The Czechoslovak Review/Volume 3/Columbia
Written for the Slovaks of America by Svetozar Hurban Vajanský, while in prison in Szegedin for writing a political article. Translated by Rev. L. Novomeský and Miss Ethel J. Cablk.
For the dark corners only you were born,
And e’en for those you evermore must pay
And give the tithe and suffer stripes beside.
You borrowed naught, yet must your debt defray.
Your capital: a rugged plot and rough;
To fatten us, your lords, is good enough.
Thus was it once. But, later, times were changed:
“Peasants rejoice! we grant you liberty!
Your corner, soil and harvest shall be yours,
The yoke is breaking: equal now are we;
Landlords are you, no longer serfs or slaves,
And over you the flag of freedom waves”.
And you had faith in them. You took up arms,
And gave your toil, your blood to drench the sword:
Flashing of gunshots lit the quiet hills;
For them your palms grew rough with labor hard.
And what was your reward? When peace arrived,
You of your dark corner were deprived!
Not only of the spot of rugged soil
You had bedewed with tears and sweat so long,
But of your forest products given by God,
Your rivers full of fish, swift-flowing, strong;
The air’s fresh scent, the free wind's viewless flight,
Even the sun’s warm radiance golden bright.
Then from your bodies everything they tore
That pleases man, or decks the maiden's breast
E’en what was left they thought too much for you;
You still had health, and were with children blest.
“Too many white and ruddy cheeks we view;
Give them to us to drag to countries new!”
“We are your lords; we do you grace in this;
We will transfuse your blood into our race
To cure its rotteness; our puddles’ stench
The flow of your fresh waters shall efface.
The blossoms of your bodies, pure and fair,
Shall deck our regions, barren now and bare.”
They stole your goods your wealth, your bodies’ fruits
Nay, God is good, requiting everything!
How oft soever hot blood in rivers flowed.
And storm swept bare your fields of flowers of spring
They flourished still. There needs a torture new;
The murderous hand now smites the spirit too:
What though the folks are naked, in despair
The mothers, for their children reft away,
They yet may rise, the children may return,
That would not help us; that is nonsense, play!
We want the soul, that in man's life inspires
Thought’s brightness and the flame of high desires.
“We want to quench and trample out the soul,
All memories of the days ere they were slaves;
To dance the can-can in their nation’s face,
Our foulness to defile their fathers' graves.
When their sweet tongue shall be cut out and gone,
The mothers will bear sons for us alone”.
A new, a sensual serfdom now begins;
A new tithe comes, the people's hearts to grieve.
The little pupil weeps, thrown out of school;
Spiders their webs over Museum weave;
The precious books are spoiled by moths and mould
Which good men dying left to us of old.
The aged men are dying, and they see
Ruin all round, no truth, no hope in life.
The young apostatize, some swift, some slow;
Even the strong give o'er the endless strife.
Only a handful now keep up the fight;
Only a few lights burn amid the night.
Then suddenly, from out the ocean waves
A giant woman with majestic face
Proudly appears, her white robe glittering bright;
Her eyes, like flames upon the altar place.
Her breast, like sun-smit marble, fair to see:
“Oh ye forsaken children, come to me!”
“Oh, come I know your bundles are but poor,
And from your fatherland no gems you bring;
The ruthless wrath of murderers drives you forth
From your ancestral soil to which you cling.
No gifts I offer, only this reward:
Time for free work, for human rights regard!”
The people, so disgraced in their own land,
Lift up proud heads sice o'er the sea they came;
And there he speaks aloud who here was mute,
He glories there in what he here thought shame.
He knows himself, in light Columbia gives,
Surprised, he finds that only now he lives.
Cheer to my brethren! Their harsh stepmother
Drove them from their dear huts, their native sod.
Thou, oh Columbia, hast rent their chains,
And lifted them to manhood, heaven, God!
Oh, land of Christopher, may Christ repay
What for my brethren poor you do to-day.
My sons, my sisters, oh, beloved race!
I from far-off prison speak to you,
Oh, sacred, sacred tops of Tatra’s heights!
Nothing is like them, ’neath the heaven blue.
Search all this bad, sad world from strand to strand,
You’ll find naught fairer than the Slovak land!
So, while in stern imprisonment I weep,
My voice I raise to you, my countrymen;
Oh, to your words and songs be ever true,
And, if it may be, come, oh, come again!
If not, yet still in heart with us remain!
I cease; The jailer shakes the clanking chain.
This work was published before January 1, 1928, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.