The Princess of the Tide

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"The Princess of the Tide" (Russian: Морская царевна) is one of the last ballads by Mikhail Lermontov, written shortly before his death in 1841. In it, the poet expounds upon his classic theme, best captured in his masterpiece "Mtsyri," about the horrors of the loss of freedom and the value of paying its cost:

One day swimming his horse was a prince by the sea
When he heard a voice cry: “Over here! Look at me!”
The steed started and snorted, but ‘twas nothing to him
He shook off a spray and continued to swim.
Said the voice: “I am born to the King of the Tide”
“Wilt thou one lordly night in my sweet arms abide?”
And behold! From the wake, there a hand did emerge
Reaching out for the bridle of silk on the surge.
A young, pretty head did the brine then reveal
With long braided hair draped in sea-grass of bright teal.
Two dark blue eyes burned with passion’s pure fire
Sea foam rolled on her cheeks like white pearls of desire.
Thought the prince: “For this moment I surely was made . . .”
And he deftly reached out to catch hold of a braid.
He caught her and held her with a warrior’s arm
She splashed and she struggled with panicked alarm
Heedless he dragged her up onto the shore
Then his shouts to his comrades did loudly outpour
“Fellows! Come and see! I am calling to you!”
“Look what I have fished out of bottomless blue!”
“What are you waiting for! Do not delay!”
“You’ve not seen such beauty in many a day!”
And then he turned back to look down on his prize
But alas! The fire was already leaving her eyes!
For there lying limp on the hot golden sand
Was her green tail, like a fish, out of place on the land
It was covered in scales like that of a snake
Already coiling and drying as the sun did it bake
Sweat streamed from her brow presaging her doom
And her eyes quickly darkened with ominous gloom
Her poor hands grew pale as she clutched at the sand
Her lips whispered something he could not understand
The prince walked away for he could not abide:
Would he ever forget the princess of the tide?
--translated from the Russian by Andrew C. Miller