Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav

The Bloody Sonnets

translated by John Minahane

Reprinted with permission of LIC.


What caused this wreck, this brutal and ignoble
collapse of morals? What provoked the breach?
What led mankind, in spirit grand and noble,
to plunge in mud? What vampire? Oh, what leech,

sucking the sap of life out of the breast,
constantly thirsting bloody parasite?
Ah, selfishness! — and to destroy this pest
today we have no troops, no heroes fight.

Yes, it will twist and tear and rend, and fall,
a tyrant, on the weak and innocent;
although the world is wide enough for all,
it would have sole control of earth’s extent.
and even possess the universe, no less,
pitching the other into emptiness —


This puffed-up arrogance that’s dressed in iron
and, armed with lethal weapons, lurks in wait;
that bulks like stormy clouds on the horizon,
each move a threat, with wide eyes full of hate;

that hangs above the earth like punishment
and keeps peace under heel: it coarsely swears
that it fears God alone! — But this is meant
contemptuously: in truth it does not care,

asks little of its conscience, does not ponder
the strict Commandment that “thou shalt not kill!”,
but cheers the flashing swords and cannons’ thunder.
And the weak-witted folk with feeble will
are led as lambs to slaughter. — Thus the globe
is conflagration-shod and ruin-robed.


And war is roaring — in its vortex-span
it whirls round, hurtles, rolls on all sides, courses,
shaking its great fins like Leviathan,
and grabs and down its boundless gullet forces

equally human lives and human wealth,
insatiably devouring all it finds.
Its snout gapes like the entry-hole of Hell,
and bits and scraps are all it leaves behind.

The desert, viperishly nourished, reaches
where cities like rose gardens used to bloom;
yells, curses, in wild harmony, and screeches
fly overhead like birds, or crossways roam.
Who’ll stand before just history? And who
will render God the reckoning that’s due?


That stormcloud’s past, and now the family
gather at home, all those who still remain.
The old man’s at the threshold; by his knee
his aged wife has crouched, a mother hen,

her arms wrapped round her grandchildren: each one
is sighing as he gazes at the stars.
The bride works in the kitchen; dishes done,
she comes to sit with them, eyes bright with tears.

And in the orchard, all alone, another –
the daughter, with her special grief: he too,
brave-spirited, accompanied her brother,
off to the mowing field where blood is dew.
Who’ll answer for those sufferers? Their cost
of pain and tears, maybe in turn their loss?


Knight of the heart, where are you? Cavalier
who will command these warring armies, “Halt!”?
Whether your wisdom comes of silver years
or you’re a man in bloom, cry to them all,

“Enough!” — and you’ll be champion of the world.
Offer your enemy a brother’s hand,
a white flag over red ruin unfurled!
Or… must the violence constantly be fanned

till it burns out? And must one force of battle
first break the other’s fierce resisting will
until the pair of tilting scale-pans settles,
all counterweights disabled, to reveal:
the victor, wearing glory’s wings, in bliss
while the defeated sinks to the abyss?


And when this Hell is cleared and drained away,
will reconcilement, Heaven’s peace, appear?
Will hatred overcome itself that day,
security be born from trap and snare,

and ancient truth be seated at the table?
Will there be rights for all? — bread for all (can
that be?). Will we need weapons? Life be stable?
Will work be honoured, and the face of man?

And will that bath of blood become a cleaning?
Mercy, can it make selfishness benign?
Humility make pride less overweening?
The trinity of love by order shine?
Or woe, woe — to the vanquished? And (although
they call it vengeance) to the victors — woe?


And what if all those hecatombs of dead,
blood-rivers through the valleys in full spate,
and countless wounds, each with more pain and dread
than fate imposes in the healthy state;

the ruins of what centuries accomplished,
the damage to man’s bread-field: finally
will those on high perceive and be astonished,
tremble in conscience, blush in memory?

That ploughs are better instruments than swords
— oh, will their hearts receive that lesson soon? —
to till the hollows and reap rich rewards;
that man is not an insect to tread down,
that blood’s not water, battle brings no glory…
and sheathe the sword forever, end of story?


If only, ah, if only! — All the nations
(though they’ve as many graves as Josophat)
would offer thanks while grieving their depletions
and see their losses as an entry-gate,

or stage beyond which, though by craggy ways,
perhaps one entered a new golden age
without the griefs and evils of today;
then surely they’d thank God for war’s rampage

if it were certain: He had hurled forever
that weight of bloody iron off their backs;
none would be tools for others’ glory — never! —
each land its own, honest, at work, not slack
to vie with all the rest: who’s best? who’ll be
first to the goal? — ah, then, what victory!

© Mullek and Sherwood