martes, 26 de abril de 2016



Sandra Dermark, 26nd of April of 2016

A retelling of an old Sanskrit story.

Dedicated to Ser Uttam Paudel.

At dawn as the sun rose,
and at dusk as the sun set,
a barren queen prayed
to the sun, the sunny sunny sun,
for a child, even if it were a girl.
And the star of stars
heard that sincere prayer,
and thus, the next year, in mid-summer,
a daughter was born
in the royal canopy bed.
Named heir to the throne
for being the royal pair's only child,
the golden-haired, golden-eyed princess
was taught statescraft,
foreign languages,
arts, poetry, music, philosophy,
even the arts of war,
and her mind became as bright as her eyes.
Throughout the realms, she became reputed
as an heiress unusually clever,
yet also for being powerful and lovely.
When she had reached the age of sixteen,
she suddenly, to distract herself
from the pressure of her studies,
began to sing a song which began like this:
"When you are king, dilly-dilly,
I shall be queen..."
Yet the final verses of that song would be
harder to sing than the first ones.
She summoned her parents and her advisors 
and told them of her intentions,
to their rejoicing and acclaim.
And thus, a decree that she had written herself
was published left and right:
that any good-looking young man
may be free to visit the royal court,
and the Crown Princess
would give her heart and hand
to the best speaker,
to the one who felt most at home in the throne room
to the whose intellectual and moral qualities
towered above those of all the others.
And thus,
suitors flocked to the vast halls,
more drawn to her beauty and wealth
than to her wit and heart.
When these saw the guards in mess uniform,
and the courtiers in all their splendour,
and the halls lit up by thousands of chandeliers
that reflected in countless silver mirrors,
they suddenly lost their self-confidence,
and they would not even look into the eyes
of the princess, with hair as bright as the candles,
or even echo the last words she had said.
Some of them even collapsed before the throne!
Thus, from this kind of first impressions,
she already knew what to expect of them.
And, weary of each man, she sent them away,
one by one by one by one by one.
It was as if all of them had been drugged.
She did not want a yes-sayer who looked sharp in uniform,
or a pretentious curmudgeon, but a true prince,
fair, brave, intelligent,
able to lead the army during wartime,
to patronize the arts during peacetime,
and to speak well, share a conversation, give her replies:
one unlike every blue-blooded suitor
she saw: such a young man had she not seen,
looking upon all the thrones on this earth.
And thus, weary of them all,
she went forth undercover
into the wide world,
from province to province,
from realm to realm,
left and right, 
through fire and ice,
in pursuit of Mr. Right,
but only found unworthy, shallow, tiresome men:
of every kind she did not like.
Still, she would never despair at all 
to find what she desired,
determined as she was to choose,
come hell or highwater,
whatever his rank may be,
a spouse worthy of her.
Until, one day, riding up north, she came
to a paltry holdfast in the woods
and saw the young man of her dreams,
dashing and charming, kindly and clever,
even an accomplished artist.
He did not want to woo the sunshine princess,
to win her hand or her fortune;
only to hear her wise conversation,
to verify whether she had as much wit as they said.
Such sincerity struck the maiden to the core,
and she was quickly interested in the stripling.
He liked her very well, and she liked him:
a lily among thorns, a gem in the rough,
a kindred spirit of hers.
There he lived, in modesty, with his aged parents,
helping them night and day with household chores,
since they could not afford any servants,
yet he was dignified and cultured,
meant for greater things.
In sooth, he had nothing to do with all those lordlings
that had bent the knee in front of her before.
He found her charming,
and she found him after his taste.
Upon returning to her own court,
having reached the age of eighteen,
she told her mother and her advisors
about the one she had found,
a spouse worthy of her,
the loveliest of them all,
her other half, in truth.
Quoth the court soothsayer:
"Indeed, she cannot have chosen
a better spouse:
that young man is a dethroned prince,
raised in grand palace halls like you,
driven away with his ailing parents
into modest obscurity
by chance, by military defeat.
His rapier wit and his noble heart
truly shine through that fair, soft face,
as fair and soft as a rose-petal...
yet, unfortunately,
within a year and a day,
he will breathe his last.
So short is his lifespan meant to be."
Yet the princess shrugged at those words of caution,
determined to make the best
out of that last year of her spouse's life,
of the only year they would spend together.
She sacrificed all of her privileges,
those of her courtly childhood,
servants, silks, costly desserts,
to dwell in retired modesty,
helping her dashing young husband
and her aged in-laws
with their household duties,
doing the chores that the maids at her birthplace
had hitherto done for her.
She kept her husband's destiny a secret
from him and from his kindly parents,
not wanting to break their loving hearts.
And thus, day after day,
she won everyone's hearts,
and the villagers near the holdfast wished her,
blessed her:
"May your widowhood delay!"
Usually, this would be a happy wish,
but, in her heart,
it tore and froze her heartstrings.
At last, the sacred day came,
when she fulfilled her chores with a heavy heart,
casting mournful glances at her spouse,
hour by hour, knowing that his life 
would come to a close with the setting sun... 
and, as he bound a wreath of wildflowers 
and deftly crowned her shining locks,
she restrained painful tears within her eyes...
and, as they were picking fruit
in a colourful, verdant clearing
in the woods along the holdfast,
at twilight, as the sky bled
and the light gradually vanished,
the young prince felt weary,
his limbs in a cold sweat, the blood curdling in his veins,
his head throbbing,
a searing pain in his left side,
radiating up his throat and down his arm.
Seeing him wince and stagger,
clutching his left side, where his heart was,
his face lilywhite, reeling, swallowing his pain,
his golden-haired, golden-eyed wife
let his heavy, weary head rest on her lap,
his dying form pale, cold, hard as ice,
as his eyes shut,
his lilywhite face turned strangely pale,
and his breathing and heartbeat
receded until they were still.
Then, the last strip of sunlight
vanished from the evening sky
as Mercury and Venus appeared.
And then, before this living Pietà
appeared the tall, robust silhouette,
dark and bloodshot of eyes,
of the Deathbringer himself.
The young princess was not afraid
at all of what she saw,
for she knew that thus would it be.
The sinister Stranger
reached into the young man's chest,
left-handed, into his left side,
somewhere near the failing heart,
for the last spark of life
that was flickering within,
and he took it out of his bosom,
left-handed, from his left side,
a little flickering flame,
as his form was cold and hard,
completely still.
Still, the widowed maiden was
unafraid, not stirred at all.
And, as the Deathbringer turned around
to take the fated spirit
that flickered, held in his cold left hand,
into the Uncharted Lands,
he felt a strong pull at his cloak-tails.
"Please, don't take him away!",
she begged the stern Stranger,
a request born out of despair.
"He is the light of my life!"
"Thou art still alive, young maid,
and 'tis too early for thy destiny,
for thy reunion in the Lands Beyond."
"Let me follow you to the Threshold,"
the sunshine-eyed princess cried, yet
the Stranger did not pay heed to her request,
the maiden still on his cloak-tails.
Quoth she: "I have walked seven steps with you,
which makes us friends." Such a reply left
the Lord of the Deceased in awe,
impressed by her conviction.
"I will grant whatever thy heart desires,
as long as 'tis not the life of your spouse."
She quickly replied: "In that case, Ser,
please give my aged in-laws back
what they have lost: health, youth, and thrones."
"Thy will be done," the stern, sinister Stranger
replied. And on he walked uphill,
the maiden following him like his shadow.
Thorns tore at her modest cotton skirt.
Once more, she tugged at the end of his cloak,
once more, he harshly commanded her to stop.
"Do not follow me, living one.
Yet your conviction has won my heart,
or it would if I had one.
I will grant thee one more earnest wish."
She replied: "I am an only child,
born of a barren mother's prayer,
yet I wish that my aged parents
had many more children, boys if possible,
spares to the throne, if I should be gone."
"Thy will be done," the stern, sinister Stranger
replied. And on he walked uphill,
the maiden following him like his shadow.
For a third time, she pulled his cloak,
and, for a third time, he turned around.
"What, living one? Still on my heels!?"
his harsh, sinister baritone echoed,
as her sincere contralto replied,
a counterpoint of iron wills:
"Will you grant me one last desire,
O Lord of the Deceased? The one that I bear
deepest within my heart of hearts?"
"So will it be, as long as 'tis not
the resurrection of thy beloved one.
After that, be gone, live your own life,
let me cross the threshold with his soul, on my own."
In a far calmer voice than before, she replied:
"Please, do not allow me to die childless.
And may my offspring and my descendants
be of the blood of the one I love,
the light of my life, the spirit of my spirit,
to bring hope to both of our dynasties.
May he be their sire, and both of us see
even great-grandchildren flocked in a circle
around us." For once, the Stranger wavered
and stood still, awestruck, listening entranced.
"Thou hast not asked for his life at all,"
the stern, sinister Lord of the Deceased
replied, astonished, in a broken voice.
"Yet I cannot grant thee thy deepest heart's desire
without bringing him back to elusive earthly life.
Thy wit and thy kindness truly equal thy beauty.
Return: thou art worthy of winning his life back."
For once, he had met a worthy opponent
in that mortal princess of unusual cleverness.
And, ere he returned to the Uncharted Lands,
as if he freed a captive butterfly,
the Stranger released the spirit from his grasp,
and the little flame soared northward, towards the clearing,
and she darted after its will-o'-the-wisp flight,
not heeding the thorns that tore at her skin,
though her limbs were sore and bleeding,
until she reached the end of the clearing
and beheld the little flickering flame 
laying to rest on the chest of her spouse,
then plunging within, into his still heart.
And thus, his chest began to heave,
his strangely pale cheeks turned rosy once more,
and his soft eyelids flickered,
and he awoke from his heavy, long sleep
in the lap of his beloved.
Confused, he looked left and right, then upwards,
reassured by the smile of his fair wife,
and he told her of the visions
he had had before expiring: were those dreams,
that sinister stranger looming over his form,
picking him up from his earthly coil?
She wistfully winked an eye,
telling him there was nought to worry,
and they returned home, to the humble holdfast,
hand in hand, heart in heart, the two as one,
the maiden on his right arm, her lover on her left,
the stars shining brighter than ever.
And officers were gathered around the modest table,
the royal father-in-law ready to gather an army
and defeat the usurper, to claim his rightful throne.
Did they succeed, was the victory theirs? 
Did they return to their courtly birthplace,
and did he become king of that vast realm after his sire?
Did they live to a ripe old age,
surrounded by dozens of descendants?
Did the Stranger take both spouses together,
when they were centuries old, at the end of the day?
The answer to all of these questions is yes.
What's more, they greeted him as a dear friend
when they were taken into the Unknown Lands.
And the story spread beyond the reach of palace halls,
into fortresses, markets, villages, holdfasts
of many realms, even westward,
into the sunset lands, where the people
are far fairer of skin. Now, dear reader,
you may inquire if the princess and her prince
lived happy ever after. 'Tis as obvious 
as can be, yet what is most important,
dear reader, is the fact that they lived.

4 comentarios:

  1. Wow, a dedication.
    This tribute has trebled my pleasure. My heart shall burst, and so shall my tear glands!
    You'll see this narrative poem is emotive...

    Indeed it is.

    ...suitors flocked to the vast halls,
    more drawn to her beauty and wealth
    than to her wit and heart...
    So poignant, so true. Hasn;t the world always been like this?
    I know what it's like

    We all do.
    Such a wretched world we live in. It's always the world v us, but in the end, it is the world that wins.
    that's why we need stories
    to escape from reality
    at least for a while
    like the story so far?

    All the same, I really admire your use of 'curmudgeon', whenever I see this word, I remember you. In fact, imbecile and curmudgeon are the two words that I find are so 'royal' that I use to describe only a few people.
    I have used curmudgeon for Stannis, Cromwell, even the Count of Tilly (as seen by Pappenheim, his younger and more fiery right-hand man)
    it feels even classier than killjoy or stick in the mud

    Yes, indeed.

    a lily among thorns, a gem in the rough,
    a kindred spirit of hers.
    What a bunch of lines!
    the first metaphor is from the Song of Songs heart emoticona
    which Spanish translation by Friar Luis I read back when I was 10 or 11
    Friar Luis wound up in trouble with the Inquisition
    due to translating biblical texts...
    still today, he is a renowned writer
    we have a so-called Friar Luis award for translators smile emoticona

    Indeed, that sounds so very interesting. Thanks for the explanation.

    But have you wondered, which as a student of classics you obviously have, that these princes and lordlings almost always find that their true love, albeit appearing as a tramp, as most often dethroned royalties or some unfortunate nobles?
    it's like
    they need to demean themselves and glean real world experience
    Othello and Desdemona
    the princess in The Snow Queen and her prince
    Savitri and Satyavan...
    a sheltered maiden needs a man of the world
    who has walked through fire and ice
    Lyanna and Rhaegar can be considered a gender flip
    with the female being the rougher one
    oh, and
    Friar Luis was never executed by the Inquisition
    but he wound up behind bars twice
    for translating the Song of Songs

    Indeed, but they could have been riff raff commoners, or peasants too don't you think?
    I understand that there are such stories but still, the conclusion I reached, when once upon a time pndered on these things was, since the nobles could afford to pay minstrels and poets, they wrote the songs to appease their masters.
    Yes smile emoticona
    oh, and
    Friar Luis was never executed by the Inquisition
    but he wound up behind bars twice
    for translating the Song of Songs
    and defending free will over destiny
    they never burned him, yet they tarnished his reputation

    Ah reminds me of Dostoevsky. You know, narrowly escaped death, sentenced to harsh labour and discouraged by the state-establishment.

    In fact, a number of authors and writers do fit in the list.
    Tycho Brahe

    Oh, how words are so powerful...
    exiled himself from Denmark when Christian IV, courtiers, the Church were against him
    died in Prague
    as Kaiser Rudolph's favourite scientist
    never returned to Denmark, where everyone was against him
    Tycho Brahe

      Continues here:

      Indeed, the man with the golden nose, wasn't he?
      drank life at great draughts
      was sure of what to do
      I've been to his island, Ven
      which is Swedish now wink emoticona
      Still enjoying my Savitri poem?

      Yes, I am reading to the part where Satyavan dies.

      The sinister Stranger
      reached into the young man's chest

      Game of Thrones reference, I see.
      things then go even better
      if you read even closer and closer

      Brave, courageous, isn't she?
      I mean, not the 'she followed the cruel Yamaraj (the god of death) till hell' courage but 'she told Stayavan that there was nothing to worry about' courage.
      Has he already awakened/resurrected?
      she is brave, completely
      girl got guts

      'Tis as obvious
      as can be, yet what is most important,
      dear reader, is the fact that they lived.
      that's why I like this story
      and the Snow Queen
      and the Duke of Norroway
      you know, the one where she finds her bridegroom ready to marry another
      and the villainess has him drugged
      as a child, I enjoyed those stories
      with dandies in distress and "sheroes" full of pluck and iron will
      the girl saving the guy

      Yes indeed. Courage, real courage, is found in most unlikely places, as they say.
      earning their happy ever after

  2. 1) The Stranger (Asian Hades: Yamaraja/Enma Daioh in the original tale) is left-handed 'cause the English translation says so. Plus, it allows for a "sinister" pun that I had not foreseen ;)
    2) This is a vague story: the setting could be European or Asian, millennia before Christ or in the mid-19th century. What matters are the messages it transmits.
    3) The ending, when they follow the god of the underworld into the afterlife and greet him as a friend, is a reference to Rowling's Three Brothers.

    1. 4) What matters is the Shakespearean quality of the story. This is one of those tales that have endured throughout the centuries.