Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1878—1942)
Tsar Dadon meets the Shemakha queen
Illustration for the book "The Tale of the Golden Cockerel"
Paper on cardboard, watercolor
The Tale of the Golden Cockerel (Russian: Ñêàçêà î çîëîòîì ïåòóøêå, Skazka o zolotom petushke) is the last fairy tale in verse by Alexander Pushkin. Pushkin wrote the tale in 1834 and it was first published in literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya in 1835. The tale is based on the short story Legend of the Arabian Astrologer from the Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving.
In the realm of Threeteenseventy,
Commonwealth of Thriceleventy,
Lived the famous Tsar Dadon.
Fierce he was from boyhood on,
And when scarcely more than twenty
Wrought his neighbors wrongs aplenty.
Aging now, he d in mind,
Would give up the warlike grind
For a life serene and festive.
But his neighbors, growing restive,
Caused the grizzled Tsar alarm,
Dealing him a world of harm.
To protect the tsardom's borders
From the raids of bold marauders,
He was forced to raise and post
An unconscionable host.
Field commanders, never drowsing,
Still would scarce have finished dousing
Flames at left when, ho! at right
Hostile banners hove in sight.
These fought off, some visitation
Came by sea. The Tsar's frustration
Drove him wild enough to weep
And forgo the balm of sleep.
Who could thrive when thus infested?
So he pondered and requested
Succour from a gelding sage,
Planet-reckoner and mage;
Sent a runner to implore him
And the magus, brought before him,
From beneath his ample frock
Drew a golden weathercock.
"Let this golden bird," he chanted,
"High atop the spire be planted,
And my clever Cockerel
Be your faithful sentinel.
While there's naught of martial riot,
He will sit his perch in quiet;
Let there be on any side
Signs of war to be espied,
Of some squadron border-poaching,
Or some other ill approaching,
Straight my bird upon the dome
Will awaken, perk his comb,
Crow and veer, his ruff a-fluffing,
Point where harm is in the offing."
Rapt, the Tsar allowed the sage
Heaps of gold for ready wage.
"Such momentous boon afforded,"
He rejoiced,"shall be rewarded
By a wish, to be fulfilled
Like my own as soon as willed."
Cockerel atop the spire
Started guarding march and shire,
Scarce a danger reared its head,
Up he perked as though from bed,
Slewed about, his collar ruffled,
To that side and, wings unshuffled,
Crew aloud "Keeree-kookoo!
Reign abed, your guard is true."
Kings, the Tsar's domains investing,
Henceforth never dared molest him:
Tsar Dadon on every hand
Hurled them back by sea and land!
One year, two, the shrewd informant
Had been roosting all but dormant,
When one morning they broke in
On Dadon with fearful din.
"Tsar of ours! The realm's defender!"
Cries the household troop's commander,
"Majesty! Wake up! Alert!"
"Eh? . . .what's up? . . .Is someone hurt?"
Drawled the Tsar amid a double
Yawn, "who is this? What's the trouble?"
Answered him the Captain thus:
"Hark, the rooster's warning us;
Look below and see the people
Mill in fear, and on the steeple
See the rooster, ruffle-fleeced,
Crowing, pointing to the East."
"Up! No time to lose!" their Master
Spurred them on, "mount horses! Faster!'
Eastward thus a force he sped,
With his eldest at its head.
Cockerel gave over screaming,
And the Tsar continued dreaming.
Seven days go by and more,
But no message from the corps:
Has the march been rough or quiet-
Naught to tell it or deny it.
Cockerel goes off once more!
Tracking down the elder's corps,
Rides the younger with another
To the rescue of his brother.
Presently subsides the bird;
And again no more is heard!
And again the people, troubled,
Wait a week, their fears redoubled.
Yet again the cock is heard,
And Dadon sends out a third
Host, himself commander of it,
Though unsure what this might profit.
Day and night the columns wind,
Then it preys upon each mind:
Not a camp or battleground,
Not a warriors' burial mound,
Is encountered near or far.
"Strange and stranger," thinks the Tsar.
One week gone, the country s,
Rising, high through hills and ranges,
Then, amid the peaks ahead,
Look! a silken tent is spread.
Wondrous hush enfolds the scene
Round the tent; a gaunt ravine
Cradles hosts in battle rent.
Now Dadon has reached the tent.. .
Staggers backward: sight appalling,
Hard before his eyes lie fallen,
Stripped of helm and armour chain,
Both his noble princes, slain,
Pierced each by the other's charge;
And their wandering mounts at large
On the mead all stamped and scored,
On the bloodied meadow-sward . . .
"Boys . . .my boys . . ." the father groaned,
"Strangled both my hawks," he moaned,
"Life is forfeit - woe is me . . .
Here were killed not two but three."
Wail of men and master merges
Soon resound with heavy dirges
Gorge and cliff, the mountain's heart
Shakes. Behold, the curtains part
On the tent. . .The prize of maidens,
Queen of Shamakhan, in radiance
Lambent like the morning star,
Quietly salutes the Tsar.
Silenced by her brilliant gaze
Like a nightbird by the day's,
Numb he stands - her sight outstuns
Aye! the death of both his sons.
Now she looked at him, beguiling,
Swept a graceful bow and, smiling,
Took his hand and drew him on
To her tent came Tsar Dadon.
At her table did she seat him,
To all sorts of victuals treat him,
And for rest his body laid
On an othman of brocade.
Thus full seven days he lavished,
All enslaved by her and ravished,
On delight and merriment
In the royal maiden's tent.
At long last, though, forth he sallied,
His surviving forces rallied,
And, the maiden in his train,
Led his army home again.
Rumor started to outspeed him,
Tales of hap and no-hap breeding . . .
Throngs of subjects small and great
Swirl beyond the city gate
Round the coach of Tsar and Empress,
Fabled Shamakhanian temptress;
Tsar Dadon salutes them there . . .
All at once he is aware
Of his friend, the wise old eunuch,
In his white tarboosh and tunic,
Snowy-thatched now, like a swan.
"Father mine," exclaimed Dadon,
"Hail! How fare you? At your leisure Come and speak; what is your pleasure?"
"Tsar!" replied the aged mage,
"Now we square desert and wage.
For the aid I once accorded,
You recall, I was awarded
My first wish - to be fulfilled,
Like your own, as soon as willed.
Let this maid be what I won,
This young queen of Shamakhan."
"What?" Dadon fell back, amazed.
"What possessed you? Are you crazed?
Does some wicked demon ride you?
Have your wits dried up inside you?
What's your game, in heaven's name?
Pledge I did; but all the same
There are limits, well you knew;
And - what use is she to you?
Kindly lodge it in your head
Who I am! Why, ask instead
For my mint, a magnate's sable,
Stallion from the royal stable,
Half my tsardom if you please!"
"No, I wish for none of these!
Just you give me what I won,
This young queen of Shamakhan,"
Piped the sage in former fashion.
"No!" the Tsar spat, in a passion;
"You yourself have brought this on!
You'll have nothing! There! Be gone
While you're in one piece! I say!
Drag the scarecrow from my way!"
Whitebeard wanted to pursue it,
But with some, you're apt to rue it;
With an angry scepter blow
Tsar Dadon has laid him low,
Not to breathe again. - The city
Gave a shudder, but our pretty:
"Ha-ha-ha" and "hi-hi-hi,"
Not a pious thought, you see.
Tsar Dadon, though greatly flustered, at her, Smiled as soft as custard,
And proceeded cityward.
Then a tiny sound was heard,
And in sight of all the people,
Look! The cock whirred off the steeple,
Swooped upon the coach of state,
Perched upon the monarch's pate,
Fluffed his ruff and pecked and clink!
Soared aloft. . .Without a blink
Tsar Dadon slid off his seat,
Gave a wheeze and stretched his feet.
Gone the empress sight unseen,
Just as though she'd never been.
Tale of sense, if not of truth!
Food for thought to honest youth.