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Pan Tadeusz

The Romantic
Crimean Sonnets
Forefathers' Eve
Pan Tadeusz
Lausanne Lyrics


O Lithuania, my fatherland,
Thou art like health; what praise thou shouldst command
Only the man finds who has lost thee quite.
Today I see, and limn, thy beauty bright
In all its splendor, for I yearn for thee.

O holy Virgin, who dost oversee
Bright Czenstochowa and in Wilno shinest
Above the Ostra Gate! thou who inclinest
To shelter Nowogrodek with its folk
In faithfulness. When I, in youth, bespoke
Thy help, by miracle thou didst restore
My failing health; when my sad mother bore
Me to thy seat, my deathlike eyes I raised;
Walked to the threshold of thy shrine amazed;
And thanked God for the health brought back to me- 
So by a miracle thou wilt decree
That we regain our country. Meanwhile bear
To those treed hills my spirit of despair,
To those green meadows, stretching far and wide
By the blue Niemen; to those grain fields pied
With hues of various harvests, gold with wheat,
Silvered with rye; where mustard-blossoms meet
With buckwheat white as snow; where clover glows
As with a girl's blush; and green turf-strip bows
Engirdle all the garth with ribbons rare,
As quiet pear-trees slumber here and there.

Translated by Watson Kirkconnel

Book Four

(Thaddeus's Awakening)

Soplitsovo was all astir; yet neither din of hound
Nor neighing charger, creaking chaise or blaring horn
Could rouse Thaddeus. Sound as a burrow'd marmot he slept
On the straw where he'd tumbled fully-dressed that night.
None of the youths gave their slumbering companion a thought:
All were too busy dashing about and carrying out orders.

On he snored. Through a heart-shaped opening in the shutter
A shaft of fiery sunlight pierced the gloom and fell
Square on his brow. Craving more shut-eye, he tossed about,
Avoiding the glare. An urgent tapping sound awoke him.
A merry awakening! Blithe as a bird he felt. Light
His breathing. Blissfully he smiled to himself then blushed
At the recollection of his nocturnal tryst. He heaved a sigh;
Pounded his heart. . .

He looked through the little opening: marvel of marvels!
A pair of shining eyes gleamed through that heart--
Wide open, as happens when peering into the gloom
From the broad daylight. He spied a small hand, like a fan
Held sideways screening the eyes from daylight's glare:
With dawn-like translucence glowed those delicate fingers
Turned toward the rosy light. Two curious lips
He saw--set slightly apart, through which tiny teeth
Sparkled like pearls among the coral; and though screened
By that rosy hand, the face flamed like a fulgent rose.
Lying on his back right under the window, concealed
In the gloom, he marveled at the apparition. Almost touch it
He could; was it real, a dream? One of those sweet, radiant,
Childish faces we recall from our dreams of innocence?
The little face peered down: a shudder of terror
And joy racked him as all too clearly he recognized
The short, golden locks wound in silvery, pod-like
Curl-papers, all a-shimmer like haloes on sainted heads.

He started: instantly the vision fled, spooked
By the noise. Would it reappear? Alas, it didn't.
Again three taps he heard, and the words: "Get up, sir,
It's time for the hunt; you've overslept." He sprang up.
With both hands he flung open the hinged shutters
With such force they crashed against the wall on either
Side. Leaping out of the window, he looked around,
Bewildered, bemused. Nothing in sight, not a trace
Of anyone. Hard by the window stood the garden rails
All wreathed with hops leaves and blossoms. A-tremble
They were: stirred by a feather-light hand, or was it
The breeze? Long he gazed at them. Unwilling to venture
Into the garden, he leaned against the rails, shot his eyes
Aloft and fingered his lips: no rash word would
Break his train of thought. He smote his brow as if
Rousing the old memories; finally, drawing blood from
His gnawed fingers, he bellowed: "Serves me bloody right!"

Translated by Christopher Adam Zakrzewski

Book Four

(Bear Hunt)

Just now Thaddeus had learned that but a brief while ago
The bloodhounds had plunged into the fathomless forest.

Silence.--To no avail the hunters strain their ears;
In vain each listens to the reigning silence as though
Spellbound by the most eloquent speech. Long they stand,
Stock-still, expectant: the music of the wilderness is all
They hear. The hounds plunge like divers through the bush;
The marksmen watch Grechekha, their twin-barrels trained
On the forest. He stoops, puts his ear to the ground: as friends
Of an ailing loved one strive to read the verdict of life
Or death in the physician's face, so the shooters, trusting
In the Woyski's skill, fix on him their anxious gaze.
"He's here! He's here!" he whispers softly, leaping to his feet,
"He's coming this way!" The others strain their ears--
Now all's within earshot: a hound bawls out, then two,
Then twenty; all at once the entire scattered pack
Takes up the scent, gives tongue, and is hot on the trace.
A chorus of howls and bayings! Not the long, drawn-out
Clamor of hounds on the trace of a hare or hind or fox
But a frequent, furious, staccato yelping. No longer
On the scent of distant quarry, the hounds hunt by sight.
The tumult stops--they have him! The din picks up afresh:
Howls!--the beast fights back, and evidently wreaks harm;
Amid that canine clamor, more and more whines
And whimpers of a mortally-clawed hound reach the ear.

Our Nimrods stand their ground, each with his gun at the ready:
Torso tensed like a bow, head bent toward to the forest.
But they cannot resist the urge: one after another deserts
His post and darts into the bush; all eager to be the first
To stand down the quarry. Futile Grechekha's admonitions!
In vain on horseback he circles the positions with threats
That the next to leave his post, squire or simple peasant,
Will feel the lash on his shoulders--all to no avail.
Despite his order, more shooters break ranks for the woods;
Three guns boom out at once, then an entire cannonade,
Till over the din of the shooting, filling the entire forest,
The roar of the bear resounds. An awesome roar!--of pain,
Of fury and despair--followed by a caterwaul of baying hounds,
Hunters' shouts and beaters' horns. More shooters dash
Into the forest, others cock their pieces, all of them in transports
Of delight. All, that is, except for a head-shaking Grechekha--
"Bloody idiots!" he shouts, "They've let 'im slip the sweep."
One way run the beaters and stalkers to head off the beast
From wooded ground; while Bruin, frightened by the throng
Of men and dogs, doublebacks to terrain less sedulously
Guarded--toward the fields now deserted by the marksmen;
Apart from a clutch of beaters stationed there, only
Three shooters remain: Grechekha, Thaddeus and the Count.

Sparser here the trees; from deep within they hear
A roar and the sound of cracking timber; then out
Of the brushwood, like a bolt from the clouds, bursts the bear.
All around him race the hounds, harassing him, tearing
At his heels. He rears up on his hind legs and gazes about,
Terrifying his foe with his roars. Tree-roots he rips up
With his forepaws; scorched stumps, sunken boulders
He grasps and hurls at man and beast. Finally he smites
Down a tree, and brandishing it left and right like a bludgeon,
Makes straight for the beaters' remnant guard-- Thaddeus and the Count.
Unflinching they stand their ground, train their flint-locks
On the advancing beast . So a brace of lightning rods
Points toward the bosom of a rumbling cloud. Then--
O guileless youth!--simultaneously they drop their cocks;
Both pieces smoke at once. They miss. The bear springs up;
Two pairs of hands seize a single pike-staff speared
To the ground. They wrestle for it, look up, see the monstrous
Red snout with its double tier of flashing fangs.
A great clawed paw sweeps down on their heads: they pale,
Jump back, and bolt for the sparse bush, the beast on their tail.
Up he rears, he lunges--swipes wide, then bounds up
And rears again: his swarthy paw takes aim at the Count's
Blond scalp. He would have dashed the brains from his skull,
Like hat from head--right there on the spot--had not Bolesta
And the Assessor then sprung up from the flanks. Gervasius
Was ahead of them, five score paces away; the Bernadine friar
Close by, weaponless--all three fired in the same instant
As though on command. The bear vaulted up like a hare
Before a pack of hounds, and crashed headlong to the ground,
His bloody carcass cartwheeling right by the Count, bowling him
Off his feet. Still he roared, strove to rise, when horrid-hackled
Constable and implacable Mouthpiece pounced on him.

Then Grechekha grasped his leather-strapped buffalo horn:
Long it was, all coiled and patterned like a boa constrictor;
With both hands he pressed it to his lips, swelled his cheeks
Balloon-like--eyes bloodshot, half-closed--he drew in
His belly to half its size; then filling his lungs with its full
Reserves of wind, winded the horn: on a gale's irresistible
Gust it carried the music echoing into the wilderness.
The huntsmen fell silent. Marveled the stalkers at the strength,
The purity, the peculiar harmony of the song. Once again
The old man regaled the hunt with all the art for which
He'd earned celebrity in the forests of bygone days.
In a trice he filled, quickened the stands of beech and oak:
As if the kennel gate he'd flung open and commenced
The hunt. His horn concert embraced the history of the chase:
First a sprightly flourish: reveille and the call to sport;
Then a series of whining sounds: the bay of hounds--
Followed by staccato booming notes: the crack of carbines.

He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to all
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.

He blew again. You'd swear the horn were changing shapes,
Growing thinner and thicker, mimicking the call of the beasts;
Now craning like the wolf's neck, howling fiendishly,
Now swelling and roaring like the brown bear's gorge;
Then rending the air with the bison's bawl...

He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to all
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.
The oak picks up that masterpiece of horn-blowing, bole
To bole repeats it, beech to beech...

Grechekha winds again: you'd swear the horn contained
A hundred horns. You hear the tumult of the chase, cries
Of wrath and alarm, huntsman, pack and quarry; till finally
He lofts the horn: the triumphant paean smites the clouds.

He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to all
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.

As many trees that stand, so many horns fill
The forest; as choir to choir, so tree to tree relays
The hymn: ever broader, ever higher soars that music;
Ever softer, ever purer, ever more perfect, until at last
It melts in the regions of the air at the very gates of paradise!

Grechekha withdrew both hands from the horn; it dropped
And swung by its leather thong. All radiant, his face swollen,
He stood like one inspired, striving still to catch the final
Fading tones. Then rang out a thunderous applause,
A thousand vivats and felicitations from as many throats.

Translated by Christopher Adam Zakrzewski


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