Poet Lore/Volume 27/Number 6/Evening Songs

For other English-language translations of this work, see Evening Songs (Hálek).

EVENING SONGS

By Vítězslav Hálek

Translated from the Bohemian by Otto Kotouc

 

I

 

“Unmeet it is for man to lack
In song,” once God in judgment spake,
Created man a poet then,
And bade him this allotment take:

“So long as thou liv’st know no peace,
But only learn of pain instead;
And disappointed too in hope,
In tears eat thou thy daily bread.

“Torn be thy heart and bled from wounds,
But thyself only see thy bleeding;
Though hounded over every bound,
Love thou but all the more and sing.”

It is us singers’ common lot,
The world may only know our songs,
To know what prompted us to sing,
To none within this world belongs.

 

II

 

O Lord, of every claim to gift
I have, my soul here now I free;
But leave to me the gift of song,
That only do I beg of thee.

If thou shouldst take my gift to sing,
Naught longer then is life to me;
And gav’st me Fortune for my song,
I care not fortunate to be.

 

III

 

Whoever plays with golden strings,
Him honor more than thyself even;
For know that God did love thee so,
He needs must send him thee from heaven.

’Tis terrible when plague and want
To God’s chastisement must belong;
Of punishments the greatest though,
Is when a nation lacks in song.

That race indeed has yet to die,
That had its prophets still to sing;
And every song that’s born in heaven
In even death new life doth bring.

 

IV

 

Cast ye not stones at your prophets,
For like the birds bards are alone:
They never will return to him
Who casts at them a stone.
A nation seeks God’s punishment
When unrevered its bards it wrongs;
And direst is the curse of God,
Whenever he withdraws his songs.

A poet’s heart is truly pure,
And likewise from all wrath apart
And from his heart whate’er he sings,
That carry thou within thy heart.

 

V

 

A hundred years passed ’ere I came
Upon the grave that once was mine;
The sexton sang my song and piled
My bones with others in that shrine.

“O sexton, find for me that heart
From which you snatched the song you sing!”
The sexton wondered long and sought,
Save bones he could not find a thing.

Then from his grave he rose and spake:
“That, sir, with us no difference makes,
Ten hearts can’st thou perchance possess,
The grave wastes all of them it takes.”

He finishes digging, and I sighed:
“O heart of mine, there thou didst end.”
The sexton as consoling adds,
“When hearts stop song, so all doth tend.”

 
Copyright.svg PD-icon.svg This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.
Original:

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

 
Translation:

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.


The author died in 1973, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 30 years or less. This work may also 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.