Treasure Island

Konstantin Nikolaevich Batiushkov

(1787 - 1855 / Russia)

Tasso Dying


What festival is ancient Rome preparing?
Where flow the crowds in noisy waves?
Why these aromas, myrrh's sweet smoke
And censers all around abrim with fragrant herbs?
From Capitoline Hill to Tiber's waves,
Above universal city's streets,
Why are the priceless rugs and purple stuffs
Spread among garlands, laurels?
Why all this noise? The crash and thump of timpani?
Are these heralds of joy or triumph?
Why wearing the miter hastes the holy father
With gonfalon to the prayer house?
For whom doth thankful Rome's most valued gift,
The crown, in his hands shimmer?
For whom this triumph? - 'tis for you, o blessed bard!
For you this gift... Jerusalem's bard!
And now the joyful noise has reached the cell,
Where Death joins battle with Torquatto,
Where death's winged spirit swoops
Above the sufferer's blessed head.
Not weeping friends, nor praying monks,
Nor honor's late rewards
Can tame the iron hand of fate,
Which knows no mercy for the great.
Half-dead, he sees the horrid hour,
And blesses it with joy,
And parting with life, one final time,
The wondrous swan exclaims:

"My friends, O let me catch a glimpse of splendid Rome,
Where a too early grave awaits the bard!
Allow my glance to meet your hills and smoke,
O, ancient sepulcher of citizens!
O blessed land of heroes and of wonders!
Dust eloquent and ruins!
Azure and purple of cloudless skies,
You, poplars; and you, ancient olives.
Eternal Tiber, you, who slake the thirst of every tribe,
Sown with a universe of bones.
Doomed to an early end.
I greet you from within these dreary walls!

It's done! I stand before the fatal borne
To wild applause I won't step on Capitoline,
And glory's laurels on my feeble head
Won't sweeten the bard's frightful lot.
From youth I have been everybody's puppet.
I was an exile as a child,
I wandered, a poor traveler
Under the sweet Italian sky,
What turns of fate did I not suffer?
Where did the waves not toss my bark?
Where was I safe? Where was my daily bread
Not spattered with the tears of sorrow?
Sorrento! Cradle of my woe-filled days,
Where once at night, like a trembling Askania
Fate tore me from my mother's breast,
From her embraces sweet and kisses, -
Do you recall what tears I spilled in childhood
Alas! Since then, a plaything of cruel fate,
I've known great suffering, the poverty of life.
The depths by Fortune quarried.out
Beneath me, and the thunder never ceased!
Driven from place to place, from land to land,
In vain I sought a harbor on the earth:
I felt her hand relentless everywhere!
Her lightning everywhere harassed the bard!
Not in a peasant's meager hut,
Nor e'en protected by Alphonso's palace,
Nor under an obscure and silent roof,
Nor in the wilds, nor in the hills was my head safe.
Embittered by glory and ignominy alike,
An exile's head, from cradle consigned
Into the hands of an avenging goddess...

But friends! what clutches terribly my breast?
Why does my heart lament and tremble?
Whence do I come? What awful path have I been following,
And what behind me in the darkness gleams?
Ferrara...Furies...envy's serpent!..
Whither? O, whither, murderers of my gift!
I am in harbor. Here is Rome. My brothers and my kin!
Here are their tears and sweet embrace...
And Virgil's wreath upon the Capitoline hill.
Thus, I fulfilled Appollo's task.
From my first youth, his dedicated priest,
Through lightning, under raging skies,
I sang the grandeur glorious of bygone days,
In bondage I did not betray my soul,
It harbors still the muses' sweet delight,
And torments only reinforced my gift.
It lived in wonderland, by Zion's walls,
On Jordan's flowering shores;
It questioned you, impatient Cedron,
And you serene asylum of Lebanon!
It raised you from the dead, o heroes hoary,
To awesome glory's dazzle and grandeur:
It gazed upon you, Gottfried, ruler, king of kings,
Magnificent and calm 'midst whistling arrows;
On you, o young Rinaldo, ardent as Achilles,
In love and battle a blessed victor.
It watched you fly above the corpses of your foes,
Like fire, like death, like an avenging angel...

And Tartarus is vanquished by a shining cross!
O models of extraordinary valor!
O holy triumph of our ancestors,
Long laid to rest! Pure faith victorious!
Torquato has invoked you from the depths of time:
He sings - and you will never be forgot, -
He sings, and gains the wreath of immortality,
By glory woven and the muses' hands.

But it's too late! I stand before the fatal borne.
To wild applause I won't step on Capitoline,
And glory's laurels on my feeble head
Won't sweeten the bard's frightful lot.

He then fell mute, eyes burning with a doleful flame,
A final ray of talent 'ere the end;
Even in dying, it seemed he wished
To wrest a day of triumph from the Fates,
His gaze sought out the Capitoline walls,
He strained to raise himself,
But, spent by struggles terrible with death,
Remained immobile on his bed.
The golden orb was sliding to the west,
And sinking in a scarlet glow;
The hour of death approached...the sufferer's somber brow
Brightened a final time.
He gazed with quiet smile toward the west...
And then, refreshed by evening chill,
He raised his right hand to the listening heavens,
Like a full righteous man, with hope and joy:.
"See," to his weeping friends he quoth,
"The king of stars burns in the west!
'Tis he who summons me to cloudless lands,
Where the eternal star will shine...
I see the angel to that realm my guide;
He has enfolded me in azure wings...
Bring close the sign of love - the cross mysterious...
And pray with hope and tears...
All earthly things must die...both glory and the crown...
Art and the muses' great creations,
But there all's neverending like our God
Who vouchsafes us eternal glory's crown!
The greatness of that place has filled my soul,
I've breathed it since my cradle days.
O brothers! Friends! Don't weep for me:
Your friend's attained his long-sought goal.
He will depart in peace and, strong of faith,
He will not heed the agonizing end:
There, there...O joy!..among the righteous wives,
Among the angels, Elenora waits!"

And, uttering the name of love, the heav'nly poet died;
In silence friends wept over him,
The day died quietly... the voice of bells
Bore the unhappy news through city streets.
"Torquatto's gone!" Rome cried in grief,
"Our bard is dead, so worthy of a better life!..
The morning witnessed somber smoke.
The Capitoline in mourning cloaked..

Submitted: Thursday, January 01, 2004

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