Ruslán and Lyudmíla – extracts from my translation

A spoilt wedding night (canto I, lines 69-99):

At length the youthful bride was brought to
the nuptial bed she was to share;
torches were quenched… the love-god’s image
glimmered in his nocturnal flame.
Their dreams of fondness were fulfilled,
all that love offered now was ready.
Garments, resented and resentful,
dropped down upon Byzantine rugs…
Perhaps you hear the lovers’ whispers,
the soft sweet sound their kisses make,
the final murmured protestation
of shyness, interrupted?…  He
now feels the surge of pleasure rising;
yes, yes, it’s come…  Then all at once
thunder cracked, lightning gashed the gloom,
the image-lamp went out, smoke swirled,
the palace, swathed in darkness, shuddered;
Ruslán’s whole being was benumbed…
A hush!…  Then in the awesome stillness
there boomed out twice an eerie voice,
and someone sheathed in smoke whirled upwards,
soot-black amidst the murk and fume…
Once more the room was still and empty;
Ruslán rose to his feet in shock,
cold sweat now trickling down his face.
Trembling, with icy hands he probed
the darkness, but without response…
Horror – the girl he loved had gone!
Ruslán clutched at the empty air;
the shadows yielded no Lyudmíla,
a force unknown had snatched her off.


Where was Lyudmíla? (canto II.170-230):

I’ve told you how at dead of night,
just as Ruslán’s love surged within him,
Lyudmila’s soft and shapely form
was lost to him in clouds of smoke.
Unhappy girl!  The evil wizard,
his arm braced firm with magic strength,
had snatched her from the marriage bed;
had, like a twister, whirled her cloudwards
up through the murk and choking fumes;
and to his mountain realm had borne her.
She’d lost all sense and memory,
and in one moment (so it seemed)
found herself in the wizard’s castle,
pale, trembling, speechless, and aghast.

This brings to mind a sight I saw
one summer from my cottage doorway:
that haughty sultan of the henhouse,
my cockerel, had been chasing after
a timid hen across the yard;
this lady-love he was already
enfolding in his lustful wings.
Above them, circling craftily,
the inveterate thief of village chickens
was calculating how to kill:
the grizzled harrier glided, hovered,
then dived like lightning on the yard.
Up whirled the evil bird and off,
in vicious claws the poor hen bearing
into some crevice safe and dark.
My cockerel, shattered by the loss
and by sheer terror, kept on calling
the hen he loved, to no avail…
all that was left – one fluffy feather
blown in his face by a puff of wind.

Till dawn the young princess Lyudmíla
lay still; the oblivion that enwrapped her
weighed heavy, like a fearsome nightmare
oppressing her.  But finally she
came to herself, her brain now full
of fevered fears and vague forebodings.
She craved a friend’s fond reässurance
and groped round eagerly for someone:
‘Where are you, husband dear?’ she whispered.
She called out, then turned deathly pale
and looked around in consternation:
this wasn’t the bright room she knew!
In misery the poor girl lay,
among soft pillows stuffed with down,
a gorgeous canopy above her.
Luxurious coverlets and curtains
were sumptuously trimmed and tasselled;
brocaded stuffs hung everywhere;
all gleamed with jewels, as with fire;
around her, incense-bowls of gold
exhaled their aromatic vapours –
enough, though…  mercifully I
need not describe the enchanted castle:
Scheherezade has long ago
made a good job of it for me.
But splendid chambers give no joy
when void of friendly company.

Scroll to Top