Russian Poetry: Ivan Krylov

Your daily snack of Russian cultural heritage.

Ivan Krylov (1769-1844)

Ivan Andreevich Krylov was a Russian poet, fabulist, translator, and writer. He is the author of more than 200 fables. While many of his earlier fables were based on Aesop’s and La Fontaine’s, later ones were original, often with a satirical bent.

Swan, Pike and Crawfish

When partners can't agree
Their dealings come to naught
And trouble is their labor's only fruit.


Once Crawfish, Swan and Pike
Set out to pull a loaded cart,
And all together settled in the traces;
They pulled with all their might, but still the cart refused to budge!
The load it seemed was not too much for them:
           Yet Crawfish scrambled backwards,
Swan strained up skywards, Pike pulled toward the sea.
Who's guilty here and who is right is
                                                   not for us to say-
But anyway the cart's still there today.


A Rascal-Monkey
             Billy Goat
      And klunky Bear
      Set out to play a string Quartet.
 They found some scores, viola, bass, two violins
     And sat down in a lea beneath a linden tree
     To charm the world with art.
 They struck their strings, and sawed with all their heart.
 No luck. "Arrete, my fellows, stop!" shouts Monkey, 
 How can the music play when you're not sitting straight?
 You, Bearie, opposite viola move your bass,
       As primo, I'll sit opposite secundo's face
       And then some music will take place.
       We'll make the hills and forests dance!"
       They took their seats and started the Quartet,
       And once again it came to nyet.
       "Hold on! I know the secret!"
       Shouts Donkey, "It is bound to come out fine
              If everyone sits in a line."
 They followed Donkey's plan and settled in a row;
    But even so, the music would not go. 
 More fiercely than before they argued then
        Who should be sitting where.
A nightingale, in passing, chanced the noise to hear. 
At once, they turned to her to solve their problem.
The pleaded, "Please, spare us some time
To make of our quartet a paradigm:
We have our instruments and scores,
                    Just tell us how to sit!"
 "For making music, you must have the knack
        And ears more musical than yours,"
        The nightingale comes back,
        "And you, my friends, no matter your positions, 
        Will never be musicians!"
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