The War of the Montenegrins with Mahmud Pasha
Heroic Ballads of Serbia
George Rapall Noyes & Leonard Bacon
(1) Vizier Mahmud on Bóyana in Scútari the white
Hath gathered his viziers and the captains of his might,
Picked Turkish chiefs. When they were come, he spake unto them then:
“Here is a chance for us at last, my gallant fighting men,
To win the great Black Mountain and the flat coast of the sea
That we have long desired. Some friends of mine there be,
Black Mountaineers that I will bribe; their country they will sell,
And I will do thereafter whatever seemeth well.
But the men of Brida have closed the roads, and there my wound is found,
And I cannot gather an army all Bosnia around,
Or in Herzegovina either or the Albanian bound.
Let us stir up Albania, that our fiery winds may fall
On the Píperi and also on the Children of White Paul. (2)
Let us burn everything with fire and capture great and small,
Till we come to Nikshich, brethren; there our pavilion white
We will pitch, and we will gather the army of our might
From the land of Herzegovina and from the country round,
And from the land of Bosnia and the Albanian bound.
We will divide the host in three, and one of those three powers
We will send unto white Novi that in ancient time was ours;
When we come to Ragusa we will choose a viceroy of the tsar,
Ibrahim my broilier for pasha, that the wonder be heard afar.
The second host shall travel by the fords along the sea,
With food and shell and powder and the artillery,
That they may fight, nor to parley of any peace delay.
There is not left a single youth about Cattáro Bay;
They are gone to Italy, Venice from the Frenchmen to defend.
And over the Black Mountain must the third army wend,
To win the great Black Mountain and the flat coast of the sea,
That by the coast we may water our horses easily,
Till we are come to Cattáro. When at the town we are,
There, friends, my nephew. Mehmed shall be viceroy of the tsar;
A lord and pasha shall he be that the Latins thereof may know.
It is my very strong desire that thus should the matter go.”
So Mahmud spake, and nimbly to his feet sprang the vizier;
Quickly he seized a writing-set and wrote a letter clear:
To Petar the Bishop (3) in Tsétinye the letter doth he send:
“Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, if thou still wilt be my friend,
The champions of Brida in no way shalt thou relieve,
Nor in little Montenegro their families receive;
For now in my displeasure the fiery winds shall fall
On the Píperi and also on the Children of White Paul.
I shall burn everything with fire and capture great and small,
And either I shall perish or drive out utterly
The men of Brida to Ostrog the mount. And harken yet to me!
Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, if thou shalt them relieve;
If in Montenegro their families haply thou shalt receive,
Into my own Albania will I betake me then,
So that thou shalt not be able to give aid unto the men.”
The Turk said not, “If God permit”; he trusted in his might;
God only giveth strength, and he will aid no Turk in fight.
When the letter reached the bishop, he looked thereon and read;
And when he knew its import, the bitter tears he shed.
The chiefs of the Black Mountain, the chosen of the land,
The heroes of Tsétinye by chance were ready to his hand.
Said the bishop:
“Ye Black Mountain men, hath come a letter here,
From Mahmud, my dear brethren, the terrible vizier.
He hath boasted he will scatter all Brida hither and yon
To Mount Ostrog. Our Black Mountain youth, with bribes they shall be won;
They will take the bribe of Mahmud, and be conquered by his fee,
And sell him the Black Mountain and the flat coast of the sea
Unto Ragusa. His will will he do! But ye, dear brothers, know
How the cursèd Turks reproach the Serbs because of Kósovo,
The woful fray; Vuk Bránkovich betrayed the nation there:
May he know eternal torment for his treason everywhere!
Are any wounds more terrible or deadlier found than when
An arrow out of heaven strikes down a king of men?
There is not any arrow or any flying dart
Like unto such reproach and shame, to tear a hero’s heart.
Your fathers fought their battles for faith and freedom’s sake,
That never Turkish overlords should them for bondmen take.
With men it were reproach and shame, and with God a mighty sin,
To forsake the men of Brida, that are our nearest kin;
But, brethren, as you trust in God, to the Children of Paul the White
Let us go; the heroes of Brida we will succor in the fight.
Had not the Turks made themselves strong, when here before they came,
Scatheless the church of Tsétinye they had not burned with flame,
Nor without a wound have ruined our monasteries fair;
They had not known Kóshchelitsa, (4) nor would thus our entrails tear.” (5)
When the Black Mountain youth had heard, to the bishop then swore they,
That the champions of Brida they never would betray,
But along with them would perish. When the bishop had seen the sight
Of their good will and freedom, a letter did be write
All in the fine-penned character; to Mahmud he sent it on:
“Mahmud Vizier! in Brida let the fatherless alone!
Tear not the fierce wounds, pasha, that thy strong right hand gave!
God will soon grant them, haply, that a vengeance they will have.
And if thou grewest strong, pasha, when here thine army came,
When scatheless the church of Tsétinye thou burnedst with the flame,
And without a wound couldst ruin our monasteries white—
When thou burnedst the church, then all our youth in their live hearts didst thou smite.
As for burning our monasteries, sore didst thou wound us there,
And through knowing Kóshchelitsa our entrails dost thou tear.”
When that the bishop’s letter to the vizier was brought,
And he knew thereof the purport, he gave it not a thought,
But he stirred up all Albania and to level Dólyani went;
O’er Pódgoritsa in Zlátitsa the vizier pitched his tent,
And far and wide on every side his camp abroad he spread.
And the rumor ran to the bishop. Then forth the bishop sped
To the green Mount Vrítiyelka, and fired the cannon of war,
And gathered somewhat of the host from Tsétinye and afar.
Then over the Black Mountain he marched with one and all,
Till he was come to the houses of the Children of White Paul;
In the fair house of Bóshkovich the bishop spent the night.
And when upon the morrow the dawn brake fair and bright,
They crossed cold Zeta and they came where Slátina water ran,
Before the church of the Leeches, Cosmas and Damian;
And there the bishop made his camp, and there the tents were pight.
And Mahmud saw it, and nearer drew from Spuzh the city white;
Over Spuzh, against Derdémezi, under the mountain green,
There Vizier Mahmud made his camp, and there his tents were seen.
When the Bishop of Tsétinye saw it, then letters fine he penned;
To the chiefs of the Black Mountain the letters did he send.
But when the letters had crossed the hills and to the chiefs had come,
And the captains knew their purport, they left their wives at home;
The shepherds left their flocks of sheep in the upper grazing land,
And up they took the knapsack and the musket in the hand;
They went o’er the Black Mountain; in haste went every man,
Asking of the prince. They found him where Slátina water ran,
Before the church of the Leeches, Cosmas and Damian.
There at the church was gathered a fierce and stalwart host;
With the bishop scarce an army, fifteen hundred at the most,
But indeed of the little army that by the bishop stood,
All the soldiers in it were black wolves of the wood;
The generals of the army, wingèd eagles were they;
And the young ensigns along the lines were even as falcons gray.
And Mahmud sent his herald his army through that said:
“Who leads the bishop to me alive or brings me the bishop’s head,
To him shall be given forthwith all Zeta’s level land,
And three white cities in Zeta, and three packs of gold in hand.”
Yakup Aga Serdárevich and Mehmed Kokótliya said
Boastingly they would take him alive or bring the bishop’s head.
But the Turks said not, “If God permit”; they trusted in their might;
God only giveth strength, and he will aid no Turk in fight.
For three weeks stood the armies; drew near the time and the day;
They yearned for fight—on Thursday they got ready for the fray;
The Turks will strike on Friday. But the bishop, the prudent man,
Before the church of the Leeches, Cosmas and Damian,
Gathered his host, and gave them the blessing of God thereby,
And commended all the army to the care of the most high,
That God for a great captain might with the vanguard go,
And swiftly all the armies of the Turk might overthrow.
And when on Friday morning the fair dawn clearly shone,
Then against the Montenegrins the Turks rushed fiercely on.
The armies charged on the battlefield till the middle of the day,
But by noon the Turks had turned their backs and begun to run away.
It was worth the while of any man a bit thereby to stand,
And watch Mahmud, the great vizier, flee fast across the land;
Hardly about the heavy lout once dared to turn his head,
Till to Spuzh, the milk-white city, in his terror he had fled,
And to gay-decked Mártiniche. Of the Turks there died the flower,
Of all of their foot soldiers and champions in that hour,
And pashas and silíktars, and heralds quick that ran,
And the agas and spahis, the remnant of Ushchup and Álbasan,
And likewise from Alesso and Durazzo on the coast,
From Kavay and from Oblom the heroes of their boast,
From Tiran and from Dibran, the chosen of the town,
From Prizrend and from Vúchitrin, their best that had sent down;
Syénitsa, Mítrovitsa their foremost had sent there,
And many champions were come from Jákovitsa fair,
Oraovats and Ocha, Pech and As supplied the war,
And Gúsinye and Vútsinye, and the white town of Bar;
And the men of Lyéshkopolye, the heroes of great fame,
And the chiefs of Spuzh the bloody, and the champions that came
From gay-decked Pódgoritsa to Vizier Mahmud’s side,
Were dead with the lords of Scútari. Mehmed Kokótliya died,
Likewise Yakup Serdárevich, who boastingly had said
That they would take the bishop alive, or else would bring his head.
All of the vizier’s army was slaughtered there and then,
But of the bishop’s army there fell but eighteen men.
And the three good friends died with them; they were a trusty three:
Kritsun Savo was one of them, from Byélitsa was he;
And Stanko of Lyubótin, ensigns worth standing by;
And Bego Voývodicha—their honor will not die!
God gave them habitations in the peace of paradise,
But to the rest he giveth health and merriment likewise.
(1) “I am confident that both ballads [of which the present is one] on the war of the Montenegrins with Mahmud Pasha were composed by the Prince-Bishop of Montenegro, Petar I (now canonized as St. Petar), and that later they became current among the people, and, passing from mouth to mouth, were assimilated to the folk ballads.” (Note by Karájich.)
Mr. William Miller gives the following account of the events treated in this ballad:
“The people of Trebinje in the Herzegovina, long noted for their independence and intolerance of Turkish rule, had been driven from their homes by the ravages of the Turks, and sought shelter among the Berda [Brida]. The four nahie of that mountainous district, which had been virtually united to Montenegro under Danilo I, were now formally combined with it into one state. . . . This important accession of territory did not fail to arouse the jealousy of the Turks. Kara Mahmoud resolved to prevent the union, and entered Montenegro at the point where the river Zeta separates it from the Berda. But his efforts were in vain. After a sanguinary engagement near the fortress of Spuzh, the pasha retired wounded from the field, and a subsequent expedition cost him his life. The vladika [prince-bishop], posting one half of his forces in one of those mountainous defiles which are so common in his country, and leaving a number of red Montenegrin caps upon the rocks to delude the Turks into the idea that his whole army was in front, surprised them with the other half in the rear. Taken unawares between the two fires, the invaders fell by hundreds; Kara Mahmoud was slain, and when Sir Gardner Wilkinson visited Cetinje. [Tsétinye], fifty years later, be found the pasha’s skull still stuck, as a grim trophy of victory, on the battlements of the famous ‘Turks’ Tower.’ The effects of the Turkish defeat were lasting; the union of the Montenegro and the Berda was secure; the hereditary foes of the Black Mountain ceased for many years from troubling. . . . The sultan no longer demanded tribute from a nation which knew so well how to defend itself. By a curious coincidence, the victory took place exactly one hundred years after the selection of Danilo I as prince-bishop [i. e., in 1796].” The Balkans, New York, 1896, pp. 410, 411.
(2) The Byclópavlichi rebel against English meter as stoutly as they once resisted Turkish oppression; hence their name is translated in the text instead of transcribed.
(3) Petar I, who ruled 1782-1830, and to whom Karájich attributes the composition of this ballad.
(4) The name of a mountain in Montenegro.
(5) “He [Petar I] had scarcely returned from the ceremony of consecration [in 1782] at the hands of the Serb patriarch, . . . when he was compelled to face a Turkish invasion. Kara Mahmoud, Pasha of Scútari, and a descendant of the renegade Montenegrin Prince Stanicha, was ravaging the Black Mountain, and set fire to the monastery at Cetinje, as his predecessors had done.” Miller, op. cit., pp. 408, 409.