Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘Mindowe’
By Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849)
From ‘Poets and Poetry of Poland,’ edited by Paul Soboleski
  [Mindowe, king of Litwania, having embraced the Christian religion, his blind mother Ronelva and his nephew Troinace conspire to effect his death. Mindowe has banished Lawski, the prince of Nalzhaski, and essayed to win the affections of his wife. Lawski, not having been heard of for some time, is supposed to be dead. The scene opens just after the baptismal rites of the monarch.]

Scene: The royal presence chamber.  Enter Casimir and Basil, from different sides

BASIL—Saw you the rites to-day, my Casimir?
  Casimir—I saw what may I never see again,—
The altars of our ancient faith torn down,
Our king a base apostate, groveling
Beneath a—
  Basil  [interrupting him]—    Hold! knowest thou not
The ancient saw that “Palace walls have ears”?
The priests throng round us like intruding flies,
And latitude of speech is fatal.
  Casimir—                        True—
I should speak cautiously. But hast seen
The prince?
  Basil—            Who? Troinace?
  Casimir—                        The same.
Ha! here he comes, and with the queen-mother;
It is not safe to parley in their presence. Hence
Along with me: I’ve secrets for thine ear.  [Exit Casimir and Basil.]
Ronelva enters, leaning upon the arm of Troinace, and engaged with him in conversation.
  Troinace—Thou hast a son, Ronelva, crowned a king!
  Ronelva—Is he alive? with sight my memory fails.        15
Once I beheld the world, but now ’tis dark—
My soul is locked in sleep—O God! O God!
My son! hast seen my royal son—the King,
Thy uncle, Troinace? How is he arrayed?
  Troinace—In regal robes, and with a jeweled cross        20
Sparkling upon his breast.
  Ronelva—                        A cross!—what cross?
’Tis not a symbol of his sovereignty—
  Troinace—It is a gift made by his new ally,
The Pope.
  Ronelva—            The Pope!—The Pope! I know none such!
Who is this Pope!—Is’t he who sends new gods        25
To old Litwania? Yes—I’ve heard of him.
A pause.  Then enter Mindowe, crowned, and arrayed in purple, with a diamond cross upon his breast, and accompanied by Heidenric, the Pope’s legate.  Herman precedes them bearing a golden cross.  Lawski, disguised as a Teutonic Knight, with a rose upon his helmet, and his visor down, bearing a casket.  Lutuver attending the King.  Lawski stands apart.
  Ronelva—I feel that kindred blood is near, Mindowe!
Thy mother speaks! approach!  [He approaches.]  Hast thou returned
From some new expedition? Is thy brow
Covered with laurels, and thy stores        30
Replete with plunder? Do I hear the shouts,
Th’ applause of the Litwanians, hailing thee
As conqueror? Returnest thou from Zmudie,
From Dwina’s shores triumphant? Has the Russian Bear
Trembled before thy sword? Does Halicz fear        35
Thy angry frown? Speak! with a mother’s tears
I’ll hail the conqueror.
  Mindowe—                    My mother! why
These tones and words sarcastic? Knowest thou not
That victory perches on another’s helm?
I am at peace, and am—a Christian king.        40
  Ronelva—Foul shame on thee, blasphemer! Hast thou fallen
As low as this? Where is thy bold ambition?
To what base use hast placed thy ancient fame?
Is ’t cast aside like to some foolish toy
No longer worth the hoarding? Shame upon        45
Thy craven spirit! Canst thou live without
That glorious food, which e’en a peasant craves,
Holding it worthless as thy mother’s love,
And thy brave father’s faith?
  Mindowe—                        Nay, mother, nay!
Dismiss these foolish fancies from thy brain.        50
Behold! my jeweled brow is bent before thee.
Oh, bless thy son!
  Ronelva—                Thou vile apostate! Thou
Dare ask for approbation? Thou!—I curse thee!
Sorrow and hate pursue thy faltering steps.
Still may thy foes prove victors; subjects false;        55
Thy drink be venom, and thy joy be woe.
Thy mind filled with remorse, still mayst thou live,
Seeking for death, but wooing it in vain,—
A foul, detested, blasted renegade.
I have bestowed to earth a viper; but        60
From thee shall vipers spring, who like their sire
Shall traitors be unto their native land,
And eager plunge them into ruin’s stream!
Depart! and bear thy mother’s curse!
  Mindowe—                            Mother,
My mother—
  Ronelva—            Call me not mother, viper!
I do disclaim thee;—thee—and all thy seed!  [Exit Ronelva, leaning on Troinace.]
  Mindowe  [speaking as though awe-stricken]—Heard ye that curse?
  Heidenric—                What are the frantic words
Of a revengeful woman? Empty air—
  Mindowe—A mother’s curse! It carries pestilence,
Blight, misery, and sorrow in its train.        70
No matter! It is, as the legate says,
But “empty air.”  [To Heidenric]  What message do you bear?
  Heidenric—Thus to the great Litwanian king, Pope Innocent
(Fourth of the name who’ve worn the papal crown)
Sends greeting: Thou whose power extends        75
From farthest Baltic to the shores of Crim,
Go on and prosper. Though unto thy creed
He thinks thy heart is true, still would he prove—
[Mindowe starts, and exclaims “Ha!”]
Send thou to him as neighboring monarchs do
An annual tribute. So he’ll bless thy arms        80
That ere another year elapses Russ’ shall yield,
And Halicz fall before thy conquering sword.
  Mindowe—Thanks to the Pope. I’ll profit by his leave;
I’ll throw my troops in Muscovy, and scourge
The hordes of Halicz, move in every place        85
Like an avenging brand, and say—The Pope
Hath given me power. But, hark ye! legate,
What needs so great a priest as he of Rome
With my red gold to buy him corn and oil?
Explain! I do not understand the riddle.        90
  Heidenric—He merely asks it as a pledge of friendship,
But nothing more. The proudest kings of Europe
Yield him such tribute.
  Mindowe—                Tribute!—base priest!
Whene’er thy master asks for tribute, this—
[Striking his sword.]
Is my reply. What hast thou there?
  Heidenric—                            A gift—
A precious relic of most potent virtue.
Thou’st heard of St. Sebastian? holy man!
He died a martyr. This which brought him death
Is sent unto thee by his Holiness—
[Presents a rusty spear-head.]
  Mindowe—Fie on such relics! I could give thy Pope        100
A thousand such! This dagger by my side
Had hung from childhood. It has drunk the blood
Of many a foe that vexed my wrath; and oft
Among them there were men, and holy men,
As holy, sir, as e’er was St. Sebastian.        105
  Heidenric—Peace, thou blasphemer!
  Mindowe  [angrily]—            How! dost thou wish thy head
To stand in safety on thy shoulders?
What means this insolence, sir legate?
Think’st thou that I shall kneel, and bow, and fawn,
And put thy master’s iron yoke upon me?        110
They act not freely whom the fetters bind,
And none shall forge such galling chains for me!
There’s not one more Mindowe in the world,
Nor is your Pope a crowned Litwanian king.
  Heidenric—I speak but as the representative        115
Of power supreme o’er earthly monarchs.
  Mindowe—Thou doest well to shelter thus thyself
Under the shield of thy legation. Hast
Aught more to utter of thy master’s words,
Aught more to give?
  Heidenric—                I have a gift to make
Unto thy queen.
  Mindowe—            The queen hath lain, sir prince,
In cold corruption for a twelvemonth back.
What means this mockery?
  Heidenric—                        Pardon, my lord!
It was not known unto his Holiness.
The forests of Litwania are so dark        125
They shut her doings from her neighbor’s ken.
If then the queen be dead, who shall receive
This goodly gift?
  Mindowe—                My mother—
  Heidenric—                            If I may judge
By what I heard e’en now, she’d not accept
Our offering.
  Mindowe—            Then give the gorgeous gaw
To Lawski’s widow—she who soon will be
My crownèd queen. Summon her hither, page.  [Exit Page.]
Attendants, take from hence these costly gifts,
And give them in the royal treasurer’s care.—  [Exit Attendants.]
Enter Aldona
Here comes my spotless pearl, the fair Aldona,
The choicest flower of the Litwanian vales.
Address thy speech to her.
  Heidenric—                    Beauteous maid,
Accept these golden flowers from Tiber’s banks,
Where they have grown, nursed by the beams of faith.
Nor deem them less in value that they are        140
By the brighter lustre of thine eyes eclipsed.
  Aldona—These costly jewels and the glare of gold,
Albeit they suit not my mourning weeds,
May serve as dying ornaments. As such
I will accept them.
Heidenric  [aside]—            Ay! I warrant me.
Like to most women, she accepts the gift,
Nor farther questions. Gold is always—gold.
[Motions to Lawski to approach Aldona.  He does so, tremblingly.]
  Mindowe  [to Lawski]—Thou tremblest. Teuton!
[Lawski raises his visor as he approaches Aldona.  She recognizes his features, shrieks, and falls.  Exit Lawski.]
  Mindowe—                        Help there—she swoons!
Without there!
Enter Attendants
  Mindowe—                Bear her hence. Pursue that knight.  [Exit Attendants with Aldona.]
[To Heidenric]—What means this mystery?
  Heidenric—                                I know not, sire.
He said that he had vowed whilst in our train
For certain time to keep his visor down.
He’s taciturn. This with his saddened air,
Together with the rose upon his helm,
The emblem of the factious house of York,        155
Bespeaks him English—to my thought, at least.
  Mindowe—Think ye such poor devices can deceive?
He is a spy—a base, deceitful spy.
Begone! for by my father’s sepulchre
I see a dagger in my path. Begone!  [Exit Heidenric and Herman.]        160
Approach, Lutuver. Didst thou see that knight
Who left so suddenly?
  Lutuver—                I did so, sire,
But ’f all the group I least suspected him
Of treasonable practices. He’s silent,
For no one understands his language here;        165
He keeps aloof from men, because he’s sad;
He’s sad, because he’s poor: so ends that knight.
  Mindowe  [not heeding him]—I tell thee that my very soul’s pulse throbbed,
And my heart cast with quicker flow my blood,
When that young knight approached Aldona.  [Muses.]        170
Now, by the gods, I do believe ’tis he—
The banished Lawski—here to dog my steps:
What thinkest thou, Lutuver?
  Lutuver—                            Slay him, sire!
If it be he, he’s taken from my path;
If not—to slay a Teuton is no crime.        175
  Mindowe—Thou counselest zealously. But still, thy words
Fall not upon an ear which thinks them good.
I tell thee that this Lawski is my bane,
A living poison rankling ’fore mine eyes.
  Men prate about the virtues of the man:        180
And if a timorous leaning to the right,
From fear to follow where the wrong directs,
Be virtue, then is he a paragon.
No wonder we are deadly foes. To me
The brightness which is shed o’er all his deeds,        185
When placed in contact with my smothered hate,
Seems as the splendor of the noonday sun
Glancing upon some idol’s horrid form,
Making its rude appearance ruder still.
  One word of mine, Lutuver, might destroy        190
This abject snail, who crawling near my hope
Hath scared it off. But I would have him live,
And when he meets his adorable wife,—
When in th’ excess of ’raptured happiness
Each fibre fills with plenitude of joy,        195
And naught of bliss is left to hope for,—then
At fair Aldona’s feet shall he expire,
And the full heart just beating ’gainst her own
Shall yield its living current for revenge.
And she—his wife—to whom I knelt in vain,        200
Who oft has said she courted my dislike,
And wished I’d hate her,—she shall have her wish.  [Exeunt Mindowe and Lutuver, as the curtain falls.]

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