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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Pine-Tree: Allegory of the Ancient Kingdom of Bulgaria

By Ivan Vazov (1850–1921)

Translation of Lucy Catlin Bull Robinson

BELOW the great Balkan, a stone’s-throw from Thrace,

Where the mountain, majestic and straight as a wall,

Lifts his terrible back—in a bird-haunted place

Where green boughs are waving, white torrents appall.

With yellowing marbles, with moldering eaves,

Mute rises the cloister, girt round with the hills

And mingling its gloom with the glimmer of leaves,

The newness of blossoms, the freshness of rills.

Without the high walls what commotion and whirr!

Within them how solemn, how startling the hush!

All is steeped in a slumber that nothing can stir—

Not the waterfall shattered to foam in its rush.

In that hallowed inclosure, above the quaint shrine,

With angel and martyr in halo and shroud,

Looms a giant-limbed tree—a magnificent pine,

Whose black summit is plunged in the soft summer cloud.

As the wings of an eagle are opened for flight,

As a cedar of Lebanon shields from the heat,

So he shoots out his branches to left and to right,

Till they shade every tomb in that tranquil retreat.

The monk with white beard saw him ever the same,—

Unaltered in grandeur, in height or in girth;

Nor can any one living declare when that frame

Was first lifted in air, or the root pierced the earth.

That mysterious root that has long ceased to grow,

Sunken deep in the soil,—who can tell where it ends?

That inscrutable summit what mortal can know?

Like a cloud, with the limitless azure it blends.

And perchance the old landmark, by ages unbent,

Is sole witness to valor and virtue long past.

Peradventure he broods o’er each mighty event

That once moved him to rapture or made him aghast.

And ’tis thus he lives on, meeting storm after storm

With contempt and defiance—a stranger to dread.

Nor can summer or winter, that all things transform,

Steal the plumes from his shaggy and resolute head.

From the crotches and tufts of those wide-waving boughs,

Blithe birds by the hundred are pouring their lays;

There in utter seclusion their nestlings they house,

Far from envy and hate passing halcyon days.

Last of all save the mountain, the Balkan’s own son

Takes the tinge of the sunset. A crown as of fire

First of all he receives from the new-risen one,

And salutes his dear guest with the small feathered choir.

But alas! in old age, though with confident heart

He yet springs toward the zenith, majestic and tall—

Since he too of a world full of peril is part,

The same fate hath found him that overtakes all.

On a sinister night came the thunder’s long roll;

No cave of the mountain but echoed that groan.

All at once fell the storm upon upland and knoll

With implacable fury aforetime unknown.

The fields were deserted, the valleys complained;

The heavens grew lurid with flash after flash;

In the track of the tempest no creature remained—

Only terror and gloom and the thunderbolt’s crash.

As of old, the huge tree his assailant repays

With intense indignation, with thrust after thrust;

Till uprooted, confounded, his whole length he lays,

With a heart-rending cry of despair, in the dust.

As a warrior attacked without warning rebounds

Undismayed from each stroke of his deadliest foe—

Then staggers and languishes, covered with wounds,

Knowing well that his footing he soon must forego;

As he still struggles on in the enemy’s grasp,

Falling only in death, yielding only to fate

With a final convulsion, a single deep gasp,

That at least he survive not his fallen estate,—

So the pine-tree, perceiving the end of his reign,

Yet unsplintered, uncleft in that desperate strife,

Vouchsafed not to witness the victor’s disdain,

But with dignity straightway relinquished his life.

He is fallen! he lies there immobile, august;

Full of years, full of scars, on the greensward he lies.

Till last evening how proudly his summit he thrust,

To the wonder of all men, far into the skies.

And behold, as a conqueror closes the fray

With one mortal stroke more to his down-trodden foe,

Then ignoring the conquest, all honors would pay,

Shedding tears for the hero his hand hath brought low,—

Thus the whirlwind, forgetting his fury, grew dumb,

Now that prone on the turf his antagonist lay;

And revering the victim his stroke had o’ercome,

To profound lamentation and weeping gave way.