Notes: Prazsky Hrad is Czech for Prague Castle. The Vltava is the Czech name for the river running through Prague.
It seemed the cold was the enemy that night.
The castle walls of broad-hewn stones built high,
Stood stalwart against the angry wind’s fierce fight,
But still hearth-side we heard its battle cry.
The noble lord of Prazsky Hrad arose,
And with that thoughtful eye his men knew well,
Looked all around the room on all of those
Who stood or sat within his glowing hall.
St. Stephen’s feast we always kept with cheer,
And all before the king were glad of heart
For soon cured meats and fine sweets would appear,
And all the happy company take part.
He stepped down past long-robed nobility,
Walked over to a window shuttered fast
And opened it, the fields below to see.
As image on a royal coin he cast
His shadow on the snow below, made gold
By window light let out, while fields around
Lay bright as silver ‘neath a moon as cold,
In robes of snow all new and cleanly gowned.
And here and there the houses huddled stood,
The deep, crisp, snow embanked up to their thatch,
While dark and death-like rose the hedging wood,
Its only life the wind each branch could catch.
Vltava wended icy black her way,
(The flourish of a scribe ‘cross page most white)
And on her banks, the creaking bridge hard-by,
A-gathering wood, a poor man came in sight.
In bitter windy weather and winter chill
To gather wood for warmth the banks he climbed.
This old man worked, though weak, with hardy will,
His hood all frozen stiff, his cloak white rimed.
“Within these walls the frost bites not my hands,
And in these robes my heart’s not touched by cold,
Unless cold stoniness within a bulwark stands
And walls my heart against that gatherer old.
A King to save me took on man’s weak form,
In weakness braved the curse, my griefs to bear.
Should I, a king, then hide from cold and storm?
For warmth refuse God’s bounty now to share?”
And so in kitchen bustle below they hear
From Wenceslaus a call for flesh and wine,
And up the stair they bring, right-quick with cheer,
At his command a feast, and logs of pine.
“We’ll bear the feast to yonder poor man’s table
To cheer his home, to blunt cold wind’s fierce blow
My page and I will take all that we’re able,
And make a road across the fields of snow”
The wind then sounded low like distant flutes
Descanting with the tunes the courtiers play.
I wrapped my cloak about, pulled on my boots
And with the king set forth upon our way.
The great black timber gate was iced with white
Sharp shapes, like hoary broken bracken bright,
When through it passed the King and I from sight
Of those who from the windows watched that night.
The road was gone; our first steps reverent, slow,
Like steps of those upon a newfound shore
Broke through the glassy ice upon the snow,
And cut a road where none had walked before.
The stars as steady signposts, stately stood.
All well-known marks on earth were hid from view,
Except the bending river and the wood.
We’d walked a while when whirling snow-clouds blew,
And cast across the moon and stars a veil.
No more I heard the music from the hall,
But only in that dark the wild wind wail.
I tripped and drenched my tunic in the fall
One summer, swimming cross the river, past mid-stream
(And I was crossing at the point most wide)
So far away the other bank did seem
My heart feared, “I’ve not strength to reach that side;”
But near me swam a friend, to him I called
And he my sinking heart then pulled to shore,
And it was but a short way I was hauled,
For fear made little distance seem much more.
So on this stormy night it seemed that we,
Far from the poorman’s forest hut we sought,
Did starless wander on a frozen sea,
And weaker now the snow-thick wind I fought,
And as I strove, the king drew farther off,
Enfolded by the darkness wind and snow.
“Oh, sire! I called, and fell into a trough,
“Sire!” I called, and he came back my plight to know.
He raised my heart, “The wood’s not far at all,”
And set me on the path his footsteps broke.
“Now mark you well the place my footprints fall,
And boldly tread in them” the king then spoke.
And so I marked his steps, and in them trod,
And with him sang a carol above the storm,
For spring’s returning flowers praising God,
And like the dawn of spring, my heart grew warm.