Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Monday, December 08, 2003

Why Is There a "Lukomor Oak" Next to the School in Tanya Grotter?

Why, yes, I have been reading Book 2: Tanya Grotter and the Disappearing Floor....

Apparently, it's from this poem I ran across in my dad's Russian lit book. "Lukomorskoi" just means something like "bay of the sea". This is also the poem which inspired the info, in book 1, that Pushkin had in fact been invited to visit Tibidox on the island of Buyan and had had a very good time there despite being a "lopear". I didn't see any public domain translation, so here goes mine.

Introduction from Ruslan and Ludmila, by Alexander Pushkin
(Translated by Maureen S. O'Brien)

By the bay, an oak grows green,
And on that oak's a chain of gold,
And day and night, a wise cat's seen
Padding 'round in that chain's hold.
When to the right, a song it wails;
When to the left, it tells a tale.

There's wonders there: leshies roam free;
Rusalkas sit up in the tree;
On unknown paths, at tracks you stare
Made by strange beasts not seen before;
A hut on chicken legs stands there
Without a window or a door.
There wood and dale's full of strange sights.
And at the dawning of the light,
Where waves wash sandy, empty shores,
Ride thirty fair and noble knights
Come one by one from the water bright,
And with them comes their sea mentor.
A king's son, passing through by there,
Takes prisoner a fearsome tsar.
While all the people stand and glare,
A sorcerer takes a knight off far
Over woods and over sea.
In prison there, an empress pines,
And a brown wolf serves her and whines;
A mortar with Baba Yaga aboard
Moves along of its own accord;
Tsar Kashchei fades by his gold so fair.
That's a Russian scent...I smell Russia there!

And I was there, and drank mead rare.
By the sea I've seen that oak of green.
'Neath it I sat, and that wise cat
All its stories shared.
I remember one -- this story.
Now I'll show the world its glory....

From there, presumably, he goes on to tell us about Ruslan and Ludmila. (And the evil dwarf mage Chernomor, who is presumably related to Academician Sardanapal Chernomorov, principal of the Tibidox School for Troubled Wizards....) Btw, if you were wondering, a leshy is a sort of forest spirit that makes people get lost, etc. A rusalka is a lorelei-ish river spirit, sometimes pictured as having a fish tail but generally looking just like a human woman. Well, any human woman who sits around nekkid in trees overhanging rivers and ponds, singing to handsome young male passersby and drowning them when she catches 'em. Some say they're the ghosts of girls who commit suicide over men.

The rhyme scheme is almost exactly the same as in the original. The scansion kinda varies.... (Sigh.) This isn't the worst translation, but it loses some of Pushkin's ease of style. The horrible thing about him seems to be that you think you could write just like that...but you're wrong. And of course he's also one of the world's great short story writers as well as great poets. (Envyenvyenvy....) I don't know why we never get to read much of the man here. Russians certainly go gangbusters over the man, and I can see why.

UPDATE: has a fun full text translation up of Ruslan and Liudmila. Check it out! Liudmila turning herself invisible with the wizard's hat and tormenting her own captor is worth the read in itself. Also, there's a sorceress who turns into a dragon and a cat! The site's also got a lacquer copy of a painting of Pushkin sitting under that oak. Beautiful. They've also got the text of Pushkin's poem "The Rusalka". Yes, is there to entice you to buy their Russian lacquer art. But it's full of good info and pretty to boot.

Pushkin Stuff

Btw, if you didn't know, Pushkin, like Dumas, had African as well as European ancestors. (Well, okay, so we all have African ancestors. But I mean recently, not geological time-recently. His mother's side came from Abyssinia. (Why Peter the Great needed to bring an engineer all the way from Abyssinia, I don't know. I guess the Abyssinian must have been really really good.

Another interesting Pushkin fact: Liv Tyler has gone from Arwen to playing Tatiana, the heroine of Pushkin's epistolary novel-in-verse, Eugene Onegin. If you've seen the opera, you still gotta see the movie!

Here's Pushkin's portrait, a mini-biography, and a longer bio. has some English translations of Pushkin poems.


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