The Little Humpback Horse: Part 3

Now, don’t give up. We all want a good ending, right? Crumple up a ball of tin foil for the cat, so the dog has a distraction and make a bowl of pop corn then read on.


Till yesterday, Makar used to follow the plough.
But look at him today-he’s a Voivode now!

Ta-ra-n-ra, ta-ra-rai,
All the horses ran away;
But the peasants, at long last,
Caught them all and bound them fast.
Master Raven, croak, croak, croak,
Blows his trumpet on an oak
And amuses Christian true,
Singing: “Now folks, listen, do-
Once a peasant and his wife
Led a very merry life.
He was always blithe and gay,
She was merry as the May;
When he danced and when she sang,
Then with mirth the village rang.”
This is but the prelude, friends,
And my tale starts when it ends.
Hark to what the house-fly’s singing
As upon our gates it’s swinging:
“What’s the price for news today?
News-fresh news-what will you pay?
Have you heard? The new-wed wife
Got the beating of her life
From her husband’s mother-who
Tied her to the oven, too;
Trussed her up, secure and neat,
Took her shoes from off her feet.
‘Leave the lads alone,’ she said,
And at nights just stay in bed.'”
Now my prelude’s said and done,
And my story is begun.

Well, Ivan rode off to bring
Back the Tsar-Maid’s signet-ring;
And his horse flew like the wind,
Leaving miles and leagues behind-
Twenty thousand leagues, ere night,
Covered in a single flight.

Near the sea, he loudly neighed
Saying: “We will reach a glade
In a minute, maybe more,
Leading to the ocean shore,
Where, with monster head and tail,
Lies the Monster-Marvel Whale.
These ten years he lies in pain,
Ignorant of how to gain
Pardon, to this very day.
He will humbly beg and pray
That you pardon for him gain
When we reach the Sun’s domain.
Promise him, Ivan, and see
That you do so faithfully!”

When they reached the glade, they flew
Straight towards the ocean blue;
There, across it, lay the whale-
Monster head and monster tail;
He was all one mass of holes,
From his ribs grew stakes and poles;
On his tail-a forest black;
And a village on his back;
Peasants on his lip drove ploughs,
Children danced between his brows;
Oak-trees on his huge jaws grew,
Maidens there sought mushrooms, too.

Clatter, clatter, clatter, clack,
Rode the humpback o’er his back,
While the Monster-Marvel Whale
Eyed them as he swished his tail,
Opening his huge jaws wide
As most bitterly he sighed:
“May God speed you, gentles two-
Whither bound, and whence are you?”
“We’re the Tsar-Maid’s envoys, see-
From the capital are we,”
Little humpbacked horse replied-
“Eastward, to the Sun, we ride,
To his residence of gold.”
“Fathers, may I make so bold,”
Said the whale, “to beg of you,
When you reach the heavens blue,
Ask the Sun, how long must I
Suffer this disgrace, and why?
For what sins, let him explain,
Must I bear this grief and pain?”
“Yes, yes, Monster Whale, all right,”
Yelled Ivan with all his might,
While the whale, with bitter cries,
Begged Ivan, between his sighs:
“Please have pity on poor me-
These ten years I’m suffering, see-
Do this favour for me, do,
I will serve you some day too!”
“Yes, yes, Monster Whale, all right!’
Yelled Ivan with all his might.
Then his horse, with one leap bore
Vanya to the other shore,
Leaving clouds of dust behind
As he flew on like the wind.

Near or far, or high or low,
How they travelled, I don’t know-
Nor did anybody say
If they saw them on the way;
Tales, you know, are quickly spun,
Deeds are sooner said than done;
Only, brothers, I did hear
(Indirectly, though, I fear)
That the humpback came to where
Earth meets sky; and it is there,
Peasant maidens, spinning flax,
Use the clouds as distaff racks.

Bidding Mother Earth good-bye,
Vanya rode up to the sky;
Like a prince, he proudly flew
Through the skies, his hat askew.
“What a wonder-Oh, I say,”
Mused Ivan aloud, as they
Rode the cloudy meadows blue-
“Though our country’s pretty, too,
But compared with this blue sky,
It’s not worth a button-why,
Our old Earth down there is so
Black and muddy, as you know;
Here, the soil is bright and blue,
And how brilliant it is, too!
But, my horse, what can that be
In the East, up yonder, see-
Gleaming like the dawn up there ?
That must be, I do declare,
Nothing but the sun’s chief city,
But-how high up, more’s the pity!”
“That’s the Tsar-Maid’s tower you see,
Our Tsaritsa’s that’s to be,”
Neighed the humpback in his ear:
“Every night the Sun sleeps here,
And, here every day, the Moon
Comes to take her rest at noon.”

Palace portals met their sight,
Crowned in crystal, gleaming bright;
All its pillars made of gold,
Twisted cunningly, and scrolled
On each pillar shone a star;
Round the palace, near and far,
Fragrant gardens, fair to see,
Spread in verdant brilliancy.
Birds of paradise were singing
In their golden cages, swinging
‘Mong the silver branches there.
Mansions rose there, tall and fair.
Stars upon the palace spire,
Burning with a holy fire,
Formed a Christian Cross, whose rays
Set the heavens all ablaze.

Through the portals then they rode
And Ivan, dismounting, strode
To the palace, with bare head.
There he saw the Moon, and said:
“Greetings, gracious Moon Moonovich,
I’m Ivanushka Petrovich
And from countries far away
Greetings I bring you today.”
“Take a seat, Ivan Petrovich,”
Murmured gracious Moon Moonovich,
“Tell me now, and let me know,
Why you left the Earth below
For our realms so bright and blue;
From what people, land are you?
How you found your way, confess-
Tell me all the truth, no less!”
“From a land on Earth I come,
From a realm of Christiandom,”
Sitting down, Ivan replied.
“I have crossed the ocean wide
My Tsaritsa’s will to do-
In your palace, bow to you-
Then repeat these words-now hear:
Tell my darling mother dear
That her daughter down below,
On the Earth, desires to know
Why, for these three nights and days,
She conceals from her her rays;
Why my handsome brother shrouds
His bright face in gloomy clouds,
Never sending rays of love
From his misty heights above?-‘
This is all-I think-though young,
She has got a silver tongue.
It’s not easy to recall
Every word that she let fall.”
“Which Tsaritsa-who is she?”
“Why, the Tsar-Maid, don’t you see?”
“What-our Tsar-Maid ?-you don’t say
It was you stole her away?”
With a gasp cried Moon Moonovich.
And Ivanushka Petrovich
Answered: “Why, yes-surely Ma’am-
I’m the Royal Groom, I am.
And our Tsar gave me just three
Weeks to find and fetch her, see?
Otherwise, you see, he said,
I would lose my curly head.”
Here the Moon in glad surprise
Hugged Ivan and dried her eyes.
“Okh, Ivanushka Petrovich,”
Murmured gracious Moon Moonovich,
“You have brought such news today
That I don’t know what to say;
When we lost our dear Princess,
How we mourned, you’ll never guess;
That’s the reason why, you see,
I’ve been grieving bitterly
These three nights and these three days,
In dark clouds concealed my rays;
All this time I mourned and wept,
Never ate a crumb, nor slept-
This is why her brother shrouds
His bright face in gloomy clouds;
Why he sends no warming rays
Down to Earth these many days,
Shedding many a bitter tear,
Mourning for his sister dear.
Let me know, though-is she well-
Is she homesick for us, tell?”
“She’d be pretty, I would say,
But she’s wasting right away;
She’s as skinny as can be
Only skin and bones, you see-
When she’s married, though, no doubt
She’ll improve and get quite stout,
For the Tsar will wed her soon.”
“What? The villain!” screamed the Moon-
“Why-he’s eighty, if a day,
And he wants to wed with May!
I declare, upon my life,
She will never be his wife;
See what that old nasty toad
Wants-to reap, who never sowed.
Why, he’s greedy as he’s vain!”

Here Ivan spoke up again:
“Please do not deny this boon
For the whale, 0 gracious Moon-
O’er the ocean down below
Lies a Monster Whale, you know-
He is all one mass of holes,
From his ribs stick stakes and poles
And, poor thing, he begged me to
Speak for him when I saw you-
Why has he deserved this pain,
And how can he pardon gain?
Will he get his freedom soon?”
In reply, the lustrous Moon Said:
“He bears this punishment,
For, without the Lord’s consent,
Thirty ships, one day, he swallowed
As their ocean course they followed.
If he sets them free again
God will take away his pain,
All his wounds
He will assuage
And reward him with old age.”

Here Ivan rose from his chair,
Said: “Farewell” with courtly air,
Thrice he kissed the bright Moon’s face,
Clasping her in warm embrace.
“Well, Ivanushka Petrovich,”
Murmured gracious Moon Moonovich,
“Many, many thanks to you
From my son and from me, too;
Put my daughter’s mind at ease
With my blessing, Vanya, please;
Tell my daughter that I say:
‘Mother’s with you night and day-
Cease from grieving-sigh no more-
Soon will end your sorrow sore,
For you’ll never never wed
Any greybeard, toothless head,
But a young and handsome man.’
God be with you, now, Ivan.”
Bowing low as best he knew,
Vanya climbed his humpback true,
Whistled like a noble knight
Then rode back with all his might.

Next day, our Ivan once more
Came up to the ocean shore;
Clatter, clatter, clatter, clack
Rode he over that whale’s back,
While the Monster-Marvel Whale
Sighed and slowly waved his tail,
Saying: “Sires-about my boon?
Will I get my freedom soon?”
But the humpback merely said:
“Wait, 0 Whale,” and ran ahead
To the village market-place
Where he called the populace;
Tossed his coal-black mane and head,
Snorted thrice, and loudly said:
“Heed my words, 0 Christians true-
Mark what I am telling you-
If you wish to keep away
From a briny grave today,
Get you gone this minute, now;
Wonders will take place, I vow,
For the Monster Whale will turn
And the sea will seethe and churn.”
Here the peasants, great and small,
Christians true-they one and all
Hurried off to home and farm,
Crying out in wild alarm;
Gathered all their carts, and placed
All their goods on them in haste
And, with many a woeful wail,
Fled from off that Monster Whale;
And, by noon, you could not find
Anybody left behind.
Twas as though Mamai’s fierce horde
Had swept the land with fire and sword.
O’er its tail the humpback sped,
Reached and bent down to its head,
Shouted loud as loud could be:
“Listen, Monster Whale, to me!
All this is your punishment-
For, without the Lord’s consent,
Thirty ships, one day, you swallowed
As their ocean course they followed;
If you set them free again
He will take away your pain,
All your wounds he will assuage,
And reward you with old age.”
And, when his long speech was said,
Bit his bridle, tossed his head,
Gave one leap-and lo, once more
Stood upon the distant shore.

Then the Monster Whale turned round,
Like a mighty heaving mound;
Threshed the ocean with his tail,
And a fleet of thirty sail
One by one cast from his jaws,
Sails and sailors, boats and oars.

Such a din here rent the deep
That the Sea-King woke from sleep.
Brazen guns in broadsides flashed,
Trumpets blared and cymbals crashed,
And the chaplain with his choir
Held a Mass amid the fire.
White sails were unfurled at last,
Flags flew gaily from each mast;
And the sailors sang this song
As they rowed their ships along:
“O’er the billows, o’er the sea,
O’er the ocean wide and free,
At the bottom of the world,
Fly our ships with sails unfurled.”

All the ships sailed out of view,
Hidden by the billows blue,
While the Monster-Marvel Whale
Threshed the waters with his tail,
Opened up his jaws so wide,
Lifted up his voice, and cried:
“Tell me, friends, what can I do
In return, or give to you?
Coloured sea-shells, do you wish?
Would you care for golden fish?
Lovely pearls? Oh-anything
You may ask for, I will bring.”
“No, 0 Whale-fish,” said Ivan-
“We don’t need them; if you can,
We would rather have you bring
Us the Tsar-Maid’s signet-ring
From the bottom of the sea,
For our Tsar’s bride that’s to be.”
“Certainly-for friends like you
There is nothing I won’t do;
Ere the sun sets, I will bring
You the lovely Maiden’s ring,”
Said the whale, and sank like lead
To the very ocean bed.

There, the Monster-Marvel Whale
Raised his voice and thumped his tail,
Called the tribe of sturgeons, and
Thus delivered his command:
“Ere the sun sets, you must bring
Me the Fair Tsar-Maiden’s ring
It is hidden in a chest;
Who fulfils this my behest
Will receive a title-he
Privy Counsellor will be;
But, if I am not obeyed,
On my word-I’ll have you flayed.”
At these words, the sturgeons bowed
And withdrew in order proud.

In another hour or so,
Two white sturgeons, swimming slow,
Humbly bending head and tail,
Thus addressed the Monster whale:
“Be not wrathful, 0 great Tsar!
All the oceans, near and far,
We have searched and ploughed-but we
Of that ring no sign could see.
Of your subjects, but one fish-
That’s the perch-can do your wish;
He’s at home in all the seas,
He will find that ring with ease;
But, perhaps it was in spite,
That he left his home last night.”
“Have him found and brought to me
To my cabin, instantly.”
Thundered wrathfully the whale
Wiggling whiskers, fins and tail.
Bowing low, the sturgeons raced
To the county Court in haste;
There they had a Royal Writ
Drawn up instantly-to wit:
That the brawling perch, when caught,
To His Majesty be brought;
It was penned in copper-plate
By the bream, in duplicate;
And the sheat-fish (Counsellor)
Signed without the least demur;
Then the lobster and the eel
Sealed it with the Royal Seal,
Called a pair of dolphins, who
Were forthwith commissioned to
Institute a thorough search
For that vagrant brawling perch;
And, when they had found the same,
Seize him, in the Royal Name,
And immediately to hale
Him before the Royal Whale.
Here the dolphins bowed assent
And to seek the perch they went.

So they searched an hour, or more,
All the seas from shore to shore;
All the lakes they searched, and they
Searched each river, creek and bay
For the perch-but all in vain,
And, chagrined, turned back again,
Almost shedding tears for shame …

Suddenly, from somewhere came
Unexpectedly, a cry
(From a little pond nearby);
To the pond they turned, and they
Dived below without delay;
There, the perch in furious war
With a little carp they saw;
“Hist-the devil take you now,”
Roared the runners-“What a row!
One might think from your loud cries
You were fighting for a prize!”
“Who asked you to interfere?”
Cried the perch, who showed no fear,
“I’m no joker-for two pins
I would rip you with my fins.”

“Oh, you brawling vagabond,
You, of squabbling always fond-
You would only gad about,
Rascal you, and fight and shout!
Home and you just don’t agree!
But-why argue with you-see-
Here’s the Tsar’s ukase that you
Come to him without ado.”
Then they dragged the vagabond
By his whiskers, through the pond,
To the whale; the perch-fish, he
Yelled and struggled furiously:
“Brothers-let me give him one
Little punch, and I’ll be done!
Why, that carp-fish, publicly,
Yesterday insulted me,
Called me names, and cursed me, too-
Let me get at him, please do.
” Long and loud he shouted, till,
Willy-nilly, he grew still;
While the dolphins swam with him
Through the seas, in silence grim,
Hauling him by gills and fins
To the whale, for his black sins.

“Traitor’s son-what does this mean?
You are late-where have you been?”
Wrathfully roared out the whale,
And the perch, all meek and pale,
Begged for pardon on his fins
And confessed to all his sins.
“Well, I’ll pardon you this time
If you expiate your crime
And fulfil my Royal Wish,”
Said the monarch of the fish.

“I shall only be too proud,”
On his fins, the perch squealed loud.
“You are always in and out
Of the oceans-and no doubt,
Saw the Tsar-Maid’s ring?” “Yea, yea!
I can find it straightaway.”
“Well, be off with you, and see
That you bring it instantly.”

Then the perch, with humble tail,
Bowed and left the Royal Whale;
Railed the servants to their face,
Tried to kiss a pretty dace,
Punched a dozen sprats in play,
Ere he went upon his way,
After which, he fearlessly
Dived into the slimy sea
And, from out the ocean-bed,
Dug a casket with his head
Weighing no less than a ton.
“This is easier said than done,”
Cried the perch; he gave a shout
For the herrings to come out.
Though the herrings did their best,
Pushed and crowded round the chest,
Squeaking, squealing, high and low,
“Yo heave ho!” and “Yo, ho ho!”
All their efforts were in vain-
They grew hoarse from cries and strain,
While that casket still stuck fast
Till the perch cried out at last:
“You’re real herrings, yes indeed!
Vodka? Knouts is what you need!
Then, in dudgeon, quickly made
Off to seek the sturgeons’ aid.
All the sturgeons flocked around
And, without a single sound,
Raised the little jewel box
Stuck fast in the mud and rocks.
“Well, you fellows-just take care,”
Said the perch-“and now, repair
To the Tsar; while I shall go
Home, and take a rest below.
My poor eyes, they just can’t keep
Open-they’re so full of sleep …”
And the sturgeons, then and there,
Swam off to the Tsar with care,
While the brawling vagabond
Made his way toward the pond
(Whence he had been hauled away
Somewhat earlier that day)
Back to fight the carp, may be-
I can’t say-no fish told me.
But-forget him, if you can,
Let’s return to our Ivan.

Calm reigned on the ocean, and
Humming mournful, on the sand,
Vanya sat with great concern,
Waiting for the whale’s return;
On the beach, by Vanya’s side,
Slept his humpback true and tried.
Evening shadows fell apace,
And the Sun had run his race,
Tinged the heavens with the blaze
Of his slowly dying rays;
But-no token of the whale.
“May you rot from head to tail,
Nasty boaster,” cried Ivan-
“You deceiving Sea-shaitan !-
Promised faithfully you’d bring,
Ere night fell, the Tsar-Maid’s ring;
See-the Sun has almost set
And you haven’t brought it yet,
Liar …” Here, the ocean surged,
And the Monster Whale emerged;
“For the kindness you did me,
I have kept my promise-see-”
Quoth he to our Vanya, and
Plumped the casket on the sand,
So, the shore rocked to and fro.
“Now I’ve paid my debt, I’ll go,
But should you need me anew,
Call me, and I’ll come to you;
I’ll remember till I die
What you’ve done for me-good-bye!”
More than this, he did not say,
Gave one splash and swam away.

Humpback horse jumped up, awake,
Gave his mane and tail a shake,
At Ivanushka he glanced,
Turned a somersault, and pranced:
“Whale Whaleovich! Marvellous!
You have paid your debt to us!
Thank you, Monster Whale,” called out
Little humpback with a shout.
“Now, Ivan, do not delay-
Let’s be going on our way-
Three days have already passed
And tomorrow is our last.
Our old man will die of sorrow
If we don’t get back tomorrow.”
Said Ivan: “I’ve done my best,
But I cannot raise that chest-
I’d be very happy to,
But it’s more than I can do-
Though I tried three times to lift it,
Yet I couldn’t even shift it;
It must hold at least a score,
Or a hundred fiends, or more.”
Here his horse, without a sound,
Raised the casket from the ground
To his neck, with one light kick,
And then said: “Now, mount me, quick-
Time is nearly up, you know,
And we still have far to go.”

Horse and rider, tired and worn,
Reached the palace gates at dawn,
And the Tsar ran out to meet him-
“Where’s my ring?” was all his greeting.
Vanya got off from his horse
Proudly answered: “Here, of course
And, a little casket, too.
Call the guards, though, for-look you,
Yes, it may seem small, but yet
It could crush the fiend, I’ll bet.”
So the guards were called, and they
Took the jewel box away;
Then the Tsar, he forthwith sped
To the Tsar-Maid, and he said
In a sweet and tender voice:
“Dear, your ring is found-rejoice!
Now, permit me to repeat
There’s no obstacle, my sweet,
To prevent us, 0 my life,
From becoming man and wife
In the morning; but, my dear,
Come and see, your ring is here.
” “Yes, I know, I know,” she said-
“Still-we cannot yet be wed.”
“Why can you not be my wife?
Why?-I love you more than life;
And, forgive my boldness, do,
I just want to marry you.
If you don’t… at dawn tomorrow
I shall die of grief and sorrow!
0, Tsaritsa-pity me!”
But the Tsar-Maid said, said she:
“Only look-you’re old and grey-
I’m but fifteen and a day-
We can’t marry-if we do,
All the tsars will laugh at you,
Saying-there goes youth with age.’
But the Tsar replied in rage:
“Mock me? Only let them dare-
They won’t laugh again, I swear!
I shall put them all to flight-
Kith and kin to death I’ll smite!”
“Even then,” the Tsar-Maid said,
“You and I cannot be wed.
I won’t marry you-remember
Roses don’t bloom in December;
I am beautiful-let’s see-
What can you boast of to me?”
Quoth the Tsar: “I may be old
Yet I am both gay and bold.

When I dress myself a bit
Everybody will admit
That I’m handsome as can be.
But-what need of this?” said he,
“If but you and I be wed.”
But the Tsar-Maid merely said:
“Never, never in my life
Will I ever be the wife
Of an old, old man like you,
Grey haired, ugly, toothless, too!”
Frowning, as he scratched his head,
Here the old Tsar only said:
“Now, whatever shall I do?
How I want to marry you!
Yet the only thing you say
Is, for ever Nay and Nay!”
But again the Tsar-Maid said:
“Grey hairs I shall never wed!
You regain your youth anew,
And I’ll gladly marry you.”
“0, Tsaritsa, dear-look here-
One can’t be reborn, I fear,
Only God works wonders, see.”
Then the Tsar-Maid said, said she:
“If you have no fear of pain,
You will soon be young again.
Listen-early in the morn,
On the palace court-yard lawn,
You must have three cauldrons ready,
Two-on fires burning steady;
Now, the first one must be filled
To the brim, with water chilled;
While the next-with water hot-
Have it boiled there on the spot;
Then, with milk fill up the last,
Heat it, till the milk boils fast;
If you wish to marry me,
Young and handsome wish to be,
First you must your robes divest,
Plunge into the milk, undressed;
Next, in boiling water; then,
In the water cold-and when
You emerge-believe me, you
Will be young and handsome too!”

All the Tsar did was to say
That his groom come straightaway.
“Are you sending me once more,”
Cried Ivan, “off to the shore?
No, Your Majesty-not if I can help it-
I’m still stiff, As it is-no, I won’t go!”
“No,” the Tsar said-“No, no, no-
Listen, now-tomorrow morn
On the palace court-yard lawn,
I will have three cauldrons filled:
One will have cold water, chilled,
In the second cauldron-pot
There’ll be water, boiling hot;
While with milk I’ll fill the last,
Heating it till it boils fast.
You, Ivan, must do your best-
These three cauldrons you must test-
First bathe in the milk, my son,
Then the waters, one by one.”
“Listen to his blarney,” said
Vanya, and he shook his head-
“Chickens, pigs, and turkeys-yes-
People scald them, I confess;
I’m no pig or turkey, though,
Nor a chicken, as you know.
Now, a cold bath-why that’s quite
Diff’rent and, I’ll say, all right;
As to being boiled alive-
You can’t tempt me-don’t you strive;
But-enough, Your Majesty-
Don’t you make a fool of me.”
Wrathfully, the Tsar’s beard shook-
“What-me argue with you? Look!
If my bidding be not done
With the rising of the sun,
I will have you drawn and quartered,
Tortured on the wheels and slaughtered!
Off with you, you wretched plague, you!”
Shivering as with the ague,
Vanya to the hayloft crept,
Where his little humpback slept.
“Why, Ivanushka, so sad?
Why so downcast, then, my lad?
Has our bridegroom found another
Task for you, my little brother?”
Said his horse; Ivan, in tears,
Kissed his little horse’s ears,
Held his neck in close embrace
As the tears rolled down his face.
“Woe is me, my horse,” sobbed he,
“He will be the death of me;
Now I’ve got to bathe, undressed,
In three cauldrons, for a test;
In the first, there’s water, chilled;
Next, with boiling water’s filled;
In the third-milk, scathing hot.”
“Yes that is a task you’ve got,”
Said his horse. “For this, you need
All my friendship, yes, indeed;
Your misfortunes are the price
Of refusing my advice;
Thank that evil feather for
All your woes and sorrows sore.
But, God bless you-do not cry-
We will manage, you and I.
I would sooner perish, than
Leave you in the lurch, Ivan.
Listen, lad-tomorrow morn,
When you strip there on the lawn,
Say: ‘Your Gracious Majesty!
Please to send my horse to me
So that I can say good-bye
To my horse before I die.’
Now, I know he will agree
And he’ll send a groom for me
I will wave my tail about,
In each cauldron, dip my snout;
Then I’ll squirt upon you, twice,
Whistle long and loudly thrice;
You-be sure to look alive,
In the milk then quickly dive,
Then-in waters hot and cold
Dive, just as you have been told.
Now, my lad, go, say your prayers,
Sleep in peace, forget your cares.”

Dawn had scarce begun to peep,
Humpback roused Ivan from sleep:
“Hey, my lad, stop snoring, do!
Up ! Your duty’s calling you !”
So Vanyusha scratched his head,
Yawned, and scrambled out of bed,
Crossed himself and said a prayer,
Sauntered to the court-yard, where,
Near the cauldrons, in a row,
Sat the servants, high and low-
Princes, dukes, and lords and pages,
Cooks and coachmen, fools and sages-
Sat and whispered with a smile
And discussed Ivan, the while
Logs were fed on to the fire
So that it should not expire.

Then the portals opened wide
And the Tsar, with his young bride,
Came to watch there, with the rest,
How Ivan would stand the test.
And the Tsar called out: “Ivan,
Now, undress yourself, my man-
Dive, and bathe without delay
In those cauldrons there, I say!”
Vanya stripped-no word said he,
And the young Tsaritsa, she
Veiled herself right then and there
So as not to see him bare.
To the cauldrons Vanya sped,
Peered inside, and scratched his head.

While the Tsar said: “Now, Ivan-
Come on-do your duty, man!”
Said Ivan: “Your Majesty,
Please to send my horse to me
So that I can say good-bye
To my horse, before I die.”
Pondering o’er this request,
Graciously he acquiesced,
And the Tsar was pleased to send
For Vanyusha’s faithful friend,
And Ivan then said adieu
To his humpbacked horse so true.

Humpback waved his tail about,
In each cauldron dipped his snout,
Then he squirted on him twice,
Whistled long and loudly thrice;
Vanya gave his horse one look,
Then a deep, long breath he took,
After which, as he was told,
In each cauldron dived, full bold.
In and out he dived, and when
He emerged-no words nor pen
Could describe him-he was so
Handsome, I should have you know.
Then he dried himself, and dressed,
To the Tsar-Maid bowed his best,
Glanced around with haughty air,
No prince handsomer, you’d swear.

“What a wonder-did you ever?”
Cried the crowd, and-“Well I never!”
Hastily the Tsar undressed,
Twice and thrice he crossed his breast,
Dived into the cauldron pot
And was boiled there on the spot!
Here the Tsar-Maid stood up, and
Called for silence with her hand;
Then, unveiling her fair face,
Thus addressed the populace:
“Listen, now! The Tsar is dead-
Will you have me in his stead?
Am I pleasing in your eyes?
Speak! If so, then recognise
As the lord of all the land,
My beloved husband”-and,
Pointing to Ivan, she placed
Her fair arm around his waist.

“We are willing!” all replied-
“We would die for you!” they cried-
“For the sake of your sweet eyes,
Tsar Ivan we’ll recognise.”

Hand in hand, the Royal pair-
Tsar, and young Tsaritsa fair-
To the holy altar sped,
And in God’s church they were wed.

Cannons from the castle flashed,
Trumpets blared and cymbals crashed;
From the cellars, then and there,
Casks were rolled with vintage rare.
And all night the drunken throng
Shouted out in merry song:
“Long live Tsar Ivan!” they cried,
“And the Fair Tsar-Maid, his bride!”
In the palace, mirth held sway,
Wines like water flowed that day,
And before the groaning boards
Princes drank with Dukes and Lords.
Twas a pleasure! I was there,
Mead and wine I drank, I swear;
Though my whiskers bathed in wine,
Nothing passed these lips of mine.

The End

–Pyotr Yershov

Copyright 2014 Digestible Ink

poetry source:


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