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Forefathers' Eve

The Romantic
Crimean Sonnets
Forefathers' Eve
Pan Tadeusz
Lausanne Lyrics

The Great Improvisation

(Part Three, Scene Two)

. . . Listen to me, God, and you, Nature! 
Here is music that is worthy of you, songs that are worthy of you. 
I am master!
Master, I stretch out my hands! 
I stretch them to the sky, I place my fingers on the stars. 
They are my musical glasses, my armonica.
Now swiftly, now slowly
My spirit turns the stars. 
Millions on millions of tones resound, 
It is I who called them forth, I know them all;
I combine them, I separate them, I reunite them,
I weave them into rainbows, into chords, into strophes, 
I scatter them in sounds and in ribbons of fire.

I raised my hands, 
I held them high above the ridge of the world, 
And the wheels of the armonica suddenly ceased to whirl.
I sing alone, I hear my songs
Long lingering like the breath of the wind,
They blow through all mankind,
They moan like pain, 
They roar like the storm. 
Tonelessly, the centuries accompany them; each sound resounds and burns, 
Is in my ear, is in my eye, 
As when the wind blows over the waves, 
In its whistlings I hear its flight 
And see it in its coat of cloud.

These songs are worthy of God, of Nature!
This is a mighty song, a creator-song. 
This song is force and power, 
This song is immortality! 
I feel immortality, I create immortality, 
And you, God, what more could you do? 
See how I draw my thoughts out of myself, 
I incarnate them, 
They scatter across the skies, 
They whirl, they sing, they shine, 
Already far away, I feel them still, 
Still feel their charm, 
I feel their roundness in my hand, 
I sense their movements in my mind: 
I love you, my poetic children! 
My thoughts! My stars! 
My feelings! My storms! 
Among you I am like a father in the midst of his family, 
All of you are mine .

. . . Not from Eden's tree have I drawn this power-
From the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil-
Not from books or tales that are told, 
Not from the solution of problems, 
Or the practice of magic. 
Creator I was born: 
I have drawn my powers from the source 
From which you drew yours: 
You did not search for your powers - you have them;
You do not fear to lose them and neither do I!
Was it you who gave me,
Or did I, like you, have to seize it,
This piercing and powerful eye:
When I raise my eyes toward the track of the clouds,
And hear the birds flying south on almost invisible wings,
Suddenly, only by willing, I hold them as in a net with my eyes;
The flock gives a cry of distress, but, till I release them,
Your winds cannot move them.
If I gaze at a comet with all the strength of my soul,
It cannot stir from the spot while my eyes are upon it

Translated by Louise Varese


The Prisoner's Return

(Part Three, Scene Seven)

Him! So I rushed. "But there will be a spy.
Don't go today." I made another try 
The morning after. Police thugs at the door.
The next week, too, I went. "His health is poor."
And then, at last, when traveling out of town
They told me that a fat but broken-down
Fellow was my friend. His hair had gone; his skin
Was a puffed sponge that wrinkles burrowed 
Bad food had done it, that and rotten air. 
I never would have known him, sitting there. 
I said good day. He couldn't place my face. 
I introduced myself, but not a trace 
Of recognition. Then I reminded him 
Of this and that. His glance grew deep, kept dim. 
And all his daily tortures, all the fears 
Of sleepless nights, and all the thoughts, the years, 
I saw; but only for a moment: then 
A monstrous veil descended once again. 
His pupils, like thick glass refracting light,
Looked grey when stared at but could shine with bright
Patterns of rainbows when glimpsed from the side. 
Cobwebs are like that too: their grey threads hide 
Sparks and rust-reds and spots of black and green:
Yet in those pupils nothing could be seen. 
Their surface, quite opaquely, showed that they, 
Had lain a long time in the damp dark clay.

Next month I called on him, hoping to find 
A man at ease, refreshed, in his right mind. 
But many questioners had had their say, 
Ten thousand sleepless nights had passed away, 
Too many torturers had probed, and he 
Had learned that shadows make good company
And silence is the only right reply.
The city, in a month, could not defy
The laws that had been taught him year by year.
Day was a traitor, sunlight a spy: his fear
Made turnkeys of his family, hangmen of guests.
The door's click meant: "More questions. More arrests."
He'd turn his back, prop head on hand, and wait
Collecting strength enough to concentrate.
his lips pressed tight to make them one thin line.
He hid his eyes lest they should give some sign,
And any sign might tell them what he thought.
The simplest question seems to have him caught.
He'd crouch in shadows, crying "I won't talk."
Because his mind was made of prison rock
So that his cell went with him everywhere.
His wife wept long, kneeling beside his chair.
But maybe it was mostly his child's tears
That, finally, released him from his fears.

I thought he'd tell his story in the end.
(Ex-convicts like to speak to an old friend
About their prison days.) I'd learn the truth,
The truth that tyrants hide, the Polish truth.
It flourishes in shadows. Its history 
Lives in Siberia where its heroes die,
There and in dungeons. But what did my friend say?
He said he had forgotten. And, with dismay,
I listened to his silence. His memory was
Written upon, and deeply, but, because
It had long rotted in the dark, my friend
Could not read what was written: "We'd better send
For God. He will remember and tell us all."

Translated by Jerzy Peterkiewicz and Burns Singer




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