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JAN KOCHANOWSKI - SONG XXIV
SONG 24, BOOK II
Endowed with a pinion
that is mighty and rare,
A poet of two forms
, I will take to the air:
I will not remain on this earth any longer,
But, above envy, I will look with disfavor
At crowded cities. Not I, the one lowly-born,
Not I, whom you call your friend, by Death shall be borne,
, nor will I be held prisoner
By the black arms of the mournful Stygian water
At once with rough skin my shins are being covered,
At once my crown is turning into a white bird,
Small feathers are sprouting all over my fingers
And enormous wings are growing from my shoulders.
Even now more swiftly than the brave Icarus
I'll visit the bare shores of the loud Bosporus
, the bird consecrated by Muses
And the plains far beyond northern territories.
Moscow and the Tartars will find out about me
And the English who live in a far-off country,
Germans, brave Spaniards will hold me in high esteem,
And those who drink water from the Tiber's deep stream
Let there be no sobs at my empty funeral
Nor any laments or any complaints at all:
Forego candles, bells and richly adorned gravestone
And the psalms that are chanted in a wailing tone
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
This song is a free translation of Horace's Ode II, 20.
The original singular 'penna' in Latin, meaning 'feather', was poetic usage. It is possible that Kochanowski, by translating this word into Polish as 'pióro' ('feather' or 'quill'), intended to draw the reader's attention to the dual role of the 'quill' as an attribute of the bird and the poet. The Romans, however, did not write with quills.
Two forms refer to two natures, i.e., a man changing to a swan. The transformation of poet to a swan is familiar in Greek. In Christianity, the expression was used to describe human and divine natures of Jesus.
The poem is addressed to Piotr Myszkowski (1505-1591), Bishop of Płock, since 1577 of Cracow, Deputy Chancellor of the Crown, who was a friend and patron of Kochanowski.
Styx was the principal river of the underworld.
Bosporus is the strait between Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia.
Syrtes were two wide gulfs on the north coast of Africa, where navigation was considered perilous in antiquity.
The swan was consecrated to Apollo and the Muses.
The poet has been changed into the swan and his body disappeared, leaving the tomb empty, the ceremony useless.
The elaborate funeral ceremonies in Poland, with richly decorated biers and coffins, were often accompanied by loud displays of sorrow.