Mr. Thaddeus (Pan Tadeusz, 1834)
Translated by Christopher Adam Zakrzewski
You trees! As old as Lithuania's Grand Dukes;
Trees of Bialoviezha, Svitez, Ponary, Kushelevo!
Your shade fell on the circleted heads of dread Vitenes
And mighty Mindove; and Gedymin too, when by a hunter's fire
On the Ponary heights he lay sprawled on a bear hide
And listened to the strains of wise Lizdeyko's song;
When lulled by the sight of Viliya's stream and Vileyka's
Purl, he dreamed of the iron wolf; then roused himself
At the gods' clear behest and built the city of Vilna
That broods in the forests like a wolf among the bison, boar,
And bear. From that city sprang, as from Rome's she-wolf,
Keystut and Algirdas, and the entire Algirdas clan: great
Huntsmen all, vaunted knights no less--equally
Unswerving in pursuit of foe and wild game. The lure
Of the hunt afforded us a presentiment of future times:
Always Lithuania would stand in need of her timber and iron.
You forests! The last to stalk your game was the last to
Vytautas's cap, last blithesome warrior of Jagellon
Blood--Lithuania's last crowned monarch of the chase.
Ancestral trees! If Heaven ever grants me the boon
Of returning there, old friends, shall I find you yet?
Blossom you still? You, among whom I rambled
As a boy. Mighty Baublis lives?--whose great cavern
The ages hollowed out; so spacious it could comfortably
House a banquet table and a dozen dinner guests.
Mendog's grove flourishes still by the parish church?
And yonder in Ukraine, that linden tree still stands
By the Holovynsky manor on the banks of the Ros?--
With a crown so wide five score swains and maids
Could dance with ease in pairs beneath its spreading shade.
You shrines! How many fall each year to the merchant's ax
Or the Muscovite's felling blade? No nook remains for woodland
Songbird or minstrel to whom your leafage stands as dear
As to the fowl. Czarnolas's linden: did it not sough in sympathy
With Jan's lyre-strings, inspiring him with a multitude of rhymes?
And what marvels crooned that garrulous oak to the Cossack bard!
Native trees! How much I stand in your debt. As a
Hunter fleeing my companions' gibes over a poorly-aimed
Shot, how many thoughts I chased in your silent haunts,
When in the wild morasses I'd sit me down on a knoll
And put all thoughts of the hunt behind me: around me
The hoary-bearded moss, crimsoned with crushed blueberry.
Yonder sprawled the purple-heather'd hills all decked
With coral chaplets--the grenadine whortleberry. Darkness
All about. Overhead arched the branches like dense,
Green, low-hanging clouds; while over that motionless
Vault the wind wailed, moaned, howled and boomed:
A strange, heady din! As if a tumultuous ocean
A ruined city sprawls below:
Here like a massive pile looms an uprooted oak;
Like shattered walls and pillars the branch-bristling trunks
And decaying beams lean on it--all hedgerow'd with grassy
Ramparts. A terrible prospect beyond this bulwark! There
Lurk the lords of the forest, boar, bear and wolf;
Half-gnawed bones of some unwary guest lie scattered
At the gateway to their haunts. Now and then something
Resembling two water jets starts up in the foliage:
A hart's beamed antlers. Then streaks away the golden
Beast like a ray of sun that penetrates the forest and fades.
Stillness reigns again. A woodpecker bores lightly
Into a spruce, then flutters off, lost to sight, yet still
That busy bill betrays his presence: so a child
At hide-and-seek spirits himself away then beckons
From his covert. Hard by, a squirrel gnaws at a nut
Between his paws, tail overhanging his brow
Like a cuirassier's helmet plume. Unhampered darts
His frisky eye, spies a stranger, then quick as a flash
Skips that prancer of the wood from twig to twig, and slips
Into an unseen niche like a dryad returning to her native
Stirs a shaken branch. A
Prettier than a rowan parts a tangle of rowan-fronds:
A village maid come to gather nuts and berries;
Freshly picked whortleberries redder than her lips
She offers from her chip basket. A youth walks along-
Side; he bends the hazel bough, she clutches randomly
At the cascading filberts. . .
The sounds of bugle and hunting hounds rend the air:
Evidently the chase drawing near. Terrified, they hightail it
Into the thicket and vanish from sight like woodland gods.
Soplitsovo was all astir; yet neither din of hound
Nor neighing charger, creaking chaise or blaring horn
Could rouse Thaddeus. Sound as a burrow'd marmot he slept
On the straw where he'd tumbled fully-dressed that night.
None of the youths gave their slumbering companion a thought:
All were too busy dashing about and carrying out orders.
On he snored. Through a heart-shaped opening in the shutter
A shaft of fiery sunlight pierced the gloom and fell
Square on his brow. Craving more shut-eye, he tossed about,
Avoiding the glare. An urgent tapping sound awoke him.
A merry awakening! Blithe as a bird he felt. Light
His breathing. Blissfully he smiled to himself then blushed
At the recollection of his nocturnal tryst. He heaved a sigh;
Pounded his heart. . .
He looked through the little opening: marvel of marvels!
A pair of shining eyes gleamed through that heart--
Wide open, as happens when peering into the gloom
From the broad daylight. He spied a small hand, like a fan
Held sideways screening the eyes from daylight's glare:
With dawn-like translucence glowed those delicate fingers
Turned toward the rosy light. Two curious lips
He saw--set slightly apart, through which tiny teeth
Sparkled like pearls among the coral; and though screened
By that rosy hand, the face flamed like a fulgent rose.
Lying on his back right under the window, concealed
In the gloom, he marveled at the apparition. Almost touch it
He could; was it real, a dream? One of those sweet, radiant,
Childish faces we recall from our dreams of innocence?
The little face peered down: a shudder of terror
And joy racked him as all too clearly he recognized
The short, golden locks wound in silvery, pod-like
Curl-papers, all a-shimmer like haloes on sainted heads.
He started: instantly the vision fled, spooked
By the noise. Would it reappear? Alas, it didn't.
Again three taps he heard, and the words: "Get up, sir,
It's time for the hunt; you've overslept." He sprang up.
With both hands he flung open the hinged shutters
With such force they crashed against the wall on either
Side. Leaping out of the window, he looked around,
Bewildered, bemused. Nothing in sight, not a trace
Of anyone. Hard by the window stood the garden rails
All wreathed with hops leaves and blossoms. A-tremble
They were: stirred by a feather-light hand, or was it
The breeze? Long he gazed at them. Unwilling to venture
Into the garden, he leaned against the rails, shot his eyes
Aloft and fingered his lips: no rash word would
Break his train of thought. He smote his brow as if
Rousing the old memories; finally, drawing blood from
His gnawed fingers, he bellowed: "Serves me bloody right!"
Alive with shouts just moments ago, the courtyard
Stood empty now: still as a burial ground. The entire
Hunting party had departed for the fields. Thaddeus strained
His ear, cupping his hand trumpet-fashion: from far off
Yells and bugle flourishes came wafting on the breeze.
Already saddled in the stable stood his horse. Seizing
A flint-lock, he mounted up and galloped like the deuce
Toward the inns by the chapel--the huntsmen's appointed
Two public houses
Head to head on either side of the roadway, casements
Glaring at one another like mortal enemies. The older one
By rights was deeded to the castle owner; the newer one
To spite the castle was built by the Judge himself. Over
The one, like a hereditary lord, Gervasius held sway;
Protasius occupied the seat of honor in the other.
Nothing particularly striking about the newer house.
The older one was built on an ancient design contrived
By Tyrian craftsmen and then dispersed abroad by the Jews--
A species of architecture quite unknown to foreign builders:
We inherit it from the Jews. From the front it resembled a ship,
From the back, a temple: a veritable coffer like Noah's
Four-faceted ark which today goes by the vulgar name
Of 'stable'. All manner of beasts were stalled within:
Oxen, horses, cows, bearded billy goats; throngs
Of fowl roosted in the loft, reptiles by the pair, and insects
Too. The ship's stern reared like a marvelous temple
Recalling to mind that great mansion of Solomon's which Hiram's
Pioneers, skilled in the joiner's craft, raised on Mount Zion.
The Jewish schools still imitate the design just as road-house
And stable are modeled on these schools. The upturned, lath
And straw roof was pointed and askew like a Hebrew's tattered cap.
From under the peak protruded the gallery's parapet, resting
On a row of close-set wooden pillars, architectural prodigies
In their solidity since they were half-decayed and mounted aslant
Like Pisa's tower. Not at all according to the Greek model:
No hint of plinth or capital. Semi-circular wooden arches
Surmounted the columns in the Gothic style, hand-crafted
Designs embellishing the surface. No etching-needle
Or chisel fashioned these: deftly incised with the hatchet blade!
All curved like the branches of the Sabbath candelabrum.
From the tips of the arches swung little knobs, reminiscent
Of the discs dangling from the Hebrew's reverent head
(zizith is their name for it). All in all, that tottering, lopsided
Hostelry brought to mind the Jew who nods
His head in prayer: the roof his cap, the unkempt thatch
His beard, the soiled, smoke-smeared walls his swarthy
Frock; the frontal wood-carvings--zizith at his brow.
The inn's interior was partitioned like a Hebrew school:
One part was crammed with longish chambers intended
For the travelling gents and ladies. The other was a huge
Hall. Stretched like a centipede alongside each wall
Was a narrow wooden table. Short-legged benches stood by:
Bench to table like urchin to his father.
Hunched in rows
Thereon sat yokels, village wenches and the petty gentry-folk;
Only the steward sat alone. After morning Mass at the chapel--
This being Sunday--they'd all tripped over to Yankel's
For a tipple and some fellowship. The bar-mistress hovered
Over the patrons with the vodka bottle; hoary spirits
Foamed in every cup. Amid the throng stood the publican,
Draped in a long, silver-clasped sarafan; one hand thrust
Behind a sash of black silk, the other stroking his solemn
Grizzled beard. With darting eye he'd move about,
Serving none yet barking orders, greeting the newcomers,
Broaching talk with the seated guests, settling quarrels.
Yankel was an old Jew, universally respected for his
In all the years he'd kept the inn no peasant or squire
Had lodged a complaint at the manor; nor was there cause:
His drinks were good and choice; he kept a strict account
Yet cheated no one, was not averse to mirth yet brooked
No drunkenness. A great lover of parties he was, catering
To christenings and weddings; and every Sunday he invited
Over the village capella with their bull fiddle and doodlesack.
He knew music; indeed he was renowned for his musicianship.
With his national instrument, the dulcimer, he used to make
The rounds of the rustic seats, and astonish all with his playing
And trained, mellifluous voice. Though a Jew, he spoke
Decent Polish and was especially fond of Polish folk-songs:
Scads of them he brought back from his trips across
The Niemen river: the Galician kolomiya, the Varsovian mazurka.
It was noised about the entire countryside--though how reliable
The rumor is uncertain--that it was he who first brought back
To the district and spread abroad that song now celebrated
Around the world, the one our legions' trumpets first pealed
To the Italians on Ausonian fields. The art of singing pays
In Lithuania. Wealth and glory accrue from it. Yankel made a mint.
Cloyed at last with celebrity and profit, he hung up
His sweet-stringed dulcimer, settled down with his youngsters
At the inn and busied himself serving drinks, while acting
As rabbi's assistant in the neighboring town. He was
A welcome guest at every household--and everyone's private
He knew the barges and the grain-trade: a useful thing
In the country. All in all, he was held in high regard
As an honorable Pole.
He was the first to put an end
To the frequent bloody broils that raged between the two
Road-houses: he leased the pair of them. Respected
Alike by Horeszko partisans and the Judge's men, he
Alone could keep a rein on the grim Horeszko Warden
And the scrappy Sergeant-at-Arms. In Yankel's presence both
Held in check the engines of their ancient grudge:
Gervasius held back his arm, Protasius, his tongue.
Gervasius was absent today: he'd gone on the hunt.
Unwilling to see the tender, guileless Count venture
Alone on a chase so great and arduous, he'd chosen to ride
At his side, accompanying him as his bodyguard and advisor.
Today the Warden's seat was occupied by the friar; between
Two settles he sat, in the corner farthest from the door
Where the Orthodox place their holy icons. Yankel had seated
Him there; clearly he held the Bernardine in high esteem.
No sooner he'd observe the friar's ebbing cup than he'd run
Up and have it topped up with last summer's mead;
Rumor had it they'd chummed around in their youth abroad.
Father Grubb paid nocturnal visits to the tavern and held
Secret commerce with the Jew on various pressing matters;
In contraband, some thought, but this merited no credence.
Hunched over the table sat Grubb, holding forth quietly.
A throng of gentry-folk encompassed him, straining their ears,
Noses bent over his snuff-box; each took a pinch,
Then barked our petty squirearchy like a battery of mortars.
"Reverendissime!" snorted Skoluba, "Now there's
That goes straight to the tip of your head. Never in all
My born days has this beezer of mine sniffed the like!"
Here he stroked his long nose and sneezed again.
"Genuine Bernardine snuff! Of Kovno provenance no doubt,
World-famous for her snuff and mead. I was in that town
Once; when was it now?" "Good health!" broke in Grubb,
"Good health to you all, my noble sirs; as to the snuff, well,
It comes from farther afield than our friend Skoluba supposes:
From Jasna Gora--is more like it. The Pauline Fathers grind
This tobacco in Czestochova where stands the wonder-working
Icon of our Blessed Mother, Queen of the Polish Crown,
Grand Duchess of Lithuania as she's called even now.
Doesn't the royal crown still repose on her head?
How come then a schismatic Tsar rules over the Duchy of Litva?"
"Czestochova, you say?" struck up Vilbik, "I went there
To make my confession, on a pilgrimage, some thirty years ago.
Is it true the Frenchman lodges there now; is out to raze
The church and rifle its treasury? The Lithuanian Courier claims
It's so." "Not true!" countered the friar, "His Majesty
Napoleon's your exemplary Catholic; our Pontiff anointed him
Himself. They see eye to eye, and together they're restoring
The faith of France which has admittedly decayed of late. It's true
Czestochova's friars have handed over a good deal
Of their silver to the nation's treasury, for the sake our homeland;
The Lord Himself decrees it! His altars have always served
As Poland's bursary. A hundred thousand patriots--soon
There'll be more--stand under arms in the Duchy of Warsaw;
Who's to pay for it, eh? I say it's you, the citizens of Lithuania!
Why, now you're merely dropping coins into Moscow's coffers."
"Deuce take it!" roared Vilbik, "Even that they take
By main and might" "Reverend Father!" spoke up a meek
Little rustic, scratching and bobbing his head at the priest,
"The gentry folk suffer, ay, but not half as bad as us; why
They fleece us to the bone." "Silence, you bumpkin!" bawled
Skoluba, "You have it easier; you yokels are used to being
Skinned like eels, but we born-and-bred gentry-folk,
We esquires, I say, are accustomed to our golden liberty!
Yes, brothers, in the old days 'the gentlemen on his croft...'
("We know, came the chorus, 'struts with his cap undoffed!'")
These days they impugn our pedigree and make us frisk
Through papers to prove our noble birth." "Easier for you,
Sir!" yelled Yurakha, "your sires were but ennobled swains.
But I spring from princes! Futile to search for a patent;
God only knows when we were nobled! Might as well
Tell the Muscovite to go into the forest and ask the oak
Who granted it a patent to lord it over the shrubs."
"Preen your feathers as you like, O Prince," broke in Zagiel,
"But there's more than one house that bears a coronet."
"Your bearings show a cross," cried Podhayski, "a veiled
Allusion to the fact that a converted Jew graces your pedigree."
"Lies!" roared Birbasz, "I'm from a line of Crimean counts
Yet my noble crest bears crosses over a galleon, full-sailed."
"The White Rose," cried Mickiewicz, "crowned, on a field
Of gold: now that's a princely crest! Consult your Stryjkowski;
You'll find he makes frequent mention of it."
A great murmuring broke out throughout the tavern.
Grubb turned to his snuff-box. He proffered a pinch to each;
In no time at all the clamor ceased as out of courtesy
They inhaled a few pungent grains and fired off a salvo.
Profiting from this interlude, the Bernardine resumed:
"I tell you, many a great nostril has sniffed from this box;
General Dombroski's for one. Four snorts I believe
He's had!" "Not the Dombroski?" they queried, wide-eyed.
"The very one, the general. I was in his camp when he took Gdansk
From the Kraut. He had something to write. Afraid of dropping off,
He took a pinch and sneezed; then clapping me on the shoulder
Twice, 'Father Grubb," he said, "if all goes well, we'll meet
In Lithuania before the year is through. Be sure her sons
Are there to greet me with this Czestochova snuff, no other.'"
Such amazement, such joy the friar's words aroused,
That for a moment the entire boisterous assembly fell silent;
Soon half audible whispers arose: "Snuff, he says?
From Poland? Czestochova? Dombroski? From Italian
Lands?" Till at last thought fused with thought,
Word with word, and all, as though on a cue, struck up
In unison, "Dombroski!" Melded by that single roar
They fell in a common embrace: Crimean Count clasped
The rustic; Coronet, the Cross; Rose, the Griffin; Griffin,
The Galleon. All was consigned to oblivion, even the friar.
One clamorous refrain was all you could hear: "Holla!
Bring vodka, mead and wine!"
Grubb let them warble on;
Finally, in a bid to cut them off, he took up his snuff box
In both hands and broke up their anthem with a sneeze.
Before they could tune up again, he hastened to speak:
"You find my snuff praiseworthy, eh, noble sirs?"
But take a look at the box and see what goes on inside."
With a handkerchief he wiped the dust from inside the lid
To reveal what looked like a cluster of flies: a minuscule painted
Army. Striding a charger in the left big as a beetle,
Sat a man, evidently the commander; one hand
Tugging at the reins, as though rearing the steed skyward,
The other hand raised to his nose. "Now, he said,
Look well at that awesome figure; guess whose?
All peered at it, intrigued. "I'll give you a clue: a great man,
An Emperor, but not of the Muscovites; you'll never see
Their tsars snorting snuff." "A great man in a capote?
Bellowed Cydzik, "Great people strut about in gold;
Take your Russkies, reverend, their plainest general glitters
Gold like a saffroned pike." "Nay," broke in Rymsza,
"As a lad I saw Kosciuszko, our nation's commander-in-chief;
A great man he was, yet he went about in a peasant's caftan,
A czamara, that is." "Czamara my eye, sir!" snorted
Vilbik, "it's called a taratatka." "A czamara comes with braids
And fringes," yelled Mickiewicz, "your taratatka's all plain
And smooth." Right away quarrels broke out on the various
Cuts of frock and coat. . .
Seeing the talk so disperse, the artful Grubb coaxed
The throng back to the campfire--to his snuff box.
Once more he handed round his snuff. They sneezed,
Wished each other health, and the friar resumed his theme:
"When Emperor Napoleon takes his snuff, pinch by pinch,
It's a sure sign the battle's progressing well. Take Austerlitz,
For instance: the French stand unflinching by their field cannons.
A swarm of Muscovites presses in on them. The Emperor
Watches in silence. Each salvo of the Frenchmen's canons
Cuts a broad swath through Ivan's regiments. Regiment
After regiment gallops up and tumbles from its saddles.
As each one falls, the Emperor takes a snort. Finally,
Alexander, his brother Constantine and the German Emperor
Franz hightail it from the field; and Bonaparte, seeing the battle
In his pocket, laughs out and flicks the snuff from his fingers.
So if any of you fellows present here gets to serve in the Emperor's
Grande Armee, be sure to bear this peculiarity in mind."
"Alas, dear Father," called out Skoluba, "when will this
All those feast days in the year, and each time they promise
The French will come. We strain our eyes and stare until
We blink, and still the Muscovite grips us firmly by the neck;
Before the sun rises, as the saw goes, the dew will dim our eyes."
"Come, sir," replied the Bernardine, "grousing's for
Let the Jew stand around, arms folded, till somebody
Arrives and knocks at his tavern door. For Bonaparte
It's no trick to trounce old Ivan Ivanych, why he's tanned
The Swabian's hide three times already; hasn't he
Drubbed the Prussian and flung the English back across
The sea? Oh he'll attend to Ivan all right. But what'll
Come of it, my good sir? That's what I want to know:
So Lithuania's squires mount up and take up the sword
When there's no one left to fight. Having done it all himself,
Napoleon's sure to say: 'I got along without you, sirs,
So who are you?' Not enough, sirs, to expect the guest and send
Out invitations; you have to summon your servants and carry
Out the tables. Before the feast you have to clean the house,
Clean the house; I say it again, my hearts, clean the house!"
There was silence. Then murmurs arose: "Clean the house?
How's that? What does he mean by that? they said,
We'll do anything, reverend father, we're prepared for anything,
Only be so good as to make your meaning clear."
Just then Grubb looked out of the window and signaled
For silence. Something curious seized his attention: he stuck
His head out of the window then rose to his feet, saying:
"No time now, we'll have more to say on this later.
Tomorrow I've business in town, sirs; I'll be dropping in on each
Of you on the way, counting on your largesse for alms."
"Be sure to spend the night at Niehrymov, Father,
The steward, the Esquire Ensign will be delighted; why it's an old
Saw in Lithuania, 'Niehrymov will skim off its cream for its clerics!'"
"And drop in on us, if you will," said Zubkoski, "you can count
On a roll of linen, a firkin of butter, a fatted calf
Or sheep: remember the saying, 'Zubkovo's your depot!'"
"And don't forget us!" roared Skoluba. "Or us," cried
Terayevich,'No Bernardine but greased his gills at Putsevich.'"
With such pleas and pledges the gentry plied the begging
Friar as he made his steady way to the tavern door.
It was Thaddeus he'd seen from the window: riding
Down the high-road; hatless, head bent low, pale
And sullen-faced. Spur and crop he applied mercilessly.
Alarmed by this sight, Grubb gathered up his cassock
And made smartly for the forest brooding on the horizon.
Who has searched the soundless depths of Litva's forests
To their innermost recesses, their very vitals? The fisherman
From his shore never plumbs the bowels of the deep; the hunter
Skirting Litva's wilderness knows but its outward form
And face. Unknown to him the inner secrets of its heart;
What happens there is known to fairy-tale alone.
Plunge into those forests and close-knit thickets, you strike
Up against a massive palisade of boles, stumps and roots.
Fortifications abound: quaking bogs, a thousand streams,
Dense undergrowth, ant-heaps, wasps' and hornets' nests,
And writhing snakes. Those who by superhuman efforts
Brave this barrage and penetrate deeper, run into still greater
Peril: small pools lurk underfoot like wolves' lairs
Half overgrown with grass, unfathomably deep (they say
Devils lurk there). Their rusty, blood-stained waters
Gleam with a lurid sheen as fetid vapors billow up
From their depths: a pestilence stripping the compassing tress
Of leaf and bark. So, with their bare, stunted, wormy,
Moss-matted branches, and bearded trunks hunchbacked
By grotesque fungi, stand these trees about the pools--
A huddling coven of witches boiling a corpse in a caldron.
Futile--for foot and eye alike--to venture further:
A perpetual, all-enveloping mist rises out
Of the quaking bogs. Beyond these vapors, they say, lie
Fair, fertile regions: the veritable capital city
Of the plant and animal kingdom. Seeds of all the trees
And herbs are laid up in store there; from these seeds
Sprout all the species of the world. Like Noah's ark the city
Holds at least a brood-pair of every race of beast.
In the very heart (the fable goes) stand the palaces of
The ancient Auroch, Bison and Bear, emperors of the forest;
Like watchful ministers-of-state, the Fleet-eyed Lynx
And glutton Wolverine roost in the neighboring trees;
Boar, Wolf, horned Elk, the feudal vassals,
Dwell in the outlying fiefdoms, while overhead soar
The courtly talebearers, the wild Eagle and Falcon,
Living off the banquet tables of their liege lords.
Concealed within the wilderness, unseen by the world,
These archetypal pairs of beasts disperse their offspring
As settlers abroad, while they live out their lives in peace
And contentment. No side- or firearm smites them down;
The old meet a natural death. They even have their own
Burial ground where, nearing death, the fowl reposes
His feathers, the four-legged beast, his fur. So, Bruin,
Whose molars lack strength to grind his sustaining victuals,
The grizzled roebuck scarcely able to stir his legs,
The greybeard hare, his blood congealing in his veins,
The raven, now hoary of quill, the falcon now failing
Of eye, the eagle, his ancient beak bent like a trigger-
Guard, closed forever, unable to gorge his throat--
All of them head for the cemetery. Even the lesser beasts,
Sick or maimed, return to sleep in their grandsires' haunts;
That is why no trace of dead beasts' bones is ever
Found in the places frequented by men.
That the animals in this metropolis enjoy self-government;
Thence spring their genial customs. Unspoiled as yet
They are by human civilization--ignorant of the laws
Of property which embroil our world. No dueling,
No art of war they know. As lived the sires in paradise,
So live today their scions: tame and wild--all
Thrive in peace and harmony. No fang, no horn wreaks
Mutual harm. And even were an unarmed man,
To stumble on those parts, scatheless he'd pass through
Their midst: the wild beasts would gaze on him with the same
Look of awe as when, on that final, sixth day of creation,
Their grandsires in the Garden gazed on Adam--before the Fall
Set them at strife. Happily, men never stray
Into those haunts: Toil, Care and Death bar the way.
Yet it is known to happen that hounds, hot on the trace,
Rashly blunder through the pitfalls, bogs and moss.
Stricken by the sight of these dread regions, they flee, mad-
Eyed, yelping, from that place; and long afterwards, under
The master's gentle hand, tremble, bristling at his feet.
In the sportsman's tongue, this inner sanctum of the
Uncharted by men, goes by the name of heartland.
Foolish bear! Had you but remained in the heartland,
Would Grechekha Woyski have learned of your whereabouts;
The scent of the apiaries lured you?-- a yen for ripe oats?
Who knows! You strayed out to the forest's edge
Where the trees grow sparser, and there the forester discovered
Your presence. Right away he dispatched his cunning spies,
The beaters, to reconnoitre your sleeping and grazing grounds.
Grechekha has marshaled his ranks, cut off your retreat.
Just now Thaddeus had learned that but a brief while ago
The bloodhounds had plunged into the fathomless forest.
Silence.--To no avail the hunters strain their ears;
In vain each listens to the reigning silence as though
Spellbound by the most eloquent speech. Long they stand,
Stock-still, expectant: the music of the wilderness is all
They hear. The hounds plunge like divers through the bush;
The marksmen watch Grechekha, their twin-barrels trained
On the forest. He stoops, puts his ear to the ground: as friends
Of an ailing loved one strive to read the verdict of life
Or death in the physician's face, so the shooters, trusting
In the Woyski's skill, fix on him their anxious gaze.
"He's here! He's here!" he whispers softly, leaping to his feet,
"He's coming this way!" The others strain their ears--
Now all's within earshot: a hound bawls out, then two,
Then twenty; all at once the entire scattered pack
Takes up the scent, gives tongue, and is hot on the trace.
A chorus of howls and bayings! Not the long, drawn-out
Clamor of hounds on the trace of a hare or hind or fox
But a frequent, furious, staccato yelping. No longer
On the scent of distant quarry, the hounds hunt by sight.
The tumult stops--they have him! The din picks up afresh:
Howls!--the beast fights back, and evidently wreaks harm;
Amid that canine clamor, more and more whines
And whimpers of a mortally-clawed hound reach the ear.
Our Nimrods stand their ground, each with his gun at the
Torso tensed like a bow, head bent toward to the forest.
But they cannot resist the urge: one after another deserts
His post and darts into the bush; all eager to be the first
To stand down the quarry. Futile Grechekha's admonitions!
In vain on horseback he circles the positions with threats
That the next to leave his post, squire or simple peasant,
Will feel the lash on his shoulders--all to no avail.
Despite his order, more shooters break ranks for the woods;
Three guns boom out at once, then an entire cannonade,
Till over the din of the shooting, filling the entire forest,
The roar of the bear resounds. An awesome roar!--of pain,
Of fury and despair--followed by a caterwaul of baying hounds,
Hunters' shouts and beaters' horns. More shooters dash
Into the forest, others cock their pieces, all of them in transports
Of delight. All, that is, except for a head-shaking Grechekha--
"Bloody idiots!" he shouts, "They've let 'im slip the sweep."
One way run the beaters and stalkers to head off the beast
From wooded ground; while Bruin, frightened by the throng
Of men and dogs, doublebacks to terrain less sedulously
Guarded--toward the fields now deserted by the marksmen;
Apart from a clutch of beaters stationed there, only
Three shooters remain: Grechekha, Thaddeus and the Count.
Sparser here the trees; from deep within they hear
A roar and the sound of cracking timber; then out
Of the brushwood, like a bolt from the clouds, bursts the bear.
All around him race the hounds, harassing him, tearing
At his heels. He rears up on his hind legs and gazes about,
Terrifying his foe with his roars. Tree-roots he rips up
With his forepaws; scorched stumps, sunken boulders
He grasps and hurls at man and beast. Finally he smites
Down a tree, and brandishing it left and right like a bludgeon,
Makes straight for the beaters' remnant guard-- Thaddeus and the Count.
Unflinching they stand their ground, train their flint-locks
On the advancing beast . So a brace of lightning rods
Points toward the bosom of a rumbling cloud. Then--
O guileless youth!--simultaneously they drop their cocks;
Both pieces smoke at once. They miss. The bear springs up;
Two pairs of hands seize a single pike-staff speared
To the ground. They wrestle for it, look up, see the monstrous
Red snout with its double tier of flashing fangs.
A great clawed paw sweeps down on their heads: they pale,
Jump back, and bolt for the sparse bush, the beast on their tail.
Up he rears, he lunges--swipes wide, then bounds up
And rears again: his swarthy paw takes aim at the Count's
Blond scalp. He would have dashed the brains from his skull,
Like hat from head--right there on the spot--had not Bolesta
And the Assessor then sprung up from the flanks. Gervasius
Was ahead of them, five score paces away; the Bernadine friar
Close by, weaponless--all three fired in the same instant
As though on command. The bear vaulted up like a hare
Before a pack of hounds, and crashed headlong to the ground,
His bloody carcass cartwheeling right by the Count, bowling him
Off his feet. Still he roared, strove to rise, when horrid-hackled
Constable and implacable Mouthpiece pounced on him.
Then Grechekha grasped his leather-strapped buffalo horn:
Long it was, all coiled and patterned like a boa constrictor;
With both hands he pressed it to his lips, swelled his cheeks
Balloon-like--eyes bloodshot, half-closed--he drew in
His belly to half its size; then filling his lungs with its full
Reserves of wind, winded the horn: on a gale's irresistible
Gust it carried the music echoing into the wilderness.
The huntsmen fell silent. Marveled the stalkers at the
The purity, the peculiar harmony of the song. Once again
The old man regaled the hunt with all the art for which
He'd earned celebrity in the forests of bygone days.
In a trice he filled, quickened the stands of beech and oak:
As if the kennel gate he'd flung open and commenced
The hunt. His horn concert embraced the history of the chase:
First a sprightly flourish: reveille and the call to sport;
Then a series of whining sounds: the bay of hounds--
Followed by staccato booming notes: the crack of carbines.
He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.
He blew again. You'd swear the horn were changing
Growing thinner and thicker, mimicking the call of the beasts;
Now craning like the wolf's neck, howling fiendishly,
Now swelling and roaring like the brown bear's gorge;
Then rending the air with the bison's bawl...
He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to all
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.
The oak picks up that masterpiece of horn-blowing, bole
To bole repeats it, beech to beech...
Grechekha winds again: you'd swear the horn contained
A hundred horns. You hear the tumult of the chase, cries
Of wrath and alarm, huntsman, pack and quarry; till finally
He lofts the horn: the triumphant paean smites the clouds.
He stopped--yet the horn remained at his lips; it seemed to
He was winding still; not so, it was the echoes responding.
As many trees that stand, so many horns fill
The forest; as choir to choir, so tree to tree relays
The hymn: ever broader, ever higher soars that music;
Ever softer, ever purer, ever more perfect, until at last
It melts in the regions of the air at the very gates of paradise!
Grechekha withdrew both hands from the horn; it dropped
And swung by its leather thong. All radiant, his face swollen,
He stood like one inspired, striving still to catch the final
Fading tones. Then rang out a thunderous applause,
A thousand vivats and felicitations from as many throats.
Gradually the tumult subsided. Turned the eyes of the hunt
To the bear's enormous fresh carcass. There it lay,
Blood-bespattered and pierced with shot; the matted torso
Sunk and entangled in the dense herbage. Spread-eagled
He lay there, still breathing, blood streaming from his nostrils;
Stirred his eyelids still, but the head no longer moved;
The Chamberlain's English bulldogs clung to his throat,
Constable at his left, and looming on his right, Mouthpiece,
Sucking at his jugular, her gorge choking on the black gore.
Seneschal Grechekha commanded an iron bar be inserted
Between their teeth, and the vicious jaws prized open.
With their rifle-butts they rolled the carcass over
And once again a triple "vivat!" smote the clouds.
"Y'see?" cried the Assessor, twirling his fire-arm
By the barrel, "Y'see, my little piece? Bully for us!
There, my bonny piece, songbird that you are. Deuce,
Didn't we show 'em! Nothing new of course: she's never
Been known to let fly a stray--a gift from Prince Sanguszko
Himself!" He showed them his gun: small indeed but of exquisite
Workmanship. He was listing its virtues when Bolesta, wiping
The sweat from his brow, broke in: "Hold on a sec,
Here's my account: right on the bear's tail I was
When Grechekha yells out: 'Stand where you are!' Now I ask you,
How could I stand there? The bear was making for the open field
At a rare bat. You'd swear he was a rabbit. Steadily forging
Ahead he was, while I was running out of steam
And falling behind. Not a hope of catching up. Then I glance
To my right: blowed if he isn't pelting back through the thinning
Bush. I draw a bead on him, 'Freeze, Bruin!' I say
To myself, and basta!--dead as a doornail he lies. Noble
Piece! A genuine Sagalasovka my gun is; take a look
At this here inscription: 'Sagalas London à Balabanovka'.
(A famous Polish gunsmith made his home there: he fashioned
Polish guns but chose to embellish them in the English style.)"
"Bears, shmers!" snorted the Assessor, "Dammit all, man,
You'd have us believe you killed him? Enough of your ravings."
"Listen, you," retorted Bolesta, "this ain't your police inquiry,
It's a hunt: and every sportsman here I take for a witness."
A fierce quarrel erupts, with part of the throng taking
The Assessor's side, another faction siding with Bolesta.
None gave a thought to Gervasius; all were running up
From the flanks--too busy to notice what was taking place
In front. Grechekha struck up: "Now here at least
Is grounds for an affair of honor: no mere jack-rabbit this;
A bear's worth seeking satisfaction over: sabre, pistol--
Take your pick. Your quarrel's hard to settle, so according
To our ancient custom and usage we'll let you to fight a duel.
"I recall in my day there were two neighbors, both
Men, gentryfolk since time out of mind. On opposite banks
Of the Vileyka they lived: one called Domeyko, the other, Doveyko.
In the same instant they'd fired on a she-bear. Who felled her
Was hard to fathom. What an awful broil ensued! They vowed
To face off across the bear-skin: now there's gentryfolk
For you--all but barrel to barrel! The duel set the neighborhood
Astir; songs were sung on it in my day. I was their second.
How it transpired, I'll tell all from beginning to end."
But before Grechekha could begin, Gervasius settled the
On carefully circling the bear, he drew out his hunting-knife
And cut the snout in two. At the rear of the skull he sliced
Open the lobes, found and extracted a bullet; then wiping it
On his frock, measured the gauge and applied the ball to his flint-
Lock. On the flat of his palm he held out the projectile: "Gentlemen,
He said, "This was fired by neither one of you: out of this
Single-barreled Horeszko piece it sped--here he raised
His ancient firearm all wound in cord--yet it was not I
That fired it! Oh, that needed courage! I shudder to recall it:
My eyes grew dim at the sight of the two young gentlemen
Racing towards me--the bear right on their tail, just inches from
Milordling's head; the very thought of it: the last of the Horeszkos!--
Albeit on the distaff side. Jesus, Mary!--I yelled; and the angels
Sent the Bernadine to my aid. The good friar has put us all
To shame. Brave priest! As I trembled there, not daring to pull
The trigger, he grabbed the piece from my hand, aimed and fired.
Imagine shooting between two heads--at a hundred paces!--
Unerringly! Into his very jaws. Ay, there's dentistry for you!
Gentlemen! Long I've lived and only one man seen
That could pull off such a stunt: a man once famous among us
For the number of his duels, one capable of sniping the heel
Off a lady's slipper, that lout of louts, infamous in an age
Of fame--Jack, vulgo, the Whisker!--surname better
Left unsaid. No more bear-chasing for him: I'll bet
My bottom thaler that knave now roasts in Hell--right up
To his whiskers. Thank heavens for the priest! Two men's
Lives he saved, maybe three: I am not given to bragging,
But had the last scion of Horeszko blood fallen to those jaws,
Gervasius late-lamented would be, the bear gnawing
On his brittle bones. Come, Friar, we'll drink to your health!"
In vain they sought out the priest. All they learned was
That after felling the bear, he'd lingered for a while, run
Up to Thaddeus and the Count, then seeing them both safe
And sound, raised his eyes heavenward, muttered a prayer,
And darted off like a hunted hind into the open fields.
Meanwhile bracken, dry twigs and stumps were piled up
In a heap at the Seneschal's bidding: a blaze erupts, a greyish
Pine of smoke sprouts up, spreading out like a baldachin;
Now stands a trestlework of pike-staves over the fire, broad-
Bellied copper kettles hang from the shafts; horsecarts
Disgorge their store of flour, bread, roasts and joints.
The Judge unlocked a cavernous coffer containing rows
Of upright white-headed flasks. The largest crystalline bottle
He selected (a present from the friar himself)--Gdansk vodka!
The cherished spirits of Poles: "Long live Gdansk!" he cried,
Raising the vessel, "The city was ours once; soon may she be
Ours again!" And he decanted the silvery liquor by turns
Until its gold-leaf dregs dripped and sparkled in the sun.
Bigos was on the boil; hard to express in words the
Taste, the hue and gusty aroma of the huntsman's stew.
Words are clanging cymbals, rhymes but serried sounds;
Their substance the townsman's belly will never plumb.
To savor Litva's songs and victuals one needs robust
Health, country life and the stimulation of the hunt.
Yet even without such seasonings bigos is no ordinary dish:
Of the finest vegetables it's skillfully prepared. Choucroute's
The base of it, fine and tart à la polonaise, so toothy
As the saying goes, it makes its own way to your lips;
Locked within a boiler, it simmers and broods over the choicest
Morsels of game meat until every ounce of living essence
Is coaxed out; till the steam spouts from the vessel's rim,
And the ambient air becomes steeped with its exquisite odors.
The bigos is ready! Armed with spoons the hunters peal
A triple vivat, then make for the kettles with lunges and prods:
The boom of copper, the billowing steam, the bigos evaporates
Like camphor and leaves no trace; only vapors belch
Up from the kettles which yawn like extinct volcano craters.
Having eaten and drunk their fill, they hoisted the bear
On the cart and mounted up. Mirthful and boisterous they were:
All save Bolesta and the Assessor, now madder than ever.
They quarreled over their firearms' merits, the one extolling
His Sanguszko, the other his Sagalasovka. Just as disgruntled
Were young Thaddeus and the Count: they burned with shame over
Their bungled shots and hasty retreat: in Litva, the disgraced
Jaeger must work overtime to wipe the blot off his escutcheon.
The Count insisted he was first to reach the spear; Thaddeus
Had prevented him from facing the bear. The other claimed
He was stronger and more skilled at wielding the heavy pike--
To relieve him of the task had been his aim. Such were the nettling
Gibes they exchanged amid the chatter and yelling of the cavalcade.
Grechekha the Seneschal rode in their midst. More jubilant
Than ever was our worthy gaffer--and talked a blue streak.
Seeking to divert them and heal the breach, he resumed his tale
Of Domeyko & Doveyko: "Mr. Assessor, if I urged you to a duel
With Bolesta here, don't think I'm set on seeing spilt blood;
God forbid! Diversion was my purpose. A species of comedy
I had in mind: to revive a contrivance of mine of forty
Years ago--O what a beauty! You're still young
And wouldn't remember it, but in my day it caused quite a stir--
From our forests here--clear to Polesie's wilderness.
"All Doveyko's and Domeyko's strife stemmed, strangely
Enough, from the rather awkward similarity of their surnames.
When canvassing for Domeyko during the local councils his backers
Whispered, 'Vote for Doveyko!' The squire, not hearing right,
Would cast his ballot for Domeyko. When Marshal Rupeyko
Raised his banquet toast, "Vivat Doveyko!' some would
Chorus, 'Domeyko!' while those in the middle could never
Make it out; the more so as table-talk is less than articulate.
"It got still worse: in Vilna once, some squire--soûl comme
Un Polonais, as they say --received two slashes in a brawl
With Domeyko. Quite by chance, on returning home from Vilna,
This here squire runs into Doveyko on the ferry-boat; so there
They are, sailing on the same craft down the Vileyka.
'Who's that?' he asks a neighbor--'Doveyko' he's told;
Whereupon he whips his rapier from under his fur-lined mantle:
Slash! slash!-- and Domeyko's whisker drops to the deck--by proxy.
"Finally, adding insult to injury, a similar confusing
Incident took place on the hunt. Standing side by side,
Our two namesakes fired simultaneously on a she-bear.
True, she dropped dead on the spot; but her belly had already
Been riddled with a dozen rounds, and since several carried
Arms of similar gauge, well, you try and figure it out!
"'Enough!' they cried, 'It's time to settle the matter once
And for all. The Good Lord or Beelzebub joined us, what boot's it?
Time to put us asunder: two suns--one sun too
Many for this world!' They take to their sabers and places.
Both worthy gents they were. Try as the others might
To lay the dust, all the fiercer flare up their mutual
Menacings. They change their choice of arms: from swords
To pistols now. 'Too close!'--we yell. To spite us all
They vow to stand off across the outstretched bear-skin.
Can you believe it? Why that's all but point-blank--
Certain death!--and bloody good shots they were too!
'Grechekha, be our second!' they shout. 'Agreed,' I says,
'Bid the sexton dig up a mound; an encounter of this kind
Can have only one outcome. But fight like gentry-folk,
I say, not butchers; enough of this close quarters dare-
Devilry. That you're brave lads I can see, but any closer
And it'll be barrel to belly. I won't allow it; I agree to pistols
But the stand-off may not take place any closer or farther than
The span of the hide. As your chosen second, with my own two
Hands I'll spread the bear-hide on the field of honor,
And I'll position you myself: you, sir, will stand at one end--
At the tip of the snout; and you, sir, at the tip of the tail'.
'Agreed! they yell, 'time?' 'Tomorrow.' 'Place?' 'Usha
Tavern!' They rode off; while I turn to my Virgil..."
Just then a cry cut him off--"Yoiks!"--A hare sprang up
From right under the horses' hooves. Quick as a flash
Falcon and Bobtail tear off in pursuit. Their masters
Had brought them along, on the good chance they'd flush out
A hare on their way home across the field; leashless
They'd loped alongside the horses. Now spying the beast,
Urged on by the huntsmen, they bolted after him. The Assessor
And Bolesta would have followed suit, had not Grechekha stayed
Them with a shout: "Stay your ground! Stop and watch! No one's
To budge an inch. From here we can see it all; see?--
Our frisker's heading for the grain." True, seeing the hunters
And hounds, the hare had veered for the field, ears pricked up
Like a young buck's horns. Streaked across the clod
That long, grey, resilient body; legs flung out
Like two pairs of prongs. You'd swear they weren't
Stirring, barely grazing the ground's surface; so swallows'
Beaks buss the water's face. A dust-cloud behind him;
In its wake--the two dogs; hare, dust, hound
Seem to coalesce into a single body sliding snake-wise
Across the plough: the hare its head; the dust , its bluish
Coiling neck, the trailing hounds, its two-pronged tail.
Mouths agape, Bolesta and the Assessor watch with bated
Breath. Suddenly the Notary turns white as a sheet;
The blood drains from the Assessor's face as well, as all
Begins to go horribly wrong: the further slides that snake,
The longer it stretches, till it breaks in half. That neck of dust
Dissolved. By now the head's in spitting distance of the forest;
The tail, way behind. The head vanishes: something tassel-like
Flickers at the forest's edge, then fades; and snap!--the tail
hounds! Stupefied they sniff
The forest's hem: as if conferring with one another,
Imputing mutual blame. Finally they turn back, ears
Drooping, tails cleaving to their bellies. With lifeless bounds
They re-cross the furrows. Loath to lift their sheepish
Eyes, up they run, and stop short of their masters.
Bolesta drooped a sullen head, the Assessor, a dismal
Eye. Then both begin to plead their case: their hounds
Were not used to hunting without a leash. The flushing
Of the hare was too sudden; too rough the chase across
The plough. With all those jagged stones and boulders about,
You'd almost need to put boots on those delicate pads.
Wisely the expert stalkers presented their case: the
Might have picked up a good number of useful pointers,
But no one lent much of an ear. Some started to whistle,
Others chuckled out aloud. The rest with the bear-hunt fresh
On their mind talked about precious little else.
Grechekha scarcely deigned the hare a glance: seeing
It give them the slip, he turned his head nonchalantly
And resumed his anecdote: "Now where was I? Ah, yes.
I secured our gentlemen's word that they'd shoot across
The span of the bear-hide. The gentry were up in arms:
'It's certain death! Practically spout to spout!" As for me,
I smile to myself: my old friend, Vergilius Maro, had
Given me food for thought: an animal hide's no ordinary
Yardstick. Gentlemen, you must know the story of Queen
Dido; how she arrived on the coast of Libya and there
After a good deal of haggling secured for herself all the land
An ox's hide could compass. On that little chunk of land
Carthage would stand! So that night I mulled the matter over.
"At the crack of dawn, Doveyko's gig drives up from one
Domeyko on horseback from the other; and what do they see?
A shaggy bridge spanning both banks of the river--
A belt fashioned of cut-up strips of bear-skin. Domeyko
I stand at one end, and Doveyko at the other, at the tip of the tail.
'Now pop away to your hearts' content" I say, "but until
You bury the hatchet, you stay put, right here.
Oh, they fumed all right; meanwhile the gentry hold their sides
With laughter, and the curate and I hold forth aloud,
Drawing object lessons from the Gospels and Book of Statutes.
No way out of it: they crack a smile, roar, and make their peace.
"Their quarrel then led to a lifelong friendship:
Doveyko wed Domeyko's sister, while Domeyko paired
Off with the sister of his brother-in-law, Miss Doveyko.
They divvied up their estate into two equal parts,
And on the spot where this bizarre incident took place,
They built a tavern where swings the sign of 'The Little Bear'."
the April 2000 issue
The Sarmatian Review
Last updated 7/15/00