Bohemian legends and other poems/John, Sacrificed John

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For other English-language translations of this work, see John, Sacrificed John.



Gather round me, little laddies,
And ye maidens small;
Listen to my voice and lyre;
Listen, children all.
With attention hear my ballad,
Till the tale be done;
Listen—’tis a wondrous story—
Till my song be done.

In a poor Bohemian village,
Not far from the way,
Even now you see an old well,
Honored till this day.
Deep within it lies a church bell,
Hid from mortal eyes;
Never more its voice shall ringing
Bid us praise the skies.

Only once in the far ages
Did they hear its voice,
When an old religious woman
Went there once by choice.
Dipping in its cold, clear bosom
Linen she had spun,
Half drew up the bell that lay there,
Hid from light and sun.

Filled with horror, she fell fainting
By the old well’s side,
And her weak hands left their holding,
And the bell did slide,

With a terrible resounding,
That shook hill and dale,
Back into the old well’s darkness,
While its voice did wail:
John, John, sacrificed John.”


With a dark scowl on his forehead,
Homeward rides the Checkish lord.
By his side, the staghounds leading,
Follows John, page to my lord.
Like a thundercloud his forehead,
And his eyes with anger burn;
For his dearest dog is missing,
And he knows not where to turn.

Three whole days they have been searching
Wood, and field, and everywhere.
Useless is their toil and seeking,
And their looking everywhere.
Sadly, with their faces troubled,
Back they turn them to their home,
While their lord with bosom swelling,
Sighs, “My dog, where do you roam?”

On the road there stands a granny,
Leaning on her crutches two.
See! her head is like an owl’s head,
And she has but one eye, too;
Humpbacked, all her face a wrinkle—
And her hands but skin and bone;
Voice—why like a rook in cawing
Is the harsh and gutteral tone.

Stop your charger! Stop your people!
Listen to my words, I say.
Wherefore do you search the forests
And the meadows all the day?
I can tell you of your staghound,
Of the fleet one that you love,
But I must be paid to do it;
I am seeking gain—not love.

If you give me your page, Johnny,
Hound is yours, to-morrow morn.
Why I want him? Oh, a witch knows,
Human blood makes flesh newborn.
In the stars I see it written,
Johnny’s blood can make me young.
Human blood can make old woman
Once more beautiful and young.”

At these words the wretched stripling
Felt his heart turn to a stone.
Between fears and hopes he trembles,
Kneels upon the grass alone.
Mercy, mercy, O loved master;
Listen to my voice, I pray,
And the life of a true servant,
Give not for a dog away.”

But his master, only heeding
The strong voice within his heart,
Not the pale and tear-stained features,
Hardened unto him his heart.
Bring the staghound—bring him, granny,
When the day begins to break.
By my faith—without a question—
Then my Johnny you can take.”


When the day dawned, at the gateway
Stood the foul witch, with the hound.
And Johnny, looking from the casement,
Saw his death, and not the hound.
Mercy, mercy, oh my master!
Show me mercy—let me live—
Give me not to the foul sorceress;
Let me see the sun and live.”

But his master, in his rapture,
Deaf is to the stripling’s voice.
Witch and dog he clasps together—
Orders then a banquet choice.

When the evening shadows lengthen,
Bound with chains they bring the youth.
In a car, with dragon horses,
Lost is witch and youth, forsooth.


Hardly five weeks was the staghound
Once more with his lord,
When the dearly bought one sickened,
Died before his lord;
Then his master, in a frenzy,
Tore his hair in woe.
But the dog lay dead for all that—
John was lying low.

When at length his pain was duller,
And some days had passed,
Human feeling woke within him,
And he felt at last
What a sin he had committed
When he gave the lad
To the witch; and lone and haunted,
Sat he still and sad.

Johnny—poor devoted Johnny,”
Often did he say,
To a fearful death I gave you,
On an evil day.
Oh, nod to me from thy heaven,
That I am forgiven.
Oh, show mercy to me, Johnny,
Say I am forgiven.”

After that he built a chapel,
Not far from the well;
And a wooden tower also,
With a silver bell—
With a bell of purest silver
They were bid to toll
Every day, in rain and sunshine,
For poor Johnny’s soul.

When they first began their tolling
For the poor lad’s soul,
Back they started in wild horror,
Says the legend old.
For it was no bell of silver,
But a human cry,
Echoing in their ears bewildered,
Like a human sigh:
John, John, sacrificed John.”


And the lord of Kozojedy
Hearing, turned to stone.
Then he tore his rich robes from him,
While his heart did groan.
Bring me now the hair-cloth garments
Of a penitent;
I shall be from henceforth ringer,
Till my life be spent.”

Strange to say, the bitter anguish,
And the endless pain,
That had made his life a burden,
Passed away like rain;
And the bell rang out in gladness,
In the morning air:
Rang out like a seraph singing
In the trembling air.

Once, long after from the ringing,
Never home came he;
But they found him by the tower,
From his penance free.
On his face a heavenly rapture
To the world did say,
That his sins, however dreadful,
Had been done away.


Years passed by, war with its horrors
Broke o’er the Bohemian land.
Down went chapel, down went tower,
Leveled by the robber band.

Yes, the silver bell they wanted;
But God’s will was greater still;
Angel hands were sent to guard it,
In the well it lingered still.

Deep it lies amidst the waters
And the pebbles of the well;
All around it life is stirring,
As the hunter’s horn can tell.
But the bell was bound to silence,
Till the hour of fate drew near,
And the weak hand of a woman
Pulled it up without a fear.

Only halfway could she pull it,
But the voice rang, clear and long:
John, John, John, sacrificed John!”
Ah, never more shall that song
Be heard of a mortal again,
Though many come to the well
To water their linen again.
Though many the story tell,
None can say they have heard its voice,
For the bell is hid in the well,
Never more to be heard on earth.