Snegurochka (Snow Maiden)
The Snow Maiden is a popular character in Russian fairy tales. She often accompanies Father Frost during Christmas and New Years celebrations. The story of Snegurochka has been told through literature, theater, ballet, and film. This variation of the tale was inspired by The Poetic Outlook on Nature by the Slavs (1869).
Deep in the forest, in an old log hut, lived a woodsman and his wife. They were fond of each other, and had lived happily together for many years, but unfortunately they had no children. The old couple were sad on that account, but what could be done? It was evidently the will of Heaven, and in this world, Heaven’s will be done!
One day, in the winter, a great quantity of snow had fallen on the ground. The old couple looked at the snow from their window and remembered the games they used to play in their youth. Suddenly the woodsman smiled and said, “I say, wife, let us go out and make a snow-man.”
“Yes,” she answered, “let us go out and play, though we are old. But why should we make a snow-man? Better to make a snow-child, since Heaven will not grant us a live one.”
The woodsman put on his cap, and went with his wife into the yard. They really set about making a snow-child. They made the body; then arms and legs; then put on the top a ball of snow for a head.
From deep within the forest, Father Frost observed the old couple. The cold and wind of winter’s day did not bother them as they fussed over their baby of snow. Taking interest in their merriment, Father Frost disguised himself as a peasant and approached them saying, “What are you doing?”
“We are making a Snegurochka; a little snow-child,” cried the old woman, laughing.
“Heaven help you!” said the stranger.
“Many thanks,” replied the woman. “Heaven’s help is always acceptable.”
Father Frost understood the woman’s prayer and took pity on the old couple. As they finished the snow-child’s nose, chin, and lips, a sweet little breath came out from its mouth. Where there had been little holes for eyes, now there were two bright blue eyes, and the tiny lips smiled lovingly upon him.
“Mercy on us! What is this?” cried Ivan, devoutly crossing himself.
The snow-child turned its head towards him—it was really alive! It moved its arms and legs inside the snow, like an infant in swaddling clothes. “Oh, Ivan,” cried the old woman, trembling with joy, “Heaven has at last given us a baby!” and she seized the child in her arms.
The snow fell off Snegurochka like the shell from a baby chick. The woodsman’s wife was delighted beyond measure as she held in her arms a beautiful, living girl.
“Oh, my love! My love! My darling Snegurochka!” cried the kind-hearted woman, tenderly embracing her long-wished for, and now unexpectedly granted child. Then she rushed into the hut with the infant in her arms.
Snegurochka grew every hour; each day she looked more beautiful than before. The old couple were delighted with her, and their hut, once so quiet and lonely, was now full of life and merriment. Snegurochka was very clever, and quickly learnt everything she was told. During the winter she grew to be a young lady. She understood and could talk about most things around her, and had such a sweet voice that one would never tire of listening to it. Her flesh was as white as snow; her eyes looked like two forget-me-nots; and her hair was of a light flaxen color. Her cheeks only had no rosy hue in them, because there was no blood in her veins. In spite of this she was so beautiful, that, having once seen her, you would wish to see her again and again. She was idolized by the old woman, who would often say to her husband, “Heaven has granted us joy in our old age; sorrow has left my heart!”
The old man would answer, “Heaven be praised! But in this world happiness is seldom lasting, and sorrow is good for us all.”
The long winter had gradually glided away. The glorious sun again shone in the sky, and warmed the cold earth. Where the snow melted, green grass appeared, and the skylark poured forth its sweet notes. From a gay, sprightly girl, Snegurochka suddenly became sad.
“What is the matter with you, my dearest child?” her mother would often ask, drawing Snegurochka nearer to her heart. “Are you ill? You are not as happy as you used to be. Perhaps an evil eye has glanced at you?”
Snegurochka would simply answer, “I am well; mother.”
The snow had now completely melted away, and the genial spring appeared with its warm and sunny days. The meadows and gardens began to be covered with radiant and sweet-scented flowers. The nightingale and other songsters of the woods and fields resumed their beautiful melodies. In a word, all nature became brighter and more charming.
Snegurochka alone grew sadder and sadder. She grew daily fonder of the shade, the cool air, and the rain shower. During rain, and in the evening, she would become merrier. But in the warm rays of the sun, Snegurochka would cry bitterly, as if she herself would melt into tears.
One day, as Snegurochka was playing near a well of spring water beneath the shade of a willow, she heard the most charming song. Enchanted by the melody, Snegurochka followed it until she reached an opening in the woods. Perched upon a rock, overlooking a herd of sheep, sat a handsome shepherd boy. It was not long before the shepherd noticed the beautiful maiden standing at the edge of the glade. Captivated by her beauty and innocence, the young man approached Snegurochka and offered her a song.
“But how shall I pay you for the song?” she asked.
The boy stooped down to pick a flower from the glade. “You can pay me with a flower,” he said and placed it in her hair.
Snegurochka felt that she should love the boy, but she could not for her heart was made of ice.
The shepherd boy sang to her with all of his heart and fell deeply – deeply in love. She told him that she could not feel the same way and he felt great sorrow.
“How unfortunate for you that you may never feel such a wondrous thing as love,” he replied.
On her walk home that evening, Snegurochka felt very weak. She mournfully prayed to the Heavens that she may feel love. Father Frost became greatly concerned and appeared before the maiden. He said that he could grant her wish, but if she followed the path of love, she would surely perish.
Snegurochka grew fearful of her fate and stayed away from forest walks and the shepherd boy. She sat inside the log hut, watching the world through a window pane. Concerned, the woodsman and his wife suggested that Snegurochka should visit the nearby village. They thought it would perhaps amuse Snegurochka. She did not care to go, but they insisted.
The beautiful maiden walked towards the village and stood at the edge of the forest, observing the busy townsfolk. Nearby, the shepherd boy was herding his flock and when he saw Snegurochka he bid her welcome. Drawing near the boy, she felt a warm tingle rush through her body.
“Will you sing a song for me?” she asked.
The young man sang the most beautiful song and as she listened, Snegurochka felt love for the first time. Her icy heart could not survive the warmth she felt and with the faintest sigh, she began to melt. Astonished, the shepherd sprang forward to catch Snegurochka, but as he did so, she evaporated into a fine icy mist.
Unable to believe his eyes, the shepherd search for her the whole night. He ran in every direction in search of her, but it was all in vain. He called her by her name, “Snegurochka!” but there was no answer. He searched the forest – every tree, every bush, but all to no purpose, Snegurochka was gone!
The woodsman and his wife were almost broken-hearted at the loss of their beloved Snegurochka. Every day the old woman went to the forest to look for her lost child. Like a tender mother full of grief and yearning for her young one aloud, “My Snegurochka, my darling dove! Where are you?”
Alas! Alas! Snegurochka was nowhere to be found.
Where had Snegurochka gone? It is said that when Snegurochka melted away and changed into a beautiful white cloud, she rose up and disappeared into the sky forever to join Father Frost in the Heavenly realm.