OLD POLISH ON-LINE
E Y E
T H E
JAN KOCHANOWSKI - TO THE MOUNTAINS AND FOREST
TO THE MOUNTAINS AND FOREST
High mountains and forests attired in leaves,
How gladly I see you and reminisce
On my earlier years, left behind up there,
When for a stable life one didn't much care
Where haven't I been then? What haven't I savored?
Across the bottomless sea I have sailed,
I've called on the French, Germans, Italians,
I've visited the Sibylline caverns
One day a quiet scholar, the next day
A sworded knight
; one day in court array
In lord's palace, then a mute clergyman
In the council
, though not with holy men
In grey cowls, but in double scapular;
And why not, if you could be a rector?
Such was Proteus
, changing to a viper,
Then rain, then fire, then feigned shape of vapor.
What will happen next? My hair turns grey,
I keep with the man, who seizes the day
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
In this autobiographical poem, Kochanowski recalls his carefree days of childhood and youth.
A reference to Sibyl, a prophetess who lived at Cumae near Naples, famed for longevity and oracular gifts. The cave of Sibyl is to this day a tourist attraction.
Kochanowski took part in a military campaign of 1567. In the original, he calls himself 'a knight attached to the sword', echoing Cicero's joke about a short soldier.
As a lay parish priest in Poznań and Zwoleń, Kochanowski was a 'silent' clergyman who did not perform any religious duties, but had the right to sit in the bishop's council.
The author refers here most likely to his unsuccessful attempts to become an abbot of a monastery in Miechów. 'Scapular'- in a monk's habit, a sleeveless outer garment which falls from the shoulders, a badge of membership in an order. The Polish words 'dwojaki płat' may also refer to a double pay.
Proteus was in the
(IV, 363-570), an 'ancient one of the sea', who herds the seals, knows all things, and has the power of assuming different shapes in order to escape being questioned.
Cf. Horace's "carpe diem" in
, 1, 11, 12. (
The Complete Works of Horace
. Edited, with an Introduction by Casper J. Kraemer, Jr. New York: Modern Library, 1936).