Eh, you are all the same, you giddy maids,
All foolish, scatterbrained. When fortune sends you
A man of rank, an enviable prize,
It's your plain duty to attach him fast.
And how? By sober, virtuous behaviour,
Now strict, now yielding, blowing hot and cold
Upon his passion. Sometimes — just in passing—
A hint at marriage; last, but most important,
To guard your maidenhead, that priceless treasure,
Which, like the spoken word, once it is given
May not be taken back. Or, if there is
No hope of honest wedlock, marriage bells,
Then, even so, and at the least, you should
Get some advantage for your family,
Some slight advancement from it; why, just think,
The old song says: "He will not love me ever
Or seek to please me!" But dear me no, you have
No thought to use your opportunities!
It's not the time, you say, and lose your heads;
You're happy to fulfil his every wish
For nothing, happy to hang upon the neck
Of your true love all day, but your true love
Is here today and gone tomorrow; you—
Left empty-handed; eh, what fools you are.
Haven't I said to you a hundred times:
Now, daughter, you take care, do not be
A fool, don't miss your chances, girl,
Don't let the Prince slip through your fingers, do not
Despoil yourself for nothing. To what end?
Now you may sit and cry your pretty eyes out
For ever. Tears won't bring him back.
Should make you think that he no longer loves me?
What do you mean? But what? How many times
A week used he to visit our poor mill?
Eh? Every blessed day, and sometimes twice
A day — then he began to come more seldom,
More seldom still — and now it's nine whole days
Since he was here. Well, what say you to that?
He's busy: do you think he has no duties?
He's not a miller — may not stand and let
The water work for him. He often says
That his work is the hardest in the world.
A likely tale. Why, when do Princes work?
What is their work? To hunt the fox, the hare,
To feast, to roister, to browbeat their neighbours,
And to seduce poor ninnies such as you.
He has to work himself; poor, ill-used fellow!
The water works for me, indeed!.. I know
No peace by night or day; always alert!
Now here, now there some new repair is needed,
Now rot, now leaks. If only you had managed
To ask the Prince for just a little money
To put the mill straight, that would have been something.
What is it?
I hear the sound of hoof-beats!
His horse's... It is he!
Look you, Daughter,
Remember my advice, do not forget.
He, here he is.
Enter PRINCE. The groom leads away his horse.
Good morrow, dearest heart.
Good morrow, Miller.
Most gracious Prince,
You're welcome. It has been a long, long time
Since we last had a sight of your bright eyes.
I must be off to find you some refreshment.
Ah, at long last you have remembered me!
Thought you not shame to torture me so long
With empty, cruel anxiety and waiting?
If you had known what thoughts came to my mind!
With what dread fears I harrassed my poor heart!
Sometimes I'd think your horse had bolted with you
Into some quagmire, over some steep cliff,
Or that a bear had killed you in the forest,
That you were ill, that you no longer loved me —
But glory be to God! You're live and well,
And love me still, just as before, my Prince,
Am I not right?
Just as before, my angel.
No, better than before —
But you are sad.
What is the matter, love?
Do I seem sad?
You have imagined it. No, no, I'm merry
As always at the sight of you, sweet.
When you are merry, you come running to me
And cry while still far off: "Where is my sweetheart,
What is she doing?" Then you kiss me, then
You ask me questions: "Am I glad to see you?
And did I think you would be here so early?"
But now — you listen to me and say nothing,
You do not hug me, do not kiss my eyes;
For sure, you have some worry. What is it?
Is it, perhaps, that you are angry with me?
Indeed, it is unworthy to pretend.
You have guessed right! My heart is heavy now
With sorrow — sorrow which you cannot charm
Away with fond caress or tenderness,
Cannot assuage and cannot even share —
But it is hurtful to me not to grieve
One grief with you — tell me your secret, Prince.
If you permit it — I shall weep, if not —
No tear of mine shall fall to vex your heart.
Why should I drag it out? The sooner said
The better. Dearest, you must know that in
This world there is no lasting bliss; nor rank,
Nor beauty, neither strength, nor riches — nothing,
Can shelter us from the blind strokes of Fortune.
And we — is it not true, my little sweetheart? —
We had much happiness together. I,
At least, was happy with you, in your love,
And now, whatever may befall me more,
Wherever I may be, I shall remember
You, my dear love; in losing you I lose
A treasure nothing ever will replace.
I do not quite understand your words,
But I am frightened. Fate holds some threat for us,
Prepares some doom unguessed at, unforeseen.
Not — separation?
You have read the riddle.
Fate wills that we should part.
But who should part us?
Can I not follow you wherever you
May go, on foot if need be? I'll go dressed
As a young boy. I'll serve you well and truly
Upon the road, or in the field, at war —
I have no fear of war — if only I
May see you and be near you. No, I will not
Believe it! Either you put me to some test
Or you are teasing me — some empty joke.
No, no, today I have no mind for jokes,
Nor do I need to put you to the test;
Neither am I to ride away to war
Or to far countries, I remain at home,
And yet must part with you, my love, for ever.
Wait now, I understand it, everything.
You are to wed?
The PRINCE is silent.
You are to wed!
Put yourself in my place, poor child. A prince
May not obey his heart as young girls may —
He is not free, but chooses in accordance
With calculations made by others for
The good of others... Time and God will comfort
Your sadness; don't forget me; take this headband
In memory of me — I'll put it on.
And I have brought this necklace, too —
Come, take it — this too. I promised it
To your good father. See you give it to him.
He presses a bag of gold into her hand.
One moment. There is something I should...
I have forgotten...
For you I would
Do anything ... no, that's not it... Wait, wait —
It cannot be, you could not leave me now
For ever... No. All that's beside the point...
Ah! I have it now: Today your child
Moved for the first time underneath my heart.
Unhappy maid! What can we do? Look after
Yourself if only for his sake; I will not
Abandon either you or your poor child.
In time, may be, I'll even come myself
To visit you. Be comforted. Don't cry.
Come, let me hold you in my arms once more.
(On his way out)
Oof! That is that... A great load off my mind.
I thought there'd be a storm, but things went off
Exit. She remains motionless.
May I invite you, Prince,
To step inside the millhouse... Where's he gone?
Tell me, where is our Prince? bah, bah, bah! What
A headband! All a-glittering with gems,
It shines like fire! And pearls, too!.. Well, I must say
That is a royal gift. Ah, benefactor!
And what is that? A bag! Not money, is it?
Why are you standing there not answering,
Without a word to say? Or are you crazed
With joy at such an unexpected windfall,
Or are you struck with lock-jaw?
No, I'll not
Believe it, it cannot be. I loved him so.
Or is he a wild beast? Or is his heart
Untame and — shaggy?
What do you mean, girl?
Tell me, my father, what I could have done
To anger him? In one short week is all
My beauty gone? Perhaps he is enchanted
By some vile potion?
What makes you say so?
My father, he is gone. — There, there he gallops!
And I was mad enough to let him go,
I did not clutch his cloak, I did not leap
To grasp his horse's reigns and swing on them!
He might at least have hewn my hands in anger
Hacking them from the wrists, his stallion might
Have trampled me to death beneath his hooves.
Have you gone mad?
But you don't understand...
A prince may not obey his heart as young
Girls may. He is not free to choose ... but he
Is free, it seems, to lure, swear oaths and weep,
To promise: I will take you, sweet, to live
In my fair castle, in a secret solar,
And I shall clothe you in brocades and velvet...
But he is free to teach poor maids to rise
At midnight and come running at his whistle
To sit behind the mill till break of day—
His princely heart is touched by our small woes,
He lends a willing ear to them — and then:
Farewell now, sweetheart, go your ways in peace,
And love who takes your fancy.
Ah, so that's it.
But who's to be his bride? For who, I wonder,
Has he exchanged me? Ah, I shall find out,
I'll find the heartless wench, and tell her straight:
You leave the Prince alone, I tell you, two she-wolves
Don't hunt in the same valley.
If it's the Prince's will to take a bride
Then who's to stop him? Serve you right, I say.
Have I not told you all along...
Take leave of me like a good, kindly man
And give me presents — what d 'you think of that! —
And money! Buying himself off, that's it!
He thought to gag me with his gold and silver,
So that no ill repute of him might reach
His youthful princess in her innocence.
Ah yes, I was forgetting; he commanded
To give this bag of coins to you for all
Your kindness to him, that you let your daughter
Trail after him like any drab and set
No strict guard on her virtue... You will be
The gainer by my ruin.
Hands him the bag.
My poor, grey hairs!
What have I lived to hear! Shame, shame on you
So bitterly to taunt your aged father.
You are my only child, all that I have,
The only comfort of my feeble age.
I could not help but spoil you, could I now?
The Lord has punished me for lack of firmness
In my parental duty.
Ah, I stifle!
A cold snake clings about my neck and squeezes!...
The snake! He has entwined a snake about me,
Not ropes of pearls!..
She tears the pearls from her neck.
Think what you're doing!
So! and so!
I would tear you to pieces, heartless snake,
Accursed thief of my beloved's heart!
You're raving, daughter, raving.
DAUGHTER (taking off the headband)
Here's my crown,
A crown of shame! This is the bridal crown
The devil put upon my head when I
Turned me from all that I had once held dear,
Our bridal's over — perish, then, my crown!
She throws the headband into the Dnieper.
Now all is over...
Throws herself into the river.
THE OLD MAN
(falling to the ground)
Oh, horror, horror!
THE PRINCE'S PALACE
A wedding. The BRIDE and BRIDEGROOM sit at table. GUESTS. A CHOIR OF YOUNG GIRLS.
We've made a merry wedding of it, truly.
Your health, then, Prince, and your young bride's, our Princess!
God grant you long and happy days together,
And us — good fare and frequent at your table.
Why, lovely maidens, have you fallen silent?
Or have you sung all your sweet songs already?
Or are your white throats dry from too much singing?
Stupid old matchmaker!
Went to fetch the bride
Missed the way inside,
Out behind the hut
Emptied out a butt
Of beer upon the cabbage-patch
Then fell into the garbage-ditch,
Bowed down to the gate-posts,
"Gate-posts, gentle gate-posts,
Show me pray the way
To fetch the bride today."
Matchmaker, make a guess!
Matchmaker, where's your purse?
In the purse the money's turning
For to treat fair maidens burning.
You rascals, what a song to choose!
There, there, lay off the matchmaker!
Gives the girls money.
A SINGLE VOICE
Where pebbles lie and yellow sands are sifting,
Very swiftly hastened the river.
In the swift river two small fish were swimming,
Two fishes, two small, little roaches.
And have you heard the news, little sister,
The news of what happened in our river?
How that yesterday a fair maid died by drowning,
How she drowned herself and dying cursed her lover?
My beauties! What a song to sing just now!
It's not a wedding song, it's most unfitting,
Who chose that song? Eh? — Who chose it?
Not I —
Not I — it wasn't us...
Who sang it then?
Whispering and confusion among the girls.
I know who.
He leaves the table and quietly issues instruction to the groom.
Find the miller's daughter, get her
Away from here — and quickly. Then find out
Who dared admit her.
The groom walks up to the girls.
PRINCE (sitting down, to himself)
She may well have come
Prepared to kick up such a shindy
I shall not know where to put myself for shame.
I could not find her, Prince, amongst the others.
Go. Look again. I know she's there. Her voice
It was that sung that song.
What splendid mead!
It goest straight to the head — and to the legs—
A pity that it's bitter: sweaten it for us.
The bride and bridegroom kiss. A faint cry rings out.
It's she! That was her jealous cry.
(To the groom)
I cannot find her anywhere.
BEST MAN (rising)
Is it not time the bride and groom retired
While at the door we shower them with hops?
High time, indeed, come, serve the cockerel.
The bride and bridegroom are served with roast cockerel, then showered with hops and conducted to their bedroom.
Sweet Princess, do not cry, don't be afraid,
Do as he says.
The bride and bridegroom retire to their bedroom, the guests all take their leave, except for the matchmaker and the best man.
Where is my cup? All night
I have to ride around beneath their windows,
A drop of wine to fortify myself'd
Not come amiss.
MATCHMAKER (pouring him a cup)
Here, drink this.
Oof! I thank you.
It all went off quite well, I think, don't you?
The wedding feast was fine —
Yes, God be praised,
All went off well, but one thing was not well.
It was an evil omen that
They sang that weird song, most unfit for bridals.
Those wretched girls — they simply can't be trusted
Not to get up to tricks. Who ever heard
Of such a thing! To trouble royal weddings —
On purpose, too... But I must to my horse,
Good night, good gossip.
My heart's not easy in me!
This marriage was not made in a good hour.
The PRINCESS and her NURSE.
Hark — I hear trumpets! No, not yet returned.
Ah, nanny dear, when he was courting me
He never left my side, day after day,
It seemed he could not sate his eyes on me.
He married me, and everything was changed.
Now he wakes me up at crack of dawn
And, as I wake, he's ordering his horse;
Then he rides off, the Lord knows where till nightfall.
When he comes home he scarcely has a word
Of tenderness for me. He scarce bestows
An absent pat upon my fair, white face.
My Little Princess, man is like a rooster:
Cock-a-doo-doo! Flip-flap and off he flies.
A woman, like the modest broody hen,
Must keep her nest and hatch her clutch of chicks.
While he is out to win you he will sit,
Take neither food nor drink, but sit and stare.
Yet once he's married — he's so much to do:
The neighbours must be visited,
He must ride out a-hawking with his falcons,
And then — the Devil's in him —he is off to war.
He's here and there — and everywhere, save home.
What do you think? Has he perhaps some secret,
Some hidden paramour? —
A sin to say so, love:
Where would he find a fair exchange for you?
You have it all: you're wise and beautiful
And gentle in your ways. Why, only think:
Where could he find the match of such as you,
If God would hear my prayers, send
Me children. Then I would have the means
To conquer his affection all anew—
Ah, see, the courtyard's full of huntsmen. He
Is home at last. Why can't I see him, though?
Enter a HUNTSMAN.
Where is the Prince?
He ordered us to leave him
And ride for home.
But where is he?
He lingered in the woods that fringe the Dnieper.
And you dared leave the Prince alone, without
Attendance; what assiduous servants!
Go back at once, this instant, at the gallop,
Tell him that it was I who sent you to him.
Exit the Huntsman.
Ah, gracious heaven! In the woods at night
The haunt of desperate men, wild animals,
And evil spirits — danger everywhere.
Quick, light the candle, here before the icon.
At once, my love, at once...
THE DNIEPER. NIGHT
A merry procession
From deep in the stream
The moon draws us upward
To bask in her beam.
River floor and water leaving,
Merrily at dead of night,
Glassy surface head-first cleaving
We arise to seek the light.
Hear our voices calling, teasing,
Vibrant through the upper air;
Shaken dry on free winds wreathing,
See our green and dripping hair.
Sisters, listen, hearken, hush!
In the dark wood something stirs...
See, between the moon and us
Someone walks upon the earth.
How well I know these melancholy places!
I recognise each landmark — there's the mill!
It's fall'n into disuse, a heap of ruins;
The merry sound of turning wheels is silent;
The millstone grinds no more — the old man's dead,
It seems. He did not mourn his hapless daughter
Long. A path wound there... It's overgrown.
For many years no one has come this way.
There was a garden here with a high fence.
Could it have grown into this riot of thicket?
Ah, here's the fatal oak, here's where she stood,
And held me in her arms, all drooping, silent—
Was it all so indeed?..
He goes up to the tree, a shower of leaves falls on him.
What does that mean?
The leaves turned pale before my eyes, curled round on
Themselves and rustling fell like ashes all
About me. Now the tree stands black and bare
Most like a thing accursed.
An OLD MAN enters, ragged, half-naked.
Good-day to you,
And who are you?
I live here.
Could it be? The miller!
I'd call a miller! I have sold my mill
To poltergeists behind the stove, and giv'n the money
To water-nymphs for keeping, to my daughter,
The wisest of 'em. Now it's buried deep
Down in the Dnieper sand. A one-eyed fish
Keeps guard on it.
He's mad, unhappy man,
His thoughts are scattered like a storm-spent cloud.
You're late. You should have come to us last night —
We had a feast and waited long for you.
Who waited for me?
Who? My lass, who else?
You know I look at all that through my fingers,
You may do as you like: and she may sit
All night with you, till cockcrow, if you wish,
And mum's the word for me.
I am no miller, man. I've told you who I am.
A raven, not a miller. Very strange
It was! When she (remember?) flung herself
Into the river, I ran after her
And meant to leap from the same rock, but then
I suddenly felt two strong wings had grown
From 'neath my armpits, and they bore me up
Suspended in the air. And from that day
To this I have been flying about and, now
And then, I peck at carrion — a dead cow, say —
Or perch on graves and caw.
The pity of it!
Who cares for you, old man?
Now that's a thought!
I need to be taken care of. Getting old
I am and always up to tricks. But I
Must thank my stars I have the water-babe,
She looks to me.
I can't make head or tail of what he says:
Old man, here in the wood you'll die of hunger
Or some beast will devour you. Would you not
Come home with me to live?
With you? No! Thank you!
You'll lure me in and then, as like as not,
You'll strangle me with pearls. Here I'm alive
And fed and free. I will not go with you.
And this is all my doing. Terrible.
To lose one's wits. To die were easier.
We look upon a corpse with due respect,
We pray for him. And death makes all men equal.
A man who's lost his reason is a man
No more, and speech a worthless gift to him,
For he controls not words; a brother he to beasts
And to his fellowmen — a laughing stock;
All folk are free to mock him, no one may judge him,
Not even God! Poor man! The sight of him
Has woke the torments of remorse in me!
Here, here he is. I thought we'd never find him!
Why are you here?
The Princess sent us, Sire.
She was afraid for you.
Solicitude. Or am I a small child
Who may not walk a step without a nanny?
Exit. The WATER-NYMPHS rise up from the river.
Sisters, shall we overtake them
Lapping round them as they ride,
Scare their horses, spray and shake them,
Whistling, laughing at their side?
No, too late. The forest darkens
And the deep grows colder yet.
To first cockcrow we must hearken,
Look and see, the moon has set.
Let us tarry here, sweet sister.
Nay — for we must go, must go,
Summoned by the stern Tsaritsa
Who awaits us down below.
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE DNIEPER
The WATER-NYMPHS sit spinning
around the TSARITSA.
The sun has set, so leave your spinning, sisters.
The moon beams like a pillar through the deep.
Enough, swim up to sport beneath the sky,
But see that you molest no living soul:
Tonight you may not tickle passers-by,
Nor snag the fisherman's wide-spreading net
With grass or weed, nor lure the little child
With tales of fishes down beneath the water...
Enter the WATER-BABE.
Where have you been?
I've been out on the land
To visit grandfather. He begs me always
To gather up the money that he threw
Into the water to us long ago
And give it back to him. I looked and looked;
Though what this money is I do not know,
But anyway I brought him from the depths,
A handful of bright shells, all different colours,
And he was very pleased.
The crazy miser!
Now listen, daughter, and attend — this once
I put my trust in you. Tonight a man will come
Down to the river's bank. You will watch out
For him and go to meet him. He is kin
To us — your father, child.
The same one who
Abandoned you to wed a mortal woman?
The same; greet him with tenderness, and tell
Him all you know from me about your birth,
And tell him too what has become of me.
If he should ask you whether I've forgot him
Or not, you may say I remember him
And love him, and invited him to my home.
Now — have you understood me, daughter?
Since that fell hour
When, crazed with grief, I leapt into the water,
A desperate, rejected, simple girl,
And woke again beneath the Dnieper-river,
A waterspirit, cold of heart and potent,
Full seven long years have passed...
And every day I scheme and plan for vengeance.
At last, today, it seems, my hour is come.
Unwillingly to these sad banks I come
Drawn by some unknown power — I know not why...
For me each stick and stone speaks of the past.
Retells the sad but well-beloved tale
Of my young days, my fair and carefree youth.
Here, once upon a time, love waited for me—
Freehearted, ardent love — ah, what a madman
I was to let such joy slip through my fingers,
Renounce such happiness — for I was happy...
How sorrowful, how sorrowful these thoughts.
That meeting yesterday has brought them back.
The poor, mad father! He is terrible.
Perhaps it may be that today I'll meet him
Again and he'll consent to leave the forest
And come to live with us...
The WATER-BABE emerges on the river-bank.
What's this I see!
Say, pretty child, whence came you?