Sergei Bekhteyev, known as ‘The Singer of Holy Rus’ and ‘The Tsar’s Minstrel’, was born near Zadonsk, nearly 200 miles south of Moscow, in 1879 and reposed in exile in Nice in the south of France in 1954. Below, for the first time, we present three of his many poems in English translation, each representing a different phase in his work. Some of what the visionary poet-prophet foretold in his poetry has already come to pass, but by no means all.
To the Subjects
Let hearts not be downcast, do not grieve:
The Lord will scatter dark realms of fear,
And again we shall hear, so believe,
Our fair hymn with keen and sensing ear.
Our Great Mighty Father as of yore
Will go up anew with Sovereign vow
To his forebears’ throne as long before,
Calling on his children down to bow.
And then before the feet of the King,
Clothed in rags of pity, naked near,
Our native land will fall down, grieving
With the shame of penitence and fear!
Kissing her upon her lips, the King
Will say to his traitor daughter land:
Kin, I have forgiven everything,
I am Myself come to help thee stand.
Weep not, forget thy past schemes and loss;
With thee till the very Last Day dawns
I will bear thy fetters and thy cross
And the sorrow of the crown of thorns!
Yelets, Russia, October 1917
An Orthodox Tale
I had a dream: There arose at last the great Day,
The sacred Day of love and forgiveness for all;
The gloom began to thin and shadows fled away,
Like the men who flee away from fear of crime’s pall.
I had a dream: The early light was breaking morn
Above the ill-fortuned and desecrated land;
In the blood-red twilight the mysterious dawn
With golden smile chased off the spectres’ ghostly band.
I had a dream. People walked in desert places,
In poor and ragged clothing with candles alight,
Bearing sadness and sorrow on their pale faces
Their shoulders bent down, all skin and bone at first sight...
And all were singing, together in one great chord,
The words of triumphal, unheard of prayer for life,
Beseeching God’s forgiveness for all the discord
Of fratricidal, inhuman battle and strife.
Clouds of incense from smoking censers rose in waves,
Church banners shone forth with icons and crosses bright;
We passed on through cemeteries with their countless graves,
From where yellowed bones stretched out their arms to the light.
Suddenly from afar, to our eyes tired with fear,
Glowing forth beyond the once dark hills now alight,
Stood before us a church of beauty beyond peer
With bright cupolas that burned like the stars of night.
The choir fell silent and the light of day flared clear,
Covering impoverished Russia with rays of light,
And making the sign of the cross with godly tear,
The people sang the holy Liturgy with might.
And with us sang the fields and all the forest treed,
And the distance, and the streams, and the deep blue skies,
And joyfully exclaimed ‘Christ is risen indeed!’
People and earth, rejoicing, repeated in cries.
I had a dream: The doors of God’s Church opened wide
And He walked out with all His Family by His side;
The world trembled for its wrongs and at the royal steps
The people fell to their knees and sighed for their regrets...
Novy Futog, Serbia, 1922
The Tsar’s Russia
The Tsar’s Russia is meekness and lowliness,
Ardent prayers before the icons centuries old,
Thirst for repentance and sweet all-forgiveness,
Brave sacrifice in the noble battle bold.
The Tsar’s Russia is the speaking of church bells,
Merry joy at the welcome with bread and salt,
Amid the sleeping pines, monks’ ancient log cells,
Lips that whisper of deep-held love without fault.
The Tsar’s Russia - the service of the nation,
The firm guardian of order and of peace,
Friendship of her peoples and every station,
The age-old surplus generous enough for ease.
The Tsar’s Russia - the life of the tales of yore,
Harmony of family life, freedom’s order,
Our mighty tongue, life lived as ever before,
Bravery and courage in the dance taught her.
The Tsar’s Russia is faith in the soldiers’ feat,
In triumph and glory of rule wise and royal,
In the graced destiny sent from heaven’s seat,
To the great home of honest service and toil.
The Tsar’s Russia is help for the poor brother,
Valiant defence from threat of foreign land,
The tender embrace of the happy mother,
The tears that are wiped away by the kind hand.
The Tsar’s Russia – this is our fair native song,
The endless high road leading to every sight,
The Tsar’s Russia is Holy Rus great and strong,
She Who believes in God, She Who seeks the right.
Nice, 30 May 1952