Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
Gwiazdalska
By Julian Ursyn Niemcewicz (1758–1841)
 
NEAR Lenczyca, upon a flowery mound,
A proud and noble mansion looked around.
There lived a count ambitious, who aspired
To honors. He found what he desired:
The king’s cupbearer he. His        5
Were piles of wealth, and towns and palaces.
This matters not. His pride, his boastings, were
Of his fair daughter, who was passing fair,
For bounteous Nature o’er the maiden threw
All charms men love, and all they worship too.        10
She was a very queen of grace, whose skill
Played with the heart, and wielded it at will.
The story of her beauty, like a breeze
Bearing sweet perfume, spread through the provinces,
Ran o’er the land, and many a raptured youth        15
Laid at her feet vows of eternal truth.
They saw her, and were lost. A single glance
Of that bright, lovely, laughing countenance
Pierced every heart. No wonder: the control
Of wit and beauty captures e’er the soul.        20
But was Gwiazdalska faultless? No; one little sin—
For she was human—one alone crept in;
One little fault or error, which, Heaven knows,
Was a dust-atom on a scarlet rose.
What might this little, trifling error be?        25
Time and the maiden never could agree.
She knew not wherefore years should be divided
In months and days and hours—and years derided.
She thought that Time, to please a maiden’s whim,
Might tarry. Little knew the maid of him.        30
She deemed her smile should stop the hastening day,
When in delights and feasts it sped away,
And the wing’d hours in their swift flight restrain,
And to a rock Time’s slippery spirit chain.
E’en thus she lived, and dreams like these employed        35
The shifting moments which those dreams enjoyed.
Her dawn was noon, Time’s dawn her middle night.
She was always late; her place, though noblest, might
Remain unfilled. To table she first came
When all was over. And ’twas just the same        40
If at the theater was acted a new play:
Her coming till the end she’d sure delay;
Nor, going to church, would she appear before
The stately beadle closed the hallowed door.
She was her parents’ hope and chiefest bliss;        45
And thus they never scolded her remiss.
There is great pleasure—so some people say—
Sweet pleasure in such lingering and delay;
And none of her admirers loved her less
For all her dilly-dally tardiness.        50
But one she did prefer unto the rest, and he
Was young Wojewodzic of Kajavy;
He bore Guzdawa’s arms. And those who bear
These old insignia, history doth suppose,
Were long distinguished for their length of nose,        55
Their large, bright eyes, their crisp and curly hair;
Unwearied in all enterprise; in war
Supremely valiant; rather superstitious;
Amorous, as born beneath love’s famous star.
Indeed, our Wojewodzic was ambitious        60
To be a true Guzdawa, and the youth
In size, form, virtues, was their heir in sooth.
His life was stainless, and ’twas decorated
With all the gems of talent. Happy-fated,
He won the lady’s promise to be his;        65
And parents’ blessings crowned the promised bliss.
Then swam his soul in joy, and rapture threw
Her sunshine on the moments as they flew.
A month before the chosen day began
The nuptial preparations. Wild desire        70
Made hours—yea, each minute—as they ran,
Linger like years, whose dragging footsteps tire.
But hopes, and meditations, and soft sighs
Relieved their slothful passage as he brought
Her beauty, wit, and gentleness to thought,        75
The thousand graces playing round her eyes,
And her white hands, so exquisitely fair,
No ivory with their color could compare.
A hundred and a hundred times he said:
“She is, indeed, the sweetest, loveliest maid!”        80
And then a sad, sad thought would oft intrude:
“She’s so forgetful, though so fair and good;
Surely ’tis not her fault, but Time’s,
Who may, and no doubt does, mistake the time of day.
But let us wed; this weakness shall be checked;        85
’Tis a slight fault, and easy to correct.
Watches and clocks shall hang on every wall,
And silver hammers will each hour recall;
Hours, minutes, seconds—monitors like these
Will chase the maid’s obliviousness with ease.”        90
So he soliloquized. His doubts were gone.
The marriage contract signed, and all was done,
And the church doors were opened for the pair;
Gorgeous and fine was the assembly there.
The bridegroom sallied forth from his abode,        95
And no unhappy omen stopped his road.
He came with friends and relatives, who wore
Their sable furs, adorned—as well became
Those doing honor to so proud a name—
With dazzling gold and sunny scarlet o’er.
*        *        *        *        *
        100
From distant forests wagons brought vast stores
Of their wild tenants, deer and fawns and boars—
Game without number; which six master cooks,
Who wore their Gallic caps, prepared with all
The precepts given in gastronomic books.        105
Mince-meats and spices—but I’ll not recall
The vast details. The noblest thing they did
Was to erect a mighty pyramid
Of almonds crusted o’er with sugar. Can
Aught exceed in taste a marcypan?        110
A curiously constructed lynx portrayed
The escutcheons of the bridegroom and the maid.
The table was weighed down with luxuries rare,
And all the neighbors of high rank were there,
Prelates and senators. The cupbearer vowed        115
To give the act its due solemnity,
And went to Skirniewicz with a crowd
Of liegemen and of vassals, for to see
The venerable primate, and entreat
That he would honor the event, and be        120
The officiating minister, as meet.
At last the guests came. Do you wish to know
How they were bestowed? That, I trow,
’S too much for me to answer. They were driven
To rather closish quarters, but ’twas soon arranged.        125
The choice was to the worthy primate given;
The others, where they could, reposed their head,
And all slept soundly—some without a bed.
Then dawned the happy day. At noon,
Accompanied by pealing organ’s tune,        130
The rings were to be changed. The friends
Were seated in the church; the clergy led
The primate, with his miter on his head,
His pastoral staff in hand, who now ascends
His throne. The tapers are enkindled. Where        135
Is the bride? On waiting a whole hour, they sent
To ask what cause, what luckless accident
Delayed her. Lo, here comes the messenger:
Gwiazdalska begs delay; one stocking she
Had actually got on, and speedily        140
Would finish with the other. Well, they wait.
Time lingers—lingers more. The clock strikes three.
They send again. ’Twas strange she should forget
The hour, she said; but she must braid her hair,
And in an eyelid’s twinkle would be there.        145
One hour, and yet another—five o’clock,
When other heralds at her chamber knock.
She was just fixing on her robe a wreath,
And would come instantly. The well-bred sun
Tarried a little longer; then, his patience done,        150
He sank the occidental hills beneath.
But love had made the bridegroom angry, while
Hunger attacked the guests; their empty skin
Began to be rebellious. ’Tis a vile
Peace-breaker, that said hunger. They had thought        155
Of the rich feast! some little, and some naught
Had taken, and they suffered for that sin.
Oh, had they but some bread and sausage brought!
At length the ladies yawned; a senator
Opened his gasping mouth from roof to floor;        160
The primate was observed to whiten; then
The bridegroom rose, and to the castle fled,
Entreating on his knees the loitering maid
To hasten with her toilet. “Wait—when
I have tied this bow,” the lady said, “I’ll come—        165
I’ll come indeed.” He hurried back, and heard
A blending of strange sounds which struck him dumb.
He entered. First the primate’s form appeared,
Sunk in the canon’s arms. He looked around:
Knights and their squires were stretched upon the ground;        170
Two palatines, three barons—vanquished all
By mortal hunger. Tears of anguish fall
Down the parental cheeks. The youth’s love turned cold.
“Ere thou art dressed,” he said, “I shall grow old;
And if to-day thou triflest thus, to-morrow——”        175
He said no more, but sprung with silent sorrow
Upon his horse, and fled. Such haste was wrong;
But young men’s passions are perverse and strong.
His hurry did no good; and those who marry
Should ne’er fall out with things that make them tarry.        180
Yet a few hours, e’en though impatient, he
Had been rewarded. ’Twas exactly three—
Three the next morning—when the lovely lady
Appeared in public, all adorned and ready.
 
 
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