The Queen's Court Manuscript with Other Ancient Bohemian Poems/Jaroslaw

For other English-language translations of this work, see Jaroslaw.

JAROSLAW.[1]

I’ll tell you a glorious tale
Of struggles and of fight;
Come, listen, and collect yourselves,
To hear the deeds of might!

Far in the land where Olmütz reigns,
Rises a hill, not high;
’Tis Hostajnow; God’s Mother there
Works marvels wondrously.

'Twas quiet in our country long,
Long bloom’d a peaceful age,
When from the east a storm arose,
Amongst the lands to rage.
It was the daughter of the Khan,
The Khan of Tatary,
By Christian hands did for her gold,
Her pearls and jewels, die.
The daughter bright of Kublay Khan,
Fair as the moon was she,
Had heard of countries in the west,
Where many people be;
And she the foreign countries will
And foreign manners see.
Of youths upstarts there half-a -score,
Of waiting-maidens twain;
And soon as packages prepar’d
The needful things contain,
Upon swift steeds they seat themselves
And westward turn the rein.
As rosy bright the morning dawn
O’er misty woods doth gleam,
So did the daughter of the Khan
From art and nature beam.
In gold brocade the maiden shone,
Bosom and neck were bare,

And wreaths of jewels and of pearls
Did ornament her hair.
The Germans by her beauty struck,
And envious of her store,
Pursued her, as suspicionless
She journey’d on before,
Attack’d and slew her in a wood,
Her spoils away they bore.

When came the news to Kublay Khan
About his daughter dear,
He gather’d hosts in ev’ry land,
And westward march’d with war.
The western kings the tidings heard,
That Kublay doth invade
Their thickly-peopled countries, and
Confed’racies they made.
A mighty host they gather, take
The field right speedily,
On a wide plain encamp’d await
The Khan of Tatary.

Then Kublay his astrologers,
Magicians, wizards, all,
Into the future bids enquire,
What issue shall befall.

Th’ astrologers assembled quick,
Magicians, wizards tried,
A circle in two companies
They tread on either side;
And in it a black bar they place,
And do in twain divide.
The one half they have Kublay nam’d,
The other half the kings,
And o’er them the whole magic band
Ancient enchantments sings.
And soon the bars begin to move
In combat mightily,
And that, which they had Kublay nam’d,
Hath won the victory.
The multitudes thereat rejoice,
Each springs with speed to horse,
And quickly all array themselves
Amongst the army’s force.

The Christians they no council hold,
And without foresight throng,
And rush upon the heathen ranks
As arrogant as strong.
Then first in battle did they meet,
Like hail the arrows stream’d,

The crash of spears like thunder roll’d,
The swords like lightning gleam’d,
And either host in youthful might
To urge the other seem’d.
The num’rous Christians pressed the foe,
And ended were the war,
Had not th’ enchanters come anew,
Bearing the cloven bar.
Inflam’d, the Tatars rushing charge
The Christians savagely,
So savagely, that panic-struck,
Like deer, they turn and fly.
Here lies a shield upon the ground,
A costly helm struck down;
There by the stirrups trailing drags
A horse his rider thrown.
Here one doth bravely all in vain
The Tatars strive to meet,
Another there for heaven’s sake
For mercy doth intreat.

The Tatars tax the Christians sore,
And spread on ev’ry side,
Subdue two kingdoms, Kiew old,
And Novgorod the wide.

Soon came the woeful news abroad,
To arms all nations flew,
Four mighty armies did they raise,
The death-fight to renew.
On their right wing the Tatars rush’d,
And hurl’d themselves with might,
As a black cloud, that threats with hail
The fruitful fields to smite,
E’en so was heard the Tatar foe,
Thick swarming for the fight.

With speed do the Hungarians
Collect in companies,
With speed they arm themselves, and go
To meet their enemies.
But all in vain their courage was,
Vain all their manliness,
All, all in vain their efforts brave;
Upon their centre press
The Tatars, break their ranks, and all
Their num’rous host doth flee;
The Tatars all things devastate,
That in the land there be.

All hope the Christians doth forsake,
Had been such sorrow never;

They pray’d to God imploringly,
That he would them deliver.
“Now in thine anger, Lord, arise,
“And free us from the foe,
“And free us from the murderers,
“That would our souls bring low,
“And as the wolves around the sheep,
“Around us prowling go.”

A first, a second fight is lost,
The Tatars make their home
In Poland, all things devastate,
And near and nearer come.
And now the savage heathen press
To Olmütz; cries of woe
Arise in ev’ry district; nought
Is safe before the foe.

The first, the second day is past,
And neither side hath won;
But ah! the Tatar multitude
Goes still increasing on,
And waxes, as the ev’ning mist,
That hangs the woods upon.
The Christians, boat-like, to and fro
Amidst the Tatars sway,

And now towards God’s Mother’s hill
They backwards force their way.
“Up, brethren, up!” doth Vneslaw cry,
While on his silver shield
His sword he strikes, and o’er his head
The banner high doth wield.
All courage take, and all themselves
Upon the Tatars throw,
And in one body, as when flame
From the black earth doth flow,
So from th’ outnumb’ring Tatar host
Towards the hill they go.
With backward steps the hill they climb,
And ’neath its woody crown
Extend themselves, while underneath
A sharp peak pointeth down.
And right and left themselves with shields
They cover for the fight,
And on each other’s shoulders lay
The spears so sharp and bright.
On shoulder of the front-rank man
The second laid his spear,
And those of the third rank in turn
Upon the second were.
And down upon the Tatar hordes
Rain arrows from the hill;—

Night cometh on, and all the world
Envelopes calm and still.
O’er heav’n above she spreads herself,
And o’er the earth below,
And veils the warriors’ flaming eyes,
That ’gainst each other glow.

Now raise the Christians walls on high,
All in the gloom of night,
And trenches dig around the hill
Before the morning light.

When in the east it dawn’d, arose
The whole camp of the foe,
The camp, that stretch’d around the hill
Farther than eyes can go.
Upon their horses swift they crowd,
And heads of Christians slain
They bear upon their lances long
To the tent of Kublay Khan.

Into a single mass collects
The mighty multitude,
And towards one side their course they bend,
Rushing with onset rude

To storm the hill, loud uttering
An all-terrific cry,
That hills and vales resound again
And echo fearfully.
Upon the walls the Christians stood,
God’s Mother courage gave,
And quick their pliant bows they draw,
And fierce their falchions wave;
The Tatars they must back retreat
Before defence so brave.

Then raged the Tatar nation wild,
In fury at defeat,
The angry Khan upon them frown’d ,
And scowl’d with vengeful heat.
Into three columns now itself
The heathen host divides,
And in three columns furiously
They storm the mountain’s sides.
The Christians fell’d a score of trees,
All twenty as they grew,
And roll’d them from the summit down
Their battlements unto.
And now the Tatars storm the hill,
Shouting with fearful din,

That far and wide ascends, and now
To breach the walls begin.
Down from the walls the trees they hurl,
Like worms the Tatar foe
They crush, and spread destruction wide
Upon the plain below.
And long and savagely 'twas fought,
Until the gloom of night
For both contending armies set
A limit to the fight.

OGod! it is a sight of woe!
The glorious Vneslaw falls!
Struck by an arrow down he sinks
Beneath the Christians’ walls.

Now anguish tears the heavy heart,
Thirst doth the entrails pain,
With dry and parched throats they lick
The dewy grass in vain.
Still eve into cool night doth pass,
Night into morning grey,
And all within the Tatar camp
Tranquil and quiet lay.
The day doth mid-day heat assume,
Through thirst the Christians fall,

And ope their parchèd mouths in pain,
And on God’s Mother call.
To her their weaken’d eyes they turn,
And wring in agony
Their hands, from earth to heaven’s height
Looking imploringly.
“We cannot longer faint with thirst,
“For thirst we cannot fight;
“Who loves his health, who loves his life,
“Must mercy seek in flight
“Among the Tatars.” Thus around
’Twas spoken left and right.
“The sword is not so sharp a death
“As thirst; in slavery
“Of water we shall have enough;
“Who thinks thus, after me!”
(Says Weston) “after me, the man
“Who thirsteth painfully!”
But leaping up doth Wratislaw
Like a young bull arise,
And by the arm he seizes him,
And thus to Weston cries:
“Thou traitor! everlasting shame
“Of men that Christians be!
“And wilt thou to destruction bring
“A people good and free?

“Mercy from God ’tis meet to seek,
“But not in slavery
“From Tatars wild. Nay! brethren, nay!
“Do not to ruin haste!
“Already now the fiercest heat
“Of noontide is o’erpast!
“God strengthen’d us at noon, and if
“We trust, will aid us at last.
“Out, out upon such words as those!
“And blush for very shame,
“Ye men, that fain would heroes be,
“And bear the hero’s name!
“Die we upon the hill with thirst,
“’Tis God our fate doth guide;
“Surrend’ring to the foemen’s swords,
“Our death is suicide.
“Our God doth slavery abhor;
“’Tis sin to slavery
“A voluntary neck to yield;
“Who thinks thus, after me!
“To where God’s Mother sits enthron’d!
“Ye men that valiant be!”

And after him the multitudes
To the holy chapel haste;

“Now in thine anger, Lord, arise!
“Aid us, O Lord, at last!
“Raise, raise us o’er our enemies
“In all the land around,
“And hear the supplicating cries,
“That in thine ears resound!
“Encircled and surrounded all
“By savage foes are we;
“O from the cruel Tatar noose
“Rescue and set us free!
“Grant moisture to our bodies parch’d,
“That here are perishing,
“And we will give, O Lord, to thee
“Loud thanks in offering.
“Crush now the foe in all our lands,
“And us from them deliver,
“Annihilate them utterly
“For ever and for ever!”

Lo, lo! upon the sultry heav’n
A cloud ascendeth high!
Loud blow the winds, the thunder rolls
And crashes fearfully.
The sky is thick o’erclouded all;
Flash! flash! the lightning glows

Amongst the Tatar tents; with rain
Reviv’d the hill-spring flows!

The storm is past, from ev’ry land
There hasten warriors brave,
Towards Olmütz march in order’d ranks,
And high their banners wave.
Their heavy swords beside them hang,
Full quivers rattling sound
Upon their hips, their valiant heads
With helmets bright are crown’d,
And underneath the riders’ weight
The swift steeds prance and bound.
The wood-horns hoarsely bray, the roll
Of drums resounds afar,
The hosts upon each other rush,
And close in dreadful war.
A cloud arises from the dust,
And hangs the armies o’er;
The second fight is fiercer far
Than was the fight before.
The sharp swords clash, with fearful hiss
The poison’d arrows fly,
Spears crashing meet, and jav’lins whizz,
As they are hurl’d on high;

They strike, they stab, they shout for joy,
They shriek in agony.
Like torrents swoln by heavy rain,
Flow’d forth the warrior’s blood,
And corpses lay upon the ground,
Like fell’d trees in a wood.
One hath his hands both smitten off,
Cleft is another’s head,
Another from his steed is flung,
That stumbles o’er the dead.
And here doth one his enemies
Strike down in furious mood,
As on the rocky mountain side
A tempest rends the wood.
There hilt-deep in a foeman’s heart
Another’s sword doth pierce,
Here from another’s head the ear
A Tatar severs fierce.

A shout! a cry of woe is heard!
Now, now the Christians yield;
The Tatars press them furiously,
And chase them o’er the field.
But like an eagle Jaroslaw
Doth to the rescue fly;

Hard steel is on his mighty breast,
Beneath the steel doth lie
Heroic valour, wisdom dwells
Beneath his helmet bright,
And glows and sparkles in his eyes
The fire of youthful might.
He like an angry lion storms,
That doth fresh blood behold,
Or by an arrow stricken turns
Upon the hunter bold.
So wrathful raging doth he rush
Upon the Tatar foe,
Behind him the Bohemians
Most like a hailstorm go.
On Kublay’s son he fiercely charged,
It was a furious fight,
With spears did they together meet,
And broke their spears with might.
But Jaroslaw all bath’d in blood,
His steed all bloody too,
Hath smitten, reaching with his sword,
The son of Kublay through.
Down from the shoulder to the hip
The trenchant blade did go,
And from his steed he lifeless sank
Among the corpses low,

And o’er him rattled, as he fell,
His quiver and his bow.

This all the savage Tatar host
With panic fear did smite,
Away their lances fathom-long
They threw in wild affright,
And all who could fled thither where
The sun doth glorious rise;
And thus was Hana[2] freed again
From Tatar enemies.

  1. This poem, intituled in the Queen’s Court Manuscript, “Of the great wars of the Christians with the Tatars,” relates to the historical victory gained by Jaroslaw Sternberg over the Tatars, near Olmütz, through which he delivered the whole of Moravia from them. Kublay Khan, here mentioned, reigned from 1259 to 1294, whence we may infer that the poem was probably first composed towards the end of the thirteenth century, and must also consider it as the latest in the collection. This appears equally from the legend of the Tatar Princess, which is found about the same date in a German legend of St. Hedwiga. A further account is contained in “Der Mongolen Einfall im Jahre 1241, von Fr. Palacky, Prag. 1842.”
  2. Hana is a district in Moravia in the neighbourhood of Olmütz.