from Silesian Songs

Petr Bezruč

Red Flower

Behind the dark window, in a grey pot,
a woolen and spiny cactus glowered.
One morning
a hectic calyx burst from the stalk:
a red flower.

It was our poet—who else had eyes—
who would enjoy a sweet and lovely rose.
His heroic couplet
commended the rose and arrogantly condemned
the red flower.

They are rugged souls who went to dwell
in them hills suffused by spikes and spines.
And what in their chests,
where once blossomed each day and every night
the lost red flower?


Ho, you lad spruced up in alpine boots!
Oh! young girl in pleats of crimson, see!
Fill up your Kyjov with hollering hoots,
and good times in Kyjov shall always be.

Like a swig from the fragrant vine,
like the boiling of my verses;
so burns the blood of Slovaks' veins,
so the flickering tongue rehearses.

Who could beat us, who insult us?
We don't know no master:
we live so frolicsome and joyous,
and drink 'til we fall in the pasture. 

The Miner

I dig, I dig beneath the ground.
I dig boulders that shimmer like snake skin.
I dig beneath Ostrava above.

My lamp is blown out, and my hair has fallen
sweaty and matted across my forehead.
Bitterness wells up in my eyes.
The veins in my skull fill with smoke,
and from under my fingernails red blood flows.
I dig, I dig beneath the ground.

Hefting a massive hammer in the pits,
I dig at Salmovec.
I dig at Rychvald and at Petřvald.

While my wife, at Godula, freezes and whimpers
hungry whelps weep in her lap,
and I dig, I dig beneath the ground.

Sparks shoot from the tunnel and my eyes,
as I dig at Dombrová, and at Orlová,
at Poremba and beneath Lazy.

Above me, overhead, the rumble of hooves,
the count riding through the village. His dainty lady,
rosy cheeked and smiling, urges the horses on.

I dig, I wield the pickaxe.
My ashen wife begs at the castle
wanting bread as her own breast is dry of milk.

Such a kind-hearted master,
with a castle made of yellow stone, while
under lock and key Ostravice groans and breaks.
Before the gate two black curs growl.

Why did she go to beg and scrounge at the castle?
Does rye grow in the manor fields for miners' mouths?
I dig at Hrušov and at Michálkovice.

What of my sons, what of my daughters,
when they pull me dead from the pit?
My sons will go on digging and digging,
digging at Karviná, and my daughters—
what fate awaits the daughters of miners?

What if one day I flung this accursed lamp into the pit,
straightened up my crooked neck?
Made a fist of my left hand and strode intently.
Traced an arc from the ground to the sky,
my hammer raised and my eyes a-flash.
There, beneath the sun of god. 

translated from the Czech by Jacob A. Bennett