Growing up in Poland towards the end of east-European communism, the Second World War was (and arguably still is) a common subject. My family left the country before it would have been my duty to enlist in the army, but most of my childhood played out with the dreary realisation that the day would come when I’d have to put my dreams aside in order to become a soldier.
The films and stories of my childhood left me with the impression that war is something to be avoided. Should it be necessary, it must be concluded with as much haste as possible so that a normal – albeit shattered by death and in rubble – life may be resumed.
Later in life I was introduced to Erich Maria Remarque. A Time To Love and a Time to Die (Zeit zu leben und Zeit zu sterben) and All Quiet on the Western Front (Im Westen nichts Neues) left a lasting impression, another thick layer of reinforcement that cemented the notion that war is ugly, those worth fighting included.
Little while back a friend asked me to translate “Smutna rzeka’ by polish poet Krystyna Krahelska. The poem leaves me with a feeling similar to the novels by Remarque: one where war is a set reality, but in which natural beauty interweaves, gently working to remind those at war of the rewards offered by peace.
If you understand polish, the original poem follows. Below it I’ve pasted my translation of it into English. I welcome comments from anyone with context into the piece, the author and her sentiments which I may have missed. Peace.
By Krystyna “Danuta” Krahelska
Smutna rzeka, księżyc po niej pływa
Nad nią ciemne dłonie chyli klon,
Śpij, dziecino, nic się nie odzywa,
Śpi w mogiłach zakopana broń.
Smutna rzeka, usnął las ciernisty,
Srebrne gwiazdy spadły w srebrną toń.
Gdzieś po polach, gdzieś po lasach mglistych
Czujnie drzemie zakopana broń.
Smutna rzeka, księżyc po niej spłynął,
Ciemna noc na liściach kładzie dłoń.
Śpij dziecino, śpij, żołnierski synu,
Już niedługo obudzimy broń.
A Lonely River
Original by Krystyna “Danuta” Krahelska, with my translation.
A lonely river, the moon floats on her,
Above her a maple bows its dark palms,
Sleep, little child, nothing’s calling out,
Sleeping weapons buried in tombs.
A sad river, the thorned forest fell asleep,
Silver stars fell into silver depths.
Somewhere in the meadow, somewhere in foggy woods,
Buried weapons slumber alert.
A sad river, the moon floated down her,
The dark night rests its hand on the leaves.
Sleep little child, sleep, soldier son,
Soon we’ll wake the weapons.
Thanks to Evelyn A. for improvements to the translation.