Not the autumn wind in the forest,
not streams hurtling down to the plains –
what we hear is Frost the Commander,
patrolling his far-flung domains.
Has snow been swept by the blizzards
over every pathway and track?
Is there any bare ground still showing,
any last brown fissure or crack?
Have the oak trees been handsomely dappled,
are the tops of the pines fluffed just right?
Have the ice floes been shackled together
so that every lake is gripped tight?
Frost comes striding over the treetops;
shards of ice crackle under his tread.
Lord Frost moves closer and closer;
beams of sunlight dance in his beard.
What pathway is closed to a wizard?
Ever nearer the widow he draws.
Now Frost is looming above her,
rehearsing his wintry laws.
There he stands in a pine tree,
beating time with his cane,
boasting of his own glory
and repeating his old refrain:
‘No need to be bashful, sweet maiden,
see how fine a Commander I am!
Speak truthfully now: have you ever
glimpsed a more handsome young man?
‘Blizzards, downpours and whirlwinds –
I can quieten them all in a trice;
I can stroll out over the ocean
and build myself chambers of ice.
‘One breath – and the greatest of rivers
lie silenced beneath my yoke,
transformed to the strongest of bridges,
broad roads for the merchant folk.
‘I love dropping down into graves
to scatter diamonds over the dead,
to freeze the blood in their veins
and ice the brains in their heads.
‘I love frightening a lonely robber
riding home with a purse he’s plundered:
in the depth of the forest silence
I make branches resound like thunder.
‘Old women go rushing back home,
their heads full of spirits and devils.
But there’s more pleasure still to be had
with drunkards returning from revels.
‘I don’t need chalk to whiten their faces!
I set their noses ablaze without fire!
I freeze beards to reins in a tangle
not even an axe can sever!
‘I’m rich, there’s no counting my treasure;
my fortune’s as great as the world.
Every day I bejewel my kingdom
anew with silver and pearls.
‘Dear Maiden, I bid you now enter
my empire. Let me make you my queen!
We shall reign in glory all winter,
then let summer slip by in a dream.
‘Come, maiden, and let me warm you
in a palace of pale blue ice!’
So Lord Frost sings out above her
as he swings his sparkling mace.
‘Are you warm enough there, dear maiden?’
he calls from high in the pine.
‘Oh yes,’ the young widow answers –
and icy shivers run down her spine.
Now Frost has dropped down lower,
his mace swinging ever so near,
and he whispers softly and tenderly:
‘Warm enough?’ ‘Oh yes, my dear!’
Warm enough – but what does she feel?
Frost’s breath has already numbed her
and needles of ice from his beard,
though colder and sharper than steel,
are lulling her into slumber.
‘Are you warm enough now?’ Frost whispers,
his arms now encircling her waist –
and she hears not Frost but Proklyusha
and all she sees is long past.
On her lips and her eyes and her shoulders
Darya feels the wizard’s long kisses –
and she sees not Frost but her husband
and she drinks in his honeyed whispers.
He’s talking to her of a wedding,
his words so caressing and sweet
that Darya’s eyes are now closing
and her axe lies still by her feet.
And the arc of a smile now parts
the poor lips of the wretched widow.
White flakes now cover her eyelids
and needles of ice her brow…
A lump of snow falls on Darya
as a squirrel takes a flying leap,
but Darya does not lift a finger;
she’s frozen, enchanted, asleep.
by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)
translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk