A famous tale, told in many versions, of the Russian Snow Maiden, Snegurochka.
I am recounting the version told in these lacquered Russian plates, which my husband bought for me some years ago.
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Once upon a time, an old woodcutter and his wife lived in Russia but they were sad because they had no children, which they so desperately wanted.
One day, while chopping wood in the dark Russian forest, the woodcutter and his wife saw that it was snowing.
They decided to make a ‘snow girl’ and began to roll together balls of snow for their snow maiden, Snegurochka.
The old man and old woman gazed at what they had made: a snow maiden so beautiful that they became sad looking at this girl who would never become real.
The old woman said:
If only the Lord sent us a little girl to share our old age!
The old man and woman thought very long and deeply about this.
A miracle then occurred.
The snow maiden’s eyes suddenly twinkled and she wore a crown of precious gems on her head; a beautiful brocade cape covered her shoulders and gorgeous embroidered boots appeared on her feet.
Snegurochka, the Russian Snow Maiden, on a Russian lacquered plate my husband bought me 15 years ago. I am recounting the tale translated on these limited edition plates. The story is told in many versions, but my favorite is the one found on these plates.
The old man and woman could not believe their eyes: Snegurochka opened her mouth and took a step forward.
Do not be frightened, old man and old woman. I will be a good daughter to you and will honor you in your old age.
The old man and woman took Snegurochka by the hand and took her home, as the tall pines in the old Russian forest that were covered with snow, bid their farewell to their lovely Snegurochka.
And so through the winter, Snegurochka lived with the old couple in their tiny wooden hut and helped them with all the chores.
Although she was obedient, kind and beautiful, her adoptive parents were worried about their precious daughter.
Snegurochka was so very pale that she seemed to be without blood, yet her eyes shone like stars and her smile lit up the sky.
Snegurochka and her parents lived thus together for two months until the old woman bid Snegurochka to go outside and find friends to play with.
But Snegurochka replied she was most happy here with her parents.
Soon, it was Carnival time and the village was filled with singing and dancing, and much merrymaking from dawn until late at night.
Snegurochka watched from the window until she was tempted to join the villagers at the Carnival.
In this village also lived a maiden named Kupava, a rare beauty with raven-black hair, skin like milk, lips of blood and arching brows.
A merchant by the name of Mizgir came to the village and saw Kupava, who captivated him no end. Even though Mizgir gave nuts and spiced bread to all the young girls, it was Kupava with whom he danced.
Soon, it was known that Mizgir and Kupava were lovers; Kupava would parade around the village in her velvet and silk gowns and served sweet wine to youths.
Snegurochka met Kupava, and Kupava introduced Snegurochka to all her friends.
Snegurochka liked a young shepherd, Lei; soon, Lei and Snegurochka were inseparable.
One day, when Mizgir came to the village, he saw Snegurochka for the first time.
It was then that Mizgir thought Kupava, whose dark beauty had once pleased him, seemed too brooding and dark for him; Mizgir’s heart was then turned toward the pale Snegurochka.
Mizgir and Kupava began to quarrel over his change in affection and Mizgir soon stopped seeing Kupava, in favor of Snegurochka.
Rumor was that Mizgir had gone to the house of Snegurochka’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage.
Kupava was desolate and hatched a plan. She flew to Snegurochka’s wooden hut and insulted her: Kupava called her a viper and a traitor and made such a scene that she was put out of Snegurochka’s house.
Kupava knew she must go to the Tsar for help. She had been dishonored by this girl, Snegurochka, who had stolen Mizgir from her.
The Tsar was a good Tsar who ruled his kingdom with love and truth. He listened to Kupava and then ordered that Snegurochka be brought before him.
Messengers were sent to the village to find Snegurochka; her parents quaked with fear, yet they accompanied her to the Tsar’s palace.
The palace was grand, with walls of oak and wrought-iron doors; a stairway led to grand halls where exotic carpets covered the floors and guards stood, wearing Scarlet kaftans and brandishing shining axes.
The old couple and Snegurochka were in awe of the palace, so opulent it was. The walls were covered with paintings, and musicians played wonderful music.
At the far end of the grand hall, the Tsar Benendei himself sat, erect on his gilded throne, surrounded by bodyguards in snow-white Kaftans, holding silver axes.
The Tsar’s long beard was to his belt; his fur hat was the tallest; his brocade Kaftan was embroidered all over.
Snegurochka was too frightened to move or speak.
The Tsar spoke: Come here, Snegurochka, come closer, Do not be afraid, but do answer my questions. Did you commit the sin of separating two lovers, after stealing the heart of Kupava’s beloved? Did you flirt with him and do you intend to marry him? Make sure that you tell me the truth!
Snegurochka in front of the Tsar.
Snegurochka curtsied and then knelt before the Tsar. She told what was in her heart, that yes, Mizgir had asked for her hand in marriage but he did not please her. She refused his hand, she told the Tsar.
The Tsar took Snegurochka’s hands to help her to rise, then looked into her eyes and said:
I see in your eyes, lovely maiden, that you speak the truth, that you are not at fault. Go home now in peace and do not be upset!
And so, Snegurochka returned home with her parents.
Meanwhile, Kupava became wild with anger and grief, upon learning the Tsar’s decision. She tore her pearl necklace from her neck, ripped off her dress, ran from her wooden hut and threw herself in the well.
Snegurochka became sadder and sadder. She no longer wanted to stroll outside in the village, even when Lei begged and begged her.
Months had passed and spring had returned. The sun rose higher in the sky and the snow melted on the once cold earth.
Grass became green once more; birds sang sweet songs of love and made their nests.
Snegurochka became paler and sadder with each day.
One fine day, Lei pleaded with Snegurochka to come to the village with him.
At first, she resisted but then Snegurochka could no longer resist the pleas of the young man she loved so much. She went with Lei to the edge of the village.
The sun was warm. Snegurochka begged Lei to play his flute, the music she so loved. She felt barely alive and not a drop of blood appeared in her pale, pale face.
Lei began to play. As Snegurochka listened, her tears fell like rain, as she knew what would happen.
As her feet were beginning to melt beneath her, Snegurochka called out to Lei:
As long as I did not feel pain of human love, I could live in the village. But I love you, Lei. The pain is too much for me to bear and I must return to my home in the North.
Snegurochka then vanished nto the damp earth and Lei saw only a pale mist rise from where his beloved had stood.
Lei watched as the mist rose up, up, up in the blue sky.
Snegurochka and her return to the North, with her mother and father in the North.
Copyright © 2007-2012. Kathryn Esplin. All rights reserved.