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Bearslayer - Canto IV The Latvians Suffer Many Hardships

Andrejs Pumpurs 1841 (Birzgale parish) – 1902 (Riga)

Scene 1: Kaupa is seduced by wealth and power
Kaupa accepts Christianity
In mighty, ancient Rome,
The Pope's eternal See,
He called from Peter's dome,
The Holy Land to free.
The Baltic he decreed
To be the Holy Land.
All knights from sin he freed
Committed by their hand,
If in the Baltic's bounds,
They fought the pagan foe,
Built castles in strong grounds,
That priests might safely go.
His call to arms soon raised
A fortune-seeking band,
Who loud the venture praised-
They sought estates and land.
Such men their fate pursue
And sail to foreign shores.
They seek a homeland new,
And follow no man's laws.
In Peter's Church one day
The Pope absolved their sin,
A bishop gave, to pray,
And leaders from his kin.
At last, to those he turned,
Come from the Baltic shore;
His blessings Dietrich earned,
To Kaupa he gave more.
They were allowed with grace
To kiss his slippered feet;
With Kaupa, face to face,
The Pope then deigned to meet.
He asked of Baltic tribes
If Christ's true faith they sought,
The faith now sent with scribes,
To them as brothers brought.
Theirs were, as brothers, too
The benefits and more,
That round them stood in view,
Or on the way they saw.
Yet all of that was slight,
Against the endless price
That is believers' right,
When death brings paradise!
Now Kaupa thought of home,
The wealth could not deny,
In Peter's Church in Rome
Arrayed before his eye.
His ancient sires seemed weak,
Their gods could not thus bless.
He vowed the God to seek,
Who gave such happiness.
He would resist no more,
Such opulence evade,
On reaching home, he swore,
His people to persuade.
As Kaupa now bowed down,
The Holy Father's grace
Conferred a knight's rich crown
With seven stars in place.
Such gifts, both fine and rare,
For him alone to own,
To knights and bishops there
Made Kaupa's favour known.
Since to the knightly throng
Now Kaupa numbered too,
He soon the blessing strong
Of Rome's great Father knew.
Back in the Baltic land
His will he would assert,
With weapons in his hand,
The Baltic to convert.
In monasteries remained
The youths thence Kaupa bore.
Great knowledge there they gained-
From monks to learn they swore.
Among them in that place
One's later fame has grown;
Although of Latvian race,
As Henry he is known.
Riga becomes the centre of German influence
The springtime had returned;
In green it clothed the days.
New life all nature earned,
And sang the maker's praise.-
But Strangers saw no worth,
To raise their eyes and see
Who made the bounteous Earth,
And nature caused to be.
They had a different goal:
An idle life to crave,
And drunkenness extol,
But others to enslave.
On Daugava's bank, the folk
In hundreds hewed and filled,
Forged iron, hammered oak,
A city toiled to build.
With ramparts fortified,
Arch, passage, columns tall.
A church stood safe inside,
Within its lofty wall.
Named "Riga", on the banks
It stood, on Daugava's side.
Within its church's ranks
Ruled Bishop Albert's pride.
His priests with news he sent,
The message of our Lord,
But to their preaching lent
The power of the sword.
They went throughout the land,
To teach and preach of Him,
But plundered out of hand,
And murdered at their whim.-
The Daugava along,
They cast a deadly pall,
And soon the fear was strong,
These monsters would take all.
All Germans who now came,
In Riga place received.-
The folk cursed Riga's name,
And knew they were deceived.
"Oh, Riga, much have you
Poured out our brothers' blood!
Oh, Riga, much have, too,
Caused bitter tears to flood!"
"Oh, Riga, much you spurned,
Laid waste the fields of grain!
Oh, Riga, much you burned-
Scarce homes and barns remain!"
"Oh, Riga, you have seized,
Like wolves our humble food!
Oh, Riga, you have pleased
To swill the beer we brewed!"
"Oh, Riga, you have torn
Our plundered things away!
Oh, Riga, you have sworn
With freedom we will pay!"
"Oh, Riga, can you find,
Yet things that we hold dear?
Oh Riga, what behind,
Is left for looting here?

Scene 2: Laimdota and Koknesis in Germany
Laimdota's abduction
While all of this took place,
Where down the Daugava falls,
In Germany's far space,
Behind a cloister's walls,
A weeping maiden lay,
To dear ones no recourse,
From them false lured away,
And carried off by force.
Laimdota was the maid,
And Spidala's base lies
Deception's guile displayed.-
Clad in her mother's guise,
She lured the girl outside,
Where helpers in her pay
Forth made Laimdota ride,
From Burtnieks away.
A prisoner in their might
To Turaida they brought,
And further in the night
The Daugava they sought.
Ignoring tears and pleas,
Their mercy to implore,
They put her on the seas,
To sail to German shore.
On board was Dietrich too,
Who came to seek her ear,
Proposed a calming view,
And claimed she need not fear.
Since countrymen she knew
On board were at her call,
Of Kaupa servants true,
No evil could befall.
To study life they went
Among the German race,
Enlightened with the bent
The faith of Christ to face.
God's mercy deep and wide,
Christ soon to her would show,
Selected as His bride,
Through Him true God to know!
Laimdota listened grave,
Contempt burned in her eye,
Then answer briefly gave,
A dignified reply:
"Though Christ from God above,
Takes brides against their will,
I cannot give my love,
A promise binds me still."
"I love a hero bold,
Have pledged to him my hand,
My father's leave we hold,
Our hearts united stand.
So therefore let me go,
And tempt me not in vain,
Or retribution know,
And suffer for my pain."
"But more: My mother's child,
Of humans I am one,
My mortal flesh defiled,
Not fit for God's true Son."
Though evil to the core,
No conscience to feel shame,
Yet Dietrich flushed once more,
As though he felt the blame.
Struck by the maid's lament,
Of further words bereft,
In silence hence he went,
Alone Laimdota left.
Her lot did not improve,
Though liberty she sought;
False Kaupa did not move
To help her as he ought.
He said it was Fate's plan,
And so she must remain,
Until its course Fate ran,
And took her home again.
And thus he saw no crime,
If Dietrich fitting found,
To put her for some time
Within a cloister's bound.
The ferment was so great,
On board that was his lot,
The maid Laimdota's fate,
Enthralled, he soon forgot.
Soon heartless Dietrich too
Ceased thinking of the girl,
Because full well he knew,
A rich and precious pearl
A cloister had received.
The grateful prioress,
About his goals deceived,
Was sure his scheme to bless.
The prioress deferred,
Laimdota showed respect,
But still to preach preferred;
Advice did not neglect
To leave old gods behind,
The faith of Christ to take,
And when the maid declined,
Harsh threats began to make.
She threatened to condone,
Support a knight's design,
Laimdota as his own,
To make a concubine.
Laimdota heard this view
And felt a surging fear,
Fore all, because she knew,
An earl's son had been near.
Kin to the prioress,
He had the maiden seen;
Her beauty to possess
His fervent wish had been.
He urged the nuns anew,
The girl to him to give.
The earl was of the view,
Those who unchristian live
No rights had in that land.
To take the maid, his whim,
To do with by his hand
What deed perchance pleased him.
So time Laimdota sought,
To plan how she could cope,
But time no counsel brought,
In vain her rescue hope.
Soon came the fateful day,
So she the prioress told,
Her gods were laid away:
All teachings of the old,
The things that she had learned,
Through Burtnieks embraced.-
In truth, Christ's faith she spurned,
And death had rather faced!

Laimdota is rescued by Koknesis
One evening, having strayed
With tears into her bed,
To spirits good she prayed,
That help to her be led.
Then tumult loud began,
Spread through the cloister's bounds,
The people rushed and ran,
And prayed with frightened sounds.
At length the shouting died,
Her room loud footsteps neared,
Her door was opened wide,
And in it there appeared
Men all in armour clad,
With weapons in their hand;
The guards and monks were glad,
There at their side to stand.
One monk with glutton's face
Spoke to the armoured ranks:
"The pagan take apace-
We give her up with thanks.
For long enough has she
This sacred place defiled;
Take her and ride out free,
And cleanse our cloister mild."
The monks she loud implored,
The prioress to call,
Protection to afford,
That nothing should befall.
But they refused as one-
The reason was well known,
For with each other nun
The prioress had flown.
Of plunderers in fear,
Their church the nuns sought fast,
And forth would not appear,
Until all risk was past.-
Then iron-clad hands with force
Laimdota dragged outside;
They flung her on a horse,
And made away to ride.
But blocking them their place,
A single man they saw.
He held an iron mace,
And shook it with a roar:
"Release this blameless girl,
Surrender now and leave,
Or with this club I whirl
My arm your skulls will cleave!"
Surprised to hear this call,
At first they heeded well,
But then as one they all
Upon the stranger fell.-
At this the man revealed
Strength others cannot show;
With skill he used his shield,
And parried every blow.
He swung his club with hate
Against each armoured head;
The men who felt its weight
With cloven helmet bled.-
He struck the one with force,
Whose steed Laimdota bore;
The man fell from his horse,
And loose his helmet tore.
The earl's son all espied,
Who lay before their eyes.
"You dog," the stranger cried,
"You cur in Christian guise!
Know that this free-born girl
Is to such honour heir,
Unworthy any earl,
For her her cup to bear!"
"In virtue without lapse,
In woman's form and face,
In Germany, perhaps,
No equal has your race!"
"Go! To your comrades run;
Tell them, in Baltic land
Each free-born woman's son
Will crush them by his hand,
As I tonight did here!
Your life this day I spare-
But if our lands you near,
Then face me if you dare!"
Laimdota's senses cleared,
As this the man declared;
His face at last appeared,
Beneath his helmet bared.-
A cry of joy began,
Within the moonlight grew;
Laimdota saw the man,
And straight Koknesis knew!
Koknesis took her hand,
This greeting to proclaim:
"To Gods and spirits grand
Give thanks in time I came!
Together we must flee,
We cannot here delay.
Hence you must ride with me,
My fate learn on the way."
Into the saddle straight
Both leaped on horses' backs,
Rode out and did not wait,
On rutted forest tracks.
A distant mountain hut
Gave shelter for the night-
The folk who firewood cut
Helped strangers in their plight.
They rested for some days,
Then rode a further stage.
Laimdota found good ways
Disguised to be a page;
Koknesis was her knight.-
They from a seaport planned
By ship to make their flight
To reach their Fatherland.
Koknesis on the way
Told her his story grim.-
One night in bed he lay,
When Kangars came to him,
Said Kaupa at the dawn
To Germany would go;
Dispatches must be borne
For Burtnieks to know.
Since Burtnieks, alone,
Kept watch on All Souls' Eve,
Koknesis, to him known,
The message should receive.-
No harm Koknesis saw
To Turaida to go,
Where waited on the shore
Young men that he would know.
With Kaupa soon to sail
Upon the German trip,
With pleasure they would hail
Koknesis on the ship.-
Koknesis gave assent
When Kangars told his plight:
He had no document,
Until the morning light.
Aboard, they broke their fast,
And Kangars gave them wine,
A gift from Dietrich passed.-
Since none would thirst confine,
But drank deep at a stroke,
They all were soon asleep,
And when Koknesis woke,
The ship rocked on the deep!
Just landless sea and sky
He saw now all around.
His heavy head asked why,
And shame within him found.
His thirst had so prevailed,
With appetite so hot,
That with them he had sailed,
If this he willed or not.
The others swift condoled,
That not all bad would be,
And with the thought consoled,
Soon Germany to see.
To Germany now sent,
With monks to live and learn,
Koknesis seemed content,
New wisdom thus to earn.
But visits soon he paid
And time spent with an earl,
There to the knights displayed
His strength in jousting's whirl.
All there his skill admired,
His agile arm's strong weight.-
But news was not acquired
About Laimdota's fate.
But later, there he heard,
That in a cloister's court,
A woman was interred,
Thence from the Baltic brought.
The earl desired the maid,
To seize her deemed it right
The cloister's grounds to raid,
And steal her in the night.-
Her fate Koknesis knew,
Thus earnest vow he gave,
The unknown maiden true,
From such a fate to save.
When at the cloister gate,
Laimdota's face he saw,
He felt an endless hate,
And caution was no more!
And thus the slaughter grew,
No mercy would he show;
The earl's son, humbled, too
For misdeeds pain must know.

Scene 3: In the Realm of the North Wind
The boatmen's song summons the North Wind's Daughter
Long parted from the quay,
Thus sang the sailor folk,
Upon the Northern Sea,
Good fortune to invoke:
"Oh father, build a ship,
Oh mother, weave the sail,
We seek straight from the slip,
The North Wind's Daughter pale."-
"We travel night and day,
No North Wind's Daughter find,
And reach a northern bay,
Where snow three giants grind."
"'Our greetings, grinders three,
Comes North Wind's Daughter forth?'-
'Thanks travellers on the sea,
No, sail on further north!'"
"We travel night and day,
The Daughter seeking twice-
And reach a northern bay,
Where giants forge pure ice."
"'Our greeting icesmiths three,
Comes North Wind's Daughter forth?'-
'Thanks travellers on the sea.
No, sail on further north!'"
Thus sang the sailor folk
Upon the Northern Sea,
Until the helmsman spoke:
Their way no more was free!
Bearslayer in this boat,
Sailed on the Northern Sea,
To Germany afloat,
To set Laimdota free.
But battered by the force
Of wind and storm that blew,
And lost, far from the course,
The way no more they knew.
It seemed that evil powers,
Sea ghosts, were ever near,
In day and night-time hours,
They filled the crew with fear.
Dank mists and deepest gloom
The light blocked as they swirled;
While hail and snow-filled spume
Were by the North Wind hurled.
Then, where the sky's edge gleamed,
A brilliant glow forth surged,
And, from the glow, what seemed
To be a sail emerged.
Across the dark sea wave,
Its course approached them near,
Close up assurance gave:
It was a ship was clear.
And at the helmsman's side,
A woman they could view,
Who, nearing, sweetly cried
In greeting to the crew:
"Your song to my ears came,
Called me across the sea.
You called aloud my name;
Say what you want from me!"
The sailors were amazed,
And stood as turned to stone.
In wonder they all gazed,
The North Wind's Daughter shown.
Her face was peach and cream;
Reflected in the glare,
Eyes blue as Heaven's gleam
Shone in the north's pure air.
Her hair was long and gold,
And to her shoulders hung.
She wore, they could behold,
A rainbow robe that clung.
And on her form flowed down
A snow-white woollen shawl.-
Upon her head no crown,
Instead, a helmet tall.
And weapons she had too,
Within the ship there seen:
Bow, spear, and shield on view,
Stout forged from copper green.
Thus was the Daughter's form,
About which legends tell.-
That she provokes the storm,
All sailors know full well.
With terrors she can soar
Into the northern height,
Lead souls of men to war,
All formed up for the fight.
And when each lets his spear
In warlike manner fly,
On earth the people fear,
Say: "War and plague are nigh!"

In the domain of the North Wind's Daughter
As first, Bearslayer stirred,
The North Wind's Daughter told,
That, lost, they were interred
Within the northern cold.
But their desire was clear,
The homeward course to find:
The North Wind's Daughter here,
To help might be inclined.
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Submitted on August 03, 2020

14:56 min read

Andrejs Pumpurs

Andrejs Pumpurs was a poet who penned the Latvian epic Lāčplēsis and a prominent figure in the Young Latvia movement. Working in the land before volunteering to fight in Serbia against the Ottoman Empire in 1876, he became a loyal officer in the Russian army and also a staunch promoter of the Latvian culture. more…

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