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A poem by Ivan Vazov : Kocho

ivan-vazov

Kocho

(The Defence of Perushtitsa)

O stirring of glory, O sombre sad stirring,
Days of proud struggle, O days of adversity!
Epic obscure and by us unacclaimed,
Epic abounding in heroism and shame!

The church was tight-packed with young women and children,
Insurgents ecstatic had fathers within the gray walls,
They now knew what fate lay in store for them all,
For three days the foe had been firing in fury
Around the small church. But no scaring, no luring,
No skirmish, no menace had any success.
The rebels held firm and with lips tightly pressed
Never uttered a word, not a man there intended
To sully his lips with the shame of surrender.
As hot as an oven and thick with a pall
Of gunsmoke the air by the outer church walls
Was choking their breath. The familiar cry
Of feverish hunger rose shrilly nearby.
Pale children lay screaming with faces contorted
Beside their dead mothers, near stiffening corpses,
The battle was raging within and without
And all eyes were blazing with fire devout.
The sick and the healthy, the poor and the wealthy,
Young fellows with fair hair and grey-headed elders
Were all taking part in the last fight of all.
“Be brave and fear nothing!” a mother would call
To her son as she passed him the rifle she loaded,
While grandmother, haggard and staggering, folded
Her apron to bring up more bullets to fire;
The husband stood watching, amazed and inspired:
The wife he loved dearly stood by her beloved
To see that his flashpan with powder was covered.
Their children cried out as they heard the first thud
Of bullets and saw the first spouting of blood.
The struggle was seething within and without.
Many men in in eternal chill sleep were laid out
And thick was the smoke, even death could no longer
Instill any terror. Not milk spurted strongly
But blood from the bosoms of mothers there slain.
All eyes were ablaze, as if crazed and insane.
In a frenzy old men hither, thither would run
With hands all atremble to fare any gun…

The wild foes outside in their fury unbounded –
The church had by bashibazouks been surrounded –
Were fuming and shouting and firing hot lead
And, reeling in impotent wrath, drooping dead.
Their chieftain, with bood from his wounds freely running,
Observed the grim harvest around him, said nothing,
A panicky fear left him gasping for breath
At the sight of these lowly folk sowing grim death,
Not begging for mercy but bullet-lead scattering.

Far off down the high road came suddenly clattering
Regular troops, moving swiftly along…
The sight in them heartened the foe, but among
The folk in the church it aroused consternation,
They sensed a now imminent castigation.
The battle abated… The gunsmoke cleared,
A voice calling out in the chaos was heard:
“O brothers, the bashibazouks we resisted
Because they are cruel and desperate brigands…
But here are the Sultan’s men. Let us give in!”
“No, better die fighting through thick and thin!”
“Hand over your weapons!” “No!” “What shall we do then?”
“Yield to them? No, we shall fight and subdue them!”
“Who is the traitor?” they cried in disgust.
“There’ll never be parley between them and us!”
“For shame!” cried a woman and taking a rifle,
She fired at the soldier then, reeling, fell lifeless
And all there were stunned by the deafening roar!
Their souls blazing proudly with courage unbending:
“To these Turkish hordes we shall never surrender!”
So shooting began and the battle again
Resumed its funereal fearsome refrain.
But now more funereal fearsome then ever.
Death swept through the church where all lives were in peril.
All faces bore traces of gloomy despair,
Her children no mother could recognice there.
Now guns faced the church with enormous jaws gaping.
Flames billowed, bombs burst, a hot whirlwind was raging!
The church wall was swaying and making a sound
As when a great storm him a beech on high ground
Or earth tremors waken a deep-seated rumble.

They suddenly saw the old church wall crumble.

Pale Perushtitsa, the birthplace of heroes,
Glory to you and your progeny fearless!
Glory eternal to your ashes, the grave
Where the rebels perished to surrender,
Who fought on in darkness but died in splendour.
In struggle confronting the Turkish wrath
You rose like a lion barring its path,
Your head never bowing, your sword never yielding,
Your holiest shrine never shamefully ceding,
Our freedom with sanctity you endowed
And took for our suffering vengeance proud.
To you we bow down, town to ashes burnt,
Of valiants battle a testimony stern!
Your children were staunch in these perilous hours
And made your destruction a triumph of ours,
Because your great downfall was of a new order,
In history a splendid new page it recorded.
Because amid baseness and general disgrace
You shone in blue heaven with radiant grace!
Because you fell into your grave so appalling,
Like Prague, Saragossa, with honour and glory,
All swimming in blood and enveloped in smoke;
And, finally, you were the first town to show
How people should perish – not uttering prayers
Not crying out: “Mercy!” when many were scared;
A small town, obscure, without fortress or might,
Barehanded and leaderless in your fight,
With no famous past, no renown in antiquity
That gives great and small towns a sense of equality,
In your frightful death and your heroines’ fame
You rivaled great Carthage, put Sparta to shame.

But soon came the soldiers, the church encircling,
For every side horror and death converging,
The rabble inflamed by their gluttonous rage
And thirsting for butchery, bloodshed and rape
Were grinding their teeth, bombs were bursting and falling,
The young girls were shrieking and babies were bawling.
Demented young mothers with eyes full of tears
Ran smashing their skulls on the church walls in fear
And fell to the ground, while yet others, grief-stricken
And terrified, smothered their very own children.
And then it was Kocho, a maker of boots,
An old rebel, wounded but resolute,
Called out to his young wife, a good looking woman,
Holding their golden-haired child to her bosom:
“Young wife! Now the carnage will start as foreseen.
And that’s not the worst thing… you know what I mean.
Is death what you wish?” And the poor wretched mother,
Distracted and pale, a deep cry seemed to smother.
Her infant with quivering hands she set down
And, tenderly kissed its milky white brow,
She stood up and said: “Let my child then die second!
Strike me first!” …When Kocho withdrew the sharp weapon
That pierced her while bosom, a fountain of red
Gushed forth from gash. Kocho bowing his head
Looked down at the child. The poor infant was weeping!
“Your mother shall still have you in her safe-keeping!”
He vowed and again struck as if in a dream,
His scarlet face turning away from the scene.
The little head slumped and the tiny limbs quivered,
The infant’s young blood with its mother’s blood mingled.
Said Kocho: “Of all of my strength I’m bereft,
Yet still there’s enough for one final blow left!”
With both hands he drove the hot dagger in deeply
There where his own heart was tumultuously beating,
Then fell in the pool of red blood he had spilled,
Wide-eyed, with the blade driven in to the hilt.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And the church loudly echoed as maids and young women
Were raped or struck down and in blood there left swimming!

While God up above, gazing down through the smoke,
Watched all this unruffled and never once spoke!…

 

Ivan Vazov

Ivan Vazov -5

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