By the Seashore

I
Bays broke the low shore,
Boats ran out to sea,
And I'd dry my salty hair
On a flat rock a mile from land.
Swam to me the green fish,
Flew to me the white seagull,
I was gay, and bold, and wicked,
And never knew I was happy.
Buried my check dress in sand
That the wind not take it, nor the tramp,
And swam far out to sea,
Rested on the dark warm waves.
Returning, I could see to the east
The regular pulse of the lighthouse,
And a monk at the gates of the
Chersonese said: 'Why are you out at night ?'
 
Neighbours knew I divined water,
And if they dug a new well
They called me to find the spot
To spare them useless work.
I collected French bullets
Instead of mushrooms or bilberries
And carried home in my skirt
The rusty splinters of heavy shells.
And I said to my sister:
'When I become Tsarina
I will build six battleships
And six gunboats
To protect my bays
Right down to Cape Fiolent.'
Evenings, beside the bed,
I'd pray to the dark ikon
That hail would spare the cherries,
That the huge fish would be caught,
That the crafty tramp
Wouldn't find my check dress.
 
I was friendly with the fishermen,
Under an upturned boat often
When the rain pelted sat with them,
Heard about the sea, and stored it up
In secret, believing every word.
They became used to me.
If I wasn't on the quay
The old fisherman sent a girl
To shout to me: 'Our men are back!
We're frying the flatfish.'
 
The boy was tall, grey-eyed,
And half a year younger.
He brought me white roses,
White muscat roses,
And asked me gently: 'May I
Sit with you on the rock ?'
I laughed: 'What would I do with roses
Except prick myself!' 'If only'
He replied'you'd tell me what to do,
I'm so much in love with you.'
I was cross with him: 'Stupid!
What do you think you are ?Tsarevitch ?'
This was the grey-eyed boy
Half a year younger.
'I want to marry you,' he said,
'Soon I'll be grown up
And I'll take you north . . .'
But I didn't want roses

Nor to go north,
So the tall boy started to cry.
I comforted him badly:
'Be sensible, I'm going to be
An empress. Would I want such a
Husband?' 'Then I'll be a
Monk, near you in the Chersonese,'
He said. I said, 'I shouldn't
They're always dying when you
Go there and the rest just stand
Dry-eyed at the grave.'
He went away without a goodbye,
Clutching his muscat roses,
And I let him go,
I didn't say, 'Stay with me.'
A secret parting pain
Cried like a white gull
Over the grey wormwood steppe,
Over desert, dead Korsun.
2
Bays broke the low shore,
Smoky sun fell in the sea.
Gypsy woman left her cave,
Beckoned me with her finger:
'Why are you walking barefoot,
My lovely? Soon you'll be happy and
Rich. Expect a noble visitor
To call on you before Easter.
Your beauty and your love
Won't tempt him, but your song will.'
I gave the gypsy a small chain
And a small gold christening cross.
Thought joyfully: 'It's the first
News of my beloved from himself.'
But anxiety stopped me loving
My bays and my caves.
I didn't scare the viper in the reeds,
Didn't bring crabs for supper,
But walked along the southern gully
Behind vineyards to the stone-quarry
That was a long way.
And often the woman
Of the new farm called to me
Distantly: 'Why don't you drop in?
Everybody says you bring good luck.'
I shouted back: 'Only horseshoes
And a new moon bring good luck
And only if the moon is to your right.'
I didn't like entering rooms.
 
Blew from the east dry winds,
Large stars fell from the sky,
Church-services were held for sailors
Who had gone to sea,
And jellyfish swam into the bay;
Like stars that had fallen in the night
They gleamed blue, deep underwater.
How cranes coorlee'd in the sky,
How restlessly cicadas chattered,
How the soldier's wife sang her grief
My keen ears took it all in,
But I knew of no song
To keep my Tsarevitch with me.
I started dreaming of a girl
In narrow bracelets and a short skirt
And a white reed in her cool hands.
Long and peacefully she looks at me,
Doesn't enquire about my sorrow,
Nor talk about her own,
Only tenderly strokes my shoulder.
How will the Tsarevitch know me,
Will he remember my features?
Who will point the way to our house ?
Our house is away from the road.
 
Autumn changed to rainy winter,
Wind blew into the white room
Through open windows. Ivy on the garden
Wall. Strange dogs came to the yard
And howled under my window all night.
It was a bad time for the heart.
So I whispered, looking at the door:
'O God, we will rule wisely,
Build great churches by the sea,
And build tall lighthouses.
We'll take care of water and land,
Nobody shall be harmed.'
3
Dark sea suddenly kinder,
Swallows returning to their nests,
Earth grew red with poppies,
And the shore was good again.
Overnight came the summer
We didn't see the spring.
I stopped being afraid
My new fate wouldn't come.
On the evening of Palm Sunday,
Coming out of church, I said to my sister:
'I'll leave my candle and beads
And my bible at home for you.
In a week it will be Easter
And it's time I got ready
I expect the Tsarevitch has left,
He'll be coming for me by sea.'
Silently she wondered at me,
Sighed, doubtless recalled
The gypsy's speech at the cave.
'Is he bringing you a necklace
And a ring with blue stones?'
'No/ I said, 'we don't know
What gift he's planning to give me.'
We were the same age, my sister
And I, and so alike that when
We were small Mama could only tell
Us apart by our birthmarks.
From childhood my sister could not walk,
She lay like a wax doll,
Was never cross with anyone,
Embroidered a holy cloth.
She'd talk about it in her sleep;
I'd hear her murmur:
'The Virgin's cloak will be blue . . .
Lord, I haven't any pearls
For John the Apostle's tears ..."
The yard grew over with goose-grass and mint,
A donkey nibbled by the wicket-gate,
And on a long wicker armchair
Lay Lena with her arm outstretched,
And as she couldn't work on the holy-day
Worrying about it constantly.
And salt wind brought to us
Easter bells from the Chersonese.
Every clang echoed in my heart
And pulsed with blood along my veins.
'Lenochka,' I said to my sister,
'I'm going down to the shore.
If the Tsarevitch comes
Tell him where to find me.
He can catch me up on the steppe;
Today I must go to the sea.'
'Where did you hear the song
That can lure a Tsarevitch?'
Asked my sister, her eyes half-open:
'You never go to town
And here they don't have such songs.'
I bent till my lips touched her ear
And whispered, Ill tell you, Lena,
Actually I thought it up myself,
And there's no better song in the world.'
She did not believe me, and for a long
Time reproached me in silence.
4
Sun baked the well's depths,
Grilled scolopendras on stones,
Tumble-weed ran wild
Like a hunchback clown somersaulting,
And the sky flying high
Was blue as the Virgin's cloak
Never had been so blue.
Light yachts had afternoon races,
Lazy white sails crowded
Round Constantine's battery
Evidently the wind veered well.
Slowly I walked along the bay
To the cape, those black broken rocks
Foam covers when the surf comes in,
And I said my new song over.
I knew, whoever the Tsarevitch was with,
My voice would confuse him
And so every word of it
Was like God's gift, dear to me.
The first yacht didn't sailflew,
And the second was catching it,
While the rest could hardly be seen.
I don't remember lying by water,
Don't know how I dozed, only
That I woke and saw a sail
Flapping close by. In front of me,
Up to his waist in clear water,
A huge old man scrabbles his arms
In the deep cracks of the shore cliffs,
Hoarsely cries for help.
Loudly I said the prayer
I was taught as a child
To protect me from nightmares,
To keep the house safe.
I got to: 'You who are Saviour!'
I saw something white in
The old man's arms, and my heart froze .
The sailor was lifting out the sailor
Of the most joyful and winged ship,
And on dark rocks laid him.
 
Long I couldn't trust myself,
Bit my finger to wake up:
Dusky and tender my Tsarevitch
Lay quietly and looked at the sky.
His eyes greener than the sea
And darker than our cypresses
I could see them fading . . .
Better to have been born blind.
He groaned and cried indistinctly:
'Swallow, swallow, how it hurts!'
It seemed he saw me as a bird.
 
At dusk I went back home.
In the dark room it was quiet
And over the ikon lamp stood
A high, thin, crimson flame.
'The Tsarevitch didn't come,'
Lena said as she heard steps:
'I waited for him till vespers
And sent the children down to the quay.'
'He won't be coming for me,
He will never come back, Lena.
My Tsarevitch is dead.'
Time and again she crossed herself,
She turned to the wall and was silent.
I could tell that Lena was crying.
I heard that they sang over him
'Christ is risen from the dead'
And an ineffable light
Shone in the round church.

1914

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