It was the Patron's day, a solemn feast;
Komturs and brethren to the city ride;
White banners wave upon the castle towers:
Konrad invites the knights to festival.
A hundred white cloaks wave around the board,
On every mantle is the long black cross,—
These are the brethren, and behind them stand
The young esquires to serve them, in a ring.
Konrad sat at the top; upon his left
The place was Witold's, with his leaders brave,—
One time their foe, to-day the Order's guest,
Leagued against Litwa as their firm ally.
The Master, rising, gives the festal word,
"Rejoice we in the Lord!" The goblets gleamed.
"Rejoice we in the Lord!" cried thousand voices.
The silver shone, the wine poured forth in streams.
Silent sat Wallenrod, upon his elbow
Leaning, and heard with scorn the unseemly
The uproar ceased; scarcely low-spoken jests
Alternate here and there the cup's light clash.
"Let us rejoice," he says. "How now, my
Beseems it valiant knights to thus rejoice?
One time a drunken clamour, now low murmurs?
Must we then feast like bandits or like monks?
"There were far other customs in my time,
When on the battlefield with corpses piled,
On Castile's mountains or in Finland's woods,
We drank beside the camp-fire.
"Those were songs!
Is there no bard, no minstrel in the crowd?
Wine maketh glad indeed the heart of man,
But song it is that forms the spirit's wine."
Then various singers all at once arose;
A fat Italian here, with birdlike tones,
Sings Konrad's valour and great piety;
And there a troubadour from the Garonne,
The stories of enamoured shepherds sings,
Of maids enchanted and of wandering knights.
Wallenrod slept;—meanwhile the songs are o'er.
Awakened sudden by the loss of sound,
He to the Italian cast a purse of gold.
"To me alone," he said, "thou didst sing praise.
Another may not give thee recompense;
Take and depart Let that young troubadour.
Who serveth youth and beauty, pardon us
That in the knightly throng we have no damsel,
To fasten a vain rosebud to his breast.
"The roses here are faded. I would have
Another bard,—the cloister knight desires
Another song; but be it wild and harsh.
Like to the voice of horns, the clash of swords.
And be it gloomy as the cloister walls,
And fiery as a solitary drunkard.
"Of us, who sanctify and murder men.
Let song of murderous tone proclaim the saintship,
And melt our heart, and rouse to rage,—and
And let it then again affright the weary.
Such is our life, and such our song should be;
Who then will sing it?"
"I," replied an old
And venerable man, who near the door
Sat 'mid the squires and pages, by his robe
Prussian or Litwin. Thick his beard, by age
Whitened; the last grey hairs wave on his head;
His brow and eyes are covered by a veil;
Sufferings and years are graven on his face.
He bore in his right hand a Prussian lute,
But towards the table stretched his left hand
And by this sign entreated audience.
All then were silent.
"I will sing," he cried.
"Once sang I to the Prussians and to Litwa;
Some now have perished in their land's defence;
Others will not outlive their country's loss,
But rather slay themselves upon her corse;
As servants true, in good and evil lot.
Will perish on their benefactor's pile.
Others more shamefully in forests hide;
Others, like Witold, dwell among you here.
"But after death?—Germans! ye know full well.
Ask of the wicked traitors to their land
What they shall do when, in that further world,
Condemned to burning of eternal fires,
They would their ancestors invoke from paradise?
What language shall entreat them for their aid?
If in their German, their barbaric speech.
The forefathers will know their children's voice.
"O children ! what a foul disgrace for Litwa,
That none of you, aye, none, defended me.
When from the shrine, the hoary Wajdelote,
Away they dragged me into German chains!
Alone in foreign lands have I grown old.
A singer!—alas! to no one can I sing!
On Litwa looking, I wept out mine eyes.
To-day, if I would sigh towards my home,
I know not where that home beloved lies,
If here, or there, or in another place.
"Here only, in my heart, have I preserved
That in my Fatherland my best possession;
And these poor remnants of my former treasure
You Germans take from me,—take memory from
"As a defeated knight in tournament
Escapes with life though honour has been lost;
And, dragging out despisfed days in scorn,
Returns once more unto his conqueror;
And for the last time straining forth his arm,
Breaketh his sword beneath the victor's feet,—
So my last failing courage me inspires;
Yet once more to the lute my hand is bold;
Let the last Wajdelote of Litwa sing
Litwa's last song!"
He ended, and awaited
The Master's answer. All in silence deep
Await. With mockery and with curious eye
Konrad tracks Witold's every look and motion.
They noted all how when the Wajdelote
Of traitors spoke, a change o'er Witold came.
Livid he grew and pale again he blushed,
Alike tormented by his rage and shame.
At last, his sabre casting from his side,
He goes, dividing all the astonished crowd.
He looked upon the old man, stayed his steps;
The clouds of anger hanging o'er his brow
Fell sudden in a rapid flood of tears;
He turned, sat down, with cloak he veiled his face,
And into secret meditation plunged
The Germans whispered, "Shall we to our feasts
Admit old beggars? Who will hear the song.
And who will understand?" Such voices were
Among the crowd of revellers, and broken
By constant peals of ever-growing laughter.
The pages cry, whistling on nuts, "Behold!
This is the tune of the Litvanian song."
Upon that Konrad rose. "Ye valiant knights!
To-day the Order, by a solemn custom,
Receiveth gifts from princes and from towns,
As homage from a conquered country due.
The beggar brings a song as offering
To you: forbid we not the old man's homage.
Take we the song; 'twill be the widow's mite.
"Among us we behold the Litwin prince;
His captains are the Order's guests: to him
Sweet will it be to list the memory
Of ancient deeds, recalled in native speech.
Who understands not, let him go from hence.
I love betimes to hear the gloomy groans
Of those Litvanian songs, not understood,
Even as I love the noise of warring waves,
Or the soft murmur of the rain in spring;—
Sweetly they charm to sleep. Sing, ancient bard!"
Song of the Wajdelote.
When over Litwa cometh plague and death,
The bard's prophetic eye beholds, afraid.
If to the Wajdelote's word be given faith,
On desert plains and churchyards, sayeth fame,
Stands visibly the pestilential maid,
In white, upon her brow a wreath of flame,—
Her brow the trees of Bialowiez outbraves,—
And in her hand a blood-stained cloth she waves.
The castle guards in terror veil their eyes,
The peasants' dogs, deep burrowing in the ground.
Scent death approaching, howl with fearful cries.
The maid's ill-boding step, o'er all is found;
O'er hamlets, castles, and rich towns she goes.
Oft as she waves the bloody cloth, no less
A palace changes to a wilderness;
Where treads her foot a recent grave up-grows.
O woful sight! But yet a heavier doom
Foretold to Litwa from the German side,—
The shining helmet with the ostrich plume,
And the wide mantle with the black cross dyed.
For where that spectre's fearful step has passed,
Nought is a hamlet's ruin or a town,
But a whole country to the grave is cast
O thou to whom is Litwa's spirit dear!
Come, on the graves of nations sit we down;
We'll meditate, and sing, and shed the tear.
O native song! between the elder day,
Ark of the Covenant, and younger times.
Wherein their heroes' swords the people lay.
Their flowers of thought and web of native rhymes.
Thou ark! no stroke can break thee or subdue,
While thine own people hold thee not debased. .
O native song! thou art as guardian placed,
Defending memories of a nation's word.
The Archangel's wings are thine, his voice thine too,
And often wieldest thou Archangel's sword.
The flame devoureth story's pictured words,
And thieves with steel wide scatter treasured
But scatheless is the song the poet sings.
And should vile spirits still refuse to give
Sorrow and hope, whereby the song may live,
Upward she flieth and to ruins clings.
And thence relateth ancient histories.
The nightingale from burning dwellings flits,
But on the roof, a moment yet she sits;
When falls the roof she to the forest flies,
And from her laden breast o'er dying embers.
Sings a low dirge the passer-by remembers.
I heard the song! An ancient peasant swain.
When over bones his iron ploughshare rang,
Stood, and on flute of willow played a strain.
Prayers for the dead, or, with a rhymed lament.
Of you, great childless fathers, then he sang.
The echoes answered. I from far did hear,
And sorrow brought the sight and song more near;
In eyes and ears my spirit all was bent.
As on the judgment-day the dead past all
The Archangel's trumpet from the tomb shall call,
So from the song the dead bones upward grew
To giant forms, from sleep of death awake.
Pillars and arches from their ruin anew,
And countless oars splashed in the desert lake;
And soon the castle-gates wide open seemed,
And princes' crowns and warriors' armour gleamed.
Now sing the bards, the dance the maidens weave;
I dreamed of marvels,—and awoke to grieve.
Forests and native hills are vanished.
And thought doth fail, on weary pinions fled,
And sinketh in a hidden stillness drear.
The lute is silent in my stiffened hand.
And 'mid the groan of comrades of my land.
The voices of the past I may not hear.
Still something of that youthful fire once mine
Smoulders within me, and at times its light
Wakens the soul and maketh memory bright.
Then memory, like a lamp of crystalline.
The pencil has with painted colours decked,
Although by dust bedimmed, with scars beflecked;
Place but within its heart a little light,
With freshness of its colours eyes are lured,
On palace walls yet gleaming fair and bright,
Lovely, though yet with dusty cloud obscured.
O could I but this fire of mine impart
To all my hearers' breasts, the shapes upraise
Of those dead times, and reach the very heart
Of all my brothers with my burning lays!
But haply even in this passing hour,
Now when their native song their hearts can move.
The pulses of those hearts may beat more strong,
Their souls may feel the ancient pride and love;
And live one moment in such noble power,
As lived their forefathers their whole life long.
But why invoke the ages long gone by,
And for the present's glory find no voice?
For in your midst a great man liveth nigh—
I sing of him. Ye, Litwini, rejoice!
Silent the old man was, and hearkened round,
If still the Germans will permit his song.
Around the hall there reigned a silence deep;
This warms all poets to a newer zeal.
Once more he raised his song, but other theme;
O'er freer cadences his voice did range.
More rarely he, and lighter, touched the strings.
Descending from the hymn to simple story.
Whence come the Litwins? From a nightly sally;
From church and castle they have won rich spoils,
And crowds of German slaves with fettered hands,
Ropes on their necks, follow the victors' steeds.
They look towards Prussia and dissolve in tears,
On Kowno look, commend their souls to God.
In midst of Kowno stretches Perun's plain;
The Litwin princes, there returned from conquest,
Do burn the German knights in sacrifice.
Two captive knights untroubled ride to Kowno,
One fair and young, the other bowed with years,
They in the battle left the German troops.
Fled to the Litwins. Kiejstut did receive them.
But led them to the castle under guard.
He asks their race, with what intent they come.
"I know not," said the youth, "my race or name;
In childhood was I made the Germans' captive.
I recollect alone, somewhere in Litwa,
Amid a great town stood my father's house.
It was a wooden town on lofty hills,
The house was of red brick. Around the hills
Murmured a wood of fir-trees on the plains;
Among the woods a white lake gleamed afar.
One night a shout aroused us from our sleep;
A fiery day dawned in the window, shook
The window-panes, and whirling wreaths of smoke
Burst forth within the house. Wo to the door.
Flames curled through all the streets, sparks fell
A horrid cry arose, 'To arms! the Germans
Are in the town! to arms!' My father rushed
Forth with his sword,—rushed forth—returned no
The Germans poured into the house. One seized
And caught me to his saddle. What came further
I know not; but long, long my mother's shrieks
I heard 'mid clash of swords, 'mid fall of houses.
This cry long followed me, stayed in my ear;
Even now when I view flames and falling houses,
This cry wakes in my soul as echo wakes
In caverns after thunder's voice. Behold
My memories all of Litwa and my parents.
Sometimes in dreams I view the honoured forms
Of mother, father, brethren; but anew
Some cloud mysterious veils their features o'er,
Thicker and darker growing evermore.
The years of childhood passed away. I lived
A German among Germans, and they gave me
The name of Walter, Alf thereto as surname.
German the name, my soul remained Litvanian;
Grief for my parents, for the strangers hatred
Remained. The Master Winrych in his palace
Reared me, himself did hold me to the font,
Loved and caressed me as his very son.
But weary in his palace, from his knees
I fled unto the Wajdelote. That time
Among the Germans was a Litwin bard,
Captive for many years,—interpreter,
He served the army. When he heard of me
That I was orphan and Litvanian,
He told of Litwa, cheered my longing soul
With his caresses, song, and with the sound
Of the Litvanian speech. He often led me
To the grey Niemen's shores; from thence I
To look upon my country's well-loved mountains.
And when unto the castle we returned,
He dried my tears to waken no suspicion:
He dried my tears, but kindled in me vengeance
Against the Germans. I remember well
How, when we came again into the castle,
I sharpened secretly a knife, with what
Delight of vengeance cut I Winrych's carpets,
Or broke his mirrors, on his shining shield
Flung sand, or spit upon it. Later on.
When grown near manhood, from Klajpedo's port
I sailed with the old man to view the shores
Of Litwa. There I plucked my country's flowers;
Their magic fragrance woke within my soul
Some ancient, dark remembrance. With the fragrance
Intoxicated, seemed me that a child
Once more I grew, and in my parents' garden,
Played with my little brothers. The old man
Assisted memory with his words, more lovely
Than herbs and flowers,—painted the happy past.
How sweet in native land 'mid friends and kin
To pass one's youth, how many Litwin children
Knew not such bliss, in the Order's fetters weeping.
I heard this on the plains, but on the beach.
Where the white billows break with roaring breasts,
And from their foamy throat cast streams of sand,
'Thou seest,' the old man then was used to say,
'The grassy carpet of this seaboard meadow.
The sand blows over it. These fragrant herbs,
Thou seest, would pierce the deadly covering,
By their brow's strength. In vain, alas! for now
Another hydra comes of gravel-dust,
Spreads its white fins, subdues the living lands,
Stretching its kingdom of wild desert round.
My son! the gifts of spring are living cast
Into the grave. Behold! they are conquered
Our brothers the Litwini! Son, this sand
Storm-driven from the sea, it is the Order.'
My heart did pain me hearing, and I longed
To murder all Crusaders, or to fly
To Litwa; but the old man checked my zeal.
'To free knights,' said he, 'it is free to choose
Their weapon, and with equal strength to fight
In open field. Thou art a slave; the only
Weapon that slaves may use is treachery.
Remain awhile and learn the Germans' war-craft;
Try thou to gain their confidence; we later
Shall see what thing to do.' I was obedient
Unto the old man's words—went with the Germans.
But in the first fight, scarce I viewed the standards,
Scarce did I hear my nation's songs of war,
I sprang unto our own,—led the old man with me.
As the young falcon, severed from his nest,
And nourished in a cage, although the fowlers
By cruel torments strip him of his reason,
And send him forth to war on brother-falcons;
Soon as he rises 'mid the clouds, soon as
His eyes o'erstretch the far unmeasured plains
Of his blue Fatherland, he breathes free air,
And hears the rustle of his wings.—Return
Unto thy home, O fowler! do not wait
To see the falcon in his narrow cage."
The youth made end; with wonder Kiejstut heard,
And listened also Kiejstut's daughter fair,
Aldona, young and lovely as a goddess.
The autumn passes, therewith evenings lengthen;
And Kiejstut's daughter, as accustomed, sits
Among her sisters and her comrades' train,
Weaves at the loom or spins the distaff thread;
But as the needles fly or spindles turn,
Walter stands by and telleth wondrous tales.
About the German countries and his youth.
The damsel seizes all that Walter speaks,
Her soul, insatiable, devours all things;
She knows them all by heart, repeats in dreams.
Walter related of the castle halls,
Great towns beyond the Niemen, what rich dresses,
What splendid pastimes; how in tourney knights
Break lances, and the damsels look upon them
Down from their galleries, and adjudge the prize.
He spoke of the great God who rules beyond
The Niemen, and His Son's Immaculate Mother,
Whose angel form he showed in wondrous picture.
This picture piously adorned his breast;
The youth now gave it to the fair Litwinka.
The day he brought her to the holy faith.
When he prayed with her;—he would teach her all
He knew himself. Alas! he taught her too
That which as yet he knew not,—taught her love.
And he himself learned much. With what delight
He from her lips the half-forgotten words
Heard of Litvanian speech. New feelings rose
With each new-risen word like sparks from ashes.
Sweet were the names of family, of friendship,
And sweeter yet than all the name of love,
Which no word equals here on earth, but—
"Whence," Kiejstut thought, "my daughter's
Where is her former mirth, her childish sports?
On holidays all maidens join in dance;
She sits alone, or converse holds with Walter.
On other days the needle or the loom
Engage the damsels; from her hands the needle
Falls, and the threads are tangled in the loom.
She sees not what she does; all tell me so.
And yesterday, I marked she sewed a rose,
The flowers with green, the leaves with rosy silk.
How could she know this, when her eyes and
Seek only Walter's eyes, seek his discourse?
Oft as I ask, 'Where goes she?' 'To the valley.'
'Whence comes she?' 'From the valley.'
'What is there?'
'The youth has made in it a garden for her.'
What! is that garden fairer than my orchards?
(For Kiejstut owned proud orchards full of apples
And pears, allurement of the Kowno damsels.)
'Tis not the garden lures her. I have marked
Her windows in the winter; all the panes
Which look on Niemen clear are as in May;
The frost has not obscured the crystal glass.
Thence Walter comes. She sat beside the window,
And with her burning sighs did melt the ice.
I thought, he teaches her to read and write,
Hearing all princes now instruct their children,—
A good lad, valiant, skilled like priest in books.
Shall I expel him from my house? He is
So needful to our Litwa; he can rank
The troops as can no other; rampart mounds
He best can heap; the thunder-arms direct.
I have one behind my army.—Walter, come,
And be my son-in-law, and fight for Litwa."
So Walter wed Aldona. Germans! you
No doubt will think this is the story's end;
For in your love romances when the knights
Are married, then the minstrel ends his song.
And only adds, "They lived long and were happy."
Well Walter loved his wife; his noble soul
Yet found no happiness in heart or home.
For in the country was there blessing none.
The snows scarce vanished, scarce the first lark
The lark to other lands sings love and joy.
But unto hapless Litwa he proclaims
With every year carnage and fire;—on march
Crusading armies in unnumbered crowds.
Now from the hills beyond the Niemen echo
To Kowno bears a mighty army's shouts,
The clang of armour and the neigh of steeds.
Like mist the camp descends, o'erflows the plain,
And here and there the leaders' standards gleam
Like lightning ere the storm. The Germans stood
Upon the shore, threw bridges o'er the Niemen,
And day by day the walls and bastions fall
With shock of battering-ram, and night by night
The storming mines work underground like moles;
Beneath the heavens the bomb in fiery flight
Rises, and swoops upon the city roofs,
As falls the falcon on the lesser fowl.
Kowno is fallen in ruins. Then the Litwin
Retires to Kiejdan; Kiejdan falls in ruin.
Then Litwa makes defence in woods and hills;
The Germans march on farther, robbing, burning;
Kiejstut and Walter first in battle, last
Retreating. Kiejstut was untroubled still,
From childhood used to combat with his foe,
To attack, to conquer, or to fly. He knew
His forefathers warred ever with the Germans;
He, following in their footsteps, ever fought.
And cared not for the future. Other were
The thoughts of Walter. Nurtured 'mid the Germans,
He knew the Order's power; the Master's summons,
He knew, could draw forth armies, treasures, swords,
From all of Europe. Prussia made defence;
In former times the Teutons broke the Prussians;
Sooner or later Litwa meets such fate.
He had seen the Prussians' misery; he trembled
To think of Litwa's future. "Son," cries Kiejstut,
"Thou art an evil prophet; thou hast reft
The veil before my eyes, to show the abyss.
While hearing thee, it seemed my hands grew weak,
With victory's hope all courage left my breast
How shall we with the German power contend?"
"Father," said Walter, "one sole way I know,
A dreadful way, alas! effectual!
Some day I may reveal it." Thus did they
Converse, the battle over, ere the trumpet
Did summon to fresh battles and defeats.
Kiejstut grew ever sadder, and how changed
Seemed Walter; never over-merry he.
Even in happy moments some light shade
Of thought o'erhung his brow, but with Aldona
Serene was once his brow and visage tranquil.
Aye welcoming her with smiles, with tender glance
Bidding farewell to her. Now, as it seemed,
He was tormented by some hidden pain.
By morn, before the house, wringing his hands,
He looked upon the smoke of towns and hamlets,
Burning far off; there gazed he with wild eyes.
By night he started out of sleep, and looked
Forth from the window on the blood-red blaze.
"Husband, what ails thee?" asks with tears Aldona,
"What ails me? Shall I peaceful sleep till Germans
Shall give me sleeping, bound, to hangman's
"O husband! Heaven forbid! The sentries guard
Full well the trenches." "True the sentries guard
I watch and grasp the sabre in my hand.
But when the sentries die the sword is broken.
List, if I live to old age, wretched age―"
"But Heaven will give us comfort in our children."
"The Germans will fall on us, slay the wife,
The children tear away, and lead them far,
Teach them to loose the arrow on their father.
Myself my father, brothers, might have slain.
Unless the Wajdelote―" "Dear Walter! go we
Farther in Litwa; hide we from the Germans
In mountains and in forests." "Aye, we go,
And other mothers, children leave behind.
Thus fled the Prussians; Germans overtook them
In Litwa. If they trace us in the mountains―"
"Let us again go farther." "Farther? farther?
Unhappy one! shall we go far from Litwa,
Into the Tartar's or the Rusin's hands?"
Hushed was Aldona, troubled at this answer,
For hitherto it had to her appeared
Her Fatherland were long as is the world,
Wide without end; and now for the first time
She heard there was no refuge in all Litwa.
Wringing her hands she asked, "What may be
"One way, Aldona, one remains to Litwa
To break the Order's power: that way I know;
But ask it not for God's sake. Hundred times
Be cursed that hour in which, constrained by foes,
I seize these means." No farther would he say,
Heard not Aldona's prayers, but only heard
And saw before him Litwa's misery.
At last the flame of vengeance, nursed in silence,
By sight of suffering and defeat, increased.
And did surround his heart, consumed all feelings—
One feeling even, hitherto life-sweetening,—
Feeling of love. So when the hunters light
A hidden fire 'neath oaks of Bialowiez,
It burns away the inner pith; the monarch
Of the forest loses all his waving leaves,
His branches fly off, even that green crown
That once adorned his brow, the mistletoe,
Dries up and withers.
Long the Litwini
Wandered through castles, mountains, and through
The Germans harrying or by them attacked,
Till fought the dreadful fight on Rudaw's plains,
Where many thousand Litwin youth lay slaughtered,
Beside as many of the Teuton host.
Soon reinforcements from beyond the sea
Came to the Germans. Kiejstut then and Walter
Ascended with a handful to the mountains.
With broken sabres and with dinted shields.
Covered with dust and clotted gore, they went
Gloomy towards home. There Walter neither
Upon his wife, nor spoke to her one word;
But in the German tongue held he discourse
With Kiejstut and the Wajdelote. Aldona
Nought understood, but yet her heart forebode
Some dire event. When ended was their council,
All three turned sorrowing glances on Aldona.
Walter looked longest, with despair's mute gaze;
Thick-falling teardrops trickled from his eyes;
He fell before Aldona's feet and pressed
Her hands unto his heart, and pardon begged
For all the things that she had suffered of him.
"Woe!" cried he, "unto women loving madmen.
Whose hearts domestic happiness contents not.
Great hearts, Aldona, are like hives too large;
Honey can fill them not, and they become
The lizard's nest. Forgive me, dear Aldona!
To-day I would remain at home, to-day
Forget all things; be we for each to-day
What once we used to be. To-morrow―" But
He could not finish. What joy then Aldona's!
She thought, unhappy, Walter would be changed,
That he would live in peace and joyousness.
Less thoughtful did she see him, in his eyes
More life; she saw new colour in his cheeky;
And all that evening at Aldona's feet
Spent Walter. Litwa, Teutons, and the war
He cast awhile into forgetfulness;
Talked of those happy times when first he came
To Litwa, his first converse with Aldona,
The first walk to the valley, and of all
Those childish things, but memorable to the heart,
Of that first love. Wherefore such sweet discourse
Must he break off with that sad word—to-morrow,
And plunge in thought, look long upon his wife?
Tears circle in his eyes. Would he then speak,
But dares not? Did he but invoke the feelings.
The memories of ancient happiness.
Only to bid farewell to them? Shall all
This evening's converse, all its sweet caresses.
Be but the last, last flickerings of love's torch?
'Tis vain to ask. Aldona looks and waits,
Uncertain. Passing from the room, she gazed
Still through the crannies. Walter poured out wine,
And emptied many cups, and near him kept
The hoary Wajdelote through all the night.
Scarce risen had the sun when hoofs were clattering;
Up with the morning mists two riders haste;
The guards all missed them; one eye could not miss.
A lover's eyes are vigilant. Aldona
Had guessed their flight; she rushed into the valley.
Sad was that meeting. "O my love, return!
Return thou home—return! Thou must be happy,
Blest in embraces of thy family.
Thou art young and fair; comfort will soon be thine.
Forget me. Many princes formerly
Contended for thy hand. And thou art free,
Being as widow left of a great man,
Who for his country's weal renounced ev'n thee!
Farewell! forget; but weep for me at times;
For Walter loses all; he doth remain
Lone as the lone wind in the wilderness,
And he must wander over all the world,
To plunder, murder, and at last to perish
By shameful death. But after vanished years
The name of Alf again shall sound in Litwa,
And from the Wajdelote's lips thou shalt again
Hear of his deeds. Then, loved one, think thou
This dreadful knight, with cloud of mystery veiled.
Is known to thee alone,—was once thy husband;
And be thy pride thy desolation's comfort."
Silent Aldona did assent, although
She heard no word. "Thou goest! thou goest!",
And her own anguish wrought with her own words.
"Thou goest!" this one word sounded in her ear.
She framed no thought, nothing recalled; her
Her memories, her future, tangled all;
But guessed her heart she never could return.
Nor e'er forget. Her eyes all wandering roved,
And' many times met Walter's wildered look,
Wherein she might not find the ancient joy;
She seemed to seek for something new around.
And looked once more. 'Twas forest wilderness.
Beyond the Niemen 'mid the forests gleamed
A turret height; a convent 'twas of nuns.
Sad dwelling of the Christians. On this tower
Rested Aldona's eyes and thoughts; the dove
Seized by the wind amidst a raging sea,
Thus falls upon an unknown vessel's mast.
And Walter understood Aldona. Silent
He followed her, and told her his design,
Commanding secrecy before the world.
And at the doors—ah! fearful was that parting!
Alf rode off with the Wajdelote. Till now
Nought has been heard of them. But woe to him
If he fulfil not hitherto his vows,
If, having all his bliss renounced and poisoned
Aldona's happiness, and sacrificed
So much, he still have sacrificed in vain!
The future shows the rest. I have ended, Germans.
This is the end?—great murmur in the hall.
"Who is this Walter, and what are his deeds?
Where? vengeance upon whom?" the hearers cried.
The Master only, 'mid the murmuring crowd,
In silence sat with head bent down. He seemed
As deeply moved; each instant snatches cups
Of wine, and to the very bottom drains.
Upon him came a change of somewhat new,
Many emotions break in sudden lightnings,
And circle o'er his burning countenance;
His pale lips quiver, and his wandering eyes
Fly round like swallows in the midst of storm.
At last he cast his mantle off, and sprang
Into the midst. "Where is the story's end?
Sing me at once the end or give the lute.
Why stand'st thou trembling? Give the lute to me.
Fill up the goblets; I will sing the end
lf thou dost fear to sing it.
"I know ye. Every song the Wajdelote sings
Portendeth woe, as howls of dogs at night.
Murders and burnings ye delight to sing,
Ye leave to us—glory and sorrowing.
Yet in the cradle doth your traitorous song
Circle the infant's breast in reptile form,
And cruellest poison sheds into the soul,
Foolish desire of praise and patriot love.
"She follows hard the footsteps of a youth
Like shade of slaughtered foe, sometimes reveals
Herself in midst of banquets, mixing blood
In cups of joy. I have heard the song—too well,
Alas! 'Tis done, 'tis done! I know thee, traitor!
Thou winnest! War! what triumph for a poet!
Give to me wine; now my designs are working.
"I know the song's end. No! I'll sing another.
When on the mountains of Castile I fought,
There the Moors taught me ballads. Old man! play
That melody, that childish melody,
Which in the valley,—'twas a blessed time;
Unto that music did I ever sing.
Return at once, old man, for by all gods,
German or Prussian―"
The old man must return.
He struck the lute, and with uncertain voice
Followed the savage tones of Konrad, as
A slave may walk behind his angry lord.
Meanwhile the lights went out upon the table.
The knights had slumbered at the lengthy banquet,
But Konrad sings, and they awake again.
They stand, and, in a narrow circle pressed,
Attentive marked the ballad's every word.
Ruined lie the Moorish cities,
Still the Moors upraise the sword;
In the country still resisting,
Reigns the pestilence as lord.
And the towers of Alpujara
Brave Almanzor still defends:
Floats below the Spaniard's banner,
Siege to-morrow he intends.
Roar the guns at sunrise loudly,
Ramparts break, and crumble walls;
From the towers the cross gleams proudly,—
Now the Spaniard owns these halls.
Sad Almanzor views his warriors
Slain in battle desperate;
Hews his way through swords and lances,
Flieth Spain's pursuing hate.
Now the Spaniards in the fortress,
'Mid the stones and corpses there,
Hold the feast and drain the wine-cup,
And the spoils and captives share.
Soon the guard, without announces
That a stranger knight doth wait,
Craving for a swift admittance,
Bringing tidings of great weight.
'Twas the vanquished Moor Almanzor.
Swift his mantle off was thrown;
To the Spaniards he surrenders,
And he craves for life alone.
"I am come, ye Christian warriors.
To submit me to your power;
I will serve the God of Christians,
Own your prophet from this hour.
"Let the blast of fame, world-filling.
Say, the Arab chief o'erthrown
Would be brother to his victors,
Vassal of a stranger's crown."
Well the Spaniard prizes valour.
So the great Almanzor knowing.
They embraced him, circled round him.
As their true companion showing.
Each one then Almanzor greeted.
And their captain close embraced:
Hung upon his neck, and kissed him;
Such true love their friendship graced.
All at once his strength grew feebler,
And he fell upon the ground;
But he drew the Spaniard with him,
To his feet the turban bound.
All with wonder looked upon him,
And his livid visage scan;
Horrid smiles deformed his features,
And with blood his eyes overran.
"Christian dogs," he cries, "look on me,
If you understand this thing;
I deceived you, from Granada
Come I, and the plague I bring.
"For my kiss breathed venom in ye.
And the plague shall lay you low;
Come and look upon my tortures—
Ye such death must undergo."
Wide he cast his eyes around him.
As he would eternally
Chain all Spaniards to his bosom;
And a horrid laugh laughed he.
Laughed, and died; his eyes yet open,
Open yet his lips remained;
In that hellish smile for ever
Those cold features still were strained.
Fled the Spaniards from the city.
But the plague their steps pursuing,
Ere they left doomed Alpujara,
Was that gallant host's undoing.
"Thus years ago the Moors avenged themselves;
Would you the vengeance of the Litwin know?
What if some day it issue forth in words,
And come to mingle poison in the wine?
But no! ah, no! to-day are other customs.
Prince Witold; for to-day the Litwin lords
Come to deliver us their native land.
And seek for vengeance on their harassed people.
"But yet, indeed, not all—oh! no, by Perun!
There are in Litwa yet—I'll sing yet to you!
Away from me that lute—a string is broken.
No song will be—but I do trust indeed
One time there will be. This day, o'er filled cups,—
I have drunk too much—rejoice yourselves and
And thou Al—manzor, leave my sight, old man!
Away with Halban—leave me here alone."
He said, and turning by uncertain way,
He found his place, and sank into his chair.
Still threatening somewhat, stamping with his foot,
O'erturned the table with the wine and cups.
At last grown weaker, he inclined his head
Upon the chair-arm; soon his glance was quenched;
His quivering lips were covered o'er with foam.
The knights awhile in fixed amazement stood:
They knew full well Konrad's unhappy custom;
How, when inflamed unto excess with wine.
Into wild transports and forgetfulness
He falls; but at a banquet, public shame!
Before the strangers, in such unheard rage!
Who thus inflamed him? Where that Wajdelote?
He vanished privately, none know of him.
Stories there were that Halban thus disguised
To Konrad that Litvanian song had sung,
To kindle by this means the zeal of Christians
To battle against heathenesse; but whence
A change so sudden in the Master? Wherefore
Did Witold show such angry wrath? What means
The Master's strange, wild ballad? With conjectures,
Each vainly tries to track the hidden secret.