Hristo Smirnenski


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The night has spread its raven hair,
O'er the house and round the trees,
And nothing stirs the winter air,
The street is empty, and so's the square,
And nothing shows the town's unease.

A creak disturbs the heavy calm,
A man comes out and scans the street,
A woman follows in alarm;
She stretched her imploring arm,
"Stay here, Johannes!" her lips repeat.

The man turns back and waves his hand,
The pallid moon lights up his face,
And then upon the drowsy land
Again the peace and hush descend,
The moon spins out its silvery lace.

Beneath the sheet of gleaming snow,
Berlin sleeps tired of its plight.
And then - a roar, a blast, a blow,
A continuous crackling flow,
And rushing echoes rend the night.

Berlin's awake, shuddering with fright.
The shrieks and shouts increase its woe.
A streak of flame cuts through the night,
And then - another, a fire bright
Throws o'er the town a ruby glow.

At the barricade he is unknown,
And no one asks what is his name.
Johannes creeps behind a stone,
An old man there has crouched alone,
Shooting like one who knows his aim.

The storm does rage with all its might.
Man after man falls stricken dead,
With a gun in his hand clasped tight.
Blood streaks down faces deadly white,
And paints the snow in dazzling red.

From down the street machine-guns flash
With murderous fire-spitting snouts.
Incessant hails of bullets lash
Against the men in fatal clash
With enemies, despair and doubts.

At the barricade he's now alone,
The old man's prostrate at his feet,
His blood is tricking round the stone;
Before he gasps his dying groan,
He feebly says: "Retreat! Retreat!"

The ranks of hussars come very close,
Johannes firmly clutches his gun,
He stands upright to face the foes,
And cries out: "Come, I'll meet your blows!
Come, you sons of crime, I will not run…

You, wretches, every drop of blood
Which stains the innocent snow,
Will rise into a mighty flood,
It will wash the land and clean the mud
Of your despotic rule - the people's foe!"

Enraged, a soldier hisses back:
"Shut up, you slave, and raise your hands!
You should have stayed in your dirty shack?"
Majestic like a rocky stack
Johannes meets the swarming bands.

"Down with tyrants!" is his proud reply.
A dozen wicked shots ring out,
And their echo hits the frozen sky.
Johannes sinks, still holding high
His head. He dies defiant and unbowed.


In the poor house Johannes' wife,
Tightly clasping her baby child,
Is list'ning tense to the distant strife,
And every shot is a keen-edged knife
Which stabs this creature, frail and mild.

Quietly her bloodless lips repeat:
"Johannes, why did you go away?"
In despair and sorrow complete.
The fog hangs heavy in the street,
The early morn is cold and grey…

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Hristo Smirnenski