The Queen's Court Manuscript with Other Ancient Bohemian Poems/Czestmir and Vlaslaw

CZESTMIR AND VLASLAW.[1]

’Twas Neklan bade arise to war,
And Vlaslaw was the foe,
His host with princely high command
He bade ’gainst Vlaslaw go.
The host arose, arose to war,
And Vlaslaw was the foe,
Arose at the prince’s high command
’Gainst Vlaslaw fierce to go.

Prince Vlaslaw did o’er Neklan boast
With vaunting proud and high,

O’er Neklan, o’er that glorious prince,
He’d won the victory.
And fire and sword he sent abroad
Into Neklan’s land so wide,
And behind his warriors’ robber swords
Neklan with scorn defied.

“Up, Czestmir! lead my bands to war!
“Vlaslaw, puff’d up with pride,
“Hath spoken words of arrogance,
“And us with scorn defied.”

And Czestmir doth with joy arise,
And seizes his dark black shield,
(His dark black shield two tusks adorn)
And with it to the field
He takes his axe and his helm, which ne’er
In war might piercèd be,
And offerings to the gods he brings
Under every greenwood tree.

Merrily Czestmir calls his men,
And soon the ranks they fill,
And they march ere dawn and all day long,
And they march on yet when the sun is set,
To the top of yon high hill.

Lo! o’er the villages rolleth smoke!
In the villages shrieks and groaning!
“Who burn’d the villages? Who hath caus’d
“This wailing and woeful moaning?
“Who? Vlaslaw? Ne’er again shall he
“Spread woe and devastation;
“My warriors bring him punishment,
“And utter annihilation.”

To Czestmir gave they answer straight:
“’Twas Kruvoi plundering came,
“’Twas Kruvoi harried flock and herd,
“And far and wide on every side
“Spread woe with sword and flame.
“Of all that good and useful was
“He hath let nought remain,
“And with him too our honour’d duke
“Captive away hath ta’en.”

’Gainst Kruvoi Czestmir wrathful raged,
And from his breast so wide
Spread anger fierce through ev’ry limb,
And to his men he cried:
”Ye warriors! with tomorrow’s dawn
“Be all our wrath on fire!

“Go now, refresh your weary limbs,
“That the long march doth tire!”

Upon the left-hand mountains stand,
And mountains on the right,
And on their summits glittering high
Looks down the sun so bright.
And onward o’er the mountains here,
And o’er the mountains there,
In columns long the warriors march,
And battle with them bear.

“Ho! onward to the castle! on!
“That stands on the rocky height!
“Where Kruvoi Voimir captive holds
“With his daughter, maiden bright!
“He took them in the forest thick,
“All under yon grey rock,
“And there with arrogance and scorn
“Neklan our prince did mock.
“Kruvoi to Neklan promis’d faith,
“And gave his hand thereby,
“Yet wrought with that very voice and hand
“His people’s misery—
“Up, up, ye warriors! up with speed,
“And storm yon castle high!”

The warriors rush’d with wrath inflam’d,
The castle to assail,
At the bidding of Czestmir, their leader bold,
Like the clouds that bear the hail.
The foremost are shelter’d by their shields,
With shield on shield rais’d high,
The hindmost lean upon their spears,
And on trees that crosswise lie;
And higher than the high tree-tops
Round the castle clash their brands,
And rage against the swords that wave
In the defender’s hands.

On the castle Kruvoi roar’d aloud
With the roaring of a bull,
Roar’d loudly, till his people’s hearts
Of valour all were full.
His sword upon the men of Prague
With mighty sway doth light,
And ’tis as though on the mountains grow
Full many oaks of might,
And from a rock there falls a tree,
That on those oaks doth smite.

T’ assail the castle from behind
Now Czestmir gives command,

He bids in front the wall to climb,
That firm and high doth stand.
Tall trees that grow ’neath the rock below
They’ve leant ’gainst the castle wall,
That harmlessly the beams flung down
O’er the warriors’ heads may fall.
The warriors range themselves beneath,
With shoulders broad they stand,
Comrade by comrade, man by man,
A bold and valiant band.
Across their shoulders beams they place,
And in part with ropes they tie,
Then firm upon their lances lean,
And men have sprung on high
Upon the beams their comrades bear,
And each supports him on his spear,
And beams anew set crosswise too
Upon their shoulders lie.
A third rank on the second springs,
A fourth the third doth crown,
And the fifth hath reach’d the battlements,
Whence the falchions gleam and the arrows stream,
And the beams roll thundering down.

Now, now they stream, the men of Prague,
Right fiercely o’er the wall,

Before them in the castle strong
Doth every warrior fall.

“Up, Voimir, up with thy daughter dear!
“Come forth from the tower so high!
“Come forth to greet this happy morn!
“Then on to the rock hard by!
“On the rock thou ’It Kruvoi bleeding see
“’Neath the axe of vengeance lie.”
And forth he comes to the gladsome morn
With his daughter, lovely maid,
And gazes on Kruvoi, his mortal foe,
On the rock all bleeding laid.

Now Czestmir sends the booty back
To the folk from whom ’twas ta’en,
And with the booty the lovely maid
Returns to her home again.
But Voimir will in the selfsame place,
At the selfsame hour of day,
To the gods, who granted victory,
His thankful offerings pay.

“Up, Voimir, up!” quoth Czestmir then,
“Our steps are hastening straight

“O’er Vlaslaw victory to win;
“Thy service awhile must wait.
“The gods will Vlaslaw’s overthrow;
“When the sun towards afternoon
“Approaches, we shall there approach,
“Where our army’s cry of victory
“Will be loudly utter’d soon.
“Take then the weapons of thy foe,
“Come, arm thyself and on!”

Right joyous is Voimir at the word,
From the rock on high with echoing cry
He shouts that the wood doth sound;
From his mighty throat to the gods he call’d,
That the wide wood quiver’d round:
“Ye gods, with your servant be not wroth,
“That ere to-day have past away
“Burnt-offerings be not found!”

“’Tis meet,” quoth Czestmir, “to the gods
“Due sacrifice to pay,
“But now against our enemies
“We needs must haste away.
“Go, seat thee on a horse of speed,
“As a stag quick bounding fly

“Right onwards through the forest wide
“To yonder oakwood high!
“Fast by the path is a sacred rock,
“A rock to the gods right dear;
“There pay thy offerings to the gods,
“Who rescued thee from fear,
“For victory that’s past and gone,
“For victory that’s near!
“Or ere the sun in onward course
“Ascends the heaven’s height,
“Thou wilt be there arriv’d, and ere
“A second step and a third he takes
“O’er the tall tree-tops in sight,
“The armies too will have arriv’d
“Where smoky columns high
“From the victim rise into the skies,
“And the warriors will bend, as on they wend,
“In meek humility.”

And Voimir springs on a gallant steed,
And swift, as a stag, doth fly
On through the forest to the rock,
That stands in the oakwood high;
And on the summit of the rock,
The rock to the gods right dear,

He burns his offering to the gods,
Who rescued him from fear,
For victory that’s past and gone,
For victory that’s near.
His offering is a heifer fair,
All red and bright of hue,
He bought her from a cow-herd there,
In the vale among the grass so long,
And as her meed his gallant steed
He gave and bridle too.

The offering flames; the host draws nigh,
Draws nigh the vale below,
And up from the vale their arms they trail
With shout and cry to the oakwood high,
As one by one they go.
Each marching round the sacrifice
To the gods doth utter praise,
And faileth not, as on he goes,
His voice aloud to raise.
And Voimir, when the rear is past,
On his warhorse swift doth spring,
And lays the shoulders fat and thighs
Of the victim upon horsemen six,
Behind the host to bring.

Each step of the sun the host march’d on
Until the full noonday;
Awaiting them on the level plain
The warlike Vlaslaw lay.
From wood to wood his army reach’d,
It reach’d along five times as strong
As the men of Prague arrayed,
And from it, as from thunder-clouds,
Was heard around a hurtling sound,
And countless bloodhounds bayed.

“With foes like these we scarce can fight,
“Not oft the staff can strive
“Against the axe!”[2] Thus Voimir, thus
Doth Czestmir answer give:
“’Tis wise in whispers thus to speak,
“’Tis wise prepar’d to be
“For every chance. With heedless shock
“Why strike thy forehead ’gainst a rock?
“With artful wiles the fox beguiles
“The bull so strong to see.
“Here Vlaslaw from the hill on high
“Can see us as we go—
“Quick down, and round the mountain march!

“Be they the rear the van that were!
“Haste round the hill below!”

And thus ’twas done by Voimir straight,
’Twas done by Czestmir too;
With speed around the mountain high
Nine times the army drew.
Thus they their number and their might
Augmented to the foe,
And thus within the foemen’s breasts
Did panic terror grow.
Among the brushwood on the hill
Themselves they scatter’d wide,
That in the foemen’s eyes their arms
Might glance and gleam, and glittering beam
The hill on every side.

Quick Czestmir with his company
Burst forwards on the foe!
Four squadrons in that company
Did thus with Czestmir go.
And with them Tras[3] burst forwards too
From out the shady wood,
Tras seiz’d upon the num’rous hosts,
That there against them stood.

In rear, in rear came to them fear
From all the forest wide;
They broke their ranks, and panic-struck
Took flight on every side.

With valiant hand bursts Voimir forth,
And the entrance of the vale
Half occupies across, and doth
Vlaslaw in flank assail.

’Tis crashing and dashing in the vale,
As hills with hills did fight,
And all the trees in all the wood
Did ’gainst each other smite.
Now Vlaslaw springs ’gainst Czestmir forth,
Czestmir ;gainst him doth bound!
In savage duel! wound on wound!
He smote him to the ground!
Vlaslaw extended on the earth
In fierce convulsions lies,
Nor sideways, backwards, doth his strength
Avail again to rise,
And all in black and gloomy night
Morena[4] wraps his eyes.

From mighty Vlaslaw streams the blood
Along the grass so green,
And flows into the thirsty earth,
Where nought that grows is seen.
The soul from out his bellowing mouth
Flew up into a tree,
From tree to tree, till the corpse was burnt,
It journied fluttering free.[5]

All Vlaslaw’s men are terror-struck,
And sideways thence they fly,
And up the hill, themselves to hide
From Czestmir’s piercing eye,
From Czestmir, who o’er Vlaslaw fierce
Hath won the victory.

Loud sounds the shout of victory
In Neklan’s joyous ear,
To Neklan’s joyous eye doth spoil,
Abundant spoil appear.

  1. The subject of this poem is the victory of the heroic Czestmir or Cztmir, General of Neklan, Prince of Prague, over Vlastislaw, Prince of Zatec (Saaz), in the first half of the ninth century; of which a further account is given by Kosmas, and after him by other Bohemian chroniclers.

    It is contained in the Queen’s Court Manuscript, at the beginning of the 27th Chapter of Book iii., where it is headed, “Begins the 17th Chapter of the Third Book of the Victory over Vlaslaw.”
  2. See Note B.
  3. Tras, the god of Fear.
  4. Morena or Morana, the goddess of Death.
  5. Compare this with the conclusion of the next poem but one, “Zaboi and Slavoi.”