Poem of Taras Shevchenko, "The bewitched woman" (tr. by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell)

The bewitched woman
"Prychynna" / "Reve ta stohne Dnipr shyrokyi")

The mighty Dnieper roars and groans, The bewitched woman, Taras Shevchenko
The angry tempest, howling, bends
Tall poplars to the very stones
And down the stream great billows sends.
The pale moon at that hour of night
Kept peering from a cloudy bank
And like a ship on waters bright
In misty waves it rose and sank.
No cock's crow with the darkness strove
Or hailed a sky with dawning streaked;
The owls were hooting in the grove,
The ash-tree without ceasing creaked.
At such a time, below the hill,
Beside those dark trees scowling
Above the river dark and chill,
Something white is prowling.
Perhaps some mermaid has emerged
Her mother dear to spy,
Or waits some Cossack lad to snare
And tickle till he die.
It is no mermaid wanders here,
It is a girl who strays;
She has no notion what she does —
Witchcraft her brain betrays.
A sorceress, to cure her grief,
Has brought her to this state
That she might wander in her sleep
At midnight, and await
The handsome Cossack that she loved:
Last year he rode away

And though he promised to return
He may be dead today.
A silken cloth may not have cloaked
His failing Cossack eyes;
A maiden's tears may not have washed
His fair face as he dies.
An eagle may have gouged his eyes
In some far, foreign field;
Wolves may have eaten up his flesh,—
Such fate the years may yield.
In vain the young maid every night
Awaits him, sick and sore;
The black-browed lad will not return
To greet her ever more.
Her long, fair braids he'll not undo,
No kerchief tie upon her—
A coffin, not a marriage-bed,
Will end her maiden honour.
Such is her fortune . . .
O dear God of mine!
Why art thou to the maid not more benign?
Because she loved the lad with childish art
For his bright eyes?
Forgive her orphan heart!
Whom should she love?
Unparented she stands,
Lone as a migrant bird in foreign lands.
Pray send her better fortune — she is young,
And will be jeered to death by censure's tongue.
Shall we condemn a dove who loves her mate
Who in a falcon's talons meets his fate?
She sorrows, coos, of the bright world grows weary.
Thinking him strayed, she everywhere makes query.
Happy that bird—she flies to Heaven above
And questions God himself about her love.
But this poor waif—whom shall she ask of hers?
Who can inform her? Who the place avers
Where her love spends the night? —
In some dark wood
Or watering his horse in Danube's flood?
Perhaps in others' arms he fails his duty
And has forgotten her, his dark-browed beauty!
If she an eagle's wings could get, no doubt
She'd fly beyond the sea to search him out:

Then if he lived, his loyalty she’d save;
If he were dead, she’d join him in the grave!
The heart in love with no due rival lives,
Nor is it reconciled with what God gives.
If he she loves is lost, she wants to die.
The need to grieve enhances misery.
Alas, dear God of mine! This is thy will, 
And this her hapless fate and fortune still!
She wanders on, without a word,
And silence broods on Dnieper’s breast;
The wind, that once the storm-clouds stirred,
Lies down beside the sea to rest;
While from the sky the moon shines bright
Above the water and the grove,
No whisper now disturbs the night...
When out of Dnieper’s depths there rove
Small, naked girls who laugh and shout.
“Let’s warm ourselves!” they all cry out.
“The sun has set below Earth’s edge!”
(Their girlish braids are twined with sedge.)
“Are you all there?” their mother cries.
“Let’s find our supper, I advise,
Get warm and romp beneath the moon
And sing ourselves a merry tune!”
“It’s cold! It’s cold!
Let’s burn some straw upon the wold!
My sorry mother gave me birth But laid me,
unbaptized, in earth.1 O moon most clear,
Our precious dear,
Come be our guest at supper here! —
A Cossack lies among the reeds,
Among the sedge he meets our needs;
A silver ring is on his finger;
Here, young and handsome he must linger, —
We found him by the oak-tree’s girth.
Shine longer here on open earth,
That we may have our fill of mirth!
In Ukrainian folklore, female infants who died
unbaptized became water nymphs jind,
as such, would lure anyone
who drew near the river bank and
playfully tickle him to death.

While the witches still are flying,
While the cocks restrain their crying,
Shine for us!...
There's something moving
Under the oak, its peace disproving!
It's cold! It's cold!
Let's burn some straw upon the wold!
My sorry mother gave me birth
But laid me, unbaptized, in earth!"
The unbaptized sprites in laughter broke...
The grove re-echoed; noise awoke,
As if a horde were on a spree—
Then silence cloaks the ancient tree.
The unchristened children stopped, and saw
Something imperfectly expressed
Go crawling up the oak-tree's trunk
Until it reached the topmost crest.
It was the sad, enchanted maid
Who had been roaming in her sleep,
So strong a spell the sorceress
Had cast upon her, dark and deep!
On a thick upper branch she stood;
Her heart was stung with bitter pain.
To north, east, south and west she looked,
Then climbed down to the earth again.
The mermaids ringed the tree about
To await her coming, fiery-eyed;
Then seized upon the sorry girl
And tickled her until she died.
Long, long they cast approving eyes
On beauty in this lifeless daughter...
Then, as the cock proclaimed the dawn,
They splashed and dove into the water.
The lark begins its lay, its wings
Go soaring upward now;
The cuckoo has been heard to speak,
Perched on an oak-tree bough;
The twitter of the nightingale
Throughout the woodland rings;
Beyond the hill the dawn appears;
To it the ploughman sings.

Above the river glows the grove
Where once the Poles went roaming;
Above the Dnieper lofty mounds
Grow bluer in the gloaming;
A rustling fills the woody vale;
Thick willows whisper low;
The young maid sleeps beneath the oak
By roads where travellers go.
Her sleep were sound if she should fail
The cuckoo's voice to heed;
She does not count the cuckoo's notes —
Her sleep is sound indeed.
Out of the wooded vale betimes
A Cossack has come riding;
The coal-black horse on which he sits
Is weary in its striding.
“You are exhausted, comrade mine!
Today we shall find rest:
A young maid at a house nearby
Unbars her gate with zest.
Perhaps she has undone its bars
To another's feet that roam...
Quickly, my horse!
Make speed, my friend!
Come, let us hasten home!"
The coal-black steed plods stumbling on,
Weary from constant toil;
The Cossack's heart feels crushing pain,
Caught in a serpent's coil.
“And here our burly oak-tree stands...
Dear Lord! She lies a-heap!
The poor dove was awaiting me
And must have fall'n asleep!"
He left his horse and rushed to her:
“Dear God! Her face is pale!"
He calls to her and kisses her...
No, nothing will avail!
“Why have they parted you and me?"
His frenzied laughter broke—
Then, with a rush, he battered out
His brains against the oak!

Young women walk а-field to reap
And sing, in ancient rite,
Of mothers' sons who go to war,
Of Tartar raids by night.
And there beneath the green oak-tree
A weary horse stands sighing
And near him, with a Cossack young
A pretty maid is lying.
With prying eyes (to tell the truth)
They stole to fright the pair;
But when they saw the lad was dead
They fled in panic there!
Her girl-friends all assembled
And wiped their tears away;
His comrades likewise gathered
To dig two graves that day.
The priests arrived with banners,
The bells began to toll;
All mourned as they were buried
With customary dole.
And by the roadside there they raised
Two mounds amid the rye;
And there was no one left to ask
How they were killed, or why.
Above the Cossack's grave they set
A maple and a fir,
And at the maiden's head they plant
A cranberry bush for her.
Sometimes a cuckoo comes to grieve;
Each night a nightingale
Twitters its heart out as it sings
Their melancholy tale,
Until at last the moon appears
And up those wicked elves
Come trooping from the Dnieper's wave
To warm their little selves.

Taras Shevchenko
"Prychynna" / "Reve ta stohne Dnipr shyrokyi"
("Причинна" / "Реве та стогне Дніпр широкий")
1837, S.- Petersburg, (C. - Петербург)

Translated by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell

Original publication:

Taras Shevchenko. Zibrannia tvoriv: U 6 t. — K., 2003. — T. 1:
Poeziia 1837-1847. — S. 71-78; S. 595-598

Source: The Poetical Works of Taras Shevchenko. The Kobzar. Translated from the Ukrainian by С.H. Andrusyshen and Watson Kirkconnell. Published for the Ukrainian Canadian Committee by University of Toronto Press, 1964. Toronto and Buffalo. Printed in Canada, Reprinted 1977, p. 1 - 8

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