The Caucasus

Translated by John Weir

To My True Friend Yakov de Balmen,

             "O that my head were waters,
              And mine eyes a fountain of tears,
              That I might weep day and night
               For the slain...."
                           Jeremiah, Chapter 9, Verse 1

Mighty mountains, row on row, blanketed with cloud,
Planted thick with human woe, laved with human blood.
Chained to a rock, age after age
Prometheus there bears
Eternal punishment — each day
His breast the eagle tears.
It rends the heart but cannot drain
The life-blood from his veins—
Each day the heart revives again
And once again is gay.
Our spirit never can be downed,
Our striving to be free.
The sateless one will never plow
The bottom of the sea.
The vital spirit he can't chain,
Or jail the living truth.
He cannot dim the sacred flame,
The great god's fame on earth.

'Tis not for us to duel with Thee!
Not ours the right to judge Thy deeds!
Ours but to weep and weep, and weeping,
To knead the daily bread we eat
With tears and sweat and blood unending.
We groan beneath the yoke of hangmen,
While drunken justice sodden sleeps.
Oh, when will justice rise at last,
And God, when wilt Thou give
Thyself from all Thy toil a rest?—
And let the people live!
Yet we believe in Thy great might
And in the living soul.
There shall be liberty and right!
And then to Thee alone
All tongues will pray, all heads will bow
For ever and ever.
But in the meantime, rivers flow,
The blood of men in rivers!

Mighty mountains, row on row, blanketed with cloud,
Planted thick with human woe, laved with human blood.
'Twas there that We, the Gracious, found
Poor freedom hiding 'mid the crags
(A hungry thing, and all in rags),
And sick'd our dogs to drag her down.
A host of soldiers on those hills
Gave up their lives. And as for blood!?
All emperors could drink their fill,
In widows' tears alone they could
Be drowned together with their seed!
The sweethearts’ tears, in secret shed!
Unsolaceable mothers' tears!
The heavy tears of fathers hoary!
Not streams, but veritable seas
Of blazing tears! So—Glory! Glory!
To hounds, and keepers of the hounds,
And to our rulers golden-crowned Glory!

And glory, mountains blue, to you,
In ageless ice encased!
And glory, freedom's knights, to you,
Whom God will not forsake.
Keep fighting—you are sure to win!
God helps you in your fight!
For fame and freedom march with you,
And right is on your side!

A hut, a crust—but all your own,
Not granted by a master's grace,
No lord to claim them for his own,
No lord to drive you off in chains.
With us, it's different! We can read,
The Gospel of the Lord we know!...
And from the dankest dungeon deep
Up to the most exalted throne—
We're all in gold and nakedness.
Come, learn from us! We'll teach you what
The price of bread is, and of salt!
We're Christian folk; with shrines we're blest,
We've schools, and wealth, and we have God!
Just one thing does not give us rest:
How is it that your hut you've got
Without our leave; how is it we
To you, as to a dog a bone,
Your crust don't toss! How can it be
That you don't pay us for the sun!
And that is all! We're Christian folk,
We are not heathens—here below
We want but little!... You would gain!
If only you'd make friends with us,
There's much that you would learn from us!
Just look at all our vast domains—
Boundless Siberia alone!
And prisons—myriads! Peoples—throngs!
From the Moldavian to the Finn
All silent are in all their tongues
Because such great contentment reigns!
With us, a priest the Bible reads
And then to teach the flock proceeds
About a king of ancient times,
Who took to bed his best friend's bride,
And slew the friend he wronged besides....
Now he's in heaven! See the kind
We send to heaven! You're denied,
As yet, our holy Christian light!
Come, learn from us! With us, it's loot,
But pay the shot,
And straight to God,
And take your family to boot!
Just look at us! What don't we know?
We count the stars, and flax we grow,
And curse the French. We trade or sell,
And sometimes lose in cards as well,
Live souls ... not Negroes ... our own stock,
And Christians, too ... but common folk.
We don't steal slaves! No, God forbid!
We do not trade in stolen goods.
We act according to the rules!...

You love your brother as is writ
Within the Golden Rule?!
О damned by God, О hypocrites,
О sacrilegious ghouls!
Not for your brother's soul you care,
But for your brother's hide!
And off your brother's back you tear:
Rich furs for daughter's pride,
A dowry for your bastard child,
And slippers for your spouse.
And for yourself, things that your wife
Won't even know about!

For whom, О Jesus, Son of God,
Then wert Thou crucified?
For us good folks, or for the word
Of truth....Or to provide
A spectacle at which to laugh?
That's what has come to pass.
Temples and chapels, icons and shrines,
And candlesticks, and myrrh incense.
And genuflexion, countless times
Before Thy image, giving thanks
For war and loot and rape and blood,—
To bless the fratricide they beg Thee,
Then gifts of stolen goods they bring Thee,
From gutted homes part of the loot!...
We're civilised! And we set forth
To enlighten others,
To make them see the sun of truth....
Our blind, simple brothers!!
We'll show you everything! If but
Yourselves to us you'll yield.
The grimmest prisons how to build,
How shackles forge of steel,
And how to wear them!... How to pleat
The cruelest knouts!—Oh yes, we'll teach
You everything! If but to us
Your mountains blue you'll cede,
The last ... because your seas and fields
We have already seized.

And you, my good Yakov, you also were driven
To die in those mountains! Your life you have given
For your country's hangmen, and not for Ukraine,
Your life clean and blameless. 'Twas your fate to drain
The Muscovite goblet, the full, fatal draught!
Oh friend good and noble, who'll be never forgot!
Now wander, free spirit, all over Ukraine
And with the brave Cossacks soar over her coast,
Keep watch o'er the grave mounds on her spreading plains,
And weep with the Cossacks o'er all of her woes,
And wait till from prison I come home again.
And in the meantime—I shall sow
My thoughts, my bitter tears,
My words of wrath. Oh, let them grow
And whisper with the breeze.
The gentle breezes from Ukraine
Will lift them up with dew
And carry them to you, my friend!...
And when they come to you,
You'll welcome them with tender tears
And read each heartfelt line....
The mounds, the steppes, the sea and me
They'll bring back to your mind.

                                         1845, Pereyaslav