August von Platen: “The Passage of the Poles by Night from Cracow”

Excerpt, “The Poetry of Germany, Consisting from Upwards of Seventy of the Most Celebrated Poets.”  Translated into English Verse by Alfred Baskerville.  1853.

The Great Emigration involved the emigration of political elites from Poland from 1831 to 1870. The name is somewhat misleading, as the number of political exiles did not exceed more than 5,000-6,000 during this time.The exiles included the soldiers and generals of the uprising, the Sejm of Congress Poland of 1830-1, and several prisoners-of-war who escaped captivity. From the end of the 18th century, a major role in Polish political life was played by people who carried out their activities outside the country as émigrés. Their exile resulted from the Partitions of Poland, which completely divided the lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth between the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Habsburg Monarchy of Austria. Because of this emigration of political elites, much of the political and ideological activity of the Polish intelligentsia during the 18th and 19th centuries took place outside of the lands of partitioned Poland. Read more here. 


The Passage of the Poles by Night from Cracow


The chilly breezes blow,

In sadness do we go,

Led on by Destiny,

O’ershadowed is each star,

While Europe, from afar,

Looks on the tragedy.


Oft turning back our head,

Upon the bridge we tread,

That quits our native land,

By torch-light’s sombre glow,

They who our sorrows know,

Salute us on the strand.


Sold, vanquished and betrayed,

Our noblest actions fade

Like vain and empty dreams,

No trace behind remains.

Farewell, beloved plains,

Ye valleys, hills, and streams!


Farewell! In every land

Will a life-wearied band

Find in the grave a home,

It is not death we flee,

No, ’tis but to be free,

We take our staff and roam.


From wife and child, from all,

We part, our country’s fall,

We may not hinder more

For, lo! The knout of Russia,

And scourging steel of Prussia,

Are thirsting for our gore.


A tearless soul abhorred

Was given us as lord,

A stony heart unbent;

Born of a murd’rous race,

His forehead bears the trace

That brandeth his descent.


Let glory’s crown, O fame,

Illume our humble name!

Pour balm on every scar!

Then smart the wounds of none,

For Poland’s humblest son

Is greater than the Czar.


Alone inherit we

Our struggle’s memory

That leagued each Polish band,

Of war the pain and toil,

A handful of the soil

Snatched from our Fatherland.


O happy they who drained

The cup of Death, and gained

The laurels of the brave!

And ye, Volhynia’s sons,

From agony’s death-groans

Freed by the cold damp grave!


They urge the reeking steed,

Enclosed by foes, and speed

The Vistula to gain,

The stranger’s shore their goal;

Then swelled their noble soul,

Oppressed by woe and pain.


It wrung their hearts to roam,

Ne’er more to see their home,

Of every wish the meed;

Then rushed the good and brave

Headlong into the wave

With weapon and with steed.


O thou, their country’s flood,

Who long hast swelled with blood,

Receive the valiant dead!

Soon wilt thou reach the sea;

O bear the corpses free

On to free Ocean’s bed.