Saturday, November 12, 2016

Ruslan and Ludmila (excerpts) - Alexander Pushkin

Over the sandy beaches creep,
And from the clear and shining water
Step thirty goodly knights escorted
By their Old Guardian, of the deep
An ancient dweller.... There a dreaded
And hated tsar is captive ta’en;
There, as all watch, for cloud banks headed,
Across the sea and o’er a plain,
A warlock bears a knight. There, weeping,
A princess sits locked in a cell,
And Grey Wolf serves her very well;
There, in a mortar, onward sweeping
All of itself, beneath the skies
The wicked Baba-Yaga flies;
There pines Koshchei and lusts for gold....

Our knight falls at the elder’s feet
And in delight his hand he kisses.
The world a bright place seems, and sweet
Life is again; forgot distress is....
But then the sudden joyful glow
His face leaves, and it pales and darkens.
“Do not despair but to me harken,”
The old man says. “I know what so
Disquiets you: you are in fear of
The warlock’s love, eh, knight?... Be calm
The truth is, O my youthful hero,
That he can do the maid no harm.
From sky the stars he’ll pluck, I’ll wager,
Or shift the moon that sails on high,
But change the law of time and aging
He cannot, hard as he may try.
Though he lets none her chamber enter
And jealous watch keeps at her door,
He is the impotent tormentor
Of his fair captive, nothing more.
While never far from her, he curses
His lot, and soundly — but, my knight,
‘Tis time for you to rest: the earth is
Enclosed in shadow; it is night.”

“And I, love’s mad and avid seeker,
In my despair that ne’er grew weaker,
By means of magic thought to start
In proud Nahina’s icy heart
Of love for me at least a flicker.
Toward the murk of woodland free
My steps in hot impatience turning,
The subtle craft of wizardry
I spent unnumbered years in learning.
Then were the fearsome secrets, sought
By me with such despair, such yearning,
Revealed to my enlightened thought;
Of charms and spells I knew the power:
Love’s aim achieved — О happy hour!
‘Nahina, thou art mine!’ I cried.
‘Now shall I have thee for my bride.’
But once again by fate defeated
Was I and of my triumph cheated.

“Enraptured, with young dreams aglow,
Filled with love’s fervour and elation,
I loudly chant an incantation
And on dark spirits call, and lo!-
A flash of light, a crash of thunder,
And magic whirlwinds start awake,
I feel the earth begin to quake,
I hear it hum and rumble under
My feet, and there in front of me,
The picture of senility,
A crone stands.

O wondrous genius of rhyme,
O bard of love and love’s sweet dreaming,
You who portray the sly and scheming
Dwellers of hell and realms divine,
Of this inconstant Muse of mine
The confidant and keeper faithful!
Forgive me, Northern Orpheus, do,
For recklessly presuming to
Fly after you in my tale playful
And catching in a most quaint lie
Your wayward lyre....

Ruslan came up to him, astounded;
The recluse khan his rival knew.
A cry, and to the prince he flew
And joyous threw his arms around him
“You here, Ratmir? Lay you no claim
To greater things?” our hero asked him
“Have you found life like ours too tasking
Thus to reject your knightly fame?”
“In truth, Ruslan,” replied the khan,
“War and its phantom glory bore me;
Behind me have I left my stormy,
Tumultuous years. This peace, this calm,
And love, and pastimes innocent
Bring me a hundred-fold more gladness

Far from the social whirl, the Neva
Behind me left, forgotten even
By rumour, here am I where loom
Caucasian peaks in prideful gloom.
Atop high steeps, mid downward tumbling
Cascades and cataracts of stone,
I stand and drink it all in dumbly,
And revel, to reflection prone,
In nature’s dark and savage beauty;
To wounding thought my soul’s still wed,
Within it sadness lives, deep-rooted,
But the poetic fires are dead,
In vain I seek for inspiration:
Gone is the blithe and happy time
Of love, of merry dreams, of rhyme,
Of all that filled me with elation.
Sweet rapture’s span has not been long,
Flown from me has the Muse of song,
Of softly spoken incantation....

(Anonymous Translation)

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