|Dedicated to .|
After the Battle of the White Mountain in 1620 when the revolt of the Czech nation was brutally suppressed by Ferdinand the Habsburg and which date marks the end of Bohemia’s independence, a terrible period of repression and agony ensued: executions, confiscations of property, expatriation and conversion to Catholicism by brutal force were numerous. The best Bohemians went into exile, amongst them also the great pedagogue, bishop of the Unity of Bohemian (Moravian) Brethren,(Comenius) who visited also England and entreated especially Axel of Oxenstjerna to include among the conditions of the peace of Westphalia the permission for Bohemian exiles to return home, but in vain. Komensky himself died in exile. The present fate of the Bohemian nation who with great difficulties awoke from a state of deadly agony to a new life, resembles the fateful period after the Battle of the White Mountain. For the Czechs and Slovaks it is again a question of extirpation by the Habsburgs and the Germans. And again a great Bohemian fled abroad, Thomas G. Masaryk, who is working for the salvation of his nation in exile. The poet wrote these verses while prisoner of war in Russia during the great Russian retreat. They are a clear proof of the indomitable faith of the Czecho-Slovaks in the victory of right and justice.
The poet’s real name is Ferdinand Písecký. He has just left this country to return to Russia, after delivering a course of lectures in the principal Bohemian settlements in the United States on the Russian revolution of which he was a witness.
It is one and the same,
Even as then,—three centuries agone:
Scattered the flock, in thousand decaying
On mountains, broad fields, fallen in alien service
Amid the fountain of life, already grown turbid,
Oozed loathsome, corroding venom
heady current, set astir by white hands
Of adept and wily hangmen.
Hangmen with smoothly shorn faces,
In a dazzling glaze of white linen,
From which glitters challengingly, white lustre, golden lustre;
Hangmen in gay-colored tunics,
With haughty clanking of spurs,
Hiding with gold their innermost emptiness;
Hangmen in black, brown, violet-hued raiment,
With shaven pates, with pampered bellies,
Even, even as three centuries agone.
Then was there gloom and never a star of salvation,
On all sides dead stillness, full of horror and dread.
And from this place of horror and of dying,
Fittingly called a seeming paradise,
There then went forth a good and peaceful shepherd,
Bearing at heart a flame of mighty love,
Bearing in spirit tears of all the flock,
And searching out for it another life.
Even as Moses craved to split the rock,
To find a spring amid the desert heat,
Wherein the wretched flock, unaided, dies . . .
O goest thou, good shepherd thou of souls,
Prophet severe, who scourgest from the temple
Base traffickers . . .
Letting a runnel of uncomely slime
Taint our life’s fountain, grown already turbid,
Thou rangest the wide world like a mighty Amos,
Thou bearest in thy heart our whole distress.
Thy gaze is tired with peering forth afar,
But thy strong spirit, still unscathed by fear,
Urges thee on, that thou may split the rock,
Wherein fresh fountains of a fairer life
Gurgle and seethe . . .
Thy mighty faith, gushing from out thy soul,
Wan with the blazing of the direst forges,
Thy mighty faith enters my heart as well.
And this I know, belovèd Master,
Full well I know this my belovèd Teacher,
That this, my parrallel is incomplete;
One point there is, wherein shall be a change,
A joyous change, like to the spring-tide sun,
Like to the blackbird’s first exulting song
Within our gardens when the spring draws near:
For surely thou shalt find salvation’s rock,
From which a fresh and boisterous fountain bursts,
To quicken once again the half-dead flock,
With strength to brace it for a new-born life.
Thou surely shalt return, belovèd Master,
That thou mayst rest thy head amid thy flock,
And gently e’en as only thou canst speak,
Say in thy heart: “This toil of mine was good”.
(Translated by .)