A Fairy-Tale For Children


Mikhail Lermontov

The age of epic poems has passed away,

And tales in verse are terribly neglected.

The poets aren't completely to blame

(Though some use rhythms they've not quite


The public, too, is guilty in its way.

Now, I don't know who's right and who is wrong here,

But I just don't read poems any longer.

Not, certainly, because I don't love poetry;

But why waste time on pretty-sounding words,

When time is money? In this Age of Wisdom

(As you well know), we're all busy with business.

I don't read poems; but, just to regale

Myself, I love to scribble reams of nonsense.

I seize my verses boldly by the tail;

I'm crazy about triple assonances

And liquid rhymes--in, for example, ale.

That's why I'm telling you this little story.

In order to ward off all kinds of queries,

I shall avoid explaining, at this point,

Its magical, mysterious dénouement.

It will, however, have a moral: I need it,

So that even a little child can read it.

My hero's well known, and my theme not new.

It's better that way! New things are fast outdated.

At one time, burning with the flame of youth,

I sang about another kind of demon:

Those were the childish ravings of a fool!

But God knows where the manuscript I treasured

Is now: Is somebody's dainty, gloved hand turning

its pages, while a voice asks, "C'est joli?"

Or is a mouse nibbling on it busily?--

This devil, though, is completely different--

An aristocrat, and quite unlike a devil.

I ask you now to come with me into

A girl's bedroom: the rose-colored blinds have been drawn;

Your eyes can just make out, through the gloom,

The oriental carpet on the floor.

A pleasant trembling suddenly seizes you:

Intoxicated by the maiden's breathing,

The very air seems heavy with her dreaming.

You see an arm, a shoulder; then, profiled

Against a muslin pillow, you see

A youthful face--quite stern, but yet endearing.

And at it, Mephistopheles is leering.

Now where it was Satan there himself,

Or one of those small, lower-ranking goblins

Whose friendship seems to be of such great help

For secret deals in love and family problems,

I just don't know. If only he'd possessed

An earthly shape, by looking at his clothes

And horns, I could have told him from the nobles.

But spirits...well, we know what spirits are:

Life, feeling, hearing, vision, voice and power

Of thought without body. Their disguises vary:

In paintings, demons generally are scary.

I haven't always seen in this exact form

The Enemy of pure and holy feelings.

My youthful mind was often preyed upon

By a mighty image. Sometimes I would see him

As a proud and always silent king, who shone

With such a wondrous sweetness in his splendor,

That I was frightened, and my heart was torn

By a strange anguish...this delirium

Obsessed me for many years. And then,

Having disowned my other dreams as worthless,

I rid myself of it by means of verses.


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