Konrad Wallenrod/The Parting

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Konrad Wallenrod  (1882)  by Adam Mickiewicz, translated by Maude Ashurst Biggs
VI. The Parting

VI.


The Parting.

A wintry dawn, with stormy wind and snow;
Through storm and snow-clouds hastens Wallenrod.
Scarce stands he on the borders of the lake,
He calls aloud, striking the tower with sword.
"Aldona," cries he, "let us live, Aldona!
Thy lover comes; his vows are all fulfilled,
The foes have perished, all is now fulfilled."

The Recluse.


"Alf! 'tis his voice indeed! My Alf, my love!
What! peace already! thou returnest safe?
Thou goest not forth again?"

Konrad.


"For love of God,
Ask thou no tidings!—Listen, my beloved!
Listen, and weigh with carefulness each word,

The foes have perished. Dost thou see these fires?
Thou see'st? 'Tis Litwa's havoc with the Germans.
A hundred years heal not the Order's wounds,
I smote the hundred-headed monster's heart.
Their treasures wasted, well-springs of their power,
Their towns in flames, a sea of blood has flowed,—
I caused all this! I have fulfilled my vows!
More fearful vengeance hell might not conceive.
I will no more of it—I am a man!
I spent my youth in foul hypocrisy.
In bloody murders. Now, bent down with age,
Wearied of treasons, I am unfit for war.
Enough of vengeance. Germans, too, are men!
God has enlightened me. I come from Litwa,
And I have seen those places, seen thy castle,
The Kowno castle,—now it lies in ruin.
I turned away, urged thence my rapid course;
And hurried to that valley, our own valley.
All was as formerly! Those woods, those flowers!
All as it was upon that very eve.
When to the valley breathed we long farewell.
Alas! it seems to me but yesterday!
That stone—rememberest thou that high-raised
stone
Once of our rambles limit made and end?

It standeth now, though overgrown with moss;
Scarce might I view it, hidden thus in green.
I tore the herb off, watered it with tears.
That grassy seat, where, through the summer noon,
Thou didst among the maples love to rest;
That spring, whose waters then I sought for thee—
I found them all, looked on them, passed around.
And even thy little arbour still remains.
As with dry willow-twigs I fenced it in;
And those dry twigs, a wonder, my Aldona,
That once I planted in the barren sand,
To-day thou wouldst not know them—lovely trees,
And the light leaves of spring upon them wave,
And on them grows the youthful catkin's down.
Oh! seeing these, a blessing all unknown.
Foreshadowing of joy, revived my heart;
The trees embracing, on my knees I fell
God! I cried, grant all may be fulfilled!
Oh! may we, to our Fatherland restored,
When dwelling in our Litwa's native fields.
Again revive to life; may leaves of hope
Again o'erdeck with green our destiny.
Let us return! consent! I rule the Order;
I will bid open. But what need commands?
For were this door a thousand times more hard

Than steel, I'd beat it down—I'd pluck it up;
And thee, O my beloved, to our valley,
There will I lead thee, raise thee with my hand.
Or go we further still? Litwa has deserts;
There lie deep shades in woods of Bialowiez,
Where never rings the clang of foreign swords,
Nor sounds the haughty victor's signal-word—
No, nor the groanings of our vanquished brothers.
There, in the midst of silent, pastoral joy,
And in thine arms, and on thy bosom, let me
Forget that there are nations in the world;
Or any worlds; we for ourselves will live—
Return, oh! speak, consent!"
Aldona spoke not;
And Konrad, silent, waited yet reply:
Meanwhile the blood-red dawn shone forth in
heaven.

"O God! Aldona, morning is before us,
And men will wake : the guard arrest us here.
Aldona!"—called he, trembling with despair.
No voice was his; beseeching with his eyes,
He lifted to the tower his claspèd hands.
Fell on his knees, and pity to entreat.
Embraced and kissed the walls of that cold tower.

The Recluse.


"No, no! the time is past," her sad voice spoke;
"But be thou tranquil, Heaven will give me strength,
The Lord will shield me from that heaviest stroke.
When here I came, I on the threshold swore
Never to leave this tower, but for the grave.
I wrestled with myself, and thou, my love,
Thou, even thou, against the Lord wouldst aid me.
Wouldst give back to the world a wretched
phantom?
Oh think! oh think! if madly I should give
Myself to be persuaded, leave this cave
And fall with rapture into thine embrace;
But thou wouldst know not, neither welcome me,
Avert thine eyes, and ask, with horror struck,
'What, is this fearful spectre fair Aldona?'
And thou wouldst seek in this extinguished eye,
And in this visage her—the thought is death!
No, never let the poor recluse's woe
Offend the beauty of the bright Aldona!

"Myself, I will confess, forgive me, love!
Oft as the moon with brighter lustre gleams,
Hearing thy voice, I hide behind these walls,

Unwishing, loved one, to behold thee near!
For thou, maybe, art not the same to-day
Which once thou wert, in those sweet years gone
by,
When with our hosts didst to our castle ride.
But thou retainest, hidden in my breast,
Those self-same eyes, that posture, form, and dress.
So the fair moth, within the amber drowned,
Retains its primal form eternally.
O Alf! 'twere better far that we remain
That which we were in former days, and as
We shall unite again,—but not on earth.

"Leave we the beauteous valleys to the happy,
I love the stony stillness of my cell;
For me 'tis bliss enough to see thee living,
And in the evening thy loved voice to hear.
And in this silence, Alf, beloved, we may
Heal every suffering, sweeten every pang,
All treasons, murders, burnings, cast aside,
Strive thou to come but earlier and more frequent.

"If thou shouldst—listen, on these very plains.
Like to that arbour plant another bower,
And hither bring those willows that thou lovest,

 
And flowers, and even that stone from out the
valley;
There let the children from the hamlet near,
Play joyously beneath their native trees,
And into garlands weave their native plants;
Let them repeat the Lithuanian songs,
For native song doth meditation aid,
And brings me dreams of Litwa and of thee.
And later, later, when my life is o'er.
Here let them sing, and on the grave of Alf."

Alf heard no longer; he, on that wild shore.
Wandered on aimless, without thought or will;
A mountain there of ice, a forest there
Allured him; savage sights and hasty course
Afforded him relief in weariness.
His breast was heavy in the winter rain.
He cast aside his mantle, coat-of-mail.
He tore his garments, from his breast threw off
All—all but sorrow!
 
Now morning lighted on the city ramparts.
He saw an unknown shadow, stopped, and gazed—
The shadow further moved; with silent steps
It glided o'er the snow, and disappeared

Within the trenches, but a voice was heard.
Three times that voice repeated: "Woe, woe,
woe!"

Alf at this voice awoke, and stood in thought.
He thought awhile,—and understood the whole.
He drew his sword, and looked to every side;
He turned him round, searched with unquiet eye—
'Twas waste around; only the winter snow
Flew in a whirlwind, and the north wind roared.
He looked upon the shore, he stood in grief.
At length with rapid stride, though tottering.
He came again beneath Aldona's tower.

Far off he saw her, at the window still.
"Good day!" he cried; "so many, many years,
We saw each other only in the night.
And now good day! what happy augury!
The first good day after so many years!
And canst thou guess, wherefore I come so soon?"

Aldona.


"I will not guess. Farewell, belovèd friend!
The light has risen too brightly—if they knew
thee—

Cease to importune me. Farewell till evening.
I cannot come forth—will not"

Alf.


"'Tis too late.
Know'st thou for what I pray thee? Throw some
twig;
No, no, thou hast no flowers. From thy garments
A thread, or from thy tresses cast a lock;
Or throw a pebble from thy prison walls.
To-day I wish—all may not see to-morrow.
I would to-day have some remembrance of thee,
That lay this very morn upon thy breast,
And which a tear shall glow on, lately shed.
For I would lay it on my heart in death,
And bid the gift farewell with my last breath.
I must die shortly, swiftly, suddenly!
Well die together! Dost thou see that shot-hole?
There will I dwell. Each morning for a sign,
I'll hang a black cloth on the balcony.
And at the grate each evening place a lamp.
There gaze thou steadfast. Throw I down the cloth.
Or if the lamp expires before its time.
Close thou thy window. I maybe return not.
Farewell, beloved!"

He vanished. Still Aldona
Gazed, bending downward from the window grate.
The morn had passed away, the sun had set,
But her white garments, dallying in the wind.
And arms stretched down to earth were long beheld.

"The sun has set at last," spoke Alf to Halban,
And pointed from his shot-hole to the sun.
Within the turret, from the early morn
He sat, and looked upon Aldona's window.
"Give me my cloak and sword. Farewell, true friend;
I go unto the tower. Farewell for long,
Maybe for ever!—Listen to me, Halban.
If, when to-morrow day begins to gleam,
I come not back, leave thou this dwelling-place.
I will, I would give something to thy charge.
How lone am I! either in earth or heaven,
To no one, nowhere, have I aught to say
In my death-hour, except to her and thee!
Farewell unto thee, Halban; she will know it.
Throw down the kerchief if to-morrow morn—
But what is that? Dost hear? There comes a knocking."


"Who goeth there?" three times the sentry cried.
"Woe!" answered many voices wild and strange.
Resistance none the sentry might oppose;
The door could not withstand the heavy shocks.
The invaders passed the lower galleries through,
And mounted up the winding iron stair
That led to Wallenrod's last dwelling-place.
Alf with the iron bolt secured the door,
His sabre drew, a cup raised from the board,
Drew near the window. "It is done!" he cried.
He filled, and drank. "Old man, 'tis in thy hands."

Halban grew pale. With motion of his hand
He thought to spill the draught—he stopt in thought.
The sounds aye nearer through the doors were heard,
His hand relaxed. "'Tis they, the foes are come!"

"Old man, thou knowest what this uproar means?
What are thy thoughts? Thou hast the goblet full—
I have drunk my portion. In thy hands, old man."

Halban gazed on in silence of despair.
"No, no, I will survive even thee, my son!

I would as yet remain to close thine eyes,
And live, so that the glory of thy deed,
I to the world may tell, to ages show.
I'll traverse Litwa's castles, hamlets, towns;
And where I pass not, there my song shall fly.
The bard shall sing them unto knights in war,
And women sing them for their babes at home.
Aye! they shall sing them, and in future days
Some venger shall arise from out our bones."[1]

Alf fell upon the window-sill with tears.
And long, long time upon the tower he gazed.
As though he yet his gaze would satiate
With those dear sights he shortly must forego.
He hung on Halban's neck; they mixed their sighs.
In that embrace of long and last farewell.
But at the bolts they heard a steely rattle,
And armèd men came in, and called Alf's name.

"Traitor, thy head must fall beneath the sword;
Repent thee of thy sins, prepare for death!
Behold this old man, chaplain of the Order,
Cleanse thou thy soul and make a fitting end!"

Alf stood with drawn sword ready for their coming;
But paler aye he grew, he bowed, and tottered,
Leaned on the sill; casting a haughty glance,
His mantle tore off, flung the Master's badge
On earth, and trampled scornful under foot.

"Behold the sins committed in my life.
Ready am I to die; what will ye more?
The annals of my ruling will ye hear?
Look on these many thousands hurled to death,
On towns in ruins, and domains in flames.
Hear ye the storm-winds? clouds of snow drive on;
Thither your army's remnants freeze in ice.
Hear ye? The hungry packs of dogs do howl,
They tear each other for the banquet's remnant.

"I caused all this, and I am great and proud,
So many hydras' heads one blow has felled;
As Samson, by once shaking of the column.
To o'er throw the temple, dying in its ruin."
 
He spoke, looked on the window, and he fell
But ere he fell, he cast the lamp to earth.
It three times glimmered with a circling blaze,
That rested latterly on Konrad's brow;

And in its scattered flow the fire's rust gleamed,
But ever deeper into darkness sank.
At length, as though it gave the sign of death,
One last great ring of light shot forth its blaze;
And in this blaze were seen the eyes of Alf,
All white in death, and now the light was dark.

And at this moment through the tower walls pierced
A sudden cry,[2] strong, lengthened, broken off—
From whose breast came it? Surely ye can guess
But he who heard it readily might tell,
That from the breast whence such a cry escaped.
Now never more should any voice come forth.
For this voice a whole life spoke aloud.

Thus lute strings, shuddering from a heavy stroke,
Vibrate and burst; in their confusèd sounds
They seem to voice the first notes of a song.
But of such song let none expect the end.

Such be my singing of Aldona's fate.
Let music's angel sing it through in heaven,
And thou, O tender reader, in thy soul.

  1. "Exoriare aliquis ex ossibus nostris ultor."
    Æneid, B. iv. l. 625.
  2. Note 16