The Queen's Court Manuscript with Other Ancient Bohemian Poems/Zaboi and Slavoi


In forest black a rock doth rise,
High on the rock doth spring
The mighty Zaboi, far and wide
His glance around to fling.

Sad sorrow fill’d his noble heart,
As round his glance did go,
And he mourn’d aloud, with a wood-dove’s wail,
For his country’s pain and woe.
Long time he sate, long time he mus’d,
Then up, like a stag, sprang he,
And through the wood, the lonely wood,
Right speedily did flee;
From man to man through all the land,
From warrior to warrior went,
And few the words he spake to each,
And secret their intent;
Before the Gods he bow’d himself,
Then on, on his mission bent.

The first, the second day is past,
And men, a numerous band,
On the third day's night, in the pale moonlight,
All in the black wood stand.
Thence Zaboi led them to a dell,
All in the deep, deep wood,

And harp[2] in hand before them all
In the lowest vale he stood.
“O men of brotherly heart and true!
“O men of fiery gaze!
“I sing to you from lowliest vale
“The lowliest of lays.
“That lay, it springeth from my heart,
“From my bosom’s deep recess,
“And sunk and drown’d in woe it tells
“My soul’s deep bitterness.
“A sire[3] his wives and children left,
“And to his sires is gone;
“He left them in their village home,
“But ah! he said to none,
“‘O brother! speak a father’s words,
“‘To these thus left alone.’
“A stranger to the village came
“With violence and wrong,
“He came and told a foreign tale
“All in a foreign tongue.
“And as it is done in foreign lands
“From morn till eve arrives,

“E’en so it must be done by us
“With our children and our wives.
“And one[4] companion and no more
“On all our pilgrimage,
“From Vesna to Morana, must
“Be ours, from youth to age.
“No more may we our foreheads strike
“Before the Gods we know,
“No more to them at eventide
“With meats in offering go.
“Where erst our fathers sacrific’d,
“Where erst they praises sung,
“They’ve fell’d the groves, and all the Gods
“Down from their thrones have flung.”

“Thou singest, Zaboi, heart to heart,
“A song from the midst of woe,
“Like Lumir,[5] who with words and song
“Right well to move did know
“Proud Vyssehrad,[6] and all the land
“That heard the god-like sound,

“E’en so thou movest me and all
“Our brethren here around.
“The Gods in minstrels good delight;
“Sing on! from them is given
“The heart that speaks against the foe,
“Thy song it is from heaven.”

On Slavoi Zaboi gaz’d awhile,
On his looks with anger fir’d,
Then further seiz’d their hearts with song,
And patriot rage inspir’d:
“Two sons,[7] whose voices had assum’d
“E’en now the manly tone,
“Were wont into the wood to go,
“And exercise alone.
“With sword, with war-axe , and with dart,
“Their hands they practis’d well,
“In secret practis’d, and with joy
“Return’d from hidden dell.
“And when their arms and hands were strong,
“And their wisdom ’gainst the foe,
“O then their brethren too at home
“To man’s estate did grow.
“And all upon the foemen sprang,
“Their wrath like the stormy sky,

“And to their village home return’d,
“The happiness gone by.”

O, swift to Zaboi’s side they bound,
As low in the vale he stands,
And clasp him in their mighty arms,
And heart to heart take hands;
And words of wisdom spoken are
Among the patriot bands.
The night it goes, and the dawn comes on,
Fresh brightening into day,
The vale they leave, and scatt’ring wide,
Through the forest take their way.

The first, the second day is past,
And now the third is done,
And Zaboi in the dark’ning night
Into the wood hath gone.
Behind him goes a company
Of men in wrathful mood,
And Slavoi too another band
Leads through the gloomy wood.
Each trusteth in his leader bold,
Each hates from his heart the king,
And each, against that tyrant fell,
A weapon sharp doth bring.

“Up, Slavoi, brother! up and on
“To yonder hill so blue!
“To yonder hill we’ll bend our steps,
“That all the land doth view;
“Thence onwards, towards the morning sun,
“A darksome wood doth grow,
“There hasten we our faithful hands
“To plight for weal or woe.
“Now speed thee with a foxes’ gait,
“And I this way will go.”

“O wherefore, brother Zaboi, must
“Our arms from yon mountain bring
“Their terrors? Hence we’ll storming go
“’Gainst the armies of the king!”

“O brother Slavoi, wilt thou strike
“And smite a serpent dead?
“’Tis surest at the head to aim,
“And yonder is his head.”

The many scatter in the wood,
Dividing left and right,
These follow Zaboi, those attend
Fierce Slavoi to the fight;

And towards the mountain blue they go
Deep through the forest’s night.
And when the fifth day’s sun arose,
True hands they gave and took,
And down beneath, with foxen eyes,
On the king’s host they look.
“His armies Ludiek must unite,
“To quell at a single stroke—
Ho! Ludiek! thou art but a slave[8]
“Set over the slavish folk!
“Go, tell thy tyrant his command
“To us is nought but smoke!”

In wrath did Ludiek shout aloud,
And his hosts together bring;
Beneath the sky ’twas glittering light,
“As the sun his beams did fling
On the countless weapons, glancing bright,
Of the armies of the king.
All, all were ready for the war,
On every sword a hand,
And every foot in act to march,
As Ludiek might command.

“O haste thee, Slavoi! brother, haste
“This way with foxen pace!
“And I will charge him in the front,
“And meet him face to face.”
And forth rush’d Zaboi with his men,
Like a hailstorm on their van,
And Slavoi on their flank with his,
Like a hailstorm, charging, ran.
“These, brother, these our trees did fell,
“These, these our Gods did rive,
“These from the forests chas’d the hawks!
“The Gods will victory give!”

Ha! rage ’gainst Zaboi Ludiek hurls,
From the midst of the countless foe;
And Zaboi with his eyes on flame
’Gainst Ludiek swift doth go.
As oak ’gainst oak contending fierce,
That all the wood may see,
So Zaboi did on Ludiek rush,
Before both armies free.
High Ludiek whirl’d his mighty sword,
And pierc’d his shield’s third hide;
With war-axe[9] Zaboi struck a stroke,
But Ludiek sprang aside.

The war-axe struck into a tree,
The tree on the host doth fall,
And thirty to their fathers go—
In wrath doth Ludiek call:
“Thou monster! giant serpent’s brood!
“Come, draw thy sword to fight!”
And Zaboi heaves his sword, and doth
A piece from his buckler smite;
When Ludiek strikes again, his sword
Doth vain on the tough shield light.
With rage inflam’d they strike amain,
Till each is wounded sore,
A wound appears in every part,
And all around is gore;
And those in savage combat near
With blood they spurtle o’er.
The sun o’erpasseth noon, from noon
Approacheth towards even-tide,
And still ’tis fought, nor here nor there
Retreat on either side;
Here Zaboi fought, and Slavoi there
The foe alike defied.
“Hence, murderer! Bies[10] receive thee! hence!
“Why drink’st thou yet our blood?”

And Zaboi seized his mighty axe,
But Ludiek aside hath stood.
Zaboi on high his war-axe swung,
And cast it at the foe;
The axe it flew and cleft the shield,
And Ludiek’s breast below.
The heavy axe the soul affrights,
The soul by the war-axe strong
Is driven forth, and fathoms five
Through the army borne along.

Loud shriek the panic-stricken foe,
When low their leader lies,
But glad the shouts of Zaboi’s bands,
Joy sparkling in their eyes.
“O brethren! the Gods have granted aid,
“And given us victory;
“And now divide we left and right,
“Steeds seek we speedily
“In every vale; with steeds must neigh
“The whole wood merrily!”

“O brother Zaboi, lion brave!
Cease not to press the foe!”
Lo! Zaboi flings away his shield,
And onwards still doth go.

In one hand is his war-axe strong,
The other his sword doth hold,
And thus through the enemy with speed
His path he breaketh bold.
The foe must shriek, the foe must flee,
Tras[11] drives them from the field,
And terror forces from their throats
The cries of them that yield.

With neighing steeds the forest sounds;
“Up, up! to horse and ride!
“After the foe on horseback go
"“Thro’ the regions far and wide!
“Ye swift steeds, swift the vengeance bear,
“That our foemen doth betide!”
The warriors on the swift steeds sprang,
And galloping on the foe,
With wound on wound remorselessly
Did fiercest vengeance show.
They pass the mountains and the plains,
They pass the woods like wind,
And right and left, as on they go,
All things they leave behind.

A mighty stream is hurtling wild,
Wave after wave rolls on,
But bound on bound both armies through
The stormy stream are gone.
The waters seiz’d the foreigners,
And ;whelm’d them in the tide,
But safely bore the friends they knew
To reach the other side.

Far, far and wide, through all the land,
With its long wings spread on high,
A furious glede with vengeful speed
Doth chase the birds that fly.
And Zaboi’s band thro’ all the land
Spreads wide, their foes to meet,
And down they smite them everywhere
Beneath their horses’ feet.
They chase them by night ’neath the moon’s pale light,
Beneath the sun by day,
And then in the darksome night again,
And then in the morning gray.

A mighty stream is hurtling wild,
Wave after wave rolls on,

But bound on bound both armies through
The stormy stream are gone.
The waters seiz’d the foreigners,
And ’whelm’d them in the tide,
But safely bore their countrymen
To reach the other side.
“When we 've got to yonder mountains grey,
“Revenge will be satisfied.”

“O Zaboi, brother, cease awhile!
“The hills are not far away,
“The foes that are left are faint and few,
“And these for mercy pray.”

“Back thro’ the land by diff’rent paths
“With speed, both thou and I,
“And all that to the king belong’d
“Destroy we utterly!”

The wind it stormeth through the land,
On storm those armies twain,
Thro’ every district, left and right,
Thro’ woodland and thro’ plain,
With force extending far and wide,
With joyful shouts amain.

“Ho! brethren, see yon mountain grey!
“Our late won victory,
“There dwell the Gods that gave it us,
“And there from tree to tree
“Flits many a soul thro’ all the wood;
"“The timid beasts and fowls
“In terror flee, except alone
“The ne’er affrighted owls.
“On to the mountains let us go,
“Our dead to bury there,
“And to the Gods to sacrifice,
“Who gave us freedom fair!
“And many an offering we will bring,
“And many a thankful strain,
“And to them we will dedicate
“The weapons of the slain.”

  1. This poem, by its contents and style, is derived from Bohemia’s heathen times, though first given to us through the medium of the Queen’s Court Manuscript (Book iii. Chap. 27), towards the end of the thirteenth century. It is there headed “Begins of a great Battle.” The transaction, which is here commemorated (the liberation of Bohemia through Zaboi and Slavoi out of the power of a king, whose name is not mentioned) is, according to Palacky, entirely unknown to history, and therefore the time at which it occurred is impossible to be ascertained; it is however certainly not later than the ninth century. We may remark in it the mention of an old Bohemian poet, Lumir, of whom nothing more is known; this is however a proof that inspired bards were already held in especial reverence among the earliest Bohemians. The name of the foreign enemy of the Bohemians, Ludiek, indicates the German Ludwig, without its being possible to attach it to a historical person. There is, however, considerable plausibility in the conjecture of Svoboda (adapted by Eichhoff) that the poet is here commemorating the victory of Samo over the Frankish army of Dagobert, between 628 and 638.
  2. The Varito, the harp of the Slavonians, corresponds to the βάρβιτον of the Greeks.
  3. Allusion to the recent death of a chief, followed ,by a period of anarchy and an invasion of the enemy.
  4. The introduction of Christianity abolished polygamy, and forced the Bohemians to be content with a single wife, from Vesna, the goddess of Spring and Youth, to Morana, the goddess of Death.
  5. Lumir. See Note A.
  6. Vyssehrad, High-castle, an ancient fort on a hill commanding the present city of Prague.
  7. Himself and Slavoi.
  8. Ludiek is evidently only the lieutenant and vassal of a powerful sovereign, and not a monarch, himself.
  9. As to this weapon see Note B.
  10. Bies, the evil spirit, connected probably with the German word bös.
  11. Tras, the god of Panic.