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Famous as the libretto for Antonín Dvorák’s opera of the same name, Jaroslav Kvapil’s poem Rusalka is an intriguing work of literature on its own. Directly inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s famous “The Little Mermaid,” Kvapil’s reinterpretation adds an array of nuanced poetic techniques, a more dramatic tempo, and dark undertones that echo the work of eminent Czech folklorist Karel Jaromír Erben. All of these influences work in tandem to create a poetic work that is familiar yet innovative.
Transposed into the folkloric topos of a landlocked Bohemia, the mermaid is rendered here as a Slavic rusalka—a dangerous water nymph—who must choose between love and immortality. Thus, Rusalka, while certainly paying homage to the original story’s Scandinavian roots, is still a distinct work of modern Czech literature. Newly translated by Patrick Corness, Kvapil’s work will now find a fresh group of readers looking to get lost in one of Europe’s great lyrical fairy tale traditions.
About the Author
Patrick John Corness is a translator from Czech, German, Russian, and Ukrainian. He is currently visiting professor of translation at Coventry University in England.
“Redolent . . . with forbidden realms of desire. . . . A composite of legends and literary sources, combining aspects of the French tale of Undine, Gerhart Hauptmann's elf, and Hans Christian Anderson's Little Mermaid. The water nymph falls in love with a prince. A witch allows her to enter the human world, but at the price of losing her voice. If she also loses her love, she will be forever doomed to lure men to their deaths in her cold embrace.” — Edward Rothstein