Illustrations by Olga Starikovskaya
with excerpts from "The Tale of the Dead Princess & The Seven Knights" by Aleksandr Pushkin
The Tsaritsa tender-hearted
At the window sat alone,
Wishing he would hurry home.
Nothing but the snowflakes hurried
Heaping drifts upon the lea.
Earth was white as white could be.
Nine long months she sat and waited,
Kept her vigil unabated.
Then from God on Christmas Eve
She a daughter did receive.
Next day early in the morning,
Love and loyalty rewarding,
Home again from travel far
Came at last the father-Tsar.
One fond glance at him she darted,
Gasped for joy with thin lips parted,
Then fell back upon her bed
And by prayer-time was dead.
Long the Tsar sat lonely, brooding.
But he, too, was only human.
Tears for one sad year he shed...
And another woman wed.
She (if one be strictly truthful)
Was a born Tsaritsa-youthful,
Slim, tall, fair to look upon,
Clever, witty-and so on.
But she was in equal measure
Stubborn, haughty, wilful, jealous.
In her dowry rich and vast
Was a little looking-glass.
It had this unique distinction:
It could speak with perfect diction.
Only with this glass would she
In a pleasant humor be.
All this time the Tsar's own daughter
Quietly, as Nature taught her,
Grew and grew, and came quite soon
Like a flower into bloom:
Raven-browed, of fair complexion,
Breathing kindness and affection.
Dinner time. The yard resounded,
Horses stamped and men dismounted.
Thick-moustached and ruddy-skinned,
Seven lusty Knights walked in.
So the Princess rose, came down
To the Seven Knights and bowed,
Her good wishes emphasizing,
Blushing and apologizing
That to their delightful home
Uninvited she had come.
"Pretty child, you take my fancy!
For that dog of yours, you see,
Could well be the death of me.
See him snarling, bristling yonder!
Come here, child!"
But the dog its body wove
Round her feet, refused to let her
Step towards the woman-beggar.
When the woman, too, drew near,
Wilder than an angry bear
It attacked her.
But she could not take her gaze
From the apple where it lay
Full of fragrance, rosy, glowing,
Fresh and juicy, ripe and golden,
Sweet as honey to the lips!
She could even see the pips...
Said the Sun with some insistence,
"I have nowhere seen your Princess,
So she's dead, we must presume,
That is, if my friend, the Moon,
Has not met her on his travels
Or seen clues you may unravel."
Down she stepped from out the coffin.
O the sighing and the sobbing!
Carrying his bride, he strode
Back to daylight. Home they rode,
Making pleasant conversation
Till they reached their destination.
Never since the World's creation
Was there such a celebration;
I was there, drank mead and yet
Barely got my whiskers wet.