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NERUDA, Jan



Onward!


Born out of stormy times we have awoken,

and step by step in storm clouds go to meet

proudly our lofty goal, our backs unbroken,

unbowed, except compatriots to greet.

We knew what strife to cross our path was waiting;

although the thunder roared, as frost gnawed bone –

such ancient Czech refrains, and unabating,

are music to stride forward to – go on!


Forth with our nation, which so pure, clear gazing,

is as if from God’s hands set forth, and blessed;

to this day in its breast that ideal blazing,

for which, in times gone by, it was oppressed!

For human freedom – which in us once flourished! –

stand Czechs today, as each has ever done:

that very thought, which grave-ward had us banished,

shall lift us up to glory – onward, on!


Onward! New times behove new actions. Morning

has risen for new toil, fresh day returned,

the glory of the fathers, sons adorning –

if accolades you seek, let yours be earned!

Where present day is like a child now pining,

for glory past, its every precious stone,

albeit the wake behind the ship lies shining –

pull taut the rigging – raise the sail – go on!


Enough of sighs, be still, ye lips objecting

to the times far from bright ahead, in shroud!

Does not the rose its petals spread, prospecting

for the sun, past the interloping cloud?

Away with dozing at the helm, steer steady:

bystanders shall be left behind, soon gone,

no day comes twice-reborn around, be ready,

there’s one right time to act – go on, go on!


Like unto others, the sun’s beams are sent us,

for us, just as for them, night turns to day,

we are like other sons of times momentous –

heed the call, let the true men lead the way!

Come here, come here, our visitor, loved dearly,

to make our sombre dance a merry one,

you, golden hope, you jolly boldness, cheery,

carry our flag, with glee we will go on!


What providence may bring our way we’re guessing –

yet the god of Czech battles still has zest,

and for our victories both great and pressing

our homeland field is broad, to well attest!

And if God wills that we should face new battles –

we’ll sing the Hussite chorale on till won,

there’s iron ore, to forge fine swords for chattels,

and iron in the blood – go on, go on!


Oh let us keep our eye on our ship’s bearing,

we are its deck planks, tined and tied within,

and with all fervour we will bond together,

once more the Czech Land’s fortunes to begin!

Though a Czech might achieve all things desired,

and in his wildest dreams all wished upon –

this human sea gives no respite, though tired,

don’t look for rest, keep ever on, inspired,

onward, beloved Nation, ever on!


The Ballad Of The Black Lake


Water so sullen still, so deep and deathly doleful!

The forest quiet round, dark as the myrtle woeful,

around the slumbering banks only moss, umber, growing,

and any flower therein, mere waxy pallor showing.

There is no hum of bees, no songbird heard to sing,

only a falcon grey somewhere high up caw-screeching,

from cliffs around like grief of mourning, echoing,

as from afar a sob of stifled cries, beseeching.


My sight, dream tangle-snared, into black water drilling –

of that unfathomed tarn, something deep down concealing!

Perhaps Czech lore is here, a tale from green shires banished.

Or moot of ancient gods, hid by the cliff-face, vanished.

Perhaps the resting place of our Czech heroes, famed –

You god-like heroes, you, of bravery legendary,

quite overlooked by now in the lands Czechs have claimed

and remembered by all your new descendants? Nary!


For if those were to cry out for this troubled nation,

then that black lake would rise up to be a black ocean,

if from still living breast they were to whimper, sighing,

that sigh would lift that lake from its banks, send it flying!

Oh restless surely is that underwater sleep

torn with the sighs of those who lie down there assembled,

but they are dead men now, and their sighs feebly creep

up to the surface; stirred as with a breeze, soft trembled.


Perhaps our underworld is down there, inundated.

Once, looking at the peaks, as summer light abated

I saw, down wooded slopes, out of the cave there gaping,

some figures strange in droves descending like a draping,

not of a human shape, just strands of mist and those

between the tree-trunks squeezed and branch to branch down-weighed,

before the eye could aim they came approaching close,

till, like a mist-cloud, grey, on the lake surface splayed.


Oh, death sends such a throng from living feasts, such slaughter,

that the whole night’s too short, to cross that final water,

and with the morning hours, bright white light weave a skimming,

those spectral shadows flee into the forests, brimming.

Aye whenever I’ve stepped into those forests dark,

I’ve always heard strange whispers with my own footfall walking

and in my uneasy veins I suddenly felt it, stark,

those spectral stares, myself from sombre thickets stalking.


Just lean and look beneath, see the brown growing stranding,

under the water spun, for diverse nets outstanding –

there must be something there, in water so impassive,

something therein concealed in depths unfathomed, massive!

How easy it would be to dive, descending deep,

one could get closer, find the magic lore there reckoned –

I know, for certain know: there’s something there, asleep,

something is surely there – and I’m toward it beckoned


Do Frogs Exist there Too?


Frogs sat around a puddle

And gazed at heavens high

Frog teacher pounding into skulls

The science of the sky.


He spoke about the heavens

Bright dots we see there burning

And men watch them, "astronomers"

Like moles they dig for learning.


When these moles start to map the stars

The large becomes quite small

What's twenty million miles to us

They call one foot, that's all.


So, as those moles did figure out

(If you believe their plan)

Neptune is thirty feet away

Venus, less than one.


If we chopped up the Sun, he said

(Awed frogs could only stare)

We'd get three hundred thousand Earth's

With still a few to spare


The Sun helps us make use of time,

It rolls round heaven's sphere

And cuts a workday into shifts

"Forever" to a year


What comets are is hard to say

A strange manifestation

Though this is not a reason for

Some idle speculation


They are no evil sign, we hope

No reason for great fright

As in a story we got from

Lubyenyetsky, great knight


A comet there appeared, and when

It rays were seen by all

The cobblers in a tavern

Began a shameful brawl


He told them how the stars we see

So many, overhead

Are actually only suns

Some green, some blue, some red


And if we use the spectroscope

Their light tells, in addition

Those distant stars and our Earth

Have the same composition


He stopped. The frogs were overwhelmed.

Their froggy eyeballs rolled.

"What more about this universe

Would you like to be told?"


"Just one more thing, please tell us sir"

A frog asked, "Is it true?

Do creatures live there just like us

Do frogs exist there too?"


Translation: D.P. Stern