Bohemian Poems, Ancient and Modern/Wratislaw

WRATISLAW.


O MORAVA! O our Sister!
how the Tatar came with war!

Reap’d thy acres rich and golden
with the crooked scymitar!

How his red rough hand of fury
swept the sunbeam of delight,

On a day of tears and sorrow,
rudely from thy visage bright!

Now, forlorn, and desolate, thou
sitt’st, a widow pale and wan,

Gazing mournfully thy Sister,
thy Bohemian Sister on.

And on thee in sad compassion
dwells thy Sister’s eye so true,

Dwells on thee in sad compassion—
Ah! what meets her anxious view?

Ah! it is a woeful sight; thy
villages, thy towns, she sees

Black, black coals upon the earth, and
ashes light upon the breeze.

Ah! thy castles high and haughty
all forlorn in ruins lie;

Where were woods and fairest meadows,
bloody marshes meet her eye.

There the corpses of thy children,
of thy slaughter’d children dear,

Of thy sons and daughters moulder;
’tis a sight of woe and fear.

But good sons and valiant warriors
thy true Sister sends to thee,

Sends her best, her noblest hero,
Jaroslaw, their chief to be.

Soon the Tatar feels their arrows,
feels their swords so keen and bright,

Feels the weight of homethrust lances
wielded by strong arms in fight.

Never can the countless hordes, that
come from desert steppes afar,

Never can they blame the prowess
of Bohemian chiefs in war.

Back retreating, now they hurry,
like the wild wave white with foam,

Back retreating, now they hurry
to the barren wastes of home.

O Morava! trembling widow!
O how pride and joy again

Bloom, with comfort sweet returning,
on the pallid cheek of pain!

Soon each town and wasted village
from its ashes see’st thou rise,

Soon thy castles from their ruins
lift their bulwarks to the skies.

Green again thy meadows flourish,
and thy children, spar’d by God

In the troublous times of slaughter,
all around thy banners crowd.

But, behold! a knightly hero!
good amongst the best is he;

’Tis the grey-hair’d knight, Sir Berka,
bow’d in deep, deep misery.

On the battlements in sorrow,
on the battlements in woe,

Lo! he stands all sadly gazing
at the far, far woods below,

Whose broad gloomy sides discover
where the fleeing Tatars go.

At the old man’s side Ludmilla
sit’s in bitt’rest grief forlorn,

Fair Ludmilla, spouse belovéd
of his Jan, his eldest born;

And the eyes of that pale lady,
like the old man’s looks of woe,

On the far, far woods are gazing,
where the Tatar’s wild hordes go,

Where they drag her own belovèd,
Jan, her spouse, her hero brave,

On their flight to distant regions,
as a captive and a slave.

To his other side is clinging
Wratislaw, his youngest son,

On whose locks so bright and golden
Spring her flow’rs twelve times hath strewn;

In whose bright blue eyes the summer
sun twelve times hath mirror’d been;

Whose fair figure, frail and slender;
winds might bear it off, I ween;

From his age a third would ’minish,
if by earthly eyes ’twere seen.

And their sorrows’ mournful silence
soon the grief-bow’d lady brake;

‘Ah! my hero! Jan, my dearest!’
such the woeful words she spake;

‘Woe to thy poor wife, sad lady!
who hath lost her sons with thee!

‘To the land of thy forefathers,
whose bright star hath set with thee!

‘O how fearful now the wishes
and the prayers of our distress!

‘O how fearful are the entreaties
we to heav’n must now address!

‘Ah! to find our only comfort
in the thought thou may’st be dead!

‘Heart and soul to think thee living
shudder with a shuddering dread;

‘Living in the cruel slav’ry
of barbarians far away:

‘Freemen only live; slaves perish
by a thousand deaths a day.’

‘Yes,’ Sir Berka answers sadly—
look and tone are sad indeed—

‘Yes, a mighty God the ruin
of our House hath now decreed,

‘Of our House, which aye devoutly
honour’d Him in word and deed.

‘He from me the last, the hero,
Jan, the only son hath ta’en,

‘Who for times to come his glorious
race and name should plant again.

‘Of the family thus sinking
all that now remains beneath

‘Is a woman without offspring,
and an old man due to death.’

In his blue eyes pearly moisture,
listens Wratislaw the child

To hard words, that tender souls must
evil ever deem and wild;

And the old man s rough palm pressing
with his tender hand, saith he,

(Sounding on the morning breeze it
seem’d an angel’s voice to be,)

‘Lofty hero! honour’d father!
why dost thou with heaven chide,

‘That thy stem is broken? Is not
Wratislaw still at thy side?

‘Offspring last of lofty goodness,
his the sacred duty now,

‘To far distant days the glory
of his noble race to show:

‘And his name doth almost promise
with prophetic voice divine,

‘That renown, through him returning
to his ancient house, will shine[1].’

Overpow’ring, mighty sorrow
for the son he dead believ’d,

Makes the old man wrong the living,
by his woeful grief deceiv’d.

To the lady, to Ludmilla,
he with almost scornful tone

Saith, ‘His ancestors’ proud spirit
sways th’ untimely wither’d one;

‘But the weakling’s feeble body
to the words of courage high

‘Never, never can give import,
speak he e’er so valiantly.’

See the boy’s pale visage kindling,
with the blush of anger dyed!

See, how from his blue eye flashing
beams the hero glance of pride!

And he speaks, ‘My lord and father,
lieth not man’s strength alway

‘Only in the God of heaven,
faith in whom is all our stay?

‘Cannot heaven high and lordly,
cannot heaven shew in sight

‘In the weakest of the creatures
all its pow’r and all its might?’

From the battlements thus speaking
quickly sped the boy, I ween;

In the castle of his father
was he never after seen.

Fruitless search! successless seeking!
traceless went the boy away;

Traceless did he vanish; no one
aught about his flight could say.

Ah! how now Sir Berka mourneth!
how he mourning sees his woe,

Woe which late he thought o’erflowing,
through a single fault to grow!

Scarcely can he now tell whether
of the twain he lov’d the most;

Only losses, bitter losses,
teach the value of the lost.

Spring and Summer, Autumn, Winter,
hope and joy in turn that bring,

To the poor old man drag sadly;
sadness is their welcoming.

Spring’s gay flowers, Summer’s breezes,
Autumn’s grapes, and Winter’s snow,

To his eyes are lost; the seasons
heedless come and heedless go;

Lost to him, whose eyes the image
of his lost sons only shew.

Songs of birds and lays of reapers,
winter-dance and skating gay,

In the old man’s ears resound not,
ears that listen day by day

To one only sound, the throbbing
of a heart that’s rent in tway.

And the Spring again returneth;
mountains glitter, green corn grows;

But in gloomy hall Sir Berka
sits and broods upon his woes,

With the lady, pale Ludmilla,
all forlorn and comfortless;

Grave-like silence, deathlike stillness,
fills the chamber of distress.

Hark! the oaken door is creaking!
lo! it opens in their sight!

On the threshold stands a stranger;
sure he is a noble knight;

Stands awhile with arms extended,
ere he can the inmates meet;

Flings him down then at the old man’s,
flings him at the lady’s feet.

Is it not the heir? O heaven!
Is it not the dead believ’d?

It is Jan; it is the lost one,
home again with joy receiv’d!

Can we tell the old man’s feelings?
or the happy thoughts that swell

The true hearts of wife and husband?
or the speaking joys that dwell

In the sacred glance of welcome?
he who can, the tale may tell.

Then a long, long silence over,
and a happy fond embrace,

Jan his father to the window,
and his true wife leads apace;

Points beneath into the courtyard
of the castle, shews him where

Holds a squire two Tatar coursers;
one doth now no rider bear;

But a load the other beareth;
’tis an all unwonted load;

He a tiny coffin beareth
o’er his long and weary road.

‘See! my wife; behold! my father;
both thy sons return again;

‘As a poor man home returning,
as a sinful man comes Jan;

‘Wratislaw comes like an angel,
slumb’ring free from cares and tears

‘In the little, narrow dwelling,
that the noble courser bears.’

Silent terror questions mutely;
wonderment and deep surprize

At events so strange and fearful
look from each mute hearer’s eyes.

And while servants true the coffin
quick within the hall convey,

Tells Sir Jan the wondrous story
to his wife and father grey.

‘By the wild foe taken captive,
to his wild home journied I,

‘Dragging cruel, cruel fetters;
fetters of my slavery.

‘To the Khan of Kasan fell I.
Earthly man can never know

‘Greater happiness than freedom,
or than slav’ry greater woe.

‘Let me silent pass the sorrow,
and the pain and bitter grief,

‘When long days, weeks, months succeeding
came and went without relief.

‘Long the time and slow its passage,
while in all unworthy toil

‘I, a fetter’d slave, was serving
as a tiller of the soil.

‘But one day the Khan of Kasan;
’twas a thing of strange surprize;

‘Summon’d me before his presence;
dare I, dare I trust mine eyes?

‘Wratislaw, my youngest brother,
at his side I do descry,

‘Pale and sadly travel-wasted,
e’en as one whose death is nigh.

‘Ere surprise’s cry hath left me,
with a scornful smile doth speak

‘Kasan’s Khan—“My slave, look hither!
see this wasted child and weak!

‘He, his little limbs scarce dragging;
feeble are his limbs and frame;

‘He, his breath to draw scarce able,
doth himself thy brother name.

‘Come he is to seek thy freedom,
come he is with purpose brave,

‘Come for thee himself to offer,
as a captive and a slave.

‘Say if the exchange doth please thee?
wilt the proffer’d freedom have?

‘I will own it; I was speechless,
still by wonderment opprest;

‘But the child all proudly rising;
—rays as from an angel blest

‘From his visage pale were beaming;
—thus the mighty Khan addrest:

‘“Mighty lord, thy gaze directing
to my little, tender frame,

‘Soon to be death’s early victim,
think, O! think, how here I came;

‘How my little feet have borne me
countless risks and terrors through,

‘From Morava’s distant region
thy imperial throne unto.

‘Could a little, feeble body,
such as mine, the task fulfil?

‘But He gave me—He who guides me—
gave me pow’r to do His will.

‘Worms at His almighty bidding
elephants o’ermaster can,

‘Midges can the lion vanquish—
therefore listen, Kasans Khan!

‘God hath bid me fetch my brother
from his slavery with thee,

‘God hath bid me, as his ransom,
leave myself thy slave to be;

‘For a noble race is threat’ning
soon to fail and perish all,

‘Soon into the grave-like darkness
of forgetfulness to fall;

‘Therefore grant my brother’s freedom,
that he may to future days

‘His most noble race continue
for renown and splendid praise.

‘Hear the words, O Khan of Kasan,
which my God and Lord and Guide

‘Through my mouth to thee hath spoken,
through my mouth hath prophesied:

‘Seven sons, all valiant heroes,
bloom, O Kasan’s Khan, to thee;

‘All the seven wan and faded
sev’n short months will surely see;

‘All will fade in short months seven,
sett’st thou not my brother free.”

‘Speaking thus, down sinks he dying;
golden beams that daze the eye

‘Round the little body hover,
where it motionless doth lie,

‘As credentials of the mission,
that was sent him from on high.

‘Seven days of fear and anguish,
seven long days did the Khan

‘Keep me in suspense; then to his
presence call’d, and thus began:

‘“See the dead corpse of thy brother,
whence corruption and decay

‘My Arabian physician
by his art hath chas’d away!

‘Thus ‘tis meet for noble heroes;
for in all my days, I ween,

‘Than this little child a greater
never, never have I seen.

Here is gold for thy long journey;
in the court two horses chafe;

‘One for thee, one for the body;
homeward now; thy path is safe”’

Now the three, in distant mansion,
round a coffin kneeling sigh,

Kneeling round a little coffin;
and the lid they lift on high.

Now the three with eyes tear-moisten’d,
praising God’s all-gracious might.

On a little corpse are gazing,
which to slumber seems in sight.

Tender is that corpse and lovely;
and its lovely angel gaze

To them, as they look upon it,
silently, but plainly, says:

‘Rightly was I nam’d, and rightly
Wratislaw hath been my name;

‘For in times of desolation,
when my House to ruin came,

‘Through my deed and God’s assistance
glory back return’d and fame.’

  1. Wratislaw: from wrátiti-se, to return, and sláwa, glory.