New Images
21 June 2006

Michael Lermontov

Gifts of the Terek

Mid huge rocks, the Terek, leaping,
Onward courses, wild and fierce.
Like a storm he howls, and, weeping,
Sprays the cliffs with angry tears.
But he broadens out on reaching
The great steppe and waxes meek.
To the sea in half beseeching,
Friendly tones we hear him speak:

"Give my waters refuge, ancient,
Give them shelter, Caspian Sea.
Long enough have they, impatient,
Roamed the hills, it seems to me.
Sired by peaks Caucasian soaring,
By the clouds above them fed,
They dispute man's rule, and, roaring,
Rush impetuous ahead.
They have robbed Daryal of treasure,
Herds of boulders, free of fear,
For your sons' delight and pleasure
Driving off year after year."

But the Caspian Sea is drowsy
And he does not seem to hear,
And the Terek, his friend rousing,
Murmurs softly in his ear:

"Here's a gift, a rich one, for you -
A Kabardian who fell
On a battlefield. Before you
He is lying, cold and still.
Precious is his mail of iron;
On his elbow guards - behold!-
Lines from the Koran incised are,
All in lettering of gold.
Dead, he wears a look unbending,
Knit his brows are, while a trace
Of dark blood his lip stains, lending
Something solemn to his face.
On it enmity is graven,
And 'tis mirrored in his stare.
Round his neck there steals a raven
Lock of wet and matted hair."

But the Caspian Sea is pensive
And to answer does not deign,
And the Terek, apprehensive,
Pauses and then speaks again.

"Look, O sea, I have another
Gift to offer - take it, pray.
From the world, my friend and brother,
I have kept it hid away.
Tis a Cossack maid, a daughter
Of the steppes. Long has she been
Cradled by my friendly waters,
Long no man the maid has seen.
Fair is she, her hair a gleaming
Mass of gold, and seems at rest,
With the blood still thinly streaming
From the wound that mars her breast.
On the shore, come night, come morning,
Crowd her people, young and old.
All save one her death are mourning,
All save one young Cossack bold.
The Chechens he battles, smiting
Right and left, his sword held high.
In the hills he is and fighting,
And 'tis fighting he will die."

Low the Terek's voice is growing
As the sandy shore he laves,
While a maid's head, pale hair flowing,
Bobs and bounces on the waves.

And the sea, huge billows raising,
Fearful as a thunderstorm,
Starts awake, his blue eyes blazing,
Full of passion newly born.

Swept by sudden joy and rapture,
With love's tenderest whisper, he
Folds the waters and their capture
To his old heart eagerly.




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