St. John's Eve (Kochanowski)


When sunbeams forth from Cancer pour,
And sings the nightingale no more,
In Czarny Las, Sobotka fires
Were lighted, as the time requires.

And as the flames burned bright and clear
The guests and household gathered near,
While bagpipes shrilled their melodies
And echoes rang amid the trees.

When all were seated on the green,
Uprose six pairs of maids serene;
As one they were in dress and hair,
And girt with artemisia fair.

Their lovely voices, strong and sweet,
Rivaled in grace their dancing feet,
As round the fire they formed a ring.
And thus the first began to sing.

First MaidenEdit

Sisters, the fire sheds forth its light,
And all await the festive rite;
With joyous voices let us stand
And sing together, hand in hand.

Fair night, across thy jewelled sky,
Let not the darkling storm-clouds fly;
Beneath the stars with frolic gay,
We would await the newborn day.

‘Twas from our mothers’ lips we learned
That fires traditionally burned
Upon this sacred festive night,
And shed o’er all their blessed light.

Children! Your father’s custom heed,
And keep the feast by then decreed;
In pious song your voices raise,
As did the folk in olden days.

This day have men with pleasure filled
From ages past, yet fields were tilled,
And earth produced abundantly,
For God rewards our piety.

Today we toil from morn to night,
And ne’er observe this holy rite,
Yet, though we labor more and more,
We gain of wealth but scanty store.

For sometimes hail comes with the rain,
Or heat-waves parch our fields of grain;
Then Famine stretches forth her hand,
And Poverty stalks o’er the land.

From sun to sun we toil in vain
If we may not God’s blessing gain.
Ye sons of God, ye need his grace
For happy heart and smiling face.

Let us on him cast all our care,
And not alone our sorrows bear;
Revive the joys of yester-year,
And let hope triumph over fear.

Let us this evening celebrate
With all its old accustomed state,
And tend the fires the whole night long,
With joyous melody and song.

Second MaidenEdit

My greatest fault, if it be wrong,
Is fondness for a dance and song;
But, neighbors, I am not to blame,
For do not all girls feel the same?

You smile indulgently at me,
And seem to say that you agree;
Then let us catch the music’s beat
With joyous hearts and skipping feet.

For when we skip we dance with ease,
And it is yet more apt to please
If drums add vigor to the song,
For then our steps can go not wrong.

Ah, now thou mayest win her heart,
My handsome drummer, with thine art,
For all the village sits around,
And in the midst fair maids abound.

What! Silent still! Is she not here–
The maiden to thine heart most dear!
Of course we do not doubt thy word,
But ‘twas not thus the tale we heard.

Be not unhappy! Lend thine aid
To keep our dance from being staid;
Within this group of loveliness
Is one who shall thy heart possess.

I know not how to be forlorn,
Although my friends may grieve and mourn;
The troubled mind, though in its prime,
Will make man age before his time.

But where thought fair and joyous flower,
Good health exerts its magic power;
And though a man advance in years,
Still young and handsome he appears.

Fair chorus, follow, follow me,
And sing your song right merrily!
But thou whose turn comes after this,
Take care thy chance thou do not miss!

Third MaidenEdit

Fair chorus, follow, follow me,
And sing your song right merrily!
For ‘tis my turn to lead the dance,
And I am loath to miss my chance.

Alone of all created things
Has man the joy that laughter brings,
While birds and beasts lack power to show
The mirth and happiness we know.

He who disdains God’s gifts and care
Is surely mad beyond compare;
And may he shed a bitter tear,
To whom kind thoughts are never dear.

So let us laugh with careless glee,
Though no more cause than this there be,
That, while I speak in senseless jest,
I wish that you may laugh with zest.

Come forth, thou who hast dragged the cat;
Forsake the fence where thou hast sat:
Tonight thou canst have naught to fear,
For thou art far from water here.

Another now will take thy place,
Though thou didst merit the disgrace:
Poor yokel, thou wast not astute
To tease a beast of such repute.

Some timid men, in anguish dire,
Flee from a cat through deepest mire,
While others almost die of fear
Whene’er its ghostly voice they hear.

Although thou stroke its soft sleek fur,
It still is fierce and will not purr;
In peace ‘tis bad, in quarrels worse,
And always is its neighbors’ curse.

Although it fall from roof and fence,
Its luck is still its sure defense;
And lads of feline wit possessed
In trials of love are counted best.

And great indeed its fame should be,
That it the future can foresee;
Its reputation to maintain
It washes just before a rain.

Besides, it hunts with great success,
And many deeds does not confess;
It sleeps by day and prowls by night,
And asks no aid in hunt or fight.

This life well suits a cat’s desire,
But thou shouldst never rouse its ire;
And some one in this group, I vow,
Is thinking of a wager now.

Fourth MaidenEdit

For whom have I, with tender care,
Prepared this wreath of blossoms fair?
For thee, my love, whom I adore
As ne’er I loved a lad before.

Entwine thy charming brow, I pray,
With this, my dainty garland gay,
And in thine heart my image hold
While me alone thy thoughts enfold.

Each fleeting moment, day and night,
Thy memory doth my heart delight;
And so enshrined thou art, it seems,
I weave thee garlands in my dreams.

My hope, my life, rest all on thee,
That thou, in turn, mayst care for me;
Ah sweet, scorn not my tender vow,
But with thy love my heart endow!

As thorns surround each fragrant rose,
Sad fears my loving heart enclose,
For all the other maidens here
Know what is beautiful and dear.

Sisters, I pray –ah, hear my prayer!—
That I may not this sorrow bear,
To be thus cruelly harmed in this
On which I pin my hopes of bliss.

For any other grief or pain
You soon would my forgiveness gain,
But she who seeks my love to take
Of me a bitter foe will make.

Fifth MaidenEdit

My comrades, hear me, I protest!
From Szymek’s vow have I no rest;
He smiles and steps upon my shoe,
And murmurs that his love is true.

Szymek, if that could only be,
I should rejoice most heartily;
But teasing is thy greatest joy,
When some shy maid thou dost annoy.

That role thou takest as thine own,
And it is left to thee alone,
For thou dost know the maiden heart,
And how to cast thy venom dart.

Who would not wed, with great delight,
A man so pleasing to the sight?
Let one but hope to win his glance,
And maiden eyes with laughter dance.

I, too, once had a guileless mind,
And trusted vows both fair and kind;
But now I know thy words and deeds
Have no more worth than useless weeds.

To me thou chattest with a smile,
But tread’st on Mary’s shoe the while;
I think thou art the prince of lies,
And such a man I do despise!

Do not too much thy ways defend,
For people on thy words depend;
And thou wilt not increase thy fame
By making them think me to blame.

Sixth MaidenEdit

Hot, sultry days are drawing near;
The dusty fields are parched and sere;
The cricket chirps with all his might,
Bathed in the red sun’s burning light.

The fainting cattle seek the shade
Beside the stream in yonder glade,
And herdsmen with their pipes arouse
The echoes in the leafy boughs.

The rye has ripened in the field,
And by its golden hue revealed
That harvest time is here again,
Quick! Plunge your sickles in the grain!

For winter wheat the sickles keep,
The scythe the summer grain will reap.
Ye youths, bring up the sheaves of rye;
Let others fill the ricks on high.

Beloved master, thou shalt wear
A harvest wreath upon thy hair
When all the rye stalks low are laid
Beneath the scythe’s bright, curving blade.

When we have gathered all the grain,
Yet rest from toil we shall not gain
Till we the lofty stack have raised:
Then God must for his gifts be praised.

At that time, guest, with me abide,
When friendly barns doors open wide;
And if thou here my guest will be,
‘Twill give me leave to visit thee.

Seventh MaidenEdit

In vain I seek thee in this throng;
Thou in the meadows dost belong,
For wild beasts thou wouldst rather slay
Than dance or drink till break of day.

And I, though I desired to smile,
Could scarcely my sad thoughts beguile
With cheer, because where’er I be,
My heart doth always yearn for thee.

Meanwhile I should prefer to roam
In forests dense, though far from home,
To be thy trusted comrade dear;
For I could hunt if though wert near.

To what pursuits may love not lead?
In hunting I, too, shall succeed,
And learn to overtake the hare
When tracked by dogs unto the lair.

And when thy hunting nets are set,
If, to my sorrow and regret,
My loving aid thou dost not need,
Thy leash of hounds may I not lead?

No hawthorn hedge or thicket grove
Shall bar my path where thou dost rove;
In winter frost and summer heat
Thy man’s strength cannot me defeat.

My hunter, either soon return
Unto thy home, where hearth-fires burn,
Or I shall follow thee, nor heed
The dangers where thy path may lead.

Eighth MaidenEdit

My toiling oxen, let us go
Unto yon grove, whence cool springs flow
O’er verdant meadows long aloof
From ringing scythe or crushing hoof.

Here shall ye gaze, nor dream of fear,
While I, with watchful care, rest near,
Or while away the passing hours
In plucking yonder wind-swept flowers.

These brilliant blossoms, bathed with dew,
I weave on bark of silvery hue,
Select each flower with loving care
And twine my brow with circlet fair.

Ye youths and maidens, pray entreat
Me not, then, for my garland sweet:
‘Twas for myself my fingers wove
And fashioned this fair crown of love

In sorrow I recall the wreath
I did but yesterday bequeath;
No promise held the flowery band,
Yet ardently they seek my hand.

My toiling oxen, let us go
Unto this grove, whence waters flow
O’er meadows kept for you aloof
From ringing scythe or crushing hoof.

Ninth MaidenEdit

My too abundant tears increase
From hidden woes that never cease;
The chained prisoner yet sings
And to his sad heart comfort brings.

The sailor sings, though winds severe,
Bear him to strange lands far and near;
And, almost fainting from his toil,
The plowman sings and tills the soil.

The nightingale pours forth her song
With joy, and yet, an ancient wrong,
Though hidden deep, will never fade,
For lo! This bird was once a maid.

She lived with other maidens fair,
A gentle maid of beauty rare;
But this to her brought only harm,
For every man loves beauty’s charm.

Thou faithless, evil, murderous king,
When to thy wife thou wast to bring
Her sister, thou didst lead the maid
Alone into the forest shade.

Her tongue thou didst remove in vain;
For all her tale of grief and pain
That she might to her sister send,
With blood on linen cloth she penned
Seek not thy conduct to excuse –
Thy wife may justly thee accuse;
On greedy beasts lay not the blame
That rests upon thy passion’s flame.

If thou art hungry, take thy seat;
Thou shalt be fed with worthy meat:
Thy wife hath boiled thy son for thee–
Thy guilt can never pardoned be!

Thou knowest, not, king, on what kind
Of food and relish thou hast dined;
Thee, greedy man, thy sins enmesh,
For lo! Thou eatest thine own flesh.

And when he had been richly fed,
They brought him, as dessert, the head;
He dropped the cup, his dark face paled,
And fear his noisy tongue assailed.

His wife asks, rising from her seat,
“How likest thou this kind of meat?
This fit reward thy crime has won,
Thou faithless king, grave of thy son!”

Towards her he springs, as this he learns,
But to a crested hoopoo turns;
While she becomes a swallow grey,
And through the window takes her way.

And that fair maiden, sad and pale,
Was turned into a nightingale;
And now her sweet voice brings delight
To weary travellers at night.

Our land, for which to God give praise,
Has other customs, other ways;
Since Poland habited has been,
Such marvels never have been seen.

But nothing seems my pain to ease;
And, were it not my aim to please,
I now should weep instead of sing,
Although my song the tears might bring.

Tenth MaidenEdit

And so, my love, thou wouldst not heed,
Though I with fervent prayer did plead;
In vain I shed my bitter tears
And mournfully bewailed my tears.

Yet heedless thou didst ride away
And leave me here unhappy, yea
In bitter sorrow, which must be
My soul’s torment eternally.

May he who first called men to war
Endure grim tortures evermore;
And he as well whose fertile mind
Gave deadly firearms to mankind!

How stupidly in gruesome fight
Men seek for Death’s eternal night.
When she, unsought, gives every man
No more allotted span!

But oh! If I were free to stand
By thee amidst the warrior band,
I too would be in armor bright!
Death be to him who fears the fight!

Be thou so staunch and unafraid
That Death’s grim glance thou mayst evade;
So may I not in sorrow die,
With blinding tears and tortured cry.

The vow of love which thou didst make
I pray thou wilt ne’er forsake.
Bring it and thy sweet self to me;
No other gift I wish from thee.

Eleventh MaidenEdit

Sweet minstrel, take thy lute, we pray,
And sing to us a tender lay;
With many a gentle sigh confess
Thy Dorothea’s loveliness.

“Unrivalled Dorothea fair,
Thou art the golden coin so rare;
Thou art the moon among the stars,
Whose radiance their pale beauty mars.

“The rich profusion of thy locks
The birch tree’s shimmering tresses mocks,
And on thy lily face there glows
The blushing beauty of the rose.

“Thy brow is gleaming marble rare,
Thy nose of purest outline fair,
Thine eyes twin pools of darkness deep
Beneath thine eyebrows’ dusky sweep.

“Thy lips of polished coral seem,
Thy teeth with pearly whiteness gleam;
Of thy soft throat, thy rounded breast,
And snowy hands I sing with zest.

“My heart glows with the pleasant lure
Of thy fair words and accents pure;
And when thy lips meet mine, I swear
Three days the sweetness lingers there.

”A goddess in the dance thou are,
Of noble grace, and every heart
Pays tribute to thy modest air,
Which is as sweet as it is rare.

“O’er many hearts thou long hast reigned,
But me thou ever hast disdained:
Wherefore my lute, with vibrant string,
Shall far and near thy beauty sing.”

Twelfth MaidenEdit

Fair village, peaceful, and yet gay,
What words can thy quaint charms convey?
Who without effort can recall
All thy delights, both great and small?

The man who lives amid thy care
In life is just, in dealings fair;
His pious efforts on him rain
Abundant, honorable gain.

Some men spend weary lives at court,
Or sail the seas from port to port,
Where storms pursue from day to day,
And death is never far away.

One man may give his tongue for gold,
And freely is his counsel sold;
While some with blood their honor stain,
And risk their very lives for gain.

The plowman thrusts his plowshare bright
Into the earth from morn till night;
Thus for his household he provides,
And for his flocks and herds besides.

For him their fruit the orchards yield,
For him the bees their combs have sealed;
For him the flocks of sheep are shorn,
And many lambs his pens adorn.

He mows the meadow and the field
And to the barn conveys the yield;
Soon, also, when the grain is sown,
We gather round the broad hearthstone.

There straightway will be merry song,
There will be riddles hard and long;
There we shall dance, till break of day,
The cenar and the goniony gay.

The farmer, with his net in hand,
At night goes hunting o’er his land,
Or sets his snares within the wood;
And ever finds his luck is good.

He lines the stream with traps thick-set,
Or fishes with a hook and net;
And birds dart from the trees near by,
Each uttering its joyous cry.

The flocks beside the river graze,
While in the shade the shepherd plays
Upon his pipe such simple airs
That dancing Fauns desert their lairs.

Meanwhile the busy wife with zeal
Gives heed unto the evening meal,
And has at home such vast supplies
That she at market never buys.

She numbers at the close of day
The herd that homeward winds its way;
The ropes she looses like a man,
And helps her husband all she can.

The grandchildren, as is most fit,
To elder heads their lives submit,
And thus no false ambitions gain,
While modest virtues they retain.

The sun, which now is in the east,
Its daily journey would have ceased
Before my voice could utter all
The village joys both great and small.

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