Vasilisa Mikulishna

excerpt from the Russian Bylina (Epic Tale) ‘Stavr Godinovich’ , circa 1500s
from An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics (Folklores and Folk Cultures of Eastern Europe)

 Vasilisa Mikulishna.
From the cartoon “Vasilisa Mikulishna”

Once in Kiev, the grandest of capitals,
At the court of Bright Sun, fine Vladimir-Prince,
There was once a feast and a revel grand,
For so many noble boyars, proud princes, knights,
For so many guests asked and well received.
They all ate until they couldn’t add a bite,
They all drank until they fell off their seats,
They all bragged with their drink-loosened tongues.

One would boast of his trusty noble steed,
One would boast of his bright coat of silks,
Another of his Villages and peasants,
Yet another of his towns and townships.
A smart man praises his dear mother,
But a foolish man praises his young wife…
Yet alone there sat Stavr, young Godina’s son,
Sat he quietly, did not drink nor brag.

Spoke then Vladimir, Prince of Kiev-bright,
“Hear you Stavr, young Godina’s son,
Do you not have any Villages,
Do you not have any townships?
Do you not have any noble steeds?
Is your mother not worthy of praise?
Is your wife not fair of face?”
And so spoke Stavr, young Godina’s son:
“So I have towns and villages,
But that’s not to brag about.
So I have plenty of good steeds,
But that’s not to brag about.
So my mother is wise as she’s old,
But that’s not to brag about.
And my wife is a joy to behold,
But that’s not to brag about.
For she’d trick you all, boyars noble, bold,
Buy and sell you all, merchants full of gold,
And drive crazy you, Vladimir the Bright Sun.”

From the cartoon “Vasilisa Mikulishna”

Quiet went the feast, and Vladimir, Prince
…till his boyars said, “Oh, Vladimir Prince,
Chain you Stavr in a dungeon deep,
Let him stay underneath your keep,
Let his young wife come do her tricks,
Let his young wife come turn you round the bend,
Let his young wife get him out of jail.”
So they chained young Stavr in a dungeon deep,
And they locked young Stavr underneath the keep.

Stavr’s good trusty man listened to these words,
Then he jumped upon Stavr’s noble horse,
And he rode away to Stavr’s distant keep, There to fall at Stavr’s wife’s, Vasilisa’s feet.
“Oh you, Vasilisa daughter Mikulichna,
You sit here drinking and fanning yourself,
YOU know not what became of your lord, your man!
In the dungeon sits your beloved Stavr,
For he bragged that you would outsmart THE boyars,
And he bragged that you would drive insane the Prince
Our Bright Sun Prince Vladimir Kievskiy!”

Young wife Vasilisa thought and then spoke thus:
“Gold we have aplenty, but it won’t buy Stavr,
Strength we can assemble, but it won’t save Stavr…
Only woman’s wit will get me my Stavr.”

So she called forth then for some scissors sharp,
And she had her braid, golden braid, all shorn,
So she took some garments of her husband Stavr,
And she dressed as a man, as a King’s envoy.
With three hundred Stavr’s warriors brave,
She rode fast to Kiev the capital,
But just under far Kiev’s white gates,
She set up her men to wait in a camp.

From the cartoon “Vasilisa Mikulishna”

To Vladimir-Prince all alone she went, Set him bows deep – but not very deep.
Styled herself was Vasiliy, son Ivanovich,
An envoy of the Golden Horde.
“You, Vladimir-Duke, owe us our tax,
For as many years as you rule this land.
Would you pay this tax, by tomorrow night?
Or should I lay waste to yours, this land?”
Spoke then Bright Sun, good Vladimir-Prince,
“Oh you dread envoy of the Golden Horde,
Let us have some time, let us feast and drink,
Let you rest a while from your travels long.”
So boyars and knights led the dread … envoy,
Led Vasiliy son Ivanovich to the broad seats,
To the laden table, there to rest and feast.
There royal Prince’s wife Apraksia
Took a look or two, and thus spoke to him:
“Vladimir my lord, my beloved Bright Sun,
Worry not yourself over taxes owed.
This is no Vasiliy son Ivanovich
Not an envoy of the Golden Horde,
But a woman, Vasilisa doch’s Mikulishna,
Wife of Stavr who sits in your dungeons deep.

I can see as she walks like a woman,
Blush and white lead on her face still remain,
Her hands are delicate like a woman, Even grooves from her rings did not yet fade.”

So Vladimir-Prince, to avoid the shame,
Went to test, to try the dread young envoy.
“Hey you, young Vasiliy Ivanovich, Did you bring strong men to try them in a fight,
Wrestle with my men, pleasing our sight?”
Thus responds the young envoy Vasiliy Ivanovich,
“I brought no such men, but I like a fight,
So I will go wrestle, to please your princely sight.”

Thus the dread envoy readied for a brawl,
As five strongest men came to the wrestling yard.
One soon lost his head, and another THE arm,
Third’s leg was torn out, fourth flew over the gate,
And the fifth ran off fast as he just could.
So dread young envoy bowed to the Prince.

So spoke Prince Vladimir to his Apraksia,
“Hear you, Princess Apraksia, all my shame
Was for nothing, lost my best men I for nothing,
This is no Vasilisa Mikulichna, such strong knight
Is the dread envoy, young Vasiliy Ivanovich.
Silly woman that you are, harebrained,
Your hair is long but your mind is short.”

And again spoke to him Apraksia
“Vladimir my lord, my beloved Bright Sun,
This is no Vasiliy son Ivanovich
Not an envoy of the Golden Horde,
But a woman, Vasilisa doch’s Mikulishna,
Wife of Stavr who sits in your dungeons deep.”

So Vladimir-Prince, pondering some more,
Went to test again the dread ambassador.
“Hey you dread envoy Vasiliy Ivanovich,
Would you like to play at archery with my boyars’ sons, Shoot your arrows at my golden rings,
Split your arrows on my sharpened blades?”
First Prince’s man shot, but he undershot;
Next Prince’s man shot, but he overshot,
Last Prince’s man shot, altogether missed.
Then Vasiliy Ivanovich stretched his bow tight,
Then he aimed his arrow straight and bright,
Shoot right through the golden ring,
Split his arrow on the sharpened blade,
So that halves were even, measure even and weight.

What was he to do, Bright Sun Vladimir-Prince?
So he set himself to test this dread …envoy.
“Hey, Vasiliy Mukulievich, would you take a rest,
With my golden set would you play me in chess?”
So they played a game, Prince Vladimir lost,
Played another game, Prince Vladimir lost,
And at his third checkmate, under table went.

Now spoke thus Bright Sun Vladimir Prince,
“Thank you for the joy, and obeying me,
Ask you what you will, you dread young envoy,
Ask of treasures, gold, or of noble steeds.”
And replied to him that young envoy,
“Do not give to me treasures, gold, or steeds,
Do not put on me shuba-COATS princely rich,
Only let me have your musician best,
One who would play gusly better than the rest.”

But Vladimir-Prince, he had no such man,
None at his great court, only one in jail,
If he lets Stavr go, he won’t see him again,
But if he won’t let Stavr go, he’ll get the envoy upset.
Sent Prince for young Stavr, took his irons off.
Sat Stavr on a stool to play, and played a wondrous song.
Then envoy, he speaks to Stavr with such words:
“Do remember, Stavr, you remember me?”
Stavr won’t look at him, won’t remember him.
“Do remember, Stavr, you remember Stavr,
As we played a game with you of old?
You had cane was of silver, I had golden ring,
So you always fit, while I did sometimes?”
Stavr then looks at him, and he sees his wife.
So he takes Vasilisa by her snow white hands,
And he kisses Vasillisa on her honey lips.
So Vladimir-Duke hung his head in shame,
And for his great boast he forgave young Stavr,
Let him trade in Kiev always free of tax,
So that Stavr with praise came back to his town,
Lived there with Vasilisa all his happy days.

( Photo from the website of the Society for Creative Anachronism )

 * * *

A woman of worth who doth find?
Yea, far above rubies is her price.

( Proverbs 31:10, Young’s Literal Translation )




One thought on “Vasilisa Mikulishna

  1. ara says:

    Nice. Thanks for this post!

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