Bohemian legends and other poems/To the Memory of the Forty Seven Patriots Executed after the Battle of Bílá Hora, June 21, 1621

[*]TO THE MEMORY

 
OF THE FORTY SEVEN PATRIOTS EXECUTED AFTER THE BATTLE OF BÍLÁ HORA, JUNE 21, 1621.
 

It was all over now, all over now—
The battle had been fought and sadly lost,
The battle of the Bílá Hora lost;
And with it died all freedom and all hope.
From henceforth torture and the hangman’s rope
Should rule, united with the Jesuit power,
To make the poor Bohemians rue the hour
They dared to listen to the Holy Word;
Or gaze upon His face, whom prophets heard
Pronounced to be the very Son of God.
Let there be silence now—or those who laud,
Pray to the Virgin, or the blessed saints,
Or sink in torture, till the body faints,
Broken and torn, and lets the soul escape;
Yea, like a bird caught in a trap escape.
Ah me, that year of sixteen twenty-one,
Saw many an evil, bloody work well done;
The death of those who were the noblest born—
A country ruined, and a land forlorn,
A noble people made a tyrant’s slave,
And their faith hidden in a martyr’s grave,
While priestly darkness filled the laud like night.

It was all over now, all over now—
And shred and torn, the poor Bohemian land
Lay down to die amidst the conqueror’s band,
While all her noblest sons were called to die;
And thanks be unto God, without a sigh
They left this world, for better homes on high.

’Tis said the Emperor Ferdinand had qualms—
Perhaps he knew that death would place the palms
Of martyrdom upon those fearless souls and true,
Who preferred death to lives of bitter rue;
Howe’er it be, he passed a restless night,
Tossing and fuming till the dawn of light,
And then he turned him to his ghostly shade,
Father Lamormain, as one half afraid,
And questioned him, if he could do this thing.
“Without hurt to his conscience, or a sting
Of self-remorse, he could condemn to die,
These men?” To which the Jesuit made reply,
“He was the king and could do as he willed;”
And so he signed the warrant, his mind filled
With the great things a king alone can do.

It was the twenty-first of June; the sun
Rose in its splendor, shining on the land,
And on their faces who would soon have done
With earthly things, that poor devoted band.
Many were there who in the bygone days
Had stood before the throne in royal state.
Many were there who trod in learning’s ways,
Whom God had chosen for a martyr’s fate.
One gazing out upon the rising sun,
Beheld a rainbow shining in the sky,
Called to his brethren, “See our faith hath won
A sign from Heaven. God will see us die,
And from the scaffold we will go to Him,
Who is alone, the only Truth and Way.”
And on their knees they fell and prayed to Him,
Whom they should see this very blessed day.
’Tis sad to think they could not even pray
In peace, but pestered by the Jesuit band,
Their last farewells, they could not even say.
And this, my friends, was by the king’s command.
At length the cannons from the Vyšehrad
Began to fire, that the hour was near,
And meekly praying that God’s staff and rod
Might be their stay, they bid each other “cheer.”
Yea, with calm voice, they said, “Oh, brothers ours,
Ye enter first the paradise of God,
But we will follow in a few more hours.
Oh, tell our Father that His name we laud.”

And those who went to death said, “Have no care;
God’s holy angels will be sent to show
Your souls the way to God, and we shall wear
The wedding garments ere the sun be low.”
The first to die, had been a mighty lord,
Joachim Andreas Šlik, count of Bazan.
Ah, me! ah, me! that fearless soul had soared
With love of country, and the Count Pason,
As patriot and heretic, must die—
And his brave hands be nailed up as a sign,
That henceforth none should ever question why
Their ruler’s voice came from across the Rhine.
He gazed upon the shining sun and said,
“Leave me in peace” (to Jesuit priests that came
To torture his brave soul before it fled),
“The Sun of Righteousness shall rise the same,
In God’s good time, to scatter from our land
The shadows of this world. We will be free.”
And then he knelt upon the wooden stand
And prayed to God that every one could see.
And it is said a radiance not its own
Shone in his face, as there he knelt to pray;
And from the scaffold, to a golden throne,
The count of Pason passed this summer day.
The next to die had walked in learning’s ways
Václav Budoec, well-known throughout the world
For learned books, that sought from out the maze
Of darkness still God’s banner to unfurl.
’Twas he who said with voice that knew no fear,
“I’d rather die than see my country die;
And ye have longed so for our butchery here,
I fain would satisfy you—see me die.”
To which the monks replied, “We fain would show
An erring soul the way to Heaven’s gate.”
Then smilingly he told them, “Is that so?”
Then quickly answer ere it be too late.
With many questions from the Holy Word,
He plied their ears, unwilling of the truth,
And when they could not answer, “I have heard
That ye be asses, now I know ’tis true.”
When called to die he said, “Oh, my white hair,
What honor hath God had in store for thee?

The crown of martyrdom ye soon shall wear;
An endless bliss is mine; I go to thee.”
Then, kneeling down, he prayed unto his God,
Prayed for his country, and for those who sent
His spirit to that kingdom where all laud;
And bowing down his head to God he went.
The next to die was Harant, full of woe,
Not at his death, but that the priests would take
His children in their care, when he was low,
And they their father’s faith must needs forsake.
Perhaps the saddest sight was to behold
Poor Kaplíř, with his crutches, go to death;
And in a touching story we are told
How the old man prepared himself for death.
The pastor, Rosacius, who scorned to live,
And see his brethren die, tells how he went,
And found him in his cell prepared to give
With radiant joy his body old and bent.
“Long I have prayed the Lord,” the old man said,
“To take me from this world of sorrow sore.
And lo! He heard me not, I must be led
To feel some pangs our blessed Saviour bore.
It was His will that with my ninety years
I should go from the scaffold to the throne—
Leave all this misery, all these bitter tears,
And be at rest forever. God alone
Knows in my heart I have no sinful thought,
Nor ever had, ’gainst the dear land I love.
Dear Master, in the faith that you have taught,
I die, and we shall meet above.”
And as he stood, and waited for the call,
Upon his crutches, with his white head bent
In prayer for the souls that unappalled,
With fearless faces, to the scaffold went.
They held him out a pardon; “Would he say
That he had erred, and thereby save his life?”
But sternly the old man said, “Go your way,
Ye devilish tempters, that but seek out strife.
Heaven breaks upon my view, should earth awake
One vain regret? Nay, I am glad to die
A martyr for my land, and my faith’s sake;
Christ will reward me; ’tis to Him I fly.”

Then slowly walking to the fatal block,
The brave old man knelt down upon the floor.
“Oh, Lord, my God, Thou art a very rock,
In times of trouble. Christ, be thou the door
Through which I enter on the life divine.”
The executioner paused, he could not strike
That bowed white head, although the given sign
Was given by the judges all alike.
So then a priest came up and said, “My lord,
In your own way, you have called on your God—
I pray you raise your head on high, my lord,
One moment more and you are with your God.”
Smiling, he raised his head, and it was so.
Ah, me! ah, me! my heart is sad to think
Of all the fearless souls that were laid low,
And sometimes as I pausing stand and think,
On the old city square, I seem to see
The scaffold and the drummers standing round,
And the vast multitude of people like a sea,
Rising now here, now there, with a dull sound
Of cursing on the scene that they behold,
And prayers for the ones about to die,
And curses on the soldiers over bold,
That only laughed to hear the people sigh.
And with a start I wake to see the square,
Silent and lonely in the midday sun.
No matter, honor be to those who dare
Die unto God, although their days be done.
For their remembrance, shall like scattered seed,
Bloom into flowers in some far-off day,
And they with joy unutterable shall lead
Their followers unto Him who is the way.
And He with gracious voice shall say: “Well done,
Ye faithful servants, enter in the joy,
That was prepared for you before the sun;
Enter the peace now that knows no alloy.”

 

^ *From a chronicle published in Amsterdam, 1648. Confiscated by the Austrian government, June 22, 1890.