Poetry by Petr Bezruč


What moans within the hearts of artless folk
hard by Olza, Odra, Ostravice
(all were better than I!),
I tried to claim by faulty verse.

A little village of Haná

Like white birds, cottages line the horizon.
Hardly a breeze, a light breath of fog.
A hush comes like Hanák blood,
the water of the Romže.

The husbands of the land exist aloof upon it.
The good Emperor, he thrives in Vienna,
Germans in the mountains, Jews in the cities.

Black acres of beets like stretches of pitch;
the red-tressed lass who is picking the field
knows a man is coming to take his piece.

That Hanák lad who oversees the work
pretends not to notice the girl as he goes,
knows that a wife is galloping at the gates,
the wedding to last three days and more.

Sun-beaten and red, this tall peasant,
a little too proud for the townsfolk,
will never remove from his land.
such is the way beneath the Beskyd bulk!


Through spruce, larch, through fir spray
a meadowlark lifted on a feathery wind;
floated like memory dreams across the riverway,
a butterfly lights on my hand.
Are you love, are you luck, you delicate winger?
Flit away, rascal, to ornament some pretty thing
in whose black curls, on whose white fingers…
what wouldn’t I, to do as you are made for doing?

Campfire encounter

That Lancaster rifle on its sling,
in his cap a blue-grey feather–
deep there in a pinewood clearing
I came across Marquis Gero.

Fills presbyteries with Polish priests,
and Germanizes schools for Czechs.
There he was, resting, his costly gun
hanging between two elm trees.

Forsworn assassin of my tongue!
(Our daughters he too much admired.)
Twenty paces away from me he stood,
my Lancaster at home, unfired.


Only seventy-thousand of us left
outside Těšín, beyond Těšín.
One-hundred-thousand gone German,
one-hundred-thousand Polish–
a saintly silence settling inside.
When only seventy-thousand remain,
of hundreds merely seventy-thousand names,
how will we survive?

Seventy-thousand graves they’ve dug,
one for each of us gone from Těšín.
As now and again rise heavenward sobs,
and puling cries for help go long unheeded,
a foreign god laughs in our faces, poor slobs.
As a dullness glazes the eyes of the crowd,
over the chopping block our heads are bowed,
and like oxen to the slaughterhouse we’re led.

Since you’re so rich, Marquis Gero,
why not roll us over seventy barrels
full of wine, and one thousand more!
All the while half of us turning German,
and the rest given over to Poland,
now aloud in unison thunder so:

Hail and cheers–long life!–Marquis Gero!
But since the rest of us are short on time,
let’s drink to our stupor that good red wine,
ladies and lasses, peasants and sons of mine,
beyond Těšín, long gone Těšín.

I (iii)

I am first among all Teschen folk,
bard exemplar of all Bezkyds to make such claims.
Harnessed under foreign plows and gods,
milk and water runs in their veins.
Each one has a god in the sky,
second to the greater god of the land.
To the one exalted by the church on high pays tribute,
to the one below pays blood from the hand.

He who is above, to the living gives bread,
and butterflies and flowers to the woodland deer.
For you who were born in the Bezkyd ranges,
vast lands beneath Bald Mountain has cleared.
He gave you those mountains, and those forests,
and the sweet smell of the glade on the breeze.
It was the other who suddenly took it all away;
go and wail with them in the church, if you please.

Thou swains of the Bezkyds, honor gods and nobles
and they bear good fruit for thee.
Turned out from your own forests by guardian angels,
it is them to whom you must bend so deeply!
“You thieves from Krásné! Are these your woods?
Get down and kiss the earth in shame!
Get from your master’s woods and off to Frýdek!”
What say you to this, Thou of High and Holy name?

As this abusive speech offends your masters,
so too your guardian angels are insulted.
Just leave it be, and fare you well,
it is only your son you will have faulted.
So be it. Such is the lord’s will. Night stretches over my people
who will perish before the day’s first blasts.
I have prayed at night to a vengeful demon,
first among the Bezkyd bards, and the last.


Petr Bezruč

Petr Bezruč (pen name for Vladimír Vašek, 1867-1958) grew up during a Czech cultural revival near the end of the 19th century, when writing in Czech and not German was a stand against Austro-Hungarian imperialism. Specifically, though, his, bailiwick was Silesia, a region now partly in the Czech Republic, partly in Poland, and partly in the German Sudetenland. His themes include the plight of the miners in the region, and the farmers, “simple folk” who struggle under Viennese control (and, not to gloss: there is, as well, a strain of anti-Semitism in his work). These poems are from his collection Slezské Písně (Silesian Songs, or Songs of Silesia), the bulk of which he wrote between 1898-1900.

Jacob A. Bennett

Jacob A. Bennett studied English Literature at Wesleyan University (BA ’03), and Poetry at Goddard College (MFA ’09). He currently teaches courses in composition and literature for the English Department at La Salle University. Many of Bennett’s poems and reviews can be found online in the “publication” archives at ::AntiGloss::.

English translation copyright (c) Jacob A. Bennett, 2015.