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On Water Nymphs: Celebrated poems and famous paintings from Europe, Asia and North America

Diana and her Nymphs Spied upon by Satyrs (1616) by Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Diana and Her Nymphs Spied Upon by Satyrs (1616) by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 - 1640)

To The Water Nymphs Drinking At The Fountain

by English Poet Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)

Reach, with your whiter hands, to me

Some crystal of the spring;

And I about the cup shall see

Fresh lilies flourishing.

Or else, sweet nymphs, do you but this,

To th' glass your lips incline;

And I shall see by that one kiss

The water turn'd to wine.

The Mermaids, or Rusalki (1871) by Ivan Kramskoi
The Mermaids, or Rusalki (1871) by Ivan Kramskoi (1837 - 1887)

The Water Nymph

by Russian Poet Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837)

In lakeside leafy groves, a friar

Escaped all worries; there he passed

His summer days in constant prayer,

Deep studies and eternal fast.

Already with a humble shovel

The elder dug himself a grave —

As, calling saints to bless his hovel,

Death — nothing other — did he crave.

So once, upon a falling night, he

Was bowing by his wilted shack

With meekest prayer to the Almighty.

The grove was turning slowly black;

Above the lake a mist was lifting;

Through milky clouds across the sky

The ruddy moon was softly drifting,

When water drew the friar's eye...

He's looking puzzled, full of trouble,

Of fear he cannot quite explain,

He sees the waves begin to bubble

And suddenly grow calm again.

Then — white as first snow in the highlands,

Light-footed as nocturnal shade,

There comes ashore, and sits in silence

Upon the bank, a naked maid.

She eyes the monk and brushes gently

Her hair, and water off her arms.

He shakes with fear and looks intently

At her, and at her lovely charms.

With eager hand she waves and beckons,

Nods quickly, smiles as from afar

And shoots, within two flashing seconds,

Into still water like a star.

The glum old man slept not an instant;

All day, not even once he prayed:

Before his eyes still hung and glistened

The wondrous, the relentless shade...

The grove puts on its gown of nightfall;

The moon walks on the cloudy floor;

And there's the maiden — pale, delightful,

Reclining on the spellbound shore.

She looks at him, her hair she brushes,

Blows airy kisses, gestures wild,

Plays with the waves — caresses, splashes -

Now laughs, now whimpers like a child,

Moans tenderly, calls louder, louder...

"Come, monk, come, monk! To me, to me!.."

Then — disappears in limpid water,

And all is silent instantly...

On the third day the zealous hermit

Was sitting by the shore, in love,

Awaiting the delightful mermaid,

As shade was covering the grove...

Dark ceded to the sun's emergence;

Our monk had wholly disappeared -

Before a crowd of local urchins,

While fishing, found his hoary beard.

Standing and Reclining Nymphs (1908) by Louis M. Eilshemius
Standing and Reclining Nymphs (1908) by Louis M. Eilshemius (1864 - 1941)

The Water Nymphs

by American Poet Ellis Parker Butler (1869 – 1937)

They hide in the brook when I seek to draw nearer,

Laughing amain when I feign to depart;

Often I hear them, now faint and now clearer—

Innocent bold or so sweetly discreet.

Are they Nymphs of the Stream at their playing

Or but the brook I mistook for a voice?

Little care I; for, despite harsh Time’s flaying,

Brook voice or Nymph voice still makes me rejoice.

Note* The Water Nymph by Alexander Pushkin (1799 – 1837) was translated by Genia Gurarie in the summer of 1995, who is also the work's copyright holder. All of the art is in the public domain.


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