Thomas Ország-Land

 

 

 

Peacock:

The Death of the Princess

 A Matriarchal Tale from Transylvania


 

Once upon a time,

the sultan’s lonely daughter

watched the royal peacock

rise up from the seashore,

soaring past her window

to settle in the courtyard,

a sombre prison courtyard

steeped in fearful silence.

 

From his cell, a prisoner

also saw the peacock

and could not help singing:

 

Peacock, peacock, peacock,

blue and silver fire!

Were I but a peacock

sleek in plumed attire,

free as my desire,

I’d rise with the pearly

dawn and set out early.

I’d fly high and higher,

let the light caress me,

wandering people bless me,

no-one to possess me.

I would, as I tire,

seek out secret fountains

and in time would sow my

plumes beyond the mountains.

Someone might discover

flames among the flowers:

Peacock feathers! Peacock!

Blue and silver fire

burning like desire! –

Give them to a lover…

 

Startled by the song,

the royal girl descended

to the prison courtyard,

for the singer’s yearning

made her body tremble.

 

Guards! Who is to blame

for a song so tender?…

In the sultan’s name,

surrender that offender!

 

Thus the doors were opened.

 

Who are you, who are you,

with those chains that scar you?

 

Poor man, he replied:

 

You can see, a captive

soldier in a trap –

once a cheerful fellow,

now singing in this cell

for a peacock’s sake –

once a man, till taken

on a bloody hillside

by the enemy –

Nobody am I

just a song in irons,

yet the guards are still

accountable for me.

 

Singing soldier, dear,

come away from here.

 

Where to?

 

Come, she said,

to my silken bed.

 

Lonely princess, why

can’t you see my irons?

 

But she bade the guards

to free the captive singer;

and she softly led him

to her own apartment

where she washed his wounds

and brought him food and wine

and dropped her royal veil.

 

Singing soldier, dear,

you are mine alone.

 

Flameplumed lonely princess,

do not be my jailer.

 

Nobody alive

had ever fled the jail.

The sultan would have loathed

a living precedent.

The guards gave their account.

So the singer sang no more,

his broken body buried

gently by the waves.

 

A jealous father battered

down his daughter’s door.

 

Don’t you fear the block,

disloyal royal daughter,

said he with a hiss.

 

Seek death in the water,

or in a serpent’s kiss,

or waste away – Away! –

behind the prison lock.

 

From the singer’s cell,

the castle’s lonely princess

watched the royal peacock

in the prison courtyard,

that sombre, sundrenched courtyard

steeped in fearful silence.

She could not help but sing:

 

Peacock, peacock, peacock,

blue and silver fire!

Were I but a peacock

free as my desire,

I’d fly high and higher,

let the light caress me,

wandering people bless me,

no-one to possess me…

 

So the guards complained

that the singing princess

made their bodies tremble.

 

Now the sultan sent

their prisoner an asp.

 

She received the serpent

in her naked hand,

singing till the killer

slept in harmless coils:

 

I would, as I tire,

seek out secret fountains

and in time would sow my

plumes beyond the mountains…

 

But the singing stopped

when the sultan hurled

his daughter in the sea.

 

And the waves received her

and they gently rocked her

form in timeless motion;

and they merged the tales

of the yearning singers

that will live as long

as someone still remembers

their blazing bird of passion.

 

Someone might discover

flames among the flowers:

Peacock feathers! Peacock!

Blue and silver fire

burning like desire!

 

Give them to a lover.

 

 

Thomas Ország-Land is a poet and award-winning foreign correspondent, who writes from London and his native Budapest. His next book: The Survivors (Smokestack, 2014).

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