Forefathers’ Eve, Part II by Adam Mickiewicz

February 24, 2009

Forefathers’ Eve

Part II

1823

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

The shaman entered the chapel, ordering its doors locked. Hurrying people to quench the candles, shut the windows deaf, cutting out the white beam of the moonlight.

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

The people gathered around a coffin, and the shaman started his rites:

“The souls of Purgatory! In any side of the world: whether you are burning in tar, freezing at the bottom of a brook, or for a severer punishment you are implanted into austere wood, while being bit by embers of a stove you cry mournfully and moan. Each of you hurry to join our herd! Let the herd meet. We are having Forefathers’ Eve!

“Descend into the holy place; where the alms, prayers, food and beverages await.”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“Give me a fist of the distaff; I fire it, and you, as soon as the small flame shoots up, drive it with your light breaths. Like this. Like this. Go on. Go on. Let it burn in the air.”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“First you, with light souls, who at this vale of darkness, storms, misery, pain and crying, shone and burnt just as the fist of distaff. Those of you, who in the windy maze did not fly to heavenly gates, we call with lit gesture, exhort.”

Tell us what is it that you miss. What you want. What you need.

“Look, ah, look up. What is it shining there under the vault? Here two children flutter with their golden feathers. Just as a leaf with a leaf in waft, they spin under the church’s crypt. As a dove with a dove on a tree, just a cherub’s game with his kin.”

One of the angels turned to a peasant woman standing in the crowd.

“To mama, we fly to mama. Why, mom, you do not recognise Joe? It is me, Joe, and my sister Rose. We are now flying in Eden. There is better there than at home. Look, our heads in golden glow, dresses out of the beams of dawn, and butterflies’ wings adorn our shoulders. Everyday we have another toy, wherever we stand grass grow, and wherever we touch a flower blossoms, but though we have everything aplenty, we are bothered by boredom and fears. Mom, the way to Heaven is closed to your dears.”

“What do you need, little soul, to get to heaven’s door? Do you ask for God’s glory? Or perhaps a sweet reward? There are donuts, cake, milk, berries. Whatever is it that you want?”

“Nothing, there is nothing we need. We are unhappy with the earthly sweets. All my life I knew no grief. Caresses, bounties, plays. To sing, jump, run in the fields. All my work was to gather flowers for Rose, and hers to dress her dolls. We came for Forefathers’ Eve. Not for prayers. Not for feast. We ask for two grains of gall, and the deed so small will be enough for all. Listen, and heed the advice, for Godly command says one who never knew bitterness will not know Heavenly happiness.”

“Angel, little soul! What you wanted you have got. And now go away with God. You do not need victuals or drinks. Leave us in peace. Begone, begone!

“The terrible night is coming. Close the door and padlock it. Hold aloft the torches. Place the kettle filled with vodka in the middle of the room and on the signal of my walking stick, let the vodka catch fire.”

It burst, boiled, and went out.

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“Now, you, the heaviest souls, chained to this vale of crime together with body and soul. Although the angel of death is calling you, your life cannot tear away from your bodily agony. If such a severe punishment can be eased by people a bit, and save you from the infernal hollow, to which you are so close, come. We call you, we exhort. Come through your element. Through the bonfire!”

Tell us what it is that you miss. What you want. What you need.

Behind the window a voice was heard, “Hey, ravens, owls, eagles! You cursed gluttons! Let me go to the chapel. Let me take at least two steps.”

“What a ghost, what a monster! Can you see the phantom? Pale like an old bone. Smoke and lighting in his mouth. His eyes shine like coals in ashes.”

From behind of the window the voice called again, “Children! Do you not know me? Look at me closely! I am your master. It was my village. Today, hardly the third year is gone since you put me in my tomb. Ah, too heavy is God’s hand! I am in the powers of bad ghosts. I suffer terribly. I am the subject of eternal hungers. And who will feed me? The greedy birds yank my body. There is no end to my tortures!”

“What is needed for you, miserable soul, to spare you this sore fate? Do you ask for Heaven’s glory or the Holy Matrimony? We have food and drink. Pray, what do you need to get to Heaven’s gates?”

“Heaven? Your profanities are absurd. No! I do not want to Heaven. I only want my soul to leave my body. Hell is better than continuous wandering with impure ghosts upon the earth, watching the marks of old joys, memories of old life. From sunrise to sunset and from sunset to sunrise, agonising from hunger and thirst, and feeding the greedy birds.

“Unfortunately my sentence says that till one of you, my serfs, feeds or waters my ragged body, I must carry my condemned soul in it. Please, just one drop of water or two seeds of wheat.”

The night birds interrupted, “In vain he cries and begs. Here, we, owls, ravens and eagles, once your servants, starved to death, will eat the food, will drink the water. Even if you hold it in your teeth we will use our claws to rip. You knew no mercy, master. Today we know no mercy. When we eat all your food we will get to you.”

The raven proceeded, “You do not like starving! Do you remember how one Autumn I came into your garden? The pears were ripe, the apples red. Three days I had no food in my mouth. I took several fruits, but your gardener made havoc and chased me with dogs as if I were a wolf. You made a case. And about what? The fruits that God gave to people free like water and fire? But you wanted to hold a performance. Called people to come and watch. Each of my bones was beaten severely! You knew no mercy, master!”

The owl added, “You do not like starving! Do you remember how during the severest winter I stood with my child at your gates. ‘Master!’ I called out in tears, ‘have mercy on orphans. My husband long dead. Give us allowance!’ You told your servant to drive us away. He pushed me with child to snow. Beaten and cold I could find no shelter, I froze with my child along the road. You knew no mercy, master!”

The birds joined, “Hey, owls, ravens, eagles, let us know no mercy as well! Let us rip the food. And when the food ends, let us rip the body to tatters. Let the bare bones show!”

“There is no help for me,” the phantom said. “You offer the dishes for nothing. Not for me the Forefathers’ Eve. I have to suffer for centuries. Justified God’s sentence is. Who was not a human even once, cannot be helped by humans.”

“Since there is nothing we can do for you, go away, you wretch. You do not take victuals or drink. Leave us in peace. Begone, begone!”

The phantom disappeared, and the shaman held out his stick, “Give me, friends, this wreath on the end of my stick. I fire the blest herbs. Up smoke. Up gleams!”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“Now you, the middle ghosts, who at this vale of darkness and storms lived with people together, but free from human flaws. You lived not for us. Not for the world. Just as these savouries and mallows, no fruit from them – not a flower. Weaved into fragrant garlands, they are hanging high on the wall. This high, ladies, you held your eye and bosom. Thee, who till now, with her wing pure, did not pass the Heavenly doorway. With this light and incense, we call you. We exhort.”

Tell us what it is that you miss. What you want. What you need.

“What is it? The icon of Madonna? The angelic form? Just like a gleaming rainbow runs through clouds to a lake’s waters, such is she glowing in the chapel’s space. Her white robe encircles her legs, whips of hair with which breezes toy, bilberries glitter in her smile, but there is a tear of calamity in her eye.

“Flowery wreath on her head, a little twig in her hand, a lamb runs before her, a butterfly flies over her. She calls the lamb endlessly, chases the butterfly with the twig, but they evade her.”

The girl said, “I used to, in the mornings of Spring, wander through forests endlessly. Immersed in my songs and musings, I would not give a thought to the living. Once a boy, for a pair of doves, wanted to kiss my mouth. A gentleman offered me his hand and heart, but I only laughed. Yes, I was a carnal loveliness, but even at my age of twenty years I refused matrimony. I died not knowing the earthly bliss.

“I lived in the world, but not for the world! My thoughts too winged and never touched the common grounds. Chasing the breeze, flowery leaves, never a lover. I enjoyed listening to the men’s words of praise, but I loved none of them.

“Now, after my death, I do not comprehend what is happening to me. I am glowing with strange fire. Though I amuse myself at my will. I fly where the breeze takes me. Nothing saddens me. Nothing pains me. Where does the boredom come from?

“I am longing for someone at every rustle. Ah, and I am always alone! I am sorry, but the wind is endlessly lifting me like a feather, wafting me. I do not know whether I am from this or that world. Wherever I go the wind is always blowing me away. And so, amongst the timid wave, flying the eternal road, either rise up to the heaven or touch the land I cannot.

“What do you need, pretty soul, to get to Heaven’s door? Do you ask for God’s glory? Or perhaps a sweet reward? There are donuts, cake, milk, berries. Whatever is it that you want?”

“Nothing, there is nothing I need. Let the boys come to me. Let them catch my hands. Let them pull me to the ground. Let me frolic with them. Because listen and heed the advice, according to Godly command those who did not touch the ground even once can never go to Heaven.”

The shaman saw the men running to her, “You run in vain. Those are only mere shadows. In vain she offers her hands. The wind carries her away.

“Now I call all the souls together with my last command! For you is the tiny meal. I throw fists of poppy and lentils into every corner of the chapel. Take what you want. What you miss. What you need.

“It is time to open the chapel’s door. Light the candles. Midnight is gone. The rooster crows. The sacrifice is at its end, and the girl needs to go away.

“Stop! One more ghost!”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“Look, the floor is falling, the pale wraith arises. He takes steps to the shepherdess, stands at her side. He turns his pale countenance to her, wild and saddened, drowned completely in her eyes. Look, ah, look at his heart! He pointed out his heart to the girl, but did not speak a word.

“What do you need, young soul, to get to Heaven’s door? Do you ask for Heaven’s glory, or the Holy Matrimony? There are donuts, cake, milk, berries. Whatever is it that you want?”

The wraith was silent.

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“Answer me, you pale wraith. Why, he is silent?

“Since you detest the mass and pierogi, go with God. You did not want meal or drink. Let us be. Begone, begone!

“Goodness! What a wraith. He does not go away, he does not speak!

“You soul, damned or blest. Leave the holy rites! Here is the open floor. Take your return road, or I will curse you in the name of God.”

The shaman paused, “Go away. Cross forests. Cross rivers. Begone for ages!”

The wraith did not move.

“Goodness, what is it? He is silent and does not disappear! In vain I ask, in vain I curse. He is not afraid of my words. Give me the sprinkler from the altar… No difference! The tormented soul stays, speechlessly dumb. Immovable, like a stone out of a tomb.”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

“This is beyond human understanding! Shepherdess, do you know this person? There is something horrid in it. Who are you mourning? Your husband and kids are well. Why, you do not say a word?! Why are you smiling? Why? What is so joyful about him?

“Give me the stole and the blessed candle. I will light it, I will consecrate… It is no use…

“Take the shepherdess out of the chapel.

“Why are you smiling, why? What is so charming about him?

“Goodness, the wraith follows her. Where we take her he is there.”

Darkness around. Dullness around. What will be now? What will be now?

~~~~~

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