Adam Mickiewicz
The Lady of Lake Świteź - a ballad

Who is the lad there, handsome and able?
Who is the lass at his side?
By lake-blue waters of ancient fable
Bathed in the moonlight they stride.

She feeds him berries from her old hamper
He brings her daisies and clovers;
Likely he’s trying to woo and pamper,
Likely the two are lovers.

Anight on the hour they come to this glade,
Under this larch is their spot.
The lad is a forest ranger by trade,
And who the girl? – I know not.

Whence came she? –  query in vain, no-one knows,
Where she absconds? – none can tell.
Like a swamp flower from waters she rose,
Like will-o-the-wisp she’ll farewell.

“Tell me my lovely, sweet girl, tell my heart,
Why with the secrets we bother,
Which winding path led you here, to this part?
Where is your home, where your father?

Summer is fading, cold drizzles humming,
Leaves lose their green, colours break,
Am I to always look to your coming
On the wild shores of this lake?

Why be the forest’s most flighty a doe, 
Some spectre bound to this tree?
Please do not add more to your lover’s woe,
Stay, oh please! stay here with me.

My little cabin’s just over the hill
Amidst cops of thick hazel wood,
There’s plenty of fruit there, milk if you will,
And game's always found, always good”.

'Hold back – she responds – with your hasty words,
I mind what my father once said:
A man’s voice is sweeter than singing lovebirds
But cunning a fox is his head.

Your cant is my fear, my worry more so
Than change of your heart ever’d be,
I may hear your pledges, I may not say no;
But will you remain true to me?'

The lad’s on his knees, sand clutched in his fist,
Dark powers bowed down before,
Oaths sealed by the sacred moonlight and mists,
But will he keep what he swore?

'Keep your word, ranger, that is my advice:
For should you break this parole,
Your life shall be forfeit, consumed by the vice!
As shall be your wicked soul!'

Thus said, the lass scuttles, swift under the stars,
Her flowery chaplet slipped on,
She bids him farewell as she waves from afar,
And soon in the green she is gone.

He struggles to follow but to no avail,
He cannot keep to her pace,
The gentlest of breezes fades fleeting and frail,
And there is no-one to chase.

Left 'lone in the dark, in uneasy hustle,
Ground boggy and threatening deceit,
The silence unbroken, save by the rustle
Of wilted twigs at his feet.

He paces the lakeshore, wildly and blindly,
Wild and unseeing his gaze;
All of a sudden winds rake woods unkindly,
And waters beside churn and raise.

Churning and swelling the watery gleam,
A truly amazing event!
A virgin of beauty and allure supreme
From silvery tide doth ascend.

Her face pale with smoothness of a tender rose,
Radiant with tears of dawn dew,
Her dress light and airy to match the light pose,
Embracing the celestial view.

“My beautiful laddie, so young and so able-   
The virgin tenderly cried-
Why by the waters of such ancient fable
Bathed in the moonlight you stride?

Why waste your longing on a feral bird,
That lures you here to these trees,
That toys with your yearning, demands the absurd,
Probably jeers at your pleas?

Don’t shun my affection, my words sweet as ever,
Forget futile sighs and romance,
Come hither, come hither, so we can together
In crystal-blue waters dance.

Say, would you elect the fate of a swallow
That touches the surf in brief sweep,
Or gleeful and cheerful fish that can follow
Me all the way to the deep.

And night come be bedded on silvery tide,
Under canopies of glaze,
With white lily petals caressing your side,
With dreams even gods would amaze”.  

Just then, swan-white bosom shows through misty clothes,
Modest, he tries not to see,
The virgin glides closer, swift haze at her toes,
'To me,' she calls out, 'come to me.'

Her feet light and breezy, she circles the air
A rainbow of colour and light,
Then skims water surface with fingers aglare,
Sends sprinkling a droplet invite.

The ranger runs forward but holds in mid tread
He dares not, yet yearns for the meet;
But then crystal water comes washing ahead,
And gently strokes at his feet.

Each stroke so enticing, each wave tempting so,
Heart pounding with warmth and delight,
The feeling a stolen touch would bestow
Of lover’s coy hand in the night.

His girl is forgotten and all that she said,
His sacred oath lost to mind,
To seal his own peril he dashes ahead,
By this new lure driven blind.

Dashing and gazing, gazing and dashing;
Across aquatic expanses,
Far from the shore and the gentle waves splashing,
Towards mid waters he dances.  

Her lily-white hand soon entwining with his,
Her beauty arresting his eye,
Lips seeking with passion where her rose breath is,
With every dance step he moves nigh.

Then all of a sudden wind blows, magic fades,
Her guise of illusion unmade;
His sight is restored as he sees past the shades,
And, oh! it’s the girl from the glade!

“What then of your promise? What of my advice?
Alas, should one break such parole,
His life shall be forfeit, consumed by the vice!
As shall be his wicked soul!

Not yours will be cavort in silvery plume
Not for you the water’s bright prize;
The raw weight of soil will body consume,
Coarse gravel douse light in your eyes.

Your soul shall be bound to this tree by my spell
A thousand years may it last,
And suffer eternal torment of hell,
Fiery hate unsurpassed”.

Bewildered, befuddled the lad staggers blindly,
Wild and unseeing his gaze;
All of a sudden winds rake woods unkindly,
And waters around churn and raise.

Churning and swelling and whirling the pool,
A seethe of bottomless chasm,
The maw of deep waters bites hungry and cruel,
Both disappear in the spasm.

Still ever so often it churns here and swells,
When moonlight soaks up the grass,
A pair of faint shades roam these shadowy spells;
These are the lad and his lass.

She swirls in her silvery water cascade
He moans under tree roots caught,
The lad was a forest ranger by trade,
And who the girl? – I know not.


(Translated by: Witold Wojtaszko)