22 June 2024

Translation: The Canary Prince as told by Italo Calvino, Part 1

Veronica Veronese by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1872

This is Bora Mici's original translation from Italian into English of the fairytale The Canary Prince, Il Principe canarino, as told by Italo Calvino. It tells a story of treachery, love, bravery and ingenuity that integrates many traditional fairytales, including Sleeping Beauty, Snow White and lesser known ones.

The Canary Prince by Italo Calvino, Part 1

There was a King who had a daughter. Her mother had died and her stepmother was jealous of her and always badmouthed her to the King. The girl desperately tried to clear her name; but the stepmother was always a step ahead and the King, even though he loved his daughter, ended up believing the stepmother: and he told her she was allowed to send her away. However, she had to put her in a comfortable place because he would have never allowed her to be mistreated. “As for that,” said the stepmother, “don’t worry, don’t even think about it,” and she locked up the girl in a castle in the middle of the woods. She gathered a group of Court maidens and locked them up with her to keep her company with the instructions that they ought to neither let her go out nor sit by the window. Of course, she paid them from the coffers of the Royal House. The girl was given a comfortable room and all that she wanted to eat and drink: she just could not go out. The maidens, on the other hand, who were very well paid and had a lot of free time, kept to themselves and did not pay attention to her.

Now and then, the King asked his wife, “And how is our daughter? Is she doing anything interesting?” In order to make it seem like she was involved in her affairs, the Queen went to visit her. At the castle, as soon as she got out of her carriage, the maidens all ran to greet her and to tell her to not worry. The girl was doing very well and was very happy. The Queen climbed up to her room for a few minutes. “So, you are doing well, yes? You have everything you need, yes? I can see from your complexion that you are healthy. The air is good. So keep smiling! Good-bye!” And she left. She told the King that she had never seen his daughter so happy.

However, the Princess who was always alone in that room, with her escort who did not even look at her, spent her days sadly looking out of the window. She sat there with her elbows on the windowsill, and she would have gotten calluses on them if she had not thought to put a pillow underneath. The window looked upon the forest and all day long, the Princess saw nothing but the tops of the trees, the clouds and beneath, the hunters’ path. One day, the son of a King happened upon this path. He was following a wild boar and passing by the castle, which he thought was abandoned many years ago, he was surprised to notice signs of life: clothes drying between the balustrades, smoke in the chimneys, open windows. He was looking up at all this when he saw a beautiful girl sitting by a window and smiled at her. The girl also saw the Prince dressed in yellow hunting pants and carrying a musket, and she also smiled at him. They spent an hour looking and smiling at one another and also curtseying and bowing because the distance that separated them did not allow for other forms of communication.

The next day, the Prince dressed in yellow, showed up again with the excuse that he was going hunting, and they spent two hours looking at each other; and this time, other than exchanging smiles, curtseys and bows, they also put one hand on their hearts and shook their handkerchiefs for a long time. The third day, the Prince stayed for three hours, and they also blew each other a kiss with their fingertips. On the fourth day, he was there as always, when an Old Hag tumbled out from behind a tree and began to snigger: “Ha! Ha! Ha!”

“Who are you? What’s there to laugh about?” said the prince in a lively voice.

“It’s just that I have never seen two lovers who are so stupid as to stand so far away from one another!”

“If only I knew how to reach her Grandma!” said the Prince.

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