Bohemian legends and other poems/The Wedding Shirt

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Spectre's Bride.


The eleventh hour was past and gone,
But still the lamp burnt on and on.

The lamp that on the praying chair
Cast an uneven, ghastly glare.

On the low wall a picture hung,
God’s parents, praised by every tongue.

The parents with the Holy Child,
Roses, with rosebud, saintly mild.

Before the heavenly three a maid
Upon her knees her prayers said.

Her face shone with a holy rest,
Her arms were crossed upon her breast.

And as her tears fell soft and slow,
Her bosom swelled with hidden woe.

Her tears they fell like diamonds bright
Upon her bosom snowy white.

Alas, my God! my father lies
Beneath the grass, dust in his eyes.

Alas, my God! my mother sleeps
Beside him there where no one weeps.

My sister died within a year;
In battle fell my brother dear.

But though so lonely, still I loved
Above myself a youth beloved.

He wandered far to earn his bread—
And came no more—perhaps is dead.

Before he went away he said,
Wiping my tears, ‘We soon shall wed.’

‘Sow flax, my loved one, in your field;
God give you have a bounteous yield.

‘The first year spin the flaxen thread,
Then bleach it white, we soon shall wed;
The third year, sew thy shirt,’ he said.

‘And when the shirt is sewed, my fair,
Then make a garland for thy hair.’

The shirt I finished, put away,
And there it lies unto this day.

My wreath is faded, withered now—
But where art thou? Oh, where art thou?

In the wide world you went away,
Wide as the sea, I heard them say.

Three years have passed—I do not know
If still you live—perhaps lie low.

Mary! Virgin of mighty strength!
Give me, give me thy aid at length.

Bring, oh, bring, my loved again—
Make an end of my lingering pain.

Bring my loved to me again,
Or let me die—my life is vain.

I hoped indeed to be his wife—
And without him—well, what is life!

Mary! Mother of Mercy, hear,
And grant my prayer even here.”

The pictured face bowed low her head—
The maiden shrieked, and would have fled.

The lamp that had been burning dim
Went out. Was it the north-wind’s whim?

Was it the wind—or can it be
Some evil token unto me?

Hush! Did I hear a timid tap
Upon the window, rap, rap, rap.”

Art thon asleep, or dost thou wake?
Up, my beloved! Up, for my sake.

Up, my beloved, and look at me—
If you still know me, I would see.
And is thy hand and heart still free?”

Oh! my beloved, and can it be!
See I was thinking just of thee.

Praying indeed that we might meet,
That God might lead thy wandering feet.”

Leave thy praying, and come with me—
Bah on thy praying—come with me!

The moon is shining far and wide,
Come quick with me, come quick, my bride.”

For God’s sake! Why, my love, ’tis night—
’Tis late wait only for the light.

The wind howls, and the night is dark,
Wait till the dawn, and then we start.”

Bah! Day is night and night is day—
I dream in the daytime—come away.

Before the cock crows, thou must be
My wife, so come along with me.

Don’t talk, but come along with me,
Ere the day dawn, my wife thou’lt be.”

It was deep midnight when they went,
The moon far off watched, nearly spent.

The landscape lay in silence deep,
Only the wind it would not sleep.

And he went onward, striding fast,
She, step for step, behind him passed.

The dogs came out and howled in choir,
When’er they passed a cottage door.

And see, they saw a strange, strange sight,
A corpse that walked about at night.

The night is fine—such nights the dead
Rise from their graves, I’ve heard it said.

And ere one knows, stand by one’s side—
My love doth fear? Wouldst thou hide?”

Why should I fear? Why should I hide?
God is above—thou by my side.

But tell me, is your father well?
And will he like with me to dwell?

And is your mother satisfied,
To have me always by her side?”

Why, my beloved one, do you ask?
Keep your health only for this task.

To reach our home—come quick, come quick—
The way is long—thou art not quick.

What hast thou in thy hand, my bride?”
My mass book, that no ill betide.”

Throw it away, ’tis like a stone—
I hate to hear thy praying tone.

Throw it away, thou’ll lighter be,
Throw it away, and come with me.”

He took the book, and tossed away—
They gained ten miles upon the way.

And the path was rocky and lone,
Amidst forests that made a moan.

And behind the mountains and rocks
Howled the wild dogs, in savage flocks.

And the voice of the screech-owl told
Of evil that threatened the bold.

And he went onward, striding fast,
She, step for step, behind him passed.

Across the stony, rocky way,
Her white feet went that evil day.

And e’en the weeds, and tangled grass,
Were stained with blood as she did pass.

The night is fine—such nights the dead
Walk with the living, I’ve heard said.

And ere one knows, stand by one’s side—
My love doth fear? Wouldst thou hide?”

Why should I fear? Why should I hide?
God is above—thou by my side.

But, tell me, is your cottage large?
Aiid who, my love, has it in charge?

Is the room big? And is it bright?
Is the church, loved one, within sight?”

Much, my fair one, you question me;
Come on, quick, then you soon will see.

Quicken thy pace, the way is long,
Time flies, yes, quicker, then a song.

What hangs about thy waist, I pray?”
My rosary I took on the way.”

Thy rosary! It winds like a snake—
It makes me anxious for thy sake.

Throw it away, it stops thy speed,
And follow quickly where I lead.”

The rosary he threw away—
Twenty miles they were on their way.

And the road was swampy and bad,
By morasses, desolate, sad.

O’er the marshes the corpse-lights shone,
Ghastly blue they glimmered alone.

Nine on each side, they went ahead,
As though they burned for some poor dead.

The frogs they sang the burial hymn,
The blue lights flickered and grew dim.

And he went onward, striding fast,
She wearily behind him passed.

Poor maiden, why your feet are sore,
And blood runs where your feet you tore.

The weeds are covered with your blood,
But on he strides with heavy thud.

The night is fine such nights the dead
Seek out the living, I’ve heard said.

And ere one thinks, one’s grave is near—
Say, my beloved, dost thou fear?”

I fear not; thou art by my side—
And God’s will—why it must betide.

But wait a moment, let me stay,
And rest a while upon the way.”

Her soul was faint, her knees were weak,
And swords seemed in her heart to meet.

Come quick, come quick, oh maiden mine,
Our home is near, make no repine.

The banquet’s spread the guests they wait—
Time flies, we surely will be late.

What hast thou on that ribbon fine
Upon thy throat, oh loved one mine?”
My mother’s cross—the cross divine."

Ha, ha, that golden cross it pricks—
I see the blood it slowly tricks.

It wounds you cast it from you now,
Then you’ll speed on, you know not how.”

The cross he took, and cast away—
Thirty miles they gained on their way.

Upon a wide and open plain
She saw a building once again.

The windows they were narrow, high,
A bell hung in the turret nigh.

“Look, my beloved one, we are near,
How does it please thee, let me hear?”

Ah God! It is a church I see.”
’Tis no church, but belongs to me!”

That churchyard, and those crosses thine?”
No crosses—trees for which I pine!

Look on me, loved one, over all,
Then quickly jump over the wall.”

Oh, let me be, thy look is wild—
Thou art no longer gentle, mild.

Thy breath is like a poison rare,
Thy heart it is no longer there.”

Oh, fear me not! A happy life
Is thine if thou wilt be my wife.

Meat thou’lt have—without blood I say,
Except by hazard—just to-day.

What hast thou in thy bundle there?”
The shirts I made of linen fair.”

Two are enough—throw them away,
One for us each, enough I say.”

He threw the bundle on the wall,
It fell upon a gravestone tall.

Be not afraid, but look at me,
And jump across the wall you see.”

You went before me all the way,
Then lead across the wall, I pray.

I followed but the path you trod,
Jump over first upon the sod.”

He jumped across the churchyard wall,
He thought of treason not at all.

Five feet he leaped into the air,
Then he looked back, no maid was there.

But like a flash he saw a form
Glide by him, in the dark, forlorn.

There stood indeed a chamber small,
One heard the latchstring quickly fall.

A narrow room, with windows none—
Through chinks the moonlight passage won.

And in that cage-like room on bier,
A corpse is laid with no one near.

Ah, what is this—this nameless fear—
The ghouls are stirring—they are here!

One hears them—they are gliding on—
And strange and weird their ghostly song.

The body to the earth is told,
Alas! for him who lost his soul.”

And on the door one heard them rap,
And awful was their tap, tap, tap.

Arise, oh dead one, from thy bier,
Pull back the latch, we all are here.”

The dead one opens wide his eyes,
He makes as though he would arise.

His head he raises from the bier,
He looks about him, far and near.

Great God! Thy mercy now I pray—
Oh, keep me from the devil’s sway!”

You dead one, lay you down to sleep—
God in His mercy, thy soul keep.”

The corpse lay down again in peace,
Of sleep he took another lease.

But listen! Once again the rap,
And stronger now their tap, tap, tap.

Arise, oh dead one, from thy bier,
Open the room—the dead are here.”

And at that knock, and at that song,
The dead woke from his slumbers strong.

He stretched his stiff arm to the door,
And would perhaps have gained the floor.

Christ save thy soul! And mercy give—
He can and will, thy sins forgive!”

You dead one, lay you down to sleep,
God give you joy, and slumber deep.”

The corpse he stretched him out again,
And stiffly lay as he had lain.

And once again that awful rap—
Her head reeled as she heard that tap.

Arise, oh dead one, from thy bier,
Give us the living—do you hear?”

Alas! alas! poor maiden mine,
The dead are here, for the third time.

The dead stares from his sunken eyes,
He looks to where the maiden lies.

Mary! Mother of God, be near!
Pray, to thy son, I fear, I fear!

The prayer I prayed it was not right,
Forgive me! Save me in thy might.

Mary! Mother of mercy hear!
Save me, oh save me, even here.”

And see—just at that moment dread,
The cock crows, and the dead falls dead.

And all around the cocks crow clear,
The night is past, the dawn is near.

The dead one lies upon the floor,
Just as he went to open the door.

Without the silence is profound,
Unbroken by a single sound.

The sun rose high, the people came,
To hear the mass and praise God’s name.

A new and open grave they found—
The girl was in the dead-house round.

A wedding favor on each mound,
Made from her shirts, they quickly found.

They filled the grave, and burnt with care,
Each rag that they found anywhere.

The maiden from a foreign part,
They kindly took unto their heart.

Well for you, maiden, that you prayed,
Of evil that you were afraid;
And even in God’s ways have strayed.

Or, like your shirts, you would have been
Torn into bits, by ghouls, I ween.

Well for you that you knelt to pray,
Or lost your soul had been this day.”