Translations from the Polish


Jan Kochanowski

Threnody 5

Like a tiny olive tree
in some vast orchard
Following the path
of its mother upward
Not yet with branch or leaf
barely a sprouted shoot
That some zealous gardener
might clip to uproot
Prickly thorns
or a dense patch of nettle—
Soon it will drop
losing the struggle
Limp by the foot
of its beloved mother.
And so my Ula
my own sweet daughter
How did you get so tangled up
in Persephone’s anger and her grief
That you fell to our feet
like some pruned leaf?
(Translated from the Polish by Leonard Kress)


Jan Kochanowski

Threnody 6

My Slavic Sappho, you stood to inherit
Not only Czarnolas with its great linden
But my craft as well as my lute.

But what am I saying—
Barely two, chatterbox by day,
Singer of your own songs all night.

Songs I could never get enough of,
Songs for which I paid dearly,
Songs like a village bride sings,

Kissing her mother before vows:
Oh mother farewell, I can no longer help,
Or in this house dwell, no longer sit

At your gracious table. . .
Take back your keys, for now I am able
To leave my beloved parents forever.

(Translated from the Polish by Leonard Kress)


Jan Kochanowski

Threnody 14

If only the gate where Orpheus descended
To the underworld were left unattended
Like him I’d bring my beloved back.

If I could only find that path, ford
That river, calm the ferryman’s wrath,
Rushed along with other pale shades

To my Urszula, lost in the cypress glades.
And if, when I’d go, I’d bring my lute
And knock at the chamber of the dread Pluto

Perhaps its plaintive suit
Might persuade him to release her,
Too soon a ghost, to halt once and for all

This uncontested grief. I know that he won’t
Relinquish her for good. Perhaps a distaste
For unripe fruit might let him allow it ripen.

Or better yet, perhaps I could remain
In this underground nation, losing my soul
As well as this preoccupation.

(Translated from the Polish by Leonard Kress)