Konrad Wallenrod/III

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Konrad Wallenrod  (1882)  by Adam Mickiewicz, translated by Maude Ashurst Biggs
III

III.

When the Grand-Master had the sacred books
Kissed of the holy laws, and from the Komtur
Received the sword and grand cross, ensigns high
Of power, he raised his haughty brow. Although
A cloud of care weighed on him, with his eye
He scattered fire around him. In his glance
Burns exultation, half with anger mixed,—
And, guest invisible, upon his face
Hovered a faint and transitory smile,
Like lightning which divides the morning cloud,
Boding at once the sunrise and the thunder.

The Master's zeal, his threatening countenance.
All hearts with hope and newer courage fills;
Battle before them they behold and plunder,
And pour in thought great floods of pagan blood.
Who shall against such ruler dare to stand?
Who will not fear his sabre or his glance?

Tremble, Litwini! for the time is near,
From Wilna's ramparts when the cross shall shine.

Vain are their hopes, for days and weeks flew by;
In peace a whole long year has flowed away,
And Litwa threatens. Wallenrod, ignobly,
Himself nor combats, nor goes out to war;
And when he rouses and begins to act,
Reverses the old ruling suddenly.

He cries, "The Order has overstepped its laws.
The brethren violate their plighted vows.
Let us engage in prayer, renounce our treasures,
And seek in virtue and in peace renown."
To penance he compels them, fasts, and burdens;
Denies all pleasures, comforts innocent;
Each venial sin doth cruelly chastise
With dungeons underground, exile, the sword.

Meanwhile the Litwin, who long years afar
Had shunned the portals of the Order's town.
Now burns the villages around each night.
And captive their defenceless people takes.
Beneath the very castle proudly boasts,
He in the Master's chapel goes to mass.

And children trembled on their parents' threshold,
To hear the roar of Samogitia's horn.

What time were better to begin a war
While Litwa by internal strife is torn?
Here the bold Rusin,[1] here the unquiet Lach,[2]
The Crimean Khans lead on a mighty host;
And Witold, by Jagellon dispossessed,
Has come to seek protection of the Order;
In recompense doth promise gold and land,
But hitherto for help he waits in vain.

The brothers murmur, council now assembles,
The Master is not seen. Old Halban hastes,
But in the castle, in the chapel finds
Not Konrad. Whither is he? At the tower!
The brotherhood have tracked his steps by night.
'Tis known to all; for at the evening hour.
When all the earth is veiled with thickest mists.
He sallies forth to wander by the lake.
Or on his knees, supported by the wall,

Draped in his mantle, till the white dawn gleams,
He lieth, moveless as a marble form,
And unsubdued by sleep the whole night long.
Oft at the soft voice of the fair recluse
He rises, and returns her low replies.
No ear their import can discern afar;
But from the lustre of the shaking helm.
View of the lifted head, unquiet hands,
'Tis seen some discourse pends of weighty things.


Song from the Tower.


Ah! who shall number all my tears and sighs?
Have I so long wept through these weary years?
Was such great bitterness in heart and eyes,
That all this grate is rusty with my tears?
Where falls the tear it penetrates the stone,
As in a good man's heart 'twere sinking down.

A fire eternal burns in Swentorog's halls;[3]
Its pious priests for ever feed the fire:
From Mendog's hill a fount eternal falls;
The snows and storm-clouds swell it ever higher.
None feed the torrent of my sighs and tears,
Yet pain for ever heart and eyeballs sears.

A father's care, a mother's tender love,
And a rich castle and a joyous land,
Days without longing, nights no dream might move
Peace like a tranquil angel aye did stand
Near me, abroad, at home, by day and night,
Guarding me close, though viewless to the sight.

Three lovely daughters from one mother born.
And I the first demanded as a bride;
Happy in youth, happy in joys to be,
Who told me there were other joys beside?
O lovely youth! why didst thou tell me more
Than e'er in Litwa any knew before?

Of the great God, of angels bright as day,
Of stone-built cities where religion rests,
Where in rich churches all the people pray,
Where princely lords obey their maidens' bests;
Like to our warriors great in warlike pains.
Tender in love as are our shepherd swains.

Where man, from covering of clay set free,
A wingèd soul, flies through a joyful heaven.
I could believe it, for in listening thee
I had a foretaste of those wonders even.

Ah! since that time, in good and evil plight,
I dream of thee and those fair heavens bright.

The cross upon thy breast rejoiced mine eyes;
The sign of future bliss therein I read.
Alas! when from the cross the thunder flies,
All things around are silenced, perished.
Nought I regret, though bitter tears I pour;
Thou tookest all from me, but hope leftst o'er.

"Hope!" the low echoes from the shore replied,
The valleys and the forest Konrad woke,
And laughing wildly, answered, "Where am I?
To hear in this place—hope? Wherefore this
 song?
I do recall thy vanished happiness.
Three lovely daughters from one mother born,
And thou the first demanded as a bride.
Woe unto you, fair flowers! woe to you!
A fearful viper crept into the garden.
And where the reptile's livid breast has touched
The grass is withered and the roses fade,
And yellow as the reptile's bosom grow.
Fly from the present in thought; recall the days
Which thou hadst spent in joyousness without—

Thou'rt silent! Raise thy voice again and curse;
Let not the dreadful tear which pierces stones
Perish in vain. My helmet I'll remove.
Here let it fall; I am prepared to suffer;
Would learn betimes what waiteth me in hell.

Voice from the Tower.


Pardon, my loved one, pardon! I am guilty!
Late was thy coming, weary 'twas to wait,
And thus, despite myself, some childish song—
Away with it! What have I to regret?
With thee, my love, with thee a passing space
We lived through; but the memory of that time
I would not change with all earth's habitants,
For tranquil life passed through in weariness.
Thyself didst say to me that common men
Are as those shells deep hidden in the marsh;
Scarce once a year by some tempestuous wave
Cast up, they peep from out the troubled water.
Open their lips, and sigh forth once towards
 heaven.
And to their burial once more return.
No! I am not created for such bliss.
While yet within my Fatherland I dwelt

A still life, sometimes in my comrades' midst
A longing seized me, and I sighed in secret,
And felt unquiet throbbings in my heart;
And sometimes fled I from the lower plain.
And standing on the higher hill, I thought.
If but the larks would give me from their wings
One feather only, I would fly with them,
And only from this mountain wish to pluck
One little flower, the flower forget-me-not.
And then afar beyond the clouds to fly
Higher and higher, and to disappear!
And thou didst hear me! Thou, with eagle
 pinions.
Monarch of birds, didst raise me to thyself.
O now, ye larks, I beg for nought from you,
For whither should she fly, what pleasures seek.
Who has the great God learned to know in heaven,
And loved a great man on this lower world?

Konrad.


Greatness, and greatness yet again, mine angel!
Greatness for which we groan in misery!
A few days still,—let it torment the heart,—
A few days only, fewer already are.

'Tis done! 'Tis vain to grieve for vanished time.
Aye! let us weep, but let our proud foes tremble!
For Konrad wept, but 'twas to murder them!
But wherefore cam'st thou here—wherefore, my
 love?
Unto God's service did I vow myself.
Was it not better in His holy walls,
Afar from me to live and die than here.
In the land of lying and of murderous war.
In this tower-grave by long and painful tortures
To expire, and open solitary eyes.
And through the unbroken fetters of this grate
Implore for help, and I be forced to hear.
To look upon the torture of long death,
Standing afar, and curse my very soul.
That harbours relics yet of tenderness?

Voice from the Tower.


If thou lamentest, hither come no more!
Though thou shouldst come, with burning zeal
 implore.
Thou shouldst hear nought. My window now I
 close,
Descend once more into my prison darkness.

Let me in silence drink my bitter tears.
Farewell for aye, farewell, my only one!
And let the memory perish of this hour,
Wherein thou didst no pity for me show.

Konrad.


Then thou have pity! for thou art an angel!
Stay! But if prayer is powerless to restrain,
On the tower's angle will I strike my head;
I will implore thee by the death of Cain.

Voice from the Tower.


O let us both have pity on ourselves!
My love, remember, great as is this world.
Two of us only on this mighty earth,
Upon the seas of sand two drops of dew.
Scarce breathes a little wind, from the earthly vale
For aye we vanish—ah! together perish!
I came not here for this, to torture thee.
I would not on me take the holy vows.
Because I dared not pledge my heart to Heaven,
While yet in it an earthly lover reigned.
I in the cloister would remain, and humbly
Devote my days to service of the nuns.

But there without thee, everything around
Was all so new, so wild, so strange to me!
Remembering then that after many years,
Thou shouldst return again to Mary's town
To seek for vengeance on the enemy.
The cause defending of a hapless folk,
I said unto myself, "Who waits long years
Shortens with thoughts; maybe he now returns,
Maybe is come. Is it not free to ask,
Though living I immure me in the grave,
That once more I may look upon thy face,
That I at least may perish near to thee?
And therefore to the hermit's narrow house
Upon the road, upon the broken rock,
I will betake me, and enclose myself.
Some knight maybe, in passing by my hut,
May speak aloud by chance my loved one's name;
Among the foreign helmets I may view
His crest; though changed the fashion of his arms,
Although a strange device adorn his shield.
Although his face be changed, even then my
 heart
Will recognise my lover from afar.
And when a heavy duty him coinpels
To shed the blood of all and to destroy,

And all shall curse him, one heart yet alone
Shall dare afar to bless him." Here I chose
My habitation and my grave apart,
In silence, where the sacrilege of groans
The traveller dare not listen. Thou, I know,
Lovest to walk alone. Within myself
I thought, "Maybe at even he will come,
Having his comrades left behind, to hold
Converse with winds and billows of the lake;
And he will think of me and hear my voice."
And Heaven did fulfil my innocent wish.
Thou camest; thou didst understand my song.
I prayed in former times that dreams might bless
Me with thine image, though the form were mute:
To-day, what happiness! To-day, together,—
Together we may weep!

Konrad.


 And wherefore weep?
I wept, thou dost remember, when I tore
Myself for ever from thy dear embrace,
And of my free will died from happiness,
That thus I might designs of blood fulfil.
That too long martyrdom at length is crowned.

 
Now stand I at the summit of desires;
I can revenge me on the enemy.
And thou hast come to tear my victory from me!
Till now, when from the window of thy turret
Thou didst look on me, in the world's whole circle
Again there seemed no thing to meet my eye,
But the lake only, and the tower and grate.
Around me all with tumult seethes of war.
'Mid trumpet clamour, 'mid the clash of arms,
I seek impatient with a straining ear,
For the angelic sound of thy sweet lips.
And all the day for me is waiting hope.
And when the evening season I have reached,
I wish to lengthen it by memories:
I reckon by its evenings all my life.
Meanwhile the Order murmurs at repose,
Entreat for war, demand their own perdition;
And vengeful Halban will not let me breathe,
But still recalls to me those ancient vows.
The slaughtered hamlets, and the lands destroyed;
Or if I will not listen his reproaches,
He with one sigh, one glance, one beckoning,
Can blow my smouldering vengeance to a flame.
Now seems my destiny to near its end;
Nought the Crusaders can withhold from war.

A messenger from Rome came yesterday.
From the world's every quarter, clouds unnumbered
A pious zeal hath gathered in the field,
And all call out to me to lead them on
With sword and cross upon the walls of Wilna.
And yet—with shame I must confess—ev'n now,
While destinies of mighty nations pend,
I think of thee, and still invent delays.
That we may pass together one more day.
O youth! how fearful was thy sacrifice!
When young, love, happiness, a very heaven,
I for a nation's cause could sacrifice
With grief, but courage;—and to-day, grown old,—
To-day despair, my duty, and God's will
Compel me to the field, and still I dare not
Tear my grey head from these walls' pedestal,
That I may not forego thy sweet conversing.

He ceased. Groans only issued from the tower.
Long hours flowed by in silence. Now the night
Reddened, and now the water's stilly face
Blushed with the ray of dawn. Among the leaves
Of sleeping bushes with a rustling murmur
The morning freshness flew. The birds awoke

With their soft notes, then once again they ceased,
And by long-during silence gave to know
They had too early woken. Konrad rose.
Lifted his eyes unto the tower, and looked
With anguish on the grate. The nightingale
Awoke in song, then Konrad looked around.
'Tis morning! and he let his visor down,
And in his cloak's wide folds concealed his face.
With beckoning of his hand he signs adieu.
And in the bushes now is lost
 Ev'n thus,
A spirit infernal from a hermit's door
Doth vanish at the sound of matin bell.

  1. Inhabitant of Rus (White Russia, Little Russia, also Red Russia, or Galicia).
  2. Pole. The native name of Polska is derived from pole=field, and Lachy=plain of the Lachs.
  3. Note 7