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Levski


"The monastery curbs my restless spirit.

A person seeking repentance in it

Must banish from memory the world of sin,

Spurn every temptation, find peace within.

My conscience a different mission dictates me.

This long black cassock that piously drapes me

Does not reconcile me to heavenly joys

And whenever in chapel I raise my voice

To praise the Lord so I enter Heaven,

I think it's to others He pays attention,

To those in the valley of tears - pour folk,

And my prayer disappears in the air like smoke,

And in anger God shuts his ears, refuses

To hear our hymns and loud hallelujahs.

I think, too, about those Heavenly Gates

That nobody knows which way they face,

The approach is not from monastic quarters,

The road from the busy world is shorter;

I think the pure tears that widows shed,

The laboring ploughman's honest sweat,

A comforting word, a righteous endeavor,

A truth averred and upheld forever,

A brotherly hand that without any fuss

We offer a man who has need of us -

All these are dearer to God Almighty

Than the idle anthems that we are reciting.

I think every human being can find

His kin and brothers among mankind

Whom the monk on taking the vow renounces,

I think God a higher aim has found us,

And without this cassock or beard I might

Spare suffering folk some fearful plight.

I think that canonical dispensation

Will not soon abolish their lamentation,

And my fellow-man needs now not prayer

But help and counsel in his despair,

I think that the truly good shepherd is he

Who stays with his flock in the rain and heat,

My brothers a terrible yoke are bearing,

I sin because none of their woes I'm sharing.

It's high time already for me to depart,

To leave this retreat from the world apart,

To speak new words, bear a secret message

To those who are dragging their grievous fetters,"

Thus spake he, and vanished.

                    For nine years he roamed

Without sleep or rest, without hearth or home,

Changing his name, under many disguises,

Stout-hearted, ready for sacrifices,

And brought understanding support and light

To slaves in a slave were the words he uttered,

Full of sweet hope that soared and fluttered.

Often he spoke of the struggle, revolt

As imminent of which was as yet unsettled.

He tested the brave to find men of mettle

To carry the glorious enterprise through;

For him every hearer was brother, too.

He turned a clear gaze to the shadowy future.

He loved his dear country and joyed in its beauty.

A rover he was, and simple as a child,

Frugal as a hermit fasting in the wild.

No stranger to hill-top, forest or valley,

There was not a path his feet had not traveled,

The wilderness, too, knew the sound of his voice,

The cottages knew it, the poor folk rejoiced

And opened their doors to him, left them unbolted.

Nothing he feared, he would sleep in the open;

Alone, deep in thought, he would take to the road.

A young man at daybreak, at nightfall Ц an old.

Yesterday's merchant would now be a pauper,

Blind man or cripple Ц whichever was called for.

Today in the mountain, tomorrow in town,

The word of rebellion he spread all round

And spoke behind closed doors of freedom and dying,

Said now was he who would raise in the flood

The first people's banner and shed his own blood.

Needed were courage, grit, firm resolution,

Fear was sheet villainy, pride Ц dissolution,

We are all equal, he said, in that hour -

People he braced with fresh vigor and power.

 

Every age, class and sex, trade and vocation

Joined with a will in the great undertaking:

The rich man a with money, the poor man with strength,

The maid with her needle, the sage with his pen,

Whilst he Ц naked, barefoot, with no land or chattels Ц

Was ready to lay down his life in that battle!

 

Utterly fearless, his courage sufficed

To die a hundred times on the cross like Christ,

To burn at stake like Huss, or to perish

Sawn, like Simon, for the truth he cherished.

For him Death was brother as well as friend.

In his sleeve he sewed poison of terrible strength.

At his waist was a trusty weapon he wielded

To terrify enemies whenever needed.

A stranger to sleep, relaxation and rest

He was spirit and made manifest.

His thoughts he expounded concisely and clearly,

His forehead at times would frown severely,

With wrath and reproach his gaze would fill,

Revealing a staunch heart and iron will.

 

He traveled unseen, like a phantom fleeting,

He'd turn up in church, at a neighbors' meeting,

Appear without sign, disappear without clue,

Everywhere welcomed, everywhere pursued,

Once at a numerous public assembly

He suddenly entered, greeting presented

And giving a scoundrel a slap in the face

Quit the town secretly, leaving to trace.

His name in itself was a signal for panic,

The authorities hounded him everywhere, planted

Cordons round twenty-odd towns at a go

To trap their ubiquitous spirit-like foe.

In awe would all gaze at his earnest expression,

The title of saint he was gives by peasants

Who, huddled together away from spies,

Would listen agape and with rapturous eyes

Ti the sweet words of danger he spoke, all hearers

Found mush that had troubled their souls grow clearer.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The wonderful seed fell in people's hearts and

Grew swiftly to yield an abundant harvest.

 

But he was betrayed, and betrayed by a priest!

 

This groveling worm, this despicable beast,

This outrage to God, on the Church this foul blemish,

Through whose vicious treason the deacon did perish!

Through infamous rogue who no shame ever saw,

Who appeared here on earth Heaven knows what for,

This sneaking betrayer, this priest in God's service,

Such title without shame or conscience usurping,

Whose lips, from which venom and bitterness ran,

Cried basely: "Take hold of him! That is your man!"

Who raised his right hand not in blessing, but pointing

In treason Ц no thunderbolt struck ti destroy it! -

Whom I now deliberately do not name

For fear such a mention my poem profane,

Whose mother bereft was of reason and ruthless,

This priest with one equal in Hell Ц and that Judas,

Thus plunged a whole nation in mourning and tears!

 

And still the man lives, in our midst he appears!

 

Thrown into jail all in blood and in fetters

Levski to terrible pain was subjected.

Shame on his torturers Ц powerless to break

A heart so resistant! No moan did he make,

No curse or appeal for mercy he uttered,

But there in the darkness he proudly suffered!

Death was approaching, fear faraway.

Nothing did he in a whisper betray.

He met every query Ц a bitter ordeal -

With only one answer, a silence severe,

And said: "I am Levski! One and the same!"

And never once mentioned another's name.

 

But keen to rob Levski of living breath

The tyrant one morning decreed his death.

 

The Tsars, the rabble and odious tyrants

In order to crush man's proud aspiring

And cries of protest, and heartening thoughts,

And eternal truth - that life-giving source,

Have ever invented punishment, trying

To annihilate those whose fame is undying:

They devised for Prometheus rock and abyss,

For Socrates poison and prejudice,

The stake for John Huss, ball and chain Columbus,

The Golgotha crucifix for Jesus the humble -

And thus do such ending whose cruelty appalls

Win aureoles later, far brighter than all.

 

In splendor and shame, like the crucifix, hallowed!

The sight of your victims hes made our hearts ache,

We're seen from your bar bodies swing and shake

And southerly winds with the dead limbs playing,

And jubilant tyrants their venom displaying.

O glorious scaffold! You shine with the light

Of heroes who died here! Must holy sight!

A terrible token, a sign of that freedom

For which in your shadow folk die and lie bleeding,

The lion, the hero: all honor is due

To those who to this day still die upon you.

For in that dark age we refer to as "bondage"

The rogue and the spy and the man with no honor

Would peacefully die in their forehead, their conscience Ц sold,

But death on your bar, holy scaffold, was always

No mark of disgrace Ц but on earth fresh glory,

A summit from which a brave heart could survey

Toward immortality the straightest way!

 

 

Translated by © Peter Tempest. All rights reserved!

 


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