Page 262 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
P. 262

Svetozar Koljević
Vienna. Karadžić devoted himself wholeheartedly to one of the greatest tasks of his life—writing down over two hundred “women’s songs” and several dozen heroic po- ems, many of them from his greatest poets, such as Filip Višnjić, Tešan Podrugović, blind Živana and others. in fact, while Karadžić was staying at the Monastery of Šišatovac, his host, the learned abbot Lukijan Mušicki, brought Filip Višnjić to the monastery and thus enabled Karadžić to write down fifteen poems.
What Karadžić gave his singers was his absolute trust in their art, his unparalleled understanding of it, his per- severance in looking for the best songs, and his critical genius in discerning them. His editing was negligible;6 and his arrangement was simple, straightforward, and basi- cally chronological, with poems grouped round certain heroes and historical events. Unlike earlier and many later collectors who wrote down and published whatever they could find, Karadžić aimed at giving a complete picture of the epic awareness of history as embodied in the great- est songs. For instance, he refused to publish any of the several versions of “The Wedding of King Vukašin” until he managed to get hold of an excellent variant sung to him by Stojan the Outlaw, a man who was serving sentence in jail for having killed a witch who had “eaten” his child.7 it is also to his perseverance, zest, and fastidious tastes that we owe “Banović Strahinja,” the longest and perhaps the greatest of all the Kosovo poems in the language. For this effort Karadžić needed to get hold of Old Milija. He fi- nally reached him in Kragujevac in 1822, but only after the Serbian Prince Miloš, illiterate himself, had given strict orders to his head clerk “to have Milija brought in alive or dead.”8 The recording of these poems from a singer who could not tell them without sipping slivovitz was a great ordeal. it came to an abrupt and disappointing end when some loitering yokels managed to persuade Old Milija that his harvest would go to the dogs if he went on wasting his time with such a madman as Karadžić who obviously cared only for songs.
all this explains why the four volumes of his definitive Viennese edition of folk songs are such a splendid monu- ment to his hard work, fine taste, and great insight.9 The
6 according to V. Nedić, Vuk Karadžić respected “the authentic- ity” of his singers “more than any of his contemporaries” (“Karadži- ćeva zbirka narodnih pesama,” Karadžić, iV, p. 391). This view is con- firmed by john M. Foley: “in general, the emendations introduced by Vuk into the texts of the songs that he published seem on the basis of the evidence available, to be infrequent and slight; more importantly for our purposes, they seem also to have been insignificant with re- spect to the larger question of aesthetics.” in “Literary art and Oral Tradition in Old english and Serbian Poetry,” Anglo-Saxon England, Xii (1983, 92–94).
7 See “Predgovor,” Karadžić, iV, p. 380, fn. 2.
8 “Predgovor,” Karadžić, iV, p. 368.
9 This edition was published under the title Srpske narodne pjes-
me in four volumes in Vienna, in 1841, 1845, 1846 and 1862 respec- tively. The best modern edition, closely following Karadžić’s test and orthography, correcting only misprints, is Karadžić, i-iV.
three volumes containing heroic songs (ii-iV) are the rich- est imaginative reflection of the history of his people and of the various spiritual and moral possibilities of that his- tory’s understanding and interpretation. at the heart of this epic landscape are the poems about the Serbian knights dying on the cross of honor in the Battle of Kosovo (1389). While these are often seen in the light of high medieval Christian symbols, they are also represented in terms of the later dramas of the Serbian peasant’s patriarchal life. all that precedes this great historical watershed in Kara- džić’s heroic songs— the picture of the grandeur and cor- ruption of the medieval Serbian state, of the greatness and folly of its feudal lords—is seen in terms of the approach- ing disaster. Most of what follows is the aftermath of the great catastrophe: the desperate and hopeless but honor- able defense of the remaining fortified cities; the attempts of the Ottoman vassal Marko Kraljević to provide some sort of piecemeal justice to the individual victims of the Ottoman terror; and the efforts of the outlaws to carry on the banner of high idealism in the terrifying circumstanc- es of tyranny, plunder, and torture. Finally, the First Ser- bian Uprising is seen as an imaginative settling of the Kosovo accounts: the cursing of the prospective traitors echoes Prince Lazar’s words on the eve of the Battle of Kosovo;10 and the new protagonists—“the poor rayah,” the non-Moslem plebs—“grow like grass out of the earth”11 and “tie a red flame into the sky.”12 in this sense the whole epic landscape is illuminated by the light of the heroic singing about the Battle of Kosovo.
The heroic songs about this great battle fed on the rich soil of historical memories, myths, and legends from which high feudal concepts were sifted for centuries until they were deeply absorbed and transformed in the folk imagi- nation. apart from the earliest sporadic and fragmentary references to the Battle of Kosovo in different sources,13 the first “unfermented” but suggestive elements of the leg- end are found in the work of the Christian monk, Con- stantine the Philosopher, who wrote the biography of his patron, Prince Lazar’s son Stefan Lazarević, about forty years after the battle. He notes that Miloš Obilić, the cen- tral figure and the greatest hero of the later Kosovo po- ems, was “a very noble man” whom “the envious slan-
11 “The Beginning of the Revolt against the Dahijas,” Karadžić, iV, No 24, 11. 145, 569.
12 “The Battle of Loznica,” Karadžić, iV, No 33, 1. 546.
13 Very detailed and scholarly discussions of the development of legends concerning the Battle of Kosovo and Prince Lazar can be found in the studies of jelka Redjep, Priča o boju kosovskom (Zrenja- nin, 1976) and Rade Milhaljčić, Lazar Hrebeljanović (Belgrade, 1984).
Compare, for instance, the cursing of the traitors in “Pieces from Various Kosovo Poems” (“Whoever will not fight at Kosovo, / May nothing grow that his hand sows: / Neither the white wheat in his field, / Nor the vine of grapes on his mountain!”— Karadžić, II, No 50, 11. 3–6) and the call for the battle in “The Battle of Loznica” (“Who betrays us, may summer betray him! / May he have no harvest of white grain! / May his old mother never look on him! / May his dear sister never swear by him!”— Karadžić, iV, No 33, 11. 421–24.

   260   261   262   263   264