Ruslan and Ludmila: Part IV
‘Of gardens, bounded, captivating, finer than those owned by Armida’
Ivan Bilibin (Russian, 1876 - 1942)
Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved
This work may be freely reproduced, stored and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.
Conditions and Exceptions apply.
Canto VI: The Victory
YOU tell me, oh, my gentle friend,
To tune my light and carefree lyre,
Take up the story, for your pleasure,
And my priceless hours of leisure
Devote now to the faithful Muse…
And yet you well know that I choose,
Quite drunk on bliss now, to forget
Those barbs that forced me to defend
My toil, not seek the tale to end,
Though the fond notes linger yet.
Intoxicated with delight,
I’ve lost the habit; for tis you
For whom I breathe, tis you, my light,
And glory I no longer woo!
The hidden fires of genius,
Invention, and sweet thought, have died,
Love and pleasure now are, thus,
The dreams that in my mind reside.
But you who loved my little story,
You command me now, as ever,
Relishing both love and glory,
My Ruslan, and my Ludmila,
Vladimir, and Chernomor,
Naina, and the faithful Finn,
All who sought your ear to win;
Though, listening, as I held the floor,
You sometimes dozed, with a smile,
As o’er the words I would linger,
Yet oft, most tenderly, awhile,
I found your gaze dwelt on the singer…
Enamoured, I’ll take up the idle
Strings, and, seated at your feet,
Give a slight tug to the bridle,
And our young hero’s tale complete.
Yet what say I? Where is Ruslan?
Sprawled, as if dead, on the field.
His blood congealed where it ran,
While the crows, above him, wheeled.
The armour’s still, the horn calls not,
The crested helm lies there forgot!
Yet round the prince, still, stride by stride,
His charger goes, bowed low his head,
The proud fire in his eyes has died,
His golden mane seems dull as lead!
He waits for his master to arise,
Spiritless, his circling slow;
But in chill sleep our Ruslan lies,
His sword and shield, as yet laid low.
And Chernomor? He’s in the sack,
Forgotten by the witch, Naina,
Still strapped there to the charger’s back,
Knowing naught, and even meaner
Than before; both bored and angry;
Cursing the prince and his princess,
Hearing naught, he peeks out, slyly,
To find – a miracle no less!
He sees the hero lying dead;
A pool of blood beneath his head;
Ludmila gone, the vista empty,
And quivers now with joy, instead,
And thinks it’s over, and he’s free!
And yet he’s wrong as we shall find.
Meanwhile, aided by Naina,
With the slumbering Ludmila,
Farlaf rides on, Kiev in mind:
His heart is full of hope and fear,
Ahead the Dnieper, cold and clear,
Flows through its familiar fields,
He spies the golden-domed city,
Soon the gate an entrance yields;
The people cheer him, joyfully,
And their Ludmila, whom he shields;
They run to tell Prince Vladimir,
That, all unknown, our traitor’s here.
Meanwhile, the Bright Sun, Vladimir,
Sat brooding on his vanished dear,
His spirits neath a heavy pall,
In his great mansion, languishing,
His knights and boyars, nobles all,
Gloomily, about him, sitting.
When, suddenly, he hears loud cries,
A wondrous din, the door’s flung wide,
A knight appears, the nobles rise,
Murmuring at the noise outside.
And then there is confusion merely:
‘Ludmila here! And Farlaf…truly?’
The old Prince rises from his chair,
With altered face; he sees her there,
And. treading heavily, makes haste
To embrace his troubled daughter,
Seeks to kiss the young and chaste
Maid, tenderly, that doting father.
And yet the maiden pays no heed,
Clasped in traitorous arms, indeed,
Lost in enchanted sleep, she lies,
As at the aged Prince, they gaze
While restless and confused, he sighs,
And stares at the knight, in a daze.
Finger to his lips pressed, slyly
‘She’s asleep.’ – Farlaf, the wily,
Says – ‘Not long ago I found her,
Near Murom, in the forest waste;
The evil goblin there I faced,
Who as his captive had bound her;
Long we fought, for thrice the moon
Above the battlefield rose, bright;
The goblin fell, and in her swoon
I bore the princess from the fight;
And who shall rouse her from her dreams?
And when shall this fair sleeper wake?
Who knows? – Fate’s laws lie hid, it seems!
Yet consolation we should take
From hope; be patient, for her sake.’
At once, the fateful rumour flies
Throughout the halls and, everywhere,
Folk gather swiftly, in surprise,
Till seething crowds o’er-flow the square;
The house of grief throws wide its doors
To all, through which that throng now pours,
To where the princess lies, asleep,
On her high bed of rich brocade;
The princes and the knights, ranked deep,
Surround the place, and guard the maid.
They show their sadness; trumpets sound,
Tambourines, horns, harps; drums pound;
The old Prince weeps, and clasps her feet,
While Farlaf, mute, white as a sheet,
Trembling, silently repentant,
His brashness now anxiety,
Is likewise on the maid attendant.
Night fell, but none in the city
Closed an eye, for one and all
Gathered together, talked about
All that had happened in the hall,
Wives forgotten, the men without.
But when the horned moon on high
Sank, and vanished from the sky,
All Kiev stirred; then many a cry
Rang out, a clang of arms; they fly
To the walls; there Kiev gazes…
Tents gleaming in the field, they spy,
Beyond the river’s sunlit hazes,
Shields, lances, armour brightly shine,
Far off, more riders, line on line
Of carts raise black dust in the air,
No sign of fresh assault is lacking;
All this is scarce a new affair –
The Turkic Pechenegs attacking!
Meanwhile the mighty seer, the Finn,
Who o’er the spirits power could win,
Midst the wastes, awaited, quietly,
The day that he had long foreseen,
When fate would bring, inevitably,
All that must flow from what had been.
Deep in the steppe’s parched wilderness,
Beyond the farthest mountain chain,
Home of the winds’ wild blusteriness,
Where the sorcerer’s gaze shall gain,
Though late the hour, no entrance there,
There lies a wondrous vale; a pair
Of rock-born springs, it boasts: the one
Leaps o’er the stones, a living thing,
Gone splashing down the dale, in fun,
The other’s waters dead, scarce flowing;
All’s quiet around, the winds asleep,
Absent that chill breeze of the spring,
The ranks of pine-trees silence keep;
No bird flies, no deer stands drinking.
Here, two spirits have their dwelling,
At the very heart of stillness,
Guardians of the wilderness,
Present since the world’s beginning…
The hermit now before them stands,
Two empty pitchers in his hands;
Their trance is broken and, in fear,
They flee the place, disturb their dream;
He, stooping to the waters, clear,
Dips each jar in a different stream,
And then has vanished in thin air,
But, in an instant more, is stood
Where Ruslan in the valley there,
Lies still and silent, bathed in blood;
The aged seer bends o’er the knight,
Laves him with the dead stream’s flow,
The prince’s flesh, healed, shines with light,
His body yields a wondrous glow.
Then, upon the wounded hero,
He sprinkles the living water,
And Ruslan rises, full of vigour;
New life is his, fresh strength; and, lo!
He looks clear-eyed upon the day;
Vanishing, like an evil dream,
The past disperses on its way,
A cloud’s brief shadow on the stream.
Yet where’s Ludmila? He’s alone!
A tremor of fear runs through him.
A voice, in a familiar tone,
That of the Finn, carries to him:
‘Your fate will be as I have shown!
Bliss is in store for you, my son.
Though first your sword must strike the foe,
For, now, a blood-stained feast awaits;
Yet you shall find your love, e’en so
And peace shall crown fair Kiev’s gates;
Touch this ring to her brow, and lo!
You’ll free her from the evil spell;
At sight of you your foes will fear,
Malice and wrath shall disappear,
All dark intrigue you will dispel,
Malice will die, and peace shall bless.
Prove worthy, both, of happiness!
Farewell brave knight for many a day!
Beyond the grave…your hand I press…
We two shall meet again, I pray!’
Intoxicated with delight,
Ruslan now feels restored to life,
Stretching his arms out, to the light,
Yet sees no sign there of his wife.
Not one trace does the wasteland yield!
He stands alone, on the empty field,
But for his steed, that rears and neighs,
With the dwarf behind, in his sack;
Ruslan soon leaps astride its back,
Ready for action, fit to blaze–
No faith or effort shall he lack –
Through fields and oak-woods, on his track.
What meanwhile of Kiev the Fair,
Besieged, and under savage threat?
Folk now crowd the battlements there,
Upon the field their gaze is set;
Despondently, they must await,
Heaven’s judgement upon them all;
The rest, within, bemoan their fate,
Silent the streets; no cry or call.
Vladimir, in sorrowful prayer,
Kneels beside his sleeping daughter,
While his brave warriors prepare,
To meet the foe, and seek their share
Of noble deeds, amidst the slaughter.
The dawn light shines; the enemy
Pour from the high hills, endlessly;
In force, they cross the silent plain,
Faster with every yard they gain,
And flow towards fair Kiev’s wall;
The trumpets sound the battle-cry;
Out of the gates brave horsemen fly;
Towards the foe speed one and all,
Ready to conquer or to fall.
Now scenting death, the chargers rear,
Bright swords beat on steel battle-gear;
While, through the air, fierce arrows hum;
The field runs red; yet on they come!
The riders rush to meet, headlong,
Then tangle, in one furious throng;
Here, straight towards the foe men steer;
There, breaking ranks, fall back in fear;
Some knight on foot unseats a rider;
Through the field runs his lone charger:
The noise of battle fills the sky;
Here Pechenegs, there Russians die;
Now toppled by an iron mace,
Struck now by a steel dart in the face;
Crushed by a shield, a broken reed,
Or trampled by some maddened steed…
They fought until the fall of night;
Yet neither side met with defeat!
Men slept – none now could keep his feet –
Beside the corpses from the fight;
And long their sleep; though oft a groan
Arose, from where the dying lay;
While now some foe was heard to moan,
And now some Russian voice to pray.
But daybreak turned the shadows paler;
Cold dawn crept doubtful, from the east,
Turning the waves to flowing silver,
As through the mist, the light increased.
The hills and forests brightened then,
The heavens woke; yet not those men,
All motionless, immersed in sleep,
The ranks at rest, the silence deep.
When, suddenly, the dream broken,
The warriors now rudely woken,
The enemy stirred, in wild alarm,
As a fierce battle-cry rang out,
Swiftly re-arming, at the shout;
Here was some foe to do them harm;
In a jostling crowd, the Kievites too,
Gathered quickly, and sought a view
Of the battlefield between them,
And saw a knight wreaking mayhem,
In shining armour, as if ablaze,
Darting here, there, amidst the haze;
From his charger, slashing, stabbing,
Trampling the host, his horn blowing…
Ruslan it was, like God’s lightning,
Striking the infidels, on sight,
The dwarf, in his sack, benighting,
As the enemy camp took fright.
Wherever his bright sword alights,
Wherever his charger passes by,
He slays whoever’s in his sights,
Heads part from shoulders, and men die.
Soon, with a shout, the ranks engage,
And, in the blink, now, of an eye
Heaps of blood-stained bodies lie
On the trampled field’s gory stage,
Headless dead and wounded living,
Spears, arrows, mail; the trumpets sound,
The Russian horsemen come flying,
The Pechenegs can but give ground!
Summoning their scattered horses,
Facing disaster now, their forces
Powerless against this Slavic foe,
The savage raiders turn and flee,
Before the remorseless enemy,
Who deal them blow on fearful blow,
Sending them to the fires of hell;
Kiev rejoices…straight to the city,
Now conqueror of the infidel,
Waving the sword of victory,
Our hero rides, with gleaming lance,
And bloodied mail; as he speeds by,
His shining helm draws every glance –
Chernomor’s beard waves there, on high;
On wings of hope, he flies along
Through noisy crowds, to the Prince’s hall.
Revived by the excited throng,
And filled with joy, amidst them all,
He enters the silent mansion,
Where lost in dream, our Ludmila,
As yet still slumbers on and on,
While at her feet stands her father,
Prince Vladimir, immersed in thought.
Saddest and loneliest, at his court,
Many a tear he’s forced to yield,
His friends drawn to the battlefield.
Yet, shunning glory, Farlaf is there,
Far from the warring enemy,
Guarding the doorway to that pair,
Disdainful of war’s anxiety.
The moment he recognised Ruslan,
His blood froze and, speechless, the man
Fell to his knees, in dire confusion…
Dire treason calls for retribution!
But Ruslan flew to his sleeping bride,
Recalling the gift that he did bring,
And, as he stood there, at her side,
He touched her sweet face with the ring…
Then, wondrously, the young princess,
Opened, instantly, her bright eyes!
And marvelling at the strangeness
Of that long sleep, looked in surprise
All about her, and far beyond him,
As though her dream still lingered yet,
And then her sight grew clear…she knew him!
And so, in deep embrace they met.
Granted new life, his soul on fire,
Prince Ruslan scarcely heard or saw,
While mute with joy, her aged sire,
Embraced the beloved pair once more.
And the end of my long story?
That, dear friend, you must surely guess!
Vladimir’s anger faded swiftly;
Farlaf knelt to him, to confess,
Before Ruslan and Ludmila,
His shame at his sad villainy;
The Prince forgave him; while, forever
Robbed of his powers of sorcery,
Chernomor joined his retinue;
And so, they feasted there, anew,
In Vladimir’s hall while, in praise,
Wise Bayan sang such tales as last,
Of deeds performed in ages past,
Things wrought in legendary days.
Thus, to the world indifferent,
In peace, and quiet indolence,
I sang, my lyre obedient,
A tale lost to ancient silence.
I sang – forgot my grievances
At blind fate, my old enemy,
The treasonous idle glances,
The foolish gossip aimed at me.
Borne upon the wings of fancy,
My mind flew beyond the world,
While, unseen, dark clouds around me,
A mighty storm its powers unfurled!
And I was lost…but you, the sacred
Guardian of my early days,
O Friendship – you who comforted
My troubled soul, with tender gaze! –
You brought me, then, calmer weather,
Brought peace, once more, to my heart,
You granted freedom from the tether,
Freedom, that fuels youth’s fiery art.
Far from the shores of the Neva,
The Caucasus’ high peaks I view,
At every stony cliff, and boulder,
Dumb feeling grips my heart anew,
At Nature, wild, and melancholy,
My soul immersed in languid thought,
Lost as ever in her beauty –
Yet my poetic fires are naught;
In vain I seek the lost elation:
Past, now, the time of poetry,
Of love, of joyful dreams, for me,
The time of heartfelt inspiration!
The days of rapture were not long,
Vanished the goddess, now, of song,
The Muse of murmured incantation…
The End of ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’