Friday, June 17, 2011

Old Polish proverb with a horse in a background

a friend, Polish-American, asked me to explain the old proverb
Old Polish saying ''słowo się rzekło, kobyłka u płotu'' or ''The word has been said, the mare at the fence/gate''. I decided to follow up with this story you can read bellow and a sketch. As for the saying well, it is thought to have originated during the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, during the second half of XVII century. ...
One fine day during the reign of our good king  John III Sobieski, 1674-96 AD, a poor but well mustachioed nobleman or ''szaraczek''  from Podlasie, for some reason known in English as Podlachia, was riding his thin grey mare to see the king, known amongst the poorer szlachta and lower classes of Masovia and Podlasie as ''Sobek,'' in his hunting castle at Marymont, now a 'barrio' in Warsaw.  He had been traveling already for 3 days and was rather tired.He left his poor home with an idea  that he was going to ask our king for a vacated position of ''wójt'' (vogt) that his deceased brother Melchior once had held.

Our szaraczek named Jakub Zaleski was dressed in his grey homespun ''kontusz'' with 'wyloty' ( a ridding coat - old attire of warriors on the Eurasian steppe) underneath wore a red ''żupan,'' with the sign of his nobility or an old saber at side ( hung from his rather faded cloth belt by old and  narrow leather thongs)  he rode on and thought about his speech to the king. Unlike rich and well-to-do,  he wore black leather boots, ( rich gentry wore yellow and magnates red leather boots), while his fur kolpak (hat) was already long past its finest days. Underneath his hat he had shaved head but for some hair on top - a true Sarmatian hairstyle he sported.
Zaleski was all around a typical example of our szlachta, who thought nothing improper about seeing the king in person, for he was of those who elected the king at Wola election and as a Polish nobleman felt himself equal any magnate.

When he was coming ever so closer to the Marymont hunting castle, he saw a man walking towards the castle dressed like himself in nobleman clothes, of rather large but graceful body, but with a noble warrior face, adorned with a fine mustache, wearing similar clothes to himself but of a much better quality, and red boots with golden spurs, at his belt hung  a hunting sword and a Turkish hunting carbine was suspended from his shoulder, the gun was richly gilded in gold and with precious stones inserted. He called out and graciously this man stood waiting for him. 

Zaleski took off his kolpak and asked politely about the king calling the king Sobek instead of Sobieski. King's courtier, described his position  his new friend,  said that the king Sobek was not at the castle.  Then proceeded to inquire about the nature of szaraczek's  visit. Zaleski told him that he was of a rather poor nobility,  but a good man with two sons in kings' cavalry, and that he wanted to get from the king the appointment as wójt after his deceased brother. Asked by the courtier what would have happened if his good king Sobek refused, Zaleski said that the king would have to kiss his own mare's tail (in some versions behind). Smilingly courtier gave Zaleski a ring and told me to show it to the castle guards so they would allow him inside to see the king, but to wait for an hour before proceeding.  So they parted and hungry but much more relaxed Zaleski went  into his provisions, where in his saddle bags he fished out and ate dried  ''kiełbasy'' (sausages) and bread. When time came,  he could see the castle clock on one of  the castle's  towers tolling the hour, so he mounted his mare and rode on to the castle.   

As he was approaching the castle he took a good look at the ring, where in a blood red stone there was engraved a coat or arms in a form of empty shield. He did not know but this was Janina , coat of arms of the Sobieski family. 

Zaleski entered  king's castle and being led inside the castle to the courtyard saw  that 'his' courtier , who stood dressed as he was outside even with his hat on,  was in the mist of many nobles and grandees surrounding him with their heads naked bowing and showing utmost respect.  Zaleski now realized that he had spoken to his king Sobek, that this was his king, John III Sobieski.
King John, who had a great sense of humor and appreciated the brave and daring souls amongst his subjects, asked surprised Zaleski whether he remembered their discussion in the forest and what about his promise to have his king Sobek kiss his horse's behind /tail if his king Sobek refuses to give him the wojt appointment - and Zaleski, already on his knees and showing respect to his sovereign by having touched his king's boots  answered quickly and without confusion that his own mare was waiting at the fence ... Amused king, smiling,  awarded the wojt position to Zaleski..  and the new proverb was born. 

Nothing is know about the fate of his grey mare after his appointment :)

This is the version told by K.W Wojcicki in Biblioteka Warszawska, volume IV, Warszawa 1876, pages 499-504


Bohdan said...

nice story :)

Dario T. W. said...

Indeed :)
... thanks for your comment, Bohdan!

Gustavo Szwedowski de Korwin said...

What a lovely story Darío! I enjoyed each detail! I don’t know if this story is real… but …who cares? It shows what “szlachta” was and what was the truly relationship between the King and any Polish nobleman (who - in opposite of England and Continental Gentry - was a Peer; rich or poor… it didn’t matter at all).

Felicitaciones por tu excelente blog una vez más. Tu amigo (de corazón), Gustavo

Dario T. W. said...

Gracias Gustavo!
I must add here that it was Rik Suligowski-the first winged hussar in the USA- from California, who had asked me about the meaning behind this proverb, and I did some research et voila...
Hope to bring more of these to the world wide web :)
Como un amigo de corazon a otro :)