Taras on Parnassus. Folk Poem

 

I

 

Did any of you chaps know Taras,

Who worked as forest warden, see,

In the Putevishcha, for Panas -

Lived by the bath-house, near's could be?

Well, then! He was a guiet fellow,

No liquor ever touched his lips,

And not for nought the landlord liked him,

Respected him, and gave him tips.

The mistress also showed him favours,

The elder let him have his way,

Because on the marsh from early morning

Till late at night he used to stay.

Scarce dawn - his gun upon his shoulder,

Into his coat-belt his chopper stuck,

He always went, the forest patrolling,

And shot some birds - if he had good luck.

And whether he wandered much or little

I do not know, but it happened thus:

He came to grief once in the forest...

And this himself he told to us:

 

II

 

"On the very day of Kuzma-Dzemyan*

I went off after a grouse or so.

That morning I had got up early,

As soon as the cock began to crow.

I went on quietly for a little,

Then on a mossy stump sat down,

And then, flap-flap! across the pathway

I look - a grouse quite near has flown!

I aim my gun, and click! - misfire.

The second barrel, and click! - What the hell?

I look, and looming behind a fir-tree

Stands a bear - and tall as a house as well!

Although I'm not a child, not timid,

I trembled like an aspen-leaf.

My teeth like mad began to chatter.

I look - the fir-tree starts to totter -

I think - I'd better run for my life!

 

III

 

I jumped up, slipping in my hurry,

And into a hole I headlong fell -

Went flying, flying, scarcely breathing,

All green before my eyes - pell-mell!

How far I flew - if short or lengthy,

Myself I did not understand.

I just remember - it grew lighter

When finally I came to land.

When I arose - oh, what a horror!

Bemired all over, like a swine.

I started to wonder just where am I,

And where have I got to this time?

I scratched behind my ear a moment,

Took out my snuff-box made of horn,

And stuffed the snuff up both my nostrils,

And sneezed as I hadn't done since morn.

I came to myself and looked around me -

No bear in sight - like he's never been!

I threw my gun across my shoulder,

And then began to view the scene...

 

IV

 

Well, mercy me! What a wonderful country!

As if somebody had painted it all!

The lovely flowers, blue and crimson,

Like someone's spread-out patterned shawl!

And birds there were - and sang so sweetly,

Already out-doing the nightingales.

Well, God above, but here's a puzzle!

Where did I jump to? In what fine vales?

I stood there in my tracks and wondered.

Mouth open wide, I gazed and gazed,

Then suddenly someone came from nowhere -

Walked in, or flew - I was amazed -

Some little chap or other, plumpish,

All curly-headed, like sheep, you know,

And hanging there behind his shoulder

A quiver of arrows and hefty bow!

"Whence comes this road, and where's it going?"

I asked the youngster at once to say.

"This road from that other world is coming,

And straight to Parnassus goes - that way."

The youngster, having given his answer,

Away on wavering wings then flew

And didn't give precise directions,

Not having the time, nor wanting to.

 

V

 

Then to myself I start to wonder:

What the devil is that Parnassus, eh?

And straight along the road I strode then,

Having cut a thick stick for the way.

I walked nine versts or more, not stopping,

Then suddenly saw a mountain there,

And at its foot a crowd of people -

Just like a seething country fair.

So I went nearer - what's this riot?!

The crowd's not poor - a lordly lot,

Some breaking their necks, some going quiet,

They all swarmed up the mount to the top.

And, like in school, they all were shouting,

The old dog ready to swallow the pup,

And each one stuck his muzzle forward

In order to be the first one up.

 

VI

 

And all of them are carrying volumes,

And some are sweating away in streams,

And one with manuscripts under his armpit,

Yet louder than all the others screams:

"Go easy, brothers, do not strangle

My paper, and my Northern Bee**,

But let me get ahead from your clutches,

And by my tails stop tugging at me!

If not I'll order all the papers

To howl you down, with no relief,

As they did Gogol, just last summer.

You know I'm Editor-in-chief!"

I look and see - that is a gent there,

Short-statured, fat-arsed like a hog,

Mean-faced and hefty, grey and ugly,

And howling aloud like some mad dog.

His bag, upon his shoulder carried,

Is full to overflowing with books.

He tugs along his tomes and papers -

Like a country pedlar-man he looks!

His comrade shoulders along beside him,

And helps him carting his load at need.

And he himself a grammar-book carries,

Which at our seminaries they read.

 

VII

 

All of a sudden something rumbled,

The crowd gave way and split in two,

And just like summer swallows flying,

Four decent fellows went sweeping through.

They looked quite different from all the mob, see,

Young Pushkin, Lermontov, Zhukovsky,

And Gogol, proudly past they sped,

Like peacocks to Parnassus ahead.

Well, in a word, the crowd was trying

And striving hard to scale the mount.

Not few the gentlemen, and rabble,

Are here, as in the wide world, found.

I also joined with them and elbowed

With all my might, not left behind.

And so at last, in spite of hindrance,

Straight up the mount my way I climbed.

 

VIII

 

Arrived. Look round. New house and courtyard,

In just the usual landlord style.

Around it stood a fence of fir-trees,

No robbers will get through here meanwhile!

And in the yard some cows are standing,

And sheep and goats, and pigs asleep...

That means these gods as well are farmers,

If so many piglets here they keep.

Parnassian youngsters are pitch-and-tossing,

And playing "Heads or tails" I see,

And if they suffer little losses -

There's one on the nose for their enemy!

That doorway to the gods I entered...

And, mercy me, no give, no take,

There were crowds of them, like soldiers thronging

In barracks - and no count could you make."

 

IX

 

Taras was devilishly lucky -

He found himself as if at an inn:

One smoked a pipe, one sat there laughing,

One drawled a song out with a grin.

He looks: at a booth the cobbler's stitching

New shoes for goddesses to wear.

The goddesses at their tubs are washing

The shirts and pants for the gods right here.

There Saturn sat, gave the bast a wetting,

Then busily new bast-shoes did plait.

Not few, around the world a-wandering,

But heaps he had worn out like that.

On his bench old Neptune mended fish-nets,

And sturgeon strung upon some poles.

Meanwhile his children were repairing

In sweep-nets some enormous holes.

 

X

 

Here's Mars - with Hercules he's scrapping,

But Hercules is as strong as a bear,

And for the amusement of old Zeus

Tricks Mars into a thrashing there.

While Zeus, the warm stove-top not leaving,

His kaftan stuffs 'neath his head in a trice,

And warming up his ancient shoulders,

Starts looking in his beard for lice.

At the mirror, her bottom turned toward you,

And smearing with oil her lengthy locks,

And whitening up her nose with powder,

Stands Venus - a maid with lovely looks.

Now Cupid with the maidens frolics,

And how - it simply makes you laugh -

Here stealthily a kiss is sneaking,

There snatches away a girl's head-scarf.

Here starts upon the psaltery playing,

There to the nymphs a love-song sings,

Here with one eye starts secretly winking,

There calling, whispering, making signs.

 

XI

 

Now all the mountain started shaking

As Zeus shuffled his stove-warmed feet.

He yawned, and started slowly stretching,

And barked: "It's long since time to eat!"

So now the pretty maiden Hebe

Pours out some vodka in the cups,

And then a huge round loaf, still smoking,

Brings in and on the table chucks!

Now look - from all the neighbouring heavens,

Like cockroaches, when they smell bread,

The gods all gathered round the table,

While Hebe, as fast as she was able,

From the stove the tasties began to spread.

 

XII

 

At first she gave them salted cabbage,

And then some porridge, with scratchings too,

Made of fine oatmeal, boiled and thickened

With milk and butter - just taste it, do!

And frozen Jelly then; with cream on,

Then salted bacon, sweating fat,

And young roast ducklings, nice and spicy,

In plenty for everyone at that!

And when she then brought in the sausage,

And oatmeal pancakes in a sieve,

Why then Taras felt simply starving -

What rumbles his belly began to give!

The gods then started to stretch for vodka,

From pitchers into their mugs poured out,

And having drunk to the dregs they wanted,

As in a tavern, to sing and shout.

And Bacchus sang such ditties disgusting,

And just impossible to repeat,

And even made the maids start blushing

When dirty words they chanced to meet.

And Zeus had so many mugs been swigging

That his red nose near ploughed the ground,

His eyes were squinting, and he was swaying,

And though he tried, not a word could sound.

And though, of course, it's not my business,

He loved - in the open, all fair and free,

To satisfy his sinful body,

And at his leisure to go on the spree.

 

XIII

 

But from the table the gods were rising.

They'd had enough to drink and eat.

Then someone on the flute began playing,

And goddesses started to swing their feet.

And Venus, her kerchief bravely waving,

Went in to begin "The Snowstorm" dance,

So stately, comely, such a figure,

Such beauty you'll nowhere find by chance.

Red-cheeked, round-faced, with form luxuriant,

And moving swiftly as a wheel,

Like fire her flying skirt was flaring,

Her ribboned plait half-way to her heel.

Another cup of spirits taking,

Cupid was feeling merrier yet -

He started upon his reed-pipe playing,

And stately songs for the maids he set.

Then Neptune, with a comely naiad,

To dance in Cossack style stepped out.

This grey-haired hog, on his haunches squatting,

Had hot young blood - there's not a doubt.

Then Jupiter, old crow, with Vesta

Stepped out to dance a measure - and how!

Well like a newly-wedded bridegroom,

His fingers stuck in his sash, I trow!

Here Mars joined in, with brand-new sandals,

And did not spare his shoe-leather, see,

With a nymph he galloped round, a-sweating,

Played blind-man's-buff, as blithe as could be.

And every god went prancing, dancing,

And nothing in heaven could them restrain.

And he who'd had too much from the barrel,

Beneath a bench on his back was lain.

 

XIV

 

And when the pipers the "Gallop" 'gan playing

Taras could hold himself back no more -

And from the doorway, in highest spirits,

He galloped around the resounding floor.

So loudly he at times was stamping,

That all the gods gazed on in amaze,

Then here he'd whistle, and there he'd trample,

And drop on his haunches, eyes a-blaze.

Old Jupiter looked on in wonder,

And then with clapping hands kept time.

Then to Taras squeezed through and stopped him:

"Say, where do you come from, friend of mine?

What brought you here, to appear on Parnassus?"

He asked him - still out of breath, alas! -

"Who are you, then? You're not a writer?"

"No, my dear sir," replied Taras.

"I'm a forest warden in Putevishcha,

I left my home ere break of day,

And I came here around about noontide,

And now it's time I was on my way.

Excuse me, my good sir, be obliging,

Could you show me the road, so I do not roam?

I have been here so long on Parnassus -

I'm terribly hungry, and must go home..."

 

XV

 

Then Zeus nodded, and winked at Hebe

To pour some soup out in a dish,

And then she brought a loaf all crusty,

And told me: "Eat as much as you wish!"

So having eaten all I wanted,

And having bowed to the gods all round,

I put my gun and bag on my shoulder

All ready to go - then suddenly found

Two zephyrs took a firm hold upon me,

One by the arm, and one by my belt,

And just like birds, away they whisked me

Across Parnassus, and fine I felt!

As light as a breeze upon their pinions

They carried me back to my native wood.

I looked around - already evening,

Above the pine-tops the new moon stood..."

Since then Taras does not go roaming

As earlier, through the glades ere light.

And does not hinder decent people

From lugging a log or two home at night.

Well, that was how the scene was set

When on Parnassus the gods he met.

And that was what he told me about,

And in my note-book I wrote it out.

 

 

COMMENTS

* Religious feast, late in autumn.

** Reactionary newspaper published in Petersburg (1825-1864). Till 1859 issued by Bulgarin and Grech.

 




Source: Taras on Parnassus. Minsk, Junactva, 1993.
Translation: Walter May
Prepared by: Januk Łatuška

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