Mokraya Kuritsa


Otkrylis’ dushevnye yivo ochi (The Saturday of St. Dimitri)

Mokraya Kuritsa, God be praised, she is well,
And, having made the supreme sacrifice,
And abandoned the hollow of this mundane shell,
God has translated her to paradise.

Mokraya Kuritsa, her story must be told;
In words of fire it shall blaze forth to men.
On tablets of ivory and in letters of gold
I shall write the deeds of this heroic hen.

Upon the vigil of blessed St. Michael’s day,
Having invoked the most holy Mother of God,
She went piously to her nesting box to lay
The finest egg is in all Zvenigorod.

Smooth, tapered, all a delicate speckled brown
And of so large a size it seemed designed
To cradle a royal nestling of the swan,
It was an egg quite perfect in its kind.

Our humble hen went broody, and she sat,
Through the ensuing days of the Great Fast,
Softly clucking her own magnificat:
“On His handmaiden, lo, he has smiled at last!

“He has exalted the humble and meek: this egg
Shall hatch forth a valiant chicken without peer,
An Ilya Muromyets, a Skanderbeg,
A Zolotoy Pyetushok, a bogatyr.

“His comb, his wattles, like rubies I see them glow;
And plumage to match the six-winged seraphim;
The sun shall rise daily only to hear his crow,
And all powers of darkness shall go in dread of him.

“He shall guard us all like the cock of Tsar Dadon.…”
As she pondered these splendid visions in the night,
The great bell of the monastery struck one,
And a figure appeared before her, clothed in light.

Saying: “Mokraya Kuritsa, matushka, little dove!
I am the archangel Michael; I come to beg
For the glory of God and the great Andrey Rublyov,
Painter of icons, that you will give him your egg.

“He is painting my portrait; the night is now far spent;
He has used all the egg-yolk tempera in his cell!
But before I return to patrol the firmament,
Watchful for heaven and keeping one eye on hell,

“He must break your egg and mix in a little rye beer
Till his colours shall glow like the New Jerusalem;
And splendid in scarlet and gold I shall appear
By his Bogoroditsa in her diadem.”

Ai-zhe-ty, Mikhail Zvenigorodskoy!
No archangel, thou: Nightingale Robber thou art!
My golden cockerel, my darling chick, my joy,
To mix him with rye beer is to break a mother’s heart.”

Ai-zhe, Mokraya Kuritsa, little dove, little pigeon!
It shall be with thee, as with Abraham of yore.
It shall be with thee, in the comfort of religion,
As with Prince Dimitri in the Uspensky Sobor.

“It shall be with thee as with the glorious Bogomater
When she saw the spear pierce her darling’s side.”
Then round Mokraya Kuritsa shone the halo of a martyr
And Mokraya Kuritsa gave up the egg and cried.

“God’s will be done,” she cried, “even in his undoing!”
Her spiritual eyes were opened and she knew,
Though she would never see her bogatyr a-growing
Nor thrill to the clarion of his cock-a-doodle-doo,

Yet she saw plain as in pure, in open fields
Her chicken spread abroad in gleams and golden smears
On an angel’s cheek and brow—she weeps now but she yields;
Seeing the greater good, she yields despite her tears.

Mokraya Kuritsa, that heroic hen,
God be praised, she has entered paradise.
On a nest of angel plumes, in a golden pen
She sits, having made the supreme sacrifice.

And Rublyov’s great Michael, severe, archaic, serene,
In the Tretyakov gallery to this very day
Looks down and murmurs: “What I am is what I mean;
But Mokraya Kuritsa, she prepared the way!”

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