Bearslayer - Canto I The Revelation Of Bearslayer

A poem by Andrejs Pumpurs

Scene 1: The Council of the Baltic gods

The gods gather

In azure vaults of heaven soaring bright,
In lofty castles filled with endless joy,
The God of Thunder, Perkons, dwells in light,
And pleasure knows whose sweetness cannot cloy.
The Baltic gods in council gathered there,
Of Destiny's Father tidings to debate.
His will decides the hues-both dark and fair-
And sets the fickle course of mortal fate.

The steeds of Perkons saddled in the court,
With trappings glowing waited in the morn;
The sun's first rays a dazzling glitter brought,
As polished harness glinted in the dawn.
And Patrimps, God of Plenty, held in yokes
His beeswax-yellow steeds with flowing manes;
Of golden stalks his wingèd chariot's spokes-
Its course ensures the timely suns and rains.

Dread Pakols, God of Death, had horses black,
Yoked closely to his sledge of human bones;
Of ribs the runners, driver's seat and back,
Shinbones as shafts, arrayed in sombre tones.
While Antrimps, of the Sea, had steeds all scaled,
And chariot swift of reeds of ocean green.
Of shells whose beauty yet was still unpaled
Its supple seat was formed, as could be seen.

And Liga fair, the Goddess of sweet Song,
In flower-decked chariot seated high in state,
By swiftest horses queen-like drawn along,
With Puškaitis passed through the Rainbow Gate.
The Gods' proud Sons, all mounted brave and bold,
On fiery steeds into the courtyard rode.
Their saddles shone, their bridles gleamed with gold,
With diamond bits their snorting horses glowed.

Soon Austra, Morning Goddess, came in haste,
And Laima too, the greatest Goddess there,
While Tikla, Virtue's Goddess stern and chaste,
Thence travelled fast, bedecked with roses fair.
Last, drawn by prancing stallions swift and strong,
Up came the beauteous Daughters of the Sun.
Firm holding golden reins they dashed along;
A flower-strewn course their chariots thence had run.

And Destiny's Father, grizzled deathless might,
Was seated high upon the Diamond Throne,
With Perkons there and Patrimps on the right,
While Pakols stern and Antrimps stood alone.
Close, Puškaitis and Liga both were near,
Then of the Gods the Sons, arrayed as one.
With Austra, Laima, Tikla standing clear,
And last, the beauteous Daughters of the Sun.

Behind, a host of lesser godlings stood,
Who to the Council with the rest had come,
Because all Baltic spirits fair and good
With earnest presence added to the sum.


The grim tidings

Then Destiny's Father, grizzled deathless might,
Arose up lordly from his sacred throne-
In godly throng yet still a noble sight,
This warning message spoke in sombre tone:
"To life a new eternal light was born!
On Earth there walked a wondrous form sublime.
A mighty spirit now was come to warn,
And bless the Earth in His appointed time."

"Both wise and holy, fitly men He taught
That mortal folk the gods all honour owe.
To seek to live like gods themselves they ought,
And virtue pure with seemly goodness show.
The evil ones, who deeply feared His strength,
Rose up against Him in a demon pack.
But Hell itself though fighting fierce at length,
Yet could not stop His march nor hold Him back."

"This hero rose from death upon the cross,
He lived again and found surpassing fame.
His fate well known will live and know no loss;
In human parlance 'Christ' now is His name.
Now, many peoples living on the Earth
Accept His word but see not what portends;
For humankind in shame denies His worth,
His message twists to serve unworthy ends."

"The Baltic too has reached the fateful hour
When Strangers bring the faith once taught by Him-
But ancient gods possess the boundless power
To bend the mortal mind to suit their whim."


The pledges of the gods

Now Perkons rose, his strength at last to wield,
And spoke: "Immortal and almighty both,
Yet still the gods to Destiny's will must yield.
But none the less I offer here this oath:
In my strong care the Latvian folk I hold,
And all good teachings here permit to stand.
Though good, Christ's message clearly yet is old,
For from the East these teachings reach our land."

"But those who bear His message to our shores
Have come to us to serve a different view.
To conquer Baltic regions is their cause,
To make our people slaves their purpose new.
I will oppose their plan against our folk,
And, surely as I split this mighty rock
Or shake asunder trees of stoutest oak,
This goal the Baltic folk will safely mock."

"With passing time, its passage soon or late,
My bolts of lightning on the foe will rain,
On all who seek as slaves my people's fate
And strive to crush our spirits for their gain.-
But when the springtime comes with climate fair,
To Latvia's folk sweet showers I will send,
By day will give them clean refreshing air,
And to the darkness sparks of light will lend."

"To them in nature I will stay close by;
My voice of thunder in the sky will ring.
Of Perkons strong the name will never die;
The Latvian folk will ever of it sing.
I wish here now you other gods, apace,
Will follow close upon my guiding will,
And each one swear, at proper time and place,
For humankind a promise to fulfil."

Now Patrimps, speaking, rose and left his seat:
"The Baltic is a fruitful, fertile land;
I give its people golden ears of wheat,
That, richly growing, ripen where they stand.
The Latvians here from fecund Baltic fields
Will gather in a harvest full and rich.-
But foreign ploughs and sickles seeking yields
Their blades will break upon the rock-strewn ditch."

Then Antrimps spoke and gave this message sage:
"The Baltic waters boil and heaving swirl,
The winter winds in endless anger rage,
And round great rocks the currents lashing whirl,
And ships of foreign foes dash on the crag.
The Baltic Sea will smash them as I please,
Until the Baltic people's noble flag
Throughout the world will wave upon all seas."

Then, adding more, grim Pakols sternly spoke:
"Brave Baltic souls will soar to Heaven's space,
A joyous home for Latvia's gallant folk.
But Hell for Strangers is the proper place-
Beneath the Northern Lights, though fighting still,
Their craven hearts will tremble with my fear.
But I will show accordance with your will,
And bless the souls of Latvia's children dear."


Liga's gift of song

Soon all the gods, in proper order each,
Had sworn an oath to Perkons in his might.
Now Liga rose, to all her view to teach,
And spoke as follows in the Council's sight:
"I truly count myself as near the least,
Among the gods who love the Baltic race.
But in my name the Latvian people feast,
For Destiny gives to me a favoured place."

"In Latvians all through long eternal time,
Will never die the spirit of sweet song;
They will endure in every age and clime,
Their spirits sing through joy and sorrow long.
Of Liga here the name will stay alive,
Eternal in the people's joyous rhyme.
The ancient gods will surely still survive,
Who otherwise would fade with passing time."

"You Perkons, Laima too, and all the rest,
Will live on, known forever in your fame.
The Baltic people will at my behest
Sing songs heroic that preserve your name.
Throughout the future, song will bring them cheer,
And give them lightened spirit that, once more,
They take up arms to serve their homeland dear,
And for the cause of freedom go to war."


Scene 2: Bearslayer's destiny is revealed by Perkons

Staburadze tells of a wonder

These vows the Council brought now to its close-
Their homeward paths the gods departing sought.
When Staburadze last of all arose,
And with these words portentous tidings brought:
"I came this day straight from my palace home,
With eager news of what my eyes there saw.
It happened in the seething waters' foam,
The raging vortex of the maelstrom's maw."

"I sat aloft and spun the mists of night,
On Staburags's crag enthroned on high.
The shuttle filled and in the morning's light,
At cock's first crow the blushing dawn was nigh.
Then came two witches riding in the air,
Lit by the sun they flew in dawn's pale gleam;
On oaken branches twisted, gnarled and bare,
Across the Daugava sped above the stream."

"And down into the pool a staff they cast,
One of the two they through the heavens rode.
Then on the other homeward sped off fast,
To seek again their dread and drear abode.-
To learn the reason for this secret deed,
To look into the whirlpool's depths and see,
I flew down straight, and took of all good heed,
And drew the whirling branch secure to me."

"Then what strange sight before my eyes took form!
A handsome youth revealed in morning's grey,
Who lay within the log, his skin still warm,
Though swooning in a deathly faint he lay.
Forth from the log I drew the gasping lad,
And bore him to my home beneath the swells,
Within its crystal halls now warmly clad,
I laid him down upon a bed of shells."

"When signs of life with surging joy I saw,
To tell of this I hastened hence to you;
To learn great God of Thunder of your law,
To know your will and seek your further view.
For humankind within the maelstrom's jaws
Must lie for ever, turned to lifeless stone.
Our Staburags, augmented without pause,
Has by such plunder ever vaster grown."

"This youngster now I do desire to take
To dwell with me inside my castle gate.
For if he venture from the sacred lake,
To turn at once to stone will be his fate.
But in my Crystal Palace he can bide,
In human form the bloom of youth to see,
There, raised to safety from the river's tide,
To live his life in harmony with me."

Stern Tikla chaste, with strict words ever rife,
Spoke thus, fair Staburadze to berate:
"Perhaps to have eternal godly life
Our sister now does judge a tedious fate.
She does not wish so long alone to mourn
And wash the cliff with flood of bitter tears.
She wants the youth of human parents born,
And with him yearns to spend the passing years."

Though Staburadze blushed at Tikla's word,
She did not yield nor shrink back from the blow.
"You err, stern Tikla, make a charge absurd.
The circumstances clear and plainly show,
The youth is not a normal mortal man.
I want to keep this lad with me alive,
That, chosen by the gods, his life's whole span
He will against the powers of darkness strive."

Perkons reveals his purpose

At last wise Laima uttered up her view:
"To me its plan the future must reveal.
Thus, I will look to see what it will do:
His lot from me the fates may not conceal."

"Women, enough! Yield place! Be silent all,"
The Thunder God in raging anger cried.
"This youth is chosen not to heed your call,
But serves the goals of my surpassing pride.
The witches down into the whirlpool cast
Bearslayer, son of Lielvarde's Lord;
You, Staburadze, wisely hastened fast;
You rescued him and this must all applaud!"

"Depart at once back to your Crystal Throne,
And take him in and give him seemly care,
That this fair lad may not be turned to stone,
But mend apace and flourish with you there.
You Laima too will care for this young man,
And guide him rightly, so that soon or late,
His life will follow and fulfil my plan,
To serve the gods and meet a hero's fate."

To close the Council now the time was right;
The Baltic gods in pomp departed all.
Will Destiny's father, grizzled, deathless might,
Again such sacred wisdom ever call?

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