The unclaimed legacy – a primer, 1860

The following is the beginning section of a rhyming history of Poland written by Maria Ilnicka, a poet, journalist, feminist and participant in the January Uprising of 1863.

Ilnicka completed the Illustrowany Skarbczyk Polski (An Illustrated Jewel-Box of Poland) in 1860, during a period of increased liberation efforts. It has sections of verse dedicated to choice characters of history, with prose commentaries following them. Near the book’s conclusion, I was shocked to find a series of six songs written to Ilnicka’s verse by Stanisław Moniuszko, a hugely important writer of Polish songs. The beginning section translated below is one of those six sections put to music.

It’s worthy to mention that the history contained in this book for children ends in the mid 17th century: even for 1860, this history was rather distant. It seems that Ilnicka and many others saw the waning century of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the subsequent era of partition as secondary to more heroic eras in Polish history.

As always, suggestions to my translation are welcome.

Do ……
To the Reader

Mój złotowłosy synku maleńki,
Wiem ja, że bardzo lubisz piosenki,
Które ci nucę niekiedy.
O wiernych pieskach, o białych kotkach,
Jasnych aniołkach, małych sierotkach,
Które Bóg strzeże wśród biedy.

My little golden-haired son,
I know that you dearly love
the songs that I hum to you at times.
Of the loyal puppies, pure kittens,
Bright angels, little orphans,
Whom God protects amidst disaster.

Ale są jeszcze piosenki inne,
Przy których dźwięku serce niewinne,
Zadrży nieznanem wzruszeniem:
O starych czasach, o ludziach dawnych,
Królach, hetmanach, rycerzach sławnych,
Co śpią pod mogił kamieniem.

But there are other songs,
before which the sounds of innocent hearts
tremble with unknown emotion:
About the olden days, about ancient peoples –
kings, hetmans, famous knights,
who sleep beneath stone graves.

To dziady twoje, to ojce twoje!
W grób z sobą wzięli skrzydlate zbroje,
Wzięli święcone bułaty.
Lecz zostawili sławy puściznę,
A ten kto taką ma ojcowiznę,
I tak dość jeszcze bogaty.

They are your grandfathers, your fathers!
They brought their winged armor into the grave,
They brought their hallowed swords.
But they left an unclaimed legacy,
But he who has that inheritance,
Is wealthy enough already.

Lecz skarby swoje znać trzeba dziecię,
By potem za nie kupić na świecie,
Wszystko, co wielkie a święte:
Trzeba je mówię, znać i szacować,
W synowskiem sercu z miłością chować,
By w proch nie padły strząśnięte.

Children must know their treasures –
so they can then purchase
all that is great and holy in the world:
I must tell about them, to know and appreciate them –
to educate with love the filial heart,
so these treasures won’t be tossed to the dust.

Słuchaj więc synku, co śpiewać będę
Gdy cię do serca tuląc usiędę
Pod Matki Boskiej obrazem;
Bo to królowa tych, co śpią w grobie
Pobłogosławi i mnie i tobie,
Kiedy westchniemy doń razem!…

So listen, my son, to what I sing
when I sit you down, your heart nestled
under Our Lady’s image;
Because the queen sleeping in the grave is yours,
and she blesses us both
while we yearn together for Him!…

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