The Captivity of Stoyan Yánkovich

The Captivity of Stoyan Yánkovich

Heroic Ballads of Serbia

translated by

George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon

WHEN the Turks took Kotári, great havoc did they make
With the house of Yánkovich Íliya Smílyanich did they take
And likewise Stoyan Yánkovich; bereft was Íliya’s bride
Of fifteen days; ungently from his wife’s youthful side
Was Stoyan taken also, ere a week they had been wed.
The Turks to Stamboul city captive the husbands led.
To the tsar whom all men honor, with the prisoners of their spears
Came the Turks; and the two were holden for the space of nine long years
And seven months. And Moslems the tsar hath made them there,
And likewise built them houses beside his palace fair.
 Spake Íliya Smílyanich: “Stoyan, dear brother,” did he say,
“To-morrow will be Friday, the Turkish holiday;
The tsáritsa walks with the Turkish dames and the tsar with the Turks at heel.
Do thou steal the key of the treasury, and the stable key will I steal;
Let us gather the guardless treasure and take two steeds amain,
And run to level Kotári and see our wives again,

That never enemy caressed nor foeman carried away.”
 They harkened each other. On the morn of the Turkish holiday
The tsáritsa walked with the Turkish dames and the tsar with the Turks at heel.
One stole the treasury key, and one did the key of the stable steal;
They took much treasure and two good steeds, and to flat Kotári fled.
When they were near Kotári, Stoyan Yánkovich said:
 “O Íliya, my dear brother, unto the white house go;
And I will unto the vineyard that mine own hand did sow,
That I may look on the vineyard, to see who binds the vine
And prunes it—in whose possession the place has gone from mine.”
 To the white house went Íliya, to the vineyard Stoyan came;
In the vineyard he found his mother, the weary and ancient dame.
And standing in the vineyard she cut the strands of her hair,
And with them to the stanchions she bound the grapevines there,
And with tears she watered the vine sprouts and the tendrils where they twined,
And ever her own son Stoyan was present in her mind:

 “Stoyan, my golden apple, is forgot of his mother old;
But I will remember Yela his wife, fair as the unworn gold!”
 Stoyan in God’s name greeted her: “Old dame, whom God defend!—
Hast thou none younger than thyself for thee the vines to tend?
Thou totterest wretched and feeble.” But bravely she replied:
 “Live well, thou unknown champion, and all good thee betide!
I have none younger save Stoyan, sole son of my desire.
The Turks took him with Íliya, the nephew of his sire;
And in that bitter hour bereft was Íliya’s bride
Of fifteen days; ungently from his wife’s youthful side
Was Stoyan taken also, ere a week they had been wed.
My daughter of Adam waited until nine years were sped,
And seven months of the tenth year; she weds another to-day.
And I—I could not endure it; to the vineyard I ran away!”
 When Stoyan understood it, he went to the white house,
And well the wooers welcomed him with revel and carouse.

He went from the steed to table, his thirst with wine to slake;
When he had drunk his fill of it, softly to them he spake:
“My brothers, gay-clad wooers, to sing is it granted me?”
Said the wooers: “It is, thou hero unknown; wherefore should it not be?”
Then Stoyan sang unto them in a high voice and a clear:
 “A swallow plaited her fair nest; she plaited her nest nine year;
To-morrow will she unplait it. But there flew to her from afar
A mighty falcon green and gray, from the city of the tsar;
And the mighty falcon green and gray lets her not unplait the nest.”
 In all this to the wooers was nothing manifest,
But the inward of the matter the wife of Stoyan spied.
Thereupon she departed from the bringer of the bride;
She went to the lookout place and spoke to Stoyan’s sister dear:
“Sister-in-law, my sister, thy brother my lord is here!”
 When the sister of Stoyan heard it, she ran from the lookout place;
Thrice she looked round the table, till she saw her brother’s face.

When she saw the face of her brother, wide then their arms they spread;
They kissed each other on the face, and the sweet tears they shed;
One washes the cheeks of the other with the tears of their desire.
But the gay-clad wooers said: “Stoyan, what get we for our hire?
For we spent a deal of money ere we won thy wife to wed.”
 “Stand aside, gay-clad wooers,” Stoyan Yánkovich said,
“Until I have gazed on my sister! We will look to your money then;
Easily shall we pay it, if we in truth be men.”
 When he had gazed on her, gifts he gave unto the wooers there;
A kerchief to one, to another a shirt of linen fair;
To the bridegroom he gave his sister: and the wooers went their way.
 Wailing came home the mother at the ending of the day,
Wailing even as a cuckoo the hawthorn leaves behind,
And ever her son Stoyan was present in her mind:
 “Stoyan, my golden apple, is forgot of his mother old;
But I will remember Yela his wife, fair as the unworn gold!
Who will wait for the ancient mother? Who will come forth for me,

And say to the weary woman, ‘Hath thy toil wearied thee?’ ”
 When the wife of Stoyan heard it, before the house she sped;
She took her mother in her sweet arms, and to the dame she said:
 “Wail not, O ancient mother! On thee has the warm sun shone,
For returned unto thy bosom is Stoyan, thy only son.”
 She looked on her son Stoyan, and dead on the earth she fell.
And Stoyan buried his mother most royally and well.