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Svetozar Koljević
The nine good horses are whinnying,
The nine wild lions are roaring.
The nine hawks are screaming.53
But the mother is speechless and “strong-hearted”—
she lets “fall no tear from her heart.”54 Unlike Miloš’s he- roic act, which carries us away into a thrilling epic land- scape, the mother’s inarticulate suffering makes even the poetic word go dumb. it is not described but only reflect- ed in the appearance of a raven bringing the youngest son’s hand— in a miraculous scene which we take for granted. and when the mother addresses the hand, Damjan’s death seems to retreat into the background before the more ter- rifying tenderness of her gestures and words:
The mother takes Damjan’s hand. She turns it around and over,
She is whispering to the hand: “My hand, O green apple,
Where did you grow from, where were you tom away? You grew on my lap,
You were tom away on flat Kosovo!”55
at this tragic moment a personal destiny is identified
with a historical disaster, and a total disruption of the nor- mal course of things is embodied in the image of the moth- er seeing the hand of her dead son as a “green apple.” This seems to mesmerize the mother’s mind into the petrified calm of tender words, more formidable than any tears could be. The breakdown of the patriarchal and the natu- ral order is embodied in the language, which is again hor- rified by what it conveys; and a t this tragic climax the mother’s death—when her heart breaks with pain—comes as a relief, as a miraculous illumination from “the heav- enly kingdom.” “God took mercy on her,” as a popular say- ing puts it. it is difficult to imagine a context in which this utterance would achieve more pathos. The mother’s sense of loss leads her to the fate which has been the privilege only of heroes in action.
The dilemma between “the heavenly” and “the earthly kingdom”—which lies a t the heart of the Kosovo poems and, indeed, illuminates the whole epic landscape in Ka- radžić’s collections— is above all an epic choice between vassalage and chivalric death. it is also a dilemma between any form of dishonorable survival and honorable death. Only in this broad and metaphorical sense is it true that the Kosovo songs “represent the closest approach in Ser- bian to the medieval european model in which knightly deeds were celebrated by singers maintained at the courts of aristocratic patrons.”56
For the ideal of “the heavenly kingdom” embodies not only the dramas of human history and psychology, but also attempts to push beyond them. The Serbian patriar- chal communities were on the verge of eradication under
53 Karadžić, ii, No 48, 11. 21–23.
54 Karadžić, ii, No 48, 11. 56–57.
55 Karadžić, ii, No 48, 11. 75–81.
56 M. P. Coote, “Serbo-Croatian Heroic Songs,” p. 262.
Ottoman rule. Their Christian heritage was mostly trans- formed into a cult of family ties as the only means of phys- ical and moral survival. They were faced with such over- whelming and horrifying historical realities that they had to oppose them by moral dreams and visions. This is why the singer sees the Serbian empire on the eve of Kosovo in terms of “the last times” in “The Wedding of Prince Lazar.”57 it also explains the pictures of extreme corrup- tion and high idealism in such songs as “The Wedding of King Vukašin,” “Uroš and the Mrnjavčevići” and “Banović Strahinja.” it is by cunning and treason that King Vukašin wins over Duke Momčilo’s wife; but at his dying moment Momčilo advises his assassin to take his “loving sister” jevrosima instead of treacherous Vidosava:
She will be true to you forever,
She will bear you a hero as i was.58
Of course, there is no historical moral norm which
could explain this generosity; the hero has to push beyond history to realize his human identity. in “Uroš and the Mrnjavčevići” we are faced with factions of Serbian feu- dal lords translated into a patriarchal family drama: the three brothers fight for succession and are ready to stab each other with their golden daggers. But it is the moth- er’s advice to her son, Marko Kraljević, who is to settle this dispute that provides the moral illumination of this epic story:
Marko, the only son of your mother, That my milk is not a curse to you.
Do not, my son, speak dishonest words, Not for your father’s sake or your uncles’, But speak the justice of the God of truth! Do not suffer your soul’s loss, my son. Because it is better to lose your life
Than sin against your soul!59
The mother’s advice mirrors the landscape of “the heavenly kingdom” in suggesting that Marko has to face the task where he must risk his life to save his honor. Fi- nally, there is the whole drama of “Banović Strahinja”—a drama of his rich and disloyal in-laws who refuse to help him bring back his wife from the Ottoman camp, and a drama of his wife’s betrayal and her attempt to help a Turk kill her husband. all this takes place in the shadow of the hero’s generous gesture in disregarding the social moral code and setting his wife free instead of tying her to the horses’ tails.
Cruel realities and moral dreams are also closely in- terwoven in the Kosovo poems. in this way we can un- derstand Lazar’s insults to his most faithful knight and his choice of “the heavenly kingdom”; the treason of Vuk Branković and Miloš’s heroic death; the terrible punish- ments of innocent sisters, mothers and fiancées; and death as the ultimate relief. in short, if even an evergreen with-
57 Karadžić, ii, No 25, 11. 257–58. 58 Karadžić, ii, No 32, 1. 107.
59 Karadžić, ii, No 34, 11. 126–33.

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