps, as of someone who was hurrying. When he turned, then, and looked - by the Holy Saints! There his young wife stood, right in front of him. Ghostly pale she was, with her head uncovered; In her flaxen hair, al unbound and loose, Beads of frost and snow were still glittering. Her eyes stared duly, vacantly, like a madwoman's; From her lips came incoherent whisperings. "Tell me where, O wife of mine, wast frolicking? In a private dwelling, or publicly? - That thy clothing is all ripped and rended so? Thou wert reveling - yes, and dallying - With some stripling youths of boyar degree. Not for this, O my wife, did the two of us Once exchange golden rings and our marriage vows Before the holy ikons of the Orthodox! I will put thee away behind padlocks of iron On a stout, oaken door with iron mounting. And the blessed daylight, then, you shalt never see; And this honored name I bear, thou shalt not besmirch." When she heard these words, Alyona Dmityevna Trembled fearfully like a poor turtledove, And did shake like a leaf in the autumn time. Then most piteously she began to weep, Kneeling humbly at her husband's feet. "O my gracious lord, sun that lights my life, either kill me now, or else listen to me. Thy reproaches, like a keen-edged knife, Rend my heart so, it is like to break. I fear not the things that people say; What I do fear, is to anger thee. "I was coming from vespers this very night - All alone I was, in the darkened street - And a sound I did hear, as when snow is crunched. When I turned I saw someone following me. My poor legs went weak, and refused to move; And I covered my face with my silken veil. He laid hold of my arm with his powerful grasp, And he said to me in a whispered voice: Why dost fear me so, prettiest of pretty maids? No low thief am I, slaying passers-by, But a faithful liege of the Awesome Tsar. Kiribeyevich is the name I bear, And I come from the famous Mayuta's clan. Even greater then did my fright become; And my foolish little head began to whirl around. He began to kiss and to fondle me. As he kissed me, he did repeat these words: Only answer me: What is it thou wishest for? Is it gold thou want'st? Orient pearls, perhaps? Dost desire brilliant gems or bright-hued brocade? I'll array thee as in a queen's attire; Everyone will learn to envy thee. But let not, by my own hand, perish sunfully. Grant thy love to me! Hold me close to thee, Be it only once, ere I go from thee. "Then he kissed me again, and did fondle me. Even now my cheeks feel the burning heat Spreading over them like a living flame, From the damnable the women were watching us; And they laughed as they pointed their fingers at us. "Then I tore myself from his grasping hands, And I ran toward home in a headlong flight. But I felt in the hands of the highwayman The embroidered shawl that thou gavest me, And my silken veil, of Bokhara craft. He has sullied me, and brought shame on me - On thy honest wife, who was undefiled. Oh, what will the evil-tongued neighbors say? And where do I dare, now, to show myself? "Don't abandon me, thy wife faithful and true, To the evil tongues who will scoff and jeer. There is none, except for thee, I can turn to now. In the world around me, I'm like an orphan child. My own father lies in the cold, damp earth; And my mother dear lies beside him there. I have brethren twain. But the elder one Disappeared in foreign parts, as thou knowest well. And the younger one is the merest child - Just a little boy, far from manhood yet." Thus to him did speak Alyona Dmitrevna, Shedding tears of sorrow and of bitterness. Then her husband, Stepan Paramonovich, Called his two young brothers unto him. When they came, the younger brother bowed respectfully, And the following questions they addressed to him: "Do thou tell us please, oh brother dear, What grave thing has happened - what befallen thee? Why didst ask us to come here in the dark of night - In the dark of night, and the freezing cold?" "I must tell you, kind-hearted brothers mine, That a very great misfortune has befallen me. Kiribeyevich, the evil bodyquard, Has defiled the honor of our family. 'Tis the kind of outrage that the soul things silently. On the morrow, there will be fisticuffs On Moskva-Reka, for the Tsar to view. I will challenge him then - the young bodyguard; To the death I'll fight him - till my strenght is spent. If he vanquishes me, ye must challenge him, For the sake of holy mother-truth. Be ye not afraid, kind-hearted brothers mine! Ye are younger than I, and more vigorous; Ye have gathered less sins on your soul than I, So to you the Lord may be marciful." Then his brethren twain thus did answer him: "Whither bloweth the wind in the sky above, Thither hurry the clouds in obedience. When the gray eagle screams, calling all to come To the blood-soaked, narrow valley of the battlefield For a feast, ready-spread, on the flesh of the dead, Then the eaglets take wing to join him there. Thou'rt the eldest son, and our second sire. Do as thou desirest and thinkest good; And thy trust, oh dearest brother, we'll not betray." Ai, my hearties, sing out! But keep your zithers tuned! Ai, my hearties, drink up! But do your duty, too! Ye will pleasure the good Romodanovsky And his lady, the fair-faced boyarynya. Over mighty Moscow of the golden domes, O'er the Kremlin's white stone walls and battlements, From the forests afar, from the blue-ridged hills, Touching timbered rooftops lightly, dartingly, Sending clouds of gray quickly scattering, The vermilion dawn doth reveal herself. With her golden tresses flung back caresessly, In the fine and powdery snowdrifts she washes herself. Like a pretty maid at her looking glass, She doth smile at the cloudless and perfect sky. To what purpose, O vermilion dawn, has thou waked this day? What new joy attends on thee, that thou yearn'st to play? All the burly lads, Moscow's fighting men, Have assembled in a throng on the frozen stream Of Moskva-Reka, for the fisticuffs - To disport and amuse themselves, this holiday. And the Tsar has come with his retinue - With the bodyguards and boyars around him. He has bade them lay out a silver chain before him; Of the purest gold all the links are soldered. Now a circle of some sixty yards has been chained off, Where two fighters who are willing can trade fisticuffs. At the order of Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, The call is called out ringingly: "Oh where are ye, stout-hearted fighting men? Ye must pleasure the Tsar, our own father dear. Come and take your place in the battle ring. He that wins the bout, him the Tsar will reward. He that loses out, let him look to the Lord!" Kiribeyevich, the bold, now presents himself; Bows low, wordless, in the Tsar's direction, Throws off his velvet cloak from his mighty shoulders, Props his good right hand against his hip, just so. With his left hand he sets his scarlet cap in place, Then awaits the man who'll dare contend with him. Thrice the ringing call is called aloud. Of the fighting men, not one stirs himself: All stand still, doing nought but no nudge eath other. In the cleared space the Tsar's man struts pridefully, As he mocks the cowardly fighters, and ridicules them. "Why so quiet? I'll wager ye've thought twice by now! Very well. Since today is a holiday, I will spare my victim, to repent himself - Just to pleasure the Tsar, our own father dear." But a path through the throng opened suddenly, And then out strode Stepan Paramonovich, The young trading man, and bold fighting man, With the family name of Kalashnikov. He saluted first the Tsar, the Awesome One, Next, the silvery Kremlin and the holy shrines; Lastly, all the Russian people gathered there. His eyes blazed in his head like the falcon's eyes, Staring fixedly at the bodyguard. Now he takes his place straight across from him: He draws on the leather gauntlets with care and patience; His sinewy shoulders he doth flex and straighten; Then his curly beard he strokes, deliberating. Kiribeyevich thus accosted him: "Do thou tell me now, valiant fighting man, What thy family name and lineage is, And the Christian name that thou goest by, So they'll know for whom to sing Requiem Mass, And so I may know whom to boast about." Then Stepan, son of Paramon, answered him: "Why, the name I bear is Stepan Kalashnikov. I was born the son of an honorable sire. My life I've led according to Christian law: I have never soiled another's wife, Nor played highwayman in the dark of night, Neither hidden myself from the heavens' light. And the thing thou saidst was indeed most truthful: For a funeral dirge will be sung for one of us On the morrow, no later than the midday hour. Likewise, one of us will be boasting, too, As he revels with bold-hearted friends of his. 'Twas not just to chaff, just to make folk laugh, That I challenged thee today, thou low infidel. I chanllenge thee to mortal strife, for thy very life." When he heard these words, Kiribyevich Turned all write of face, like the autumn snow: O'er his impudent eyes came a cloudiness; 'Twixt his shoulder blades ran a sudden chill; And his words froze in place on his parted lips. In silence, both men retreat a pace: With a wide, looping swing, Kiribeyevich Struck the opening blow at young Kalashnikov. On the trading man's chest did the blow strike home, With such force that his ribs nearly cracked from it; And it staggered Stepan Paramonovich. 'Round his powerful neck did hang a copper crucifix, And within it were relics from Kiev town. With the blow it bent, and did cut the flesh: From beneath it, like the dew, blood ran trickling down. Then Stepan Paramonovich told himself: "What is destined to be, must needs come to pass. I will fight for justice to the bitter end!" With a new-found skill he did set himself, Summoned up his every bit of stenght, And then, putting his whole shoulder behind the blow, Struck his foe in the head, in the fatal spot. And the youthful man-at-arms uttered one low moan, Staggered briefly, and then collapsed in death. At full length he fell, on the cold, cold snow - On the cold, cold snow, like a sapling pine - Like a sapling pine in the thick, damp woods, When it's resinous taproots are cut beneath it. When he saw this thing, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich Waxed most wroth and wrathful, and did stomp the earth. The he knit his brows most somberly, And commanded the valorous merchant be seized And then brought to him for an audience. Quoth the Awesome Tsar of the Orthodox: "Do thou tell me, in conscience and truthfully: Was it knowingly, or unknowingly, That thou didst to death my good servitor and true, And my worthiest man-at-arms, Kiribeyevich?" "I will tell thee true, Tsar of the Orthodox: Of my own free will did I strike him dead. But the cause thereof I'll not tell to thee: I will tell it only to God Himself. Do thou sentence me to death: bid my guilty head Be transported to the chopping block. But withhold not from my little ones, And withhold not from my widow so young, And my brethren twain, thy great clemency." "Tis most fortunate, thou stalwart lad, Valiant fighting man of the merchant class, That thou gav'st reply as thy conscience bade. To thy young, widowed wife and thy orphaned ones I shall grant a sum from my treasury. For thy brothers, I rule, from this very day, That throughout all the far-flung realms of Muscovy, They may trade sans tribute or customs fees. But thyself must go, my sturdy lad, To the towering execution dock, And there lay down thy turbulent and restless head. I will have an ax sharply whetted and honed, Have the headsman don the best to be found, And the Kremlin bell made to peal, resound, To make known to all Moscow's inhabitants That thou, too, didst not lack for my great clemency." In the central square a throung has assembled, now; And the bell is pealing, tolling dolefully, As the evil tiding it tells far and wide. On the towering execution dock, In a scarlet shirt adorned with buttons bright, With a ponderous ax whetted razon-keen, Doth the headsman strut, full of cheerfullness. Now he briskly rubs his hands together, As he bides his time and waits for the fighter bold. But the valiant one, the young merchant's son, Doth yet bid farewell unto is brother dear. "Pay heed, ye brothers mine, friends and kinsmen both! Come embrace me now for a parting kiss, As we bid farewell, ne'er to meet again. Please remember me to dear Alyona Dmitrevna. Do ye tell her to tember her grief for me, And not to speak of their father's fate to the little ones. Please remember me to our comrades, too. Ye yourselves say prayers in the holy church For a sin-laden soul - for your brother's soul!" So they punished the merchant Kalashnikov With a frightful death, and infamous; And his hapless head, that such grief had known, Rolled in bloody welter on the chopping block. On the Moscow's far bank did they bury him, In open country where three roadways meet Called the Tula, Ryazan, and Vladimir roads. And a mound of cold, damp earth they heaped over him; And a maple cross they did set in it. Now the boisterous winds, sporting riotously, Dance and howl O'er his lonely and nameless grave. And the good folk often chance to pass that way: When an old man passes by, he doth cross himself; When a brave youth goes by, he doth strut a bit; And when a maid goes by, she grieves silently. But when the minstrels go by, then a song rings out. Bold lads in whom green youth is springing, Ye who strum with your singing, Ye whose voices are ringing! Your song began bravely - now finish it bravely, too! Render to each one the praise that to him is due. To the goodly Romodanovsky - glory! To his beauteous boyarynya - glory! And to all the Christian people everywhere - glory! (1837)