The Half-Wit

Translated by John Weir

'Twas in Tsar Sergeant-Major's reign
That close-cropped Corporal One-Arm
And drink-besotted Long-of-Arm,
Two N.C.O.s, ruled the Ukraine.
They did things grandly, truth to tell.
They robbed the people very well,
Those non-commissioned satraps twain.
One-Arm especially excelled
With his lance-corp'ral's help - that lad
Was lively, vicious, wholly bad.
They drilled the folks such wondrous ways
The Sergeant-Major were amazed
To see such drills, and very glad,
And told the N.C.O.s "our praise
And favour" at all times they had.
While we in craven silence gazed
Like dummies, only scratched our pates.
Oh fawning, cringing, dastard slaves,
The footstools of the tsar and tools
Of the drunk corporal! Ye aides
And lackeys of the men who rule,
Informers, philistines, not you
For truth and freedom can arise.
Not how to love, but crucify
Your brothers is your venal creed!
Oh treacherous, accursed breed,
When will you pass? When will we greet
Our own George Washington at last
With the new law of righteousness?
Oh, there's no doubt that day we'll see!
Not hundreds, millions of you,
Sons of the ancient Slavic tribes
Of the Ukraine, the corp'ral ruled;
And you, my blessed Kievites,
With your neat women-folk were nought
But servants at the beck and call
Of his drunk latrine-cleaning squads.
You didn't seem to mind at all.
And yet among you one queer duck,
One freak was found in all the lot,
Who smashed the satrap in the mug—
Right in the church—a hefty slug,
And there it ended.
                       That was the case!
Among a million swineherds base
There proved to be one Cossack true
Who set the empire all abuzz:
He gave the satrap's snout a bust.
And then what did you, half-wits, do:
While yet the corp'ral lay abed,
The saintly knight, who laid him there,
To be a half-wit you declared!
The tyrant Sergeant-Major sent
The saint to penal servitude;
And said with great solicitude
That he his battered satrap old
"Eternally" with favour viewed.
And nothing else at all transpired:
By back lanes to the garbage pile
They took the drama. Well, and I...
My shining star! My steps you guide
From prison and from exile far
Straight to the cesspool of the tsar,
And shine upon it, glowing bright
With an unearthly, holy light—
Life-giving light, and from the cess
His godless acts of wickedness
Rise up, before me row on row...
Oh tsar of wickedness and woe,
And persecutor of the right!
Oh, what you've done upon the earth!
And as for You, All-Seeing Eye!
As You looked down, did You not spy
How throngs of saints in chains they drove
Into Siberia's frozen wastes,
How tortured them 'mid ice and snow,
And crucified! You did not know?
On all those doings You could gaze
And not be blinded?! Eye, O Eye!
You don't see deep, though look from high!
You sleep in icons, while the tsars...
But faugh on them, the rulers base!
May they be haunted by those chains,
While I fly to Siberia, far
Beyond the Lake Baikal; and there
Into the mountain dungeon lairs
And pits abysmal I will probe,
And I'll lead out, encased in chains,
The saints, who freedom's cause maintain,
Into the light of day, to show
To tsar and people—a parade
Of endless columns, clanking chains...

                    1857, Nizhny Novgorod