A Sultan among those who over a language reign,
Who where the flocks are pastured, there stretches their domain,
Was sleeping on the hillside, his head laid on his arm,
When came to him a vision that did his spirit charm:
He saw the moon that nightly across the heavens ranged
Turn from her wonted journey and to a maiden changed,
He saw her glide towards him, with lovely downcast head,
And there was sorrow in her eyes; but spring bloomed at her tread;
While all the forest trembled, so wondrous was her grace,
And a thrill of silver ripples ran o’er the water’s face.
A mist like sparkling diamonds that did the vision daze
Lay on the earth enchanted, a bright illumined haze,
While the sound of whispered music sang through that wonderland,
And o’er the starry heavens a midnight rainbow spanned…
Her hair in raven tresses about her shoulders fell,
And taking his hand in hers, she these grave words did tell:
“Let be our lives united, my pain let yours enfold
That through your sorrow’s sweetness my sorrow be consoled…
Writ was it through the ages and all the stars record
That I shall be your mistress, and you shall be my lord.”
Now, as the Sultan marvelled, softly she withdrew
And he felt as if within him a wondrous tree up grew;
A that in an instant raised loftily its head
And to the far horizons its thrusting branches spread;
A tree of such a stature that even at midday
The farthest lands and oceans under its shadow lay.
While at the earth’s four corners rose up against the sky
Atlas, Caucasus, Taurus and the Balkan mountains high,
The wide Euphrates, Tigris, the Nile, the Danube old,
All ‘neath its boughs protecting their mighty waters rolled.
Asia, Europe, Africa and the desert stretching far,
The boats that on the lakes and seas and on the rivers are,
Billowing, boundless corn fields that tossed emerald locks,
And shores, and ships, and harbours with castles on the rocks,
All these spread like a carpet his vision did embrace,
Country next to country set, and race to race…
All these as in a mist of silver did he see,
A vast extending kingdom’ neath the shadow of a tree.
The eagle that aspires the sky does dawdle not
With lazy wings, nor in among the branches squat;
And now a wind of conquest the ancient forest fills
And shouts of Allah ! Allah ! echo among the hills,
As though a rising tempest does o’er the ocean roar
The deafening clash of battle, the thunderous clang of war;
Till loudly does the forest to that great gale resound.
And bow before new Rome its branches to the ground.
The Sultan then awakened to find the moon again
Her wonted place had taken above Eskishehr plain,
And sadly to the dwelling of Sheik Edebali turned
And through the window bars a girlish form discerned,
More lightsome than a hazel, a maid who gravely smiled,
Sweet Malcatun the beautiful, Sheik Edebali’s child.
And then it was he understood his dream sent by the prophet,
As though a moment he had gained the presence of Mahomet;
He knew that born of this his love would there an empire grow
Of which the tides and boundaries only the sky would know.
Now, as the eagle rises the Sultan’s dream came true,
And year by year invincible that gathering kingdom grew,
And year by year the emerald flame flew higher in the blast
As generations came and went and as each sultan passed;
Nor was there any nation could its course forbid
Until up to the Danube rode conquering Bayazid…
From one bank to the other a bridge of boats was cast
And all that host marched over midst fanfare trumpet blast,
The bodyguard of Allah did over the Danube ride
Darkening with their numbers the Rovine countryside,
Swarming tens of thousands spreading their tents immense;
But on the far horizon stood oaks in forest dense.
Now came a company of men, in front a white flag borne,
And Bayazid regarding them enquired with haughty scorn:
“What do you want?”
“We want but peace, and if it be allowed
Our Sire would like to speak awhile with you, great Sultan proud.”
At a sign the way was cleared and came towards the tent
A man of calm and simple mien, and with the years bent.
“Yes your Highness !”
“Take heed, for caution warns,
Lest you your crown exchange against a wreath of thorns.”
“That you have come, great emperor, no heed what be your aim,
While still at peace I hail you, our greetings that you came;
But, as to your good council, o may the Lord forgive,
If you do dream to win this land by force imperative;
Had you not better return home with calm and peaceful mind
And show in your imperial strength that you are just and kind…
Be the one or be the other, but little does it awe,
Gladly shall we take our fare, either peace or war.”
“What, when nations open their gates before my trump
You think my hosts will stumble against a rotten stump?
You do not guess, old dotard, the force my foes deployed.
The West’s most noble flower these soldiers have destroyed.
O’er all the cross does shelter, emperors and kings,
The crescent moon ascending its silver shadow flings.
Aye, clad in gleaming armour the cavaliers of Malta,
The Pope who wears three crowns and guards the Holy Altar
Lightning against lightning set and thunder against thunder,
A. storm that fraught the sea with fear and filled the earth with wonder
I needed but to make a sign, a movement of my head
And all the nations in my path in wild disorder fled;
For strong to overthrow the cross did march a mighty host
O’er sea its rule from land to land, on land from coast to coast;
Shattering the peace of earth as it did march along,
Darkening the countryside in tens of thousand strong.
Our lances stood uncounted like a field of growing corn,
And tremble did the ocean o’er which our ships were borne.
At Nicopolis you no doubt saw how many camps were brought,
As though a shining metal wall of swords and spears wrought.
But when I saw their number like the leaves and like the grass,
I swore that I would crush them down and through their mist would pass;
I swore that I would scatter them as wind up flings the foam,
And give my charger hay and oast in the Vatican at Rome …
Yet you before my legions imagine you can stand,
You ridiculous old dotard, with a bare staff in your hand?”
“To that old dotard, Emperor, aught one courtesy accord
For over all Wallachia ’tis he the chosen lord.
And wiser you would guard your words, nor yet too loudly boast,
Lest should the furious Danube flood engulf your fleeing host.
Along the rolling ages many there were who came
Since Darius Hystaspis of tall immortal fame;
Many there were who flung their dream across the Danube’s tide
And set their bridges ship to ship and over them did ride;
Emperors unnumbered, for their cruelty renowned,
Who came to us with hungry eyes for water and for ground;
And though I would not care to brag, tell you this thing I must:
Little time went by ere they were water and were dust.
You boast that on your conquering road no gates for long were closed
Though all the flower the of West your vanguard’s march opposed.
But what the high aspiring cause that did their hearts endure?
The vanity of every brave, of every cavalier;
The pomp of noisy conquest; for they had set their vow
To tear the pride from out your heart, the laurels from your brow.
But I defend the poverty and the needs of a struggling land
And therefore all the rocks and streams and hills that guardian stand
And all that grows and moves and breathes to me is ally true,
While every blade of grass and stone is enemy to you,
We have small hosts, yet love of soil had ever power to rid
This flowering land of all its foes. Prepare then Bayazid !”
No sooner had he gone than mighty the commotion !
The forest rang with arms, and rumbled like the ocean,
Amidst the greenwood thousand heads with long and plaited hair,
And several thousands more besides that did bright helmets wear.
While wave on wave of cavalry over the plain did flood
Astride high prancing chargers, their stirrups carved of wood.
Thundering over the battered earth an avalanche they went,
Lances levelled to the charge and bows near double bent;
Till like a shower of shivering light that whistled through the air,
A storm of arrows leapt and sang and flew from everywhere,
A din of blows on armour dealt like rattling of hail,
The noise of hoof and sword and lance, the roar of battle gale.
Unheeded was the Emperor’s fury, lion-like his rage,
For hotter still about his troops the fight did deadly wage;
Unheeded did the green flame flutter o’er his stricken ranks
For mightily assailed in front, attacked on both their flanks,
The East’s entire battle host was scattered in the fray
And line on line of infantry mown down like summer hay.
A steady rain of arrows fell and sword blows did resound,
While riders dropped on every hand and dead bestrewed the ground.
Till, onset from all sides at once, helpless to fight or fly,
It seemed the very earth was doomed and fallen was the sky…
Mircea himself led on his men midst storm of battle lust
That came, and came, and came, that trod all in the dust;
Their cavalry undaunted, a wall of lances proud
Which through that pagan army streets of daylight ploughed
And laid to earth their thousands like sheafs of ripened corn,
High in the van of conquest Wallachia’s banner borne;
As deluge flung from heaven that burst upon the seas,
Till in an hour the heathen were chaff before the breeze
And from that hail of iron fast towards the Danube fled,
While gloriously behind them the Romanian army spread.
Now, while the troops are camping, the sun goes slowly down
Decking the lofty summits with victory’s gold crown;
The lightning that from terror had flown out of the sky
Now flashes forth its splendour along the mountains high,
While gradually the planets do up the heaven rear
And o’er the mist-drenched forest the pallid moon appear,
The queen of night and ocean that squanders calm and sleep.
Yet of the sons of Mircea does one still vigil keep,
And on his knee, in musing, beneath the evening star,
He writes to his beloved of Arges village far:
“From deep within Rovine vale,
O lady fair, we bid you hail,
Alas, by letter not by speech,
By sundering distance out of reach.
Yet am I fain to beg of thee
To send by messenger to me
What in your valley fairest be:
The forest with its silver glade,
Thy eyes that long, curled lashes shade.
And I in turn will send to you
The proudest thing that here we view:
This mighty host with banner spread,
The forest, branching overhead,
My helmet with its feathery crest,
My eyes that ‘neath their lashes rest.
I have both health and resting place,
Thanks be to Christ and to God’s grace,
And now, dear love, I thee embrace”.
By such an age as this were chroniclers inspired;
But our good age of mountebanks what poet’s heart has fired…
In annals of past ages heroes are often found,
But poet, with your late or lyre of dreaming sound
Have you a single patriot to sing about today?
Apollo at the sight of these had hid himself away !
O modern heroes squatting beneath far glory’s wing,
Since you are all the fashion I would your prowess sing;
While draped in perfect nullity your praise is writ by those
Who knead the golden ages within the mud of prose.
Musats and Basarabs rest in your sacred shade,
Givers of law and justice, men who our nation made,
Who with the mace and ploughshare spread out our boundaries wide
From seashore to the mountains, and to the Danube side.
The present is not noble? Calling for heroes we?
Is not our street quite famous for dealers in jewellery?
Have not in far Sybaris our manners gained first prize?
From tavern door and alley does glory not arise?
And have we then no heroes, who wield rhetoric slings
Amidst the noisy plaudit of hordes of gutterings?
These pickpockets of honour who on a tightrope dance,
And wear their fancy costumes with perfect elegance.
Of Virtue and The Nation our liberal prates, till sure
His daily life you’d fancy must be as crystal pure?
You’d never dream him being a cafe haunting knave,
Who mocks at his own sermon, so solemn, and so grave.
O could you see the brigand that no conscience has nor soul
With his hang-dog expression and heavy, sullen jaw,
A hunchback, evil-visaged, a spring of cunning greed,
Who spouts out for his comrades some poisoned, nonsense creed.
Upon each lip is Virtue, and in each heart deceit;
A set of wicked monsters and wrong from head to feet
Who round their patrons stagnum, as standing; as those who Gods admire,
Will roll protruding frog eyes, bright with their hearts’ aspire.
Such men become our leaders, its laws’ our country give,
Men who at best from kindness should in a madhouse live
Clothed each in madmen’s jackets, a fool’s cap on each head.
But no… they teach us wisdom and make our laws instead.
Patriotism ! Justice !… Such guardians of our State
Despise the laws as nonsense that they themselves create.
As sly as artful foxes will they the benches throng
Frenetically applauding our country game and song;
Then meeting in the Senate each others praises speak
This heavy-throated Bulgar, that long and hook-nosed Greek.
Each claims to be Romanian, whatever mask he wears,
These Bulgo-Greeks pretending that they are Trajan’s heirs;
This poison froth, this dung-heap, this foul and filthy brood
Have they indeed inherited our nation’s master hood !
The scourings of everywhere, the abortive and the maimed,
All that man rejected and nature has disclaimed,
These crafty, greedy gluttons, these grasping Phanariots
To us they all have flooded and pose as patriots.
Until at last these nothings, this foul and loath full scum,
These cripple-minded stammerers lords of our land become.
Are you then Rome’s descendants, you eunuchs and no men?
If you were men in earnest, pity it were that then
This hungry plague of locusts, these creatures crazed and lame
Dare part their lips in public and flatter without shame
Our nations majesty, and make it odious stand,
Dare even speak thy name… o miserable land!
In Paris pleasure houses, there has your congress been;
With jaded, worthless women, in revelry obscene,
In sloth and vulgar rioting you wasted wealth and youth;
In you what could develop, that empty are in sooth?
And, coming back, for wisdom a perfume flask you brought,
A monocle you flourished, a cane for sword you bought.
Withered up before your time, yet childish in your brain,
For scientific knowledge a Bal-Mabil refrain,
And all your father’s riches spent on some harlot’s shoe:
O admirable and worthy offspring of Romans, you !
And now just look with horror on faces sceptic cold,
What wonder that your falsehoods no more persuasion hold?
When those who speak fine phrases and lofty sermons give
Would simply fill their pockets, that they may lazy live,
Today the polished discourse does little credence know,
But others are the reasons, dear Sirs, is that not so?
Too much have you made riches and power your single aim,
Too much have brought our nation to ridicule and shame,
Too much you mocked the language and customs of this race,
That now at last your mocking does but yourselves disgrace,
While self was ever the craving that in your spirits stirred,
Genius? A nonsense. Virtue? But a word.
O, leave in the old chronicles our forefathers to rest;
For they would gaze upon you with irony at best.
Rise once more, o Tepes ! Take and divide these men
As lunatics and rogues in two big tribes, and then
In mighty, twin infirmaries by force both tribes intern,
And with a single faggot prison and madhouse burn.
Translated by Corneliu M. Popescu