I strove to cry—my lips were dumb.
The steeds rush on in plunging pride;
But where are they the reins to guide
A thousand horse, and none to ride!
With flowing tail, and flying mane,
Wide nostrils never stretch’d by pain,
Mouths bloodless to the bit of rein,
And feet that iron never shod,
And flanks unscarr’d by spur or rod,
A thousand horse, the wild, the free,
Like waves that follow o’er the sea,
Came thickly thundering on,
As if our faint approach to meet;
The sight re-nerved my courser’s feet,
A moment staggering, feebly fleet,
A moment, with a faint low neigh,
He answer’d, and then fell;
With gasps and glaring eyes he lay,
And reeking limbs immoveable,
His first and last career is done!
On came the troop—they saw him stoop,
They saw me strangely bound along
His back with many a bloody thong:
They stop, they start, they snuff the air,
Gallop a moment here and there,
Approach, retire, wheel round and round,
Then plunging back with sudden bound,
Headed by one black mighty steed,
Who seem’d the patriarch of his breed,
Without a single speck or hair
Of white upon his shaggy hide;
They snort, they foam, neigh, swerve aside.
And backward to the forest fly,
By instinct, from a human eye.
They left me there to my despair,
Link’d to the dead and stiffening wretch,
Whose lifeless limbs beneath me stretch,
Believed from that unwonted weight,
From whence I could not extricate
Nor him nor me—and there we lay,
The dying on the dead!
I little deem’d another day
Would see my houseless, helpless head.
[Notes: Mazeppa (1645-1709) was at first in the service of the King of Poland, but on account of a charge brought against him suffered the penalty described in the poem. He afterwards joined the Cossacks and became their leader; was in favour for a time with Peter the Great; but finally joined Charles XII., and died soon after the battle of Pultowa (1709), in which Charles was defeated by Peter.
Ukraine ("a frontier"), a district lying on the borders of Poland and Russia.
Werst. A Russian measure of distance.]
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