The Heretic

Translated by John Weir

                                   To Šafařik

Bad neighbours came and set afire
Their neighbour's good new house:
They warmed themselves and then retired
To sleep, and failed to douse
The smoking ashes from the fire,
And sow them to the winds.
The ashes at the cross-roads lay,
Grown cold, and yet within
A tiny spark alive remained,
And waited for the day
It would be blown into a blaze,
Like an avenger waits
The hour to strike! A long, long time
Still glowed that living spark
And waited where the highways meet,
And then it, too, was dark.

'Twas thus the Germans to the torch
The Slavic mansion put, and rent
The family of Slavs apart,
And slyly planted in their hearts
The savage serpent of dissent.

The blood, in rivers streaming, quenched
The embers that yet glowed.
The fire site and the orphans then
The German neighbours stole.
And so the children of the Slavs
Grew up in slavery;
In shackles fettered, they forgot
Their very history!
But there, where once the fire had burned,
Of brotherhood a brand
Still glowed—still waited to be picked
By strong and steady hand.
'Twas not in vain.... For you looked deep
Where cold the ashes lie,
And found the ember with your heart
And with your eagle eye!
You shone the torch of truth, O Sage,
The light of liberty....
And in the darkness and in chains
The large Slav family
You counted, naming every one,
Although no longer Slavs
But corpses of the Slavs you named.
And high upon a crag—
Upon the cross-roads of the world—
You stood like seer of old.
A miracle!—The corpses rose
And opened up their eyes;
The brothers at each other gazed
And fondly recognised,
Clasped hands in love, and warmly vowed
Forever friends to be!
And all the Slavic rivers flowed
Into a common sea!

Glory to you, sage and prophet,
O Czech, Slavic brother,
That you didn't let our justice
And our truth be smothered,
In the German flood to perish!
The sea you discovered,
The new Slavic sea of freedom,
I see filled with water,
On this sea will sail a vessel
Full speed, sheets distended,
At the wheel a trusted helmsman,
Will steer steady-handed.
May your fame endure, Šafařik,
Forever and ever,
For, into one sea you gathered
All the Slavic rivers!

So, among your many laurels
This mite, too, accept—
My elegy, poor and artless,
To the saintly Czech,
To Jan Hus, exalted martyr
And great patriot!
Please accept this tribute, father.
While I pray to God
That all Slavs as faithful brothers,
As one man should stand,
True sons of the sun of justice
And heretics grand,
Such as was the deathless martyr
That at Constanz flamed!
They'll bring peace to all the nations,
And eternal fame!

                    1845, Pereyaslav

                                             The stone which the builders rejected
                                             Is become the head of the corner.
                                             This is the Lord's doing;
                                             It is marvellous in our eyes.
                                                                       Psalm 117, Verse 22

"With stark injustice all around
The shackled people silent wait,
While on the apostolic throne
There sits a fatted monk in state.
He wholesale trades in human blood
And rents out heaven for a price!
Thy reign's a mockery, О God,
Thy words of truth transformed to lies.
Despoilers, cannibals, О Lord,
Are trampling justice 'neath their heels,
They mock Thy glory and Thy word,
They mock Thy power and Thy will!
The very earth in bondage cries,
As cries a mother for her young:
Are there none, then, prepared to rise
To challenge slavery and wrong,
The gospel of the truth defend,
Direct the unenlightened throng?
Are there not now such righteous men,
О Lord, and never will be none?
Oh no! The day of wrath will come,
The day of Heaven's vengeance just!
And then the Papal Triple-crown
Will come down tumbling to the dust!
It will come tumbling down! To brave
Dire punishment and death
Bless these frail hands of mine, I pray,
О Lord, please give me strength!"

'Twas thus that in his simple cell
Jan Hus, the righteous, took the vow
To break the chains of hell!... To eyes
That were bereft of sight to show
A miracle!
                      "To battle, then!
God's will be done!... Let come what may!"
And to the Chapel Bethlehem
The good man went to preach and pray.

          "In Jesus' holy name who died
Upon the cross to save us all,
And in the twelve apostles' name,
Of Peter specially, and Paul,
By virtue of this sacred Bull
This woman, servant of the Lord,
Is hereby cleansed of all her sins,
And is absolved...."
                                "Who is? This whore?
The same who just two days ago
Solicited on Praha's streets.
The same who drunken reeled and rolled
In taverns, in the market-place,
And also on monastic cot!
She paid some money from her gains,
An absolution Bull she bought,
Now she's as pure as any saint!...
Almighty God!
Have mercy on people! In Thy serene heaven
From wreaking relentless revenge take a rest!
Why dost Thou condemn Thy good, loyal children
To punishment ruthless? Take pity! Desist!
Why didst Thou blind their eyes to light,
Their common sense, their reason free
Imprison in the darkest night!...
Oh people, look—the dawn is here!
Awake, О Czechs, from your deep sleep.
Cast off all cant, rise to your feet,
Be men, not butt for priestly jeers!
The robber princes of the church
Have trampled, plundered us, and raped
Our land, as Tatars put the torch
To Muscovy, and then they gave
Their dogmas to us!... Fire and sword,
All that is evil, squabbles, war,
And endless misery and woes....
And Rome with bastards overflows!
Such are their dogmas, such the fame
Which they have earned!... Now all who die,
The holy conclave has proclaimed,
And did not absolution buy,
Go straight to hell! But he who pays
A double price is free to slay
All but the Pope or priest, and then
Goes straight to heaven! It's the end!
Now thieves from one another steal
Right in the church. Oh, serpent's seed!
Have you not drunk your fill of blood?...
O Lord Almighty, it is not
For me, a common man, to judge
The wondrous deeds that by Thy will
Are done on earth. Without a cause
Thou wouldst not work the people ill.

     Have mercy on us, Lord, I pray,
Deliver us from evil days!
For blasphemy corrupt my tongue,
But cure the earth of what is wrong.
Do not permit a priesthood vile
Thy glory and Thy name defile
And mock the common human throng!"

And Hus, as thus he prayed to God,
Wept bitterly. "What does he plan?"
The people in amazement thought,
" 'Gainst whom dares he to raise his hand!"

"Look, people, look! It's the decree
I read to you...." He lifted it
So all could see. The people reeled:
Hus tore the Papal Bull to bits!!
The echo of his action rolled
Like thunder, till the news was told
In the world capital, in Rome.
The monks sought hide-outs.... Terror gripped
The hierarchy—fear of doom:
The proud tiara 'gan to slip!!

A serpent-pit, the Vatican
With hissing monks is filled,
The monks of Rome and Avignon
Conspire in whispers shrill,
The anti-Popes together buzz—
This all-pervading hiss
E'en shakes the walls. The cardinals
'Bout the tiara twist
Like serpents. And like alley cats
Over a mouse they spit
And at each other snarl.... Of course,
They have good reason to:
There's fur, and hides ... and meat galore!!!
The very walls shook, too,
With grim foreboding when the geese
In Praha 'gan to honk
And flew the eagles to engage
In battle.... Then the monks
Bestirred themselves, in council met
And 'gainst Jan Hus resolved
To take stern steps. In Constanz they
A raven's rally called!
They undertook to closely watch
And all precautions take
Lest to the spacious Slavic plains
The grey-winged fowl escape.

     As ravens cover black a field,
So monks converged in mighty throngs
On Constanz city from all sides;
Like hungry locusts, all around
The dukes and barons are encamped
With heralds, minstrel-troubadours
And squires and servants by the score,
While on the highways soldiers tramp
In snake-like columns. Noble dames
Are followed by the German herd,
Some riding asses, some afoot,
And some with falcons—all inflamed
With fever of the hunt, to kill!
О Czech! D'ye hold your courage still??
Look at the might that's here arrayed
As though to bar Atilla's horde
Or else to start a new Crusade!

In Praha angry rumblings grow
The thousand-headed synod's damned,
Both king and emperor condemned
On every side! Hus must not go
To Constanz! But Jan Hus replied,
"God's with me still! I do not quake!
My brothers, I don't fear to die!
I'll teach a lesson to those snakes!
I'll tear their poison fangs away!"
The Czechs then saw him on his way
Like loving sons their father kind....

     All bells that morn together tolled
In Constanz for the meet.
The cardinals in crimson robes
Foregathered, fat and sleek
Like prize bulls in a cattle pen.
The prelates took their seats,
Three Popes, some kings, and noblemen
Of various degrees;
Like Judases, in court unjust
They had assembled there
To judgement pass on Jesus Christ.
A clamour filled the air
Like in a Tatar camp, or when
A Jewish school is on.... And then—
The din stopped dead and all were hushed!...

     Straight, like a cypress on a plain
In Lebanon — encased in chains,
He calmly stood before them: Hus!
He swept the whole assembly base
With eagle eye from face to face.
With limbs atremble, pallid cheeks,
His judges at the martyr gazed
In heavy silence. "Did you seek
My presence here for a debate?
Or did you wish my chains to see??"
"Be silent, brazen Czech...." They hissed
Like vipers stirred up in their nest,
Then roared like frenzied beasts:
"A heretic! A heretic!
You sow dissension's evil seed!
You seek to foster schisms and splits!
God's holy will you do not heed!..."
"Pray, let me speak one word!" cried Hus.
"A heretic! You're damned by God!
A heretic! A heretic!..."
The prelates in a frenzy roared,
"A trouble-maker!...." "Just one word!"
"You are condemned! You're damned by all!..."
Jan Hus looked hard at the three Popes
And walked out of the palace hall!...
"We've brought him down! We've brought him down!..."
Restraint had long gone overboard.
"Auto-da-fé! Auto-da-fé!"
The synod all together roared.

The whole night long the monks and dukes
Their triumph fêted ... feasted, drank,
And drunkenly they railed at Hus,
Until the matin church bells rang.
The dawn.... The monks retired to pray
For Hus. The sun, a ball of fire,
Rose o'er the mountain. Did it, too,
That morning want to watch what they
To this most righteous man would do?...

In Constanz all the bells were tolled
As Hus in chains was led
Along his own Golgotha road....
He showed no sign of dread
But, climbing on the faggot pile,
He turned and prayed aloud:
"O God of mercy, what's my crime?
What have I done, О Lord,
To these, Thy people? Men of God!
Why do they want my blood?
Why am I nailed upon the cross?
Oh listen, people! Pray!
Oh pray, ye guiltless ones, because
You, too, will end this way!
For savage beasts into the fold
Have crept as sheep disguised,
And now their wolfish claws they show....
You'll find no place to hide,
No shelter from their greedy fangs.
A sea of blood will flow!
The blood from your own children's veins....
Oh woe, my people, woe!
There, there in crimson robes attired
They stand! Their eyes are mad
With lust.... It's blood...."
                                         "Set fire! Set fire!"
"It's blood that they demand!
They want your blood!..." Then clouds of smoke
Concealed Jan Hus from view.
"Pray, people!" still the good man spoke,
"They know not what they do!
Forgive them, Lord...." No further sound
Came from the martyr's pyre!
With eyes intent, the monks like hounds
Were clustered 'round the fire.
They feared he'd snake out from the coals
And slip along the ground
To the tiara of the Pope
Or to a royal crown.

The fire died down. The wind blew free
The ashes o'er the ground.
And yet the common folk could see
A red snake wrapped around
The triple-crown. The monks retired
Te Deum for to sing,
Then to the festive boards they hied
To gorge themselves and drink
Till they were bloated fit to burst.
With heavy hearts and sore,
A group of Czechs came, scraped some earth
From where he died, and bore
That dust to Praha. It was thus
The monks condemned to die
And at the stake burned good Jan Hus....
And yet God's truth defies
Their bonfire. From behind the clouds
An eagle, not a goose,
Shall swoop, the triple-crown to claw—
And they don't even guess!
Without a care, the monks and lords
Dispersed each to his nest
From that red feast, like carrion crows.
In idleness they rest
And roister in their castle dens.
And as they feast and drink
And chant Te Deum now and then,
Their skins are safe, they think.
The danger, is no more.... But wait!
Old Zizka in Tabor
Above his hoary head has raised
And flashed the mace for war.

                    1845, Village Maryinske