I was leafing the other day through the children’s books from my childhood. Many of those books are actually from my mother’s childhood, so two generations grew up on them.
It is no secret that a person’s moral compass is calibrated and adjusted during one’s childhood, and depending on which books the parents read to their offspring (or don’t read at all), so will the person become in his grown-up life. I was lucky to have grown up on Russian fairy tales and the children’s rhymes and short stories of the Soviet authors. One such rhyme-book drew my attention yesterday, unconsciously, for no apparent reason.
Rereading the words, parts of the rhyme still sitting in my memory from when I learned it by heart in my childhood, I understood why. This is a poem by Korney Ivanovich Chukovsky – “Stolen Sun”. The Russian text can be read and listened to at the Chukovsky Family site, and I will present an un-rhymed translation of the verses at the bottom of this post. But why did it draw my attention?
It presents a clear concept of what to do in a dire situation – big or small, and it sets some premises for the child to learn to live by:
- realise that there is trouble
- get your act together
- try to negotiate with the wrongdoer
- and only if diplomacy fails, resort to force
And this is exactly what we see playing out on the grand geopolitical scale. Since 2007 Russia went though points 1 to 3 and is now resorting to the undesired, but unavoidable point 4.
Here are the photos of my mother’s book from 1958 with English translations below the corresponding pages. You can click on the images for the full-size versions.
The Sun wandered across the sky
And ran behind a cloud,
A hare peeked out of the window,
It was all dark to him.
And the chittering thrashes
Jumped across the fields,
Cried to the cranes:
“Sorrow! Sorrow! The Crocodile
Swallowed the Sun up in the sky!
Darkness has fallen.
Don’t venture past the gates:
Who’s out on the street –
Goes astray and is lost.”
The grey sparrow is crying:
“Come out, the Sun, quick!
It’s hardship for us without the Sun –
Can’t see any grain out in the field!”
Are crying on the lawn:
Poor little ones have lost the way,
They won’t find the road home.
Only the bug-eyed crayfish
Crawl across the ground in darkness
And in the gorge behind the mountain
Mad wolves are howling.
Knocked on the gates
Tap-tap-tap and tap-tap-tap
“Hey, you, animals, come out,
Defeat the Crocodile,
So that the greedy Crocodile
Returns the Sun up to the sky!”
But the furry ones are afraid:
“Who are we to oppose such one!
He’s both formidable and toothy,
He won’t return the Sun to us!”
And they all run to the Bear in his den:
“Come out, you, Bear, to the aid,
Enough suckling on your paw, you slacker,
It’s time to go rescue the Sun!”
But the Bear doesn’t want to go to war:
He’s wandering around the marshes,
He’s crying and moaning,
Calling to his bear-kids from the marsh:
“Oh, where have you, my little ones, perished?
To what fate you abandoned poor old me?”
And the She-Bear is trawling through the marshes,
Searching for the bearlings under the roots:
“Where, oh where did you disappear?
Did you fall into a ditch?
Or did rabid dogs tear you apart in the darkness?”
And she’s wandering across the forest all day long,
But can’t find her little bearlings anywhere.
Only the black owls from the thickets
A staring at her unblinkingly.
But then a She-Hare came out
And so spoke to the Bear:
“It’s a shame for you, old one, to cry –
You are not a hare, but a bear.
So go, brown one,
And scratch and claw the Crocodile.
Shred him to pieces,
Tear the Sun out of his maw,
And when it once again
Shines up in the sky,
You big-footed little ones,
Will come running to you by themselves:
“Hello, grandpa, were are here!”
And rose up
And to the Big River
And in the Big River
And behind its teeth
Not a fire is burning –
The red Sun,
The Stolen Sun.
The Bear came up quietly,
And nudged him carefully:
“I tell you, villain,
Spit out the Sun and quick!
Or I’ll have to catch you, you know
And break you in half –
You’ll learn, ignorant one,
What it’s like to steal our Sun!
(What a thieving nature:
Grabbed the Sun from the sky
And with your belly full
Stretched below a bush,
Grunting sleepily to boot,
As if a sow with tummy full.)
The whole world is perishing,
While he has no care for it!”
But he laughs back shamelessly,
So that a tree is shaking:
“If only I feel like it,
I’ll also swallow the Moon!”
And lost his patience
And upon the evil enemy
And he bent him,
And he broke him:
“Give back to us
The Crocodile got scared
Started screaming and wailing,
And from his maw,
From his toothy jaws
The Sun fell out
And to the sky rolled up!
It rolled across the bushes
Over the birch leaves.
Greetings, Golden Sun!
Greetings, Blue Sky!
The little birds started chirping,
Flying after the bugs.
The little hares
On the lawn
Started rolling and jumping.
And behold: the little bearlings
As if cheery kittens,
Right to their furry grandfather,
Are running up, big-footed ones:
“Hello, grandpa, we are here!”
Glad are the hares and squirrels
Glad are the boys and girls
They are hugging and kissing the brown one:
“Thank you, grandfather, for the Sun!”
There were two cartoons created in the USSR, based on this rhyme – one in 1944 while the Great Patriotic War was afoot, and another in 1978. Here they are: