Monday, October 24, 2016

Jan Kochanowski

Jan Kochanowski (1530—1584) is a Polish poet, and the most important Slavic poet before the 19th century. He wrote in both Latin and Polish, significantly influencing verse forms in Polish for generations. The best-known edition of his collected works is the jubilee publication, which appeared in Warsaw in 1884. He also wrote a highly respected translation of the Psalms.

His masterpiece is Laments (1580) — a series of 19 elegies on the death of his two and a half year old daughter Urszula. The following comes from the 1995 translation by Stanisław Barańczak and Seamus Heaney.

Lament 18

My Lord, each of us is your wilful child:
By happiness beguiled,
Entranced by earthly joys,
He soon forgets you and heeds not your voice.

We fail to see how much your Grace attends
Our welfare; which soon ends
When your infinite Good
Is not repaid with infinite gratitude.

Rein us in, Lord, before vain pleasure blinds
Our supercilious minds!
Remind them of your cause
If not with blessings, then at least with blows!

Yet punish us as loving fathers do:
Your wrath would burn us through;
We'd vanish without trace
Like snow when warmed by the sun's piercing rays.

Oh, let your hand not crush those in discord
With you, Eternal Lord;
You hurt us to the core
With your mere frown: we could not withstand more.

Though fools claim you have never been man's friend,
Sooner the world may end
Than you shall ever scorn
A rebel soul, when broken and forlorn.

Great are my sins before you, Lord; yet still
Your mercy and goodwill
Would not let evil reign.
Have pity, Lord, on my despair and pain!

Thanks once more to Burl Horniachek for suggesting this, and other, poets.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.