Konrad Wallenrod (1882)
by Adam Mickiewicz, translated by Maude Ashurst Biggs
The Election
Adam Mickiewicz1232622Konrad Wallenrod — The Election1882Maude Ashurst Biggs

The Election

In towers of Marienbourg[1] the bells are ringing,
The cannon thunder. loud, the drums are beating.
This in the Order is a solemn day.
The Komturs hasten to the capital,
Where, gathered in the chapter's conclave, they,
The Holy Spirit invoked, take counsel who
Is worthiest to bear the mighty sword,—
Into whose hands may they confide the sword?
One day, and yet another flowed away
In council; many heroes there contend.
And all alike of noble race, and all
Alike deserving in the Order's cause.
But hitherto the brethren's general voice
Placed Wallenrod the highest over all.

A stranger he, in Prussia all unknown,
But foreign houses of his fame were full.[2]
Following the Moors upon Castilian sierras,
The Ottoman through ocean's troubled waves,
In battle at the front, first on the wall,
To grapple vessels of the infidel
The first; and in the tourney, soon as he
Entered the lists and deigned his visor raise,

None dared with him the strife of keen-edged
By one accord the victor's garland yielding.
But not alone amid Crusading hosts
He with the sword had glorified his youth;
For many Christian graces him adorn,
Poverty, humbleness, of earth disdain.

But Konrad shone not in the courtly crowd
By polished speech, by well-turned reverence;
Nor e'er his sword for vile advantage sold
To service of disputing barons. He
Had consecrated to the cloister walls
His youthful years; all plaudits he disdained,
And ruler's place, even higher, sweeter meeds.
Nor minstrel's hymn, nor beauty's fair regard
Could speak to his cold spirit. Wallenrod
Listens unmoved to praise, and looks afar
On lovely cheeks, enchanting discourse flies.

Had Nature made him thus unfeeling, proud?
Or age? For albeit young in years, his locks
Were grey already, withered were his looks,
And sufferings sealed by age.—Twere hard to guess.
He would at times divide the sports of youth,

Or listen, pleased, to sound of female tongues,
To courtiers' jests reply with other jests;
Or scatter unto ladies courteous words
With chilly smile, as dainties cast to children—
These were rare moments of forgetfulness;—
And speedily some light, unmeaning word,
That had no sense for others, woke in him
Passionate stirrings. These words: Fatherland,
Duty, Beloved,—the mention of Crusades,
And Litwa, all the mirth of Wallenrod
 Instantly poisoned. Hearing them, again
He turned away his countenance, again
Became to all around insensible.
And buried him in thoughts mysterious.
Maybe, remembering his holy call,
He would forbid himself the sweets of earth;
The sweets of friendship only did he know.
One only friend had chosen to himself,
A saint by virtue and by holy state.
This was a hoary monk; men called him Halban.
He shared the loneliness of Wallenrod;
He was alike confessor of his soul.
And of his heart the trusted confidant
O blessed friendship! saint is he on earth.
Whom friendship with the holy ones unites.

Thus do the leaders of the Order's council
Discourse of Konrad's virtues. But one fault
Was his,—for who may spotless be from faults?
Konrad loved not the riots of the world,
Nor mingled Konrad in the drunken feast.
Though truly, in his secret chamber locked,
When weariness or sorrow tortured him,
He sought for solace in a burning draught;
And then he seemed a new form to indue,
And then his visage pallid and severe
A sickly red adorned, and his large eyes,
Erst heavenly blue, but somewhat now by time
Dulled and extinguished, shot the lightnings forth
Of ancient fires, while sighs of grief escape
From forth his breast, and with the pearly tear
The laden eyelid swells; the hand the lute
Seeks, the lips pour forth songs; the songs are sung
In speech of a strange land, but yet the hearts
Of the hearers understand them. 'Tis enough
To list that grave-like music, 'tis enough
The singer's form to contemplate, to see
Memory's inspiration on that face.
To view the lifted brows and sideward looks,
Striving to snatch some object from deep darkness.
What may the hidden thread be of the songs?

He tracketh surely, in this wandering chase,
In thought his youth through deep gulfs of the past.
Where is his soul?—In the land of memories!

But never did that hand in music's impulse
Mere joyful tones from out the lute evoke ;
And still it seemed his countenance did fear
Innocent smiles, even as deadly sins.
All strings he strikes in turn, one string except—
Except the string of mirth;—the hearer shares
All feelings with him,—one excepted—hope!

Not seldom him the brethren have surprised,
And marvelled at his unaccustomed change.
Konrad, aroused, did writhe himself and rage.
Had cast away the lute and ceased to sing.
He spoke out loudly impious words; to Halban
Whispered some secret things; called to the host,
Gave forth commands, and uttered dreadful threats.
On whom they knew not. All their hearts were
Old Halban tranquil sits, and on the face
Of Konrad drowns his glance,—a piercing glance.
Cold and severe, full of some secret speech.

Something he may recall, some counsel give,
Or waken grief in heart of Wallenrod,
Whose cloudy brow at once is calm again,
His eyes forego their fires, his rage is cool.

Thus when, in public sport, the lionward,
Before assembled lords, and dames, and knights,
Unbars the grating of the iron cage.
The trumpet signal given, the royal beast
Growls from his deep breast, horror falls on alL
Alone his keeper moveth not a step,
Folds tranquilly upon his breast his hands,
And smites with power the lion,—by the eye.
With talisman of an undying soul
Unreasoning strength in bonds he doth control.