Page 363 - Kosovo Metohija Heritage
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 The Battle of Kosovo Serbian epic Poems
When in 1845 Vuk Karadžić published several col- lections of Serbian poems, formed “deeply within people,”theyweresomewhatofasensationtolit-
erary europe, revealing a rare originality and beauty. The writers of these ballads saw the world with the eyes of a child and with the heart of a man, as it is shaped by life. The ballads are remarkable for their feel for actual history. Their soul is saturated with Christian faith, but they also express the general human condition. These are the distinctive Chris- tian and human qualities of this people’s soul—readiness for self-denial, sacrifice, suffering, endurance, forgiveness, and imprisonment for the sake of justice and freedom.
it should be noted that by the end of the thirteenth cen- tury the Serbian public received a new kind of literature, one that opened up a view into the world of knighthood and courtliness that was different from what had been offered before. The illustrious novels about the Trojan War and alexander the Great were adapted creatively through the use of highly developed epic poetry, which is a direct testimony to that poetry’s qualities. The appearance of these novels was exceptionally productive, they offered a model of a liter- ary system which Serb writers could not ignore thereafter.
in the poems of the Kosovo Cycle everything is inter- twined: the eschatological, symbolical, and mythical are pres- ent but so are history, realism, and sobriety. Here, history is the foundation on which the questions of personality, mo- rality and ideas are answered. everything acquires the dy- namism of interpenetration with the trans-historical. This is the fate of all the small peoples in history who face the trag- ic. in the Kosovo epics one sees how historical catastro- phes become starting points for knowledge of reality, God, and man—and for spontaneous praise.
These poems were translated by the Brothers Grimm. One of the brothers, jacob, said that “since the days of Hom- er, one could say, in the whole of europe there was not a single phenomenon which would make us understand the essence, as well as the genesis, of epics, to such an extent as the Serbian folk-songs.” Goethe began learning the Serbian language in order to understand the origins of this oral, poetic art form. On several occasions wrote about the char- acter of these poems (in his Kunst und Altertum); during a conversation with eckermann, he once ventured to com- pare the beauty of some examples to that of the Song of
Songs. The great Polish poet adam Mickiewicz claimed that in the Serbian poems europe had discovered its pre- ciouscomponent,whichhadbeencompletelyunknownto her for a long time (although it is hard to find anything quite like it in Western european literatures). With the pro- found spirituality of these anonymous poets (these poems, as somebody said, are signed by an entire nation!), the in- terest for Serbian folk-epics grew all over europe (through many translations, imitations, mystifications, and paraphras- es). it is the basis for the expression of an ethos, one that goes beyond the codex of moral principles and rules. This ethos is based on the Battle of Kosovo’s poetic quality—a “moral victory in face of physical defeat”—and all of this makes Serbs “the chosen people.”
This and other similar liturgical and cultic writings about Kosovo’s martyrs and heroes, in which martyrdom was exalted to both a historic and a metahistoric ideal, soon became the source and inspiration for the well-known Kosovo Cycle of epic poetry.
The meaning of the Kosovo sacrifice “for the Holy Cross and golden freedom” forms a sacred story of a historically marginalized and tormented nation, one that is small, poor, weak and backward. it is a story about history but more so about earthly human destiny and the meaning of life which renders Kosovo a “new jerusalem.”
in order to understand the poetical genius of the Ser- bian peasantry, one should read Serbian Nobel laureate ivo andrić’s short passage called Levies, in which he conveys not only how entertaining these poems are but also how comforting is the atmosphere they create. Like the fragrance of burning incense they give off a word of consolation that brings everyone together and gives them peace of mind. The poems were best received when accompanied by gusle —a tiny primitive fiddle, clumsy and without much ele- gance —with the notes sharp and uneven, sung through the nose of the gusle fiddlers. “everyone was intent, await- ing the wonderful tale,” andrić writes. “Then, suddenly, after he had more or less attuned his voice to the gusle, the Montenegrin threw back his head proudly and violently so that his adam’s apple stood out in his scrawny neck and his sharp profile was outlined in the firelight, and sang in a strangled and constrained voice: a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a- and then all at once in a clear and ringing tone:

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