The Hut on Fowl's LegsNote by Ms E. Bird
We come to the penultimate movement of Mussorgsky's suite Pictures at an Exhibition. This is a design by Hartmann of a clock, in the form of Baba Yaga's hut on chicken's legs.
Baba Yaga has her roots in Slavic folklore and has inspired much art and literature since her first appearance in 1755. Our FT has fond memories of playing the piece by Mussorgsky and experiencing a series of visions in her head, of the witch chasing humans through thick forest and issuing terrible threats, in addition to an animal ballet during the mysterious middle section. Indeed, this piece is FT's favourite; and her enthusiasm is clear in the considerable length of the poem by BirdBrains. I recommend plenty of popcorn for the reading event :>)
Our imaginations lead us to compose a letter from a clerk to Mussorgsky. The clerk is named Grekhem for FT's elder brother Graham, to whom we intend to present the poem for his birthday next month. Stasov is Vladimir Stasov, the respected critic who helped to organise the exhibition.
* * *
Dear M. Mussorgsky, please forgive this letter from a simple clerk
and pardon too its contents, which I find myself so deathly dark;
but something strange has happened, at our grand Academy, last night,
I fear that I have lost my job; I also took a dreadful fright!
You may recall, it is my task, to check the pieces every eve,
we have our signs, 'Don't touch!' 'Stand back!', you know, but you would not believe
the visitors that wish to interact, they say, with all the art,
and so I take some time to clean and tidy, make it nice and smart.
So yesterday, I see the clock design is crooked in its place,
I sigh, I start to cross the room... and then, my heart begins to race!
for all at once a ticking sounds TIC-TOC, TIC-TOC so loud and fast,
I start to cross the room again... and then, my friend, I am aghast!
It seems, I shrink! or does the clock grow? even now, I am not sure,
I drift towards it in a trance, the rhythm is a constant lure,
towards those fowl's feet, all that bronze, now three dimensions, base to tip,
a work I love these past two months but now fear holds me in its grip!
The clock begins to strike the hour, the midnight, BONG!, it sounds twelve times,
and at the twelfth the clockface starts to melt, so resonant the chimes!
The inside of the hut now looms and then I see, the witch herself!
She cooks upon her stove and there are human entrails on her shelf!
I shriek! She turns and sees me with her evil eyes that glow blood red!
I turn and run I know that if she catches me I shall be dead!
I claw through forest, all the trees, so thin and spindly, yet so dense!
My hands, my arms, are raw and sore with scratches from this prickly fence!
I hear her laugh 'Wah! hah hah haargh!' and soon, 'Vroom! Vroom!', her engine purrs,
the loathsome mortar that she rides, throughout these woods, these leaves, these burs,
with pestle as a rudder, steering swift, so she can catch her prey!
My heart is beating fit to burst, yet still I run, to get away!
So thick, these trees, she loses me! The engine fades to far 'flunk, flunk',
and I take rest, beside a pool, against a tree with smoother trunk,
I do not know this place, I cannot think, how I shall venture home,
I feel a deep despair my tears fall fast upon the woodland loam.
But then, two little owls alight, upon a branch above my seat,
and call, 'Do not be sad, dear friend; we bring you bread and cheese to eat!'
A small door opens in the tree trunk reaching in, I find a box,
and there is bread, six star-shaped slices, and some cheese, six circle blocks!
I thank the owls, they pirouette, and then I make a hearty meal,
while all around me forest friends come dance with high balletic zeal,
a pair of bears, a troupe of foxes, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels too,
the owls spin, twirl, they clap their wings, they sing with joy, 'T'wit t'woo! T'wit t'woo!'
Yet suddenly, 'Wah! hah hah haargh!, 'Vroom! Vroom!' oh no, the witch is back!
The forest friends all dash to hide, though it is me she would attack,
announcing as she flies her ill intentions, all her bloody lust
'I'll flay thy skin, I'll cook thy flesh, I'll grind thy bones to dust dust dust!'
Again, I run, through thickset forest, with the witch close at my feet,
until she drives me to her hut 'Aha! Its time to cook my meat!
I scream at what awaits me, pitchfork, cauldron, stove and patterned plate,
a hand falls on my shoulder but V. Stasov's voice, 'It's rather late.'
I startle, I am slumped below the frame, by human feet, my boss,
he frowns, 'What are you doing, Grekhem?' and his voice is deep and cross!
I try to tell him, but my throat is sore, so all I do is squeak,
he sighs, 'Another drunken clerk?', but then I cough and I can speak.
I tell him of the midnight chime and then the hut, the witch, the wood,
the desperate running through the trees, the animals, so kind and good!
He utters, 'Hmm...' he thinks I lie 'Go home, you fool, and don't return!'
I show him wounds upon my hands, but, 'Home!' he orders, very stern.
Please help me, M. Mussorgsky, for I need my work, you know this well,
I was so happy when you recommend me, more than words can tell,
all February and this month, I love to care for Hartmann's work,
but now, it seems, I have no job V. Stasov thinks I am a berk!
I bruised my limbs, I lost two toenails running from the wretched witch,
in dreams I hurtle through the trees my cuts heal well, but how they itch!
Yet though I fear, I long for the Academy, for Great Kiev,
the Gate, you know, and all the rest, sincerely, Grekhem Turgenev.
Words by Coo & Co
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Written on 2015-08-31 at 00:50
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