Therese Albertine Louise von Jacob Robinson.

Historical View of the Languages and Literature of the Slavic Nations online

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him to chant them to the Guslè. 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 Guslè 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 _cities_ of 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superseded by modern airs of less value, perhaps, and certainly of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


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

It appears from the Königshof 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


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
"Kuhländchen," 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

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

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

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

Online LibraryTherese Albertine Louise von Jacob RobinsonHistorical View of the Languages and Literature of the Slavic Nations → online text (page 31 of 33)