Fragments of Kósovo Ballads
Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
Murad the tsar hath come in war down upon Kósovo;
He sent a letter to Krúshevats that the tsar his will might know:
“Ho, Lazar, lord of Serbia, with sense it scarce accords,
That there should be one empery ’neath the power of two lords,
One rayah that pays double tax! We cannot both rule here!
So render me up your city keys and the taxes for seven year.
But if thou wilt not send them, abide at Kósovo,
That to our hand we may sunder the land with a keen saber blow.”
When the fine-written letter Tsar Lazarus had read,
He looked upon the letter and bitter tears he shed.
Bitter was the tsar’s curse to hear; aye! and a word of woe:
“Who comes not to the battle with me at Kósovo,
Let nothing grow beneath his hand in the field that he shall till;
Let not the white wheat spring in the field, nor the vine shoot on the hill!”
Lazar, the Tsar of Serbia, holds his high holiday.
In the secret place, in Krúshevats, with all his lords he lay.
All of the lords and lordings were come with him to dine:
At his right hand sat Yug Bogdan and Yug’s strong children nine;
On his left sat Vuk Bránkovich; at the far end of the board,
With two more Serbian voývodas, was Milosh the young lord;
Ivan Kósanchich was the one, the other of the twain
Was Milan Tóplitsa. And the tsar arose a health to drain
Unto the Serbian nobles; he lifted the beaker up:
“O voývodas and captains, to whom shall I pledge this cup?
If I pledge it unto the oldest, to Yug shall I drink this hour;
I shall pledge it to Vuk Bránkovich, if I drink because of power;
If I pledge to whomsoever is dear to me and mine,
I’ll drink to my good brethren, Yug Bogdan’s children nine;
For beauty to Ivan Kósanchich, and to Milan for his height;
But unto Milosh Óbilich for the glory of his might.
To none other will I drink it, while I have strength and breath:
A health unto Milosh Obilich, and faith and broken faith!
Faith first and treason to follow! To-morrow at Kósovo
Thou shalt betray me, and after to the tsar of the Turks shalt thou go.
Hail to thee, and a health to thee, and the cup’s delight be thine!
Rise up, Milosh the voývoda, and lightly drink the wine!”
Milosh rose swiftly to his feet, and bowed to the black earth:
“Praise to thee, Lazar the glorious, and a greeting to thy worth!
Praise for thy gift and greeting, but for thy speech no praise!
Since I was never a traitor, by my faith, in all my days,
Nor ever will work treason. But at Kósovo to-morn
Belike for the Cross of Christ and his Faith shall I be overborne.
But treachery is at thy knee, and drinketh before thy face;
There sits the traitor Bránkovich, of the accursèd race.
To-morrow on St. Vitus’ day, on the field of Kósovo,
Who of us twain is true or false, all men shall clearly know. (1)
And God me speed, will I ride indeed to Kósovo in the dawn,
To slash the throat of Murad the tsar and set my foot thereon.
An God give me good fortune, safely returning here,
I will lay hand on Bránkovich, and bind him to this spear,
As flax on the long distaff is bound by a woman’s hand,
And to and fro in Kósovo will I bear him through the land.”
“Ho, brother Ivan Kósanchich, hast thou spied the Turks’ array?
Have the Turks a mighty army? Can we beat them in the fray?”
“Milosh Óbilich, my own good brother dear,
I have spied the Turkish army, and a great host have they here.
Should all of us be changed to salt, we scarce should salt their meat.
Full fifteen days throughout their host have I walked with nimble feet,
Nor came on end or number, howsoever I might march;
From the marble to the maple, thence to Sázliya of the arch,
From the arched bridge to Zvechan the whole land have they ta’en;
From Zvechan through Chechan to the wood they seized the mount amain.
Ranks of horses and heroes, spears like a mountain wall,
And like the clouds of heaven are their banners over all;
And like the snows from heaven are their tents upon the plain;
And should a storm rise o’er them, on the earth it would not rain,
But on horses and on heroes would the rain fall from on high.
The tsar took Lab and Sítnitsa and Mazgit field thereby.”
Still Milosh Óbilich questions him:
“Ivan, brother in war,
Tell me where lieth, brother, the tent of Murad the tsar;
For unto the Tsar Lazarus my word is given and gone,
That I would slash Tsar Murad’s throat and set my foot thereon.”
But Ivan answers him lightly:
“Brother, a fool art thou!
Where in the center of the camp Tsar Murad lieth now,
Wert thou a wingèd goshawk from out high heaven sped,
Thou couldst not in thine anger hurt a hair upon his head.”
Then Milosh speaketh to Ivan:
“Ivan, my brother dear,
Speak not thus to Tsar Lazarus, lest he and the host should fear;
But unto the Tsar Lazarus thus and thus shalt thou say:
“ ‘Strong are the Turks, but we, mayhap, will shake them in the fray,
And lightly overcome them, for no host of battle they are,
But priests and pilgrims and merchants, and knaves that know not war,
That are come abroad together to eat Tsar Murad’s bread.
And for the royal army, the half are well-nigh dead
From the grievous ill of heartache, that is a bitter pain,
And the good steeds of that army are glandered on the plain.’ ”
“Who is the great hero that lifted once his hand,
And sundered well twelve Turkish heads with the edges of the brand?”
“That is the brave Ban Strahin.”
“What hero cometh here,
That spitteth the Moslems two and two on the edges of his spear,
And driveth them before him to Sítnitsa’s gray tide?”
“That is Srija the champion, whom men call the Angry-Eyed.”
“What hero on a white steed bears the flag of the cross in his hands,
And all along he harries the flying Turks in bands,
And chases them in his anger to Sítnitsa the flood?”
“That is Boshko the captain, of old Yug Bogdan’s blood.”
(1) As Mijatovich remarks (Serbia and the Serbians, 1908, p. 183), there is here in the original “a fine play on the word vid,” which means both Vitus and sight. The literal translation is: “Tomorrow is the fair day of St. Vitus (or of Sight); we shall see on the field of Kósovo, etc.”