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Cheskian Anthology/Karel Sudimír Šnaidr

Karel Sudimír Šnaidr.

 

Born 1766.

 
K. S. ŠNAIDR (in German Schneider) is one of the liveliest and most humorous of the bohemian poets. He had some reputation as a writer of german verse, at a time when the language and literature of Bohemia appeared rapidly hastening to decay. But he abandoned the teutonic field to labor in that of Slavonia, and he has received marks of distinction as a poet in his vernacular tongue, which never honored, and never would have honored him, as a german writer. Doubtless the true instrument of poetry is the language taught us in childhood—the language in which alone the finer shades of sentiment and passion can find appropriate expression. Šnaidr has gracefully expressed himself on this subject (in his Okus, p. 138) in a poem which he calls Labutj zpěw—or the Swan-song.
 

Běda! že se mi tak pozdě

Můza česká wygewila!

Že mne teprw na okragi

Hrobu zpěwcem včinila:

Že až na mé márý ze swých

Wenných růži wěnec dáwá

O mky, giž w temný saumrak

Na rozchodnou mnē podáwá!

 

 
Alas! that the bohemian muse

Should call so late upon the singer,

When on the borders of the grave,

A little while his footsteps linger.

 

She brings a wreath to deck my bier,

When years all mortal hopes dissever,

And beckons to detain me here,

When evening shades grow thick for ever.

 

Šnaidr is now justiciarius in Smidar.

 

Pospěsste sem pacholátka.

 

 

THE BELL.

 

 

From a popular superstition.

 

1.

 
Come hither, youths! and in your train

Your maidens bring:

The old man o'er his hoary lyre,

Old songs will sing.

The spirits of departed days

Again appear;

And sounds re-echo'd from the past,

Burst on his ear.

 

Near Hrub-Kozoged's village stream,

An ancient well,

Has held from immemorial time,

A hidden bell.

That bell is veil'd from human eyes,

For ever there;

And never shall its voice again

Summon to prayer.

 

Once—only once—in centuries gone,

That awful bell

Pour'd on an ancient woman's ear

Its marvellous knell.

She went to wash her flaxen threads

In that old well—

Her threads had bound the bell around,

She shriek'd—and fell.

 

She shriek'd and fell—and long she lay

In speechless dread—

She dropp'd the threads, and dropp'd the bell,

And frighted fled.

And then the bell, with fearful sound,

Sunk in the well;

And hill and forest echo'd round

Its fateful knell:

"John, John! is for the greyhound gone."[1]

 

2.

 
The lord of Hrub-Kozoged's lands,

On swift-pac'd steed is homeward gone,

With John, who waits his lord's commands—

His huntsman hold, his faithful John.

His brow is like a tempest cloud,

With angry scowls he looks around—

"Where is my greyhound—where?" aloud

He asks—"Say where my favorite hound?"

 

And three long wearying days they track

Hill, wood, and every wonted place,

And no one brings the greyhound back,

And none the greyhound's path can trace.

Kozoged's master homeward turns,

As death and midnight dark and drear,

And mourning sighs, and sighing mourns—

"Where is my fav'rite greyhound—where?"

 

He spoke—and as he spoke—behold

An ancient witch on crutches pass'd,

One-eyed and hunchback'd, haggard, old,

Fierce as a screech-owl—lo! she cast

A hellish light from fiendish eye;

Parch'd skin and bone her wither'd hands.

She call'd—thas like the raven's cry,

Hot—hoarse—the knight astonish'd stands.

 

"Stop! stop! sir knight! arrest thy steed,

And bid thy train their steeds arrest,

For I can do a friendly deed,

And drive the storm-clouds from thy breast.

I know what thou hast lost—I know

Where thy poor hound is wandering now:

But 'tis in vain to tell thee so,

Thou art incredulous, I vow!

 

"Deliver me thy John—and I,

Thy fav'rite hound will bring to-morrow.

And dost thou wish to ask me why?

Know that the sorceress can borrow

Youth from youth's blood—the stars above

Have told it—I shall be, in truth,

A, maid of beauty and of love,

Wash'd in the blood-streams of the youth."

 
The youth he chang'd as pale as death,

Few words his anguish. could impel;

'Twixt hope and fear—with stifled breath,

Upon his trembling knees he fell—

"O, gentle master! hear! I pray!

O, listen to mine urgent suit:

Give not thy servant's life away,

His life so precious, for a brute."

 

But other care, and other thought,

Across his master's bosom fly;

John's pale, cold cheeks he heeded nought,

But turn'd away his careless. eye.

"Give me my hound at morning dawn,"

So to the witch the knight replied,

"And huntsman John shall be thine own—

I swear it—so be satisfied."

 

3.

 
The morn is blushing thro' the orient gates,

The witch is, with the hound, the castle nigh,

The sleepless youth his wretched sentence waits,

He slept not—but prepar'd his soul to die.

Yet once again he sought the knight, and pour'd

His prayer for mercy—"Hear the wretched one;

Give not thy servant to the witch, kind lord!

From life and sunshine banish not thy John."

 

'Twas vain—the greyhound's bark had reach'd that ear,

Where voice of human sorrow idly fell:

He hugg'd the witch, he hugg'd his greyhound dear,

And order'd a rejoicing festival.

And to the witch, when beam'd the evening star,

He gave his servant fetter'd like a slave;

Two dragons, harness'd to the death-black car,

Bore witch and victim to her mountain-cave.

 

4.

 
Five weeks had hardly glided by,

So fast they glide,

When the lov'd hound—so dearly bought,

Died—aye, he died!

His master, furious, tore his hair,

And groan'd with pain;

Call'd on his hound, his John—he call'd

And groan'd again.

 
At last the gentle lapse of time

Quietly stealing,

Brought to his over-passion'd heart

Some human feeling.

The cruel worm of conscience gnaw'd

His breast within;

And John's dim shadow seated there,

Recall'd the sin!

 

"My John! my John!" he often cried,

"Thou innocent!

Thou, by the madness of thy lord,

From life uprent:

O bend thy head from highest heaven,

If there though live,

And pitying him who pitied not—

My crime forgive."

 

At length he rear'd a little church,

To wash his guilt;

And near, a belfry tower of wood,

Repentant built.

And there of purest silver hung

A sacred bell,

Which daily—never ceasing—rang

John's funeral knell.

 

But from the very earliest day,

It struck that knell,

The hearer's teeth all gnash'd with fear;

So terrible—

So terrible its sound—so loud;

No silver sound—

But the church trembled et the noise,

And all around—

"John, John—is for the greyhound gone!"

 

5.

 
Kozoged's lord was told the story,

And bitter were the tears he shed;

He doff'd his robes of knightly glory,

Tore all his honors from his head:

A coarse, rough robe of hair-cloth made him,

Which from that day unchanged he wore,

Then to the wooden tower he sped him,

To be the watchman of the tower.

 

And lo! his hand uplifted, seizeth

The bell-rope—and begins to toll—

No more the worm of conscience teazeth

His half emancipated soul.

No more the bell those awful noises

Pours—which so many hearts had riven;

It sounds like angels' silver voices,

When echoed through the courts of heaven.

 

One only vesper-knell was sounded,

The aged watchman toll'd no more:

Death came—and there with peace surrounded,

He sank upon the belfry floor:

The frown upon his brow departed—

Some gentle hand had chas'd the frown,

And there he slumber'd—peaceful-hearted,

All guilt forgiven the guilty one.

 

6.

 
And many, many ages pass'd away,

Their gloomy shades o'er our Bohemia flinging,

That church in melancholy ruins lay,

The tower o'erturn'd—thebell had ceas'd its ringing:

Yet when that church and tower in fragments fell,

A heavenly angel, clad in light, appearing,

Convey'd the silver relic to the well—

Žizkians! that bell will toll not in your hearing.

 

From that same hour the crystal waters play

Above the silver bell—in silence sleeping—

There come the thirsty sheep-flocks, as they stray,

And there the revellers of the chase are keeping

Their court—that silver bell in deep repose

Lies cold and voiceless ages without number;

The ancient woman in the water throws

Her flaxen threads—and wakes it from its slumber.

 

'Twas the last time its awful accents broke—

"John, John—is for the greyhound gone," it mutter'd,

And never more to mortal can it spoke,

Nor noise, nor word, nor whisper has it utter'd.

The neighbours seek the well—their pitchers fill,

They wash their flax—and fear pursues them never;

They know the bell's mysterious tongue is still.

And that it rests beneath the wave for ever.

 

7.

 
Forget not now, my children all,

The silver bell:

For here I end the song I sing,

The tale I tell.

To keep ye listening longer, were

Nor kind, nor wise,

For slumbers bend your weary head,

And dim your eyes.

 

Yet ere you leave—one passing word,

Our song may suit:

O! trifle not a soul away

Just for a brute.

Bear sorrow's sting with fortitude,

Whate'er befall;

And, O be gentle, kind, and good

To all—to all.

 
Now sleep in blessedness—till morn

Brings its sweet light:

And hear the awful voice of God

Bid ye "Good night!"

Yet ere the hand of slumber close

The eye of care,

For the poor huntsman's soul's repose,

Pour out one prayer.

 

Noworečenka, 1823, p. 59–69.

 

 
  1. Jan, Jan za chrta dàn.— These words are intended to convey the sound of a bell.