Alexander Pushkin’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan

Pushkin's Tale of Tsar Saltan

Another famous poem by poet/heartthrob Alexander Pushkin is The Tale of Tsar Saltan, or in full: The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son the Renowned and Mighty Bogatyr Prince Gvidon Saltanovich, and of the Beautiful Princess-Swan (written in 1831).

In the poem, Tsar Saltan chooses one of three sisters to be his wife, making the other two jealous. When the tsar goes off to war and his wife gives birth to a son, Prince Gvidon, they write to Saltan and tell him that she gave birth to a monster. He orders his wife and the child to be sealed in a barrel and thrown into the sea.

The sea takes pity on them and casts them out onto the shore of a remote island, Buyan. The son, having quickly grown while in the barrel, goes hunting and saves a swan from a kite bird.

The swan creates a city for Prince Gvidon to rule, orders thirty three sea knights and their commander to guide the city, and gives Gvidon a magical squirrel so that he doesn’t feel homesick.

Of course this story has a very happy end: the swan is revealed to be a beautiful princess, whom Prince Gvidon marries. The tsar is overjoyed to see his newly married son and daughter-in-law.

Here’s an excerpt in Russian and English about Gvidon’s little squirrel:

Ель растет перед дворцом,
А под ней хрустальный дом;
Белка там живет ручная,
Да затейница какая!
Белка песенки поет
Да орешки все грызет,
А орешки не простые,
Все скорлупки золотые,
Ядра – чистый изумруд;
Слуги белку стерегут,
Служат ей прислугой разной –
И приставлен дьяк приказный
Строгий счет орехам весть;
Отдает ей войско честь;
Из скорлупок льют монету
Да пускают в ход по свету;
Девки сыплют изумруд
В кладовые, да под спуд;
Все в том острове богаты,
Изоб нет, везде палаты;
By the palace grows a fir
In whose shade, O royal sir,
Stands a crystal house; and there
Dwells a squirrel, strange and rare–
Full of frolic; all day long,
Cracking nuts, it sings a song,
Nuts, most wondrous to behold–
Every shell is solid gold,
Kernels–each an emerald bright;
Sentries guard it day and night,
It has slaves, like any lord,
Yes, and scribes each nut record.
Troops in passing give salute
With their martial drum and flute.
Maidens store these gems away
Under lock and key each day;
Coins are minted from each shell,
Coins with which they buy and sell.
People live in plenty there,
Not in huts, but mansions fair.