The Lay of the Wise Oleg

Wise Oleg to the war he hath bound him again,
The Khozars have awakened his ire;
For rapine and raid, hamlet, city, and plain
Are devoted to falchion and fire.
In mail of Byzance, girt with many a good spear,
The Prince pricks along on his faithful destrere.

From the darksome fir-forest, to meet that array,
Forth paces a grey-haired magician:
To none but Perun did that sorcerer pray,
Fulfilling the prophet's dread mission:
His life he had wasted in penance and pain: —
And beside that enchanter Oleg drew his rein.

"Now rede me, enchanter, beloved of Perun,
The good and the ill that's before me;
Shall I soon give my neighbour-foes triumph, and soon
Shall the earth of the grave be piled o'er me?
Unfold all the truth; fear me not; and for meed,
Choose among them, — I give thee my best battle-steed."

"O enchanters, they care not for prince or for peer,
And gifts are but needlessly given;
The wise tongue ne'er stumbleth for falsehood or fear,
'T is the friend of the councils of Heaven!
The years of the future are clouded and dark,
Yet on thy fair forehead thy fate I can mark:

"Remember now firmly the words of my tongue;
For the chief finds a rapture in glory:
On the gate of Byzantium thy buckler is hung,
Thy name shall be deathless in story;
Wild waves and broad kingdoms thy sceptre obey,
And the foe sees with envy so boundless a sway:

"And the blue sea, uplifting its treacherous wave,
In its wrath, — in the hurricane-hour, —
And the knife of the coward, the sword of the brave,
To slay thee shall never have power:
Within thy strong harness no wound shalt thou know,
For a guardian unseen shall defend thee below.

"Thy steed fears not labour, nor danger, nor pain,
His lord's lightest accent he heareth,
Now still, though the arrows fall round him like rain,
Now o'er the red field he careereth;
He fears not the winter, he fears not to bleed, —
Yet thy death-wound shall come from thy good battle-steed!"

Oleg smiled a moment, but yet on his brow,
And lip, thought and sorrow were blended:
In silence he bent on his saddle, and slow
The Prince from his courser descended;
And as though from a friend he were parting with pain,
He strokes his broad neck and his dark flowing mane.

"Farewell then, my comrade, fleet, faithful, and bold!
We must part, — such is Destiny's power:
Now rest thee, — I swear, in thy stirrup of gold
No foot shall e'er rest, from this hour.
Farewell! we've been comrades for many a long year, —
My squires, now I pray ye, come take my destrere.

"The softest of carpets his horse-cloth shall be:
And lead him away to the meadow;
On the choicest of corn he shall feed daintilie,
He shall drink of the well in the shadow."
Then straightway departed the squires with the steed,
And to valiant Oleg a fresh courser they lead.

Oleg and his comrades are feasting, I trow;
The mead-cups are merrily clashing:
Their locks are as white as the dawn-lighted snow
On the peak of the mountain-top flashing:
They talk of old times, of the days of their pride,
And the fights where together they struck side by side.

"But where,"quoth Oleg,"is my good battle-horse?
My mettlesome charger, — how fares he?
Is he playful as ever, as fleet in the course;
His age and his freedom how bears he?"
They answer and say: on the hill by the stream
He has long slept the slumber that knows not a dream.

Oleg then grew thoughtful, and bent down his brow:
"O man, what can magic avail thee!
A false lying dotard, Enchanter, art thou:
Our rage and contempt shall assail thee.
My horse might have borne me till now, but for thee!"
Then the bones of his charger Oleg went to see.

Oleg he rode forth with his spearmen beside;
At his bridle Prince +мgor he hurried:
And they see on a hillock by Dnieper's swift tide
Where the steed's noble bones lie unburied:
They are washed by the rain, the dust o'er them is cast,
And above them the feather-grass waves in the blast.

Then the Prince set his foot on the courser's white skull,
Saying:"Sleep, my old friend, in thy glory!
Thy lord hath outlived thee, his days are nigh full:
At his funeral feast, red and glory,
'T is not thou 'neath the axe that shall redden the sod,
That my dust may be pleasured to quaff thy brave blood.

"And am I to find my destruction in this?
My death in a skeleton seeking?"
From the skull of the courser a snake, with a hiss,
Crept forth as the hero was speaking:
Round his legs, like a ribbon, it twined its black ring;
And the Prince shrieked aloud as he felt the keen sting.
The mead-cups are foaming, they circle around, —
At Oleg's mighty Death-Feast they 're ringing;
Prince Ior and Olga they sit on the mound;
The war-men the death song are singing:
And they talk of old times, of the days of their pride,
And the fights where together they struck side by side.

Translated by Thomas B. Shaw

A.S. Pushkin. The Lay of the Wise Oleg. Translated by Thomas B. Shaw // Alexander Pushkin. Collected Works: Parallel Russian Text and English Translation.
© Электронная публикация — РВБ, 2022—2024. Версия 2.1 от 30 ноября 2023 г.