THE TALISMAN
FROM THE RUSSIAN OF ALEXANDER PUSHKIN
WITH OTHER PIECES

 by George Borrow

 

Contents:

   The Talisman
   The Mermaid
   Ancient Russian Song
   Ancient Ballad
   The Renegade

THE TALISMAN

From the Russian of Pushkin.

Where fierce the surge with awful bellow
Doth ever lash the rocky wall;
And where the moon most brightly mellow
Dost beam when mists of evening fall;
Where midst his harem’s countless blisses
The Moslem spends his vital span,
A Sorceress there with gentle kisses
Presented me a Talisman.

And said: until thy latest minute
Preserve, preserve my Talisman;
A secret power it holds within it—
’Twas love, true love the gift did plan.
From pest on land, or death on ocean,
When hurricanes its surface fan,
O object of my fond devotion!
Thou scap’st not by my Talisman.

The gem in Eastern mine which slumbers,
Or ruddy gold ’twill not bestow;
’Twill not subdue the turban’d numbers,
Before the Prophet’s shrine which bow;
Nor high through air on friendly pinions
Can bear thee swift to home and clan,
From mournful climes and strange dominions—
From South to North—my Talisman.

But oh! when crafty eyes thy reason
With sorceries sudden seek to move,
And when in Night’s mysterious season
Lips cling to thine, but not in love—
From proving then, dear youth, a booty
To those who falsely would trepan
From new heart wounds, and lapse from duty,
Protect thee shall my Talisman.

THE MERMAID

From the Russian of Pushkin.

Close by a lake, begirt with forest,
To save his soul, a Monk intent,
In fasting, prayer and labours sorest
His days and nights, secluded, spent;
A grave already to receive him
He fashion’d, stooping, with his spade,
And speedy, speedy death to give him,
Was all that of the Saints he pray’d.

As once in summer’s time of beauty,
On bended knee, before his door,
To God he paid his fervent duty,
The woods grew more and more obscure:
Down o’er the lake a fog descended,
And slow the full moon, red as blood,
Midst threat’ning clouds up heaven wended—
Then gazed the Monk upon the flood.

He gaz’d, and, fear his mind surprising,
Himself no more the hermit knows:
He sees with foam the waters rising,
And then subsiding to repose,
And sudden, light as night-ghost wanders,
A female thence her form uprais’d,
Pale as the snow which winter squanders,
And on the bank herself she plac’d.

She gazes on the hermit hoary,
And combs her long hair, tress by tress;
The Monk he quakes, but on the glory
Looks wistful of her loveliness;
Now becks with hand that winsome creature,
And now she noddeth with her head,
Then sudden, like a fallen meteor,
She plunges in her watery bed.

No sleep that night the old man cheereth,
No prayer throughout next day he pray’d
Still, still, against his wish, appeareth
Before him that mysterious maid.
Darkness again the wood investeth,
The moon midst clouds is seen to sail,
And once more on the margin resteth
The maiden beautiful and pale.

With head she bow’d, with look she courted,
And kiss’d her hand repeatedly,
Splashed with the water, gaily sported,
And wept and laugh’d like infancy—
She names the monk, with tones heart-urging
Exclaims “O Monk, come, come to me!”
Then sudden midst the waters merging
All, all is in tranquillity.

On the third night the hermit fated
Beside those shores of sorcery,
Sat and the damsel fair awaited,
And dark the woods began to be—
The beams of morn the night mists scatter,
No Monk is seen then, well a day!
And only, only in the water
The lasses view’d his beard of grey.

ANCIENT RUSSIAN SONG

i.

The windel-straw nor grass so shook and trembled;
As the good and gallant stripling shook and trembled;
A linen shirt so fine his frame invested,
O’er the shirt was drawn a bright pelisse of scarlet
The sleeves of that pelisse depended backward,
The lappets of its front were button’d backward,
And were spotted with the blood of unbelievers;
See the good and gallant stripling reeling goeth,
From his eyeballs hot and briny tears distilling;
On his bended bow his figure he supporteth,
Till his bended bow has lost its goodly gilding;
Not a single soul the stripling good encounter’d,
Till encounter’d he the mother dear who bore him:
O my boy, O my treasure, and my darling!
By what mean hast thou render’d thee so drunken,
To the clay that thou bowest down thy figure,
And the grass and the windel-straws art grasping?
To his Mother thus the gallant youth made answer:
’Twas not I, O mother dear, who made me drunken,
But the Sultan of the Turks has made me drunken
With three potent, various potations;
The first of them his keenly cutting sabre;
The next of them his never failing jav’lin;
The third of them his pistol’s leaden bullet.

ii.

O rustle not, ye verdant oaken branches!
Whilst I tell the gallant stripling’s tale of daring;
When this morn they led the gallant youth to judgment
Before the dread tribunal of the grand Tsar,
Then our Tsar and Gosudar began to question:
Tell me, tell me, little lad, and peasant bantling!
Who assisted thee to ravage and to plunder;
I trow thou hadst full many wicked comrades.
I’ll tell thee, Tsar! our country’s hope and glory,
I’ll tell thee all the truth, without a falsehood:
Thou must know that I had comrades, four in number;
Of my comrades four the first was gloomy midnight;
The second was a steely dudgeon dagger;
The third it was a swift and speedy courser;
The fourth of my companions was a bent bow;
My messengers were furnace-harden’d arrows.
Replied the Tsar, our country’s hope and glory:
Of a truth, thou little lad, and peasant’s bantling!
In thieving thou art skill’d and giving answers;
For thy answers and thy thieving I’ll reward thee
With a house upon the windy plain constructed
Of two pillars high, surmounted by a cross-beam.

iii.

O thou field of my delight so fair and verdant!
Thou scene of all my happiness and pleasure!
O how charmingly Nature hath array’d thee
With the soft green grass and juicy clover,
And with corn-flowers blooming and luxuriant.
One thing there is alone, that doth deform thee;
In the midst of thee, O field, so fair and verdant!
A clump of bushes stands—a clump of hazels,
Upon their very top there sits an eagle,
And upon the bushes’ top—upon the hazels,
Compress’d within his claw he holds a raven,
And its hot blood he sprinkles on the dry ground;
And beneath the bushes’ clump—beneath the hazels,
Lies void of life the good and gallant stripling;
All wounded, pierc’d and mangled is his body.
As the little tiny swallow or the chaffinch,
Round their warm and cosey nest are seen to hover,
So hovers there the mother dear who bore him;
And aye she weeps, as flows a river’s water;
His sister weeps as flows a streamlet’s water;
His youthful wife, as falls the dew from heaven—
The Sun, arising, dries the dew of heaven.

ANCIENT BALLAD

From the Malo Russian.

From the wood a sound is gliding,
Vapours dense the plain are hiding,
How yon Dame her son is chiding.
“Son, away! nor longer tarry!
Would the Turks thee off would carry!”
“Ha; the Turkmen know and heed me;
Coursers good the Turkmen breed me.”

From the wood a sound is gliding,
Vapours dense the plain are hiding,
Still that Dame her son is chiding:
“Hence, begone! nor longer tarry!
Would the Horde {11} thee off would carry!”
“Ha! the Horde has learnt to prize me;
“’Tis the Horde with gold supplies me.”

Brings his horse his eldest sister,
And the next his arms, which glister,
Whilst the third, with childish prattle,
Cries, “when wilt return from battle?”

“Fill thy hand with sands, ray blossom!
Sow them on the rock’s rude bosom,
Night and morning stroll to view them,
With thy briny tears bedew them,
And when they shall sprout in glory
I’ll return me from the foray.”

From the wood a sound is gliding,
Vapours dense the plain are hiding,
Cries the Dame in anxious measure:
“Stay, I’ll wash thy head, my treasure!”
“Me shall wash the rains which splash me,
Me shall comb the thorns which gash me,
Me shall dry the winds which lash me.”

THE RENEGADE

From the Polish of Mickiewicz.

Now pay ye the heed that is fitting,
Whilst I sing ye the Iran adventure;
The Pasha on sofa was sitting
In his harem’s glorious centre.

Greek sang and Tcherkass for his pleasure,
And Kergeesian captive is dancing;
In the eyes of the first heaven’s azure,
And in those black of Eblis is glancing.

But the Pasha’s attention is failing,
O’er his visage his fair turban stealeth;
From tchebouk {13a} he sleep is inhaling
Whilst round him sweet vapours he dealeth.

What rumour without is there breeding?
Ye fair ranks asunder why wend ye?
Kyslar Aga {13b}, a strange captive leading,
Cometh forward and crieth.  “Efendy!

Whose face has the power when present
Midst the stars in divan which do muster,
Which amidst the gems of night’s crescent
Has the blaze of Aldeboran’s lustre.

Glance nearer, bright star!  I have tiding,
Glad tiding, behold how in duty
From far Lehistan the wind, gliding.
Has brought this fresh tribute of beauty.

In the Padishaw’s garden there bloometh,
In proud Istambul, no such blossom;
From the wintry regions she cometh
Whose memory so lives in thy bosom.”

Then the gauzes removes he which shade her,
At her beauty all wonder intensely;
One moment the Pasha survey’d her,
And, dropping his tchebouk, without sense lay.

His turban has fallen from his forehead,
To assist him the bystanders started—
His mouth foams, his face blackens horrid—
See the Renegade’s soul has departed.

Footnotes:

{11}  The Tartar Horde,—generally known by the appellation of “The Golden,” which, some centuries since, was the dreaded and terrible scourge of Southern Russia.

{13a}  Turkish pipe.

{13b}  Keeper of the women.