Jan Kochanowski’s Lament for His Daughter

Jan Kochanowski over the dead body of his daughter - Jan Matejko

Jan Kochanowski over the dead body of his daughter – Jan Matejko

Lament 1 (1580)

All Heraclitus’ tears, all threnodies
And plaintive dirges of Simonides,
All keens and slow airs in the world, all griefs,
Wrung hands, wet eyes, laments and epitaphs,
All, all assemble, come from every quarter,
Help me to mourn my small girl, my dear daughter,
Whom cruel Death tore up with such wild force
Out of my life, it left me no recourse.
So the snake, when he finds a hidden nest
Of fledgling nightingales, rears and strikes fast
Repeatedly, while the poor mother bird
Tries to distract him with a fierce, absurd
Fluttering — but in vain! the venomous tongue
Darts, and she must retreat on ruffled wing.
“You weep in vain,” my friends will say. But then,
What is not in vain, by God, in lives of men?
All is in vain! We play at blindman’s buff
Until hard edges break into our path.
Man’s life is error. Where, then, is relief?
In shedding tears or wrestling down my grief?

Translation: 1995  Stanisław Barańczak and Seamus Heaney

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