Sonnets from the Crimea
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The Crimean Sonnets (Sonety krymskie) are a series of 18 Polish sonnets by Adam Mickiewicz, constituting an artistic telling of a journey through the Crimea. They were published in 1826, together with a cycle of love poems called "The Odessan Sonnets" (Sonety Odeskie), in a collection called "Sonnets" (Sonety).

Sonnets from the Crimea

Adam Mickiewicz

Translated by Edna Worthley Underwood

Sonnets from the Crimea

The Ackerman Steppe

Across sea-meadows measureless I go,
My wagon sinking under grass so tall
The flowery petals in foam on me fall,
And blossom-isles float by I do not know.
No pathway can the deepening twilight show;
I seek the beckoning stars which sailors call,
And watch the clouds. What lies there brightening all?
The Dneister’s, the steppe-ocean’s evening glow!
The silence! I can hear far flight of cranes —
So far the eyes of eagle could not reach —
And bees and blossoms speaking each to each;
The serpent slipping adown grassy lanes;
From my far home if word could come to me! —
Yet none will come. On, o’er the meadow-sea!


The flag is listless, limp. It dances not.
As deep the sea breathes from a gentle breast
As any bride who dreams at love’s behest,
And wakes and sighs, then casts with dreams her lot.
Sails hang upon the masts — useless — forgot —
Like folded standards which the warriors wrest
And bring home broken from the battle’s crest.
The sailors rest them in some sheltered spot.
O Sea! within your unknown deeps concealed,
When storms are wild, your monsters dream and sleep,
And all their cruelty for the sunlight keep.
Thus, Soul of Mine, in your sad deeps concealed
The monsters sleep — when wild are storms. They start
From out some blue sky’s peace to seize my heart.

Mountains from the Keslov Steppe

What would Great Allah with the frozen sea?
Would he of icy clouds a throne carve bright,
Or would the demons of the deepest night
A bar build where the shining stars sweep free?
It gleams like pagan cities fired, kings flee.
When Day was anciently destroyed by Night
Did Allah amid chaos fix this light
To guide the star-worlds of eternity?
Up there I’ve journeyed where the winter reigns,
And seen the rivers bitten black like lines
On Tschatir Dagh, where the white cloud reclines,
Which not the wildest eagle’s shadow stains,
Where cradled under me the thunders sleep
And Allah and the stars their watches keep.

Baktschi Serai

In ruin are the spacious, splendid halls
With frozen forest of white columns where
The Tartar Khan his palace builded fair,
Where loneliest the shrilling cricket calls.
The ivy blackens over shining walls
Enscribing in gigantic letters there
Some curse Belshazzar-like: Beware! Beware! —
Then black as crèpe from crested columns falls.
Within the burnished banquet room there sings
The fountain of the harem pure and clear,
Just as of old it sang in twilights drear.
But whither love and fame speed — on what wings?
When all things else must perish these endure!
Yet both are gone! The fountain ripples pure.

Baktschi Serai by Night

From out the mosques the pious wend their way;
Muezzin voices tremble through the night;
Within the sky the pallid King of Light
Wraps silvered ermine round him while he may,
And Heaven’s harem greets its star array.
One lone white cloud rests in the azure height —
A veiled court lady in some sorrow’s plight —
Whom cruel love and day have cast away.
The mosques stand there; and here tall cypress trees;
There — mountains, towering, black as demons frown,
Which Lucifer in rage from God cast down.
Like sword blades lightning flickers over these,
And on an Arab steed the wild Khan rides
Who goes to Baktschi Serai which night hides.

The Grave of Countess Potocka

In Spring of love and life, My Polish Rose,
You faded and forgot the joy of youth;
Bright butterfly, it brushed you, then left ruth
Of bitter memory that stings and glows.
O Stars! that seek a path my northland knows,
How dare you now on Poland shine forsooth,
When she who loved you and lent you her youth
Sleeps where beneath the wind the long grass blows?
Alone, My Polish Rose, I die, like you.
Beside your grave a while pray let me rest
With other wanderers at some grief’s behest.
The tongue of Poland by your grave rings true.
High-hearted, now a young boy past it goes,
Of you it is he sings, My Polish Rose.

The Graves of the Harem

They sleep well here whom Allah loved and kept
And treasured in his vineyard fair and fine,
Most lustrous of the Orient pearls that shine,
Which youth found where the waves of passion swept.
Here, where in peace perpetual they have slept,
A turban beckons where the roses twine,
A banner flutters out in silken line,
And sometimes here a Giaour’s name is kept.
Oh! roses of this paradise of old,
The eyes that loved not Allah saw you not,
Nor arms that prayed not eastward could enfold!
But now a Christian treads this hallowed spot;
Wise Allah, curse not him who bows his head
Amid the marble shrines of Allah’s dead!


Give wings unto the storm, and spurs to steed,
I’d move unchained as wind across the world,
Sweep onward like a torrent mountain-hurled,
Nor sea, nor height, nor valley pause to heed.
The twilight spreads a dimness o’er our speed,
And shows the diamond-stars from hoofs up-whirled,
Since daylight now her curtained blue has juried,
And mystery and magic shadows breed.
The earth sleeps, but not I — not I — not I —
Who hasten to the shore where waves are loud
And toward me in the darkness whitely crowd.
Beneath them I would still my soul’s deep cry —
Like ships the whirlpools seize to drag to death —
I’d plunge within the silence, sans thought, breath.

Alushta by Day

The mighty mountain flings its mist-veil down;
With little flowers the gracious fields are bright,
And from the forest colors flash to sight
Like gems that drop from off a Calif’s crown.
Upon the meadows settles shimmering down
A band of butterflies in rainbow flight;
Cicadas call and call in day’s delight,
And bees are dreaming in a blossom’s crown.
The waves beneath the cliff are thunder-pale,
Now upward, upward in their rage they rise
And tawny are their crests as tigers’ eyes.
The sun is focused on one white, far sail
And on blue, shining deeps as smooth as glass
Wherein slim cranes are shadowed as they pass.

Alushta by Night

The drooping, weary day night pushed aside;
On Tschatir Dagh the sullen sun and low
Paints phantom purple upon ancient snow;
While forest ways within, the wanderers hide.
Night veils the mountains and the valleys wide;
The thunderous brooks are dream-held, dulled, and slow;
Beneath the blackness fragrant flowers blow
And rich leaf-music clothes each valley side.
Almost my waking eyes are dream-held too;
With gold a meteor marks the deep-domed sky
And fountain-like the fiery sparks float by.
Oh! Beauty of the Eastern Night, you woo
My spirit like the odalisque, who held
Men captive till her kiss the dream dispelled!

Tschatir Dagh

The reverent Mussulman bends low to greet
You, Tschatir Dagh, Crimea’s bright-masted ship!
World-altar, — minaret — the place where dip
Down stairs from golden Heaven for the feet!
You guard the door of God in splendor meet,
Like Gabriel with holy sword on hip;
In bright mist mantled from the toe to lip,
Tour turban set with alien stars and sweet.
If winter rule the world, or summer’s sun,
If Giaour rage about, or winds are wild,
Above them, Tschatir Dagh, you, changeless one,
Are like to Allah, pure and undefiled;
Aloft you tower from out the lowly sod
To give to men again the will of God.

Tschatir Dagh

(The Pilgrim)
Below me half a world I see outspread;
Above, blue heaven; around, peaks of snow;
And yet the happy pulse of life is slow,
I dream of distant places, pleasures dead.
The woods of Lithuania I would tread
Where happy-throated birds sing songs I know;
Above the trembling marshland I would go
Where chill-winged curlews dip and call o’er head.
A tragic, lonely terror grips my heart,
A longing for some peaceful, gentle place,
And memories of youthful love I trace.
Unto my childhood home I long to start,
And yet if all the leaves my name could cry
She would not pause nor heed as she passed by.

The Pass across the Abyss in the Tschufut-Kale

Pray! Pray! Let loose the bridle. Look not down!
The humble horse alone has wisdom here.
He knows where blackest the abysses leer
And where the path in safety leads us down.
Pray, and look upward to the mountain’s crown!
The deep below is endless where you peer;
Stretch not the hand out as you pass, for fear
The added weight of that might plunge you down.
And check your thoughts’ free flight, too, while you go;
Let all of Fancy’s fluttering sails be furled
Here where Death watches o’er the riven world.
I lived to cross the bridge of ancient snow!
But what I saw my tongue no more can tell,
The angels only could rehearse that well.


Behold blue Heaven in that deep abyss!
The sea is that! Behold the long waves shine!
Watch how they rock that giant bird divine,
Whose swinging white wings wide horizons kiss.
Is that an iceberg in the blue abyss?
No, no — a cloud! Watch how ‘tis veiling fine
The sea, the land, out-blotting every line
To drown it all in darkness soon I wis.
The lightning comes now! Frightful is its sweep.
But softly — softly! Watch my spur — my whip!
I’ll leap across unto that chasm’s lip.
What still and chilling sternness great cliffs keep!
Down there light calls to me. Soon there I’ll be.
Uncanny is such loneliness to me.

The Ruins of Balaclava

Oh, thankless Crimean land! in ruin laid
Are now the castles that were once your pride!
Here serpents and the owls from daylight hide,
And robbers arm them for the nightly raid.
Upon the lettered marble boasts are made,
Brave words on battered arms in gold descried,
And broken splendor years have scattered wide,
Beside the dead who made them are arrayed.
The Greek set shining, columned marble here.
The Latin put the Mongol horde to flight,
And Mussulmans prayed eastward morn and night.
The owl and vulture of dark wing and drear
Are fluttering like black banners overhead
In cities where the pest piles high the dead.

On Juda’s Cliff

On Juda’s Cliff I love to lean and look
On waves that battling beat and break with might,
While farther seaward in a bland delight,
I see them shining where a rainbow shook.
On Juda’s Cliff I love to lean and look
On waves that like sea-armies swing to sight,
To send upon the shore their billows white,
And, ebbing, to leave pearls in every nook.
Thus, Poet, in your youth when storms are wild
And passions break upon the heart and brain,
To leave their ruin there — shipwreck and waste —
Pick up your lute! Upon it undefiled
You’ll find song-pearls that your heart-deeps retain,
The crown the years have brought you, white and chaste.

A Biographical Sketch

Adam Mickiewicz

The last of the eighteenth century was an important period for Russia and Poland, not only politically, but in letters and art. It marked the birth of statesmen, patriots, poets and writers. It was into a Poland of great names and greater activities that Adam Mickiewicz was born in 1798, as son of an impoverished family of the old nobility. Three years before, the third and last partition of his native land had taken place, and the signed documents had been hastened to Petersburg to make more triumphant the birthday of the Great Catherine.

Just a few years before this (1792), Kosciusko had courageously led his forty-five thousand valiant Poles in their brave defiance of an overwhelming number of Cossacks and Russians. History had recorded the bloody Turkish wars, the Pugatshev rebellion, the uprising of the Zaporogian Cossacks and the Polish confederations. And with the nineteenth century came the Napoleonic wars with the dramatic entry of Napoleon into Russia, and a new and different mental life began to dawn over Europe.

Mickiewicz was born in Novogrodek in Lithuania. This was the birthplace of Count Henry Rzewuski, who wrote the delightful memories of the Polish eighteenth century, under the title of “The Memories of Pan Severin Soplica,” and who declared he considered it an honor to be born a “schlazig” (noble) of Lithuania, and of Novogrodek. He went to a government school in Minsk, and later attended the University of Vilna, which city in his day was a place of Jesuit faith, gloomy convents and echoing bells. All about him epoch-making events for Slav lands were taking place. It was a resounding, inspired age for his race, and he grew up to take a fitting place in that age and to be called “the immortal hero of Polish poetry.” Poland just then was the battle-ground not only for the armies of Europe, but for the diplomats. It was a place for statesmen to win their spurs. If accredited to Petersburg or Warsaw, and successful, they were believed to be equal to any diplomatic emergency. Eloquence, inspiration, and patriotic fervor must have cradled his childhood.

At the time of the birth of Mickiewicz, Russia was bringing to a close a prodigious period of development in almost every field of human activity. It was really the birth-throe of a nation that was to move powerfully, and to dominate — partially — the new age. And the splendid and never again to be equalled pageant of the life of Catherine the Great, with its wild dreams of world dominance and of the glorious revival of perished Greece, had just been unrolled for the amazement of Europe. What dramatic and enchanting memories the names of her followers call up: the Orlows, Potemkin, Panin, Poniatowski, Bestushew-Rjumin, Princess Daschkov, Razumowski.

In France, too, the same preceding period had been brilliant. It had been the France of Voltaire, the Encyclopedists, and a most resplendent and luxurious monarch. England had known her greatest orators and prime ministers. It had been the Prussia of Frederick the Great; the Dresden of August the Strong; the Austria of Joseph the Second.

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