Songs of the Slav/Songs of the Slave

Songs of the Slav  (1919)  translated by Otto Kotouč
Songs of the Slave by Svatopluk Čech


Svatopluk Čech


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 to-day 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.


Well then, burst through lips obstructing,
Storms, that through my bosom roll,
Thoughts, that flash like rays of lightning
Through the darkness of my soul,
Fire of Shame and Wrathful Teeming,
Rouse my string from idle dreaming
And its heavy swoon control!

Hatched my songs not in a nest weighed
With scented tresses softly pressed,
Warmed them not the heart of maid
Dreaming sweetly on my breast.
Flashed were they through weary head
When 'neath haughty blows of fists, red
Flushed the cheek with blood compressed.

Yea of blood and tears and gall,
When times were bad, they were born;
When I saw the tyrant install
Tortures on my brothers forlorn;
When I gnashed my teeth in vain

As the brutal beadle in disdain
Laughed at us suffering and worn.

I know there'll be no gratitude,
I know many of you will say,
In the tortured creaking rude
There's no art or beauty's lay,
Above troubled turmoil's time
Should the singer strive to climb,
To the sunny height's clear way.

'Tis the truth perhaps, but freely
How may soar one to the sky,
When on breast he feels painfully
Heavy night's hobgoblin lie?
No other strain with me abides
Until storm in soul subsides;
Sing no other strain can I.


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 heck.

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 hollow 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
Curséd the yoke I'll never o'erthrow,—
In my grave shall that chain
Rest beside me too.


Oft here and there freedom is an empty name,
And liberty a hollow, idle sound;
Yet day by day 'mongst us feels this watchword same
Each heart with stormy throb anew rebound;
Where'er one's gaze doth fall, 'tis writ in fire there,
And round about eternally it peals;
Each morn we breathe a sigh for this our first care,
At night our final prayer with it deals.

Whene'er the boundless sea draws us from afar,
And free the wind doth toss our locks apart;
Whene'er the steeds that roam the plain, know no bar,
With flowing mane on the horizon start;
Whene'er before our gaze proud soars the eagle
And flaps his wings in bluey heights above:
The fettered hand the while then shakes its shackle,
And quivering the lips with "Freedom" move.

O Freedom, like a wondrous myth art thou borne
Enchantingly to us from times now wan:
Dim as an echo of paradise forlorn
That sleeps concealed within the heart of man.
Our spirit grown with chains in one scarce trusts too
That more than rumors could these tidings be,
That what in yonder distance dawns was true,
That we were once a nation of the free.

Thou didst appear within the tales of childlore
A shining fairy with a star above
Whene'er the grandsire read chronicles of yore;
Wast thou and thou alone youth's own true love,
Thy sunny gaze did ever before him beam,
And dreams of thee his martial moments filled;
For thee his shining sword he drew in dream,
In dream his warmest blood for thee he spilled.

In slav'ry's night wast thou a star to man,
Though far, though unattainable, alas!
'Twas thou that through his thoughts forever ran,

The goal of all his hopes to thee did pass;
And as a promised land beckst thou afar
The head that's gray, when wrapped o'er chains in dream;
And e'en on dying eyes earth's last rays are
United with thee in a twinkling gleam.

O Freedom, let be that with lapse of time came
Thy name to lose its tone, once pure a part;
Let greedy egoists desecrare thy name
Who must suspend thy emblem in their mart;
Let be that slanderers of true liberty
Weave thee upon their flag in false acclaim;
And those who at length escape the yoke, wildly
Then throttle other nations in thy name:

To hold thee ever pure in our hearts we seek,
Taught constantly thy fuller worth to know
Through rain of blows, the sting on the sunken cheek,
And rapacious hands that grasp all from us so.
The blows that day by day are dealt with lash,
The thorns that daily pierce our brow,—all see
Each after each through the soul thy image flash,
And from the depths the sigh wells, "Liberty."

O Freedom, daily, thy opposite beneath,
We learn thy full and lustrous charm to admire,
In that hollow moan, in the gnash of teeth
With which we gnaw our bit our life entire.

When foreign heel can trample our nape in dust
And every comer scorn and torture deals,
The lips are closed 'neath hangman's lash unjust,
Though through the heart storm's longing. "Freedom," peals!


When dark above the earth the piling clouds clash
Lilte raging hosts of Satan in array,
Their shields with thunder peal and fiery swords flash,
Then forth on high my fettered hands I lay:

Rise up, O Storm, in all your horror and might,
The elements' eternal rage awake!
Let earth be tumbled down in ruin, fire, night;
The sea and rivers' flloods the lowlands take!

Whate'er our master's is, destroy speedily,
Tear soil with waves, the meads to wastes condemn,
Shake blossom from its branch and fruit from palm tree,
Break, fell, disroot with might each graceful stem!

Burst high his golden dome with muffled pealings,
Consume the master's stately home with fire,
With raining gravel of his marble ceilings
Crush low the tyrant and his hosts of hire!

May foe with wrathful elements too unite,
And round with steel and fire-brand rage and rend,
Let be who will, success attend still his fight:
Our lord's assassin then will be our friend!


Our master too designed for us our god,
And even bids us to believe
That god had placed within his hands the rod,
Our arms within their bonds did leave.
Abase yourselves, O bow yourselves,
Before the Lord of starry dome!
Abase yourselves, O bow yourselves,
Before the lord of earthly home!
Humility, obedience,
Alone heaven's gates will open;
And for the master reverence,
Is the soul's most precious token.

Humanity's noblest feeling, perchance,
Is thus within the slaver's grace;
Within his God's eternal countenance
Is carved his domineering face.
His priests too in adulation
With stooping backs his praises say
In song and in emulation.
They are the pillar of his sway:
Upon each head destruction send
That will but raise itself more free,
And his success with prayers attend,
And bless his rod in piety.

The lips of a pious prophet once taught
Equality of all men,
And shattering the chains of a slave sought
To bind all with love's bonds then.
But his disciple's cunning clan
Upset his laws and his command,
Extols to us the sacred plan,
Although coerced its legal stand,
Rejoices with its filthy gain
Along with friendly lord's acclaim,
And so it consecrates the chain,
Mockingly, in the Master's name.

O God of ours, Thou our true God, give heed!
Thou God of slaves that are poor,
Who decks His altars not with gold indeed,
Nor priests in silken vesture;
Who reigns in nature's own beauty
And in the heart-throbs of the simple,
Thou, O great God of Liberty,
Lift up Thy hand so powerful,
Release us from our ancient shackles,
Raise high our heads up from the dust,
And to the world in Freedom’s temples,
Proclaim Thy laws so true and just!


I stand at dusk upon a cliff, 'gainst which mid rumble of rain
And smoke is dashed in roaring spray the water's vast hurricane.
Just as a bird that seeks in vain for rest the isle's seclusion,
My gaze dips gloomin in mists, of clouds and waves confusion
Which dark extends ahead into unbounded space and which teems
Belike a witches' caldron with waterspouts and seething streams.

As here I stand and backward gaze, in slav'ry groans the land there;
l gaze ahead, there the threatening elements mad strife prepare.
A tempest wild draws nigh; e'en now blows the wind my locks about,
While the voices of the storm my chain’s eternal clash o'ershout.
But I those fettered hands forth to the coming deluge extend,
And my cheeks, like maids on kisses bent, to the lashing winds I lend:
Welcome, storm. Your ghastly sight but promises redemption only,
And in your rumble and roar, 'tis freedom's song saluting me.

And now suddenly a sparkling mist begins to fill my eyes;
I feel how my throbbing temples burn with sudden fire; how rise
From my bosom to my trembling lips fantastic murmurings,
And how my soul soars to future realms on thought's prophetic wings.
There's a twinkling, glimmering, dawn, beyond that mass of clouds and spray,
Just as if through them were breaking forth the heavy birth of day.
The angry sea clothes itself in a ruddy, weirdly beauteous glow,
As if in the broad water's stead blood and only blood did flow.
The lengthy crests of monstrous waves, rain dashed into spray anew,
Raging waterspouts and bursting clouds,—all are a bloody hue;
And crash and din deafen the ear, as when in the battle's fray
Clash countless spears and lances of raving armies without array.
But anon the drumming of the storm grows still, the seething ceases,
The sun's golden shield, peeping from the rosy vapors, increases.
Victorious day tends the clouds and mists in flowing tatters,
Just as in flying fringe are tom the battle-worn banners.

The scattered hosts of darkness flee; silent grows the stormy scene;
Blue is the sky, blue is the sea, gold the atmosphere between.

But what do I behold? A new strand there. The sun's smiling form
Of coming years illumines another world reborn from the storm.
And you palm's gorgeous growth of green, glistening with fruit of gold,
Surveys its pleasing charms in the deep blue water's peaceful fold.
The country round with 'bundance beams—blossom, grain and grape of vine;
And there in gratitude urgent work and merry song combine.
All hands are free from letters, pleasant is the laborer's brow,
Nowhere custodian with whip, nor sleek the slaveholder now;
Nowhere glistens the savage soldier's lance and spear, nor appear
The white folds of the Brahman's robe hypocritically near;
Nowhere is writ in colors diverse the mark of caste,
'Tis the happy native land of brothers equal and free at last.

Peacefully in those throngs are mingled diverse speech and color,
The beggar does not wind in rags, nor wastes his wealth the idler;
Gone are the wretched huts, tidy homes though plain are everywhere;
And where a stately palace proudly towers to the skies, not there
Is a haughty egoist's abode, opens wide its gates to all;
The people's parliament deliberates free their rise and fall;
From there the glow of knowledge spreads about a benevolent light,
Ennobling the human feelings, there in art soul finds delight.—
The clash of chains has wakened me, the beautiful dream is effaced,
So sadly interchanged, by the present shame and woe replaced.—

But no! 'Twas not a mere illusion of my o'eryearning dream.
I know that the morning star of those better days will yet gleam;
That the greater part of that vision’s splendor will be fulfilled,
Though from my aged neck to shake the yoke, I shall not be willed.
My silvery gray head will bow unto the dust of a slave;

Slaves too will cast the handful of earth to my fetters in my grave.
But, you, O younger comrades, ere your course shall know time no more,
You shall ascend with happy tread upon freedom's sunny shore.
Then may the rude fist with whip around about in darkness reign.
But let each cherish faithfully for the future that blessed refrain;
Let all minds be united by the bond of our great endeavor,
And till time bids thee to action, gather your forces together;
All peoples free shall fraternize, the bonds of slaves will fall,
And our flag too, O brothers, will wave in the clear heights o'er all.

 This work is a translation and has a separate copyright status to the applicable copyright protections of the original content.


This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.


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 1973, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 49 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.