Three fair maidens, late one night,
Sat and spun by candlelight.
“Were our tsar to marry me,”
Said the eldest of the three,
“I would cook and I would bake –
Oh, what royal feasts I’d make.”
Said the second of the three:
“Were our tsar to marry me,
I would weave a cloth of gold
Fair and wondrous to behold.”
But the youngest of the three
Murmured: “If he married me –
I would give our tsar an heir
Handsome, brave, beyond compare.”
At these words their chamber door
Gently creaked-and lo, before
These three maidens’ very eyes
Stood their tsar, to their surprise.
He had listened by their gate
Whither he’d been led by fate,
And the words that he heard last
Made his heart with love beat fast.
“Greetings, maiden fair,” said he –
“My tsaritsa you shall be,
And, ere next September’s done,
See that you bear me a son.
As for you, fair sisters two,
Leave your home without ado;
Leave your home and follow me
And my bride that is to be.
Royal weaver, YOU I’ll make,
YOU as royal cook I’ll take.”
Then the tsar strode forth, and they
Palacewards all made their way.
There, he lost no time nor tarried
That same evening he was married;
Tsar Saltan and his young bride
At the feast sat side by side.
Then the guests, with solemn air,
Led the newly wedded pair
To their iv’ry couch, snow-white,
Where they left them for the night.
Bitterly, the weaver sighed,
And the cook in passion cried,
Full of jealousy and hate
Of their sister’s happy fate.
But, by love and duty fired,
She conceived, ere night expired,
In her royal husband’s arms.
These were days of war’s alarms.
Ere he rode forth for the strife,
Tsar Saltan embraced his wife,
Bidding her to take good care
Of herself and coming heir;
While he battled on the field,
Forcing countless foes to yield,
God gave unto her an heir –
Lusty, large of limb, and fair.
Like a mother eagle, she
Guarded him most jealously;
Sent the news of God’s glad gift
To the tsar, by rider swift.
But the royal cook, and weaver,
And their mother, sly deceiver,
Sought to ruin her, so they
Had him kidnapped on the way,
Sent another in his stead.
Word for word, his message read:
“Your tsaritsa, sire, last night
Was delivered of a fright –
Neither son nor daughter, nor
Have we seen its like before.”
At these words, the royal sire
Raved and raged in furious ire,
“Hang that messenger!” roared he,
“Hang him on the nearest tree!”
But, relenting, spared him, and
Sent him back with this command:
“From all hasty steps refrain
Till the tsar comes home again.”
Back the messenger rode fast,
Reached the city gates at last.
But the royal cook, and weaver,
With their mother, sly deceiver,
Made him drunk; and in his sleep
Stole the message from his keep
And, before he could recover,
They replaced it by another.
So, with feet unsteady, he
Reached the court with this decree:
“Have the queen and have her spawn
Drowned in secret ere the dawn.”
Grieving for their monarch’s heir,
For the mother young and fair,
Solemnly the tsar’s boyards
Told the queen of this ukaz,
Of the cruel doom which fate
So unkindly had in wait.
This unpleasant duty done,
Put the queen and put her son
In a cask, and sealed it fast;
Tarred it well, and then they cast
Cask and burden in the sea –
Such, forsooth, the tsar’s decree.
Stars gleam in the dark blue sky,
Dark blue billows heave and sigh.
Storm clouds o’er the blue sky creep,
While the cask rides o’er the deep.
Like a widowed bride distressed,
Sobbed the queen and beat her breast,
While the babe to manhood grew