Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
Strahin was ban of Banska that by Kósovo doth stand;
And such another falcon there is not in the land.
He rose up in the morning:
“Ho, all my knaves, give heed!
Get ye down to the stables and saddle me my steed.
Deck him out fair and seemly, and gird him with the girth;
For hark and hear me, gallants, I go roving o’er the earth.
Weary shall be the milk-white steed, before I shall alight
Where dwell my wife’s good kindred in Krúshevats the white—
Her brave old father Yug Bogdan and her good brothers nine,
Her gallant kin shall take me in and cheer me with the wine.”
Then forthwith all the servants unto the ban gave heed,
And from the lordly stable led the white falcon steed.
And then the brave Ban Strahin himself the steed arrayed;
He set on him a saddle of velvet and brocade,
Redder than sunset water, more shining than the sun!
So the good ban put on the steed that rich caparison.
So rode he forth that morning, nor ever did alight
Till he came in to his wife’s kin in Krúshevats the white,
Where late the realm men stablished. And him Yug Bogdan saw,
And with his nine gray hawks came on to greet his son-in-law.
They waited little for him, but clasped him one and all;
And while the servants took the steed, they brought the ban to hall.
Down sat they at the ready board, and spake fair words and fine;
And man and maid came in apace to serve or pour the wine.
Then all those goodly Christians their thirst began to quench;
Yug Bogdan set Ban Strahin beside him on the bench;
Upon his right he set him, his sons on the other hand;
But the remnant of his people at the table-foot must stand.
The servants served before them. Nine daughters had that lord,
And each fair daughter in her turn served deftly at the board.
They served before their father; they served their lords that tide;
But most of all Ban Strahin, for their sister was his bride.
One servant stood before them to serve the red wine up;
In a gold cup he measured it—nine measures held that cup.
Much courtesy was there to see and guests from near and far;
Brothers as many came as to a banquet of the tsar.
Long was Ban Strahin’s tarrying; long, long did he abide,
Dwelling among his wife her kin in pleasure and in pride.
The guests that were in Krúshevats a bitter cry they made,
And came to old Yug Bogdan and unto him they prayed:
“We kiss thy silken garments, thou art our lord and chief;
We therefore pray thy kindness to do us this relief.
Bring Strahin thy good son-in-law to our castles and our courts,
That we may do him honor as with his worth consorts.”
Before that mirth was over was long enough, I trow.
Long the ban tarried, ere came forth the tidings of his woe.
But lo, in the fair morning, when the warm sun beat down,
A lad bore a white letter from Banska, the little town,—
Tidings from his old mother! He set it on his knee;
Therein was many a bitter and dreadful thing to see,
For there her curse is written most plain in Strahin’s sight:
“Where art thou, son? Foul fall the wine in Krúshevats the white!
Evil is the wine and full of shame for thee and thy wife’s kin.
Behold what woes against thee are written down herein!
From Yedren (1) with an army is come the Turkish tsar
To Kósovo, and his viziers are with him in the war;
And he hath taken Kósovo with his accurst viziers.
The whole strength hath he brought along of all the Turkish spears;
Along the land of Kósovo hath he ta’en either flood—
Lab and Sítnitsa onward from the marble to the wood,
From the maple dry to Sázliya bridged over by the arch,
Through Zvechan and Chechan to the wood round Kósovo they march,
The valley of their capture; thereto they haste along.
And the tsar hath one army an hundred thousand strong,
That one lone lord hath lent him who hath a fief of the tsar.
Many lords eat of the tsars bread, and ride his steeds of war.
Few arms those chieftains carry; nay, but a single blade!
And yet another army is for the tsar arrayed—
The Turks and janissaries in Yedren’s milk-white tower;
And yet an hundred thousand they say are in that power.
Tuk and Manjuk an army for the tsar lead as well,
And death is in their onslaught and slaughter in their yell.
But yet there is one army of all from far and near—
Vlah Áliya’s, that feareth not for sultan nor vizier,
Nor all within the armies save as ants upon the hill.
“Such is the Turkish battle, nor departs he without ill.
He smote on little Banska; by the left-hand way he came;
He stormed the hold of Banska, and burned it with the flame.
He hath o’erturned the lowest stone; thy servants fled perforce;
And o’er thy mother’s body hath he ridden on his horse;
With thy wife upon his saddlebow through Kósovo he went,
And he kisses thy belovèd in the shadow of his tent.
And I above burned ruins bewail this fate of mine,
While thou drink’st wine in Krúshevats. God send ’tis Death his wine!”
When the ban read the letter, Grief took him in her grip;
Down drooped upon his shoulder the black beard of his lip;
He ground his teeth together, and was very nigh to weep;
And old Yug Bogdan saw him, as he rose up from his sleep.
Yug’s voice flashed up like fire; he spake after this wise:
“God help my son! and wherefore dost thou so soon arise?
And wherefore art thou troubled, good son-in-law of mine?
Have thy brave brothers laughed at thee or mocked thee at the wine?
Have not thy sisters served thee? Is there evil among thy kin?
Tell me, my son, and straightway: what shame is found herein?”
The ban flashed up before him and to his father said:
“Father, I find no fault at all in the kin of her I wed,
And my good brothers with me deal pleasantly withal;
The noble ladies speak me fair and serve me in the hall:
Among my wife’s good kindred no fault at all doth stand.
My mother out of Banska sends this letter to my hand.”
He tells unto his father in the fair morning-tide
How all of his possession is wasted far and wide;
How that the Turks have scattered his servants, knight and knave,
And trampled on his mother, and his wife ta’en for a slave:
“And O thou old Yug Bogdan, if she be dear to me,
Also she is thy daughter and shame to me and thee!
And if thou ever thoughtest a gift to me to give,
Give it not after I am dead, but now while yet I live.
I pray thee and I kiss thy hand: give me thy children nine,
And we will go to Kósovo to seek this foe of mine—
Yea, this red traitor to the tsar, that hath enslaved my wife.
Be not afraid, my father, nor sorrow for their life;
They shall wear Turkish raiment, turbans as white as milk
And good green mantles, and also broad trousers wrought of silk.
And at the belt long sabers as flashing as a flame.
And I will call my servants, and order them by name,
To saddle up the horses and draw the saddlebelts,
And cover o’er the horses with the strong black bear-pelts.
Strong janissaries shall they be; my counsel shall they know,
What time through the tsar’s army we ride in Kósovo.
And I will be their captain, who have their sister wed,
That they may heed my counsel, and have it still in dread.
And if a soldier of the tsar shall challenge us in speech,
Turkish, mayhap, or Arabic; why, I can speak in each,
And Manov too, and Arnaut, enough to serve that tide.
To seek my foe through Kósovo, so lightly will we ride—
This Turk Vlah Áliya that enslaved my love by might and main.
For though alone among the Turks I might perish or be ta’en,
My brethren and I, we shall not die nor be smitten down in vain!”
When old Yug Bogdan heard this, he flashed like living fire;
He spake unto Ban Strahin in words of wrath and ire:
“O thou, my son Ban Strahin, witless art thou and rash!
Wilt thou lead my sons to Kósovo for these same Turks to slash?
Say nothing more, my son-in-law! My sons shall not be slain,
Though thy fair wife, my daughter, come never home again.
Nay, nevermore, Ban Strahin, unloose thy wrath at me,
For wit thou well, my son-in-law—may the plague light on thee!—
If she have been his paramour but one night in the tent,
So may she be no longer the bride of thy content;
God hath slain her forever; accursèd shall she be!
And a worse thing, Ban Strahin, him she prefers to thee.
Go to! The Devil take her! And for this love of thine
I will give thee a better, and with thee drink the wine.
I will be thy friend forever, but my children shall not go
Riding amain across the plain with thee to Kósovo!”
But when Ban Strahin heard it, he flashed like living fire;
Answered the ban to the old man in agony and ire.
He will not call a servant; for a groom he takes not heed,
But goeth himself to the stable to saddle the white steed.
How royally he saddled him! how girded him thereto!
How over flashing ear and crest the bit and bridle drew!
Before the gateway of the court he led him forth alone,
And held him by the bridle near the white stepping-stone.
And he caught the steed by the shoulder and mounted with a bound,
And looked upon his brethren, but they looked upon the ground.
Upon his sister’s husband Ban Strahin turned his eyes,
But Némanyich looked downward at the black dust likewise.
They had drunken wine and brandy enough to make one nod,
And boasted that they were heroes, and sworn by the name of God:
“We love thee, thou Ban Strahin, more than the tsar’s whole land.”
But woe! the ban has never a man this day his friend to stand.
It is no easy labor to Kósovo to wend;
And the ban looked about him and saw he had no friend.
He rode down through white Krúshevats, but aye he looked behind
To see if his brave brethren would alter in their mind,
And pity his affliction. No friend came to the ban.
And thereupon he minded him of the hound Káraman, (2)
Whom he loves better than the steed, and holds of richer worth,
And loudly from the strong white throat the hound-call thunders forth.
The hound lay in the stable, but harkened and gave heed,
And swiftly in the field he ran, till he overtook the steed.
And gay beside the milk-white steed the hound rejoicing springs,
And on his neck the collar of corded goldwork rings.
A pleasant thing it was; the ban rode glad on the stallion’s back,
And took by weald and mount and field to Kósovo the track.
When he saw the host at Kósovo his heart was touched by fear,
But he remembered the true God, and to the Turks drew near.
Over the field of Kósovo on all four sides he went,
Seeking the strong Vlah Áliyah, but he could not find his tent.
By the waters of the Sítnitsa a marvel there was seen,
By the shore of the Sítnitsa was pitched a tent of green.
The tent of green was very fair; it hid the grassy lawn,
The golden apple on the pole shone brighter than the dawn.
A spear is set before the door, and by the spear a steed,
With his head deep in the nose-bag upon the oats to feed.
The steed pawed fierce upon the ground with the off hoof and the near,
And the ban thought unto himself: “Vlah Áliya’s tent is here.”
And forward rode the hero upon the milk-white steed;
He took his spear from shoulder, all ready to his need.
He threw the tent door open, and looked within the tent;
But it was not Vlah Áliya, the strong and insolent;
But a dervish, to whose girdle the white beard sweeps from the chin,
Lies in the shadow of the tent, and no one else therein.
A luckless dervish is the Turk, but he drinks wine in a cup;
He pours the wine out for himself and forthwith drinks it up.
Ban Strahin looked on the dervish that was bloody to the eyes,
And made salam unto him, after the Turkish wise.
The drunken Turk looked on him, and spoke a word of woe:
“Hail to thee, brave Ban Strahin of Banska by Kósovo!”
Now flashed up the Ban Strahin, and answered him in dread;
In the fair-spoken Turkish a bitter word he said:
“Foul fall thy mother, thou dervish, that drinkest here this hour!
Thou art so drunk thou canst not tell a Moslem from a Giaour.
Wherefore dost thou speak of him? for here is found no ban;
There is none here but I, and I am the tsar’s true fighting man.
All of the tsar’s good horses are scattered near and far,
And the warriors run quickly to catch them for the tsar.
If I go with this thy insult to the tsar and the vizier,
Know well, thou sorry dervish, thy words shall cost thee dear.”
Laughed the dervish:
“Thou a Turk, Strahin? Good fortune go with thee!
Were I upon Mount Golech, and should haply chance to see
Thee afar in the host of the tsar, well I should know thee, ban—
Thee and that milk-white steed of thine, and the hound Káraman,
Whom aye thou lovest better than the strong stallion white.
And know, thou ban of Banska, I read thy brow aright.
And I know the eyes thereunder and the black beard of thy lip.
Know, ban—and may good fortune be of thy fellowship!—
That when thy guardsmen took me and made of me a slave,
To thee in Suhara of the mount me miserable they gave.
To the bottom of that prison didst thou cast me at that tide,
And there a slave to thine and thee nine years did I abide.
Nine fearful years past over, yea! and the tenth began,
When filled with deep compassion thou thoughtest on me, ban.
Thou badest Rado, the jailer, unbar the doors withal,
And forthwith bring me upward a captive to the hall.
And dost thou know, Ban Strahin, what words thy fierce lips said:
“ ‘Slave! Turkish snake! Now would that thou within my hold wert dead!
Canst thou then, like a hero, redeem thee with a fee?’
“So ran thy question to me, and I told the truth to thee:
“ ‘My life now could I ransom, could I come to my hall,
To my father’s land and my birthplace and my fiefs one and all—
My many farms and freeholds, the price of liberty.
But thither to go, too well I know, hardly thou trustest me.
I will give thee a good bondsman, even God who does not feign,
And another bondsman, his good faith, that I bring that ransom again.’
“Thou gavest thy trust to me that tide to go to my white hall,
To my father’s land and my birthplace, and my fiefs one and all.
I came to my sad birthplace; no more I knew good luck;
On my houses and my birthplace the pestilence had struck.
It smote the men and women; in my houses none had stayed,
And my whole house had perished and my whole possession strayed.
Fast-barred was all my sire’s estate, and bolted was the door.
The Turks took farm and freehold for their own forevermore.
And when I saw my houses all closed against me stand,
That I had neither friend nor goods, then a good plan I planned.
I rode post unto Yedren, to the vizier and the tsar,
And the vizier boasted me for a hero in the war.
The tsar’s vizier clothed me and gave a tent to me,
And the great raven charger and shining panoply.
For the tsar’s man forever in his book my name they set,
And thou hast come to me to-day to claim of me thy debt.
But, ban, I have not a penny; and woe is on thee this day,
That thou comest to die in folly amidst the tsar’s array.”
The ban looked on the dervish. Forthwith the man he knew;
From the steed he vaulted, and clasped him, and to his bosom drew:
“Brother in God, old dervish, no debt is due to me.
I seek no money, brother, nor any ransom fee.
I seek the strong Vlah Áliya, who hath overthrown my hall,
And hath taken my belovèd to be his bounden thrall.
Tell me of him, thou dervish, and do not me betray
Unto the Turkish army, who are yearning me to slay.”
“By God,” then said the dervish, “thou ban, thou falcon-one,
The strength of this my faith to thee is firmer than the stone.
Shouldst thou with the sword’s edges smite half the army dead,
Yet would I not betray thee, nor trample on thy bread.
Though I ate of it in prison, thou gavest me store of wine;
Thou gavest the milk-white loaves to me that I might freely dine;
Oft in the sun’s light glorious I warmed me in the morn;
Thou didst set me free upon my word, wherein I am forsworn.
I could not keep my word to thee, returning to thy hall:
Faith it was hard for me to keep without the wherewithal!
And for the Turk, Ban Strahin, Vlah Áliya insolent—
On the high mount of Golech he pitches now his tent.
But, Strahin, go from Kósovo, or a fool’s death diest thou here;
Trust not thy hand, nor the sharp brand, nor the venom of the spear.
To pass that Turk in the mountain, it is a hero’s deed;
In his arms alive will he take thee, thy weapons and thy steed.
He will break thine arms asunder; he will blind thee living, O ban.”
Laughed Strahin: “Dervish, pity me not because of any man,
But to the Turkish army betray me not this tide.”
And thereupon the dervish unto the ban replied:
“My faith is firmer than the stone, and plighted thee indeed.
For even shouldst thou madden the anger of thy steed,
And riding on the army the half thereof shouldst slay,
Yet I will not at any time thee to the Turks betray.”
The ban spoke and departed, but he turned on the stallion white:
“Dervish, thou waterest thy steed at daybreak and at night
In the waters of Sítnitsa. Say where the fords are found—
The fords in the cool water—that my horse may not be drowned.”
Said the dervish: “Thou Serbian falcon, a ford shalt thou find indeed,
Where’er thou enterest the water, for thy valor and thy steed.”
The ban forded that water; on the milk-white steed he sped
Over the mount of Golech with the great sun overhead.
It warms all things beneath it, both the near and the far,
And it shines down on Kósovo and the army of the tsar.
And now behold Vlah Áliya, the strong and insolent,
Ban Strahin’s bride that kisses in the shadow of the tent.
He hath an evil custom, for ever does he fall
In slumber of a morning, when the sun beats over all.
He dreamed a dream upon that tide, and heavy lay his head
On the breast of the belovèd that Stráhinya had wed.
At the tent door she fondled him, but her eyes went to and fro
Over the Turkish army on the field of Kósovo.
She sees what manner are the tents, what steeds the heroes ride,
And by mischance towards Golech she turned her eyes aside.
She slapped the Turk on the right cheek; and, “Master,” did she cry,
“Rise up, Vlah Áliya! stir thyself! or forthwith mayst thou die!
Now belt thou on thy war-belt and thy fair mail likewise!
Ban Strahin comes that will cut off thine head, or blind thine eyes.”
Vlah Áliya wakened from his dream and flashed up like the fire;
His eye was proud, he laughed aloud:
“Thou Stráhinya’s desire,
Thou art afraid, Wallachian maid; thou fearest him eachwhere!
When I bear thee unto Yedren, yet wilt thou see him there!
“Yon captain is not Strahin; a tsar’s man rideth here:
Either the tsar hath sent him, or Mehmet, the vizier.
He bids that I submit me, nor smite the host of the tsar.
Tsar and vizier, mayhap they fear to feel my scimitar.
Fear not, what time I smite him with the keen, shining sword
That no more captains of the tsar come hither for their lord.”
But the ban’s bride spake unto him:
“My master, prithee see!
That is no Turkish captain—a blindness light on thee!—
Nay, but my master Strahin, that did my body clip.
Do I not know both eye and brow and the black beard of his lip?
Do I not know his milk-white horse with the spot of brown and tan,
And the tawny hound beside him, the good hound Káraman?
Jest not with life, my gallant lord.”
But when Vlah Áliya heard,
The wrathful Turk leaped to his feet and straight began to gird:
His girdle with the poniards and the scimitar thereto.
And he giveth heed to the black steed, while the ban nearer drew.
The ban is very careful, but he cursed him, nor bowed his head
After the Turkish fashion; and unto him he said:
“Art thou then there, thou dastard—thou traitor to the tsar?
Whose women hast thou taken that round thy camp-fires are?
And whose belovèd hast thou kist in the shadow of the tent?
Come out to battle against me, thou strong and insolent.”
The Turk was very angry. He sprang with might and main
Unto the shoulder of the horse, and caught the bridle-rein.
The ban bode not his coming, but straight against him drove;
He lifted the iron spear on high, and hurled it from above.
And the strong Turk, Vlah Áliya, reached out and caught the spear,
And he spake unto Strahin:
“Dastard, what dost thou here?
Here are no maids of Shúmadin to scatter with a cry,
But who fears not vizier or tsar, Vlah Áliya am I!
And I dread not any hero in the army of the tsar;
To me as ants upon the grass all in that army are.
And thou thinkest in the lists this tide to battle with me here!”
He spake and very suddenly he cast the battle-spear,
Eager to wound. But the good God aided Ban Strahin well.
His white steed, when the spear flew by, down on his knees he fell.
High overhead the great spear flashed, and broke on a stone in three.
Up to the boss that guards the hand was it broken utterly.
Now when the spears were broken, each champion drew his mace;
Vlah Áliya smote on Strahin and beat him from his place,
Forward from out of the saddle on the white neck of the steed.
Now the good God aided Strahin in the moment of his need.
Nor Turk, nor Serb a steed doth curb of half that worth to-day.
The beast swung head and shoulder in the middle of the fray,
And his lord out of that danger to the saddletree threw back;
And upon that Turkish devil the ban made his attack.
But the Turk out of the saddle would neither fall nor flee,
Though ’neath the blows his horse had sunk in the black dust to the knee.
The spiky maces in their hands were shattered left and right,
And forth they drew the sabers, and anew they fought the fight.
But lo, the great Ban Strahin at his belt had such a blade
That a pair of smiths must forge it with three men there to aid!
From Sunday unto Sunday till the steel was waxen cold
Had those same craftsmen cooled it within the earthen mold;
And thereafter had they sharpened it by laying on the sledge.
Smote the Turk, but Strahin waited edge against saber-edge,
Till he smote hard against it, and the Turk’s blade broke in half.
This saw the ban and in he ran, and in his heart did laugh
As he prest in upon him, smiting on either hand,
To strike his head from his shoulders with the edges of the brand.
Hero smote against hero; the Turk good ward he made,
He kept his head and shoulders with the truncheon of the blade.
With the remnant of his weapon he beat the saber back;
And bit by bit as he smote on it to pieces did he hack
The saber of Ban Strahin. Two blades in fragments lay.
Then leaped they from the horses, and hurled the hilts away.
They gripped each other by the throat like dragons at that tide;
All day till noon they wrestled upon the mountain side;
Till on the Turk’s pale lips the foam like snow new-fallen stood,
And the white foam on Strahin’s lip was flecked with drops of blood;
The blood upon his garments and on his jack-boots ran.
But when the pain had gripped him, at last out spake the ban:
“My love, God’s curse upon thee! What travail dost thou see?
Take up a splinter of the sword, and strike the Turk or me.
Think which of us, belovèd, is dearer unto thee.”
But thereto the Turk spake fiercely:
“Belovèd of the ban,
Strike him, for thou shalt never more be dear unto the man;
But aye his sharp reproaches against thee shall be bent,
Because thou once wast with me in the shadow of the tent.
But I will love thee always, nor ever thee disdain.
In Yedren thirty serving-maids shall bear thy sleeves and train;
Sugar and honey ever more shall be set for thee to eat;
With ducats will I deck thee from thy head unto thy feet:
Strike now the ban.”
All womankind are lightly led astray.
She leaped and grasped a splinter of the sword-blade where it lay.
She wrapped it in a napkin, lest it should wound her hand,
And she sought to smite her wedded lord with the fragment of the brand,
And guard Vlah Áliya’s head. She cut the silver plume in twain;
She clove the milk-white turban that guarded him in vain;
The blood flowed down the hero’s face, and was like to blind his eyes,
And the ban dreaded sore that tide to die in foolish wise.
But suddenly within him the thoughts together ran,
And out of his white throat he called on the hound Káraman—
A hound trained to the hunting. He called the hound by name,
And with a bound the tawny hound to help his master came,
And bit the ban’s belovèd. A dog all women fear;
She threw the blade upon the ground, and cuffed the hound on the ear.
Screaming she fled across the mount; afar they heard her cry;
But the strong Turk looked after to see where she did fly.
And new strength burst upon the ban, and courage great and new,
And hither and yon he drove the Turk, and wrestling overthrew.
Howe’er so hard the Turk might guard, he struck from underneath,
And, leaping in under the chin, he fastened with his teeth,
As the wolf throttling a lamb. Then he leaped up from the ground,
And with a mighty voice he called after the tawny hound,
That the beast should cease pursuing the maid the ban had wed;
And swift along the mountain to the Turkish host she fled.
But the ban would not let her; he caught her by the hand;
He brought her back unto the place where the dappled steed did stand.
He took the horse by the shoulders; he threw her on behind;
Then rode he deviously along, the homeward way to find.
Away from the tsar’s army he turned the bridle-rein,
Till he came in to his wife’s kin at Krúshevats on the plain,
And old Yug Bogdan and his sons rose, when they saw him come;
They took him to their bosoms, and gave him welcome home.
But when Yug Bogdan saw his plight his tears ran down amain:
“Now fair be all thy fortune, that thou art home again.
Strong are the Turkish heroes, the soldiers of the tsar;
A fighting man to wound the ban they must have sought afar.”
But the nine brothers feared him, till the ban to them spake:
“Dread nothing, my good brethren, nor be troubled for my sake.
With the tsar there was no hero to conquer me in fight.
Would ye then hear who wounded me, and whose hand did me smite?
When with the Turk I battled, O thou good father mine,
Then my belovèd smote me—this dearest child of thine;
She set aside my love that tide, and to the Turk gave aid.”
Yug flashed up like a living fire, and to his sons he said:
“Slash the she-wolf in pieces with the nine blades of the brands!”
The strong sons heard their father, and upon her set their hands.
But Strahin will not let them. He speaketh to them apace:
“My nine good brethren, wherefore do ye yourselves disgrace?
Why are your knives unscabbarded? Heroes ye are, I know!
But why were not your sabers with me at Kósovo,
To do great deeds against the Turk when danger ran most high?
And harken this, my brethren; your sister shall not die.
Without your aid already, all I wished, she had been slain.
Yet, should I slaughter all her kin, no comrade then would drain,
Reveling with me deliciously, the cool cups of the wine.
So now have I given my pardon unto this bride of mine.”
There are not many on earth to match him, man to man,
And scanty are the heroes as gallant as the ban.
(2) In Serbian this word is accented on the second syllable.