Anhelli - Chapter 8

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And passing further they beheld many men pale and tortured,
whose names are known in the fatherland.

And they came to a subterranean lake,
and proceeded along the shores of the dark water,
which stirred not, but was golden in places from the light of torches.

And the Shaman said : "Is this the Lake of Gennesaret of the Poles?
And these men, are they fishermen of misfortune?"

Then one of those who sat sorrowfully by the shores of the black water,
with a thoughtful face, answered :
"They allow us to rest, for today is the king's saint's day, and a day of repose.

"Therefore do we sit beside the dark water to think and to meditate and to rest ;
for our hearts are more wearied than our bodies.

"For lo, we lost not long since our prophet,
whose favourite spot this rock was, and these waters were dear to him.

"He was a man pale, with gleaming eyes, gaunt and full of fire.

"And lo, seven years ago there came upon him one night the spirit of prophecy,
and he felt the shock which was in the fatherland,
and related to us through a whole night what he saw, laughing and crying.

"And only in the morning did he become sad, and he cried out :
`Lo, they have risen again, but they cannot roll away the stones from their graves !'
And having said this, he fell dead.
And we set up to him this wooden cross.

"And two years later new exiles told us what had happened,
and, reckoning up the nights, we found that that prophet had told us the truth :
therefore we wished to do him honour, but he was already in the ground.

"Therefore do we honour this cross, no longer saying :
`Lo, the man who lieth under it was mad and crazed, and deserving of laughter.'
What say ye to that?"

And turning, the Shaman said to Anhelli :
"On what dost thou meditate above this black water? Is it of the tears of the people?
Or dost thou ponder on that prophet? Or on thyself?"

As he spoke, there came a great echo from the explosion of a mine,
and it resounded above their heads, ringing like an underground bell.
And the Shaman said : "Lo, that is the tolling for the dead prophet !
Behold, there is an angel of the Lord for those who see not the sun. Let us pray."

And raising his eyes, he said :
"God ! God ! We beseech Thee that our torture may be a redemption.

"And we will not supplicate Thee to return the sun to our eyes,
and the air to our breasts,
for we know that Thy judgment hath been passed upon us
but the newborn are guiltless. Have mercy, O God !

"And forgive us that we bear our cross in sorrow and are not joyful like the martyrs;
for Thou hast not said whether our torture shall be reckoned in us as a sacrifice;
but tell us that and we shall rejoice.

"For what is life that we should regret it?
Is it a good angel who abandoneth us in the hour of death?

"The heat of our blood is the fire of the sacrifice, and the sacrifice is our desires.
Happy are those who can consecrate themselves for the people."

And to that the wretched men said :
"Lo, this man speaketh truth; for more unhappy than ourselves is that woman who followed her husband hither,
and who suffereth for the heart of man.

"Come, and we will show you the damp pit where that martyr dwelleth with her husband.
"She was a great lady and a princess,
and now she is as the handmaiden of a beggar.

"And unworthy of her pity is he whom she loved ;
for, kneeling before the emperor, he pleaded for his life,
and they gave it to him, despising him."

So saying they came up close to a wall,
and through the grating they beheld that wedded pair.

The woman was kneeling before the man, and in a basin of water was washing his feet ;
for he had returned from his work as a labourer.

And the water in the basin was reddened from his blood,
and the woman did not shudder at the man and the blood,
and she was young and beautiful, like the angels of heaven.

That man and that woman were of the tsar's people.

© Juliusz Slowacki