The Shuraleh

A mythical horned demon, which inhabits the forests of Tatarstan


Past Kazan into the country
There's a village called Kurlai.
In that village even hens cluck.
God alone could tell you why.

Even though I was not born there,
For a while it was my home.
There in spring I tilled and harrowed,
In the autumn reaped the loam.

I recall in all directions
Lay the backwood's broad delight.
tatar fairy tales Grasslands there of glossy velvet
Dazzled everybody's sight.

And is the village large? О no!
It's just a hamlet in a ring.
All its daily drinking water
Comes from one, lone tiny spring.

Neither cold nor hot, its water
Mild and soft will ever please;
At times it rains, at times it snows,
And sometimes comes a gentle breeze

Strawberries red and raspberries redder
Thrive in plenty in the woods.
In a trice you'll fill your bucket
Brim-full with these earthy goods.

Marvellously lined in rows
Stand pines and fir-trees, warriors proud;
Amidst their roots I used to lie
While gazing at a passing cloud.

Under birches, under limes grow
Sorrel, mushrooms in a glade;
Lovely flowers bloom and flourish
In the dappled light and shade.

Red and scarlet, blue and yellow
Blossoming in sunlit bowers;
All the world is fragrant from
The heady perfume of those flowers.

Butterflies which love the blooms
Return to find out now and then
How they fare; then flit and flutter,
Off once more and back again.

All at once the birds of Allah
Fill the woods with their sweet song.
Ah, those tunes! They tear my heart-strings;
Up into the sky they throng.

Bird-song outstrips dancing parties,
Orchestras and sidewalk clubs;
Circuses, theatres, concerts -
All replaced by trees and shrubs.

Like the ocean, vast and boundless
Stretch the woodlands in their breadth;
Like the hordes of Chingiz Khan
No limit to their awesome depth.

In an instant old men's stories
Are forgotten; names, domains -
All those glories of the past!
At present nothing much remains

Then the curtain slowly rises
And our present lot we see.
Alas! Alas! What happened to us?
Slaves of God we too must be.


I've talked a little of the summer,
Autumn, winter - that's my style.
What of girls red-cheeked and black-eyed?
Dusky brows can wait a while!

I'll forgot my recollections
Of the Plough-Day, Harvest-Day.
If I mused too long on those things,
I should surely lose my way.

But wait! I dwell on pleasant things
And I may easily go astray.
How could I forget the title
Of this poem is Shuraleh?

You will have the tale, my reader.
Have some patience. Be so kind.
When I think about my village,
I quite often lose my fairy tales


You might guess that in those thickets
Many birds and beasts reside:
Bears and wolves, and then the fox
For villainy known far and wide.

Hare and squirrel, moose and mink
And other sorts are often met
By the huntsman who dares roam
The wide, broad woodland with his net.

In those woods, so thick and gloomy
There live demons - so they say:
Ghostly forms like albasti
And ub'r and even shuraleh !

This is the most likely reason
Why those woods are broad and wide.
In this world devised by God
Can any wonder be denied?


About such wonders I shall utter
A word or two, If that I may;
Sing a little, lilt a little -
That's my custom, that's my way.

Once a fellow from the village
Harnessed up and took his horse.
In the moonlight, all alone,
Through the woods he steered his course.

Soon he drove into a thicket,
Heaved his axe and set to work,
Feeling trees and chopping branches,
Chipping trunks of bark and cork.

The air was silent and quite chilly,
Usual for a summer's night;
Birds were sleeping in the forest,
Hushed beneath the pale moonlight.

With such calm and clement weather
There in good and cheerful mood,
See our fellow working bravely
In the darkness of the wood.

Axe in hand, he stopped awhile
To wipe his brow, then jerked his head.
A piercing cry within the forest
Filled him with a sudden dread.

Chilled and startled, our poor fellow
Looks and sees a dread sight.
Something strange and eerie greets him,
Comes towards him from the night.

What can this be? Ghost or demon?
Fugitive? He could not tell.
Such a foul and ugly creature
As might live this side of hell!

See its nose, hooked like a moose's.
See how from its face it shoots.
Arms and legs all curved and crooked,
Looking more like twins and roots.

Eyes deep set in burning sockets,
Sparkling in the moon;
In broadest daylight, even here,
A beast like that would make you swoon

Its feet are bare with bony toes;
Its form like man of woman born.
From its forehead of the size
Of a middle finger sticks a horn.

Then the fingers, thin and narrow
From its hands stretch straight and long;
Ugly fingers like the devil's,
Each of them six inches long.


Both began to eye each other;
Then our man courageously
Asked the ugly creature, saying:
"What is it you want of me?"

The beast replied to him: "Please trust me.
I'm no robber in this wood.
I don't bar the road to people,
Though to some I bring no good."

"I am fond of tickling humans.
That's the practice I employ.
When I saw you in my thicket,
I could only jump for joy."

"Come to me; come closer, fellow!
Let me brighten your sad eyes.
Let us play a game of tickling.
Let us laugh till someone dies."

"I'll not argue", said the fellow.
"Gladly I shall play, but see
Let me make my own condition.
"I've no doubt that you'll agree."

"Your condition?" said the beast.
"Well, make it now, without delay.
"I shall do whatever's needed.
tatar fairy tales But for God's sake, let us play!"

"Listen", said the man, "I'll tell you
What is needed right away.
Over there I want to move
That heavy trunk that blocks my way.'

"I shall help you", said the beast.
The work is hard, but I'll agree.
First we'll load it on the carriage,
Then we'll trust in destiny."

The woodsman said: "The work's begun.
I've split the end of the trunk already.
Now can you put your hand inside,
My forest ram, to hold it steady?"

The Shuraleh made no objection,
And obedient as a dog,
Clumsily and awkwardly
He hobbled over to the log.

Into the cleft he slipped his fingers.
Now, dear reader, can you find
The answer to this simple question:
What did the woodsman have in mind?

With the butt-end of his axe
He rammed a wedge beside the hand.
Step by step and knock by knock
His ruse was working as he planned.

The Shuraleh sat by the log
His fingers stuffed into the end.
What the forester was up to
He could just not comprehend.

Finally the wedge dropped out
And then the heavy log at once,
As the forester had plotted,
Squeezed the fingers of the dunce!

The Shuraleh began to howl,
Tried to escape and break away
But how to get of his trap?
He simply could not find the way.

Then finally he understood
The nature of this clever hoax
Forced to give up all his efforts,
He began to plead and coax.

"Have pity on me. Let me go,
Dear human. Please be kind and fair.
In the future I'll not worry
Your dear kinsmen. This I swear!

"Nor shall I allow the others
To molest your family.
All the other shuralehs will hear me:
"He's my brother! Let him be!

"Ah what awful pain I suffer!
Set me free I beg and pray.
Do you really find such joy
In torturing a Shuraleh?

The Shuraleh was squirming, swearing
That one he'd his part.
In the meantime our brave woodsman
Made all ready to depart.

He checked the bridle and the harness
Placed his axe upon his mare.
What happened to the Shuraleh
He did not have slightest care.

"You are so ruthless. Set me free.
Where do you go? This is no game!
But if you are so hard of heart,
At least tell me your own good name."

"Well then, listen and remember.
I am called "A Year Ago".
Learn it carefully for the future.
As for me I ought to go!"

The Shureleh, all writhing, groaning
Tried to tear himself away,
As he pondered in the future
How he'd make this man his prey.

He yelled: "A Year Ago! He squeezed
My fingers with a log. What pain!
Now who will rescue me from here?
And who will save me from this bane?

Next morning all the forest cursed him,
Beasts of every shape and kind.
"You're insane", they said. "You're crazy.
Have you gone out of our mind?

Why disturb the sleep of others,
Howling, yelling, shouting so?
What's the point of telling us
That you were squeezed a year ago?"

tatar fairy tales



See also: colouring Shurala