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Chronicals of Lake Narocz by Mieczyslaw Lisiewicz

This long out of print autobiographical work by this Polish author is reproduced here in full. I have transcribed the work and present it here for all to read. Copyright remains the property of the owners whoever and wherever they are. If anyone who is reading this has any historical facts, documents, maps or photographs about Narocz I would be very grateful if you would contact me, Alan at Landschaft I hope readers enjoy, as I have, the tales from this forgotten corner of the world.

Chapter XII: Nights with Canvas Set


Uzla, Old Miadxiol, Nieslucz, Nanosy Cape, Naroczanka, Pomorza, Wilno, Narocz, Polokcie, Wolosza, Turek, Zloczow, Sokolniki, Tarnopol, Zaleszczyki, Poland


In reflective malancholy mood, Lisiewicz ponders on the Great War in which he fought, and speculates in the closing paragraph of the chapter on the immediate future (the book was written in the years immediately preceeding WWII. Prophetically he writes: "...the new generation, harder and less sentimental, is awaiting some miraculaous adventure. I can see and feel it, it is already near..." Lisiewicz, in 1939 immediately after completing the manuscript, was called to war for active duty in the 2nd Polish Air Force regiment, and his wife after wandering Poland was interned at Lwow and sent to Siberia (Immediately after the outbreak of the war, the city came under Soviet dominion according to the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact). She escaped a masscre by the NKVD and carried the novel manuscript with her during her wartime exile in Siberia (see authot's forward).

Further reading

Lwow up to 1939 part of Poland, 1939-1941 occupied by Nazi Germany (renamed Lemberg); 1945 -1001 Ukranian USSR (renamed Lvov), after 1991 Ukraine gained it's independence (and the city was renamed again - Lviv)

Nazi and Soviet invasion of Poland

Chapter XII: The Text

DAYS passed like lightning in the sun and water. One rose at dawn, and put out the lights early.. Then the sleeper was tormented by nightmares of luffs and jibes, of sails reefed too late, of broken masts and capsizements.

On the Uzla, as indeed everywhere, there was no lack of outsiders. The people who lived their own life apart from the rest were the bridge players. The world meant nothing to them, .the weather did not worry them, their holidays an ensured success whatever the weather: they played bridge. Shuffled the cards and played. From time to time they moved their card table and chairs into the woods, on to the verandah, or occasionally down to the jetty and went on playing. In the evenings, after a tiring day, they shut themselves in the small downstairs dining-room, ordered "something to drink," and began to play again.

In the small hours of one August night, when, tired of holding 13 cards in one hand, they decided to limit the number to five, a wind arose. It immediately broke two panes in the half-opened window, tore the shutter from its hinges and threw it to the ground. Great confusion set in. On top of all this, in spite of the roar of the ever more violent hurricane, from outside were heard faint cries: "Help Help! Save us!"

Everyone ran outside. In the east the sky had just begun to turn grey. Black clouds, glowing red every few seconds from the flashes of lightning, tore across the heavens. In the murky half-light the lake showed white with foam. From it blew a- fine spray of water, as it blows from a waterfall or the hoses of a fire brigade. The wind grew'stronger and stronger. One could scarcely keep one's feet.

"Help! Help! Save us!"

The forest groaned, and the pines with vague, spreading, needle-like fingers tore at one anothers' tops. From time to time a branch snapped with a crack, or a tree trunk fell with a muffled thud to the ground. Through the rustle and confusion the human cries came again :

"Help! Help! Save us!"

The voice came from the water, and at a good distance from the shore one could make out something black and indistinct. Someone with greater presence of mind shouted :

"The sloops! The sloop people are crying for help!"

The evening of the previous day three great sea-going sloops had anchored not far from the jetty. Because ot their deep keels they could not come in to the landing stage. Their crews-some score Scouts, on a course of seamanship, dressed in the white uniforms and bulky caps of midshipmen-had come ashore in the evening and gone off on foot on night manoeuvres in the direction of Old Miadziol. Only two 14-year-old boys were left on watch.

"Help! Help!-Save us!"

One of the bridge players, a tall fair man with wind-blown hair, rightly remarked that if someone called for help one must give it, and set himself to pushing the big boat from the beach into the water. Somebody ran for the oars, someone else for the key to the padlock of the other boat, in a word, all tried to keep pace with the seriousness of the occasion. From the water the wind brought the wailing echoes of cries and shouts.

Meanwhile the storm, the wind and those cries had roused the other occupants of the hostel. In front of the building it became crowded and very interesting: a mixture of unbuttoned pyjamas, wind-blown dressing gowns, long nightdresses and the pale faces of sleepy persons of both sexes. All this reeling unsteadily, mixed up, struggling against the wind, which threw its poor victims down, or pressed them to the wooden walls. Some of the women threw themselves on the intending rescuers, crying that they were going to certain death.

The fair-haired bridge player was trying desperately to fit the key into the padlock, when he observed his wife kneeling at his feet.

"What are you doing here?" he tried to ask, but could only get out a stammer.

"For my sake, don't take this risk!" implored his wife plaintively in dumb show. However, she was not the least like Andromache at that moment.

"Out of my way, woman! . Can't you see there's someone drowning?" persuaded the bridge player gently. Little more was said, and that mostly in despairing gestures. Windblown clothing, loose hair tangled in the hands of the stooping man, formed something like the Laocoon group restricted for economy to two figures.. With a terrific crash another shutter fell from th& first floor and a flock of devils rushed about the forest. It was the best presentation of Shakespeare's "Tempest" it has ever been my privilege to behold. Ariel was undoubtedly played by the fair man, who was now trying to take on the appearance of Caliban. The role of Trinculo was divided equally among all the other bridge players.

"Help! Help! Save us!"

The voices from the water were already weaker. They were lost in the rising storm and the roar of the waves, which pounded on the shore with terrific force, throwing their foamy tongues far up the beach. Ariel-Caliban at last freed himself from his wife's clutches. The force of the wind immediately blew the poor thing up against the verandah, uihere she fell to the ground like an autumn leaf. The crowd of women ran to help her.

Meantime the elements threw themselves on the shore in a new attack. A thunderbolt fell in the middle of the lake with a deafening crash. The earth shook, and the forest bent before the blast. The rustle, wailing and creaking of trees and the snap of broken branches could be heard in the roar from the depths of the woods. By the light of the constant, bloody lightning flashes the terrified eyes of the wife perceived that Ariel was not among the rovyers slowly leaving the shore in the rescue boat. She did not know that he had been knocked over by his own oar, with which he had begun too energetic a struggle with the waves, and now lay on the floorboards, trying in vain to get up.

But what of this? The boat taken out with such sacrifice and contempt for death by the intrepid bridge players did not reach the sloop and did not save anyone. Both lads of the watch on the deck of the sloop managed to do everything themselves. It is true that for a while they were in serious danger. The storm had torn the sloop from its anchor and blown it along the shore, dragging after it the two others which were attached to it.

The waves and currents carried them toward what is known as the "First Headland," which is one horn of the Uzia Bay. The shore there is strewn with great stones, which would have smashed the boats into little bits if they had fallen amongst them. But the lads had succeeded in setting a stun sail on the foremost sloop, and had somehow got out of danger.

They had also managed to bring all the barges back to their moorings. Only then did they begin to call for help. Why?

Both trusty watchmen, when questioned next day why they had called out, definitely asserted that it was all a misunderstanding. No one on the boats had cried out, and if they had, it was only to warn those on shore of the approaching storm. The further explanations were extremely complicated and reinforced with a flood of technicalities such as: abaft, anchorchain, bowsprit, dead shore, jury rigging, kedge, log, mizzen, pinnace, spinnaker boom, stunsails, trysails, veering, wherry, yawing.

I give these alphabetical order, as becomes the careful historian. Thus the affair became confused and quite unintelligible to the ordinary landlubber. It would, have needed a Nelson or a Zaruski' to make it clear.

The blushes which covered the cheeks of both boys, every time that morning was recalled, should be attributed to the keen enthusiasm of these diligent sailors. Anyway, one must admit that they had nothing of which to be ashamed.

The next day the bridge players wandered about, sullen and gloomy. Only the next game and a reviving ' drink (eggs, brandy, and sugar) administered by the thrifty host succeeded iin calming the nerves upset by their struggle with the elements.

However, that memorable morning was not without further consequences. The next day the cadets marched over from Miadziol and were given a great ovation by the visitors in the hostel, and a strong friendship was begun between the two hostels of Uzia and Nieslucz.

In this country of lakes the sail is a great shelter for friendship and peace. All over the world water brings people together. The brotherhood of the waves is stronger than any other; for it has stood the test of time.

There were Scouts and Guides living on Nieslucz. They were a young, healthy, motley crowd, gathered from all Poland, and even from outside Poland. Rumanians, Jugoslavs, French, Italians, Hungarians, and`even Americans had come here for training.

Some time after the happening with the sloops three other barges appeared off the Uzia, bringing the Scouts' formal invitation to a farewell campfire meeting which was soon to be held on the Nieslucz shore. The sloops had been ordered to bring back anyone who cared to go, and afterwards to take them home, and quite a number ot people accepted. On board, the guests settled themselves as best they could in the crowded cockpits, and the sloops turned their prows to the westward, straight to the Scouts' territory lying at the foot of the Nanosy Cape, near Nieslucz.

The wind was unfavourable, and the journey took a long time. While the sloops fought obstinately with headwinds, there fell on the lake one of those wonderful nights which cannot be described in words, nor depicted in paint, nor even told in song. God long ago gave the northern lands the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and only there does He allow the eyes of man to see the secrets of the high spheres of His heavens: pillars of fire and shining ribbons among which play the many-coloured angels of the Arctic.

Thus that night, at the beginning, thick coppery clouds closed the whole horizon betore us. From these clouds crawled out a Chinese dragon, and spread his golden, fieryshining body over half the sky. He lay stretched from the Miadziol hills to the thickets above Nieslucz, guarding the setting sun. From his jaws came cloudy streams of shining white and dark blue. When the dragon melted into azure, these clouds hatched pale-green butterflies which settled on the bloody waters. They caressed the lake and redressed it for sleep in a new guise: in thin grey lawn. Some invisible movement pulsed in the air, uneasily tugging at the sails.

When the shores of the Naroczanka, shores of low reeds and rustling noises, the haunt of waterfowl and many fish, melted into colourlessness, from above them appeared the horn of the amazed new moon, and slowly grew, taking the bricky blush from the west. But the jealous moon did not yet give the water her sheen, only shut herself in her own ring of light, leaving the world in mist and uncertainty.

Meanwhile on the Nieslucz shore there shone another light which spread like a flowering tulip. 'It quarrelled with the 'moon and called with its fiery voice to the people lost on the waters. The night grew darker and darker, and the wind blew ever more strongly, though the moon grew ever brighter, and the distant fire shone more fiercely.

"They've lighted up, but we'll still make it!" said the steersman, watching it.

Suddenly the moon went into the clouds, hiding high up there and invisible to us. The boat was surrounded by vague, quivering, silvery half-lights and shadows. We were suspended in the invisible, which murmured under the prow like anxious doves. Now the shivering sails smoothed out, the waves rocked less, and the boat sank ever deeper into the greyness. It seemed as if we had sunk into it hopelessly and forever.

Then someone started to sing a song I knew. I had heard it on Italian waters. The song was echoed by a chorus comirig . from the still invisible shore, but a chorus strange and threatening. We gazed in astonishment: the fire, a minute ago so far away, grew stronger as we watched. We could already see dark figures moving around the flames, so near and clear that it seemed that we could touch them with our hands though we were still sailing in the dark, no-not in the dark-in something which had no colour, something which was unreal and smooth as a cloud. Over such velvet water the pillaging corvettes of the pirates once sailed the waters about the Fortunate Isles.

Now over the gunwales showed the pale shadows of anchored boats, whose spindle-shaped hulls slid past. So this is the landing-place, and we are here. The voices of singers come over the watery echoes. The lure of the unknown and secret darkness which covers everything is strong when one's eves are closed in the glare of the fire. One can see clearly how the tarry heap throws up glittering sparks, outlining the figures of the whirling dancers. The monotonous refrain of a song sung by the choir rings out again and again. Behind all this lie the wall of forest and the rough logs of a great building like the blockhouses of the first American colonists.

Our steersman shouted. His voice flew to the land, and was answered by a voice from the shore: "Hey! Hey! Hey!" In a moment another boat came out of the darkness and hove-to alongside. We had to change ship.

We found ourselves on a great open space full of quivering lights, in the centre of which was the bonfire. The flames, fed with fresh pine needles and boughs of gorse, rose high, crackling loudly and spreading the scent of melting sap. On the ground round the fire sat deep rows of youngsters in decorative groups. The uniforms of Guides from the Pomorze, the navy blue of the Wilno sea cadets, the red scarves of some unknown troop, and at the back the well-drilled jackets, white trousers, and immaculate caps of the seamanship school. All this was on the meadow in front of the great terrace of the hostel, in the middle of the pine wood. Over the centre of the clearing sailed the great plate of the moon in a cloudless sky, touching the tops of the trees and the roofs of the buildings with silver. In the background loomed the black masses of the forest, beside the misty outlines of masts and rigging.

We had arrived too late, only a few songs remained to the end of the celebration. It was time to go to bed, for the youngsters had a day of hard work in front of them. On the summons of the leader we formed a close circle round the bonfire, holding each other's crossed hands. We were held lor a moment in a ring of friendship, youth and futurity. Together with them we recited the holy words of a prayer, and joined in the song made sacred by use, bidding the passing day farewell. The words sank into a whisper with the fading strains:

"Night is near.

The sun has set,

Set on the fields and hills.

He rests in quiet sleep.

God is near."

Yes! God is near! He is with those who know how to use their youth well. Peace comes to our hearts. Who would dare to say that the world is evil? How can the world be evil?

But it's time to go. Just one more clasp of the hand, and another.

Again we are in the boat, again back on the barge. The Narocz is now as black as ink. The moon has set and the stars have gone out. Even the uneasy silver of the near Arctic has faded. Our sloops dive into the utter blackness. From the shore comes the distant shout of the hospitable leader, wishing us fair winds. His heartfelt wish is soon fulfilled; before we have passed the last boat at the stage we are being propelled forward by a light breeze, which soon changes into a stiff wind, blowing our sails out like balloons. The boat begins to weave among the waves fleeing in front of us, while other following waves rub themselves against the gunwales like satisfied cats.

Deeply affected by what I had seen, I began to think: those lads in the gaudy caps who stood round the bonfire are youngsters who have before them all my life, a life unattainable for me, the real life of my deepest sailor's dreams. Eighteen! Where are the times of that age, the times spent under a foreign flag? Evenings on the Adriatic, among laurels, passion flowers and oleanders, sweetened by the caresses of August's beauties, and filled with the laziness of the burning heat? I remember that there were sails a little larger than those which carry me to-day. The same moon moved over the silvery velvet in a dress sewn with the same spangles ot stars. From the port the sickle of the lighthouse beam swept the waters, there was a pale gleam round the bows and the cold shine of phosphorescence under the stern. A breeze brought whispers, like loving enticements, from the nearby shore. Somewhere far away a guitar ~hummed softly.

Where has it all gone? It is past and over, like those lost 18 years.

Now they have returned in great secret, returned, but in other guise. If my body will never know again the sweet anguish of those Adriatic nights, if my eyes are never again to see the contours of Monte Maggiore silvered over by the moon, at least these riches will be known by other eyes; the eyes of these boys. They will gather to themselves the riches not only of the Adriatic, but ot all the seas of the world.

Where I jealously took in the splendour of others, they will go safely under their own standard; the flag with 'the eagle, with which they have already taken possession of that world of waves and silence which has no boundaries save those set by the will, courage, hardiness and strength 'of a sailor's muscles. The chill of the cold northern seas, blowing from the Nordic shores, will have killed the false romanticism in their hearts, and their will, roused by the winds of the Lithuanian lakes, well tried on the short, wicked, merciless waves of the Puck and Danzig bays, will not fail them. Such a one will not weave stories of distant, foreign waters, for to him all seas will be "mare nostrum"-our sea. Their sea they will call everything which is covered by waves and stretches without horizons: storm and tempest, the stormy petrel, the ports and depths will be their own property. Whithersoever they may sail, to whichever bollard they make fast their yawl, sloop, brig, schooner or plain, unvarnished trading barge, they will find a place among the brotherhood of the airy spaces, their own place. In their midst they will be among equals, expert among experts, men of the sea, partners in its cunning games, purse-holders of its blessings.

Oh Sea! Our cradle. Once we left your broad waves, to lead a hard life on the unfertile earth. But always unceasingly, like the octopus caught in the net and cast on shore, led by instinct, we make our way back to you. Every thought, every breath, every step should he dedicated to the return to our sweet homeland of the amber-bearing deeps where the island Rugia raises its cliffs. We have long ago forgotten the words with which to call you by your real name, so now we taste only the bitterness of belated longings.

However, our sail again rides the stormy depths, and is filled by the northern winds. We have begun to sail again the unquiet element, enamoured of the whispering waves, never sated of the curved horizon sunk in the mists, spread with saphire and celadon. To the east!-the sun rises above the waves, red as a ripe fruit. To the west!-before us runs the shining track of the sunset. To the south!-the nights are drenched in stars. To'-the north!-where crystal icebergs float in the spring currents. Everywhere the sea-the sea, the good ocean. In its damp hollows show the triangular fins of sharks, and dolphins dance in the moonlight; sometimes in the foam appears the head of a monster, about whose every name human speech utters no word; sometimes flyingfish fall in fiPry showers on the oily ripples. The same to-day as on the day of creation, to-morrow the same as yesterday- the sea, strong, knowing no time, giving birth and changing. The sea which shapes new forms, brings up from the rocky depths ever new secrets, chases the fish in immeasurable floods, leaving the stronger and killing all the weak. Always in a fever of activity, yet gentle and good, full of man's daily bread. We must give Poland back that sea.

That which Nature had refused to my native town-returns of itself: water, sea, ocean, expanse. Let the Golden Age return when in the alleys of Armenian street lingered the scent of saffron and sandal-wood, and the depths of the gate, that arched, defensive Korniatowski gate, were filled with the scent of exotic roots and the rustle of Chinese silks and Genoa satin. But let it not be through the influence of Genoans, nor the swarthy, great-nosed Armenians. who came by the uncertain tracks of Pokucie, Wolosza, and Turek, that the town grows to its former greatness, hut by virtue of to-day's steersmen and seamen-Mazur boys from Zloczow, Sololniki or Tarnopol, or the fruitful Zaleszcczyki -the countrymen and townsmen of Poland.

My generation is still poisoned by the miasma of slavery, war and the dreams of that pre-war time, which to-day is beginning to be regarded as a golden age. Only when we, the walking legends, follow in the wake ot our heroism of old, when there is left no trace of the hysterical-"fin de-siecle," will it be well in Poland.

That through which I lived on the Nieslucz shore was extraordinarily new; that sky in flames, that house of pine logs, that forest dancing in the shadows from the bonfire and the singing youngsters. Their songs sounded strange, I had never sung them, they were beautiful,, though so different from those which rocked me to sleep in my cradle. Oh yes! We of the war generation are not the salt of the earth-only curious tourists in the life of Poland, while the new generation, harder and less sentimental, is awaiting some miraculous adventure. I can see and feel it, it is already near-when and how it will come I don't know. Maybe with blood and the glare of fires? But let it bring for the country-the sea. That is the last Testament of my generation for the future generations.