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The Fisherman and the Golden Fish

There once lived an old man and his good-wife
On the shore of the deep blue ocean;
They lived in a tumble-down hovel
For thirty-three summers and winters.
The old man used to fish for his living,
And his wife spun yarn on her distaff.
He once cast his net in the ocean,
And pulled it up with mud from the bottom;
He again cast his net in the ocean,
And this time caught nothing but seaweed;
When he cast his net for the third time,
One fish was all that he landed,
No common fish, though, but a goldfish.
Now the goldfish began to implore him,
And it spoke like a real human being:
«Put me back, old man, into the ocean —
I will pay you a right royal ransom,
I wilt give you whatever you ask me.»
The old man was astonished and frightened —
He'd been fishing for thirty-three summers,
Bat had not heard of any fish talking.
So with care he untangled the goldfish
And tenderly said as he did so:
«God bless you, my dear little goldfish!
Thank you kindly, I don't want your ransom.
Go back to your home in the ocean,
And roam where you will without hindrance.»

To his wife the old fisherman hastened
To tell her about this great marvel.
«I caught only one fish this morning —
A goldfish it was, most uncommon;
It spoke like a Christian, and begged me
To put it back into the ocean,
And promised to pay a rich ransom,
To give me whatever I asked for.
But how could I ask for a ransom?
I released it without any payment.»
His wife started scolding her husband:
«Oh you simpleton! Oh yon great silly!
Couldn't make a mere fish pay a ransom!
You at least might have asked for a wash-tub -
For ours is all falling to pieces!»

The old man returned to the seashore,
Where the blue waves were frolicking lightly.
He called out aloud for the goldfish,
And the goldfish swam up and demanded:
«What is it, old man, you are wanting?»
With a bow, the old man said in answer:
«Forgive me, Your Majesty Goldfish!
My old woman has scolded me roundly—
Won't leave me alone for a minute,
She says that she wants a new wash-tub,
For ours is all falling to pieces.»
The goldfish murmured in answer:
«Do not worry, go home, God be with you —
Very well, you shall have a new wash-tub.»

To his wife the old fisherman hastened,
And behold — there it was, the new wash-tub.
But she scolded him louder than ever:
«Oh you simpleton! Oh you great silly!
To ask for a tub—a mere wash-tub!
What good can you get from a wash-tab?
Return to the goldfish, you silly,
Bow down low and ask for a cottage.»

Again he went back to the seashore,
And this time the blue sea was troubled.
He called out aloud for the goldfish,
And the goldfish swam up and demanded:
«What is it, old man, you are wanting?»
With a bow, the old man said in answer:
«Forgive me, Your Majesty Goldfish!
My old woman is angrier than ever,
Won't leave me alone for a minute—
The old scold says she wants a new cottage.»
The goldfish murmured in answer:
«Do not worry, go home, God be with you!
So be it! You'll have a new cottage!»
So back the old man turned his footsteps;
Not a sign did he see of his hovel.
In its place stood a new gabled cottage,
With a chimney of brick, newly whitewashed,
A fence with oak gates stood around it;
And there sat his wife at a window;
When she saw him, she scolded him roundly:
«Oh you simpleton! Oh you great silly!
To ask for no more than a cottage!
Go and bow to the goldfish, and tell it
That I'm tired of being a peasant,
That I want to be made a fine lady.»

The old man then returned to the seashore,
Where the ocean was restlessly foaming,
He called out aloud for the goldfish.
The goldfish swam up and demanded:
«What is it, old man, you are wanting?»
With a bow, the old man said in answer:
«Forgive me, Your Majesty Goldfish!
My old woman is madder than ever,
She gives me no rest for a second,
Says she's tired of being a peasant,
And wants to be made a fine lady.»
The goldfish murmured in answer:
«Do not worry, go home, God be with you.»

To his wife the old fisherman hastened,
And what did he see? — a tall mansion;
On its white marble stairs — his old woman.
She was wearing a rich sable jacket,
And s head-dress, in gold all embroidered;
Her neck was with pearls heavy laden;
She wore golden rings on her fingers;
She was shod in the softest red leather;
Zealous servants bowed meekly before her,
As she cuffed them and rated them roundly.
The old man then approached his wife, saying.
«Greetings, your ladyship, greetings, fine lady!
Now I hope that your soul is contented!»
She angrily bade him be silent
And sent him to serve in the stables.

First a week slowly passed, then another,
The old woman grew prouder than ever.
One morning she sent for her husband,
And said: «Bow to the goldfish and tell it
I am tired of being a lady,
And I want to be made a Tsaritsa.»
Her husband implored her in terror,
Saying: «Woman—you've surely gone crazy!
You can't even talk like a lady!
You'd be mocked at all over the kingdom!
His old woman grew madder than ever,
Slapped his face and then shouted in passion:
«How dare you, muzhik, stand and argue,
Stand and argue with me, a fine lady?
Go at once — if you don't, then I warn you,
You'll be dragged to the shore, willy-nilly.»

The old man went down to the seashore
(The ocean was swollen and sullen).
He called out aloud for the goldfish,
And the goldfish swam up and demanded:
«What is it, old man, yon are wanting?»
With a bow, the old man said in answer:
«Forgive me, Your Majesty Goldfish!
Again my old woman's gone crazy!
Now she's tired of being a lady!
She wants to be made a Tsaritsa.
The goldfish murmured in answer:
Do not worry, go home, God be with you!
Very well! She shall be a Tsaritsa!»

To his wife the old fisherman hastened,
And what did he see? A grand palace;
In the palace he saw his old woman,
At the table she sat, a Tsaritsa,
Attended by nobles and boyards;
They were pouring choice wines in her goblet,
She was nibbling sweet gingerbread wafers;
Around her, grim guards stood in silence,
With halberds upon their broad shoulders.
The old man was aghast when he saw this,
He bowed to her feet and said humbly:
«Greetings, Oh mighty Tsaritsa!
Now I hope that your soul is contented!»
But she gave not a glance at her husband —
She ordered him thrust from her presence.
The boyards and nobles all hastened
And drove him with blows from the chamber;
The guards at the door waved their halberds
And threatened to cut him to pieces.
All the people derided him, saying.
«Serves you right, now, you ill-bred old fellow.
You churl—this will teach you a lesson,
To keep to your station in future!»

First a week slowly passed, then another;
The old woman grew prouder than ever.
She sent for her husband one morning,
And her chamberlain haled him before her.
The old woman spoke thus to her husband:
«Go, bow to the goldfish, and tell it
That I'm tired of being Tsaritsa,
Of the seas I want to be mistress,
With my home in the blue ocean waters;
The goldfish I want for my servant
To do my commands and my errands.»

The old man durst not contradict her,
Nor open his lips to make answer.
He sadly set out for the seashore.
A tempest raged over the ocean,
Its waters were swollen and angry,
Its billows were boiling with fury.
He called out aloud for the goldfish.
The goldfish swam up and demanded:
«What is it, old man, you are wanting?»
With a bow, the old man said in answer;
«Forgive me, Your Majesty Goldfish!
What shall I do with my cursed old woman?
She is tired of being Tsaritsa,
Of the seas she now wants to be mistress,
With her home in the blue ocean waters;
She wants you to be her own servant,
To do her commands and her errands.»
Not a word spoke the goldfish in answer,
It just swished its tail, and in silence
Disappeared in the depths of the ocean.
He waited in vain for an answer,
And at last turned his steps to the palace;
And behold — there again stood his hovel;
On the doorstep sat his old woman,
With the same broken wash-tab before her.

Translated by Irina Zheleznova, 1986

 

 

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