Hana Zagorová: Verbíř (Supraphon, 1969)

18 Dec

Like Marta Kubišová’s Balada o kornetovi a dívce, released in the same year, Hana Zagorova’s Verbíř (The Recruiter) is a song that draws on a folk tradition going back beyond the Napoleonic era to feel relevant to almost any situation in which women are left behind by lovers, husbands and sons in times of conflict to reflect on the futility and loss caused by wars over which they have little control. At the time these records were released, at the close of the 1960s, their sentiments would almost certainly have been understood on a very personal level, resonating with both the relatively fresh memories of an older generation that had experienced the Second World War and, perhaps, with the raw experience of the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, which had itself separated many people of younger generations from their own families and partners as many left the country or found themselves unable to return. The original Czech text can be read here and the song itself listened to here.

Verbíř (The Recruiter)

(after Jan Růžička/Drahoslav Volejníček, 1969)

My blood taps its fingers on my body’s wall,
the birds’ dawn chorus is a long croak,
black crows, starlings, dark buzzing flies
where thunder drums stone steps with rain.

A small grey man haunts the town square,
his recruiting song a wind between houses,
a whip’s shadow on the lit windows
where women stand and break like days.

To the fields, the cemeteries, the men go.
There goes my song, too, with a mourning keen.
Listen: my skin’s drum is tightening now
as I hear that shadow call for fresh recruits.

And the sun has fallen back. The fields swell.
Every village hears the galloping horse
pass by some silent corner of an empty house.
In the square, this small gray man sings on.

To the fields, the cemeteries, the men go.
There goes my song, too, with a mourning keen.
There is no man left to owe us anything:
each gave his life and left a woman here.

Now, pale as linen or the morning rose,
white with sorrow as a freshly laundered sheet,
we haunt this village that has no men left,
hear the shadow calling for still more recruits.

zagorova45

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