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Mikołaj Rej - A Short Conversation Between Three Persons, a Squire, a Bailiff, and a Parson
A Short Conversation
Between Three Persons,
a Squire, a Bailiff, and a Parson
My good bailiff, what's going on!
Does this priest laugh at us with scorn?
He doesn't sing much, but likes to toll,
Gave his last mass long time ago,
When it comes to our good vespers,
Everyone minds his own matters:
One will scream, another will sing;
Still another rarely comes in.
The matins you will never hear:
Most likely he sleeps somewhere near;
Sometimes the owl sings it loudly,
Since the parson's head is heavy.
Yet the priests will scold while they preach,
Though little will they ever teach.
Only God knows if as things go,
We will reach the heavenly door:
I hope that none of us will dwell
Along with the parson in Hell!
Dear sir, we are just simple folks,
What can we ever know, poor souls?
We believe it's full deliverance,
What he tells us in his sermons:
If I only pay him a tithe,
A sinful man, I'll still survive,
If I give him for good carol,
I will reach heaven, legs and all.
Or if he comes at dinner time
And on the table bread can find,
He will quickly polish it off,
And give to me a pinch of salt,
As if I were struck by a fit!
He thinks I do not need to eat.
Then he'll sprinkle me with water,
So I walk with God together.
However, what is truly worse,
You must, poor bailiff, use your purse!
And still before he'll raise his hand,
It seems he wants to see a grant.
I believe when I pay up all,
Among the saints I'll be installed.
Is this the bailiff cackling loud?
With what could we fill up his mouth?
If we had a jug of good beer,
We could talk down the wise master.
Surely at the third libation
He wouldn't insist on salvation.
Does the priest obstruct your actions,
When he gives you good directions?
The Lord has taught us these lessons:
You want to take, give to others.
These are foremost admonitions
With the Lord, this kind of actions.
To the whole world you have declared,
That a crumb of this tithe you shared.
You must have heard about the Lord,
That when He was here, in this world,
Having confirmed all commandments,
For the good of human beings,
He called upon the clergymen
To announce Him to all through them.
And we, the religious estates,
Carry on as your delegates.
He imposed on you this duty,
Without causing you poverty,
Though from His bountiful goodness
Your hand is rarely generous,
And you provide us with substance,
Which came forth from His abundance.
Just consider, my dear brother,
What the priest does as a worker:
He has to give up everything,
To take care of your well-being,
And to forsake rich possession,
Just to patch up your salvation.
You surely know that each craftsman
Should always require payment.
And this is a holy outlay,
Which brings then a generous pay.
Talk softer, you insulted me,
You try to fly, but aren't ready.
Be careful not to lose your way,
Today to rule is not your day.
It would be nice so, dear parson,
But it seems you read it all wrong
You carry on quite stubbornly,
And call yourself God's deputy.
It is true, you are His shepherd,
His chancellor in some matter,
But at times after sheep you stalk,
When you move just behind this flock.
Even though the flock is not full,
When you put your hand on the wool,
In truth, nowadays all these sheep
Anyone can easily fleece.
Today, truly, simple creatures
Undertake quite futile ventures,
They indeed made fools of themselves,
Having put in it their whole faith,
That nothing will bring salvation,
If the priest won't give direction.
All the bushes
are trampled there,
When people come to the church fair.
The priest in church bellows and shrieks
At graveyard grounds a barrel creaks,
Someone is shaking a basket,
Another a drum and fife set.
Still another, his neck stretched out,
"Cantor, your health!", is heard to shout.
The hens cackle loud, the pigs grunt,
Eggs on the altar people count.
We surely gained an indulgence,
Because we sang with reverence!
King David did not do the same,
When on his harp he praised God's name.
So they leave with deep conviction
That they won by this donation.
They also jointly take reward:
Each one of them fills up his throat;
Rarely with this compensation
Would they last till night oration.
Many a man by vespers time
Ploughs with his neck in earth a line.
Carried by the head to the fence;
He didn't digest his indulgence,
And as he did not take it in,
The other just escaped running.
And so today these simple folks
Will dare commit a lot of wrongs,
They care little for the Lord's Son,
When they fall in with the parson:
He will not become indignant –
And the Lord will remain silent.
I'm just looking from a distance,
If a man is in existence,
Who would view me with affection,
As my state is near perdition.
Translated by Michael J. Mikoś
1. The priest is always eager to toll the bell but not to say mass.
2. It is not clear what 'another' refers to. It may refer to another parishioner or to a celebrant (the parson or cantor). A third reading of the line implies that the vespers rarely take place.
3. The owl hoots at dawn, when the parson should celebrate the mass.
4. At Christmas time, between December 24 and January 6, priests called upon parishioners and collected donations, usually in goods, called 'carol'.
5. Disease common to animals; to stimulate their appetite, they were given salt.
6. The duty refers to supporting the clergy.
7. The parson makes an error, as when he gives his sermon or reads a lesson.
8. The word 'chrost' in the original may also refer to the wicker fence, broken by revelers, or to the ornamental greenery put up by parishioners on holy days, especially on Corpus Christi Day, Whitsuntide, or the day of the patron saint, when the church fair was celebrated.
9. Another reading: 'And yet King David did the same'.
10. He did not retain the food and drinks consumed at the church fair and his neighbor had to move away quickly.
Text: Rej, Mikołaj.
Krótka rozprawa między trzema osobami, Panem, Wójtem a Plebanem
. Ed. by Konrad Górski and Witold Taszycki. Wrocław: Ossolineum, Biblioteka Pisarzy Polskich, S.B. 1, 1953, 38-44, 48-50, 180.