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The Tale of the Kings

Сказка о королях

“We are the splendid and strong,
Youthful kings, who glide,
Like clouds high in the sky,
Above the mirage of the lands.

With eternal songs and dances
We erect a new temple.
Let us be drunk with the purple
That surely will stream from its windows.

A window to Eternity’s splendor
On the banks of the Holy River,
And beyond us let the Bad Dreams
Weave garlands of their own wreaths.

Let the prick of the thorns worry
Only flesh that’s grown weary,
And the sun of the evening hour
Warm only our ringlets of hair.

In the sunless and haze-shrouded night,
At study, vex not your heart;
Whether stormy or lit up in gold
A cloud is but a cloud among clouds.”

* * *

One sang lovingly then
Of bliss to the sun and the world,
Resplendent like a column
That into clear ether had soared.

With song he sought to calm
Their travel-weary hearts;
Mad laughter was their retort
From the ancient walls of the room.

But scoffing at the twilit room,
Its dim gray and faint gloom,
Another king lifted the mood
With new thought and a new word.

His voice was full of fervor,
Many things lived in each glance,
He was grand and he was severe,
Like the ocean’s ebbing of tides.

“We cannot plumb depths,” he spoke,
“Of the patterns of Indian silks,
In them desire’s limitless,
Full of mystery in our gaze.

A watery lotus under the moon
On a mist enshrouded pond
Respires for us with but
One color — the color, white.

And in the calla’s bless’d madness
Each thing hearkens to another,
Life without parting, life without sorrow,
Life without watery peace.

Whoever knows that suffering
Is beyond the limits of our knowing,
Knows, like the watery princess,
How anguish waits in a kiss.”

* * *

A sullen rider burst forth on a black horse,
His head was muffled up in a velvety cape,
His gaze was terrifying, like a city in flames,
And blinding, like lightning bolts at night.

His curls, like snakes, wound down his shoulders,
His voice was a song of fire and foreign lands,
The ballad he sang was about youthful kings,
And he heeded and was chastened by its troubling words.

“Lucifer gave me five sturdy coursers
And one with rubies on its golden harness,
In bottomless underground caves and lush vales
I perceived a youthful countenance revealed,

He received my guilt — in the streaming fires
Of elf-mountain and the burly red Gnome,
And I alone perceived the blazing sun
With facets like rubies on a golden harness.

And as I saw rapture in the new day’s creation,
The waking hymn of the druids of the world,
I laughed at the élan of my mighty steed
As he pulled the gold harness and I plied the rein.

There to the heights, I confess — frenzy of snow...
The rapturous azure horizons set me aglow —
And as I hasten my racing confession,
Suddenly, as if dreaming, I saw a sick maiden.

His voice was a softly vibrating string,
His gaze was a blend of answers and questions,
And I gave back the Moon Maiden’s ring
From beyond the random shadows of the heavens.

As he laughed at me and coldly scoffed,
My gaze bathed Lucifer in a dim half-light,
And he bestowed on me a sixth steed,
His true name is Despair, he said.”

* * *

A voice of dire grief,
A song of a sad land,
Sounded to the hall’s high roof,
Where the gathered kings stood.

Some of their own cold gloom
From the stillness of the cold pillars
Was imparted to the kings
As they looked about bewildered.

But together they exclaimed,
Allaying the burden of their breasts:
“The path to the Heavenly Bride —
Is single, unitary, true!

Let us drink to the full our chalice,
Let us drain to the full each day,
The World Maiden will be ours,
Ours alone she shall be!

Let us scrape away with joy
The deathly, gray encrustations,
And let the wide spaces unfold
To tell us the truths that are dreams.

This must be the true path,
For the world is ours, or no one’s,
With the force of swords aflame,
From God, we’ll seize the truth.”

* * *

Starting out with all their gear,
The sound of trumpets resonates
The voice of royalty is clear,
The voice of glory and combat.

Their swords, the best of steels,
Their shields, glittering silver,
And around each of their visors
Are flairs of swan wing quills.

Each of them is winged with hope
Departing their father’s abode,
The doorman, hunched and gray,
Sends them off on their way.

The sweetness of truth entices
As they ride into the sundown
And timidly the one who remains
Watches from the distance,

As their white mail and armor
Clattered like babbling water,
Each raised a bronze glove,
A farewell kiss and a wave.

* * *

Bravely they passed along the abyss...
Then they met the Maiden of Earth,
But to love them was not at all her wish
Even though they were kings by birth.

And even though they madly implored,
Her love she could never share,
And so they grieved the loss of bliss,
And so were the young kings cursed.

And sick with pain, the weeping willow
Muffled them deep inside its shadow,
In that country, hopelessly-happy,
Where there’s no sleep, light or joy.

A Rusalka* wove each a garland
Out of violets and lilies of the sea,
And laughing, she set her wreaths on each,
Violets, as their heads sank down.

Not one retreated from the battle...
Not one returned to the agéd house
Where hunchbacked the doorman often still
Was heard at his holy prayers.

* * *

A sunset painted in scarlet
Was doused by the forest gloom,
Where the hunchback, exhausted,
Shed tear upon tear alone,

While above the unused well
He muttered words to himself,
And an impudent owl overhead
Mocked how he was deformed.

“Misery! The Rusalka’s dead,
And the kings are all gone away,
Helpless and pitiful, I stayed
And am master now of the land.

At first unthinking I scampered
About the revered royal hall
But now I place upon my head
A garland of fresh pine boughs.

And now in my mansion deserted
I alone leave and come back in,
Dreadful, the world... dreadful, God...
Help me... I am dying...”

Still above the unused well
He muttered these words to himself,
And an impudent owl overhead
Mocked how he was deformed.

* In Slavic folklore a rusalka (plural ruslaki) was a fishwoman who lived on the river bottoms.
They were variously depicted as ghosts, wraiths, water nymphs, succubae or mermaids. At midnight they were said to come out and dance in fields on the riverbanks. Like sirens they would lure handsome young men to watery deaths.

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