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SCLAVONIC TRADITIONAL POETRY,
In a Letter tọ **** ******
Now, I send you a specimen of this poetry. Supported by the advice of a friend, I endeavoured to translate it as well as I could into English. The original is in the old Bohemo-Sclavonic dialect, and had been discovered by accident in the year 1817. The manuscript from which it has been publish ed, judging by its hand-writing, as Dubrowski, one of the first Bohemian literati, supposes, is to be referred between the years 1290-1310. It contained several historical ballads. I give you the oldest: you will see from its subject, that it is anterior to the conversion of the Sclavonians to Christianity.
The tale belongs to the heroic kind. The place of action, as I suppose, is Bohemia or Moravia. The woods mentioned in it is the famous Silva Herunia, stretching through Germany, and ending in Bohemia. The blue mountains, probably one range of the Carpathian mountains, or perhaps the Giant Mountains, where lived once a people, who, from the growth and strength of their bodies, were called Obry Giants. Of the two holy rivers, one might be Elba or Danube. The foes against whom they had to fight were perhaps the tribes of Avari and Francs, or, what is more likely, Charles the Great, or one of his successors, Ludovi, who might be brought forward in the poem under the name of Ludi the hostile chief.
Pray excuse the roughness of the translation; it could have beer easier to render it more elegant than toler
ably verbal ; but then I could not have warranted for its fidelity, as I do now.
The tenor of the translated tale, as you will see, is Ossianish; and if your Macpherson has been true, and Ossian ever existed, we want only a Macpherson to boast of a Sclavonic Ossian. There have been with us many bards, who were beloved by gods,' whose praises they sung, from whom they received their song, and who were admired and held in veneration amongst men, whose deeds and feelings they hallowed for immortality. Some of the names of those bards memory has preserved, and brought them, along with their songs, to posterity. Here you will read Zaboy and Lumir, elsewhere were celebrated Ratybor and Bojan; the last was even held to be the son of God Wieles. He sung in Great Nowgorod, and, after his name,
a street in that town was called Bojan's Street. The hero of his song was Mseislan, Waldimer's son. many other bards, there are but the poems extant, and the names forgotten; of a greater number, nothing is known, like those anterior to Homer.
All that we know, upon the whole, about those bards, called in our language piewcy, (singers) is, that they were held in great esteem, their persons were sacred and inviolable, they performed religious rites, went in embassies to their own princes and foreign kings, and two such Sclavonic bards, from the shores of the Baltic, history mentions, as having been on that duty at the Byzantine court. Besides, they celebrated the heroes of their country, and sung and sat at the tables of their princes. In the west of Europe, there has been a Round Table; and you see the east had also its own;-it was in Kior, at Prince Waldimer's court. You know its poetry, from the German translation I had the pleasure to communicate to you.
The Sclavonic bards appear sometimes in the attendance of foreign princes, sought for for their skill and amenity in song. Attila, King of the Huns, after having won a victory, called two bards. They sung in a foreign language, it was the Sclavonic. They sung feats of war, and praises of he
roes of their own country. Whilst the dreary anathemas of the church, hearing them, the other chiefs melted joy broke often the bondage of fear, in tears, nor was Attila's iron heart emboldened the neophytes to give freeuntouched:-with sadness in his look, dom to their hearts, and then the exhe took his son on his knees, and istence of human being was often one with his callous hand passed over the ecstacy of song. Where, therefore, the tender cheeks of the infant, designed political and spiritual power has been heir to his glory and power. less heavy in oppression, you might, even now-a-days, find the holy rites of olden times performed, and the heathen song pure and free, or mixed and encumbered with Christian ideas, ring amid our peasantry.
Those bards did not remain in one particular place or country, but went from tribe to tribe as judges, mediators, priests, and instructors. They wandered with their songs and their gests a sort of musical harp-from one land to another. Their sonorous lay rung often in the scattered villages, over the extensive plains, sometimes re-echoed amid the Carpathian mountains, sometimes along the banks of Vistula, Elba, Wolga, and Danube. The waters of this last river, in preference, were praised by them as holy. Toland, your countryman, if his authority is to be trusted, asserts even, that the Celtic bards had borrowed their harp from their Scythian fellow-bards; and the Scythians, according to the historical researches, are the same as the Sclavonians.
Time changing the form of things, brought also change into our poetry. The abolishment of the democratical, or rather patriarchal government, prevailing at that time over all Sclavonian countries-troubles ensued between the numerous petty princes-the increase of their unlimited power over the people these, and such other circumstances, influencing the exterior state of society, acted likewise injuriously on poetry; for having reduced man and all his welfare to a fluctuating form, and subjected to a capricious disposal of an arbitrary will, they oppressed also his mind, his feeling, and imagination; and thus bringing into the human existence a dismay and servility, brought at the same time a mental incapacity and darkness. An interruption, or rather a total blank of mental exertions ensued, and reigned for many centuries in the literary his tory of that extensive nation.
The zeal of Christian convertors finished what slavery had begun, and with all its heaviness, would not have accomplished. Their eagerness could not suffer any other song besides their liturgy. They endeavoured to check and silence the free and natural effusions of the human heart as impure for the lips of a Christian. But in spite of
The occasions at which this happens are different; they seem, however, to be such as were predominant in the days of the former existence of that nation; in like manner, as there are moments in the human life, which are pre-eminent above all others, the remembrance of which is lasting, and almost indissoluble from its duration.
Thus, on St John's night, at the summer tropic of the sun, you would see, in all the Sclavonian countries, in some more, in others less frequent, burning fires on the fields, or on the banks of rivers; the manly youth, with strong arms, rubbing pieces of dry wood on each other, and eliciting what they call the pure and holy fire; hereafter dancing around, and jumping over its high blazing flames. At the same time you would see unmarried daughters of villages, kindle at this fire their waxcandles, and with the wreaths twined of wild flowers, send them down with the current of the streams. From their slowness or rapidity in floating along, they predict for themselves the sooner or later fulfilment of their vows and wishes. During this act, they used to sing old songs, some of them so old, that their meaning in the progress ages has been lost, but the more mysterious is the riddle of their words, the more are they relished and dear to their anxious hearts.
You would see before the sun-set of a fine autumn day, approach towards the White Hall, (dwelling of a land lord,) a crowd of both sexes, old and young, with solemn song and rural music. They are the reapers-they come to celebrate the festival of harvest, and to be joyous. At the head of this crowd proceed two virgins, beauties of the village their heads crowned with wreaths, one of the ears of wheat, the other of rye, both interwoven with manifold flowers. When they are before the White Hall, they
offer to their landlord and landlady those symbols of plenty and wealth of the fruitful soil, and, in doing so, pronounce a blessing. Next this act follows a national circle dance, the landlord leads the first pair, with one of the rustic Floras, his guests and peasants behind him; and thus, in mirth and joviality, they drink, sing, and dance the whole night away, the starry blue heavens over their heads, the green turf under their feet. Some of the more ingenious in this Saturnalian company, display a wit in making extempore stanzas, which they sing, adapted to their known melodies, and some of those productions are truly humorous, and burlesque, ridiculing the peasants, the landlord, and often the monarch himself.
You would perceive in the midnight darkness, the virgins steal to the hallowed fountains. You would hear there the music of an old song, like a breeze," that breathes upon a bank of violets," chaunted in a low and languid voice, but too loud to be unheard in the dewy night. You would see them holding converse with the murmuring waters, and sighing to them the secrets of their heart-ask counsel and return consoled-and ween that thus they had removed the veil from their future destinies.
Some old customs and usages, even the eagerness of religion itself was not able to extinguish ; and the clergy, severe at first, were at last forced to yield to their intrusion; and let them mix with the ceremonies of the Christian Faith. Thus you would see the wedded pair go and return from the church with music and song. The songs are addressed to Leda, Goddess of Love, to the moon, to the stars. The bride wears on her head a wreath of evergreen wasilok and ruba, and is praised in songs as Queen. Amid shouts of joy, and waving of banners, she proceeds with her bridegroom to the White Hall, to bow there before the patriarchal landlord, and receive from him
is twofold, either amorous or heroic, its subject being love or power; but love and power of times that are no more, and over whose tombs a mourning spirit strikes his charming string, at times bold, at times tender, but almost always in a slow, mournful, and melancholy strain. This grief with joy is common to all people, whose deeds, as well as existence, are of yore; whose glory is a pleasing past dream, and whose true and real life we do but see on the dead pages of history.
Several collections of the remains of these old songs have been made with us, but in many respects they are far behind your Border Minstrelsy. The richest and finest harvest of them has been gathered among the Sclavonian tribes under the Turkish Government. Their easy, and rather pastoral_than agricultural life, under a soft and moderate climate, fits well for the poetical pastimes, and raises them high in poetry and music, above all their northern brethren; whose habitations, the nearer they approach to the frozen regions, the closer seem to be wrapt in silence. The South-Sclavonians kept constantly in political isolation from the rest of Europe, or far from being influenced by the foreign and refined literature; their mind, therefore, unfolds itself independently, and pours forth treasures of ideas and feelings of its own. Some pieces of their poetry, which must needs be as original as its sources are unalloyed, are of an exquisite beauty, and were appreciated, and thought even worth translating, by men of such a repute as Ferder Goethe, and Bradrinski. Of the tender king, the Wife of Assan-Agi is undoubtedly the finest specimen of elegiac traditional poetry. It is in the Morlæo-Sclavonic dialect, and has been translated into different European languages. The Servians excel principally in celebrating deeds of arms. There exist with them numerous warlike songs in praise of their old kings and heroes, down to the famous George Ozermy; and praises await now the victorious prince Ypsalanty. He fights in the sacred cause of freedom, as the former did; and the defenders of freedom among the Sclavonians never were left unsung.
Thus many remains of old minstrelsy are scattered over all the Sclavonian countries, in songs and oral traditions of the people; which, if gathered to
its greatness and glory A sigh, which heard by a wanderer of Vistula, on the banks of Thames, or along the Forth, recalls to his mind all his "home-bred sympathies." He consoles himself in the Pleasures of Hope, reads Lochiel, and sheds tears over the immortal pages, as the generous bard did at the injured shrine of Humanity.
gether, combined with the annals of their history, interwoven with the tendency of the real character and existence of Sclavonians, would furnish materials, if not for the general, at least for the local, national poetry. Its sources, although they are not so rich as in Scotland, are nevertheless more extensive than those of any European people. And where are the limits to I know that you like to consider man them? From the sources of the ri- under different aspects, and trace his ver Elbe and the Baltic, till the Black moral being through the history of the Sea, from the Adriatic Sea till the re- manifold exertions of his mind, and motest boundaries of Northern Asia, social relations. I know that you take what an immensity of lands! And of him the highest and most exteneverywhere dwell the Sclavonian inha- sive view, from which you easily mark bitants; and in how countless tribes! the mysteries of his divine origin and And each individual among them has destination; therefore, I hope, it will his five senses, through which he re- not be unpleasing to you that colouring, ceives external impressions-has a brain however little it be, of the great image that vibrates with thought-has an of my kindred nation, a nation that heart that overflows with joy and woe occupies more place on the globe than -has passions that carry his being to pages in the history-that contains in actions worthy of an angel or a demon. itself an embryo to the fulfilment of Besides, what riches of ideas must pour its great moral and political designs ; forth from their different social rela- a nation that, in its various and almost tions to each other, and to Deity! Tru- innumerable tribes of which it is comly a richness of sources that is amazing posed, under different climes and gofor a systematical observer, and rather vernments, in spite of disdain and fomore fit for the irregular ecstacy of an reign oppression, did not lose the proenthusiast, or a high-minded poet.-totype of its original character, had There should be born Sir Walter Scotts, to recal from beneath the mountaintombs, (Kurhany) overgrown with moss and weeds, the bold spirit of the old Sclavonian chivalry. There should be born Burnses and Ettrick Shepherds to give us an ideal of agricultural and pastoral life; and born should be those also, for whom
"The meanest flower that blows can give Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears."
Many should be born who would follow Lord Byron; who, by choosing our Mazeppa for his poem, has not in the least disgraced his pen, nor wronged his wild imagination. Its wildness has been rather gratified on the wild places of Ukraine. And many who would follow your Campbell, who did not also disgrace his Pleasures of Hope by a heart-rending sigh:
Hope, for a season, bade the world farewell,
And Freedom shriek'd as Kosciusko
A sigh, worthy to be placed as an epitaph to the whole nation, which has thus been laid into the grave with all
followed for many centuries, and follows till now-a-days, its own class of ideas, and is particular in its social virtues-whose principles of morality consist in paternal sayings planted from fathers down to their grand-childrenwhose poetry is chiefly in songs adorned with images and shades of pastoral and agricultural life,-whose music is like a uniform wailing of orphan-children, who even in their revelry seem not to forget that they revel on the tombs lives on the produce of its fruitful soil of their venerable sires; a nation that almost alone, or on its numerous flocks, and disdains all commercial traffic as sordid; that is poor in its stores, but rich in kindness, and warm in hospitality,-whose scattered tribes look with bitter hatred on a foreign yoke, and are stubborn to acknowledge over themselves any other law imposed, except their ancient usages and customs, which they revere; whose leading character is mildness, submission, and fidelity to their legitimate superiors-cordiality || between the remotest relations of one family-high respect to the grey patriarchal hair-particular love to their country, and valour in defending its
rights. Of this many instances are extant, worthy to be noticed as high examples in the history of patriotism.
Some defended gloriously their liberties, and, prodigal of blood and lives, took vengeance on those who dared encroach upon them. Some, who could not restore freedom to their country, exiled themselves for ever, and in other parts of the world sought hospitality and tombs. Some enrolled themselves under foreign banners, bled, guided by glimpses of a deceitful hope, crowned with laurels, if not their valorous temples, their glorious tombs. Death itself seemed to them a victory, who could not endure to see the land of their forefathers groaning in slayery, and to whom a life without freedom was worse than death.
Such is the spirit and tendency of mind common to each people of Sclavonian race; to those who boast to have their own free government, or are grown up to great political power, as to those who dispersed in various
laws. This similarity of character can be accounted for but by their common origin alone, and consanguinity; according to which, should it ever be possible to unite all the family members into one whole, they would, at the circle of their home, and at the same tutelary hearth, reassume their national character in all its purity, and by its saluary influence, rise in mildness and strength to the splendour of moral dignity and greatness.
These are the short and desultory
Your most obedient
C. L. S.
climates, led a precarious existence, as Edinburgh, 28th July, 1821. subject to foreign governments and
ZABOY, SLAWOY, AND LUDECK,
A Sclavonian Tale,
(Translated from the Bohemo-Sclavonian Dialect.)
AMIDST a dark wood appears a rock. On the rock appears the valiant Zaboy. He looks around on all the lands beneath-looking, sighs and weeps, with dove-like tears. Long there he sits, and long is sad.
At once up he starts, and like a stag springs down the rock. He runs through the wood, through the wood's long solitary wild. He speeds then from man to man, from warrior to warrior, through all the country. Few words, and in secret, he speaks to each and having bowed in thanks to God, he swift returned to his friends. Thus passed the first day, thus the second; but, as the moon arose on the third night, the warriors gathered to the dark wood. To greet them, Zaboy descends into the glen-into the deepest glen of the thickest wood.
In his hand a sweet-sounding lute he took, and sung:
"Ye warriors of kindred hearts and sparkling eyes! I sing from beneath a song to you; it comes from my heart
from the bottom of my heart, where is the seat of bitterness.
"The father is gone to his fathers. He left behind in his paternal hall his children and beloved wives. Dying, he told his will to none, (save to his eldest brother :) Dear brother! thou mayest say to all with a father's voice:
"A stranger will here force his way, and overrun our native land. In foreign tongue he will command, as he in other parts hath done. He will compel you to work for him-you, your children, and your wives, from the rising till the setting sun. And no more than one friend (wife) shall you have, all the onward way from the spring of your life till the grave. All the hawks of your woods they will scare away, and to such gods as in other countries are, will force you to bow and sacrifice. Ah, brethren! neither to strike our foreheads before our gods will we dare, nor reach them food, where our father wont to bring them offerings, where he raised his