OLD POLISH ON-LINE
E Y E
T H E
Mikołaj Hussowski (c. 1480–1533)
A POEM ON BISON
I do not look for hide-outs to lie idle,
But chase the times spent in study in the past.
Yet it's hard to catch them, hard to hold them back,
No way to achieve it, once they get away.
Let them go, we can't impose laws upon fate,
Nor can now stay back from this compelling work.
What to do? I won't tell the learned people,
What ancient volumes, what chronicles to read,
To get to know this beast and from what pages
To learn of the size of this giant of ours.
I have read a lot, but didn't find anything
And think the forest hid it in its dark nooks.
Only Paul the Deacon, a Lombard historian,
Left a description of this enormous beast,
Writing that his hide had room for fifteen men;
This from the trustworthy lips of an old man.
The hide is nothing new to me, nor large horns:
Many a time I held them in my hands.
Old habit of hunting, the hard way of life
Will in any case be to my advantage:
Though no match for Roman writers, I, a Pole,
Direct now my steps towards the deep north woods.
Father taught me how to observe wild beast's lairs
And move with light steps to avoid any sound,
Also how to keep the wind so that the game
Wouldn't detect the trap by ear or nose and flee.
He made me drenched in sweat in the icy snows
And pressed heavy weapons upon my shoulders.
His eyes were filled with game's death, ears with hounds' bark,
When the bears were killed and the wild boars fell down,
When fearful wild asses were chased into nets
And many trapped creatures doomed to slaughter,
When the air trembled from the fiery barrage,
When bodies were shot, falling to the ground,
When those killed by riders' bolts in swift chase,
Would cover the earth with bloody foam splashes;
When all this was happening in a deep forest
I often matched my companions in effort,
And trusting my horse swam across the waters
Of the Dnieper, till we reached the other shore;
Not because I didn't wish to avoid danger,
But for fear of shame to yield to my friends.
After many hazards in Lithuanian hunts
I confess I wasn't too unskilled in this art,
But writing is the highest art: please, readers,
Accept dissonant words of a forest man.
I will try briefly to describe the bison
And his ways, as I proceed with this tale.
He's more fierce than other beasts or their equal,
Dangerous to man only when wounded.
With greatest caution he protects his own life,
It's hard for people to imagine greater.
He casts his eyes around, looks everywhere
And can spot the most distant points on his path;
He can detect a twitch of a man's eyelid
Even if we keep our moves under control.
His ears will catch the faintest rustle behind,
As he's watchful to guard himself from the back,
Often he promenades with a solemn stride,
If bolts do not glimmer and arms do not shine.
When the cow sets her eyes on you for a while,
She halts, as man's gaze captivates her so much.
But if she's leading, watchful, her little ones,
She gets furious at once, struck by clang of arms.
And proclaims with dreadful roar her fierce rage,
This is a sign not to come too close to her.
She won't charge people needlessly, save a foe,
When safe, she won't harm those trying to escape.
An agile tribe of calves plays with joy, set free,
They don't bring any worry to their fathers.
They are so clever that with effortless leaps
They run, following mother's every step:
And soon they skip over the fallen logs
Or race along the plain, as if they were chased,
They can jump over wide ditches in swift run,
Shake their little horns with threatening appearance;
In endless wrestling exercise soft bodies,
Using only rare moments to take a rest.
They are steadfast creatures, ready for great toils,
It's hard to imagine, looking at their shape.
And when in a tight place they start to circle,
From mere movement they pass into rapid pace.
They turn around, snatch manure, throw it high up,
And ere it falls, they strew this dung on their horns.
They also present a grand and splendid show,
When they start to engage in fanciful fights,
Autumn arouses them, bringing lustful time
Of love that does not go on for many days.
They celebrate it in the most festive way;
The air becomes filled with the quivering roar,
The tops of old and sturdy oak-trees tremble.
Those who know say this sound exceeds all trumpets,
It also carries above sounds of the lute:
Different tones merge together in harmony,
Above which nothing can be more pleasant.
I know not how long their lives can go on
Hussowski presents himself as a man who was more interested in hunting than in studying.
Paulus Diaconus (c.720-799), author of Historia gentis Langobardorum (Book II, Ch. 8).