Translated by Percival Cundy
The same spot, but spring is further advanced. The edge of the forest seems to be covered with a tender green veil, and in some places the top of the trees are tinted with a greenish shade. The lake is full to its brim, the green shores forming a crown of vegetation around it.
Into the glade from out the forest come Uncle Lev and his nephew Lukash. Lev is an elderly peasant, grave, but with a very kindly face, in Polissyan style he wears his hair long, falling in a white fullness on his shoulders from beneath his square cap of grey felt. He is dressed in coarse hempen cloth, over which he wears a very light-grey smock; his high boots are made of bast; in his hand he carries a fishing net; a knife is stuck in his belt; and on a broad strap across his shoulders, he carries a basket made of woven felt.
Lukash is a very young man, sturdy, black-browed, handsome, with a still childish look in his eyes. Like his uncle he is dressed in hempen cloth but of a finer weave. His shirt, hanging outside and belted, is embroidered in white, with an open collar, fastened with red knots at both collar and cuffs. His belt is of red leather and on his head is a straw hat. A knife is stuck in his belt and there is a small pouch hanging from it on the string.
Arriving at the shore of the lake, Lukash stops.
Why are you stopping here? This is no place
To try for fish. Too slimy, slippery.
I only want to cut myself a pipe;
The reeds right here are very fine for that.
But you’ve got all the pipes you’ll ever use.
No, very few – one each of cranberry,
Of willow, and of linden – that is all.
I must have one that’s made of reed. That plays
The best of all.
All right, amuse yourself.
That’s why God gave us holy days. But when
Tomorrow comes, we’ll start some building here.
‘Tis time to drive the cattle to the woods.
See yonder how the grass is springing up.
But how shall we abide here in this place?
The people say it’s bad – a dangerous spot.
Maybe for some. But I, good nephew, know
The art of dealing with such things as these:
Where one should lay a cross, where stick a twig,
Where simply spit three times, and that’s enough.
We’ll sow around our quarters poppy seed;
Before the threshold we’ll plant gentian root.
No evil spirit then will trouble us…
Well, I’ll be off, and you do what you please.
They separate. Lukash goes towards the lake and vanishes in the reeds. Lev walks along by the shore and is lost to view behind the willows.
(Comes swimming to the shore and cries out.)
Grandfather! Forest Elf! There’s trouble, help!
(A tiny bearded old man appears. He is nimble in his movements, but grave of countenance, dressed in dark brown, the color of bark, and wears a shaggy fur cap.)
Now what’s the matter with you?
There’s a youth
Who’s cutting reeds to make a pipe.
That’s no great trouble. Why are you so mean?
They’re going to build a dwelling here, it seems.
Forbid them I will not, provided they
Don’t use live trees.
Oh dear! A dwelling here?
We must have people here? Those dreadful folk
Who dwell beneath straw roofs! I can’t bear them!
I can’t endure that awful smell of straw!
I’ll flood them and with water wash away
That hateful smell! I’ll give such trespassers
Wet welcome when they come.
Stay, not so fast!
It’s Uncle Lev who comes to settle here,
And he’s our friend. Sometimes in jest he’ll use
His simple arts to scare the forest sprites.
I love the good old man! Had it not been
For him that oak would long ago be gone,
Which has beheld our doings many a year,
Our dances, councils, and our mysteries.
Three Germans once inspected it; they stood
Around it with their arms extended wide,
And scarce their fingers touched. They offered gold,
New-minted dollars, to the folk for help.
But Uncle Lev swore by his life that none
Should touch the oak as long as he drew breath.
And so I also swore by my white beard
That Uncle Lev and all his tribe should be
Forever safe in this our forest home.
Indeed! My father soon will drown them all!
Don’t let him try it. If he does, I’ll fill
His lake cram-full with last year’s brush and leaves.
Oh, dearie me! How dreadful! Ha-ha-ha!
(She disappears in the water).
Forest Elf, muttering to himself, sits down on a fallen tree and lights his pipe.
From the reeds there comes the sound of a pipe playing a tender, undulating air. As the melody evolves, everything in the forest gradually comes into life. First, the buds on the willows and the alders open out, then the birches commence to put forth leaves. On the lake the water lilies expand the flowers on their lily pads. The wild rose also begins to blush with its tender buds.
From behind the trunk of an old, half-withered, tattered willow, Mavka emerges. She is dressed in a bright green garment, and her black hair, hanging loose, has a greenish sheen. She makes gestures with her hands and rubs them across her eyes.
Ah me, how long I’ve slept!
A long time, child!
Anemones have long since ceased to bloom;
And now the cuckoo’s striking his alarm.
He’s put his scarlet booties on, and soon
He’ll measure off the summertime for all.
Already from the south come flying guests:
And yonder on the lake, there, where it’s clear,
Like yellow balls of fluff, the ducklings swim.
What was it that awoke me?
I never heard a spring to sing the sounds
I hear today. Or did I simply dream?
(Lukash plays again.)
There, hark!.. Is that not spring that’s singing now?
Oh, no! – a youth who’s playing on his pipe.
A youth? Maybe ‘tis “He Who Rends the Dikes?”
I ne’er expected aught like that from him!
A human youth it is, nephew to Lev,
And Lukash is his name.
I don’t know him.
Because he’s not here long. He’s from afar;
Not from these woods, but from the groves of pine
Where our Great Father all his winters spends.
The widowed mother and her orphaned son
Were given a home by good old Uncle Lev.
I’d dearly love to see what he is like.
What’s he to you?
He must be good to see!
Beware how you gaze on these human youths:
It’s perilous for wood nymphs such as you.
How stern you have become, grandfather dear.
You don’t intend to hold me in as close
As Water Goblin holds Rusalka?
My child, I don’t. But Water Goblin in
His weeds has been accustomed all his life
To live by sucking other lives, while I
Respect your freedom. Go! sport with the wind,
Play all you like with wild Will-o’-the-Wisp;
Allure all spirits to yourself, be they
Of water, forest, mountain, field, or air.
But keep afar from human pathways, child;
You’ll find no freedom there, but woes instead,
To clog your steps and weigh you down. My child,
Once start to tread them and your freedom’s gone!
La-la! like that, my freedom would be lost?
That’s just as though the wind should cease to be!
Lukash with his pipe suddenly emerges. Forest Elf and Mavka hastily conceal themselves.
Lukash is about to cut a birch to test the sap. Mavka dashes out and seizes him by the hand.
No, no, don’t touch! Don’t cut the tree, you’ll kill!
Why, girl, what’s wrong? I am no murderer!
I only wanted to try out the sap
Of this tree here.
Don’t shed it! That’s its blood.
Don’t draw the blood from out my sister’s veins!
You call this birch tree “sister”? How is that?
Who are you then?
I’m Mavka, forest nymph.
(Not overly astonished, he examines her closely.)
So, you’re a forest nymph! I’ve heard of them
From old folks many a time, but never yet
Saw one myself.
And did you want to see?
Why shouldn’t I? But see, you’re just the same
As any girl… no… like a lady fair!
Your hands are white, your figure’s straight and slim,
Your clothes, somehow, are not the same as ours…
Why is it that your eyes aren’t always green?
(He looks at her closely.)
Ah, now, they’re green again… a moment since
They were as blue as heaven… now they’re grey
As thunder clouds… no, now they’re almost black,
Or maybe brown… Why, you are wonderful!
You think me beautiful?
How can I tell?
Who else should tell?
What questions you do ask!
(In frank surprise)
Why should such questions be a task?
See there, doth not the wild rose ask:
“Am I not lovely?” The ash tree nods, his branches bow,
He says: “None lovelier than thou”.
I never knew that trees could talk like that.
I thought they were but speechless growing things.
In all the forest there is nothing mute.
And have you always lived here in the woods?
In all my life I’ve never been outside.
Did you live anywhere before?
I never thought on things like that at all…
(She ponders a moment.)
It seems to me that here I’ve always lived…
And were you always just the same as now?
I think I’ve been the same…
Who are they? Or perhaps you’ve none at all?
There’s Forest Elf whom I call “grandfather”,
And he calls me his “daughter”, sometimes “child”.
Well, which is he, your father, or grandsire?
I do not know. Is it not all the same?
What queer folk in this wood! There’s someone you
Call “mother”, or “grandmother” – what you will?
It seems to me at times the willow tree –
That old, half-withered one – my mother is,
For during wintertime she took me in,
And spread inside a bed of something soft
On which I slept.
You spent the winter there!
And what work did you do the winter through?
Why, naught; I slept. Who works in wintertime?
The lake’s asleep, the forest, and the reeds.
The willow kept on creaking: “Sleep, my dear…”
And always, I dreamed lovely dreams, all white:
In silver settings, I saw sparkling gems,
And carpets made of unknown grass, and flowers
Pure white and glittering. Quiet, tender stars,
Clear white, fell down from heaven, and shaped themselves
Into a white pavilion. Clean and pure
Beneath that tent it seemed. A coronet
Of crystal clear seemed glittering everywhere…
I slept; I breathed so freely, easily.
Through those white dreams came rosy thoughts which made
Themselves into a bright embroidery.
The dreams thus woven out of gold and blue,
Were peaceful, tranquil, not like summer dreams…
Oh, how you talk…
You like it, do you not?
He nods his head affirmatively.
That pipe of yours can speak with better tongue.
Play me a tune and I will swing to it.
She takes some of the long hanging branches of the birch, and knotting them together, makes a seat into which she springs and begins to rock herself gently. Lukash, leaning against the oak plays on his reed pipe without taking his eyes off Mavka. He plays spring songs and Mavka, listening, involuntarily joins in singing the melodies he plays.
«How lovely is the strain
Of mingled joy and pain;
It cuts deep in the breast
And cleaves the heart in twain».
A cuckoo responds to the music, a nightingale follows likewise. The wild rose blooms more ardently, the white blossoms of the cranberry tree expand, the hawthorn reddens bashfully, even the black, leafless thorn bush begins to shoot forth tender shoots.
Mavka entranced, sways quietly, smiling, while in her eyes there is a yearning which almost overflows in tears. Lukash perceiving this, stops playing.
Why are you weeping, maiden?
(She passes her hand across her eyes.)
Did I weep?
Indeed… ah, no! ‘Tis but the evening dew.
The sun is setting… See, upon the lake
The mist is rising…
Nay, ‘tis early still!
You wouldn’t like it if the day were spent?
Lukash shakes his head, signifying he wouldn’t.
My uncle then would call me home.
You’d much prefer to stay with me?
Lukash nods affirmatively.
You’re talking now just as the ash tree did.
I needs must learn to talk as folk do here,
Since I’m to spend the summer here.
Tomorrow we begin to build right here.
You build a house?
No, just a hut at first,
Together with a pen.
Just like the birds:
You take a lot of pains to build a nest
And then abandon it.
No, we shall build
How for ever? You just said
You’re only going to spend the summer here.
Well, I don’t know… ‘T was Uncle Lev who said
He’d give me here a piece of ground and house,
Because in autumn he wants me to wed…
I don’t know. Uncle did not say,
And maybe he has not yet found the girl.
Can you not find a partner for yourself?
(Gazing at her)
Maybe I could, but…
Oh, nothing… but…
(Breaking off he begins to play a melancholy air on his pipe, then drops his hands and sinks into a moody train of thought.)
(After a little silence)
When people mate, do they do so for long?
For life, of course!
Why, that is like the doves…
I’ve often envied them – so tenderly
They love each other… But I’ve never known
Such tender love, unless ‘twas from the birch,
And that is why I call her “sister”. Yet
She always seems so sorrowful, so pale,
So bowed and swaying, making mournful sounds;
It often makes me weep to gaze at her.
The alder I don’t like; it is too rough.
The aspen, somehow, always frightens me;
It must feel fear, it trembles all the time.
The oak is much too stern. And the wild rose
Is prickly, like the hawthorn and the brier.
The ash, the plane, the maple, they are proud.
The cranberry so glories in her pride
Of beauty, that she cares for nothing else.
I was like her last year it seems to me,
But now, somehow, she makes me ill at ease;
For when one thinks of it, it’s true that here
I’m utterly alone…
(She falls into a melancholy brooding).
Your willow tree –
The one that you call “mother” – what of her?
The willow?.. Ah! she’s good to winter in;
But in the summer, oh, she is so dry! –
Forever creaking: “Winter’s coming on…”
No! I’m alone… I’m utterly alone…
Here in the woods there are not only trees,
But also hosts of spirits of all sorts.
(A trifle maliciously.)
Don’t be so sorrowful, for we have heard
About your sports, your frolics, jollities!
All those are but like sudden gusts of wind,
Which start up, swirl around, then disappear.
With us there’s nothing like you have – for life!
Would you like that?
Suddenly a loud shouting from Uncle Lev is heard.
Hey, Lukash! Where are you?
I’m here, I come!
Well, come at once!
What an impatient man!
(He shouts back in response.)
(He starts to leave.)
You’ll come back?
I cannot tell.
(He disappears in the bushes.)
Flying out of the forest comes Will-o’-the-Wisp, a handsome youth, dressed in red, with a shock of reddish hair blown about by wind. He tries to embrace Mavka, but she evades him.
Don’t touch me!
Why not, pray?
Fly off and see
How in the fields the crops are getting green.
What care I for those crops?
Well, there you’ll find
Your Field Sprite who is busy in the rye.
Already she’s begun to plait for you
A garland of the brightest vivid green.
I have forgotten her.
Forget me too.
Now, don’t make mock of me! Come on, let’s fly!
I’ll carry you to far-off mountains green.
You’ve always wished to see the spruce and fir.
Now I don’t wish to.
What! And why not now?
Because I’ve lost desire.
Some mad whim!
Why have you lost desire?
I’ve no interest.
(Coaxingly, he circles round her.)
Let’s fly, let’s fly up high! and there my sisters hail,
The mountain spirits, free as is the comet’s tail!
In dizzy circling dances round you they will sail,
As bright as lightning’s trail!
From out the ferns for you
I’ll pluck the flowers frail;
To tear some stars from heaven
I cannot fail:
Upon the mountain snows
I’ll bleach a magic veil
To keep you from all bale.
And so that you may call the forest crown your own,
We’ll cast the Dragon-King down from his lofty throne,
And set for our defence each mountain, rock, and stone!
Then cheer my heart forlorn!
From evening until morn
A garment glittering
To you I’ll always bring.
And chaplets you shall wear,
And in the dances share.
On pinions I will bear
You far to crimson seas, to where the wealthy sun
His golden store in secret depths has laid.
And then we’ll take a peep into the stars’ abode,
And strip from them their silvery sheen, and with the load
We’ll weave ourselves for rest a velvet shade.
Then when the dawning comes, and cloudlets white are stirred
To gather in the heavens like some bright, fleecy herd,
Which drinks the clear cool water from a tranquil pool,
We’ll rest like loving sweethearts on the flowery…
How pettishly you’ve broken off my rhyme!
(Aggrieved, and maliciously.)
Have you forgotten last year’s summertime?
Of last year’s summer I no memory keep.
What was sung then died out in winter’s sleep;
No memory it provokes.
What of that grove of oaks?
I went to gather berries, I suppose…
Perhaps to find some trace of me, who knows?
I tore wild hops down from the trees, I think…
To make a couch for me in which to sink?
No, fragrant garlands my black hair to grace!
You hoped, perhaps, a lover’s fond embrace?
No, ‘tis the birch alone who cares for me.
Yet there was someone whom you wished to see?
Ha-ha-ha! I do not know.
Ask the grove if it was so!
I’ll go and deck my hair with flowers today…
(She starts off towards the forest).
Beware! Cold dews will smite them with decay!
While the breeze is blowing,
And the sun is glowing,
Who will cold dews fear?
(She runs off and vanishes in the forest.)
Stay a moment, maiden,
With longing I am laden!
Where are you, o where?
He also rushes into the forest. For a few moments his red garment is seen flashing amongst the trees and his voice is heard echoing: “O where?”
The crimson of the setting sun bathes the forest, then dies out. A white mist rises up over the lake. Uncle Lev and Lukash come out into the glade.
That damned Water Goblin! May he dry up!
I’d finished catching fish and started out
To cross the lake by skiff, I only meant
To reach the other side – he up and grabbed
The bottom of my skiff and held it fast.
I couldn’t stir. A bit more, I’d have sunk!
But I’m not quite a fool; I grabbed his beard
And got a twist of it around my hand,
And got my knife from out my belt – By God,
I would have sliced it off! But that damned fog –
A bump – and over went the skiff with me!
I hardly got out to the bank alive,
And lost my skiff as well… The dirty scamp!
And something, too, must have caught hold of you.
I yelled and shouted, bellowed till I’m hoarse.
Where were you all the time?
I told you where –
Just cutting me a pipe.
A little long,
It seems to me, it took to cut a pipe!
But, Uncle, I…
(Smiling, having recovered his good humor)
Eh, lad, don’t try to lie!
You’re still too young for that. It hurts the tongue.
Much better hunt some dry brush in the wood
And start a fire so I can dry myself.
I wouldn’t dare go home all wet like this;
Before I’d get there, I should be assailed
By one I won’t name here – bad cess to her! –
And afterwards she’d rack my very soul…
Lukash goes into the forest where a moment later he is heard cracking and breaking dry branches.
(Sitting down on the gnarled roots of an oak tree, he tries to strike fire in order to light his pipe.)
Good grief! You strike and strike! The flint is wet,
The tinder’s gone… Maybe in this old oak
I’ll find a bit of punk that’s dry enough
To light my pipe?
(He gropes about the trunk in search of punk).
Out of the mist over the lake, a white female form arises, more like a wisp of vapor than a human shape. The thin fingers on its long white hands claw menacingly as the figure advances towards Uncle Lev.
What’s this? Is it a ghost?
Aha! I know. It’s well I saw it first!
(Recovering himself, he takes some roots and herbs out of his wallet, and stretches them out towards the approaching phantom as though to ward it off. The phantom retreats somewhat. He recites a charm, speaking faster and faster as he does so.)
Evil spirit, Fever Wraith,
Burning fever, shivering ague!
Back into the scum you go, back into the slime;
Where good people do not walk,
Where the fowls don’t drink,
Where my voice you hear no more!
Here no power you dare employ
My white body to destroy,
My bones’ marrow to enjoy,
My red blood with which to toy,
No one’s health may you annoy.
Fly, you phantom, fly!
Perish, specter, die!
The phantom slowly retreats to the lake and dissolves in the mist. Lukash comes with an armful of brush, lays it down before his uncle, takes out his flint and steel, strikes it and lights a fire.
There, Uncle, warm yourself.
Thank you, my lad.
You’re good to your old uncle.
(He lights his pipe at the fire.)
Ah, that’s good!
(Tutting his wallet under his head for a pillow, he stretches out in front of the fire and gazes at it through half-closed eyes.)
Suppose you tell a story, Uncle.
You’re still a child! Which one would you prefer?
The Sorcerer? or Tromsina the Dwarf?
I’ve heard those two. You know some better ones
That none can tell so well.
(After pondering a while)
All right, here goes:
I’ll tell about the Princess of the Wave.
(He begins to recite in a quiet, sing-song, measured tone.)
Whene’er the house is warm
And everybody’s gay,
We like to tell our tales
Until the break of day.
Beyond the forest’s mighty sweep,
Beyond the heaving ocean deep,
Beyond the lofty mountains steep,
There is a marvellous, enchanted strand
Where Urai rules the land.
And in that land the sun doth ne’er decline,
The moon doth always shine;
The stars that glitter in that wondrous clime
Keep dancing all the time.
Of all those stars the brightest one was he
Whose name was Silver Prodigy.
His little face so nice
Bore not a trace of vice,
His flowing hair was gilded by the sun,
His silver weapon in his small hand shone…
But what about the Princess?
Eh? just wait!..
Now when young Silver Prodigy to manhood’s years approached,
He pondered much about his lot and thus his thoughts he broached:
“I’ve turned out handsomest of all, I guess,
And yet have not achieved my happiness.
Mother Star!” he loudly cried,
Where shall I go for a bride:
Seek among the chivalry,
Or the proud nobility,
Or perhaps the royalty,
Or the simple laity?
Is there not some princess fair,
Worthy with me life to share?”
(Uncle Lev begins to drowse.)
So off he went until he reached the ocean blue,
And there upon the beach a pearly necklace threw…
Hey, Uncle! You’ve missed something out, I’m sure.
You think so?.. Well, ‘tis you who don’t pay heed!
…Then from the ocean rolling, a monstrous billow came,
And from the billow horses sped,
As red as flame,
All harnessed to a chariot red,
And in the chariot was…
(He stops, overcome by sleep.)
What then? A princess in the chariot sat?
(Through his sleep)
What?.. How?.. What princess?
Ah! he’s fast asleep.
(For some time Lukash gazes pensively at the fire, then rises and moves away from it. He saunters about the glade, playing on his pipe, low and almost inaudibly).
It grows quite dark in the forest, yet the darkness is not dense, but transparent, as it usually is just before moonrise. The darting flames of the fire seem to be carrying on a mysterious dance with the shadows. The flowers nearest to the fire now gleam in full color, then fade out in the thick darkness. Along the edge of the forest the trunks of the aspens and birches loom strangely. The spring wind blows fitfully, running through the trees and fluttering their branches. The mist over the lake drifts out in white billows into the bushes, and the reeds and aspens concealed by the floating mist whisper one to another. Out of the thicket Mavka comes running, swiftly, as though fleeing. Her hair is dishevelled, her dress disordered. In the glade she stops and looks around her, pressing her hands to her bosom, then rushes to the birch and stops once more.
Grateful thanks, o magic night,
For your cover in my flight,
And you paths, who helped my search
And have led me to the birch!
O my sister, shield me now!
(She hides behind the birch, clasping its trunk).
(Coming up noiselessly to the tree.)
Mavka, is that you?
You were running?
Like a hare.
You were fleeing?
From him, who’s fire itself.
Where is he now?
Hush, hush! or he’ll come flying round again.
Silence a moment.
How you tremble! And I can feel the birch
Vibrate, and all its leaves are murmuring.
(Moving away from the tree)
Alas! I am afraid to lean on it,
Yet thus I cannot stand.
Then lean on me.
I’m strong… I’ll hold you and will you defend.
Mavka leans against him. They stand in close embrace. The moonlight creeps on, covering the forest. It spreads all over the glade and steals under the birch. From the forest the song the nightingale and all the voices of a night in spring are heard. The breeze blows fitfully. Rusalka emerges out of the illuminated mist on the lake and silently watches the young pair.
Lukash pressing Mavka closer to himself, bends his face lower and lower down to hers and suddenly kisses her.
(Crying out in ecstasy)
Oh, joy! A star from heaven fell in my heart!
(With a laugh and a splash she dives into the water.)
Rusalka, that was all!
My playmate – she won’t harm us; have no fear!
She’s wilful, and she loves to mock at folk.
But what care I… I care for nothing more
In all the world!
You care for me, don’t you?
You are my world, more splendid, more beloved,
Than he whom hitherto I knew, and he
Is far more splendid since we two are one.
Then we two are now one?
Do you not hear
The nightingale singing the marriage song?
‘Tis true… I hear that she no longer chirps
Or twitters as she always did. She sings:
“Now kiss her! Kiss her! Kiss!”
(He kisses her with a long, tremulous kiss.)
And her I’ll kiss!
Kiss her to death!
A gust of wind comes, blowing white blossoms like a snowstorm all over the glade.
No, no, I mustn’t die!
‘T would be…
What’s that you say? I didn’t mean
To frighten you.
And yet ‘twould lovely be
To die as dies a falling star…
Don’t talk of things like that! Don’t talk at all!
Don’t talk of anything! Ah, no, do talk!
The way you talk is strange, but, somehow, sweet
It is to listen to… Why don’t you speak?
Ah, have I angered you?
I am listening
To you make love.
(She takes his head in her hands, turns his face up to the light of the moon and scrutinizes it).
Don’t! That makes me afraid.
Your eyes seem peering down into my soul…
I cannot stand it. Talk to me, make fun,
Ask questions, tell me what you like, or laugh…
Your voice is clear as is the running stream;
Your eyes, though, are opaque.
Maybe the moon’s
Not bright enough.
(She presses her head to his breast as though fainting.)
Oh, have you swooned?
No, hush! I want to hear your heart speak loud.
It talks, but faintly, like the nights in spring.
Why must you try to hear it? You should not!
You say I should not? Then I will not, love!
I should not, must not? Then I never will,
Dear heart! Instead, I will caress you, sweet!
You are not used to that?
I’ve never been
In love before, and so I never knew
That love could be so sweet.
(She caresses him passionately until he cries out in ecstasy.)
Oh, Mavka dear,
You’re drawing out my soul.
I’ll draw it out!
I’ll draw your singing soul out in these arms,
Enchant your heart with lovely words and charms…
With kisses I your lips will close
Until they yearn,
Until they burn,
As do the blossoms on the rose!
I’ll gaze into your deep blue eyes
Until they blaze,
And shoot forth rays,
As do the bright stars in the skies!
(Suddenly she claps her hands.)
But how shall I attract those eyes of yours?
With flowers I’m still unadorned.
You’re lovely without flowers’ help.
I want to be adorned with flowers for you,
As suits a forest queen.
(She runs to the other end of the glade away from the lake, inhere there are flowering shrubs.)
No, wait for me!
I’ll put the flowers on myself.
(He runs after her).
The flowers at night – their colors go to sleep…
See, fireflies in the grass! I’ll gather some
And put them in your hair to shine. They’ll seem
Just like a crown of lovely, sparkling stars.
(He puts a few fireflies in her hair.)
No, let me take a look… How beautiful!
(Beside himself with joy, he pulls her into his embrace, then looses her.)
I must collect still more. I’ll dress you up
As if you were a queen in jewelled robes!
(He hunts around in the grass along the bushes for more fireflies).
I’ll break some blossoms from the cranberry tree.
She sleeps not – nightingale, keep her awake.
(She breaks off the white flowers and decks her dress with them).
(She emerges out of the mist again. Turning back towards the reeds, she whispers.)
Little Lost Babes, in the night,
Kindle now your lanterns bright!
Two moving lights are seen in the reeds. Then the Lost Babes come forth, each bearing a lantern. The lights sometimes flare up brightly and then fade out almost completely. Rusalka gathers them closely to her, whispering and pointing a little way off to the dim figure of Lukash, who is groping about in the bushes in an intoxication of joy.
See there, that one who’s wandering about –
He’s like that father who abandoned you,
Who ruined your dead mother, let her die –
He should no longer live!
You drown him then!
I do not dare; the Forest Elf forbids.
But we’re not strong enough; we are too small.
You are tiny,
Light and shiny;
With your lights in small hands sure
You can foolish folk allure.
Go into the rushes there
Where no Forest Elf can hear.
Should he come out,
Put your lights out,
Be like lights deceiving always
O’er the pathways;
Burst out bright o’er reeds and rushes,
Lead him into bogs and slushes.
When he’s slipping,
Send him dipping
Down into the deepest slime…
Then I’ll finish him this time!
Off now, like a flash!
(To one another as they proceed)
You go there. This way I’ll take
And we’ll meet upon the lake.
(She rushes to a marshy pool, takes water and sprinkles it backwards over her shoulder. From behind the bushes Kutz jumps out. He is a youthful imp, like a manikin.)
Kutzie, Kutzie, where you stand
Here before me, kiss my hand!
(With an imperious gesture she stretches out her hand. Kutz kisses it.)
Lady, what is now your wish?
For you I prepare a dish
One you will like, if you don’t miss your aim.
(She points to Lukash.)
See there, you’re well accustomed to such game?
(With a wave of his hand.)
Whatever’s in the mud,
For the mouth is good!
There’s the meat for you!
‘Twill bring you joy and please your grandam too.
Kutz skips into the bushes and vanishes. Rusalka in the rushes peers after the Lost Babes, who keep flashing and dimming their lights, running forwards and backwards and weaving in circles.
(Still hunting for fireflies, notices the lights.)
What lovely fireflies, so swift and bright!
Such splendid ones I’ve never seen… so large!
I must get hold of them!
(He chases them, first one, then the other. Imperceptibly they lead him on towards the danger spots.)
Don’t go for them!
Sweetheart, don’t go for them! It’s the Lost Babes!
They’ll lead you into peril!
Lukash absorbed in the chase, does not hear her and keeps right on; then with a sudden cry.
Lord, I’m gone!
I’m tangled in the weeds! They drag me down!
Mavka comes running up at his cries. She cannot, however, reach him because he has sunk into the mud some distance from the solid bank. Holding her belt with one hand, she casts the other end out towards him.
Now catch it!
It fails to reach him.
Oh, it doesn’t reach! Now, what?
(She runs to the willow, the branches of which hang out over the water.)
O willow dear! O mother dear, please save!
(Quick as a squirrel, she climbs up the tree and, clinging to the outmost branches, again casts out the belt. This time it reaches. Lukash grasps its end, Mavka pulls it back towards herself, then giving him a hand, helps him to climb into the tree.)
Rusalka in the water gives a muffled groan of vexation and disappears in the mist. The Lost Babes also vanish.
(Awakened by the outcries.)
Hey, now! What’s this? Some phantom here again?
Hey, Lukash; where are you?
(From the willow)
Up here, up here!
(Coming nearer and looking up into the tree.)
What are you doing there?
Come down at once, I say! – the girl as well!
Lukash climbs down but Mavka remains where she is.
Oh dear! I nearly drowned there in those weeds.
I stepped into a hole, and she’s the one
(Pointing to Mavka)
Who somehow saved my life.
And why do you
Go sneaking round at dead of night as though
You were a haunt?
I was after fireflies…
(He breaks off in embarrassment.)
(Now noticing the fireflies in Mavka ‘s hair.)
I might have known without your telling me.
I see myself just how the matter lies!
Oh, Uncle, I’m the one who rescued him.
Just hear her: “Uncle!” Now we’ve got a niece!
And who was it enticed him in the trap?
(He shakes his head disapprovingly.)
You forest folk! There is your loyalty!
I’ll get that Forest Elf for this, so he
Won’t get away again! inside an oak
I’ll stuff that whiskered piece of trickiness,
As he’ll find out! He serfs his maids to do
His dirty work while he stays out of sight!
(She runs swiftly down from the tree.)
No, no! He’s not to blame. May Dragon-King
Pour out his wrath on me, if it’s not true!
And I am innocent!
Well – I believe
You now, for that’s your’ greatest oath, I know.
Oh, Uncle! She it is who saved my life.
So help me God! without her I’d have drowned!
Well, girl! although you don’t possess a soul,
You have a good kind heart. You’ll pardon me
For what I said in anger.
Why were you
Out chasing fireflies in the dangerous marsh?
Were there none in the brushes on dry land?
But those were such big ones, such brilliant ones!
Aha, I know them! It was those Lost Babes.
All right, just wait. Tomorrow I’ll bring here
Some pups who don’t fear witches – then we’ll see
Who does the whining here!
Voices of the Lost Babes
(Groaning miserably, almost like the grunting of frogs.)
No, grandfather, please!
We are not to blame.
Out among the weeds,
We were gathering reeds.
We had no idea
Visitors were here,
Or we ne’er had come
Up above the scum.
Babes so weak and frail
Can but weep and wail!
You notice how the treacherous mist sneaks out
To hide the witches’ spawn? Well, let it try!
I’ll soon find out who’s guilty and who’s not…
Well, nephew, don’t you think it’s time for us
To start for home?
Goodbye, my girl!
You’ll come again tomorrow? I can show
You where to find good lumber for your house.
I see you’ve nosed in all of our affairs.
You’re smart! Well, you can come. I’m used to you,
And you folk also must get used to us.
Let’s go! Goodbye!
(They start off.)
(More to Lukash than to Uncle Lev.)
I’ll be expecting you.
Lukash drops behind his uncle, silently squeezes Mavka’s two hands, kisses her without a sound, and overtaking his uncle, departs with him into the forest.
Dear night, couldst thou more swiftly pass away!
Forgive me! for I yet ne’er knew a day
So blest, so happy, such a day so bright,
So calm and tender as thou art, O night!
O birch, why must thou always mournful be?
Behold me, sister, filled with ecstasy!
O willow, no more o’er the waters weep!
Be kind, while here thy child love’s watch doth keep.
And tell me, O my father, thou dark grove,
Where it were best for me this night to rove.
The night is brief, but separation’s long…
What destiny awaits me – grief or song?
The moon sinks behind the dark mass of the forest. The darkness, velvety black, envelops the glade. Nothing is now visible except the dying coals of the fire, but by the fireflies which she is still wearing in her hair, Mavka can be traced as she wanders among the trees. Her headdress at times shines out as a complete circlet, then again in separate sparklings until it is completely lost in the gloom. A deep midnight silence falls, broken only occasionally by the rustling of leaves in the forest, a sound as though someone were sighing in his sleep.