OLD POLISH ON-LINE
E Y E
T H E
Mikołaj Hussowski (c. 1480–1533)
A POEM ON BISON
Those three who spread fear all over the world,
Kept their lips sealed standing humble in fear,
This bravery was growing not just in the woods,
It was nourished with full force everywhere.
With a ruler like him, troops stayed in the field,
The time of peace had the feel of raging war.
For the soldier to shoot in the right way,
His hardened arm was steeled in constant toil.
The drawn bows shot whizzing arrows at all times,
Besides, this was a sign of steady hands:
Riders gallop around and with their arrows
Shoot through calpack caps tossed into the air.
At times such a cap, pierced through high above,
Would fall to the ground with a thousand holes.
With its wings sheared off a crane would fall down,
Not bearing a trace of wounds or injuries.
Whether at the tree-tops or flying up high
Or in the water, all birds were shot down.
It paid well to bring the duke this winged trophy,
If it was dressed as required by the rules.
You led a worthy life engaged in hunting,
An armed detachment chased the disturbed game,
Cunningly startling it from out-of-reach lairs
With piercing shouts and a cloud of arrows.
Chased by swarms of bolts the wild beast ran away
Leaping, until he fell down from mortal wounds.
Yet racing was the duke's more favorite sport,
When he watched the swift horses in their run.
Some twelve miles you had to run to your goal,
It was indeed very hard to get there!
The quadruped herd of sweat-covered stallions
Was running and snorting to reach the post.
Many a horse would not endure this race,
Yet behind their leader, they galloped along.
To the last breath they run, joyfully racing,
To masters' will obedient their docile backs.
Burdened with quivers, with unusual skill
Young riders are jumping from horse to horse.
So that weak riders wouldn't beat the brave ones,
The chase would take place in the dark of night.
Amazing trophies the winners would take,
The share of the losers was shame and scorn.
A much harder effort, when in a challenge
Young riders were going across deep rivers,
When a wild, rapid wave foams and churns up
And, rising, rolls from the depth to the shore.
There was a custom that every warrior
Wrapped his weapons in clothes tied to a curved prong.
This way the horse's breast pushed through violent whirls,
Carrying safely the unwetted weapons.
The eager youths jump in, the horses swim on
With loud snorts - just their nostrils above the depth,
Riders hang onto their necks, with the left hand
In water, the right hand holding the mane.
Trophies are given: the biggest to the first,
Then to the second, third - in line with merit.
So soldiers learned to get through with their weapons
Across the fiercest current, without bridges.
What can be more desired in bloody wars
Than enthusiasm, which precedes hope and fear?
Duke Witold was happy he had such soldiers,
The world had never seen equal bravery.
Increase of virtues depended on the duke:
The noble man took his place before others,
While idleness was treated with due contempt.
The duke was a rigorous guardian of mores.
He was so strict in upholding justice
That no wilful wrong had ever taken place.
When he judged them for crime, almost all culprits
Apparently by themselves made haste to die,
Putting a strong rope on their sinful necks:
They could not hope for forgiveness of sins.
He put false witnesses to various tortures,
So that deceitfulness would have no place.
Listening with a stern look to perjury,
He would close the lips of those who told the lie.
He would have them sewn in a wild beast's hide
And tossed to the dogs used to this kind of food.
None would he punish more harshly than a judge,
That was charged with the sin of corruption:
He paid for his misdeed with his joints twisted -
A just punishment for accepting a gift.
He was held in contempt, poor wretch, weakening laws,
And put on the rack, an example to all.
All greed disappeared during the duke's reign;
In eternal glory he'll live for it too.
He did many a praiseworthy and great deed,
But only one is linked with my poem:
He trained the minds of peasants, unskilled for war,
And concerned only with ploughs and harrows.
He demanded they bring fettered bisons
To castles, caught alive, without any wounds,
His orders called for rewards and punishments.
Sizeable groups took part in this labor,
They did their duty without fear or delay
And brought the animals to the Duke's door.
I would not believe it could truly happen,
Horses were assigned by chance at night, so that poor riders would not win by selecting the best horses.