Poet Lore/Volume 27/Number 1/Songs of the Slave

For other English-language translations of this work, see Songs of the Slave.

Two poems from Čech’s poetry collection Songs of the Slave.


By Svatopluk Cech

Translated from the Bohemian by Otto Kotouc


Slaves.—Good it is to rest the weary body in the light of the moon
’Neath the palms here. Feasting over, our custodian sleeps now;
Sit down ’mongst us, tuneful comrade, and thy sweetly sounding strings tune;
Let thy song reveal the golden thoughts spun in your dreamy brow.

A Slave Girl.—Sing of flowers and stars!

A Young Slave.—Praise sing thou to a maid’s fair form and eye.

Another.—Ring the bells of jest.

An Old Man.—Disclose the deeds of ages long gone by.

The Bard.—Other themes by far today resound through my unhappy soul,
Like the roar and rumble of the storms that o'er the heavens roll.
Far from these are flowery adornment, girlish grace, and heroes’ pride:
Sighs, groans, gnash of teeth and clash of chains now in my themes abide.

Slaves.—Clash of chains is but a common strain to us, yet play and sing;
Subdue thy voice, lest our sleeping lords and guard the whip to you bring.


Of a slave begot, gave
Me birth likewise a slave;
Childhood’s lullaby song
Was but clash of chain,—
Through my life extended
Rusted shackles sounded
Morn till nightfall along
Life’s deserted main.

Scarce felt my nape at length
Youthful power and strength,
Yoke of steel was firmly
Bound about my neck:
Taught to bow my head low,
Kisses did I bestow
On the lash that smote me:
Brow beat earth at beck.

I, a weakly slave, grew
’Mongst my brother serfs true;
Chains for jewels clinked just
At each sister’s side;
And where’er my gaze dwelt
Anger, shame, pain I felt,
As with heads bowed to dust
Slaves dwelt nation wide.

Ill did I bear my fate—
My bond’s music grate,
Chasing from my cabin
All the charm of life.
When with stormy feeling
I sought my lyre’s healing,
In my song accursed, din
Of my chains was rife.

Still my eye would often beam
With a flickering gleam:
I would strain my ear past
Woods and streams along:

I deemed that yon somewhere
Triumphs ’neath the heav’ns there,
Flies our hallo at last,
Freedom’s sunny song.

When my head I would lift,
Low again would it drift;
On in shame and sorrow
Years succession gave.
Clings the yoke still to me
And the eye waits vainly
Dawn’s redemptory glow:
I will die a slave.

My head e’en now bends low,
White locks my temples show;
Hopes no longer attain
Autumn’s riper hue,—
Shackled my hands I know
Cursèd the yoke I’ll never o'erthrow,—
In my grave shall that chain
Rest beside me too.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1926, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 96 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.