Prúdy: Čierna ruža (Supraphon, 1968)

13 Dec

There’s a pronounced fairytale feel to this 1968 song by the Slovak progressive rock band Prúdy (the group’s name means ‘streams’ or ‘currents’). They initially formed in 1962, around the nucleus of Pavol Hammel and Marián Varga, but made their name with their debut LP release, Zvoňte zvonky (The Bells Ring) in 1969. Zvoňte zvonky is a record that bridges between influences from classical music and the thriving pop, beat and psychedelic rock idioms of its own particular moment. Čierna ruža (Black Rose) was released as a single in 1968 and later featured as that now classic album’s final song and carries many of its distinctive characteristics, not least a prominent role for piano and strings, a tendency to abruptly change mood and tempo (in this case, from a timeless feel in the verses to extended passages of heavily distorted guitar and layered vocal harmonies on the chorus) and adds a lyric that works as a similar hybrid to the music. Here, we find quasi-traditional (deliberately anachronistic, even) folk and poetic images merged with far more current linguistic registers and themes. The rendition below is much adjusted from the original, in both form and content, but it hopefully remains at least in the vicinity of its model as far as the gist of its meaning goes. The song can be heard here, and a version of the original lyric can be found here.

Čierna ruža (Black Rose)

(after Marián Varga/Ján Masaryk, 1968)

There is nothing in this world: no romance, no heroic deeds.
I look outside – there is not one castle to be seen
between where I stand and the furthest horizon.
You are not there, either, are not standing under this window,
waiting for me. It seems you are not of this world,
will never wait at the window  for me to come,
never stand there to be seen by this one you might love.
I blame this small black rose – this small black rose
etched in the metal, mud and dust, a chimera
glimpsed between all the grey shadows of this world I’ve known.
Yes, I blame the black rose – this small black rose.

You are not there, either, are not standing under this window,
waiting for me. It seems you are not of this world.
I ask: can I offer a rose to the tedium of the present day?
Can I give a rose, or does the rose give me?
Do you even want this small black rose I hold?
There are roses on the tablecloth, a stem in a vase.
The water I offer in exchange for their flowers
opens them,  petal by petal, deliberate as a desert bloom,
slow as the heat, insubstantial as anything in this world.
Does the heart give love, or take the love it finds?
There is love in this desert, one small black rose.

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