Synkopy 61: Válka je vůl (Supraphon, 1968)

7 Nov

A song that on the surface appears to denounce war, while acknowledging the heroism of those who fought during World War Two, but under the surface there’s probably a more immediate concern with the Cold War itself, and the apparent willingness of rulers – in both East and West – to use what are these days euphemised as ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It’s also likely that the song’s disappearance from Synkopy 61’s sets after the 1968 invasion (and its reappearance and acknowledgement as one of their most popular songs when the band reformed in the 1990s) is not unrelated to this potential subtext. The song can be heard here, and the Czech lyric read here (though note that the original text is very short, with verses and chorus repeated several times: in this version, the core text has been expanded with variations, but hopefully remains within the spirit of the original lyric). The title could be literally read as ‘War is Bull’, though may also carry overtones of ‘ass’, ‘ox’ or ‘mule’, according to some sources: whatever the exact rendering chosen, the intended meaning is fairly unmistakable.

Válka je Vůl (War’s an Ass)

(after Oldřich Veselý/František Jemelka, 1968)

Scrawled on this old monument is a curse,
one simple inscription: War’s an ass.

You stand before the gallows’ spike
a hat in your hand and tears in your eyes.

There’s silence when you bow your head,
pray with me for those the war left dead.

We kneel, together, before the hangman’s pole
but do we yet realize war’s for fools?

I pray for those who’ve danced on that rope,
for those who won’t see war’s a joke.

Right there, on the gibbet, is etched a curse,
one simple inscription: War’s an ass.

It was written by someone I think I’d like
chalked on the side of a gallows’ spike.

So I’ll stand beside you at the hanging tree,
my hat in my hand, a tear in my eye,

observe the silence when I bow my head,
pray with you for those the wars left dead.

We kneel, together, before the executioner’s pole:
have we not yet realized war’s a hole?

There’s no excuse. We can read that simple curse
chalked on this gibbet: War’s an ass.

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