The Night of Taras

Translated by Vera Rich

At the crossroads sits a minstrel
Playing on his kobza;
Gathered round him, boys and girls
Blossoming like poppies.
The minstrel plays, and sings to it,
Chanting out the words,
How the Cossacks fought the Poles,
The Muscovites the Horde.
How the whole assembly gathered
Early on a Sunday;
How they buried a young Cossack
In a verdant gully.
The minstrel plays, and sings to it,
And makes misfortune smile:

“Once there was the Hetmanate —
It passed beyond recall;
Once, it was, we ruled ourselves,
But we shall rule no more...
Yet we never shall forget
The Cossack fame of yore!

A cloud comes up behind the Lyman,
A cloud from the plain:
Ukraina, mourning, grieving, —
Such, indeed, her fate!
Like a little child she grieves,
She weeps, and to her rescue
No one comes...the Cossack host
Fall away and perish;
Fame, and the land of their fathers
Perish — and no haven...
And the scions of bold Cossacks
Now grow up unchristened,
Love in sin, unblessed by marriage,
Priestless are interred,
And their faith is sold to Jews,
And they debarred from church.
While Poles and Uniates, like jackdaws
Covering the plain,
Swoop down, — to give her good advice
No one still remains.
Nalyvayko did come forth —
Then the Kravchyna vanished!
Cossack Pavlyuk did come forth —
And followed in like manner!
Taras Tryasylo then came forth,
With bitter tears, he said:
‘My poor Ukraine all trampled down,
Where Polish feet now tread!’
Ukraina, Ukraina!
Mother, mother dearest!
When I but recall your fate
My heart is all a-weeping!
Where is the Cossack host, and where
Are the red jerkins scattered?
Where the freedom-destiny?
The Hetmans and their banners?
Where is it scattered? Burned to ashes?
Or has the blue sea drowned
And covered over your high hills
And the lofty mounds?
Mountains speak not, sea still dances,
Gravemounds sadly brood,
O’er the scions of bold Cossacks
Heathen men now rule.
Dance, then, sea! Be silent, mountains!
Wild wind, roam the plain!
Weep, you scions of bold Cossacks!
Such, indeed, your fate!
Taras Tryasylo then came forth,
Came forth the faith to save,
The grey-winged eagle then came forth,
And to the Poles he gave
Good cause to feel it! Tryasylo said:
‘We have grieved long enow!
But let us go, my friends and brothers,
To fight the Polish foe!’

Throughout three days throughout three nights,
Tryasylo fought and more,
From Lyman to Trubaylo the plain
Was strewn with corpses o’er.
The noble Cossack’s strength was failing,
Grievously he sorrowed;
Greatly, greatly then rejoiced
The heathen Koniecpolski,
All the nobility he gathered,
Set them all a-feasting,
Taras his Cossacks bold then gathered,
Counsel he was seeking:
‘Otamans and comrades bold,
My brothers and my sons,
Give me, pray, your good advice
What should now be done.
The accursed Poles are feasting,
Like our doom, our knell...’
‘Let them sit a-banqueting,
Feast to their good health!
Let the accursed sit banqueting
Till dusk, but mother night
Will counsel us. The Cossack then
His Polish foe will find!’

The sun lay down behind the mountain,
And the stars came out,
Like a cloud, the Cossack force
Ringed the Poles about.
The moon stood high amid the sky —
The cannon roared and thundered;
Sudden the Polish lordlings woke —
Nowhere to take cover!
Sudden the Polish lordlings woke —
But never did they rise:
The sun came up, and one and all
They lay there side-by-side.

Like a serpent, crimson-red,
The Al’ta brings the tidings,
Calling ravens from the plain
To eat the Polish lordlings.
Flying the black ravens came
To rouse the sleeping lords,
And the Cossack host assembled
To give thanks to God.
The black ravens cawed and croaked,
Digging out the eyes,
While bold Cossacks sang the song
Of that bloodstained night, —
The night which put the Poles to sleep,
The night which thus became
For Taras and the Cossack host
Their glory and their fame.

On the plain a gravemound stands
Black above the stream;
Where the Cossack blood once flowed
Now the grass grows green.
A raven sits upon the mound,
From hunger it is cawing,
A Cossack recalls the Hetmanate,
Recalls it, and is mourning...”

Grieving, the minstrel ceased, somehow
His hands refused to play,
And, gathered round him, boys and girls
Wiped their tears away.

The minstrel went along the road,
Suddenly, what a lay
He starts to play, from grief! The lads
Dance round, he sings and plays:
“Let this be the way it goes!
Sit there, children, by the stove,
I, being sad, will to the inn,
There I shall find my wife within,
Shall find my wife, and stand a round,
And laugh, our enemies to confound!”

                          1838, St. Petersburg