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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Russia: Vol. XX. 1876–79.


Elegy of the Flight of the Three Brothers from Azoff

By From the Russian

Anonymous translation

DARK clouds give not forth those specks in the sky

That rise up, Azoff, o’er thy city so fair;

But brethren three, and in secret they fly

From their cruel captivity there.

The eldest they ride on their coursers fleet,

But the younger brother he has no steed,

The roots and the stones wound his Cossack feet,

And they redden the ground as they bleed.

To his horsemen brothers then thus spake he:

“Brothers, my brothers, now list what I say;

Give rest to your coursers, and wait for me,

Then to some Christian city direct your way.”

And the second horseman then heard his cry,

And his heart was moved at his brother’s pain;

But the first reproved him with a stern reply,

And said, “Dost thou yearn for thy bondage again?

“Shall we listen now to our brother’s word,

Although the pursuers are on our track,

Fierce bent to slay us with gun and with sword,

Or to bear us with them to bondage back?”

“If ye will not stay for me, my brethren twain,

Then turn your fleet steeds to the right at least;

And bury my corse in the open plain,

Nor leave me the prey of the bird and the beast.”

But the second said, “Brother, that may not we,

Such a deed has never been heard of yet;

Shall the thrust of a lance our farewell be?

And our swords in our brother’s blood be wet?”

“Then brothers, since me ye refuse to slay,

When ye reach the wood do this thing for me;

Cut off the thorn-branches, and strew on the way,

And a guide to my wandering steps they ’ll be.”

The brothers speed fast to the forest gray,

The second wails sadly as on they ride;

And he scatters the thorn-branches all the way,

That they to his brother may serve as a guide.

They passed the thick forest, and on they went

To the open track where no thorn-bushes grow;

Then the lining red from his vest he rent,

And scattered the fragments the path to show.

When the younger brother the thorns had passed,

He saw the red fragments all scattered there;

He gathered them up and his tears fell fast,

“Ah! not without cause are these fragments here.

“Now alas! alas! for my brethren twain!

For surely no more in the world are they!

Their cruel pursuers have found them again,

And me they passed in the thorns as I lay.

“My brothers with sword and gun they have slain,

May the merciful God but show me where!

I ’ll dig their graves in the steppe’s pure plain,

And I ’ll bury their Cossack bodies there.”

On his first day’s journey no bread he eats;

The next without water to drink he has past;

On the third the desert’s fleet wind he meets,

And his weary limbs bend to the furious blast.

“O, enough have I followed these horsemen fleet,”

He said as he reached the Samar mountain high:

“’T is time to give rest to my Cossack feet,”

Then he laid him down by the mount to die.

Then swiftly, swiftly the eagles flew down,

And they fiercely stared in his dying eyes:

“Now welcome guests are ye, ye eagles brown;

O, fly to me quickly!” the Cossack cries.

“O eagles, pluck ye these eyes from my head,

When God’s fair world I no longer shall see!”

The expiring Cossack, when thus he had said,

His soul to the merciful God gave he.

Then the eagles flew down, and they plucked away

His eyes from his head as he bade them do:

The small birds also came down to their prey,

And the gray wolves gathered around him too.

They tore off the flesh from his yellow bones,

They feasted high midst the thorns by the way;

And with mournful howls, and with fierce low moans,

The dirge of the Cossack was sung that day.

Whence came the brown cuckoo that sat by his head,

That sat by his head and sang piteously?

As a sister bewails her brother dead,

Or a mother her son, so wailed she!

And the horsemen twain still sped on their way

To a Christian town where they hoped for rest;

But a heavy grief on their hearts now lay:

“Ah, not without cause are our hearts opprest.

“Alas! and alas! for our younger brother!

For surely no more in the world is he;

What, when we ’ve greeted our father and mother,

And they ask of him, shall our answer be?”

The second thus spoke; then the elder said:

“Say he served not the same lord as we;

’T was night, and he slept when from chains we fled,

We could not awake him with us to flee.”

The second then answered him, “Brother, nay,

’T would ill beseem us to say such a thing;

If that which is false unto them we say,

Their prayers upon us will a dark doom bring.”

The brothers on to the Samar field ride.

They stop to rest by the river Samar;

They water their steeds at the river’s side,

When down came the Moslem riding from far.

The impious Mussulmans slew them there;

They quartered their bodies, and over the plain

Strewed their Cossack limbs; their heads on a spear

They raised, and long mocked o’er the brethren twain.