Konrad Wallenrod/Introduction

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

KONRAD WALLENROD.

AN HISTORICAL TALE.

(FROM THE ANNALS OF LITHUANIA AND PRUSSIA.)


"Dovete adunque sapere come sono due generazioni da combattere . . . . bisogna essere volpe e leone."


Introduction.

A hundred years have passed since first the Order
Waded in blood of Northern heathenesse;
The Prussian now had bent his neck to chains,
Or, yielding up his heritage, removed
With life alone. The German followed after,
Tracking the fugitive; he captive made
And murdered unto Litwa's farthest bound.

Niemen divideth Litwa from the foe;
On one side gleam the sanctuary fanes,
And forests murmur, dwellings of the gods.

Upon the other shore the German ensign,
The cross, implanted on a hill, doth veil
Its forehead in the clouds, and stretches forth
Its threatening arms towards Litwa, as it would
Gather all lands of Palemon together,
Embrace them all, assembled 'neath its rule.

This side, the multitude of Litwa's youth.
With kolpak of the lynx-hide and in skins
Clad of the bear, the bow upon their shoulders,
Their hands all filled with darts, they prowl around,
Tracking the German wiles. On the other side,
In mail and helmet armed, the German sits
Upon his charger motionless; while fixed
His eyes upon the entrenchments of the foe,
He loads his arquebuse and counts his beads.

And these and those alike the passage guard.
The Niemen thus, of hospitable fame.
In ancient days, uniting heritage
Of brother nations, now for them becomes
The threshold of eternity, and none,
But by foregoing liberty or life,
Cross the forbidden waters. Only now
A trailer of the Lithuanian hop,

Drawn by allurement of the Prussian poplar,
Stretches its fearless arms, as formerly,
Leaping the river, with luxuriant wreaths,
Twines with its loved one on a foreign shore.
The nightingales from Kowno's groves of oak
Still with their brethren of Zapuszczan mount,
Converse, as once, in Lithuanian speech.
Or having on free pinions 'scaped, they fly,
As guests familiar, on the neutral isles.

And mankind?—War has severed human kind!
The ancient love of nations has departed
Into oblivion. Love by time alone
Uniteth human hearts.—Two hearts I knew.

O Niemen! soon upon thy fords shall rush
Hosts bearing death and burning, and thy shores,
Sacred till now, the axe shall render bare
Of all their garlands; soon the cannon's roar
Shall from the gardens fright the nightingales.
Where nature with a golden chain hath bound,
The hatred of the nations shall divide;
It severs all things. But the hearts of lovers
Shall in the Wajdelote's song unite once more.