The Marriage of Prince Marko
Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
Prince Marko with his mother one evening sate alone.
Said his mother:
“Marko, my little son, old is thy mother grown;
No more can she prepare for thee the meal whereon to dine;
She cannot light a torch for thee or serve the ruddy wine.
Marry, my son, a woman forthwith to take my place.”
Marko unto his mother shortly he spake apace:
“In God’s name, my ancient mother, I have been nine realms around,
And a tenth, the Turkish empire. When a girl to my taste I found,
She would not have been to thy liking; when I found a friend for thee,
Then she was not to my liking, nor desirable to me.
Except for one, my mother, in the Bulgarian land;
I saw her in Shíshmanin’s palace; by a cistern did she stand.
When I looked on her, my mother, the grass swam under me;
There is the maid for me, mother, and a dear friend for thee.
Get me food for the journey; I will ask for the maiden’s hand.”
She waited not, nor abided till the dawn shone in the land,
But she baked him bread with sugar. When the dawn broke clear and fine,
Marko girded himself and the steed and filled a skin of wine;
He hung it on Dapple’s saddle, and his mace on the other hand;
On Dapple he went to Shíshmanin’s house in the Bulgarian land.
Afar the king perceived him. Marko he came before;
They embraced and kissed each other, and asked how they them bore.
The servant to the cellars went with the faithful steed,
But the king, the good Prince Marko to his white house did lead.
They sat down at the ready board the dark-red wine to drain;
When they had drunk their fill thereof Marko leaped up again.
He doffed his cap, he bowed to the earth, and he asked for the maid of the king.
The king said naught, but gave her; on the ground he laid a ring,
And an apple thereby; moreover for the girl he let cut a shift.
To her sisters and kinswomen Marko gave many a gift,
He gave three packs of treasure; and there a month he spent,
Ere to gather gay-clad wooers to Prilip the white he went.
The maid’s mother bespoke him: “My son-in-law,” she cried,
“My Marko, let no stranger be the bringer of the bride,
But rather thine own brother or some nephew of thy name,
For the maid is passing lovely and we fear some open shame.”
There bode Prince Marko of Prilip the remnant of the night;
At dawn he saddled Dapple and rode to Prilip the white.
Near the town his mother saw him, and drew near a little space,
And in her arms she took him and kissed him on the face.
And his mother asked Prince Marko, as he kissed her milk-white hand:
“My son, Prince Marko, art thou come in peace across the land?
And hast thou as yet discovered a daughter dear for me,
A maid to be my daughter and a true wife to thee?”
“My mother, I am come in peace through the land;
I have asked and won in marriage a maiden to my hand.
When I set out for my white house, then the maid’s mother cried:
“ ‘My Marko, let no stranger be the bringer of the bride,
But rather thine own brother or some nephew of thy name,
For the maid is passing lovely and we fear some open shame.’
“But, mother, I have not a brother, no nephew at all have I.”
His mother spake:
“Son Marko, be troubled not thereby.
A letter in fine characters, my son, thou shalt indite
Unto the Doge of Venice, and bid him come forthright
To be groomsman at thy wedding, with five hundred wooers beside.
Thou shalt write to Stevan Zemlyich to be bringer of the bride,
With five hundred wooers likewise. No shame at all shalt thou fear.”
When Marko understood her speech, he harkened his mother dear.
He wrote the letters on his knee, and one to the doge is borne,
And one to Stevan Zemlyich, that is his brother sworn.
Time passed; the Doge of Venice came, and five hundred wooers beside;
He went to the slender tower, but they to the lealand wide.
In a little while came Stevan and five hundred wooers fine.
They gathered at the slender tower and drank their fill of the wine.
Then they went to the court of Shíshmanin in the Bulgarian land,
And King Shíshmanin received them, and open was his hand
To the heroes in the houses and the horses in the stall,
And three white days he kept them, and they rested one and all.
When out broke the fourth morning, spake the heralds in this wise:
“What ho, ye gay-clad wooers, it is time that ye arise!
Short are the days, and the delays at nightfall long are they;
Ye should take thought, ye wooers, to wend the homeward way.”
King Shíshmanin brought gracious gifts. Fair hose he gave to one,
To another he gave a gallant cloth with embroidery thereon;
He gave unto the groomsman a table of gold well-tried,
And he gave a golden garment to the bringer of the bride,
And a great war-steed furthermore, and charged him with the maid;
And to the bringer of the bride the king moreover said:
“Here is the steed and the maid likewise to take to Marko’s place:
Give him the maid; the steed is thine, a gift of honor and grace.”
Forth marched the gay-clad wooers through the Bulgarian land.
Where comes good fortune, also ill fortune is at hand;
For on that tide both far and wide the wind blew in the field,
The wind stirred lightly the maiden’s veil and the maiden’s face was revealed.
The Doge of Venice saw her. His head for grief ached sore.
He scarce could wait till evening the land had fallen o’er.
When they came to the night encampment, the Doge of Venice sped
To the tent of Stevan Zemlyich, and soft to him he said:
“O Stevan, the bringer of the bride, give me thy sister dear
One night for my love, and thou shalt have this bootful of treasure here.
Lo, Stevan, the yellow ducats!”
But Stevan to him did cry:
“Be silent, doge, mayst thou change to stone! Has it entered thy mind to die?”
The Doge of Venice turned him back. At the second camp he went
And spoke to Stevan Zemlyich in the midst of the white tent:
“I prithee, Stevan Zemlyich, give me thy sister dear
One night for my love. Thou shalt have therefor two bootsfull of treasure here.
Lo, Stevan, the yellow ducats!”
Said Stevan thereupon:
“Go, doge! Mayst thou perish straightway! Shall my sister be undone?”
To his tent went the doge. When the third camp was pitched at eventide,
The doge went unto Stevan, the bringer of the bride:
“O thou, the bringer of the bride, give me thy sister dear
One night for my love. Thou shalt have therefor three bootsfull of ducats here.”
Thereupon Stevan Zemlyich was finally cajoled
To give the doge his sister for three bootsfull of yellow gold.
Stevan took up the ducats and the doge led the maid
By the white hand within his tent and softly to her said:
“Sit down, sweet bride, that thou and I may fondle each other now.”
But answered the Bulgarian bride:
“A shameful groomsman art thou!
O Doge of Venice, beneath us the earth will open wide,
The heaven will crack above us! What man shall fondle a bride?”
The Doge of Venice answered:
“Speak not like a fool confessed!
I have already, dearest, nine christened brides caressed,
And of wives four and twenty. The earth it gaped not wide,
Nor did the heaven crack o’er us. Sit down, let me fondle thee, bride!”
But the bride said:
“Doge of Venice, my groomsman, harken this.
My mother dear adjured me no bearded man to kiss,
But a young and beardless hero, such as Prince Marko is.”
When the Doge of Venice heard it, he called swift barbers there;
One bathed him, and the second he shaved him clean and fair.
And the lovely bride bowed over in the place where she stood,
And picked up the beard and wrapped it in a piece of linen good.
Thereafter the Doge of Venice the barbers drove outside,
And said unto her softly: “Now sit thee down, sweet bride!”
Then answered the Bulgarian girl:
“When Marko of this shall hear,
Three heads, O Doge, my groomsman, from our bodies he will shear.”
The doge said unto the sweet bride:
“Speak not so foolishly!
There in the midst of the wooers is Marko plain to see,
Where his fair white pavilion he did himself unfold.
Upon the summit of the tent is an apple of red gold,
With gems so bright that by their light are half the wooers seen clear.
But at my side sit down, O bride, that we may fondle here.”
The bride said:
“Wait in the tent a space, thou dearest groomsman of mine,
Till I look on the sky above the clouds, if it be foul or fine.”
When she had came without the tent, she fled to Marko in fear;
The girl sprang through the wooers like a fawn of a single year,
To the tent of the Prince Marko, that down to sleep had lain;
And the girl stood before him, and her tears ran down like rain.
Then Marko leaped to his feet and spake to the Bulgarian bride:
“What a wretch, Bulgarian, art thou! Couldst thou not e’en abide
Till we came to my white dwelling, and in Christian guise were wed?”
He seized the saber silver-wrought, but the bride bowed down and said:
“Marko, mine is no wretch’s line, but a house of power and pride!
The wretches are thine, thy groomsman and the bringer of the bride!
Thine own bride Stevan Zemlyich to the Doge of Venice sold
For three bootsfull of treasure, ducats of yellow gold.
Prince Marko haply will not believe—if thou believest not me,
The beard of the Doge of Venice, I have brought it unto thee.”
And thereupon she opened the cloth that held it wide.
When the Prince Marko saw it, he spoke unto the bride:
“Sit down, fair bride; on the morrow I will look the matter o’er.”
Then Marko laid him down again to slumber there once more.
But when on the morrow morning the mighty sun outbroke,
Marko leaped nimbly to his feet, and fastened back his cloak;
In his hand he took the heavy mace, and then away he hied,
To bid the groomsman good morrow, and the bringer of the bride.
“Good morrow, bringer of the bride, and groomsman mine,” said he;
“Bringer of the bride and groomsman, say, where now the bride may be.”
Still was the bringer of the bride, no answer would he make;
But unto the Prince Marko the Doge of Venice spake:
“How now, friend Marko the bridegroom, of such strange whims men are,
That hardly a man may make a jest without begetting a war!”
“Evil is the jest of thine, O doge!” thereto did Marko say,
“No jest is a shaven beard! Where now is thy beard of yesterday?”
Yet more to him in answer had the Doge of Venice said;
Marko swung the great saber, and cut off the doge’s head.
Forthwith fled Stevan Zemlyich, but Marko ran amain,
And smote him with the saber, and cut him right in twain.
In the tent himself he girded, and saddled Dapple aright;
Forth went the gay-clad wooers, and came to Prilip the white.