The Battle of Kósovo
Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
A gray hawk from Jerusalem, with a swallow in his beak,
Flew onward into Serbia, Tsar Lazarus to seek,
Nay, it was never a great gray hawk with a swallow that flew so far,
But Elijah, our Lady’s messenger, with her tidings to the tsar.
Tsar Lazar read the letter:
“O king whom the Serbs revere,
Wilt thou choose for thine own the Kingdom of God or an earthly empire here?
For if, instead of a heavenly rule, thou choosest an earthly realm,
Leap astride of the steed this tide and do on hauberk and helm;
Belt about thee the girdle of war and look to saber and dirk,
Tighten at need the girth of the steed—and here shalt thou slaughter the Turk.
But if thou choosest the Empire of Christ, and a kingdom of God’s own,
Build him a church by Kósovo, but not of marble stone;
But found it on silk and satin and its corners in scarlet fine.
Therein shall thine armies take of Christ the white bread and the wine.
Thou shalt marshal the army of the Serbs, and upon that dreadful day
In the van of the war thou shalt die, O tsar, with the whole of thine array.”
When the tsar heard the holy word, his thoughts came two and two:
“Dear God, what is the whole of thine heart, and what is the deed to do?
Which shall I hold for the better realm? Man’s sovereignty may die,
But the Kingdom of the Living God, its power goes on for aye.”
Tsar Lazarus has chosen at last God’s Kingdom for his own;
And he built a church at Kósovo, but not of marble stone;
On satin and on velvet he made the walls to stand,
And he summoned our lord the patriarch, and bishops twelve to hand.
The armies came before him, what time the prayers were said,
And the good priests gave to them Christ’s wine and milk-white bread.
And when on level Kósovo that army up was drawn,
The Turks smote against Kósovo at the breaking of the dawn.
Yug Bogdan with the vanguard came up against their line;
The young gray hawks were with him, his gallant children nine;
And after every standard came thrice three thousand men,
But by Yug Bogdan’s banner were thousands two and ten.
They came upon the infidel, that army of renown,
And slashed and slew among them; seven pashas smote they down.
The eighth gave way before them; Yug Bogdan there was slain;
His nine gray falcons and their host came never home again.
The children of Marnyáva moved on with their array;
Vukáshin, Goyko, Úglyesha were marshals of the fray;
And the ninth Turkish pasha before their charge fell back,
But Úglyesha and Goyko were slain in the attack,
Two of Marnyáva’s children; and terribly, indeed,
Was King Vukáshin wounded, and trampled by the steed.
Now smitten was the center and smitten was the van,
And Ertseg Stepan with the rear into the battle ran.
Brave warriors had Ertseg, full sixty thousand men;
They trampled through the tumult and smote the Turks again.
Nine pashas fell before them, the tenth drew back in dread;
But Ertseg and his army were numbered with the dead.
And now rode out Tsar Lazarus with his whole host along,
Seventy thousand gallant Serbs and seven thousand strong.
They scattered the Turks by Kósovo; they scarce would let them stand
To look upon the army for the lifting of the brand.
Then would the tsar have won the war for Serbia by God’s aid—
God’s curse be on Vuk Bránkovich, the dastard that betrayed
The father of his wife that tide!—the tsar of all the land!
The Turks smote down Tsar Lazarus with the edges of the brand.
Seven and seventy thousand men lay dead upon the sod,
All gallant Serbs, and their pure blood was dear unto their God.