Translated by John Weir

Old Perebendya, minstrel blind,*1
Is known both near and far.
He wanders all the country ’round
And plays on his kobza.
The people know the man who plays,
They listen and are glad,
Because he chases gloom away,
Though he himself is sad.
No matter what the weather holds,
His days and nights he spends
Without a shelter out-of-doors;
Misfortune dogs his steps,
And mocks his head with silver thatched,
But he no longer heeds;
He seats himself beside a hedge
And sings, "Oh rustling leaves!"
And singing, how he’s all alone
He thinks and bows his head,
As melancholy sears his soul,
Alone beside the hedge.

That’s what old Perebendya’s like,
He’s very changeful, too:
He’ll sing about heroic deeds,
Then change to comic tunes;
To maidens on the common grass
He’ll sing of love and spring,
And at the inn for merry lads
Good rousing songs he’ll sing;
For married couples at a feast
(Where mother-’n-law is strict)
Such songs as tell of women’s grief
And hardship he will pick;
At market-place— of Lazarus, *2
Or else, a mournful lay
(So that the memory should live)
Of how the Sich was razed. *3
So that’s what Perebendya’s like,
Capricious in old age:
He’ll sing a merry song and then
To one of tears he’ll change.

A sweeping freely o’er the steppes,
The wind blows from afar.
Upon a mound the minstrel sits
And plays on his kobza.
The boundless steppes, blue as the sea,
Reach out on every side;
The grave mounds also stretch away
Till they are lost to sight.
His grey moustache and thatch of hair
The wind blows every way,
Then it subsides and lends an ear
To the old minstrel’s lay,
His heart’s wild beat, the tears of sightless eyes…
Then blows again…
                 This is his hide-away
Amid the steppe where nobody can spy
And where his words are scattered o’er the plains
Away from human ears, the sacred words
Pronounced in free communion with God,
The praises sung in homage to the Lord.
His thoughts the while go floating on a cloud,
Like eagles in the blue they soar o’erhead
Till with their wings the very sky is churned;
They rest upon the sun and ask where it
Retires at night, how rises in the mom;
They listen as the sea its tale unfolds,
"Why are you mute?" they ask the mountain top,
Then back to the sky, for earth’s full of woe,
In all the wide, wide world there’s not a spot
For him who all things knows and hears and sees—
The secrets of the sun, and sea, and fields—
No one to bid him welcome with his heart.
He’s all alone, as is the sun alone.
The people know him and they let him be...
But if they learned how he, alone, intones
Songs in the steppe, converses with the sea—
They would make sport of words that are divine,
And call him mad and from their midst they’d drive
Him off to die. "Go to the sea!" they’d say.

You’re doing right, my minstrel friend,
You’re doing right, I know,
That to the grave mound in the steppe
To talk and sing you go!
Keep going there, my hearty one,
Until the day your heart
Falls fast asleep, and sing your songs
Where you will not be heard.
And that the people shouldn’t shy
You must indulge them, friend!…
So dance the way the master says—
The money’s his to spend.

So that’s what Perebendya’s like,
Capricious in old age:
He’ll sing a wedding song and then
To one of grief he’ll change.

                                  1838, St. Petersburg



Perebendya, a capricious, talkative person.

...of Lazarus... a song based on the Biblical parable of the rich man and
the beggar.

*3 the Sich was razed... the Zaporozhian Sich — organisation of
the Ukrainian Cossacks established on the lower Dnieper in the first
half of the 16th century. The founders of the Sich were Ukrainian
peasants and Cossacks who strove to escape the oppression of the
Polish, Lithuanian and Ukrainian landlords. They fled from their
masters and built fortifications (sichi) below the rapids of the Dnieper
(Zaporozhian means located below the rapids). In the 16th-17th
centuries the Sich was the centre of the struggle of the Ukrainian people
against the social and national oppression of the Polish nobility, and the
Turkish and Tatar invaders. In 1775, the Russian Empress Catherine II
destroyed the Sich as a stronghold of the anti-serfdom movement.