Rusalka

I have always loved Dvorak's Mesícku na nebi hlubokém [Oh Silver Moon], and often ponder the story of Rusalka. It is a tale similar to that of "The Little Mermaid" but deeper and even more sad. The Rusalka story takes place in the inland swamps and waterways of Eastern Europe. The themes of betrayal, forgiveness and enduring love make it a haunting version of the water-nymph story.

Many cultures have stories concerning a feminine sprite that haunts watery places - the Nix, Ondine, Kelpie, Selkie, Water Baby, La Llorona, Melusine -- sometimes they are evil and sometimes just sad, but few versions are as affecting as the Rusalka story. Fairy tales seem the perfect form for a sestina, (see Swan Songs), the difficulty mitigated by the sweet way that this old repeitive form compliments the themes of a folktale.  Here is a link to Renee Fleming singing Mesícku na nebi hlubokém, perhaps the saddest song ever written.

What a man builds he may then so easily tear down--
Small betrayals or subtractions, every day more thorns,
Hearing strange and joyless cautions from his careful heart .
Thus we women come to haunt the old road or water-way
Unmade, undone, damping fires, revisiting, reflecting,
Still in love, still wishing for the fair, free ghosts we crave.
I saw you in the marshes, and thereby learned to crave
I, your white doe, your flameless fire, paused and went down,
By a voice on the river, smoke and stars reflecting.
I left the old confines, cut across my deadwood thorns,
To meet you sliding hard along a silken river way;
Only one to only one, the theory of this heart.
You said, my liege, that no such bright omens of the heart
Exist, that no stars cross, moons neither align nor crave
To sigh upon the earth just as we did in a way
Perfect, rare and fine. Then you faltered, turned me down,
Backed away, betrayed, and now here on November’s thorns
I wait and watch the marsh fires now in black reflecting
Those hands, our breath, and every flagging hope reflecting.
The witch warned that I’d live in joy until my heart,
Of volition, you would cast away on long-bow thorns.
So, I am taught how “grave” will always rhyme with “crave.”
Master of my old weakness and my new strength, look down
River and call out again, laughing, as was your way.
Fairytales dictate a girl’s submission as the way,
For giving sweetly seasons sweat, our eyes reflecting
All. This lesson the moon girl learned from mortal heart.
Proud, twined in garlands of cold blue pearls, I lay down
My stringent self-impalement, my sleepless, sleeping heart,
The burning bushes in the fields, my kiss and all you crave—
Admit it prince, somewhere you bring me the moon and thorns.
Many ways to end a tale: upon a bed of thorns,
Beside a pool, beneath the frosted grass, all the way
To room nineteen, on the night road,  words and tongue I crave,
By the river, upon the sea, in the tomb reflecting,
Or with sacrifice, my love, a pyre, the goblin’s heart.
A tale maybe fanciful, but brings the darkness down.
Crave no sad and brutal thorns, forget the way;
Down along the river I no longer wait and crave,
Reflecting, still reflecting, to salve my moonlit heart.

This Same Sky

Truth or Consequences -- Against the Coryphaeus