I, knight-at-arms, in my own forest lost!
Count of the empire, heir to crags and caves,
And brother to the eagle and the fox!
The music of the thunder, and the wind
Among the arches of the oaks, may choir
A requiem for my passing soul. But hist!
A footstep in the leaves—some poaching hind
Or gypsy trapping game—Hola! hola!
Perhaps the kobolds are abroad to-night.
Zanthon knows well these mountain-folk entice.
The woods divide, dawn breaks, I see the verge;
Bathony’s stronghold on the Polish plains
Should top the wilderness: were Zanthon here,
To boast his prowess in our hunting bouts,
I would not cuff nor flout him, could we sight
In the old way, with fanfaron, the boars
On the old battlements, our ancient badge.
That lie to Zanthon on the Volga’s banks,
When Amine sent the wild rose by his hand,
Was Satan’s wile. I played the Cossack well.
With shame my mustache bristled when I said,
“Troopers must forage where the grain is grown:
I share my kopecks with the village priest,
Who winnows peccadillos by the sheaf.”
Then Zanthon, laughing in his foxy beard:
“When Amine meets me in the plane-tree walk
(Where pairing little finches seek to build,
We saw the cuckoo thieve their nests when boys),
Shall I then tell her, in my peasant way,
Your broken promise, and her troth denied?”
And he was gone—gone, with the stud he bought
From Schamyl’s son, up by Caucasus way,
Leaving me solitude to reason with.
Around me, then, an odor swept—the rose!
It plagued my nostrils day and night, in gusts
It blew, but one way only—towards Amine.
At cards it smote me, in the saddle puffed,
Through my tent walls at night its withered blast
Pierced, and changed me in my wavering dreams.
What spell was this, by love or friendship sent?
Across the steppes I followed Zanthon, close,—
He might have heard the whinny of my mare;
Verst after verst, the measure of her hoofs
Beat out a rhythm, like a cackling laugh.
But on the frontier my poor Sesma fell:
I heard the ravens croaking from the hills.
The sun has burned away the valley’s mist.
And in the silent, tranquil morning air
A mirage rises of my ruined walls:
Gold-colored, crystal-edged, the banners flash.
The rooks are stringing for the old beech copse.
This gully crossed, the bridge that spans the stream—
But halte-la, my heart crowds up my breast,
For this is Poland, Mother of my Soul!
Quoth Zanthon, watching in the plane-tree walk,
“My fine Bathony comes to join the feast,
And raise the conopeum for my bride.
I pay the kopecks to the priest to-day,
But Amine in his sheaf will not be bound.”