BOOK REVIEW


  Once Upon a Time in Poland

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The story of the Warsaw Mermaid (Syrenka Warszawska)

A long time ago, a dense and impassible forest covered the region of Mazowsze.

One day, Prince Ziemomysl who ruled in this region, went out on a hunting trip and lost his way in the forest. He tried and tried to find a way out until he got to the overgrown rushes on the banks of the Vistula river.


In the gentle waves of the river’s waters, the Prince spotted a beautiful creature. The top half of her body was woman-like and the other half from waste right down to the very tip of her fish tale, was covered in fish scales. Even though she had a bow and arrow in her hands, she did not aim at the Prince. Her arrow shot through the air and flew far, far ahead and out of the Princes‘ sight. Then she spoke to him:“follow my arrow and you will find good people who will give you shelter, food and help you find the way back home“. And then she dived into the gentle waves of the river.


Prince Ziemomysl did as Mermaid said. He followed the arrow until he stood at the front of a poor fisherman’s hut. There wasn’t much to share, but the fisherman and his wife made the Prince very welcome not knowing who he really was. Their twins, Wars and Sawa cheerfully played their favourite games with the Prince. He was happy to find such good people living on his land.


The next day it was time to say goodbye but before he left, the Prince told his subjects who he really was. He promissed to build a grand town where the fishing village was and to nominate the poor fisherman to be the castellan, who would rule the town on the Princes‘ behalf.


Years passed, many houses were built and the town was called Warszawa after the names of the poor fishermans twin children, Wars and Sawa. On the town’s crest, the Prince placed the beautiful Mermaid who showed him the way to the fisherman’s hut.


No one ever saw the legendary Mermaid. But they all heard her evening singing and they loved it. Except for the old hermit who lived in the forest on his own. He hated the Mermaid and her singing and believed that she stole peoples souls. He managed to persuade some fishermen that the Mermaid is dangerous and must be caught and brought to justice.

One night they waited for her on the river bank and when she had just started her beautiful lulaby, they threw a fishing net over her. They put her into the hay barn for the night and waited to bring her into the courts early in the morning.

The Mermaid started singing. She knew it was her last song and it was the saddest melody she had ever sung in her life. A young shepherd heard the song and it melted his heart. He felt very sorry for the beautiful creature and decided to free her. He opened the door of the hay barn and let her go.

She was never to be seen after that and no one has heard her singing since. The only proof of her existance is the image in the crest of the city of Warsaw.