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Crimean Sonnets

The Romantic
Crimean Sonnets
Forefathers' Eve
Pan Tadeusz
Lausanne Lyrics

III: The Crossing

Monsters merge and welter through the water's mounting 
Din. All hands, stand fast! A sailor sprints aloft, 
Hangs, swelling spider-like, among invisible nets, 
Surveys his slowly undulating snares, and waits.

The wind! The ship's a steed that champs and shies, breaks loose, 
And lunges out upon the blizzard-white sea. It heaves 
Its neck; it plunges, trampling waves; it cleaves the clouds 
And scours the sky; it sweeps up winds beneath its wings.

My spirit like the swaying mast, plays in the stormy sky, 
And like the swelling sails ahead, imagination fills, 
Till suddenly I too cry out with the madly shouting crew.

With arms outspread I fall upon the plunging boards and feel 
It is my breast that gives the ship new burst of speed, 
And know, happy and light at last, what is a bird.

Translated by Richard A. Gregg


IV: The Tempest

The sails in shreds, the helm all smashed, the roar 
Of waves through blasting storm, and fearful cries 
As pumps are manned. From sailors' hands last ropes 
Have slipped. The sun in blood sinks down: hope's gone.

Triumphantly the tempest howls; from sea's 
Abyss, on watery mountains, death's own genius 
Tramples on the ship like soldier who, 
Once walls are breached, on rampart sets his foot.

Some sprawl half-dead, some wring their hands; one throws 
Himself into protective arms' god speed; 
Another, faced with death, prays mercy quick.

A traveller stood silent and apart, 
Imbued with thought: Happy whose feeling lasts 
His strength, who prays and who can bid good speed!

Translated by George Reavey


VI: Bakhchisarai

Still vast, but desolate, the dwelling of the Girey kings! 
On stairs, in vestibules once brushed by Pashas' brows 
And across sofas that were thrones of power, sanctuaries of love, 
Grasshoppers veer and bounce, the serpent winds,

And rank vines crawl through myriad-colored windows 
To invade mute vaults and voiceless halls, conquer
Man's labor in the name of nature, and inscribe 
There in the letters of Balthazar: DESTRUCTION.

In the center of a hall, a basin hewn in marble: 
The fountain of the harem, still intact, 
Whispers its tearful pearls alone, as if to ask:

Where are they, grandeur, power and love? Their term 
Was to have been forever, and the stream's, ephemeral, 
But they have passed and the white fount is here.

Translated by Angelica Caro


X: Baidar

Urging my horse into the wind, I spare 
No spur. Woods, valleys, rocks, in surge rush by 
And vanish like a torrent's furious foam; 
And by the swirl of images I'm stunned.

But when my charger races out of hand, 
And all the world's brave colour's dimmed in dusk, 
Then, in my burning eyes, as in grey glass, 
The ghosts of forest, valley, rock, flash past.

Now sleeps the earth, but sleep's denied to me. 
I plunge into the sea. A black wave swells 
To shore, and I surrender, arms and all.

The wave in chaos breaks above my head: 
I wait-- till all my thoughts be whirled away 
And swept into oblivion for a while.

Translated by George Reavey


XIII: Chatir Dah

Trembling the Muslim comes to kiss the foot of your crags, 
Mast on Crimea's raft, towering Chatir Dah! 
Minaret of the World! Mightiest Padishah Of Mountains! 
From the plain Fugitive into the Clouds!

As great Gabriel once stood over portals of Eden, 
You at Heaven's Gate watch, wrapped in your forest cloak, 
And, in turban of clouds with lightning flashes bespangled, 
On your forehead you wear janissaries of dread.

Hot sun may roast our limbs, mountain mists blind our eyes,
Locusts may eat our grain, infidels burn our homes,
You, Chatir Dah, would still, unmindful of man's fate,

Rise between earth and sky, Dragoman of Creation; 
Far spreads the plain at your feet, home of men and of thunder, 
But you can only hear what God to nature speaks.

Translated by John Saly


XVI: Mount Kikineis

Look, the abyss, the downward sky, the sea! 
Bird-mountain, shot with thunder, furls below 
feathers and wings, in curve beyond rainbow, 
snow-sails and mast, immobile, vast, free; 
and cloudlike over spacious limbo, covers 
wide azure - oh, island-hemisphere in flight, 
darkens a half-world with its own sad night. 
Look, on its forehead ribbon flames and hovers!
Lightning! But stop here. At our feet, abysses, 
ravines, thresholds we must at gallop span. 
I leap; stand ready with whip and spur; stare 
past rock escarpment where I vanish. This is 
your sign: If white panache gleams, I am there; 
if not, there is no path beyond for man.

Translated by Clark Mills


XVII: The Ruins of the Castle of Balaklava

These shapeless heaps of rubbish, which were castles, 
Once your pride and your defense, O infertile Crimea! 
Lie today on the mountains like skulls of giants, 
Inhabited by the reptile 
Or by men more abject than the reptile.

Let us climb the tower, search out traces of armories; 
What do I see! an inscription. 
Perhaps the name of a hero 
Terror of armies, who sleeps in oblivion, 
Surrounded like an insect with the leaves of the wild vine.

Here Greeks have chiseled Attic ornaments into the walls; 
There the Italians gave fetters to the Mongols, 
And the pilgrim to Mecca murmured the words of the namaz.

Today the vultures crown the tombs 
With their black wings, 
As on the ramparts of a city exterminated by the plague 
A flag of death eternally flies.

Translated by Louíse Bogan


©2000 Jan Rybicki
This page was last updated on 02/12/01 .