The Ballads of Marko Kraljević/Marko Kraljević and General Vuča

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The Ballads of Marko Kraljević  (1922)  by Unknown, translated by D. H. Low
Marko Kraljević and General Vuča


Is it thunder or is it earthquake?
No thunder is it nor yet earthquake[1];
They are firing the guns in the castle,
The strong castle of Varadin.
General Vuča maketh merry,
Because Vuča hath gained a victory.
He hath taken three Serbian Vojvodas.
The first is Miloš of Pocerje[2],
The second is Toplica Milan,
The third is Kosančić Ivan[3]. 10
He hath flung them into the depths of a dungeon
Where the water cometh to their knees,
And the bones of dead heroes are shoulder high.
Miloš of Pocerje hissed forth lamentations,
Miloš hissed like an angry snake,
For Miloš had never learned
To endure suffering and evil fortune.
Miloš hissed like an angry snake,
He pulled himself up to the dungeon window,
And the hero looked out into the street 20
If haply he might see one known to him.
And he perceived a messager,
And Miloš of Pocerje called him, saying:
"Brother-in-God that bearest the letters,
Bring me a sheet of paper,
That I may make ready a letter."
"I will well," said the post.
And he brought him a sheet of paper.

Miloš sate him down and wrote a letter,
To Prilep the white castle,30
To Marko Kraljević, his pobratim:
"Brother-in-God, Kraljević Marko,
Hast thou not heard—or carest thou naught for me?
Into sore straits am I come,
In the hands of the Magyars.
General Vuča hath taken me,
And with me my two pobratims.
He hath cast us into the depths of a dungeon,
Where the water cometh to our knees,
And the bones of dead heroes are shoulder-high. 40
Three white days have I lain here, brother,
And, brother, if I remain yet three days,
Nevermore shalt thou see me!
Deliver me, pobratim Marko,
Be it with gold or by deed of prowess."
Then he struck the pen into his face,
And caused the blood to pour from his cheek,
With blood he sealed his letter.
He gave it to the post,
And gave him twelve ducats, 50
And to the post Miloš saith:
"Bear this letter to white Prilep,
To the knees of Kraljević Marko."
The post departed for white Prilep,
And reached it on the holy Sabbath,
What time the Serbs were at church.
The post stood before the white church,
Until Marko should come forth of the church;
And anon when Marko came forth,
The post set his cap under his arm,60
And bowed to the ground before Marko,
And gave him the letter.
When Marko received the letter,
Standing, Marko oversaw the letter,
And when he perceived what it told him,

Tears came into his eyes,
And he lift up his voice and cried:
"Woe is me, my dear pobratim!
Into grievous straits art thou come, unhappy one!
Yet do I swear by the faith of my body,70
That I shall deliver thee, brother,
Be it by gold or by deed of prowess!"
He gat him up to his slender tower;
He sate him down for a space and drank his fill of wine,
Then he girded on his sabre well-forged,
He threw around him a cloak of wolf-skin,
On his head he set a cap of wolf-skin,
And bound it on with a brown head-cloth.
Then he took his battle-spear,
And descended to the stall of Sharatz.80
He made ready his war-horse Sharatz,
He made fast the seven saddle-girths,
And bridled him with a gilded bridle.
He poured wine into the wine-skin,
And hanged it at the saddle-bow on the left hand,
On the right hand he hanged his heavy mace,
That the saddle might not slip this way nor that.
Then he threw himself on the back of Sharatz
And rode forth of Prilep town!
Towards Belgrade the capital he took his way[4],90
And when he was come nigh to Belgrade,
He entered an inn and drank his fill of wine.
Then he laid a cloth over Sharatz[5],
And so came to the Danube ferry.
Twice Marko shouted for the ferryman,
Nor would wait for him no longer,
But urged Sharatz into the Danube;
Straight he went towards Varadin castle,
To the green meadows before Varadin.

There he halted the war-horse Sharatz, 100
He struck his spear into the untilled ground,
And tied Sharatz to the spear-shaft.
He unslung the wine-skin from the saddle-bow
And laid it on the green grass,
Then he sate him down and drank the dark wine.
He drank it not as men use to drink,
But he drank from a copper basin of twelve okas;
Half he drank, and half he gave to Sharatz.
When day dawned on the morrow,
Velimirovica was walking,—110
The dear daughter-in-law of General Vuča—
On the wall of Varadin castle.
She looked downward to the green meadows,
She saw Marko in the meadow,
And when she saw Kraljević Marko,
An ague gat hold on her,
And she fled into the white manor.
General Vuča asked her:
"What aileth thee, dear daughter-in-law?"
Velimirovica answered him: 120
"Ah, father-in-law!
A knight sitteth in the wide meadow,
He hath planted his spear in the unploughed earth,
And hath tethered his horse to the spear-shaft,
And hard by there lieth a wine-skin:
He drinketh not as men use to drink,
But from a copper basin of twelve okas,
He drinketh half, and half he giveth to the horse.
His horse is not as other horses,
But brindled like as beeves;130
The knight is not as other knights,
But on his shoulders is a cloak of wolf-skin,
On his head is a cap of wolf-skin
Bound on with a brown head-cloth;
In his teeth he holdeth something black,
That for size is as a lamb of half a year."

Vuča, the General, saith to her:
"Have no fear, dear daughter-in-law!
I have his fellows in the dungeon,
And him also I shall take presently."140
He called to him his son Velimir:
"Velimir, my dear child!
Take three hundred horsemen, my son;
Go thou down to the wide meadow.
And bring me in yonder knight."
Velimir leapt to his feet,
He took three hundred horsemen;
He mounted his fiery black steed,
He rode out through the castle gate,
And compassed about Marko on four sides.150
And ever Marko sat drinking the dark wine,
But Sharatz espied the horsemen,
He stamped on the ground with his hoofs,
And drew nigh to his master.
But anon when Kraljević Marko looked up
The horsemen already compassed him about.
Right so Marko drank a vessel of wine,
And threw the vessel down on the green grass;
Then he flung him on the back of Sharatz,
And with that the horsemen ran in upon him.160
Had one but been there to see,
When Marko strake upon the horsemen,
Like a falcon among doves!
How many he slew with his rich-wrought sabre!
How many he trampled down beneath the feet of Sharatz!
How many he drowned in the silent Danube[6]!
The stripling Velimir fled before him,
Marko followed hard after him on Sharatz,
And overtook him in the wide meadow.
He smote him lightly with his mace,170
The stripling fell down on the green grass.

Marko lighted down from his horse Sharatz,
He bound the youth feet and hands,
And fastened him to the saddle-bow of Sharatz.
Then he hied him back to his wine-skin,
He cast the stripling down on the green grass,
And sate him down again for to drink wine.
All this Velimirovica perceived,
And she ran to General Vuča:
"A curse on thy wine, Vuča!180
A curse on thy wine—and a double curse on thyself!
All thy horsemen have perished,
The knight hath bound Velimir's hands,
He hath bound his feet and his hands,
And behold he drinketh red wine,
And Velimir lieth on the sward!"
Vuča made answer:
"Be not adread, dear daughter-in-law,
Thou wilt see now—when the old man goeth forth!"
He caused the castle guns to thunder,190
He assembled three thousand horsemen,
He mounted his Arab mare,
And rode out through the castle gate.
Down in the meadow he disposed the horsemen,
And from four sides they closed in.
Marko saw naught thereof,
But the war-horse Sharatz saw it;
He stamped on the ground with his hoofs,
And drew nigh to his master.
But anon when Kraljević Marko looked up,200
The horsemen already encompassed him about!
Therewithal he sprang to his light feet,
And threw him on the back of Sharatz.
Ah, that one had been there to see,
How he drave the horsemen across the meadow!
His sabre was in his right hand,
In his left his battle-spear,
In his teeth the bridle;

Whomsoever Marko smote with his sabre
Was made two instead of one!210
Whomsoever Marko smote with his spear,
Him he cast over his head!
And when he had turned him about once and again,
The troop of horsemen went to the devil!
Vuča fled from before him,
On his slender Arab mare,
Marko pursued after him on Sharatz.
Swift was the wild Arab of Vuča
And fain would Vuča take refuge in Varadin castle,
But Marko swung his heavy mace,220
He hurled it after him athwart the fields,
And smote him with the mace handle.
Vuča fell down on the green grass;
Then Marko of Prilep lighted down,
He bound Vuča's hands behind his back,
He bound his feet and his hands,
And hanged him at the saddle-bow of Sharatz.
He seized the slender Arab steed,
And went again to Velimir the son,
He bound them fast each to other,230
And flung them across the Arab mare;
He tied the Arab mare to Sharatz,
And hied him straightway to white Prilep,
And cast the twain into the dungeon.
Right so Vuča's wife wrote a letter,
And sent it to white Prilep:
"Brother-in-God, Kraljević Marko!
Slay not my Vuča,
Nor yet my son Velimir.
Ask, Marko, whatsoever thou wilt!"240
The letter came to Kraljević Marko;
When he perceived what the letter told him,
Marko wrote another letter:
"Thou faithful wife of Vuča!
Do thou set free my three pobratims.

And give them three tovars of gold:
Set free also old Toplica[7],
And give him three tovars of gold[8],
For much time hath that knight lost yonder:
And give me three tovars of gold,250
Because I have laid much labour on my Sharatz.
And if there be aught else, Lady,
Thou hast there Miloš of Pocerje,
Thou mayst accord thee with him."
The letter went to Varadin castle.
When it came to the General's wife,
She read the letter,
And sent the gold to Marko of Prilep;
Then she took the keys of the dungeon,
And opened the accursed dungeon, 260
And let out the three young Vojvodas,
And with them the aged Toplica;
She led them to the white tower,
And she let call skilful barbers;
The first washed, the second shaved them,
And the third cut their nails.
She brought them wine and rakia.
And fine meats of every sort.
She told them what Marko had done,
And to Vojvoda Miloš she said: 270
"Brother-in-God, Vojvoda Miloš,
Set free my lord,
And my son Velimir!"
Miloš of Pocerje answered her:
"Lady, have no fear.
Give me Vuča's black horse

Which he rideth once in the year
When he goeth to church at Tekija[9]
That I may ride worshipfully across Njemadija[10];
And give me the golden carriage280
With twelve black horses harnessed thereto,
Even as Vuča is wont to harness them,
When he goeth to the Kaiser of Vienna,
That it may carry the aged Toplica;
Give me the garments of Vuča
Which he weareth at Easter,
That I may clothe my Toplica."
Vuča's wife gave him all his request,
And to each a thousand ducats289
For the wine that they should drink on the way to Prilep.
Then they departed unto white Prilep,
And right fair welcome they had of Marko;
Forthwithal he set free Vuča,
And his son Velimir also,
And gave him a great fellowship
For to ride with him to his castle at Varadin
And the Vojvodas divided the gold,
They drank red wine and were merry,
They kissed each other on the cheek;
Then each kissed the white hand of Marko,300
And so they returned every each to his own manor.

  1. A common device in Serbian ballads. The attention of the listener is arrested from the outset. The so-called "epic antithesis."
  2. Miloš of Pocerje is the same as Miloš of Obilić
  3. Toplica Milan and Kosančić Ivan are two heroes of the Kossovo cycle. Miloš, Milan and Ivan were all present at the Slava celebrated by Tsar Lazar at Kruševac before the battle.
  4. Оде право стојну Бијограду: "Straight he went to Belgrade the capital." стојни Биоград = Alba regia (Vuk).
  5. To conceal his identity.
  6. у тихом Дунаву: see note on тих in "A Damsel outwits Marko." Here "quiet" or "smooth-flowing."
  7. И пусти мн старога Топлиԥу. "Old Toplica" is here referred to for the first time. In a footnote, however, Vuk remarks that there is a variant which says that the father of Toplica Milan was imprisoned in Varadin. In order to set him free the three heroes broke into the stronghold but were themselves seized by Vuča.
  8. Tovar = the load carried by a pack-horse. I have sometimes translated this word by "a charge."
  9. "Tekija is a little church between Varadin and Karlovac. I wrote down this poem as recited by Podrugović, but whether he knew about Tekija before or merely inserted the name here I do not know" (Vuk's footnote).
  10. Да поиграм преко Ԋемадије: "that I may prance across Njemadija." Njemadija: the location of this district has not been identified; the word may possibly signify "barren land."