Bohemian legends and other poems/Dalibor



A Bohemian legend of the fifteenth century.


What is the meaning of this haste,
And stir, within the castle gate?
What means these servants, standing pale,
These men-at-arms that silent wait?
And wherefore are these faggots piled,
To burn a sinner, or a saint?
Think you we have forgotten Huss
Dream you Bohemian hearts are faint?

Look, look, upon the winding road
Come men-at-arms in goodly tale;
And down the mountain side they come,
Come streaming in from every vale.
What is the meaning of all this,
And wherefore are we called this day?
Lord Dalibor, our mighty lord,
It seems, has something new to say.

For whom these faggots? Say perchance,
To burn our Huss’ judges on?
Ah, that would be a royal day—
Pile on, you fellows, quick, pile on.”
Hush! hush!” the heralds trumpet loud,
Our lord stands on the castle wall;
A nobler lord was never born,
Shout loud, you fellows by the wall.”

And when at length a silence fell,
The noble lord stood forth and spake:
Bring now the family records old,
And all the things that pride awake;

Bring forth the quarterings, painted fine,
The emblems of my noble race,
And throw them on that burning pile;
There let them burn before my face.”

Silent he stood, with sad, stern face,
And watched the flames that rose on high.
Here I lay low all worldly pride,
I longing but for my land to die.
Is any here that I have wronged,
Or burdened in my lordly right,
I beg him to forgive me now—
Let me go blameless in the fight.”

The multitude in silence stood;
They watched the mighty flames rise high.
Then all at once their lord’s voice said:
Oh, brothers mine, now let us die;
Come, let us die for this our land,
Down-trodden ’neath the German yoke;
Come, let us die for this our faith.”
Shouts drown his voice as thus he spoke.

No earthly flag, but this the Chalice,
Shall lead us on, in battle’s roar;
I am no noble, but a friend
Whose right it is to go before.
Take horses, weapons, to your fill—
Come, let us march against the foe.
Long live Bohemia, our dear land,
God’s praise we’ll sing as forth we go.”

At these brave words a deaf’ning shout
Came from that multitude of men:
Long live our brother Dalibor,
The leader of Bohemian men.”
And soon they were upon the plain,
And fearless met the angry foe.
God gave the victory to their hands;
Their enemies were stricken low.

The banner with the Chalice cup
Was crowned with many a laurel bough,
And day by day their numbers grew.
The Lord of battles, He knows how

That the Bohemian nation rose,
Without a fear, to do His will;
They were content for Him to die,
And for their land their blood to spill.

The royalists were beaten hard;
They fled before the Hussite band.
Once more one heard the Hussite song
Resound through the Bohemian land.
One morning in the distant west
A warrior came, of features cold;
He begged to be allowed to fight;
He said he was a warrior bold.

He spake they “were a godless set,”
Those royalists from where he came,
And offered to show Dalibor
A way to victory, and to fame.
They were to steal away at night
Along a path that he would show;
Thus easily the royal band
They could strike down with one quick blow.

Alas! alas! that Dalibor
Did listen to that lying tongue;
Ah me! he led them all to death,
And dungeon cell, as bards have sung;
And Dalibor was led in chains,
And shut in Hradčan’s dismal tower.
Oft by the loophole he would sit,
Unconscious of the passing hour.

One day he said, “Oh, jailer mine,
Thou seest I will soon be dead;
I pray thee by thy father’s ghost,
I pray thee by thy blessed dead;
Oh, give me but a violin,
That I may ease my breaking heart.
It cannot harm thee, jailer mine,
And it will soothe my bitter part.”

The jailer was a kindly man,
He let the prisoner have his way;
And all night long, poor Dalibor
Upon his instrument did play.

’Tis said, he played with wondrous skill;
From far and wide the people came;
They used to stand by Hradčan’s walls,
And speak of Dalibor and fame.

They listened, and they wept aloud;
They listened, and their blood would boil;
For in that simple song they heard
The anthem of their native soil.
The mountains caught it wailing back,
A song so strange, they shuddering heard;
The river took it, bore it back,
With a strange murmur that allured.

Each day the crowd became more dense,
To listen to that music wild;
They spake of country, and of God
They said the man was good and mild.
One day King Ladislav rode by;
He eyed them with a cruel look,
And when at length the cause he knew,
With rage and wrath he fairly shook.

He ordered that the violin
Should broken be on dungeon wall,
And laughingly he went next day,
And sneering said, “What can befall?”
But lo! beneath dark Hradčan’s wall
The people stand, and listening hear
The anthem of their native land,
Played by a hand that knows no fear.

Then, white with rage, the king said, “Kill
The man that dares to play that lay.”
And soon the bloody head was seen
But still the hand unseen did play.
The people, with a shuddering dread,
Knocked down the guards, and onward rushed;
They only found the broken wood—
The body, from which the blood gushed.

But still the hand unseen doth play.
The anthem of their native land.
And even now by Hradčan’s walls,
Some say, that still a magic hand
Is heard to play, when patriots high
Beneath the ramparts sadly stray.
’Tis said, that those who once have heard
Can ne’er forget that haunting lay.