The Mother

Poem By Nikola Vaptsarov

How like one another are mothers all over the earth!
And their hearts are always the same.
Go and try in the steppes of the rolling Ukraine,
then check up on it in Cyrenaica.

There was a mother
had a son,
a fine son, a young son,
untrammeled and free.
He grew.
And above him Pirin's peaks loomed blue,
with their firs and their rocks and their screes.

Somewhere the father had fallen.
The son
at the time
was a youngster,
and in dark forest a haidouk kept watch,
dogging the steps of the patch.

At the foot of the mountains the villages burned,
and above, the ridges glowed red.
And from their hungry, unsatisfied mouths
the bey tore the villagers bread.

With anguish and many bitter sighs
the mother watched over her son,
with anguish she watched how the boy's bright eyes
fixed on his father's old gun.

There was a mother
had a son,
a fine son,
a young son,
and stalwart.

But then he grew up
he took to the woods
and the dark ravines of Pirin.
The years rolled by,
years dark and drear,
to the bondsmen they brought little cheer.
And the forest withdrew
its skirts of green
from the plains beneath Pirin.

At times in the night
the men would return
with a feeling of fear and guilt.
In secret their shirts in the embers they'd burn,
or bury a cartridge belt.

A mother again,
and at night
when the stars
above the dark ridges shone bright,
would take her little son in her lap,
and sing him a lullaby:

'Don't listen
don't peep now,
but go to sleep now,
don't let your bright eyes become bloodshot,
when you grow in good time
to be a tall man
and take up the reins in your hand.

Outside how it blows!
Outside how it snows!
But here in my lap it is warm.
Sleep mother's baby,
sleep mother's darling.
Never become a fierce haidouk!'

and loving the son grew up,
nor took the woods as a haidouk.
He married,
then ran away from his home,
and became a komita instead.

Years darkened with blood,
years darkened with blood and with war.
Pirin -
And the eagles
sweep down from their aeries
to fatten themselves on the carrion.
Upon every scree,
beneath every tree,
with dark glassy eyes
the dead men look up at the stars as they rise.

No more of the bey.
Very good, one would say.
But people began next to curse at the sultan.
They're people, you see -
Yet some insolent squirt
he can take them and treat them as dirt.

The people said nothing.
Said nothing, gave only a sniff,
nor saw any longer an end to their bondage and wrongs.
Komitas appeared,
but not in the forests,
they raced up and down in their Steyers.

And there in the forest
pipes grew overnight,
and chimneys sprang up in the forest;
with teeth of forged steel and rotary wheel
her flesh was ripped up
in a saw-mill.

A mother again.
With her baby again.
At night she would bar fast the door,
and sing to him:
'Hushaby, now we're alone.
Hush, never become a komita.'

No, not a komita.
He wasn't a mule...
The boy seemed an obedient blighter.
But somebody brought to the village the news
he had fallen, shot down as a striker.

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