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The volunteers at Shipka

(August 11, 1877)


What if we still carry shame on our forehead,

Marks of the whip, signs of bondage abhorrent;

What if remembrance of infamous days

Hangs like a cloud over all we survey;

What if in history no place we're allotted,

What if our name be a tragic one, what if

Old Belasitsa and recent Batak

Over our past throw their deep shadows black;

What if men mockingly laugh in our faces,

Pointing to newly lost fetters, to traces

Still on our necks of the ages-long yoke;

What if this freedom was gives our folk?

What of it? We know a recent true story,

A shining new symbol, a symbol of glory,

That proudly within every bosom pulsates

And noble strong feeling within us awakes;

There on a mounting that glows in the distance,

Heaven's blue vault on its broad shoulder lifting,

Rises a famous wild peak with blood on its moss,

A monument huge to a deed that's immortal,

Because a deep memory lives in the Balkans,

Because there's a name that shall live for all time,

As bright as a legend in history it shines,

A new name, its roots to antiquity tracing,

As great ad Thermopylae, all fame embracing,

A same to wipe shame away, with its plain truth

Smashing to smithereens calumny's tooth.


O Shipka!

    For three days out youthful battalions

The pass have defended. The high mountain valleys

Re-echo the battle's tumultuous roar.

The onslaught's ferocious! Again the dense hordes

Along the ravine for the twelfth time are crawling

Where warm blood is flowing and bodies are sprawling.

Assault on assault! Swarm on swarm they advance!

Once more at the towering peak Suleiman

is pointing: "Rush forward! Up there are the rayahs!"

Away race the hordes in a rage wild and dire,

A thunderous "Allah" re-echoes afar.

The summit replies with a rousing "Hurrah!",

A hail of fresh bullets and tree trunks and boulders;

Spattered with blood, our battalions boldly

Retaliate, every man in his own way

Striving to be in the front of the fray,

Each, like a hero, death bravely defying,

Determined to leave one more enemy dying.

Cannon are pounding. The Turks with a cry

Rush up the slope where they tumble and die;

Coming like tigers, like sheep they go flying,

Then come once again: the Bulgarians fighting

Like lions are running along the redoubt,

Neither heat, thirst nor toil are they worried about.

The onslaught is fierce, the rebuff no less stout.

For three days they fight but no help is arriving,

And no hope is visible on the horizon,

And no brother eagles come swiftly with aid.

No matter. They'll die, but die true, unafraid -

As died the brave Spartans who stood against Xerxes.

Fresh waves are now rolling up; all are alerted!

A last effort's needed: the moment is grave.

And then does Stoletov, our general brave,

Roar words of great courage: "Young volunteer fighters,

Now crown Bulgaria with laurels of triumph!

The Tsar has entrusted the pass, the whole war,

Himself even, unto these muscles, of yours!"

Thus heartened, our proud and heroic battalions

Courageously meet the next thrust of the rallying

Enemy hordes! O heroic time!

Fresh waves of assailants the cliffs now climb.

Our men have no bullets, with bravery girded,

Their bayonets broken, their breasts ever sturdy,

They're all to a man ready gladly to die

On the ridge which the whole of the world can descry,

To die here like heroes triumphant, victorious .

"The whole of Bulgaria watches, supports us,

The peak is a high one: if we run away,

She'll see us – so better to die here today!"

No weapons are left! What remains is the slaughter!

Each stone is a bomb and each tree-trunk a sword is.

Each object – a blow, and each soul – flame that sears.

From the peak every tree, every stone disappears.

"Grab hold of the bodies!" they hear a voice crying,

At once through the air lifeless corpses are flying,

And over the hordes like black devils they dive

And tumble and roll as if they were alive!

The Turks quake and tremble, not having seen ever

The living and death fight a battle together,

And raise a shrill cry of demoniac rage.

In life and death combat the armies engage.

Our heroes, there standing as steady as boulders,

Meet bayonet steel with steel breasts no less boldly,

And sing as they cast themselves into the fray

When they realize Death shall now snatch them away.

But still our young heroes rebuff, sink and swallow

The hordes that is wave upon wave swiftly follow.

The peak any minute shall ours be no more.

Then suddenly Radetzky arrives with a roar.

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


And today, every time there's a storm in the mountain,

The summit recall this grim day and, recounting

The story, its echoing glory relays

From valley ti valley, from age unto age!


Plovdiv, November 6, 1883



Translated by © Peter Tempest. All rights reserved!


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