Adam Mickiewicz


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Like a gay skiff that flees the somber shore
And lilts again upon the crystal sea,
Her wet breast stroking with caressing oar,
Its curved prow like a white swan soaring free,
So is the Arab when, from rocky ground,
Headlong upon the desert vast
He hurls his steed, whose hoofs plunge with a hissing sound,
Sinking in sand, like fiery steel in streams of water cast.

Now sails my horse upon the dry sea's crest
And cuts the brittle waves with dolphin breast:
Ever fleeter, fleeter going,
Sand and pebbles backward throwing;
Ever higher, higher lifted,
O'er the dust behind him drifted.
My steed is like a storm cloud, fleet and black;
The star upon his forehead gleams, gleams like the morning star;
To the wind's will he flings his mane, like feathers streaming back;
Back from the rush of his white legs the lightnings hurtle far.
Speed, courser of the silver feet -
Mountains make way! Forests. retreat!
Vainly the palm tree green, outspread,
Waits with fruit and shadowy grace:
I tear myself from her embrace,
She flees away with drooping head,
In the oasis deep is fain to hide;
There, with derisive murmuring of leaves, scoffs at my pride.
Yonder the rocks that guard the desert rim
Gaze at the Bedouin with faces grim;
They mock the falling of my horse's feet,
And long their rumbling threats repeat:
"O madman! Whither does he haste?
No palm tree yonder in the waste
With tresses green will shield his head
From piercing javelins of light,
And no white-bosomed tents be spread.
The only tent is the wide sky,
And crags alone watch, through the night,
The caravan of stars go by."

In vain, in vain they threaten me!
I speed on with redoubled blows.
The haughty crags have I outgazed,
And, where such hostile front they raised,
Now in a long defile they flee,
Nor one behind another shows.

The vulture heard their threat, looked downward from his height.
Thinking to see the Bedouin lie upon the plain beneath!
He followed, smote me with his wings in ever-narrowing flight,

Three times about my head wove his black wreath.
He croaked: ,,The smell of death is near:
O foolish rider, foolish steed!
The rider seeks a path in sand.
And Whitefoot here, a grazing land.
Rider, horse, 'tis vain indeed!
He comes not back who passes here.
Along these paths the wind doth stray
And its own footprints bears away;
No meadow this where stallions feed,
For here do only vipers breed;
And only corpses watch, by night,
The vultures' caravan alight.

Croaking, he defied me, with gleaming talons bared;
Thrice gazing on each other, eye to eye we stared.
Which was first to falter? The vulture fled away!
When to meet his insolence my scimitar I drew,
When I looked behind me to track him in the sky,
In the air he hovered, a floating stain of gray.
No larger than a sparrow - than a butterfly -
A gnat - and then he faded quite into the blue.

Speed, courser of the silver feet -
Ye crags, make way! Vultures, retreat!

Then from the west beneath the sun, a cloud sprang up and flew
On wide white wing, pursuing me across the vaulted blue.
It wished indeed to pass for such a hunter in the sky

As I upon the steppe - as I!
And while it hung above my head
It whistled down the wind, and said:

,,O madman' Whither does he fly?
Thirst will melt his heart away,
Dust will stain his temples gray;
No cloud will follow through that sky
To kiss his brow with cooling rain;
And there no stream with silver sound
Murmur to the sterile plain;
And ere the dew has reached the ground
The ravening wind will snatch it by."

In vain it threatens! On I speed, and with redoubled blows,
While, wearily into the sky withdraws the flagging cloud:
Ever lower, lower bowed,
It rested where the crags arose,
And when I turned, and backward one disdainfui look I cast,
Lo! I had hurled it from me the heavens' width apart!
But plain upon its face I saw what passed within its heart:
It flared with passion's angry red,
With livid envy was o'erspread,
Then blackened like a corpse, and hid among the hills at last.

Speed, courser of the silver feet -
Ye steppes, make way! Ye clouds, refreat!

By space encircled like the sun,
I sweep an orbit with mine eyes;
And now pursuers have I none
Along the earth, within the skies.
All nature lies in slumber here
Where yet man's foot hath made no sound;
The elements, in silence bound,
Sleep like wild beasts unscarred by fear,
Whose flock unfrightened does not flee
When first the face of man they see.

Great God! but not the first am I! On yonder isle of sand
Hosts of gleaming warriors behind their breastwork stand,
Then - they have lost their way? Or travelers lost they seek?
White is the garb of the riders, their steeds are leprous white!
Nearer I ride - they move not; I call - they do not speak.
These dead - an ancient caravan are they,
Whose dusty grave the wind has dug away:
On skeletons of camels sit bones of men, upright;
Through the holes where once were eyes,
Through the jaws with barren lips,
Sand, a ceaseless torrent, slips,
Ominously groaning, cries:

"Whither, madman of the plains?
That way dwell the hurricanes!"

I know not fear - I ride more fleet:
Speed, courser of the silver feet -
Dead men and hurricanes, retreat!

A hurricane, of Barbary's wild myrmidons the first,
The land of flint and gravel pits in solitude traversed.
It saw me from afar; stopped short, in sheer amazement bound;
Then, fuming to itself, it whirled in one spot round and round:
,,Which of my younger brothers, which pety wind," it said,
,,Of dragging flight, of weakling frame, dares my domain to tread?
These lands are my inheritance - what means yon puny storm?"
And like a moving pyramid flung forth its roaring form.
But when it saw that mortal and yet unafraid was I,
It shook the land with furious heel
That all Arabia quaked to feel,
And snatched me, as a griffin bears a bird, into the sky.

It breathed on me its fiery gust,
It smote me with its wings of dust;
It hurled me high, it flung me prone
Upon the earth, mid heaps of stone.
I grappled with the writhing sands,
The massed, prodigious limbs I tore;
The torso huge I rent in four
With raging teeth and naked hands.

Vainly it wrenched itself and reared, a pillar heaven-tall:
My arms it could not loose! but cleft its towering form in twain;
Down, down it fell in sandy rain
And at my feet it lay a corpse, long, like a city wall!
Then I took breath! And proudly to the stars I turned my face,
And all the stars within the skies
Looked on me with their golden eyes,
For there was none excepting me upon the earth's wide space.
How sweet it is to breathe, to breathe my utmost in this place,
Deep and full without a bound!
All the air in Araby
Scarcely doth suffice for me.
How sweet it is to look, to look until the eye can trace -
So far, so wide, so clear it sees --
A vaster world's immensities
Than this horizon circles round.
How sweet it is to stretch mine arms thus, thus! that they embrace
The world in friendship - to my breast
I gather it, from east to west!
Across the blue abyss I send my thought in swiftest flight,
Ever higher, higher lifting, to the heavens' farthest height:
And as the bee sends deep her sting and with it sinks her heart,
So I in heaven have sunk my thought, and feel my soul depart.

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Adam Mickiewicz