Cossack's Winter-song

Friedrich Ruckert

Translated by C. T. Brooks


BY the Don my mother she bore me

  Mid mountains of ice and snow;

Yet with cold I never was frozen,

  For my breast is always aglow.

      So, my good steed bestriding,

      Through the lands I come riding,

So far from the gates of Moscow

  That where I am I don’t know.


I sate upon my threshold,

  And none so happy as I;

I caught fresh fish for my table

  From the stream that went rushing by;

      I shot at the weasel,

      The fox and the sable,

And made of the skin a garment,

  When winter, grim winter, drew nigh.


There came from Alexander

  A call to me one night:

“Up, Cossacks, shoulder to shoulder!

  There ’s other game in sight!

      Fierce beasts and devouring

      Our purlieus are scouring,

A blood-spotted panther among them;

  Up, up to the chase, to the fight!”


My steed, he pricked his ears up,

  For the call I gave was not low;

He came; without spur or saddle,

  I mounted mid ice and snow;

      His bare back bestriding,

      Through the lands I come riding,

So far from the gates of Moscow

  That where I am I don’t know.


And now I have driven the foemen,

  All that live, from my Emperor’s lands;

And they that remained in the country

  Are all now in very good hands.

      We found ourselves hurried—

      In the snow they lie buried—

In the spring, when the snow-drifts are melted,

  We ’ll bury them under the sands.


Now tell me, thou German, I pray thee,

  How much longer and farther I ride,

Till I come to the end of my journey,

  To the land where the foemen abide?

      What day and what hour

      Through France shall I scour,

And strangle the brood of the Serpent

  In the pestilent hole where they hide?


A terrible comrade comes riding

  Along with me; well do ye know

His might,—ye have felt his keen arrows,

  Ice-pointed and feathered with snow.

      His name,—it is Winter;

      Your lances he ’ll splinter;

He rides on a cloudy-white charger,

  And follows wherever I go.


He rides like the whirlwind behind you,

  With an icy-cold pike in his hand,

And in front he comes, scattering, to blind you,

  The snow in your faces like sand;

      The rivers he bridges

      With icy-backed ridges,

That he and I may find you,

  Ye Frenchmen, at home in your land!


I have not yet forgotten

  The lesson ye bade me learn,—

The home of peace and comfort

  Into fire and smoke to turn.

      Barns, houses, have ye, too,

      ’T were well ye should see to,

For I, when I will, have torches

  Your homes and your garners to burn.


And if I take vengeance, who blames me?

  But Alexander says right:

“You and the cold are no strangers,

  Nor need ye the firebrand’s light.

      The snow-pillow fleecy

      Your slumber makes easy;

Your tent is the awning of heaven,

  The stars are your candles by night.


“Wild stories of northern barbarians

  They tell in this southerly land,

Who bring with them nothing but murder

  And plunder and blackness and brand.

      Now, then, Cossacks, go ye,

      To silence them, show ye

What you from the north bring with you,

  From Him whom no might can withstand!”

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