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In the preceding view of the literature of the Slavic nations, we have abstained from giving any specimens of their poetry. A few would not have satisfied the reader, and could not have done justice to poets, who each for himself has a literary character of his own; and many would have at least doubled the size of this volume. Shukovsky, Pushkin, Mickewicz, Brodzinski, Krasinski, Kollar—each, as we said, has an individual poetical character of his own, of which the reader could have gathered no just idea without a whole series of their productions; and these even then would have lost half their value in a translation. Yet they all have little of that peculiar Slavic character, which belongs still in some degree to all Slavic nations; and which is so strikingly expressed in their POPULAR POETRY.

Our remark respecting the loss of the principal charms which all poetical productions have to undergo, when clothed in a foreign dress, applies as well to popular poetry as to the works of literature, and even more. Indeed, if any kind of poetry must needs lose half its beauties in a translation, the truth of the Latin saying, Dulcius ex ipsa fonte bibuntur aguae, will never be more readily acknowledged, than in respect to the idiomatic peculiarities of popular ballads. This holds good principally of merely lyric productions, the only kind of songs which are left to some of the Slavic tribes. They are grown into the very bone and marrow of the language itself; and a congenial spirit can at the utmost imitate, but never satisfactorily translate them. And yet they are the most essential features in the physiognomy of a people; or, as Goerres expresses it, they are like pulse and breath, the signs and the measure of the internal life. “While the great epic streams,” as this ingenious writer justly says, “reflect the character of a whole wide-spread river-district, in time and history, these lyric effusions are the sources and fountains, which, with their net-work of rills, water and drain the whole country; and, bringing to light the secrets of its inmost bowels, pour out into lays its warmest heart's blood.” [1] We therefore give the specimens of Slavic popular poetry, which we here present to the reader, not merely as poems to be admired, but rather as characteristic features of the mental condition of the respective nations, and of their manner of thinking and feeling.

This is the age of utilitarianism. The Genius of poetry still lives indeed, for he is immortal; but the period of his living power is gone. His present dwelling is the study; the sphere of his operations the parlour; the scene, where his exhibitions are displayed in a dress of morocco and gold, is the centre table of the rich and the genteel. Popular poetry,—we do not mean that divine gift, the dowry of a few blessed individuals; we mean that general productiveness, which pervades the mass of men as it pervades Nature,—popular poetry, among all the nations of Europe, is only a dying plant. Here and there a lonely relic is discovered among the rocks, preserved by the invigorating powers of the mountain air; or a few sickly plants, half withered in their birth, grow up in some solitary valley, hidden from the intrusive genius of modern improvement and civilization, who makes his appearance with a brush in his hand, sweeping mercilessly away even the loveliest flowers which may be considered as impediments in his path. Twenty years hence, and a trace will not be left, except the dried specimens which the amateur lays between two sheets of paper, and the copies preserved in cabinets.

Among the nations of the Slavic race alone is the living flower still to be found, growing in its native luxuriance; but even here, only among the Servians and Dalmatians in its full blossom and beauty. For centuries these treasures have been buried from the literary world. Addison, when he endeavored to vindicate his admiration of the ballad of “Chevy-Chace,” by the similarity of some of its passages with the epics of Virgil and Homer, had not the remotest idea, that the immortal blind bard had found his true and most worthy successors among the likewise blind poets of his next Hyperborean neighbours. The merit of having lifted at last the curtain from these scenes, belongs to Germany, chiefly to Herder. But only the few last years have allowed a more full and satisfactory view of them.

In laying before our readers a sketch of Slavic popular poetry, we must renounce at once any attempt at chronological order. Slavic popular poetry has yet no history. Not that a considerable portion of it is not very ancient. Many mysterious sounds, even from the gray ages of paganism, reach us, like the chimes of distant bells, unconnected and half lost in the air; while, of many other songs and legends, the colouring reminds us strongly of their Asiatic home. But the wonderful tales they convey, have mostly been only confined to tradition; especially there, where the fountain of poetry streamed; and streams still, in the richest profusion, namely, in Servia. Handed down from generation to generation, each has impressed its mark upon them. Tradition, that wonderful offspring of reality and imagination, affords no safer basis to the history of poetry, than to the history of nations themselves. To dig out of dust and rubbish a few fragments of manuscripts, which enable us to cast one glance into the night of the past, has been reserved only for recent times. Future years will furnish richer materials; and to the inquirer, who shall resume this subject fifty years after us, it may be permitted to reduce them to historical order; while we must be contented to appreciate those, which are before our eyes, in a moral and poetical respect.

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 romantichonour. 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 asinging 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 bymotherling, 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.

Another section of more modern ballads narrates events from the latest war between the Servians and Turks, between 1801 and 1815. Who of our readers has not heard of Kara George? His companions, Yanko Katitch, Stoyan Tchupitch, Milosh of Potzerye, are in Servia as well known and admired as Kara George himself. They and their comrades are the heroes of these ballads. The gallant Tchupitch rewarded the blind poet Philip, who chanted to him a long and beautiful poem of his own composition, with a white horse. The subject of his narrative was the battle of Salash; where Tchupitch himself had been the Servian commander.[59]

The same ballad singer Philip is the author of most of the modern heroic poems. Of others the authors are not known. Little stress is laid on the art of poetry; exercised with such extraordinary power. These productions of our day are by no means inferior to the ancient. There is indeed no essential difference, either in their diction or in their conception; and it is easy to be perceived, that old and young have been nursed from their infancy on tales of “the days of yore.” Some passages of Philip's ballads are really Homeric.[51] Fortunately, the period is past when our admiration for hyperborean poetry needed to be justified by its similarity with the classics. We have learned that real poetry is not spell-bound to names, nor to any nation or age; and the beautiful has obtained in our time an independent existence, no longer subject to certain forms and conditions, but resting on itself and its divine gifts.

The difficulties Vuk Stephanovitch met with in collecting these wonderful ballads, were not small. He was often hardly able to prevail on the young men and girls to recite, still less to sing them before him; partly from a natural shyness to exhibit themselves before a stranger; partly because his search after effusions which had so little value in their eyes, and his attempt to fix them by writing, seemed to them an idle and useless occupation. The only reason which they could conceive for it was, that the learned idler meant to ridicule them; and his request was frequently answered by the words: “We are no blind men to sing or recite songs to you.”

Of the heroic poems, he tells us, that they are not only chanted, but often recited, as we are accustomed to read; and that in this latter way, old people teach them by preference to the children. His own father, grandfather, and uncle, were wont to recite and to sing them; and the two latter even composed not a few. Among those from whose lips he took down the present collection, were lads, peasants, merchants, as also hayduks, i.e. highwaymen, in Servia a mode of life less disreputable than with us, and somewhat approaching to heroism. Further, at least seven or eight were blind men; all of them professional bards, and almost the only persons willing to satisfy him. The shenske pjesme, or female poems, he had to catch by chance; and short as they are, it was easy to keep them in memory after having heard them once or twice.

While these latter poems are mostly sung without any instrumental accompaniment in the spinning-rooms, in the pastures, or at the village dances; on the other hand the tavern, the public squares, the festive halls of the chiefs, are the places where the Gusle is heard which accompanies the heroic ballads. The bard chants two lines; then he pauses and gives a few plaintive strokes on his primitive instrument; then he chants again, and so on. He needs these short pauses for recollection, as well as for invention. Although these ballads are chiefly sung by blind men, yet no hero thinks it beneath him to chant them to the Gusle. Pirch, a Prussian officer, who travelled in Servia some twenty years ago, tells us, that the Knjas, his host, took the instrument from the hands of the lad, for whom he had sent to sing before his guest, because he did not satisfy him, and played and chanted himself with a superior skill. Clergymen themselves are not ashamed to do it. Nay, even Muhammedan-Bosnians, more Turks than Servians, have preserved this partiality for their national heroics. The great among them would not, indeed, themselves sing them; but they cause them to be chanted before them; and it happened, that a Christian prisoner in Semendria obtained his liberty by their intercession with the Kadi, which he owed merely to their fondness for his ballads. A considerable number of fine songs are marked in Vuk's collection as having been first heard from Muhammedan singers.

Although the same ballads are not heard every where, yet the poetical feeling and productiveness seem to be pretty equally distributed over all the region inhabited by the Servian race. The heroic ballads originate mostly in the southern mountains of Servia, in Bosnia, Montenegro, and its Dalmatian neighbourhood. Towards the North-East the productiveness diminishes; the songs are still known in the Austrian provinces, but the recitation of them, and the Gusle itself, are left to blind men and beggars. Pirch heard, nevertheless, the ballads of Marko Kralyevitch in the vicinity of Neusatz, in Hungary. On the other hand, the amatory Servian ballads, and all those comprised under the name of female songs,—although by no means exclusively sung by women,—originate chiefly in those regions, where perhaps a glimpse of occidental civilization has somewhat refined the general feeling. The villages of Syrmia, the Banat, and the Batchva, are the home of most of them; in the Bosnian towns also they are heard; while in the citiesof the Austrian provinces they have been superseded by modern airs of less value, perhaps, and certainly of less nationality.

It remains to remark, that while in all the other Slavic popular poetry, the musical element is prominent, it is in the Servian completely crowded into the background. Even the little lyric pieces, or female ballads, are not only in a high degree monotonous, but even without the peculiar sweetness of most popular airs. They also are chanted rather than sung.

The Bulgarian language is said to be particularly rich in popular ballads; and it would hardly be credible, that the numerous nations with which they mixed for centuries, should not have influenced their poetry as well as their language. Nevertheless, those ballads we have met with are not distinguished in any way from the Servian; especially from those Servian ones sung in the provinces where intercourse with a Turkish population is more frequent. One specimen will be sufficient.


  O thou hill, thou high green hill! 
  Why, green hill, art thou so withered? 
  Why so withered and so wilted? 
  Did the winter's frost so wilt thee? 
  Did the summer's heat so parch thee? 
      Not the winter's frost did wilt me, 
  Nor the summer's heat did parch me, 
  But my glowing heart is smothered. 
  Yesterday three slave gangs crossed me; 
  Grecian maids were in the first row, 
  Weeping, crying bitterly: 
  “O our wealth! art lost for ever!” 
  Black-eyed maidens from Walachia 
  Weeping, crying in the second: 
  “O ye ducats of Walachia!” 
  Bulgar women in the third row, 
  Weeping, crying, “O sweet home! 
  O sweet home! beloved children! 
  Fare ye well, farewell for ever!”

The SLOVENZI or VINDES, that is, the Slavic inhabitants of Camiola and Carinthia, have of course their own ballads, which have been recently collected. That the influence of the German population, with whom they live intermingled, has been very great, even in these songs, cannot be matter of surprise. It is, however, chiefly discernible in the melodies they sing; which are said to be the same familiar to the German mountaineers of Styria and Tyrol. Several narrative ballads of some length are still extant among them, similar to the Servian, but rhymed. These have been communicated to the German public in a translation by their poet Anastasius Grun. They are all too long to be given here as specimens; we therefore confine ourselves to the following pretty little song:


  “Where were you, and where have you stray'd 
          In the night? 
  Your shoes are all with dew o'erlaid; 
          In the night, in the night.”

  I strayed there in the cool green grove, 
          In the night. 
  There flutters many a turtle dove, 
          In the night, in the night.

  They have such little red cheeks, they all, 
          In the night; 
  And bills so sweet, and bills so small, 
          In the night, in the night.

  There I stood, lurking on the watch, 
          In the night; 
  Till one little dovelet I did catch, 
          In the night, in the night.

  It had of all the sweetest bill, 
          In the night; 
  Red rose, its cheeks were redder still, 
          In the night, in the night.

  That dovelet now caresses me 
          In the night; 
  And kissing each other we'll ever be, 
          In the night, in the night.

The field of popular poetry, which the Slavic nations of the WESTERN STEM present to us, promises a gleaning of a comparatively inferior value.

It appears from the Koenigshof manuscript, that five centuries ago the BOHEMIANS had a treasure of popular poetry. This document exhibits also the extraordinary fact, that almost the same ballads were sung in Bohemia in the thirteenth century, which are now heard from the lips of Russian and Servian peasant girls. The reader may compare the following songs, all of them faithfully translated.



  O my rose, my fair red rose, 
  Why art thou blown out so early? 
  Why, when blown out, frozen? 
  Why, when frozen, withered? 
  Withered, broken from the stem!

  Late at night I sat and sat, 
  Sat until the cocks did crow; 
  No one came, although I waited 
  Till the pine-torch all burned low.

  Then came slumber over me; 
  And I dreamed my golden ring

  Sudden slipp'd from my right hand; 
  Down my precious diamond fell. 
  For the ring I looked in vain, 
  For my love I longed in vain!


  O, ye forests, dark green forests, 
  Miletinish forests! 
  Why in summer and in winter, 
  Are ye green and blooming? 
  O! I would not weep and cry, 
  Nor torment my heart. 
  But now tell me, good folks, tell me, 
  How should I not cry? 
  Ah! where is my dear good father? 
  Wo! he deep lies buried. 
  Where my mother? O good mother! 
  O'er her grows the grass! 
  Brothers have I not, nor sisters, 
  And my lad is gone!


  O my fountain, so fresh and cool, 
  O my rose, so rosy red! 
  Why art thou blown out so early? 
  None have I to pluck thee for! 
  If I plucked thee for my mother, 
  Ah! poor girl, I have no mother; 
  If I plucked thee for my sister, 
  Gone is my sister with her husband; 
  If I plucked thee for my brother,

  To the war my brother's gone. 
  If I plucked thee for my lover, 
  Gone is my love so far away! 
  Far away o'er three green mountains, 
  Far away o'er three cool fountains!


current at the present day.


  Last evening I sat, a young maid, 
  I sat till deep in the night; 
  I sat and waited till day-break, 
  Till all my pine-torch was burnt out. 
  While all my companions slept, 
  I sat and waited for thee; love!


  No good luck to me my dream forebodes; 
  For to me, to me, fair maid, it seemed, 
  On my right hand did my gold ring burst, 
  O'er the floor then rolled the precious stone.

The Bohemians preserved their nationality, and very probably with it their ancient popular songs, down to the seventeenth century. During the thirty years' war, of which Bohemia was in part almost uninterruptedly the seat, a complete revolution in manners, institutions, and localities, took place. Whole villages emigrated, or were driven into the wide world, wandering about in scattered groups as fugitives and mendicants. Most of the ancient songs may have died at that time. The German influence increased rapidly during the remainder of the seventeenth century, mostly by force and reluctantly; still more during the eighteenth century by habit, intermarriages, education, etc. The Bohemians, the most musical nation in the world, are still a singing people; but many of their ditties are evidently borrowed from the German; in others, invented by themselves, they exhibit a spirit entirely different from that of their ancestors. These modern songs are mostly rhymed. The following specimen of songs still current among the peasantry of Bohemia, will show well the harmless, playful, roguish spirit that pervades them.


  Little star with gloomy shine, 
  If thou couldst but cry! 
  If thou hadst a heart, my star, 
  Sparks would from thee fly, 
  Just as tears fall from mine eye.

  All the night with golden sparks 
  Thou wouldst for me cry! 
  Since my love intends to wed, 
  Only 'cause another maid 
  Richer is than I.


  Flowing waters meet each other, 
  And the winds, they blow and blow; 
  Sweetheart with her bright blue eyes 
  Stands and looks from her window.

  Do not stand so at the window, 
  Rather come before the door; 
  If thou giv'st me two sweet kisses, 
  I will give thee ten and more.


  In a green grove 
  Sat a loving pair; 
  Fell a bough from above, 
  Struck them dead there. 
  Happy for them, 
  That both died together; 
  So neither was left, 
  To mourn for the other.


  What chatters there the little bird, 
    On the oak tree above? 
  It sings, that every maid in love 
    Looks pale and wan from love.

  My little bird, thou speak'st not true, 
    A lie hast thou now said; 
  For see, I am a maid in love, 
    And am not pale, but red.

  Take care, my bird; because thou liest, 
    I now must punish thee; 
  I take this gun, I load this gun, 
    And shoot thee from the tree.

In the following fine ballad the German influence is manifest. It is extant in two different texts. We give it in Bowring's version, which has less of amplification and embellishment than is usual in English translations.


  I sought the dark wood where the oat grass was growing; 
  The maidens were there and that oat grass were mowing.

  And I called to those maidens: “Now say if there be 
  The maiden I love 'midst the maidens I see?”

  And they sighed as they answered: “Ah no! alas no! 
  She was laid in the bed of the tomb long ago.” [57]

  “Then show me the way where my footsteps must tread, 
  To reach that dark chamber, where slumber the dead.”

  “The path is before thee, her grave will be known, 
  By the rosemary wreaths her companions have thrown.”

  “And where is the church in church-yard, whose heaps 
  Will point out the bed where the blessed one sleeps?”

  So twice to the church-yard in sadness I drew, 
  But I saw no fresh heap and no grave that was new.

  I turned, and with heart-chilling terror I froze, 
  And a newly made grave at my feet slowly rose.

  And I heard a low voice, but it audibly said, 
  “Disturb not, disturb not the sleep of the dead!

  “Who treads on my bosom? what footsteps have swept 
  The dew from the bed where the weary one slept?”

  “My maiden, my maiden, so speak not to me, 
  My presents were once not unwelcome to thee!”

  “Thy presents were welcome, but none could I save, 
  Not one could I bring to the stores of the grave.

  “Go thou to my mother, and bid her restore 
  To thy hands every gift which I valued before.

  “Then fling the gold ring in the depth of the sea, 
  And eternity's peace shall be given to me.

  “And sink the white kerchief deep, deep in the wave, 
  That my head may repose undisturbed in the grave!”

The Slovaks, the Slavic inhabitants of the north-western districts of Hungary, are considered, as we have seen above, as the direct descendants of the first Slavic settlers in Europe. Although for nearly a thousand years past they have formed a component part of the Hungarian nation, they have nevertheless preserved their language and many of their ancient customs. Their literature, we know, is not to be separated from that of the Bohemians. Their popular effusions are original; although, likewise, between them and the popular poetry of their Bohemian brethren, a close affinity cannot be denied. The Slovaks are said to be still exceedingly rich in pretty and artless songs, both pensive and cheerful; but the original Slavic type is now very much effaced from them. The surrounding nations, and above all the Germans, have exercised a decided and lasting influence upon them.

The following ballads are still heard among the Slovaks. The first of them is also extant in an imperfect German shape. As the coarse dialect, in which the German ballad may be heard, is that of the “Kuhlaendchen,” a small district of Silesia, where the Slavic neighbourhood has not been without influence, we have no doubt that the more complete Slavic ballad is the original.


  The maiden went for water, 
  To the well o'er the meadow away; 
  She there could draw no water, 
  So thick the frost it lay.

  The mother she grew angry; 
  She had it long to bemoan; 
  “O daughter mine, O daughter, 
    I would thou wert a stone!”

  The maiden's water-pitcher 
    Grew marble instantly; 
  And she herself, the maiden, 
    Became a maple tree.

  There came one day two lads, 
    Two minstrels young they were; 
  “We've travelled far, my brother, 
    Such a maple we saw no where.

  “Come let us cut a fiddle, 
    One fiddle for me and you; 
  And from the same fine maple, 
    For each one, fiddlesticks two.”

  They cut into the maple,— 
    There splashed the blood so red; 
  The lads fell on the ground, 
    So sore were they afraid.

  Then spake from within the maiden: 
    “Wherefore afraid are you? 
  Cut out of me one fiddle, 
    And for each one, fiddlesticks two.

  “Then go and play right sadly, 
    To my mother's door begone, 
  And sing: Here is thy daughter, 
    Whom thou didst curse to stone.”

  The lads they went, and sadly 
    Their song to play began; 
  The mother, when she heard them, 
    Right to the window ran:

  “O lads, dear lads, be silent, 
    Do not my pain increase; 
  For since I lost my daughter, 
    My pain doth never cease!”


  Ah! if but this evening 
    Would come my lover sweet, 
  With the bright, bright sun, 
    Then the moon would meet.

  Ah! poor girl this evening 
    Comes not thy lover sweet; 
  With the bright, bright sun, 
    The moon doth never meet.

The reader will perceive that these Slovakian songs are rhymed. There are however also rhymeless verses extant among them; the measure of which seems to indicate a greater antiquity, and brings them nearer to the nations of the Eastern stock.[58]

Of all the Slavic nations, the POLES, as we have already remarked, had most neglected their popular poetry. There were indeed several collections of popular ballads published, partly by Polish editors, with the title of popular poetry in Poland. But they all, without exception, so far as we know, refer to the Ruthenian peasantry in Poland, who use a language different from the Polish, and essentially the same as the Malo-Russian. These tribes, inhabitants of Poland for centuries, may indeed be called Poles with perfect propriety. Yet this name is in a more limited sense applied to the Lekhian race exclusively; and it is in respect to them that we remarked above, that their songs had been collected for the first time only a few years ago.[59]

That they also had national ballads of their own could hardly be a matter of doubt; and the neglect may easily be explained, in a nation among whom all that has any reference to mere boors and serfs has always been regarded with the utmost contempt. Their beautiful national dances, however, known all over the world, the graceful Polonaise, the bold Masur, the ingenious Cracovienne, are just as much the property of the peasantry, as of the nobility. Their dances were formerly always accompanied by singing; just as it was customary in olden times every where, and as it is still the usage among the Russian and Servian peasantry, to dance to the music of song instead of instruments. But these songs are always extemporized; and in Poland probably were never written down. The early refinement of the language secured to the upper classes a greater or lesser share in their national literature, which gave them apparently better things; although we have seen above, that, far from developing itself from its own resources, their literature was alternately ingrafted on a Latin, Italian, or French stock. Among the country gentry, and even at the convivial parties of the nobility, the custom of extemporizing songs, probably full of national reminiscences, continued even down to the beginning of our own century. Very little stress was naturally laid upon them; since the interest for all that is national, historical, or in any way connected with the people, belongs only to the most recent times. In our day, the local scenes of Lithuania have excited some interest, and the Ukraine has become the favourite theatre of Polish poets.

The Polish nation has an ancient hymn, which may be said to belong in some measure to popular poetry. It is known under the name of Boga Rodzica, or God's Mother; and is said to have been composed by St. Adalbert, who lived at the end of the tenth century. According to Niemcewicz, the Polish poet, it was still chanted in the year 1812 in the churches of Kola and Gnesen, the places where St. Adalbert lived and died. It is a prayer to the Virgin, ending with a sixfold Amen; and was formerly sung by the soldiers when advancing to battle. For that reason probably we find it frequently called a war song.

The popular ballads, published by Woicicki and Zegota Pauli, are not distinguished in any way from those still extant among the Slovakians, Bohemians, and Lusatian Sorabians. It can only be matter of surprise, that they have imbibed no more of the wild and romantic character of the ballads sung by the Ruthenians, with whom they live intermingled in several regions. They are ruder in form; and alternately rhymed, or distinguished from prose only by a certain irregular but prosodic measure, sometimes trochaic, but mostly dactylic. With the classical beauty of the Servian songs they can bear no comparison; in which latter the perfect absence of vulgarity may perhaps be partly accounted for, by their having been produced among a people where no privileged classes exist. Only in their wedding songs, and other similar ones, is there a striking affinity; it is in general in these relics of ancient times, that the popular poetry of the nations of the Eastern and of the Western Stems meet in one distinct and fundamental accord.

Many of the more ancient ballads extant among the Poles we find also in one or other of the Western Slavic languages. For example, the following; which exists in the Vendish language in a shape more diffuse and twice as long; and also in Slovakian, still more sketchlike. That the Polish ballad is derived from a time, when the horrid invasions of the Tartars were at least still distinctly remembered, we may safely conclude. In the Slovakian ballad the invaders are called Turks; in the Vendish ballad, probably the latest of the three, they have lost all individual nationality, and have become merely “enemies,” or “robbers.”


  Plundering are the Tartars, 
  Plundering Jashdow castle.

  All the people fled, 
  Only a lad they met.

  “Where's thy lord, my lad? 
  Where and in what tower 
  Is thy lady's bower?”

  “I must not betray him, 
  Lest my lord should slay me.”

  “Not his anger fear, 
  Thou shalt stay not here, 
  Thou shalt go with us.”

  “My lord's and lady's bower 
  Is in the highest tower.”

  Once the Tartars shot, 
  And they hit them not.

  Twice the Tartars shot, 
  And they killed the lord.

  Thrice the Tartars shot— 
  They are breaking in the tower, 
  The lady is in their power.

  Away, away it goes, 
  Over the green meadows, 
  Black, black the walls arose!

  “O lady, O turn back, 
  To thy walls so sad and black.

  “O walls, ye dreary walls! 
  So sad and black are you, 
  Because your lord they slew!

  “Because your lord is slain, 
  Your lady is dragged away 
  Into captivity! 
  A slave for life to be, 
  Far, far in Tartary!”

Among the ballads of almost all nations we find some that illustrate the mournful and destitute state of motherless orphans. There seems to be hardly any feeling, which comes more directly home to the affectionate compassion of the human heart, than the pitiable and touching condition of helpless little beings left to the tender mercies of a stepmother; who, with her traditional severity, may be called a kind of standing bugbear of the popular imagination. The Danes have a beautiful ballad, in which the ghost of a mother is roused by the wailings and sufferings of her deserted offspring, to break with supernatural power the gravestone, and to re-enter, in the stillness of the night, the neglected nursery, in order to cheer, to nurse, to comb and wash the dear seven little ones, whom God once intrusted to her care. It is one of the most affecting pieces of popular poetry we ever have met with. The Slavic nations have nothing that can be compared with it in beauty; but most of them have several ballads on the same subject; and in a general collection, the “Orphan Ballads” would fill a whole chapter.[61] The simple ditty which we give here as another specimen of Polish popular poetry, exceedingly rude as it is in its form, and even defective in rhyme and metre, cannot but please and touch us by its very simplicity.


  Poor little orphan is wandering about, 
  Seeking its mother and weeping aloud.

  Jesus Christ met it, mildly to it spake: 
  “Where art thou roaming, poor little babe?

  “Go not, go not, babe, too far thou wilt roam, 
  And goest e'er so far, not to thy mother come.

  “Now turn and go, dear babe, to the green cemetery, 
  From out her deep grave thy mother will speak to thee.”

  “Wo! at my grave who's knocking so wild?” 
  “Mother! dear mother! it's I, thy poor child!

    “Take me to thee, take me, 
    Ill I fare without thee!”

  “Go home, my babe, and thy strange mother tell, 
  She'll wash thy tattered shirt and comb and clean thee well!”

    “When my shirt she washes, 
    Sprinkles it with ashes.

    “When she puts it on to me, 
    Scolds so grim and bitterly!

    “When she combs my head, 
    Runs the blood so red.

    “When she braids my hair, 
    Pulls me here and there!”

  “Go thee home, my babe, the Lord thy tears will dry!” 
  And the babe went home, laid her down to cry.

  Laid her down to cry, one day only cried; 
  Groaned the second day, and the third day died.

  From his heaven our Lord did two angels send, 
  With the poor babe they did to heaven ascend.

  From the hell our Lord did two devils send; 
  They took the bad stepmother and down to hell they went.

Of all the surviving Slavic tribes, we have seen that the nationality of the VENDES of Lusatia is most endangered. If formerly, as a race, they suffered from persecution and oppression, they have now for several centuries shared all the advantages of an enlightened education and wise institutions with their German countrymen; and it would therefore be erroneous to consider them still in the light of an oppressed or subjugated nation. Although their language cannot be said to be favoured by the government, they have their schools, their worship, their courts of justice, and, above all, their ballads, without let or hinderance; and if nevertheless the statistics of each year, especially in the plains of Lower Lusatia, show a diminution of the Slavic speaking population, we must attribute it rather to the natural and irresistible effect of time and circumstances, than to any despotic or arbitrary measures of the government. The Vendish villages are flourishing; the costumes of the peasants are heavy and rich; and to their general welfare the cheerful merry character of their ballads seems to bear testimony. Their melodies resemble the Bohemian, as much as their ballads do those of their neighbours; but German melodies also are frequently heard among them, and many translations of German popular ballads have become perfectly naturalized. That the language of Upper Lusatia approaches very near to the Bohemian, we have stated above. It is, however, much more interspersed with German words; although not to such a degree as the Lower Lusatian dialect.

Of all the Slavic popular ballads, we find in those of the Lusatians least of that chaste feeling, which is in general characteristic of Slavic love songs. The pleasures of illicit intercourse and their consequences, which make also a favourite theme of the common English and German ballads, are often grossly described; and we may conclude that the talent of extemporizing, or in general making pretty verses, has forsaken the female villagers in this German neighbourhood, and passed over to the men.

We give here two characteristic ballads of the Upper Lusatian language.


  Far more unhappy in the world am I, 
  Than on the meadow the bird that doth fly.

  Little bird merrily flits to and fro, 
  Sings its sweet carol upon the green bough.

  I, alas, wander wherever I will, 
  Every where I am desolate still!

  No one befriends me, wherever I go. 
  But my own heart full of sorrow and woe!

  Cease thy grief, oh my heart, full of grief, 
  Soon will a time come that giveth thee relief.

  Never misfortune has struck mo so hard, 
  But I ere long again better have fared.

  God of all else in the world has enough; 
  Why not then widows and orphans enough?[64]


  Let him who would married be, 
  Look about him and take care, 
  That he does not take a wife, 
      Take a wife; 
  He'll repent it till his life.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take too young a wife, 
  Youthful wife has boiling blood, 
      Boiling blood; 
  No one thinks of her much good.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take too old a wife, 
  In the house she'll creep about, 
      Creep about; 
  And will frighten people out.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take a handsome wife, 
  Nought but trouble she will give, 
      Trouble give; 
  Others' visits she'll receive.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take too short a wife, 
  Lowly thou must stoop to her, 
      Stoop to her, 
  Wouldst thou whisper in her ear.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take too tall a wife, 
  Ladders thou to her must raise, 
      Ladders raise, 
  If thou wouldst thy wife embrace.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take a snarling wife, 
  Thou wilt want no dog in the house, 
      Dog in the house; 
  Thy wife will be the dog in the house.

  As for poor ones, let them be, 
  Nothing they will bring to thee, 
  Every thing will wanting be, 
      Wanting be; 
  Not a soul will come to thee.

  If thou shouldst make up thy mind, 
  And shouldst take a wealthy wife, 
  Then with patience thou must bear, 
      Thou must bear, 
  If the breeches she should wear.

  Pretty, modest, smart, and neat, 
  Good and pious she must be; 
  If thou weddest such a wife, 
      Such a wife, 
  Thou'lt not repent it all thy life.

Merry ballads like these are usually sung at wedding feasts, where several of the old Slavic ceremonies are still preserved; among other things the bringing home of the bride in solemn procession. Many old verses, mostly fragments of half forgotten ballads, familiar to their ancestors, are in like manner occasionally recited. But the poetical atmosphere, which still weaves around the Russian or Servian maiden a mystical veil, through which she gazes, as in a dream full of golden illusions and images, into that condition of new existence feared and desired by her at once—that atmosphere is destroyed by the lights of the surrounding civilization, which show the sober reality of things in full glare. The flowers are withered that were wound around the chains; but the chains themselves have become lighter. The ancient wedding songs, full of pagan allusions, have been supplanted by glees mostly composed by their half German pastors; the only educated men who still speak their language. Indeed, not a few of their most popular ballads are written by their curates. How soon these will be superseded by German songs, no one can say; but it requires no great stretch of prophetic power to predict, that the time is near at hand.


[Footnote 1: Volks und Meisterlieder, Frankf. a.M. 1817.]

[Footnote 2: De Bello Gothico, lib. iii. c. 14.]

[Footnote 3: Vol. I. p. 69.]

[Footnote 4: Geschichte der Slavischen Sprache und Literatur, p. 52.]

[Footnote 5: This song is among the few, which Russian critics think as ancient as the sixteenth century. See Karamzin's History of Russia, Vol. X, p. 264.]

[Footnote 6: Bowring'a translation.]

[Footnote 7: The piece to which we allude was in the possession of the Cardinal Albani, at Rome; but has since been carried to England. A fine copy in plaster is in the Museum at Paris; from which numerous drawings have been taken, now scattered all over Europe.]

[Footnote 8: Kunst und Alterthum, Vol. II. p. 49.]

[Footnote 9 Narodne Srpske Pjesme skup. i izd. Vuk etc. Leipz. 1824. Vol. I. p. 55. Volkslieder der Serben, von Talvj, Halle 1825. Vol. I. p. 46.]

[Footnote 10: Pronounced Yelitza.]

[Footnote 11: The whole of this tale is translated in Bowring's little volume of “Servian Popular Poetry.”]

[Footnote 12: The Greek ballad is entitled “The Journey by Night,” and begins thus:

  Manna, me tous ennea sou uious, kai me ten mia sou kore.

  'O mother, thou, with thy nine sons, and with thine only daughter.'

A Russian ballad also begins very similarly:

  “At Kief, in that famous town, 
    Resided a rich widow; 
  Nine sons the widow of Kief had, 
    The tenth was a daughter dear.”

The story however is essentially different.]

[Footnote 13: See above p. 306, n. 2.]

[Footnote 14: This remarkable fact is mentioned by all Russian historians, on the good authority of the ancient annalist Nestor.]

[Footnote 15: “The Tshuvashes have a Penate, which they call Erich. This Erich is nothing but a bundle of broom, cytisus, tied together in the middle with the inner bark of the linden. It consists of fifteen branches of equal size, about four feet long; above is a piece of tin attached to it. Each house has such an Erich, which usually stands in a corner of the entry. Nobody ventures to touch it. When it becomes dry, a new Erich is tied together, and the old one placed in running water with great reverence.” See Stimmen des Russ. Volks, von P.v. Goetze, Stuttg. 1828, page 17.—The Tshuvashes, however, are not a Slavic, but a Finnish race, living under the Russian dominion.]

[Footnote 16: Dobrovsky's Slavin, 1834, p. 113.]

[Footnote 17: Werke, Ausgabe letzter Hand, Vol. XLVI. p. 332.]

[Footnote 18: In those four of our Russian specimens marked P, the translation is by J.G. Percival.]

[Footnote 19: Page 323.]

[Footnote 20: See above, p. 64.]

[Footnote 21: We say, 'to judge from the language.' But their coincidence with Bohemian ballads of the thirteenth century, and various other indications (e.g. their frequent mention of the Danube), seem to vindicate, for their groundwork at least, a very high antiquity.]

[Footnote 22: Stimmen des Russischen Volkes, von P.v. Goetze, Stuttg. 1848.]

[Footnote 23: Slavery in Russia is comparatively of modern date.]

[Footnote 24: Pjesni Russkawo Naroda, St. Petersb. 1837-39, Vol. IV. p. 29.—We would remark here, that all our specimens are translated, not by means of the German, but from the original languages, and that all the originals are (or have been) in our possession. It would have been easy to embellish these simple songs by little additions or omissions, the rhymeless ones by rhyme, and the rhymed ones by more regularity; but we could not possibly have done it without impairing the fidelity of such a version.]

[Footnote 25: Both these are bad omens for a Russian girl.]

[Footnote 26: Names of the street and gate in Moscow, through which formerly criminals were led to execution.]

[Footnote 27: Buinaya golowushka, that is, the fierce, rebellious, impetuous head, and mogutshiya pletsha, or strong shoulders, are standing expressions in Russia, in reference to a young hero; the former, especially, when there is allusion to some traitorous action.]

[Footnote 28: Sacharof's Collection, Vol. IV. p. 218; see p. 346.]

[Footnote 29: That is, the Russian governments Kief, Pultava, Tshernigof, Kharkof, and Yekatrinoslav. The latter, the cradle of the present population of Malo-Russia, belongs, according to the present geographical division of the Russian empire, to Southern Russia.]

[Footnote 30: The Polish poet Bogdjanski is said to have collected in the government of Pultava alone towards 8000! A great many of these consist, of course, only in variations of the same theme, owing to the failing memory of the singer. Maximovitch's Collection contains several thousand pieces.]

[Footnote 31: Volkslieder der Polen gesammelt und uebersezt, von W.P. Leipzig 1833. It ought to have been called Songs of the Ruthenian people in Poland.]

[Footnote 32: The origin of this polite appellation is its rise in the Ivanovskoi Lake.]

[Footnote 33: Towards the close of the eighteenth century, Catharine II induced great numbers of the Zaporoguean Kozaks to move to the northern shore of the Kuban, east of the Black Sea orTshernayamora, in order to protect the border against the Circassians. They are hence called Tshernomorskii, or Black Sea Kozaks.]

[Footnote 34: These affectionate feelings were gradually extended towards all the rivers of their ancient establishments. Their ballads express a tender attachment to Mother Wolga, Mother Kamyshenka, Mother Tsarytzina, etc.]

[Footnote 35: See above, p. 297.]

[Footnote 36: Yessaul is the name of that officer among the Kozaks, who stands immediately under the Hetman. The ballad refers to an incident which happened before 1648. It is from Sreznevski's Starina Zaporoshnaya, i.e. History of the Zaporoguean Kozaks, Kharkof 1837.]

[Footnote 37: Probably John Wihowski, Hetman after Chmielnicki. After the death of this latter, he fell off from Russia, and led the Kozaks back to Poland. It seems it was he who occasioned Pushkar's death.]

[Footnote 38: Manuscript.]

[Footnote 39: From Czelakowski's Collection; see above, p. 216, n. 58.]

[Footnote 40: From Sacharof's Collection, St. Petersb. 1839. Vol. IV. p. 497.]

[Footnote 41: The reader will find an elaborate essay on the popular poetry of the Ukraine in the Foreign Quarterly Review, Vol. XXVI. No. 51. It was evidently written by one of the Polish exiles in England. In it, however, a singular mistake is made as to the derivation of the appellation of the Zaporoguean Kozaks. Porog does not mean “Island” in any Slavic language.]

[Footnote 42: See a description of this national dance in Wilkinson, Dalmatia and Montenegro, I, p. 399.]

[Footnote 43: A Servian woman never would sit down in the presence of her husband. At table she stands behind him, and waits on him and his guests. Even the wife of prince Milosh did so; only with the restriction that she confined her services to her husband. The Morlachians—who seem indeed to be the rudest part of the Servian population—do not mention their wives to a stranger without adding: “With your permission.”]

[Footnote 44: The reader will find a description of a Morlachian wedding in Wilkinson, Vol. II. p. 164 sq. For a fuller account, see Volkslieder der Serben, von Talvj, Vol. II. Introduction.]

[Footnote 45: Servian popular poetry has properly no rhymes; but wherever a rhyme occasionally occurs, it appears to be welcome; so in this little piece, which is faithfully conformed to the original. All our specimens of the Servian “female” songs are taken from the first volume of Vuk's Collection. See above, p. 115.]

[Footnote 46: For more specimens see Bowring's Servian Popular Poetry, Lond. 1827. These little songs are there made much more attractive by giving them an English dress with rhymes, and accommodating them to the English way of feeling and expressing feelings; a proceeding which we have purposely avoided, because our only object is a faithful translation. Dr. Bowring has moreover translated mainly from our German translation.]

[Footnote 47: A mountainous region in the vicinity of Montenegro.]

[Footnote 45: See the similar beginning of “Hassan Aga,” p. 324 above.]

[Footnote 49: See an account of this remarkable custom, from the Abbate Fortia, in Wilkinson, II. p. 178 sq.]

[Footnote 59: This beautiful poem see in Vuk, III. p. 299 sq. Transl. by Talvi, II. p. 245.]

[Footnote 51: As the best illustration of this remark we recommend, among other examples, the poem on the death of Meho Orugditch, Vuk, III. p. 333 sq, Transl. by Talvi, II. p. 279 sq.]

[Footnote 52: From Czelakowsky's Collection; see above, p. 216, n. 58.]

[Footnote 53: From Slowanske narodnj pjsne sebran. F.L. Czelakowskym, Prague 1822-27. The collection of Carniolan ballads by Achazel and Korytko, which appeared in 1839, we have not yet seen.]

[Footnote 54: From Rukopis Kralodworsky, etc. wydan od W. Hanky, Prague 1835, p. 106.]

[Footnote 55: Ibid. pp. 107 sq. 197 sq. 131 sq.]

[Footnote 56: Taken down by Vuk from the lips of a peasant girl.]

[Footnote 57: In the original, she was buried last week. The lover could hardly expect to find a new grave, if she had been buried long ago.]

[Footnote 58: All our Bohemian and Slovakian specimens are taken from Czelakowsky's Collection, as we happened not to be in possession of Kollar's and Erben's later work of that kind. For the full title see p. 385, note.]

[Footnote 59: See above p. 297.]

[Footnote 60: Pjesni ludu Bialo Chrobatow, Mazurow i Russinow z nad Bugu zebr. przez K.W. Wojcickiego, i.e. Songs of the White Chrobatians, Masovians, and Russinians on the Bug, collected by K.W. Woicicki, Warsaw 1836. Vol. I. p. 85. See above, p. 297.]

[Footnote 61: We have also two most exquisite Lithuanian ballads which treat of the same subject; one of them being the lament of a fatherless boy.]

[Footnote 62: Pjesni ludu Polskiego w Galicyi zebr. Zegoia Pauli, Lemberg 1838, p. 57. See above, p. 297.]

[Footnote 63: Pjesnicki hornich i delnich Luziskich Serbow, i.e., Songs of the Servians of Upper and Lower Lusatia, published by L. Haupt and J.E. Schmaler, Grimma 1844. Comp. p. 304, above.]

[Footnote 64: A similar naivete we find in a little Servian elegy. A poor girl sings: “Our Lord has of every thing his fill; but of poor people he seems to have greater plenty than of any thing else!”]