THE VOLUNTEERS AT SHIPKA
August 11, 1877
What if we still carry shame on our forehead,
marks of the whip, signs of bondage abhorrent;
what if remembrance of infamous days
hangs like a cloud over all we survey;
what if in history no place we’re allotted,
what if our name be a tragic one, what if
old Belasitsa and recent Batak
over our past throw their deep shadows black;
what if men mockingly laugh in our faces,
pointing to newly lost fetters, to traces
still on our necks of the ages-long yoke;
what if this freedom was gives our folk?
What of it? We know a recent true story,
a shining new symbol, a symbol of glory,
that proudly within every bosom pulsates
and noble strong feeling within us awakes;
there on a mounting that glows in the distance,
heaven’s blue vault on its broad shoulder lifting,
rises a famous wild peak with blood on its moss,
a monument huge to a deed that’s immortal,
because a deep memory lives in the Balkan,
because there’s a name that shall live for all time,
as bright as a legend in history it shines,
a new name, its roots to antiquity tracing,
as great ad Thermopylae, all fame embracing,
a same to wipe shame away, with its plain truth
smashing to smithereens calumny’s tooth.
For three days our youthful battalions
the pass have defended. The high mountain valleys
re-echo the battle’s tumultuous roar.
The onslaught’s ferocious! Again the dense hordes
along the ravine for the twelfth time are crawling
where warm blood is flowing and bodies are sprawling.
Assault on assault! Swarm on swarm they advance!
Once more at the towering peak Suleiman the mad
is pointing: „Rush forward! Up there are the rayahs!“
Away race the hordes in a rage wild and dire,
a thunderous „Allah“ re-echoes afar.
The summit replies with a rousing „Hurrah!“,
a hail of fresh bullets and tree trunks and boulders;
spattered with blood, our battalions boldly
retaliate, every man in his own way
striving to be in the front of the fray,
each, like a hero, death bravely defying,
determined to leave one more enemy dying.
Cannon are pounding. The Turks with a cry
rush up the slope where they tumble and die;
coming like tigers, like sheep they go flying,
then come once again: the Bulgarians fighting
like lions are running along the redoubt,
neither heat, thirst nor toil are they worried about.
The onslaught is fierce, the rebuff is bitter and no less stout.
For three days they fight but no help is arriving,
and no hope is visible on the horizon,
and no brother eagles come swiftly with aid.
No matter. They’ll die, but die true, unafraid –
as died the brave Spartans who stood against Xerxes.
Fresh waves are now rolling up; all are alerted!
A last effort’s needed: the moment is grave.
And then does Stoletov, our general brave,
roar words of great courage: „Young volunteer fighters,
now crown Bulgaria with laurels of triumph!
The Tsar has entrusted the pass, the whole war,
and even himself, unto these muscles, of yours!“
Thus heartened, our proud and heroic battalions
courageously meet the next thrust of the rallying
enemy hordes! O heroic time!
Fresh waves of assailants the cliffs now climb.
Our men have no bullets, with bravery girded,
their bayonets broken, their breasts ever sturdy,
they’re all to a man ready gladly to die
on the ridge which the whole of the world can descry,
To die here like heroes triumphant, victorious.
„The whole of Bulgaria is now watching us,
this peak is a high one: she’ll see us,
if we were to run – we better die here today!“
No weapons are left! What remains is the slaughter!
Each stone is a bomb and each tree-trunk a sword is.
Each object – a blow, and each soul – flame that sears.
From the peak every tree, every stone disappears.
„Grab hold of the bodies!“ they hear a voice crying,
at once through the air lifeless corpses are flying,
and over the hordes like black devils they dive
and tumble and roll as if they were alive!
The Turks quake and tremble, not having seen ever
the living and death fight a battle together,
and raise a shrill cry of demoniac rage.
In life and death combat the armies engage.
Our heroes, there standing as steady as boulders,
meet bayonet steel with steel breasts no less boldly,
and sing as they cast themselves into the fray
when they realize Death shall now snatch them away.
But still our young heroes rebuff, sink and swallow
the hordes that is wave upon wave swiftly follow.
The peak any minute shall ours be no more.
Then suddenly Radetzky arrives with a roar.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And today, every time there’s a storm in the Balkan,
the summit recall this grim day and, recounting
the story, its echoing glory relays
from abyss to abyss, from age unto age!
Plovdiv, November 6, 1883