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Svetozar Koljević
poems in Karadžić’s collections. at first glance one might be tempted to claim that it contains everything, or almost everything, that is found in the later decasyllabic poems: the preparation of Musić Stjepan for the battle, Milica’s desire to have one of her brothers left behind, the ex- change of toasts on the eve of the battle, the slander of Miloš Obilić, the treason of Vuk Branković, and Miloš’s heroic exploit and death.23
However, the “Song of the Battle of Kosovo” is long- winded not only because it is composed as a bugarštica (in lines varying usually from fourteen to sixteen syllables), but also because it has few, if any, intellectual and moral surprises. in this poem for instance, one of the knights, Musić Stjepan, with his servant Oliver (who seems to have walked out of a French romance), shows his loyalty to Prince Lazar by disregarding the ominous dream of his wife and turning up in time for the battle. in the corre- sponding decasyllabic version, we are not witnessing such a chivalric, rational moral gesture. Musić Stefan, as he comes to be called in this version, knows that he will be late for the battle but that it is never too late to die a he- roic death. Rational support and a possibly favorable out- come are no longer real issues; instead, the poet sings about irrational ideals in the context of an approaching disas- ter, and he thus reflects a sense of history characteristic of Serbian patriarchal communities under Ottoman rule. in this respect Musić’s recollection of the prince’s curse on those who do not come to fight is revealing:
Of Serbians by nation and by birth.
and by their blood and by their ancestry,
Whoever does not fight at Kosovo,
May he have no dear children born to him,
May neither boy nor girl be born to him!
May nothing bear fruit that his hand sows,
Neither the white wheat nor the red wine!
His blight rot all his brood while it endures!24
Why does this medieval knight, like so many other
heroes in the decasyllabic poems of the Kosovo cycle, speak in the voice of the Serbian patriarchal peasantry? it is this voice that connects the legends of Kosovo with the epic landscape of the preceding medieval times— with jug- -Bogdan’s dark forebodings of “the last times” when “the sheep and the wheat shall vanish away,”25 and with the all-pervading presentiment of universal natural and his- torical catastrophe as a deserved punishment of human- ity. This was powerfully evoked in “The Saints Divide the Treasure ” when elijah the Thunderer seals up the clouds so that:
No rain will fall from the clouds, No streaming rain, no quiet dew,
23 See “The Song of the Battle of Kosovo” (“Popijevka o kosovs- kom boju,”) in Miroslav Pantić (ed.) Narodne pesme u zapisima XV- XVIII veka [Belgrade, 1964], pp. 118–24).
24 “Musić Stefan,” Karadžić, ii, No 47, 11.21–28.
25 “Ženidba kneza Lazara,” Karadžić, ii, No 32, 11. 107–8.
and no bright shining of the moon,
No rain will fall for three years of seasons,
No wheat will grow, no wine will flourish.26
Of course, this image cluster is undoubtedly as old as
man’s sense of his dependence on earth and sky; but here it provides a cosmic framework for the approaching Koso- vo disaster. in short, in their long and complex growth, the Kosovo legends fed on the echoes of historical reali- ties, on numerous motifs of the medieval Serbian litera- ture, on biblical references, and on the absorption of di- verse elements and beliefs into folk agrarian culture. at the time of the First Serbian Uprising this rich heritage was given the final imaginative imprint of the fears and expectations of Serbian village communities, which were haunted by forebodings of their approaching total eradi- cation and, at the same time, by dreams of the triumph of their greatest political, moral, and spiritual ideals.
it is within this broad historical and imaginative con- text that Lazar’s choice of “the heavenly,” as opposed to “the earthly kingdom” can be partly understood, enigmat- ic as it is in “The Downfall of the Serbian empire.”27 This phrase is perhaps the best-known summing up of the whole Kosovo myth; and Lazar’s choice is, of course, “a repeti- tion and periphrasis of similar points made in Serbian his- torical literature in the Middle ages.”28 But what it means in the poem in which it occurs is not clear because at the end of this story, on the threshold of the disaster, the sing- er suddenly changes her mind and suggests that it is not so much Lazar’s choice as it is the treason of Vuk Branko- vić which is the main reason for catastrophe:
Lazar would have overcome the Turks,—
God be the death of Vuk Branković!29
This volte-face in the denouement of the epic story il-
lustrates a typical difficulty of the singers who had to merge the often-incompatible elements of their legends and sto- ries. However, the meaning and significance of Lazar’s choice of “the heavenly kingdom” in the Kosovo myth can be much better understood in the context of the “Pieces from Various Kosovo Poems,” which Karadžić wrote down from his father. in this poem Sultan Murad sends the mes- sage to Prince Lazar, forcing him to choose between liv- ing as a Ottoman vassal and dying as a hero:
We cannot both of us be ruler,
Send every key to me and every tax,
The keys of gold that unlock the cities,
and the taxes on heads for seven years,
and if you will not send these things to me, Then come down to Kosovo meadow,
We shall divide up this land with our swords!30
26 “Sveci blago dijele,” Karadžić, ii, No 1, 11. 44–48.
27 Karadžić, ii, No 46, 11. 13–14.
28 S. Matić, “Beleške i objašnjenja” in Vuk Stef. Karadžić, Srpske
narodne pjesme, II, edited by Radomir aleksić (Belgrade, 1958), p. 712. 29 Karadžić, ii, No 46, 11. 85–86.
30 Karadžić, ii, No 50 (i), 11. 9–15.

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