In country far, and days long gone,
There lived a famous Tsar – Dadon.
When young, his strength was held in awe
By all his neighbours: he made war
Whenever he declared it right.
With age, he grew less keen to fight,
Desiring his deserved peace: Struggle should stop; war’s clamour cease. His down-trod neighbours saw their chance,
And armed with dagger, sword and lance,
Attacked his frontiers at will,
Making the old Tsar maintain still
An army of twelve thousand men,
With horses, weaponry, and then
Appoint highly-paid generals
To guard the kingdom’s threatened walls.
But, when they watched the west, ’twas sure
The eastern border, less secure
Would be where hostile troops appeared,
The danger greatest where least feared.
Eastward the generals sally forth,
Only to find that now the north
Border is where the danger lies.
Tormented thus, Tsar Dadon cries
Hot tears of rage. He cannot sleep.
O’er land foes stream; then from the deep.
What is life worth, when so assailed?
So, desperate, Dadon availed
Himself of magic, turning to
A sorcerer (and eunuch, too),
Interpreter of omens, stars,
Bird-flights, and such particulars.
The courtier, sent to call the sage,
Implied there’d be a handsome wage.
Arrived at court, the wise old man
Disclosed with confidence his plan:
The golden cockerel he drew
Out from his bag by magic knew
Who would attack, and when, and where,
Enabling generals to prepare.
“Just watch and listen”, said the sage.
Dadon responded: “I engage,
“If this be so, to grant as fee
“Whatever you request of me.”
“So, set the cock, as weather-vane
“Upon the highest spire. Remain
attentive; he will show
“You when to arm, and where to go.
“Will always be the best defence.”
And so it proves: whenever threats
Appear, the faithful sentry sets
His crimson crest in that direction
Whence comes th’incipient insurrection.
“Kiri-ku-ku”, he cries, “Hear me,
“And rule long years, from worry free.”
Discovered once, and caused to flee,
Then thrice more routed, th’enemy
Lose heart, respect again the will
Of Tsar Dadon, their master still.
A year so passes, then one more.
Dadon expects another score.
One dawn however, courtiers wake
The Tsar, pale-faced, with hearts a-quake:
“The cockerel, Lord, calls you to arms.
“Protect us, holy Tsar, from harms.”
Dadon, half-sleeping, asks: “What? What?
“Have you your manners quite forgot?”
“Forgive us, but the cock”, they say,
“Is adamant, brooks no delay.
“The people panic. Only you
“Can their else-mut’nous fears subdue.”
Rousing himself, old Tsar Dadon
Declares he’ll send his elder son
Southward, whose army shall repel
The foe which that true cockerel
Has there disclosed. “Now back to bed|
“The enemy’s as good as dead.”
The Tsar proclaims, “I too retire.
“Fear not. My spy’s still on his spire.” Wars oft entail a news black-out:
Was there a victory? Or rout?
Who has prevailed? How stands the score
Of dead? And were ours less or more
Than theirs? No word for seven days
The Court’s disquietude allays.
Then, on the eighth, the cockerel’s
Loud cry the peace again dispels.
This time his crimson comb points north.
Dadon ordains to sally forth
His younger son, leading a force,
So rich in armour, men and horse,
That no known foe could fail to yield,
Such weapons Dadon’s troops now wield. They march; are gone. Silence profound
Envelops them, as though the ground