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m a r k e ta l a z a r ovรก


Vladislav VanÄ?ura

m a r k e ta l a z a rovĂĄ

Translated from the Czech by Carleton Bulkin

t w i s t e d spo on pr e s s P r a g ue 2016


This edition © 2016 Twisted Spoon Press English translation © 2016 Twisted Spoon Press Photograph © 2016 František Drtikol – Heirs All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any form, save for the purposes of review, without the written permission of the publisher. isbn 978-80-86264-43-1 This translation was made possible by a grant from the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic.


con t en ts

Marketa Lazarová • 9 Notes • 177 About the Author • 181 About the Translator • 183


fou rt h ch a p t er

B

ear with me, for I will soon relate what became of Alexandra and what fate befell Kristian. I will also reveal in detail what Kristian’s father both did and said when he arrived among the brigands. Yet before I do so, I am obliged to speak of the king’s soldiers and their captain, Pivo. After Mikoláš’s raid, the regiment rested only for a short while. When Pivo’s rage had subsided and he had taken stock of the incident, he had to conclude that it was of little significance. The handful of slain soldiers? Well, peasant stock grows out like a willow, ever filling anew the chasms of war with its corpses and ever cheerfully plowing anew the old battlefields. The hell with those few dead soldiers, and the hell with Count Kristian, too. Didn’t I warn him not to stray too far from my side? — the captain said to himself — of course, this is no mere argument with the bishop, but a feud between nobles. Good Lord, that Kozlík is certainly able to hold his own in one of those, he isn’t your average fellow, you damned Saxon counts. May I live as many years as the • 77 •


number of wounds he will deal you! Let it even be one year for every five, one for every five! Eh — the captain told himself in conclusion — why should I worry my head about these skinny brats and their papas from Saxony, they’ll end up together soon enough with Kozlík anyhow and keep each other company through the night, and tomorrow I will be escorting them back to the highway. Then the captain turned to his troops to raise his spirits and to be persuaded that everything would turn out as he said. As if summoned, the more senior soldiers stepped up and conferred with him about what they should do next, running through the options in quick succession. Some of the men began to argue, and truth be told, some harsh words were spoken. And then it was Pivo who spoke: “Your disputes mean little to me, silence! We’ll be relentless in running that thieving pack of wolves to ground. Those horsemen who harassed us, it was just an ambush by Kozlík’s vanguard. The old boy himself is sitting on a hilltop somewhere and fortifying his position. We’re sure to reach his camp before nightfall. There’s nothing to fear. Once Kozlík gets a look at our number, he’ll lay down his sword and have no more thought of battle!” If only this were so! Kozlík’s pursuers voiced their assent, yet they were no less vigilant for all that. They proceeded cautiously, and the regiment proper even more so. Mikoláš’s trail led them down one impassable track after another, as they doubled back to streams and thickets, now to an escarpment, now to a chasm. Around four o’clock they stood before Kozlík’s camp. Now a cry went up, the cry of brigands, the cry of soldiers. Kozlík and Pivo each waited to see what move their foe would make. The brigands held the more advantageous position, yet they were so few in • 78 •


number. The king’s regiment had five times as many men. Mikoláš’s exploit above the sunken road, which had so roused the troops’ ire and taste for battle, was still fresh in their minds. They wanted to punish this insolence and put an end to this farce. Yet Pivo hesitated. Should he bivouac in the forest brush in a rainstorm, should he set up camp in this swamp, or should he give the order to attack? In two hours it would be dusk. The captain knew very well what he owed his soldiers, and he decided to act as they themselves wished. In his regiment there were two or three fellows who were feeling their oats. They began to converse among themselves, and the captain stepped closer to listen in. “I think,” said the first, “that our captain will not delay. Take that nest by storm, Captain. It is time to put an end to these scofflaws. The night promises us no rest, and the morning will be worse than this evening.” “What in the world do you mean,” replied another soldier, untying his helmet from the pommel of his saddle, “are you saying those boys will be any more work for us tomorrow than today? They’re already on their last legs, and really, it makes no difference when we see fit to sound their death knell.” Pivo walked off toward the archers, and then to the train of carts. The troops were more spirited than the campaign merited. The drivers, of course, were homesick and wanted to sleep. What do you expect, they’re only peasants. Pivo recognized that his soldiers’ resolve had less to do with bravery than with shame and the desire to disband the following day and find lodgings in a royal town. He noticed his men becoming run-down, and he nearly felt sorry for them. A great many had frostbitten ears and chafed skin, their fingertips nearly white and their • 79 •


noses rosetted from the snow. Their bellies had shrunk, when they had been so round, such marvelous cockades, amazing the innkeepers and the peasants when provisions were being requisitioned, and the trollops in the churches, too, when one of these strapping fellows would slide his thumbs in his belt. Such marvelous cockades! They had had plenty of room to put away a whole suckling pig, while now the only thing passing through them were miserable farts. Pivo’s mind was made up, and he ordered the cornet to sound his horn. At once the bugle was sounded, and Pivo exhorted the brigands in the name of the king to lay down their arms. Kozlík gave no reply. Who’s to say what an old fool believes in or where he places his trust? The captain’s second summons went unanswered as well. All this accomplished was merely to put off death, horror in dribs and drabs, for the final hour was already nigh. Turn your swords aside, you wretches, the law is on the side of Pivo’s paunch, as are the catchpoles of the law. Place your hopes in a fair trial and cast down your swords. After all, what is happening here is not battle but a massacre, just slaughterhouse carnage. The soldiers’ bloodlust is up, and beneath their cuirasses and their armor I see their hearts pounding. Some of those hearts leap, stirred by rage as the wind stirs a candle flame. Soldiers, soldiers by trade. Ah, your allegiance is remunerated at week’s end, you swords for hire, you gluttons for pork, you rats in the larder, you whose sins are dressed up as honor and glory, twisting on your helmet like a plume of fire. You merchants of death, you reavers whose license has been sanctioned by the law! Surrender to you? Never! God granted neither Kozlík nor his sons the death they would have wished. They would not fall in a battle where the affairs of the empire were at stake, they would not fall in a scuffle • 80 •


while kidnapping a maiden, nor for holy religion, nor while defending their honor. This battle was to be base, as brawls with thugs tend to be. But what difference does it make, surely not one of us chooses our manner of death. As they fell, Kozlík and many of his sons would be rather disgusted by these soldiers so undeserving of that name. Yet let us hope they each get in a couple of good whacks along the way. Meanwhile the captain divided the troops into six detachments. Pivo wanted half to advance along the hillside and to dig into the slope as many grooves as needed. A scramble for shovels, but no more than three or maybe six were found. “Use your swords and your halberds if you must. Dig and scrape with everything that can be used for digging. Take the posts, take the mallets, and drive the wood into the ground so that the space between them is no wider than a cubit.” The troops set to work. A din of voices. Noise and clamor issued from both camps. The ladder, the rope! One person brought poles, another logs. A greenhorn grimaces, his face like a little monster, another sighs, and another waves his arm and shouts out advice to which no one pays any mind. By its nature, war is noisy, and Pivo bellows most of all. He bellows, and his voice immediately propels soldiers this way and that, his voice tells of the monstrosity of the attack. The post of captain! — what a splendid pretext for making a lout a lord. Well then, the first detachment of troops is now in place at the foot of the hill. They advance upward. The topmost row crouches behind their pavises, the others work. Look, a post over their heads, look, a chain of besiegers, and a horse rears, smelling death on the wind. • 81 •


I believe I hear the howling of an accursed will to murder — whence comes this roar? Crash, crash, crash! Crack, crack, and crack! Sweet Jesus, if someone had asked the soldiers what they were doing they couldn’t have said. If someone had asked the brigands, they would have bared their teeth in astonishment. To a man they are bent to their weapons, pressed to their weapons, spluttering with malice, their souls belch, no longer able to weep, their souls claw at the base of their brains and at the walls of their wretched bodies like a jaguar whose cage has caught fire. See the reins of war turn upward. Soldiers fall and get up, fall and get up. Twenty wooden pilings are already in place and twenty ladders are being hauled up. Hear the shouting and hollering, O throat in song, O rasping song, O song. Lo, a field of lunatics, a field of royal knaves, a field of the most princely soldiers. They are in a bonfire of rage, and that rage always overtakes them at the right time, always, whenever the captains are in the mood, whenever the cornet brings his horn to his lips. Dear gentlemen, before the buzzards and the crows fill their craws with the disjoined limbs and mangled bodies of these troops, give ear to this brief reflection by a fool. This good fellow was born much later, and in the days this story recounts he was still just a twinkle in his father’s eye, yet to emerge, like a mushroom deep in forests amid azure cliffs. Wishing to serve no one, he remained poor, ragged, and without honor. He was considered a crackpot, yet he was wise and wrote a book that has come down to us. So what does this lucid soul have to say? He says that the prime cause of all war is an immense, bestial • 82 •


idiocy. When a situation turns dire, adds our ragged sage, we tend to defend ourselves as fiercely as a mama bear, while at other times in distress we pounce on those close to us, and in so doing we are just as savage as the lynx. For these worthy faculties you and I praise God, yet he execrates Him. So in that case why wouldn’t he execrate those who have arrogated to themselves the right to dress us as lynxes and sharpen our claws to be more like the claws of a lynx? How could he not execrate those who’ve splashed some glorious colors on these vestures and soaked the standards in a tub of blood and infused miserable soldiers with the knowledge of glory? What do you want with glory? Life is what’s glorious, or rather, what one creates, and death is loathsome. A bad farmer clears the forests on hillsides, a bad king wages war, a bad poet talks of ruin. Peace, peace, peace! Let the urge pass, you souls so uncouth, you arrant fools with swords at your sides, let the urge pass. You say: the drum, and I respond: the wedding! Yea, upon my soul, I concede you have your poetic side, for in decapitating and immolating and shattering the instruments of peace you experience something of the vertigo of creation, O demon poets. When your females have had their fill of the wax on your moustaches, they’ll lick your wounds and the blood of your scars with even greater relish, for blood is splendid! This is simply a pars pro toto, nothing more than an image out of sequence you’ve purloined from the brigands. They are driven by impulse to fight, whereas you require incentives to fight; they will be strung up by their necks, whereas you will grow rich and be promoted and commended for your slaughter. They are savage beasts, whereas you are the executioner’s lackeys. Better to be a bandit with the soul of a lynx and the honor of a lynx than a captain who has the face of a human and the teeth of a dog. It’s a • 83 •


nasty game the brigands play, yet we call it by its right name, so then why don’t you admit your true colors? Bear with me for a moment, I can see you bluster and speak through your nose, saying that you are executing the king’s verdict and his justice. The highways must be made secure! Bah, you’re all the same, all crooks! Go ahead and arm the men in the villages, for above all else men must have weapons, and then you will see how all at once you and the brigands both are no longer so high and mighty. Only don’t go pretending to be so virtuous when you’re all of the same ilk. The barefooted wise man who said all this also said a great many other things as well, enough to keep the devil on his tail as he traveled on his way. Let us return to our tale. Pivo attacked, and Kozlík’s people defended themselves with all their might. Both brigands and soldiers died valiantly, one giving up the ghost on the king’s side at one moment and one from the rebels’ side the next. They were in their element, and the dying continued their broken bellowing. The snow on the hillsides gave way to black soil and the crimson color of blood. Blood foamed on mouths and trickled down motionless arms and legs. The soldiers were already halfway up the slope, the first ladder reaching up to the abatises. Holding fast the ropes and the withes, the brigands surged down the hill. Now they were at each other’s throats, now they were clenched in a terrible embrace. The flashing of swords, a round eye, the flashing of swords, the crook of an elbow, the exhilarated face of a corpse, and a pair of hands, the right breaking the fingers of the left. Two of Kozlík’s sons have already fallen. Maid Štěpánka was killed while stabbing a redheaded soldier. Simon collapsed, struck • 84 •


by a stone loosed from a sling. He fell among the soldiers with his head shattered, ah, he was only fifteen. Things terrible and things deplorable took place, yet the most deplorable of all was the death of Kozlík’s youngest daughter. The poor girl! Jan ordered her to roll some stones over the edge of the escarpment. They had been readied in advance, and although the little girl did not possess great strength, she was still able to move them from their place. Alas, she was leaning against them as we lean against a wall. Lo, this amazon, lo, this unfortunate child, she falls headlong, she falls to a place where there is nothing but rock. She screams, as children scream, but now I see her getting to her feet, now standing, now running up the hill. A soldier strikes her on the shoulder. She is too weak to fight back, and she bursts into tears. The soldiers haul her off, fists full of her hair, they drag her to the horses standing nearby. What will they do with her? She will be bound and tied. The tiny bandit had ears for nothing but the affairs of brigands; her only wish was to play a part in the whole bloody enterprise, and she picked up a knife. She picked up a knife a soldier had tossed aside in the heat of battle or in the anguish of his final hour. No one saw her, no one paid the little girl any mind, surely she was frightened. How’s that? Isn’t this child a she-devil? Doesn’t she take after her father and her aunts? Look, she brandishes the knife, she spots her victim, the soldier turns, she lunges at his throat. The poor fellow, he receives death from the hand of a gosling just as our hoary judge will receive and tolerate chiding from the youngest of angels, and it is such a tiny feather that will fustigate him. Yes, we know the man fell with a scream and rolled along the • 85 •


ground. The murderess knelt and uttered the words of a prayer. I think she has lost the strength to defend herself. I think she cannot see. The space around her warps like a kerchief. Soldiers are yelling. I see a sword aimed at the little one’s neck. Oh, avert your eyes, dear gentlemen! Almost fifty people were killed that day, fifty soldiers and brigands, but no death more lamentable than that of this small child. She was beheaded. Now it was time for the battle’s third, fourth, and fifth scenes. Pivo was wounded and spitting out pieces of teeth, then Jan fell, then Kristian hit the ground, and he lay still. O hours ordained for battle, O hours filled with moans! Who has need of such blood and horror? You’re scum! Scum! The heavens fulminate in disgust and Saint George, patron saint of the dead, stamps his feet. You riffraff, for shame! By six o’clock, when dusk had descended, the battle was lost for the brigands. Pivo stood atop the hill. A pox upon him, a pox upon the old brawler! The brigands left all their belongings and took flight. They fled on horses. Many a man cradled a babe in his arms, many a child clung onto a bandit’s belt while sitting on a horse’s rump. The swiftest horses were given to the ladies. Kozlík and the others held the soldiers at bay, defending themselves with the last ounce of their strength. In the end they, too, rushed down the hill. The final blow, the final thrust. Kozlík’s stallion reared, the rider could not rein him in, and they rolled down together, the bandit’s limbs were broken, as was the stallion’s shank. What a disastrous leap! Kozlík wanted to be the last, as befits a good leader, and look how he ended up. He’ll be taken prisoner! He’ll be captured and then hanged! His sons were long down the hill, fleeing, knowing nothing • 86 •


of this wicked misfortune. Mikoláš was already far ahead, but he stopped to pick up a child who had fallen from a horse. A moment passed. A fleeing mob rushed past the girl and the brigand. I say past the girl and the brigand, for Marketa Lazarová was with her lover. In a certain book you will find it written that love teaches one to smile. On my honor, this is no mere prattle! Mikoláš had taken up a kind of smiling, and wiping the blood from the poor child’s face, he acted in accordance with his new habit. Marketa wrapped the boy’s head in a kerchief, and now they were back on the horse. Ah, but not enough blood had been spilled. Just as they mounted, two soldiers came upon them. Mikoláš stabbed one of the horses and no longer concerned himself with the rider, who fell with his animal. Mikoláš struck the thigh of the other royal flunkey and crushed his femur. Never again did the man thus injured walk straight or stand straight. Now our lovers were truly on the lam, for I see another pair rushing to the scene of the clash. Mikoláš, having caught sight of them just in time, took control of his foe’s steed and commanded Marketa to ride away with all her might. “Hurry,” the brigand shouted to his bride, as he hopped on the horse’s back in a way that staggered the poor creature. Hardly was Mikoláš in the saddle when he lifted his sword once more to engage his assailants. He rode off to meet them, his horse cantering while the soldiers came at full gallop. Dear merciful Lord, I fear he’ll be crushed by the weight of their number, I fear he’ll be killed before he attains salvation and knowledge of the truth. He is a brigand, and he has lived like the lynx and the wolf. Grant him victory, let him send these fellows to kingdom come! By all the saints, who would have thought that royal soldiers had such a boundless desire to stay alive? You hairy apes, you would • 87 •


devour the penitent sinner whole, spurs and all. But no! We’re still gripping our sword, our face is still flushed with strength. Mikoláš dodged the horsemen, and since they were riding too fast they could not stop their horses just like that. God willed that they be separated and that Mikoláš’s fury slay each in turn. On that day Kozlík was taken captive and many a son was felled. Apart from this misfortune, nothing memorable happened either to those who were fleeing or to those in pursuit or to those who lingered to gather up spoils. Mikoláš caught the soldiers’ horses and rode off after his brothers. The tale leaves him here.

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notes

Marketa Lazarová was first published in Prague in 1931, and in Vančura’s lifetime three more editions followed — in 1932, 1933, and 1934 — the author revising the text himself for future printings. The present translation was made from a 1997 reprint of the 1961 edition published by Československý spisovatel, which save some orthographic revisions is itself a virtual reprinting of the prior 1957 critical edition, the seventh, edited by Vladimír Justl. This served as the base version for the revision process as it is more definitive than any other previously given that Justl compared all four editions of Marketa Lazarová published during the author’s lifetime in relation to the original manuscript and included, along with a lengthy introduction by Milan Kundera, helpful commentary and notes. More importantly, this edition also refrains from much of the unwarranted editorial interference that marred some later editions, most notably the one published in 1986 by Československý spisovatel, which made rather significant alterations (essentially tossing back in many words and phrases Vančura had at some point discarded). Yet where this edition has restored text that we feel helps to clarify a certain passage or returned to an original • 177 •


wording that offers an alternate meaning, we have noted it below. Even so, this has been kept to a minimum.

p. 9 Dedication: Vančura’s cousin Jiří Mahen (1882-1939) was born Antonín Vančura in Čáslav, Bohemia. A noted writer in his own right, he was associated with anarchism and the interwar avant-garde. In parts of the original manuscript Kozlík is named Vančura, but this was later emended. p. 13 Kozlík’s children: Justl gives Simon here instead of Smil, an editorial intervention based on the original manuscript where Smil is changed to Simon everywhere except in this one instance. So considering this an oversight on the author’s part, the name here was emended to Simon as well. Yet the Justl edition is the only to do so, and we have not adopted his alteration. p. 22 Pivo by name: we have kept the Czech word for “beer” as the captain’s name to avoid any Germanic overtones that are not present in the original. Moreover, Captain Beer would sound just a bit sillier than perhaps intended. We have also opted for the more common English equivalent “captain” rather than the regional term “hetman” used in the original. p. 24 Holinečka: the root of this name means “bare” or “exposed,” which describes the situation of the peasant returning from market and finding himself at the mercy of the brigands. p. 27 covered by the shadow of grace: cf. Psalms 91:4. p. 28 Landsknecht: a mercenary; Vančura uses the term though it seems to have been coined a couple centuries later than the time of the story. p. 44 had their loins girded: cf. 2 Samuel 20:8 and Job 38:3. p. 56 Freedom in our tongue: Vančura has the Czech word Svoboda here. p. 60 Like a potter: cf. Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:3-6.

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p. 65 show up in castles: the Czech here for “in castles” is v hradech, but in the original manuscript, and as late as the second edition, it was v hadrech (“in tatters”), which is the wording adopted by the 1986 edition. p. 68 Kulíšek: little owl. p. 83 pars pro toto: a synecdoche, a part representing the whole. p. 94 St. Apollinaris: a Gothic church (est. 1362) and street in Prague’s New Town district. p. 102 the touch of the miller: a reference to God, as in “the mills of God grind slowly,” thus the clear mark stands for purity and could likewise be envisioned as white from the flour on a miller’s fingers. p. 102 ox-eyed beauty: or “cow-eyed” is an epithet found in Homer in reference to Hera. p. 105 noonday witches and wild women of the woods: cf. Karel Jaromír Erben’s A Bouquet, both the poem “Noon Witch” and Erben’s note to it. p. 120 war scythes: this refers to the type of improvised weapon peasants made from farming implements like, for example, those employed by the Hussites. p. 120 Čepela: a čepel is a blade, so the pun here is obvious. p. 132 that often leads us to commit injustice: cf. Plato’s dialogue Gorgias. p. 133 If the unhappy girl had a mother: the 1986 edition includes here a clause from the original manuscript that was omitted in all printed versions to render this as: “If the unhappy girl had a mother, surely she would have brought her a cloak and a bowl of water, surely she would have spoken to her . . .” p. 137 a ring amidst the roots: likely a reference to fairy rings in folklore. p. 141 sovereign lord of times: cf. Daniel 2:21. p. 144 more such good fellows: “good fellows” here follows the Czech chlapíci, yet the first three printings instead had hlupáci (“imbeciles”), • 179 •


which is likewise consistent with the context. Since it cannot be assumed that this was a printing error and that Vančura did not make the emendation himself, we have opted to keep the text as it has read since the fourth printing in 1934. p. 144 from what clutch the chicken has come: in the manuscript Vančura originally followed this with: “Who knows what rascal settled his bill with it.” This, however, was struck from even the first edition and does not appear in any subsequent edition, save the one from 1986. p. 151 saying his final farewells to the countryside and to this oh so lovely world: cf. Karel Hynek Mácha’s classic poem May, in particular the captive’s goodbyes before being beheaded. p. 159 Godmother Death: a reference to the Czech folk tale, originally from Moravia, that itself is a variant of the Brothers Grimm’s “Godfather Death.” In Slavic languages “death” has a feminine gender. p. 163 Quiet and peace: the first two editions had: “Quiet and bitter peace.” p. 170 looked upon the contrite girl: in the manuscript this is followed by the clause: “who was not contrite.” p. 174 He is enthralled by death, which . . . means peace: in the manuscript and first edition this is followed by: “He is enthralled by love and life.”

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a bou t t h e au t hor

Novelist, playwright, film director, screenwriter, Vladislav Vančura was born on June 26, 1891, in Háj (Silesia) into a family with ancestral roots in the nobility. He matriculated to Charles University in Prague to study law but soon decided to study medicine, finishing his degree in 1921. A founding member of the association of Czech avant-garde artists, Devětsil, in 1920, he served as the group’s first chairman and was instrumental in formulating its Poetist program for literature. In the eleven year period between 1923, when his first book appeared (a collection of short prose titled Amazon Stream), and 1934, when his novel The End of Old Times appeared, Vančura produced his most acclaimed works, including Marketa Lazarová, which brought him renown as an innovator of the first order and Czechoslovakia’s State Prize for Literature. Nazi Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia on March 15, 1939, and Vančura, who was active in the Czech resistance, was arrested • 181 •


on May 12, 1942, by the Gestapo, tortured at their Prague headquarters, and imprisoned. After the assassination of Acting Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich a couple of weeks later, a wave of Nazi reprisals ensued in which thousands of Czechs were murdered, including Vančura, who was executed by the SS on June 1, 1942.

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Marketa Lazarová excerpt