Thursday, February 20, 2014

Henryk Siekiewicz's battle of Chocim 1671 - a fragment

terrible events took place last two days in Kiev, Ukraine, and I decided to turn to Henryk Sienkiewicz  and his novel ''Pan Wołodyjowski'' for some ... change of mood - so here an English translation by Jeremiah Curtin published in 1898- via

The grand hetman[Jan Sobieski], putting spurs to his horse, rushed like lightning at the head of some tens of men to the battle ; the voevoda of Rus remained with the fifteen squadrons of hussars, who, standing in order, were waiting only for the signal to spring forward and decide the fate of the struggle.

They waited long enough after that; but meanwhile in the depth of the camp it was seething and roaring more and more terribly. The battle seemed at times to roll on to the right, then to the left, now toward the Lithuanian armies, now toward the voevoda of Belsk, precisely as when in time of storm thunders roll over the sky. The artillery-fire of the Turks was becoming irregular, while Pan Kantski's
batteries played with redoubled vigor. After the course of an hour it seemed to the voevoda of Rus that the weight of the battle was transferred to the centre, directly in front of his cavalry.

At that moment the grand hetman [Sobieski] rushed up at the head of his escort. Flame was shooting from his eyes. He reined in his horse near the voevoda of Rus, and exclaimed,

" At them, now, with God's aid ! "

" At them ! " shouted the voevoda of Rus.

And after him the captains repeated the commands. With a terrible noise that forest of lances dropped with one ( movement toward the heads of the horses, and fifteen' squadrons of that cavalry accustomed to crush everything before it moved forward like a giant cloud.

From the time when, in the three days' battle at Warsaw, the Lithuanian hussars, under Prince Polubinski, split the whole Swedish army like a wedge, and went through it, no one remembered an attack made with such power. Those squadrons started at a trot, but at a distance of two hundred paces the captains commanded : " At a gallop ! "
The men answering, with a shout, "Strike! Crush!"
bent in the saddles, and the horses went at the highest speed. Then that column, moving like a whirlwind, and formed of horses, iron men, and straightened lances, had in it something like the might of an element let loose. And it went like a storm, or a raging river, with roar and outburst. The earth groaned under the weight of it ; and if no man had levelled a lance or drawn a sabre, it was evident that the hussars with their very weight and impact would hurl down, trample, and break everything before them, just as a column of wind breaks and crushes a forest. They swept on in this way to the bloody field, covered with bodies, on
which the battle was raging. The light squadrons were still struggling on the wings with the Turkish cavalry, which they had succeeded in pushing to the rear considerably, but in the centre the deep ranks of the janissaries stood like an indestructible wall. A number of times the light squadrons had broken themselves against that wall, as a wave rolling on breaks itself against a rocky shore. To crush and destroy it was now the task of the hussars.

A number of thousand of muskets thundered, " as if one
man had fired." A moment more the janissaries fix them- selves more firmly on their feet; some blink at sight of the terrible onrush; the hands of some are trembling while holding their spears ; the hearts of all are beating like hammers, their teeth are set, their breasts are breathing convulsively. The hussars are just on them; the thundering breath of the horses is heard. Destruction, annihilation, death, are flying at them. "Allah ! " "Jesus, Mary ! " these two shouts meet and mingle as terribly as if they had never burst from men's breasts till that moment. The living wall trembles, bends, breaks. The dry crash of broken lances drowns for a time every other sound ; after that, is heard the bite of iron, the sound, as it were, of thousands of hammers beating with full force on anvils, as of thousands of flails on a floor, and cries singly and collectively, groans, shouts, reports of pistols and guns, the howling of terror. Attackers and attacked mingle together, rolling in an unimaginable whirl.
A slaughter follows; from under the chaos blood flows, warm, steaming, filling the air with raw odor.

The first, second, third, and tenth rank of the janissaries are lying like a pavement, trampled with hoofs, pierced with spears, cut with swords. But the white-bearded Kiaya, "Lion of God," hurls all his men into the boiling of the
battle. It is nothing that they are put down like grain before a storm. They fight! Rage seizes them ; they breathe death ; they desire death. The column of horses' breasts pushes them, bends, overturns them. They open the bellies of horses with their knives ; thousands of sabres cut them without rest ; blades rise like lightning and fall on their heads, shoulders, and hands. They cut a horseman on the legs, on the knees ; they wind around, and bite like venomous worms ; they perish and avenge themselves. Kiaya, " Lion of God," hurls new ranks again and again into the jaws of death. He encourages them to battle with a cry, and with curved sabre erect he rushes into the chaos himself. With that a gigantic hussar, destroying like a flame everything before him, falls on the white-bearded old man, and standing in his stirrups to hew the more terribly, brings down with an awful sweep a two-handed sword on the gray head. Neither the sabre nor the headpiece forged in Damascus are proof against the blow; and Kiaya, cleft almost to the shoulders, falls to the ground, as if struck by lightning.

Pan Adam, for it was he, had already spread dreadful destruction, for no one could withstand the strength and sullen rage of the man ; but now he had given the greatest service by hewing down the old hero, who alone had sup-
ported the stubborn battle. The janissaries shouted in a terrible voice on seeing the death of their leader, and more than ten of them aimed muskets at the breast'of the cavalier. He turned toward them like dark night; and before other hussars could strike them, the shots roared, Pan Adam reined in his horse and bent in the saddle. Two comrades seized him by the shoulders ; but a smile, a guest long unknown, lighted his gloomy face, his eyeballs turned in his head, and his white lips whispered words which in the din of battle no man could distinguish. Meanwhile the last ranks of the janissaries wavered.

The valiant Yanish Pasha tried to renew the battle, but the terror of panic had seized on his men ; efforts were use- less. The ranks were broken and shivered, pushed back, beaten, trampled, slashed; they could not come to order. At last they burst, as an overstrained chain bursts, and like single links men flew from one another in every direction, howling, shouting, throwing down their weapons, and covering their heads with their hands. The cavalry pursue them; and they, not finding space sufficient for flight singly, gather at times into a dense mass, on whose shoulders ride the cavalry, swimming in blood. Pan Mushalski, the bowman, struck the valiant Yanish Pasha such a sabre-blow on the neck that his spinal marrow gushed forth and stained his silk shirt and the silver scales on his armor.

The irregular janissaries, beaten by the Polish infantry, and a part of the cavalry which was scattered in the very beginning of the battle, in fact, a whole Turkish throng, fled now to the opposite side of the camp, where there was a rugged ravine some tens of feet deep. Terror drove the mad men to that place. Many rushed over the precipice, " not to escape death, but death at the hands of the Poles."
Pan Bidzinski blocked the road to this despairing throng; but the avalanche of fugitives tore him away with it, and threw him to the bottom of the precipice, which after a time was filled almost to the top with piles of slain, wounded, and suffocated men.

From this place rose terrible groans ; bodies were quivering, kicking one another, or clawing with their fingers in the spasms of death. Those groans were heard until evening; until evening those bodies were moving, but more and more slowly, less and less noticeably, till at dark there was silence.

Awful were the results of the blow of the hussars. Eight thousand janissaries, slain with swords, lay near the ditch surrounding the tents of Hussein Pasha, not counting those who perished in the flight, or at the foot of the precipice. 
   The Polish cavalry were in the tents; Pan Sobieski had triumphed.

Image by Leon Wyczółkowski, Polish artist of the XIX and early XX centuries. There is also a sculpture by pan Leon based on Jan Matejko's design.

Pacem aeternam to all fallen Ukrainians of last few days...

No comments: