Historical View of the Languages and Literature of the Slavic - Nations
by Therese Albertine Louise von Jacob Robinson
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Slavi, even when first mentioned in history, appear as a singing race. Procopius, relating the surprise of a Slavic camp by the Greeks, states that the former were not aware of the danger, having lulled themselves to sleep by singing.[2] Karamzin, in his history of the Russian empire, narrates, on the authority of Byzantine writers, that the Greeks being at war with the Avars, about A.D. 590, took prisoners three Slavi, who were sent from the Baltic as ambassadors to the Khan of the Avars. These envoys carried, instead of weapons, a kind of guitar. They stated, that, having no iron in their country, they did not know how to manage swords and spears; and described singing and playing on the guitar as one of the principal occupations of their peaceful life.[3] The general prevalence of a musical ear and taste among all Slavic nations is indeed striking. "Where a Slavic woman is," says Schaffarik, "there is also song. House and yard, mountain and valley, meadow and forest, garden and vineyard, she fills them all with the sounds of her voice. Often, after a wearisome day spent in heat and sweat, hunger and thirst, she animates, on her way home, the silence of the evening twilight with her melodious songs. What spirit these popular songs breathe, the reader may learn from the collections already published. Without encountering contradiction, we may say, that among no other nation of Europe does natural poetry exist to such an extent, and in such purity, heartiness, and warmth of feeling, as among the Slavi." [4]

Although we recognize in the last sentence the voice of a Slavic enthusiast, we copy the whole of his remarks as perfectly true; and would only add, that we do not consider "heartiness and warmth of feeling" more a characteristic feature of Slavic than of Teutonic popular poetry. As for the purity and universality with which popular poetry is preserved among the Slavic nations, we strongly fear, that the chief cause of these advantages lies in the barrenness of their literature, and in the utter ignorance among the common people even of its elements.

Before we attempt to carry our reader more deeply into this subject, we must ask him to divest himself as much as possible of his personal and national feelings, views, and prejudices, and to suffer himself to be transported into a world foreign to his habitual course of ideas. Human feelings, it is true, are the same every where; but we have more of the artificial and factitious in us than we are aware of. And in many cases, we hold, that it is not the worst part of us; for we are far from belonging to the class of advocates of mere nature. The reader, for instance, must not expect to find in all the immense treasure of Slavic love-songs, adapted to a variety of situations, a single trace of romance, that beautiful blossom of Christianity among the Teutonic races. The love expressed in the Slavic songs is the natural, heartfelt, overpowering sensation of the human breast, in all its different shades of tender affection and glowing sensuality; never elevating but always natural, always unsophisticated, and much deeper, much purer in the female heart, than in that of man. In their heroic songs, also, the reader must not expect to meet with the chivalry of the more western nations. Weak vestiges of this kind of exaltation, with a few exceptions, are to be found among those Slavic nations only, who, by frequent intercourse with other races, adopted in part their feelings. The gigantic heroism of the Slavic Woiwodes and Boyars is not the bravery of honour; it is the valour of manly strength, the valour of the heroes of Homer. The Servian hero, Marko Kralyewitch, was regarded by Goethe as the personification of absolute heroism; but even Marko does not think it beneath him to flee, when he meets one stronger than himself. These are the dictates of nature, which only an artificial point of honour can overcome.

But, for the full enjoyment of Slavic popular poetry, we must exact still more from the reader. He must not only divest himself of his habitual ideas and views, but he must adopt foreign views and prejudices, in order to understand motives and actions; for the Oriental races are far from being more in a state of pure nature than ourselves. He will have to transport himself into a foreign clime, where the East and the West, the North and the South, blend in wonderful amalgamation. The suppleness of Asia and the energy of Europe, the passive fatalism of the Turk and the active religion of the Christian, the revengeful spirit of the oppressed, and the child-like resignation of him who cheerfully submits,—all these seeming contradictions find an expressive organ in Slavic popular poetry. Even in respect to his moral feelings, the reader will frequently have to adopt a different standard of right and wrong. Actions, which a Scotch ballad sometimes shields by a seductive excuse,—as for instance in the case of "Lady Barnard and Little Musgrave," where we become half reconciled to the violation of congujal faith by the tragic end of the transgressors,—are detestable crimes in the eyes of the Servian poet. On the other hand, he relates with applause deeds of vengeance and violence, which all feelings of Christianity teach us to condemn; and even atrocious barbarities, which chill our blood, he narrates with perfect composure. This latter remark refers, in fact, chiefly to the ancient epics of the Servians. Much less of barbarism and wild revenge meets us in their modern productions, namely, the epic poems relating to the war of deliverance in the beginning of the present century; although their oppressors had given them ample cause for a merciless retaliation. In the shorter and more lyric songs, of which a rich treasure is the property of most Slavic nations, and in which their common descent is most strikingly manifested, there prevails a still purer morality, and the most tender feelings of the human breast are displayed.

It was on account of this decidedly exotic character of Slavic popular poetry, that, when the author of the present work first published a German version of the Servian popular songs, Goethe considered it as an advantage, that the work of translation had fallen into the hands of a lady. Only a female mind, the great poet thought, was capable of the degree of accommodation requisite to clothe the "barbarian poems" in a dress, in which they could be relished by readers of nations foreign to their genius. Even the love-songs, although "of the highest beauty," he thought could only he enjoyed en masse. But this last remark applies in a certain measure to all popular poetry; for these little songs are like the warblings of the wood-birds; and a single voice would do little justice to the whole. The monotonous chirping of one little feathered singer is tedious or burdensome; while we enjoy their full concert as the sweetest music of nature. One swallow does not make a summer. But the whole blissful sense of nature waking from her wintry sleep comes over you, when you hear the full, mixed chorus of the little songsters of the grove; and the monotonous cry of the cuckoo seems to belong just as much to the completeness of the concert, as the enchanting solo of the nightingale.

If we attempt to characterize Slavic popular poetry as a whole, we have chiefly to consider those shorter songs, which are common to all Slavic tribes, and which alone can be compared to the ballads of other nations. For, among the Slavi, only the Servians, including the Dalmatians, Montenegrins, and Croats, who speak the same language,—and indeed among all other modern nations they alone,—possess long popular epics, of a heroic character. What of this species of poetry still survives among the other Slavic nations, or indeed in any other country of Europe, is only the echo of former times. The endlessly protracted "Storie" of the Italians are, indeed, often longer than the Servian heroic tales; but in no other respect do they afford a point of comparison with them.

The Slavic popular songs have nothing, or very little, of the bold dramatic character which animates the Scotch, German, and Scandinavian ballads. Even dialogues occur seldom, except in some narrative form; as for instance:

To her brother thus the lady answered;


And the bonny maiden asked her mother.

A division into epic and lyric ballads would also be difficult. A considerable portion, especially of the Russian and Servian songs, begin with a few narrative verses; although the chief part of the song is purely lyric. These introductory verses are frequently allegorical; and if we do not always find a connection between them and the tale or song which follows, it is because one singer borrows these introductions from another, and adds an extemporaneous effusion of his own. These little allegories, however, frequently give a complete picture of the subject. They are, also, not always confined to the introduction, but spun out through the whole poem. The following Russian elegy on the death of a murdered youth, may illustrate our remarks. We translate as literally as possible. The Russian original, like the translation, has no rhymes,[5]


O thou field! thou clean and level field! O thou plain, so far and wide around! Level field, dressed up with every thing, Every thing; with sky-blue flowerets small, Fresh green grass, and bushes thick with leaves; But defaced by one thing, but by one!

For in thy very middle stands a broom, On the broom a young gray eagle sits, And he butchers wild a raven black, Sucks the raven's heart-blood glowing hot, Drenches with it, too, the moistened earth. Ah, black raven, youth so good and brave! Thy destroyer is the eagle gray.

Not a swallow 't is, that hovering clings, Hovering clings to her warm little nest; To the murdered son the mother clings. And her tears fall like the rushing stream, And his sister's like the flowing rill; Like the dew the tears fall of his love: When the sun shines, it dries up the dew.


Servian songs begin also frequently with a series of questions, the answers to which form mostly a very happy introduction to the tale. For instance:

What's so white upon yon verdant forest? Is it snow, or is it swans assembled? Were it snow, it surely had been melted; Were it swans, long since they had departed. Lo! it is not swans, it is not snow, there, 'T is the tents of Aga, Hassan Aga, etc.[6]

In Russian songs, on the other hand, a form of expression frequently occurs, which we venture to call a negative antithesis. It is less clear than the Servian, but just as peculiar. A preceding question seems to be frequently supposed; as we have also seen in the piece adduced above, "It is not a swallow," the poet says, "that clings to her nest; it is a mother who clings to her son." In other songs we hear;

Not a falcon floateth through the air, Strays a youth along the river's brim, etc.


Not a cuckoo in the forest cool doth sing, Not in the gardens sings a nightingale; In the prison dark a brave youth sighs, He sighs and pours out many parting tears.

The frequency of standing epithets, characteristic more or less of all popular poetry, is particularly observable among the Slavic nations. The translator will be troubled to find corresponding terms; but whatever he may select, it is essential always to employ the same; for instance, he must not translate the far-extended idea of bjeloi, white, alternately by white, bright, snowy, fair. In Slavic, not only things really white are called so, but every thing laudable and beautiful is called white; as, the white God, i.e. the good God; the white Tzar, i.e., the monarch of white, or great and powerful, Russia. In most cases the poet himself no longer thinks of the signification and original meaning of the word. Yards, walls, bodies, breasts, hands, etc. are invariably white; even the breast and the hand of the tawny Moor. The sea is seldom mentioned without the epithet blue; Russian heroes have black hair, but the head of the Servian hero is called Rusja glava, fair-haired, with a reddish shade. Russian youths, together with their steeds, are invariably dobroe, that is, good or brave; the heart is in the poetry of the same nation retivoe, cheerful, rash, light. The sun is in Servian yarko, bright; in Russian krasnoi, which signifies fair and red. Doves are in both languages gray. How much the poets are accustomed to these epithets, and how heedlessly they use them, appears from a Servian tale, called "Haykuna's Wedding," a charming poem, and even much more elaborated than is common, where the breasts of a beautiful girl are compared to two gray doves. To remind our readers of the father of popular poetry, Homer, and of the like use by him of stereotype epithets, is unnecessary.

The Slavic popular ballads, like the Spanish, very seldom lay any claim to completeness. They do not pretend to give you a whole story, but only a scene. They are, for the most part, little pictures of isolated situations, from which it is left to the imagination of the hearers to infer the whole. The narrative part is almost always descriptive, and, as such, eminently plastic. If the picture represented has not the dramatic vivacity of the ballads of the Teutonic nations, it has the distinctness, the prominent forms, and often the perfection of the best executed bas-reliefs of the ancients. Like these, the Slavic poems seldom represent wild passions or complicated actions; but, by preference, scenes of rest, and mostly scenes of domestic grief or joy. When we look at the celebrated Greek bas-relief, which represents an affianced maiden the evening before her wedding, weeping, or bashfully hiding her fair face, while a servant girl washes her feet,[7] we cannot help being impressed with just the same feelings, which seize us when we hear or read one of the numerous Slavic songs devoted to similar scenes. To illustrate our remarks, and to make our readers understand exactly what we call the plastic character of Slavic popular songs, we insert here the following Servian love-scene. We add, that it was one of Goethe's favourites, worthy, in his opinion, to be compared with the Canticles.[8] There is a melody in the language of this song, not to be imitated in any translation. We confess that Frederic Schlegel's definition of architecture, "frozen music," occurs to us when we read it in the original.


'Cross the field a breeze it bore the roses, Bore them far into the tent of Jovo; In the tent were Jovo and Maria, Jovo writing and Maria broidering. Used has Jovo all his ink and paper, Used Maria all her burnished gold-thread. Thus accosted Jovo then Maria; "O sweet love, my dearest soul, Maria, Tell me, is my soul then dear unto thee? Or my hand find'st thou it hard to rest on?" Then with gentle voice replied Maria; "O, in faith, my heart and soul, my Jovo, Dearer is to me thy soul, O dearest, Than my brothers, all the four together. Softer is thy hand to me to rest on, Than four cushions, softest of the soft ones."[9]

The high antiquity of Slavic popular poetry is manifest among other things, in the frequent mythological features which occur. In the ballads of the Teutonic nations, we recollect very few instances of talking animals. As to those which talk in nursery tales, we are always sure to discover in them enchanted princes or princesses. In one Scotch ballad, "The Gray Goshawk," a horse speaks; and, in a few other instances, falcons and nightingales. In Spanish popular poetry we do not meet with a single similar example. In the songs of all the Slavic nations, conversing, thinking, sympathizing animals are very common. No one wonders at it. The giant Tugarin Dragonson's steed warns him of every danger. The great hero Marko's horse even weeps, when he feels that the death of his master approaches. Nay, life is breathed even into inanimate objects by the imagination of Slavic girls and youths. A Servian youth contracts a regular league of friendship and brotherhood with a bramble-bush, in order to induce it to catch his coy love's clothes, when she flees before his kisses. Even the stars and planets sympathize with human beings, and live in constant intercourse with them and their affairs. Stars become messengers; a proud maiden boasts to be more beautiful than the sun; the sun takes it ill, and is advised to burn her coal-black in revenge. The moon hides herself in the clouds when the great Tzar dies. One of the most interesting Servian tale, called "The Heritage," is the fruit of the moon and the morning star's gossiping with each other. It begins thus:

To the morning star the moon spake chiding; "Morning star, say where hast thou been wandering? Where hast thou been wandering and where lingering, Where hast thou three full white days been lingering?"

To the moon the morning star has answered; "I've been wandering, I've three days been lingering, O'er the white walls of the fortress Belgrade, Gazing there on strange events and wonders."

The events which the star had witnessed, it now proceeds to relate to the moon; and these make the subject of this beautiful tale.

After having touched upon these general features, did our limits permit, we should speak more at large of those mythological beings of a more distinct character, which belong to the individual Slavic races; for example, the Vila of the Servians, the Russalki of the Malo-Russians, and the like; at least so far as this belief is interwoven in their poetry, the only respect in which it concerns us here. But we must confine ourselves to a few brief remarks.

The strong and deeply-rooted superstitions of the Slavic nations are partly manifest in their songs and tales; these are full of foreboding dreams, and good or bad omens; witchcraft of various kinds is practised; and a certain oriental fatalism seems to direct will and destiny. The connection with the other world appears nevertheless much looser, than is the case with the Teutonic nations. There is no trace of spirits in Russian ballads; although spectres appear occasionally in Russian nursery tales. In Servian, Bohemian, and Slovakian songs, it occurs frequently, that the voices of the dead sound from their graves; and thus a kind of soothing intercourse is kept up between the living and the departed. The superstition of a certain species of blood-sucking spectres, known to the novel reading world under the name of vampyres, a superstition retained chiefly in Dalmatia, belongs also here. In modern Greek, such a spectre is called Brukolacas in Servian Wukodlak. We do not however recollect the appearance of a vampyre, in any genuine production of modern Greek or Servian poetry. It seems as if the sound sense of the common people had taught them, that this superstition is too shocking, too disgusting, to be admitted into poetry; while the oversated palates of the fashionable reading world crave the strongest and most stimulating food, and can only be satisfied by the most powerful excitement.

In the whole series of Slavic ballads and songs, which lie before our eyes, we meet with only one instance of the return of a deceased person to this world, in the like gloomy and mysterious way, in which the Christian nations of the North and West are wont to represent such an event. This is in the beautiful Servian tale, "Jelitza[10] and her Brothers." As it is too long to be inserted here entire, we must be satisfied with a sketch of it. Jelitza, the beloved sister of nine brothers, is married to a Ban on the other side of the sea. She departs reluctantly, and is consoled only by the promise of her brothers to visit her frequently. But "the plague of the Lord" destroys them all; and Jelitza, unvisited and apparently neglected by her brothers, pines away and sighs so bitterly from morning to evening, that the Lord in heaven takes pity on her. He summons two of his angels before him;

"Hasten down to earth, ye my two angels, To the white grave where Jovan lies buried, The lad Jovan, Jelitza's youngest brother; Into him, my angels, breathe your spirit,

"Make for him a horse of his white grave-stone, Knead a loaf from the black mould beneath him, And the presents cut out from his grave-shroud; Thus equip him for his promised visit."

The angels do as they are bidden. Jelitza receives her brother with delight, and asks of him a thousand questions, to which he gives evasive answers. After three days are past, he must away; but she insists on accompanying him home. Nothing can deter her. When they come to the church-yard, the lad Jovan's home, he leaves her under a pretext and goes back into his grave. She waits long, and at last follows him. When she sees the nine fresh graves, a painful presentiment seizes her. She hurries to the house of her mother. When she knocks at the door, the aged mother, half distracted, thinks it is "the plague of the Lord," which, after having carried off her nine sons, comes for her. The mother and daughter die in each other's arms.[11]

This simple and affecting tale affords, then, the only instance, in Slavic popular poetry, of a regular apparition; but even here that apparition has, as our readers have seen, a character very different from that of a Scotch or German ghost. The same ballad exists also in modern Greek; although in a shape perhaps not equal in power and beauty to the Servian.[12]

But the very circumstance that its subject is so isolated among the Slavic nations, who are so ready to seize other poetical ideas and to mould them in various ways, leads us to believe, that the Servian poet must have heard somehow or other the Greek ballad, or a similar one; and that the subject of the Servian ballad, although this is familiar to all classes, was originally a stranger in Servia. Nowhere indeed, in the whole range of Slavic popular poetry, do we meet with that mysterious gloom, with those enigmatical contradictions, which are peculiar to the world of spirits of the Teutonic North; and which we think find their best explanation in the antithesis between the principles of Christianity, and the ruins of paganism on which it was built.

It is true, that, wherever Christianity has been carried, similar contradictions must necessarily have taken place: but the mind of the Slavic nations, so far as it is manifest in their poetry, seems never to have been perplexed by these contradictions. History shows, that the Slavic nations, with the exception of those tribes who were excited to headstrong opposition by the cruelty and imprudence of their German converters, received Christianity with childlike submission; in most cases principally because their superiors adopted it.[13] Vladimir the Great, to whom the Gospel and the Koran were offered at the same time, was long undecided which to choose; and was at last induced to embrace the former, because "his Russians could not live without the pleasure of drinking."[14] The wooden idols, it is true, were solemnly destroyed; but numerous fragments of their altars were suffered to remain undisturbed at the foot of the cross; and the passion-flower grew up in the midst of the wild broom, the branches of which, tied together, the Tshuvash considers, even at the present day, as his tutelary spirit or Erich[15]. No struggle seems ever to have taken place, to reconcile these contradictory elements; while the more philosophical spirit of the Teutonic nations, and their genius for meditation and reflection, could not be so easily satisfied. The character of the Teutonic world of spirits is the reflex of this struggle. The foggy veil which covers their forms, the mysterious riddles in which their existence is wrapped, the anxious pensiveness which forms a part of their character, all are the results of these fruitless and mostly unconscious endeavours to amalgamate opposing elements. We cannot approach the region of their mysterious existence without an awful shuddering; while the few fairies, which Slavic poetry and superstition present us, strike us by the distinctness and freshness of their forms, and give us the unmingled impression either of the ludicrous or of the wild and fantastic.

It remains to speak of the moral character of Slavic popular poetry. If, in respect to its decency, we may judge from the printed collections, we must be struck with the purity of manners among the Slavic nations, and the unpollutedness of their imagination. Hacquet, speaking of the Slovenzi or Vindes, the Slavic inhabitants of Carniola, states, that the songs with which they accompany their dances are often indecent[16]. But there is little dependence to be placed on judgments of this description. Sometimes expressions and ideas are rashly called indecent, which only differ from the conventional forms of decency without really violating its laws. Hacquet moreover only half understood those songs of the Slovenzi. We will at least not condemn them without having seen them. Among the Russian songs, there are some of a certain wanton and equivocal character, displaying with perfect naivete a scarcely half-veiled sensuality. The boldness, with which these songs are sung in chorus by young peasant women, has often excited the astonishment of foreigners. The number of ballads of this description, however, so far as we are informed, is not considerable; and the character of Russian love-ballads in general is pure and chaste. As for the Servians, they have in fact a great multitude of songs of a very marked levity and frivolity; and Goethe, when these first appeared in the German version of Gerhardt, could not help finding it remarkable, that two nations, one half-barbarous, the other the most practised of all, (die durchgeuebteste, meaning the French,) should meet together on the step of frivolous lyric poetry[17]. But these Servian songs are pure in comparison with many Grub-Street ballads and German Zotenlieder. The spirit of roguery and joviality, which prevails in them all, proves that they are more the overflowings of wild and unrestrained youth, than the fruits of dissoluteness of manners. They are often coarse, but never vulgar; they are indelicate, but they are not impudent. At any rate, we never meet in them that confounding of virtuous and vicious feelings, which has so often struck us painfully even in the best Scotch and German ballads. We refer the reader here to our previous remarks on the measure of right and wrong, to be applied in our judgment of nations foreign to us in habits and pursuits. The heroes of the Servian epics are always represented as virtuous, often to harshness. Marko Kralyewitch is always ready to punish young women for any trespass against female modesty, by severing their heads from their shoulders; and even to his own bride, when he thinks her too obliging towards himself, he applies the most ignominious names, and threatens her with the sword.

Love and heroism, the principal subjects of all poetry, are also the most popular among the Slavi. But one of the peculiarities of their poetry is, that these two subjects are kept apart more than among other nations. While in the exploits of the Spanish heroes, which the popular Romances celebrate, love is so interwoven with heroism, and heroism with love, that we are not able to separate this two-fold exaltation of a generous mind, love is almost excluded from the heroic poems of the Slavi; or, at least, admitted only about in the same degree as in the epics of the ancients. It is seldom, if ever, the motive of the hero's actions. We need then add nothing more, to describe the character of Slavic heroism. It is never animated by romantic love; although sometimes, in the more modern epics of the Servians, by romantic honour. In one of the modern Servian tales, perhaps about a century old, which describes a duel between a Dalmatian Servian and a Turk, a scene of the most perfect chivalry occurs. The young Dalmatian captain, Vuk Jerinitch, having just reached manhood, inquires of the older captains, which of the Turks had most injured their country during the last invasion, while he was a child. The old captains name to him Zukan, the Turkish standard bearer. Vuk consequently challenges him, proposing at the same time, in true Oriental character, that, himself having a beautiful sister and the Turk a wife of equal beauty, both shall belong to the victor. Zukan of course accepts the challenge. Their meeting is in the best chivalric style; they demand of each other no pledge or oath of faith, but meet in Vuk's tent with perfect confidence; they embrace and kiss each other, and make friendly inquiries after each other's health. The first hour of their meeting flies away in conviviality, and in admiration of the ladies. At last the desire to gain the Christian girl induces the Turk to interrupt their drinking. But, before they begin the fight, "they kiss each other on the cheeks, and forgive each other mutually their blood and death." This scene indeed has a decidedly Oriental costume; but the feelings, from which it results, are produced by as much of romantic exaltation as any Spanish romance could exhibit.

Goetze, in the introduction to his German translation of Russian popular ballads, observes: "In the Russian love songs we meet with more softness of feeling than romantic delicacy." We do not perceive any marked difference in that respect, between the character of Russian and of other Slavic erotic songs; and apply therefore his remark to the whole race. Romantic delicacy we must not, in fact, expect to find; but often all the natural delicacy of warm, tender, devoted love; all the freshness of youthful, unsophisticated feelings; all the burning passion of Spanish love, with the same strong tincture of sensuality; though seldom, very seldom, that depth, that infiniteness of the same feeling, so affectingly expressed in more than one popular ballad of the Scandinavians, Germans, and British,—that love which reaches far beyond the grave, and chains souls to each other even in different worlds. Russian lovers, who are compelled by circumstances to leave their mistresses, give frequently the following or similar advice:

Weep not, weep not, O sweet maid! Choose, O choose another love! Is he better, thou'll forget me; Is he worse, thou'lt think of me, Think of me, sweet soul, and weep!

Love, among the Slavi, more than among any other Christian race, seems to be a dream of youth. Among unmarried persons of both sexes, free and easy intercourse is kept up. But nothing can favour less a free and lasting affection, than the national mode of contracting marriages. Among those Slavic nations, who have lived long in connection with the Teutonic races, the national manners have of course partly changed in this respect, as in others; especially among the higher classes. But among the Servians, the old Asiatic custom, according to which a marriage is agreed on by the parents of the parties, often without these knowing each other, is kept up in its fullest extent; and, even among all Slavic nations, strong traces of this custom are still left. Affianced Slavic girls often do not see their intended husbands before the wedding-day. Thus a girl, even in attaching herself to a youth, must early familiarize herself with the thought, that the time may come when she will have to take back her heart at her parent's bidding. Illegitimate love is rare; and is considered as the highest crime. Of the Russian popular songs, no small portion describe lovers taking leave of each other, because the youth or the maid must marry another; in another considerable portion, young married women are represented lamenting their miserable fate. The following popular ballad will afford the reader a characteristic specimen of the whole tenderness of such a Russian parting scene.


Brightly shining sank the waning moon, And the sun all beautiful arose;

Not a falcon floated through the air, Strayed a youth along the river's brim. Slowly strayed he on and dreamingly, Sighing looked unto the garden green, Heart all filled with sorrow mused he so: "All the little birds are now awake, All, embracing with their little wings, Greeting, all have sung their morning songs. But, alas! that sweetest doveling mine, She who was my youth's first dawning love, In her chamber slumbers fast and deep. Ah! not even her friend is in her dreams, Ah! no thought of me bedims her soul, While my heart is torn with wildest grief, That she comes to meet me here no more."

Stepped the maiden from her chamber then; Wet, O! wet with tears her lovely face, All with sadness dimmed her eyes so clear, Feebly drooping hung her snowy arms. 'T was no arrow that had pierced her heart, 'T was no adder that had stung her so; Weeping, thus the lovely maid began: "Fare thee well, beloved, fare thee well, Dearest soul, thy father's dearest son! I have been betrothed since yesterday; Come, to-morrow, troops of wedding-guests; To the altar, I, perforce, must go! I shall be another's then; and yet Thine, thine only, thine alone till death."


But the warm and tender hearts of the Slavic women, nevertheless, find means to satisfy that natural want of the female breast, to pour out on certain objects the whole blessing of love. Family connections are among no other race regarded as so holy, the ties of relationship are nowhere so cherished, as among the Slavi. Maternal tenderness is the subject of very many songs; and is set by comparisons in the most shining light. In the Russian ballad above adduced,[19] we have seen how slightly the poet thinks of the love of the wife; her tears are dried up by the sun, like the morning dew; while the mother's tears gush out incessantly like the waters of the mountain stream. In a Servian ballad, a youth wounds his hand. The Vila, a malicious mountain-nymph, offers to cure him. But she exacts a high price,—from his mother, her right hand; from his sister, her hair; and from his wife, her necklace of pearls. The mother willingly gives her right hand, and the sister her hair, but the wife refuses the necklace. The love of a mother is often described by the image of swallows, clinging to their own warm nest; or of tender doves, bereft of their young ones. The rights of a mother are respected with true filial piety, even by the barbarian hero Marko, who never fails to pay his aged mother filial respect.

More remarkable, however, in Slavic popular poetry, is the peculiar relation of the sister to the brother. This remark holds especially good of Servia. Sisters cling to their brothers with a peculiar warmth of feeling. These are their natural protectors, their supporters. They swear by the head of their brothers. To have no brother is a misfortune, almost a disgrace. A mourning female is represented in all Slavic poetry under the constant image of a cuckoo; and the cuckoo, according to the Servian legend, was a sister who had lost her brother. Numerous little songs illustrate the great importance which a Servian girl attaches to the possession of a brother. Those who have none, think even of artificial means for procuring one. This is exhibited in a pretty little ballad, where two sisters, who have no brother, make one out of white and pink silk wound around a stick of box-wood; and, after putting in two brilliant black stones as eyes, two leeches as eyebrows, and two rows of pearls as teeth, put honey in his mouth, and entreat him "to eat and to speak." In another ballad, of a more serious description, "George's young wife" loses at once in battle her husband, her brideman (paranymphos, in Servia a female's legitimate friend through life), and her brother. The gradations of the poetess in her description of the widow's mourning are very characteristic, and give no high idea of conjugal attachments in Servia.

For her husband, she has cut her hair; For her brideman she has torn her face; For her brother she has plucked her eyes out. Hair she cut, her hair will grow again; Face she tore, her face will heal again; But the eyes, they'll never heal again, Nor the heart, which bleedeth for the brother.

After having thus attempted to point out to the reader what we consider as the general characteristic features of Slavic popular poetry, we proceed to add a few remarks on the distinguishing traits of the different nations of the Slavic race individually, so far as our limits permit.

And here it is among the nations of the EASTERN STEM that we must look for our principal harvest. We follow the same order as in the former parts of this work.

The RUSSIANS have very few ballads of high antiquity; and, even in this small number, hardly any one has reference to the heroic prose tales, which are the delight of Russian nurseries.

The Russians have indeed nursery tales (skazki) of all descriptions; and we have often heard, that, during the first decennium of the present century, still many an old-fashioned country squire, many a country gentlewoman brought up among her female slaves like an oriental princess, were in the habit of having themselves lulled to sleep by them. They are almost invariably told in the same words; and as much as possible with the same intonation of voice. One Skazkochnik, or Skazkochnitza, adopts this manner from another. The traditions of Vladimir and his giant heroes are the favourite, but not the exclusive subjects of these tales. They are also printed and sold separately; with a coarse wood-cut on the upper part of every page, representing the scene described, and the back of the page empty. We are told that they are mostly got up by "Deacons," a class of the lower clergy, in their leisure hours. It is probable that these traditions formerly existed also in the shape of popular ballads; but no trace has been left of them. In the beginning of this century the work of Kirscha Danilof, of which we have spoken in our view of Russian literature,[20] was first published, containing the ancient traditions; written in the national prosodic measure, but without any poetical spirit; replete with anachronisms and absurdities, without the naivete which can alone make these latter tolerable. They were, besides, full of interpolations; and were evidently the productions of a man from the people who had acquired half an education. For this reason they have never gained popularity in this shape.

The more modern heroic ballads of the Russians are of a remarkably tame character. Lawless and rebellious deeds are sometimes their subjects; but they end mostly with an act of retributive justice. We shall give a specimen of this species before we part with the Russians.

By far the largest portion of Russian popular songs is of the erotic kind. According to Russian authorities, even their oldest ballads, to judge from the language,[21] cannot be traced further than to the last quarter of the sixteenth century; and the number even of these is very small. Most of those now current among the people are derived from the beginning of the middle of the last century. According to Goetze, the reign of Peter the First was very favourable to popular poetry.[52] His daughter, the empress Elizabeth, was a successful poetess herself; and her ditties had a perfectly popular character. If we may draw a conclusion from the frequency with which modern historical events have given birth to popular ballads, one must suppose that many ancient ones are lost. The victories of Peter the First are celebrated in many popular ballads, some of which are of no inconsiderable merit; as the reader will judge for himself from the specimen we give below. The French invasion also, of 1812, which aroused the Russian nation so powerfully, gave rise to not a few patriotic songs, of many of which the authors were peasants and common soldiers.

There are, however, various indications, which seem to justify the belief, that several of the Russian ballads still current among the people are, in fact, more ancient than they appear, or perhaps even than they actually are in their present shape. We have not room here to dwell on this subject. We remark only, that from one circumstance alone we may draw the safe conclusion, that the Russians have ever been a singing race. We allude to their custom of attaching verses full of allusions and sacred meaning to every festival, nay, to every extraordinary event of human life, and thus of fettering the flying hours with the garland chains of poetry and song. They have to this very day their wedding songs, Pentecost and Christmas carols, and various other songs, named after the different occasions on which they are chanted, or the game which they accompany. Although these songs, also, have been modernized in language and form, they seem always to have been regarded with a kind of pious reverence, and appear to have been altered as little as possible. Most of their allusions are, for that reason, unintelligible at the present day. That their groundwork is derived from the age of paganism, is evident from the frequent invocations of heathen deities, and from various allusions to heathen customs.

Nearly related to these songs are the various ditties of a social kind, which peasant girls and lads are in the habit of singing on certain, stated occasions; for instance, walking songs, dancing songs, and the like. They consist mostly of endless repetition, often of words or single syllables, apparently without meaning; and the tune, in which these fragmentary poems are sung, is after all the best part of it. Yet not seldom a spark of real poetry shines through that melodious tissue of unmeaning words. What is most remarkable in these songs, which have now been more than a century the exclusive property of the common people, is the utter absence of coarseness and vulgarity, even in the wedding songs.

The Russian songs, like the Russian language, have a peculiar tenderness, and are full of caressing epithets. These are even frequently applied to inanimate objects. A Russian postilion, in a simple and charming song, calls the tavern, which he never can make up his mind to pass without stopping, "his dear little mother." The words Matushka, Batushka, Starinka, which we may venture to give in English by motherling, fatherling, oldling, are in Russian favourite terms of endearment. The post-boy's song may stand here as eminently characteristic of the cheerful, childlike, caressing disposition of the nation. It is translated in the measure of the original, as nearly as it could be imitated in English.


Tzarish Tavern, thou Our good motherling, So invitingly Standest by the way! Broad highway, that leads Down to Petersburg; Fellows young as I, As they drive along, When they pass thee by, Always will turn in.

Ah, thou bright sun-light, Red and bright sun-light, O'er the mountain high, O'er the forest oaks; Warm the youngster's heart, Warm, O warm me, sun; And not me alone, But my maiden, too.

Ah, thou maiden dear, Fairest, dearest maid, Thou my dearest child, Art so kind and good! Black those brows of thine, Black thy little eyes, And thy lovely face All so round and white; Without painting, white, Without painting, red!

To thy girdle rolls Fair and braided hair; And thy voice is soft, Full of gentle talk.


Russian lovers are quite inexhaustible in fondling and caressing expressions. "My shining moon, my bright sun, my nourisher (Kormiletz), my light, my hope, my white swan," together with all those epithets common to all languages, as, dove, soul, heart, etc. are current terms In Russia. Especially favourable to this affectionate manner of address is the abundance of diminutives which the language possesses. Not only "little soul," "little heart," Dushinka, Serdzinka, etc. are favourite expressions of Russian lovers; but we find even Yagodka, "little berry," and Lapushka, "little paw," etc. Love is ingenious in inventing new diminutives for the beloved object.

This exquisite tenderness in the Russian love-songs is united with a deep, pensive feeling, which indeed pervades the whole Russian popular poetry. Were we to describe the character of this in one expression, we should call it melancholy-musical. Even the more frivolous and equivocal songs have a tincture of this pensiveness. While the Servian songs of this description are the ebullitions of merry and petulant youth, the Russian are frequently not without a spice of sentimentality. Girls are often represented painting the unhappy consequences of their weakness with a very suspicious mixture of penitence and pleasure; so that the hearer remains undecided, whether the former or the latter is predominant.

In perfect harmony with this melancholy is the Russian national music. The expressive sweetness of the Russian melodies has long been the admiration of those foreign composers, to whom circumstances had made them known. The history of these melodies is just as uncertain as that of the verses; they seem always to have been united; no one knows where they came from. In respect to popular tunes and songs, the answer which the Ashantees gave to Mr. Bowditch has often occurred to us: "They were made when the country was made." The Russian tunes are richer and more varied than are popular airs in general. Of most of the songs only the first two verses are set to the melody; all the following being repeated in the same tune. But there are some which extend further. Some of these airs include more than a whole octave in their notes; while the national melodies of most other nations move in general among a few notes.

To account for the melancholy character of the Russian music and poetry, and to reconcile it with the well-known cheerful disposition of the nation, has been attempted by several Russian critics. "The peculiarities of a nation," Karamzin remarks, "may always be explained by the circumstances which have operated on it; although the grandchildren may have some of the virtues and some of the vices of their ancestry, even if they are differently situated. Perhaps the present character of the Russians may exhibit faults, which it contracted during the barbarism of the Mongolian subjugation." The pensiveness which pervades the Russian songs has also been considered as a remnant of that gloom, necessarily impressed on the Russian character during two centuries of the most cruel oppression. There is no doubt that the Russians before, during, and after their subjugation by the Mongols, had a thousand causes of discouragement and disasters; bloody civil wars, the most barbarian despotism, the plague, slavery,[23] and the like. But it is just as certain, that notwithstanding all the causes of sorrow, the Russians are still the most cheerful and light-hearted people on earth; with all their hearts and senses enjoying the scanty pleasures of life; though deprived of all civil privileges, and even of many social rights. The truth is, that it is with nations as with individuals. Neither in the one case nor in the other must we expect always to see them deposit their habitual feelings in their poetry. It is a well-known fact that Moliere was a man of a most serious disposition. Cowper, immediately before writing his "John Gilpin," was in a mood bordering on despair. Young, while composing his melancholy Night Thoughts, enjoyed his life as well as any man. The Russians do not sing their every-day sentiments, but their holiday feelings. That sweet pensiveness, which thrills so affectingly through their music and poetry, is to them a species of luxury. A soft, melancholy emotion, not deep enough indeed to cause suffering, and slumbering in every-day life in the recesses of the poet's soul, awakes in the hour of inspiration and spreads a gentle shadow over his habitual sunshine. The peculiar melancholy resignation of Slavic lovers we have already attempted to explain. Indeed, it is to their love songs, principally, that the general remark on the pensiveness of Russian songs and airs is applicable.

We here subjoin some specimens of them. The first is extant in a great many versions, differing somewhat from each other. We choose the one we like best, as given by Sacharof:[24]


"Sit not up, my love, late at evening hour, Burn the light no more, light of virgin wax, Wait no more for me till the midnight hour; Ah, gone by, gone by is the happy time! Ah, the wind has blown all our joys away, And has scattered them o'er the empty field. For my father dear, he will have it so, And my mother dear has commanded it, That I now must wed with another wife, With another wife, with an unloved one! But on heaven high two suns never burn, Two moons never shine in the stilly night; And an honest lad never loveth twice! But my father shall be obey'd by me, And my mother dear I will now obey; To another wife I'll be wedded soon, To another wife, to an early death, To an early death, to a forced one."

Wept the lovely maid many bitter tears, Many bitter tears, and did speak these words: "O beloved one, never seen enough, Longer will I not live in this white world, Never without thee, thou my star of hope! Never has the dove more than one fond mate, And the female swan ne'er two husbands has, Neither can I have two beloved friends."

No more sits she now late at evening hour, But the light still burns, light of virgin wax; On the table stands the coffin newly made; In the coffin new lies the lovely maid.


On an oak tree sat, Sat a pair of doves; And they bill'd and coo'd And they, heart to heart, Tenderly embraced With their little wings; On them, suddenly, Darted down a hawk.

One he seized and tore, Tore the little dove, With his feather'd feet, Soft blue little dove; And he poured his blood Streaming down the tree. Feathers too were strew'd Widely o'er the field; High away the down Floated in the air.

Ah! how wept and wept; Ah! how sobb'd and sobb'd The poor doveling then For her little dove.

"Weep not, weep not so, Tender little bird!" Spake the light young hawk To the little dove. "O'er the sea away. O'er the far blue sea, I will drive to thee Flocks of other doves. From them choose thee then. Choose a soft and blue, With his feathered feet, Better little dove."

"Fly, thou villain, not, O'er the far blue sea Drive not here to me Flocks of other doves. Ah! of all thy doves None can comfort me; Only he, the father Of my little ones."


The following little elegy we translate from a Russian Annual; the editor of which, Baron Delvig, took it down from the lips of a peasant girl.


Nightingale, O nightingale, Nightingale so full of song, Tell me, tell me, where thou fliest, Where to sing now in the night? Will another maiden hear thee Like to me, poor me, all night Sleepless, restless, comfortless, Ever full of tears her eyes? Fly, O fly, dear nightingale, Over hundred countries fly, Over the blue sea so far; Spy the distant countries through, Town and village, hill and dell, Whether thou find'st any one, Who so sad is, as I am?

O, I bore a necklace once, All of pearls like morning dew; And I bore a finger-ring, With a precious stone thereon;

And I bore deep in my heart Love, a love so warm and true. When the sad, sad autumn came, Were the pearls no longer clear; And in winter burst my ring, On my finger, of itself![25] Ah! and when the spring came on, Had forgotten me my love.

There is one trait in the Russian character, which we recognize distinctly in their poetry, namely, their peculiar and almost Oriental veneration for their sovereign, and a blind submission to his will. There is indeed somewhat of a religious mixture in this feeling; for the Tzar is not only the sovereign lord of the country and master of their lives, but he is also the head of the orthodox church. The orthodox Tzar is one of his standing epithets. The following ballad, which we consider as one of the most perfect among Russian popular narrative ballads, exhibits very affectingly the complete resignation with which the Russian meets death, when decreed by his Tzar. In its other features, also, it is throughout natural. Its historical foundation is unknown. There are several versions of it extant, slightly differing from each other; which seems to prove that it has been for a long time handled by the people.


"Thou, my head, alas! my head, Long hast served me, and well, my head; Full three-and-thirty summers long; Ever astride of my gallant steed, Never my foot from its stirrup drawn. But alas! thou hast gained, my head, Nothing of joy or other good; Nothing of honours or even thanks."

Yonder along the Butcher's street, Out to the fields through the Butcher's gate,[26] They are leading a prince and peer.

Priests and deacons are walking before, In their hands a great book open; Then there follows a soldier troop, With their drawn sabres flashing bright. At his right, the headsman goes, Holds in his hand the keen-edged sword; At his left goes his sister dear, And she weeps as the torrent pours, And she sobs as the fountains gush.

Comforting speaks her brother to her: "Weep not, weep not, my sister dear! Weep not away thy eyes so clear, Dim not, O dim not thy face so fair, Make not heavy thy joyous heart! Say, for what is it thou weepest so? Is 't for my goods, my inheritance? Is 't for my lands, so rich and wide? Is 't for my silver, or is 't for my gold? Or dost thou weep for my life alone?"

"Ah, thou, my light, my brother dear, Not for thy goods or inheritance, Not for thy lands, so rich and wide, Is 't that my eyes are weeping so; Not for thy silver and not for thy gold, 'Tis for thy life, I am weeping so."

"Ah, thou, my light, my sister sweet! Thou mayest weep, but it won't avail; Thou mayest beg, but 't is all in vain; Pray to the Tzar, but he will not yield. Merciful truly was God to me, Truly gracious to me the Tzar, So he commanded my traitor head Off should be hewn from my shoulders strong."

Now the scaffold the prince ascends. Calmly mounts to the place of death; Prays to his Great Redeemer there, Humbly salutes the crowd around; "Farewell world, and thou people of God; Pray for my sins that burden me sore!"

Scarce had the people ventured then On him to look, when his traitor head Off was hewn from his shoulders strong.[27]


We add another more modern heroic ballad, composed, perhaps, by one of the soldiers, who was present at the exploit. The first siege of Azof took place in 1695. The fortress was, however, not taken by storm, although repeated assaults were made; but the garrison capitulated in the following year. The great white Tzar is of course Peter I.[28]


The poor soldiers have no rest, Neither night nor day! Late at evening the word was given To the soldiers gay; All night long their weapons cleaning, Were the soldiers good, Ready in the morning dawn, All in ranks they stood.

Not a golden trumpet is it, That now sounds so clear; Nor the silver flute's tone is it, That thou now dost hear. 'Tis the great white Tzar who speaketh, 'Tis our father dear. Come, my princes, my Boyars, Nobles, great and small! Now consider and invent Good advice, ye all! How the soonest, how the quickest, Fort Azof may fall?

The Boyars, they stood in silence.— And our father dear, He again began to speak In his eye a tear: Come, my children, good dragoons, And my soldiers all, Now consider and invent Brave advice, ye all, How the soonest, how the quickest, Fort Azof may fall?

Like a humming swarm of bees, So the soldiers spake, With one voice at once they spake: "Father, dear, great Tzar! Fall it must! and all our lives Thereon we gladly stake."

Set already was the moon, Nearly past the night; To the storming on they marched, With the morning light; To the fort with bulwark'd towers And walls so strong and white.

Not great rocks they were, which rolled From the mountains steep; From the high, high walls there rolled Foes into the deep. No white snow shines on the fields, All so white and bright; But the corpses of our foes Shine so bright and white. Not up-swollen by heavy rains Left the sea its bed; No! in rills and rivers streams Turkish blood so red!

Different dialects are spoken, and different ballads are sung by the population of Malo-Russia[29] and of those Polish-Russian and Polish-Austrian provinces, where the peasantry is of the Ruthenian race. The musical element is still more prevalent among them; and their ditties are rhymed. The few very ancient ones, which are still extant, alone make an exception.

These have the form and the spirit of the ballads of the Great Russians, and can in no way be discerned from them; while the great mass has a different character. Indeed, such an immense number of ballads have originated in the rich and fertile steppes of the Ukraine, that it would seem as if each bough of their forest trees must harbour a singer, and each blade of grass on these endless blooming plains whisper the echo of a song.[30] The pensive character of the Great Russian popular poetry becomes, in that of the Malo-Russian and Ruthenian, a deep melancholy, that finds vent in a great variety of sweet, elegiac, melodies. According to the author of a little collection of their popular songs, published first in a German translation, "these are the after-pains of whole generations; these are the sorrows of whole centuries, which are blended in one everlasting sigh!" [31] If we look back to the history of these regions, we cannot doubt that it is the spirit of their past, that breathes out of these mournful strains. The cradle of the Kozak stood in blood; he was rocked to the music of the clashing of swords. For centuries the country on both banks of the Dnieper as far as to the northwestern branch of the Carpathian mountains, the seat of this race, was the theatre of constant warfare and aggression; there was no time for the blessings of a peaceful development. Their narrative ballads have, therefore, few other subjects than the feuds with Poles and Tartars; the Kozak's parting with his beloved one; or his lonely death on the border, or on the bloody battle field! No wonder that their little lyric effusions have imbibed the same melancholy spirit.

These vast level regions were the principal thoroughfares of the hordes of Mongols and Tartars, who from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century overspread Russia, and penetrated as far as Silesia. In Northern Russia, at least, a shade of the old forms and constitutions was preserved; and native princes reigned under Mongol dominion; but in the South every thing was broken up, and the country laid completely waste. Fugitives, reduced to a life of plunder and booty, congregated here and there; the country on the Lower Don, near the entrance of this river into the sea of Azof, was one of their strongholds; another portion found refuge on the islands of the Dnieper, just below the present site of Yekatrinoslav. Here they fortified themselves in little rude castles; while, after all, their situation out of the track of the wild barbarians was their best shelter.

The first named region was principally the asylum for fugitives from Great Russia; deserters and exiles from other parts of the country joined them; and the Tartar population, which they found on the spot, and the neighbouring Kalmuk tribes, mingled with them. These are the Kozaks of the Don; of whom the Kozaks of Grebensk, of Yaitzk, and of the Ural, are branches. They are Russians, and sing the songs of their brethren, the Russians. The river Don, or, as it is familiarly and at the same time respectfully called, Don Ivanovitch[32] plays a prominent part in their ballads. They have a touching childlike love for that noble river, so majestic and yet so gentle, that once gave shelter on its banks to their forefathers. Father Don, the stilly (tikho) Don, Don Ivanovitch, are its constant epithets. The scene of a considerable number of their ballads is in the vessels which glide upon the 'stilly' Don.

The fugitives who had congregated on the Dnieper were also Russians; but the mixture of other nations, which they received, would appear to have come principally from the Circassians of the Caucasus, as the still beautiful shape and countenance of the Tshernomorski seem to indicate;[33] and also in part from the Ruthenian tribes of the Carpathian mountains, as their language proves. These are the Zaporoguean Kozaks; so called from having their principal seats beyond the porogues, or water-falls of the Dnieper. Both sections of the Kozaks founded a kind of military democratic government; and tried to shelter themselves against their enemies in those rude castles called Sicza, best protected by thick woods and the surrounding water. They soon began to spread out in the small towns called Groazisko, fortified also indeed, but built so slightly that they were almost as soon erected as destroyed. The Kozaks of the Don, after the deliverance of Russia in the second half of the fifteenth century, acknowledged in some degree the sovereignty of the Russian Tzar; and aided Ivan II to conquer Siberia. They were used by his successors as border guardians against the wild Asiatic hordes; whom they partly chased from their homes in the Ural mountains, and settled there in their stead. Thus they spread all over Siberia; always looking back with a pensive and languishing feeling to their "dear fatherling," their gentle "nourisher," their "stilly Don Ivanovitch." [34]

From the Zaporoguean Kozaks, meanwhile, had issued the population of the Ukraine. Their first establishment consisted of a strict republic of warriors; no female was admitted into their strongholds on the islands of the Dnieper. By degrees they relaxed; and began with keeping their families in villages in the vicinity, where they spread with incredible rapidity. Then a line of separation was drawn between the inhabitants of the settlements, and the Zaporogueans in the castles; none of these latter were allowed to marry. Thus their youth were always ready for the enemy; and the distinction was only dropped in more peaceful times. They kept themselves independent of Russia until the latter part of the seventeenth century; but their more dangerous enemies had long been the Poles, their north-western neighbours. It was the period of Poland's glory. The Poles were conquerors in the North and in the East. At last the Kozaks, after a century of struggles, acknowledged the authority of the Polish sovereign Stephan Bathori (ob. 1586); moved partly, it is said in their traditions, by the personal grandeur of that chevaleresque monarch. But now the Polish nobility overspread the Ukraine. They became land-owners and oppressors; and their stewards, their still more detested assistants. They were followed by the Jesuits; who alternately by persuasion and compulsion attempted to entice the natives, who all belonged to the Greek church, to come under the dominion of the Pope. A war of religious persecution and resistance arose. The Kozaks ultimately revolted in 1648; and a few years after (in 1654) their Hetman Chmielnitzky submitted himself and the whole Ukraine to Tzar Alexei, the father of Peter I.

The struggles of this insurrection, their previous feuds with the Poles their oppressors, and afterwards their repeated revolts from the Russians, who tried to undermine their liberties, have given birth to a great number of simple ballads, the bold spirit of which presents a noble relief to the habitual melancholy of Malo-Russian poetry in general. They have professional singers, who are called Bandurists; and who, with a kind of simple guitar in their hand, ramble through the country, sure to find a willing audience in whatever village they may stop. Their ballads are of course not confined to the scenes of the earlier centuries; the more recent wars with the Turks and Tartars also, and the campaigns made in modern times in the service of Russia, present subjects enough of interest; for their productiveness is still alive, although the race of the professional bards is growing more and more scarce. They call their historical ballads Dumi, or Dumki, an appellation for historical elegies, which has recently been adopted by Polish literati.[35]

We give here a few characteristic specimens of their poetry; serving to illustrate their warlike spirit, as well as their domestic relations; their skill in narrative ballads, as well as their power of expressing in lyric strains the unsophisticated feelings of a tender heart. We begin with two genuine Kozak elegies.


O eagle, young gray eagle, Tshurai, thou youth so brave, In thine own land, the Pole, The Pole dug thee thy grave!

The Pole dug thee thy grave, For thee and thy Hetman; They killed the two young heroes, Stephen, the valiant Pan.

O eagle, young gray eagle, Thy brethren are eagles too; The old ones and the young ones, Their custom well they knew!

The old ones and the young ones They are all brave like thee, An oath they all did take Avenged shalt thou be!

The old ones and the young ones, In council grave they meet; They sit on coal black steeds, On steeds so brave and fleet.

On steeds so brave and fleet They are flying, eagle like; In Polish towns and castles Like lightning they will strike.

Of steel they carry lances, Lances so sharp and strong; With points as sharp as needles, With hooks so sharp and long.

Of steel they carry sabres, Two edged, blunted never; To bring the Pole perdition For ever and for ever!


There flows a little river, And Worskla is its name; And of the little river Know old and young the fame.

And on the little river, They know good songs to sing; And on the little river, They like good thoughts to think.

O thoughts, ye manly thoughts, Ye call up sorrow and woe; O thoughts, ye manly thoughts, From you strong deeds can grow!

Where are you, brave Kozaks? Where are you, valiant lords? Your bones are in the grave, In the deep moor your swords!

Where art thou, O Pushkar? Where art thou, valiant knight? Ukraina weeps for thee, And for her fate so bright.

His bones are in the grave, Himself with God is now; O weep, O weep, Ukraina, An orphan left art thou.

Ukraina, thy bright fate Destroy'd Wihowski's spell;[37] He with the heart of stone, And with the mind of hell!

The following melancholy song expresses the general hatred against the Pole, the oppressor, in a manner not less strong. Haidamack is another name for the Ruthenian peasant under Polish dominion, and was formerly, as well as Burlak, also applied to the Malo-Russian Kozaks in general.


Gladly would I to the war, To the war so full of prey, Pleasure of the Haidamack! But the steward bids me stay, Lest the proud Pole's cows should stray!

Gladly to the merry dance Would I on the gusli play, Pleasure of the rosy maid! But the steward bids me stay, Lest the proud Pole's sheep should stray!

Gladly I would hunting go, With the bobtailed dog so fleet, Pleasure of a good brave youth! But the steward bids me stay, Lest the proud Pole's steeds should stray!

O farewell, thou rosy maid, Rattle gently, rusty sabre! Quick on horseback, Haidamack! Stray may steeds, sheep, cows and all; Perish may the haughty Pole!

We finish with a few Ruthenian ballads, having no political reference. The first is interesting as illustrating a peculiar popular superstition. The Leshes are a kind of Satyrs; covered like them with hair, and of a very malicious nature. They steal children and young women. Their presence has a certain benumbing influence; a person whom they visit cannot move or stir; although, in the case of our ballad, we have some suspicion that "the brandy, the wine, and the mead," had some preparatory influence.

The second exhibits the whole plaintive, yielding mood of a Russian loving maid; and may be considered as a characteristic specimen.


With the Lord at Nemirov Sir Sava dined so gladly; Nor thought he that his life Would end so soon and sadly.

Sir Sava he rode home To his own court with speed; And plenty of good oats He bids to give his steed.

Sir Sava behind his table To write with care begun; His young wife she is rocking In the cradle her infant son.

'Holla! my lad, brisk butler, Bring now the brandy to me; My well-beloved lady, This glass I drink to thee.

'Holla! my lad, brisk butler, Now bring me the clear wine; This glass and this, I drink it To this dear son of mine.

'Holla! my lad, brisk butler, Now bring me the mead so fast; My head aches sore; I fear I've rode and drunk my last!'

Who knocks, who storms so fiercely? Sir Sava looks up to know; The Leshes stand before him, And quick accost him so:

'We bow to thee, Sir Sava, How far'st thou, tell us now! To thy guests from the Ukraina, What welcome biddest thou?'

'What could I bid you, brethren, To-day in welcome's stead? Well know I, ye are come To take my poor sick head!'

'And tell us first, Sir Sava, Where are thy daughters fair?' 'They are stolen by the Leshes, And wash their linen there.'

'Now to the fight be ready! Sir Sava meet thy lot! Thy head is lost! one moment, Death meets thee on the spot.'

The sabre whizzes through the air Like wild bees in the wood, The young wife of Sir Sava By him a widow stood!


Winds are blowing, howling, Trees are bending low; O my heart is aching, Tears in streams do flow.

Years I count with sorrow, And no end appears; But my heart is lighten'd, When I'm shedding tears.

Tears the heart can lighten, Happy make it not; E'en one blissful moment Ne'er can be forgot.

Some there are who envy E'en my destiny; Say, 'O happy flow'ret Blooming on the lea.'

On the lea so sandy, Sunny, wanting dew! O without my lover Life is dark to view.

Nought can please without him, Seems the world a jail; Happiness exists not, Peace of mind doth fail.

Where, dark-browed belov'd one, Where, O may'st thou be? Come and see, astonished, How I weep for thee!

Whom shall I now lean on, Whose caress receive? Now that he who loves me Far away doth live?

I would fly to thee, love, But no wings have I; Withered, parch'd, without thee, Every hour I die.

The following little elegy, heard and written down in Galicia, we have always considered as one of the gems of poetry. It is a sigh of deep, mourning, everlasting love.


White art thou, my maiden, Can'st not whiter be! Warm my love is, maiden, Cannot warmer be!

But when dead, my maiden, White was she still more; And, poor lad, I love her, Warmer than before.[41]

Of still greater importance in respect to our subject are the SERVIANS. We have seen already in this work, that the inhabitants of the Turkish provinces of Servia and Bosnia, of Montenegro, of the Austrian kingdom of Slavonia, of Dalmatia and Military Croatia, speak essentially the same language; which is likewise the vernacular dialect of numerous Servian settlements in Hungary, along the south-western shore of the Danube. Of this language, which has been alternately called Illyrian, Servian, Morlachian, Bosnian, Croatian, Rascian, and perhaps by still other different appellations, it may be truly said, that it has more names than dialects; and even the few of these latter differ so slightly, that the difference would scarcely be perceived by a foreigner. It is also true, that, on account of the various systems of writing which have been adopted by the different sections of this race, the foreigner will sometimes find it more difficult to understand the language as written than as spoken.

The inexhaustible mine of Servian popular poetry belongs then to the whole nation; although, of course, neither the productiveness is every where the same, nor the power and opportunity of preservation. For its favourite home we must look to those regions where modern civilization has least penetrated; viz. to Turkish Servia, Bosnia, Montenegro. There also the vernacular language is spoken with the greatest purity.

An intelligent Italian traveller, Abbate Fortis, published about a hundred years ago an interesting description of the Morlachians, that is, the Croatian Servian inhabitants of Dalmatia, a tribe distinguished by wild passions and proud contempt of civil life; but full of poetical feeling, and much attached to old usages and the recollections of their ancestors. He printed for the first time some of their beautiful ancient ballads; but although they were much admired in the German versions which Herder and Goethe gave of them (through the French), the region of their birth remained a terra incognita. To a few literati only it was known, that many of these ballads, although in a spurious shape, had been collected by the Franciscan monk, Andreas Cacich Miossich; and also that a great many fragments of remarkable popular heroic songs were scattered, as illustrations, through the Croatian and Dalmatian dictionaries of Bellosztenecz, Jambressich, and Delia Bella. It was known, too, but only by a few, that even ancient Servian historians referred to similar songs.

Vuk Stephanovitch Karadshitch must therefore be called the true discoverer of this mine of beauty; and the judiciousness, patience, and conscientious honesty, with which his collection was got up, deserves the highest praise. Many of the remarkable songs first communicated to the literary public were the reminiscences of his own youth; for he was born and brought up in Turkish Servia. Many more he was only able to find after years of careful and indefatigable research. His large collection—four volumes with at least five or six hundred pieces of poetry—was formed upon the principle, that no piece should be admitted, for the genuineness of which he could not be personally responsible, by having himself heard it from one of the people. Nearly the third part of these poems consists of epic tales; some of them from five to seven hundred verses long; one, more than twelve hundred.

The poetry of the Servians is most intimately interwoven with their daily life. It is the picture of their thoughts, feelings, actions, and sufferings; it is the mental reproduction of the respective conditions of the mass of individuals, who compose the nation. The hall where the women sit spinning around the fireside; the mountains on which the boys pasture their flocks; the square where the village youth assemble to dance the kolo,[42] the plains where the harvest is reaped; the forests through which the lonely traveller journeys,—all resound with song. Song accompanies all kinds of business, and frequently relates to it. The Servian lives his poetry.

The Servians are accustomed to divide their songs into two great portions. Short compositions in various measures, either lyric or epic, and sung without instrumental accompaniment, they call shenske pjesme, or female songs, because they are mostly made by females. The other portion, consisting of long epic tales in verses of five regular trochaic feet, and chanted to the Gusle, a kind of simple violin with one chord, they called Yunatchke pjesme, that is, heroic or young men's songs; for it is an interesting fact, that the ideas of a young man and of a hero, are expressed in Servian by one and the same word, Yunak. The first are, in a very high degree, of a domestic character. They accompany us through all the different relations of domestic life; as well through its daily occupations, as through the holidays and festivals which interrupt its ordinary course. Much has been said, and more could be said, in praise of these harmonious effusions of a tender, fresh, and unsophisticated feeling; but, as we have already dwelt at large upon their general character, we must be satisfied here with adding only that which distinguishes Servian lays from other Slavic songs.

And this distinction we find principally in the cheerfulness, which is the fundamental element of Servian poetry,—a serenity clear and transparent like the bright blue of a southern sky. The allusions to the misfortunes of married life alone, gather sometimes in heavy clouds on this beautiful sky. The fear of being chained to an old man, or of a grim mother-in-law, or the quarrelling of the sisters-in-law, or the increasing cares of the household,—for, in the true patriarchal style, married sons remain in the house of the parents, and all make together only one family,—all these circumstances disturb sometimes the inexhaustible serenity of the Servian women, and call forth gentle lamentations, or perhaps still oftener horrible imprecations, from their humble breasts. Indeed the songs not made for particular occasions also bear strongly and distinctly the stamp of domestic life, and are fall of allusions to family relations.

A spirit of graceful roguery is very prevalent among Servian girls. Their social spinning meetings are especially productive of little witty ballads, in which men and women are represented as disputing, and the former, of course, are always outwitted; just as is the case in numerous English and German popular ballads. But love is also among them the grand and prevailing theme. To judge from these songs, Servian girls and youths keep up a frequent and tender intercourse with each other. The youth bears carefully in memory the hour when the girls go to fetch water; and the frequent festivities, where the dance is not permitted to fail, give the best opportunity for mutual intercourse. Further to the south, and between the mountains, the customs are more strict, and love-songs are less frequent.

Among the ancient songs, recited on certain stated occasions, the wedding songs, adapted to all the various ceremonies of Slavic marriage, are the most remarkable. And here we meet again with one of those various contradictions of the mental world, which puzzle philosophy. While all the symbolic ceremonies are strongly indicative of the shameful state of servitude and humiliation, to which the institution of marriage subjects the Slavic woman[43] (for Slavic maidens are in a certain measure free and happy, and, if beautiful and industrious, even honoured and sought after;) the songs, the mental reproductions of these coarse, rough, humiliating acts, are delicate, sprightly, and almost gallant. There are various indications, that, like the Russian songs of this description, which they strongly resemble, they are derived from a very early period. Like them they have no allusion to church ceremonies.[44]

The feeling expressed in their love-songs is in general gentle and often playful, indicating more of tenderness than of passion. If, however, they are excited to anger, their hatred becomes rage; and is poured forth in imprecations, of which no other language has a like multitude. But these imprecations are not stereotype, as is the case with most other nations. They are composed often, with astonishing ingenuity, by the offended persons themselves. Sometimes we see curses invoked upon the satisfying of the common wants of life. Thus when the lad curses his faithless love: "As much bread as she eats, so much pain may she suffer! as much water as she drinks, so many tears may she shed!"

We subjoin a few of these Servian ballads as specimens, just as they happen to come to hand.


To white Buda, to white castled Buda Clings the vine-tree, cling the vine-tree branches; Not the vine-tree is it with its branches, No, it is a pair of faithful lovers. From their early youth they were betrothed, Now they are compelled to part untimely; One addressed the other at their parting: "Go, my dearest soul, and go straight forward, Thou wilt find a hedge-surrounded garden, Thou wilt find a rose-bush in the garden, Pluck a little branch off from the rose-bush, Place it on thy heart, within thy bosom; Even as that red rose will be fading, Even so, love, will my heart be fading." And the other love this answer gave then; "Thou, dear soul, go back a few short paces, Thou wilt find, my love, a verdant forest, In the forest stands a cooling fountain, In the fountain lies a block of marble; On the marble stands a golden goblet, In the goblet thou wilt find a snowball. Dearest, take that snowball from the goblet, Lay it on thy heart within thy bosom; Even as the snowball will be melting, Even so, love, will my heart be melting."


Sweetheart, come, and let us kiss each other! But, O tell me, where shall be our meeting? In thy garden, love, or in my garden? Under thine or under mine own rose-trees? Thou, sweet soul, become thyself a rose-bud; I then to a butterfly will change me; Fluttering I will drop upon the rose-bud; Folks will think I'm hanging on a flower, While a lovely maiden I am kissing!


To St. George's day the maiden prayed; "Com'st thou again, O dear St. George's day! Find me not here, by my mother dear, Or be it wed, or be it dead!— But rather than dead, I would be wed!" [45]


Two young lovers loved each other fondly, And they washed them at the self-same water, And they dried them with the self-same napkin. One year passed, their love was known by no one; Two years passed, and all the world did know it, And the father heard it and the mother; And their love the mother would not suffer, But she parted the two tender lovers.

Through a star the youth sent to the maiden: "Die, O love, on Saturday at evening, I, thy youth, will die on Sunday morning." And they did as they had told each other; Died the maiden Saturday at evening. Died the youth on Sunday morning early; Close together were the two then buried; Through the earth their hands were clasped together; In their hands were placed two young green apples.

Little time had passed since they were buried; O'er the youth sprang up a verdant pine-tree, O'er the maid a bush with sweet red roses; Round the pine-tree winds itself the rose-bush, As the silk around a bunch of flowers.

But not all the female Servian songs exhibit so much tenderness. That their usual gentleness and humility does not always prevent these poor oppressed beings from sometimes taking the lead in domestic affairs, one would be apt to conclude from the following ballad:


Come, companion, let us hurry That we may be early home, For my mother-in-law is cross, Only yestreen she accused me, Said that I had beat my husband; When, poor soul, I had not touched him. Only bid him wash the dishes, And he would not wash the dishes; Threw then at his head the pitcher, Knocked a hole in head and pitcher; For the head I do not care much; But I care much for the pitcher, As I paid for it right dearly; Paid for it with one wild apple, Yes, and half a one besides.[46]

Objects of still higher admiration the Servians afford us in their heroic poems. Indeed, what epic popular poetry is, how it is produced and propagated, what powers of invention it naturally exhibits,—powers which no art can command,—we may learn from this multitude of simple legends and complicated fables. The Servians stand in this respect quite isolated; there is no modern nation, that can be compared to them in epic productiveness; and a new light seems to be thrown over the grand compositions of the ancients. Thus, without presumption, we may pronounce the publication of these poems one of the most remarkable literary events of modern times.

The general character of the Servian tales is the objective and the plastic. The poet, in most cases, is in a remarkable degree above his subject. He paints his pictures not in glowing colours, but in distinct, prominent features; no explanation is necessary to interpret what the reader thinks he sees with his own eyes. If we compare the Servian epics with those, which other Slavic nations formerly possessed, we find them greatly superior. In the Russian Igor, the whole narrative is exceedingly indistinct; you may read the whole of it five times, without being able clearly to follow out the composition. Not a single character stands out in relief. The mode of representation has more of the lyric than of the epic. The ancient Bohemian poems have more distinctness and freshness. No obscurity disturbs us. But the passions of the poet break forth so often, as to give the whole narration something of the subjective character; while the Servian, even when representing his countrymen in combat with their mortal enemies and oppressors, displays about the same partiality for the former, as Homer for his Greeks.

The introductions, not only to the tales themselves, but even to new situations, are frequently allegorical. A distinct image is placed before the eyes at once. A tale, describing a famous sanguinary deed of revenge, commences thus:

What's that cry of anguish from Banyani?[47] Is 't the Vila? is 't the hateful serpent? Were 't the Vila, she were on the summit; Were 't the serpent, it were 'neath the mountain; Not the Vila is it, nor a serpent;

Shrieked in anguish thus Perovitch Balritch In the hands of Osman, son of Tchorov. [45]

Ravens are the messengers of unhappy news. The battle of Mishar begins with the following verses:

Flying came a pair of coal-black ravens Far away from the broad field of Mishar, Far from Shabatz, from the high white fortress; Bloody were their beaks unto the eyelids, Bloody were their talons to the ankles; And they flew along the fertile Matshva, Waded quickly through the billowy Drina, Journey'd onward through the honoured Bosnia, Lighting down upon the hateful border, 'Midst within the accursed town of Vakup, On the dwelling of the captain Kulin; Lighting down and croaking as they lighted.

Three or four poems, of which courtships or weddings are the subjects, begin with a description of the beauty of the girl. Especially rich and complete is the following:

Never since the world had its beginning, Never did a lovelier flow'ret blossom, Than the flow'ret in our own days blooming; Haikuna, the lovely maiden flower.

She was lovely, nothing e'er was lovelier! She was tall and slender as the pine-tree; White her cheeks, but tinged with rosy blushes, As if morning's beam had shone upon them, Till that beam had reached its high meridian. And her eyes, they were two precious jewels,

And her eyebrows, leeches from the ocean, And her eyelids they were wings of swallows; And her flaxen braids were silken tassels; And her sweet mouth was a sugar casket, And her teeth were pearls arrayed in order; White her bosom, like two snowy dovelets, And her voice was like the dovelet's cooing; And her smiles were like the glowing sunshine; And her fame, the story of her beauty, Spread through Bosnia and through Herz'govina.

We should never end, if we continued thus to extract all the beautiful and striking passages from the Servian popular lyrics; although their chief merit by no means consists in beautiful passages, but, in most cases, in the composition of the whole, and in the distinct, graphic, and plastic mode of representation. In respect to their style, we add only a single remark. Slavic popular poetry in general has none of the vulgarisms, which, in many cases, deface the popular ballads of the Teutonic nations. Yet dignity of style cannot be expected in any popular production. Those whose feelings, from want of acquaintance with the poetry of nature, are apt to be hurt by certain undignified expressions interspersed unconsciously sometimes in the most beautiful descriptions, will not escape unpleasant impressions in reading the Servian songs. The pictures are always fresh, tangible, and striking; but, although not seldom the effects of the sublime, and of the deepest tragic pathos, are obtained by a perfect simplicity, nothing could be more foreign to them than the dignified stateliness and scrupulous refinement of the French stage.

The number and variety of the Servian heroic poems is immense. The oldest legendary cycle is formed by their great Tzar Dushan Nemanyitch and his heroes; by the pious prince Lazar, their last independent chief, who was executed by the Turks after having been made prisoner in battle; and by the death of his faithful knights on the field of Kossovo. The two battles fought here, in 1389 and 1447, put an end to the existence of the Servian empire. In immediate connection with these epic songs are those of which Marko Kralyewitch, i.e. Marko the king's son, the Servian Hercules, is the hero; at least thirty or forty in number. The pictures, which these ballads exhibit, are extremely wild and bold; and are often drawn on a mythological ground. Indeed both the epic and the lyric poetry of the Servians are interwoven with a traditional belief in certain fanciful creatures of Pagan superstition, which exercise a constant influence on human affairs. Witches (Vjashtitzi), veiled women who go from house to house, carrying with them destruction; the plague, personified as an old horrible looking female; and also the saints, and among them the thunderer Elias and the fiery Mary who sends lightning; these all appear occasionally. But the principal figure is the Vila, a mountain fairy, having nearly the same character as the northern elementary spirits; though the malicious qualities predominate, and her intermeddling is in most cases fatal.

There are various features which serve to allay the extreme wildness and rudeness of the oldest Servian poems. As one of the principal of these we consider the solemn institution of a contract of brotherhood or fraternal friendship, which the Servians seem to have inherited from the Scythians.[49] Two men or two women promise each other before the altar, and under solemn ceremonies, in the name of God and St. John, eternal friendship. They bind themselves by this act to all the mutual duties of brothers and sisters. Similar relations exist also between the two sexes, when a maid solemnly calls an old man her "father in God," or a young one her "brother in God;" or when a man calls a woman his "mother or sister in God." This is mostly done in cases of distress. When a person, thus appealed to, accepts the appellation, they are in duty bound to protect and to take care of the unfortunate, who thus give themselves into their hands; according to the prevailing notion, a breach of this contract is severely punished by Heaven. Marko Kralyevitch was united in such an alliance with the Vila; in modern times we find it sometimes between Turks and Servians in the midst of their most bitter feuds.

The traditional ballads of the Servians, referring to the heroes of their golden time, are undoubtedly in their groundwork of great antiquity; but as until recently they have been preserved only by tradition, it cannot be supposed, that they have come down in their present form from the original time of their composition; which was perhaps nearly cotemporary to the events they celebrate. In most of them frequent Turcisms show, that the singer is familiar with the conquerors and their language. According to Vuk, very few are in their present form older than the fifteenth century.

The more modern heroic ballads—for the productiveness of this remarkable people is still alive—are essentially of the same character. They may be divided into two parts. One division, probably composed during the last two centuries and down even to the present time, is devoted to a variety of subjects, public and private. Duels, love stories, satisfaction of blood-revenge, domestic quarrels and reconciliation, are alternately related. The variety of invention in these tales is astonishing; the skill of the combinations and the final development surpasses all that hitherto has been known of popular poetry. One of the most remarkable of them is a narrative of 1227 lines; which relates to the marriage of a young man, Maxim Tzernovitch, son of Ivan Tzernovitch, a wealthy and powerful Servian. The father goes to Venice to ask in marriage for his son the daughter of the Doge. He describes him as the handsomest of young men; but, when he comes home, he finds him metamorphosed by the smallpox into the ugliest. By the advice of his wife, he substitutes another handsome young man to fetch home the bride with the procession of bridal guests; promising him the principal share in the bridal gifts; for he commits the fraud less from covetous views than from pride, being afraid of being put to shame as unable to keep his word before the haughty Venetians. They succeed in bringing away the bride; but the cheat is discovered on the road; a contest arises, and the whole affair ends in a horrible slaughter.

Vuk Stephanovitch has heard this tale repeatedly, and with several variations; but the principal features, for instance a rich and elaborate description of the bridal gifts, were always recited exactly in the same words. It was chanted in the most perfect manner by an old singer, named Milya, whom prince Milosh often had to sing it before him; and from whose lips Vuk at last took it down.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9     Next Part
Home - Random Browse