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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse

 

   
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  Webdesign J. Groß

The Albanian Song Collection
of Vuk Karadžić

Vuk Karadžić (1787-1864) was a Serbian scholar who is remembered as the reformer of the Serbian language. He was born in Tržić near Loznica in Serbia and died in Vienna. As a major philologist of his age, he reformed the Serbian literary language and standardized the Cyrillic alphabet for it. Vuk was also passionately interested in the traditions of oral literature, and published Serbian folk tales and epic poetry.

As a scholar of many interests, Vuk Karadžić encountered the Albanian language while travelling in Serbia in early 1830. In a letter from Kragujevac written to Slovene philologist Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844), Vuk notes: “I do not know what more I can tell you, except to say that I was in Studenica and on this journey, in Karanovac, I recorded ten Albanian songs for you… I would send you these songs now, but I have no time to copy them. I wrote them down while not only listening, but actually looking at the man from Peja in the mouth. But I don’t dare to send them for fear that they might be lost. The longest one is hardly thirty lines and the shortest is four lines.” Jotting the Albanian folksongs down in Cyrillic script and adding a Serbian translation, Vuk took them from an informant called Dovica Obradović who was from Gjurakovc near Peja (Peć).

As he did not know Albanian himself, Vuk’s transcription is, of course, not entirely accurate, nor is his Serbian translation. However, most of what he wrote down is good enough to be understood today. The manuscript of the collection, in Vuk’s handwritten, was originally in the possession of the Slovene Slavicist, Franz von Miklošić (1813-1891), who studied it in 1870. It then passed on to his successor at the University of Vienna, the Croatian linguist Vatroslav Jagić (1838-1923), who gave it to Albanologist Norbert Jokl in February 1916.

The Albanian song collection of Vuk Karadžić of 1830 constitutes one of the earliest written records of Albanian folk verse from Kosova. Most of the songs, or rather extracts of songs, seem to be based on historical or legendary events. The following English translation cannot claim to be entirely accurate, as some parts of the original versions are garbled and are thus open to interpretation.

 

Vuk Karadžic, lithograph by Joseph Kriehuber, 1865

 

 

 



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Song No. 1

Rise, Memo, saddle my stallion,
I want to take to the highway,
The stallion won’t let itself be saddled,
But it knows well where it’s off to.
I have a very harsh announcement.
Who will tell Mehmed Bey
That the vizier is waiting for him today?
The vizier is not waiting for me,
I have heard what he is saying.
Look at what he has sent me,
For he wants to destroy me!
Destroy him, God, before destroying me!
They revealed to Mehmed Bey:
At the tower gate they’ve set an ambush,
At the tower gate by the mosque,
What can I do? But Mehmet Bey
Himself knows, with his two pistols,
Fire up well, my dearest weapons!
For I’ve filled you with four bullets,
Four bullets tied with wires
As on fences; woe to [them] today!
Mehmed Bey will swallow him up
Like a dragon when the rain falls,
When the rain falls, when there’s thunder,
Mehmed Bey will tear him apart,
Mehmed Bey, tall and lanky,
The vizier is frightened that he wants his women,
Oh vizier, what a fool you are!
I don’t want your Greek woman,
For I have a noble wife of my own.
Mehmed Bey’s cloak was shredded,
But he finished off the vizier.

     

 

 



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Song No. 2

Qen Viçeta started boasting:
I am going to go to Az,
In Senica was a woman,
She’s the wife of Adem Pasha:
Why are you not guarding the king’s wife?
Qen Vuçeta then departed.
In Senica was a woman.
Adem Pasha quickly called out:
Bring me swiftly three fine horses,
I will mount my horse myself
To set off and find the foe
With my lance and with my cudgel.
Loud he called [in Llivoreka],
Filled with blood then were the gorges.
Adem Pasha turned to his Tatar,
Ask the Nezir if he needs me,
If he needs me, oh my brother.
Blessed pasha, lord before us,
We surrounded Qen Vuçeta,
We surrounded him and caught him,
And we put him on a packhorse.
When he got up to Mount Goli,
Adem took his rifle off and fired it
Till he fell upon the black earth,
Dismount and slay him, oh Ali,
Cut his [head] off,
Spread the word back to the army.

     

 

 



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Song No. 3

On his white horse was Niman Pasha,
To him came a bey and spoke out:
We once met in Rrozhaje
And we captured all of Peshter.
There remain but two bajraktars,
One in Peja, one in Rrozhaje.
With Gjylbeg, that lucky fellow,
The army’s coming in formation,
Firing, shooting all around it.

     

 

 



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Song No. 4

Dorgudane’s from the high pastures,
Out come the women to greet, embrace her.
They ask her about a maiden,
Little Rasa, has she grown up?
She has grown up, become a woman,
Oh good friend, she is now married!
Lula Rexha made an error,
Dorgudane’s a gypsy woman,
Where did they hit him with the axe-head?

     

 

 



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Song No. 5

Keq Hyseni inquired:
God! Where are my guards in Reka?
Up in the forest were his twenty fellows,
Save us, Keq, for they will kill us.
Keq lay waiting with his shotgun,
Shot two bullets from the shotgun,
Keq Hyseni threw his cloak off:
“Bylykbashi, free the roads
Of the vilayet!”

     
   

Song No. 6

Fair maiden, tall and slender,
Keq is coming to ask for you.
The maiden says to the lad:
Come along, flower at the foot of the mountain.

     

 

 



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Song No. 7

The wedding guests have come to get me,
Mother, oh dear mother,
Carry me off on a white horse,
Mother, oh dear mother,
They are starting to put me on it,
Mother, oh dear mother,
They are starting to put me on it,
Mother, who suckled me,
But I refuse to get on,
Mother, oh dear mother,
But I refuse to get on,
Mother, who suckled me,
But he’s a stubborn fellow,
Mother, oh dear mother,
He takes me off by force
Mother, oh dear mother,
He takes me off by force
Mother, who suckled me,
They are starting to force me into the barn
Mother, oh dear mother,
They are starting to force me into the barn
Mother, who suckled me,
But I refuse to go in,
Mother, oh dear mother,
But I refuse to go in,
Mother, who suckled me,
Yet he’s a stubborn fellow,
Mother, oh dear mother,
Yet he’s a stubborn fellow,
Mother, who suckled me,
And is doing it by force!
Mother, oh dear mother.

     

 

 



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Song No. 8

Bring the bajraktar swiftly to me,
Go Ndregjon, speak to the elder,
Speak to the elder in Çiflak.
I’m no Podrim, Podrimçak,
For Ndregjon has a long rifle.
Alive I’ll not let my guest be captured,
Even if the pasha comes to get him, he cannot have him.

     

 

 



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Song No. 9

Gjoka Prela brandished his sabre
To capture the man from Gucia.
“I am no cow to be beaten with a cane,
I am a bird of prey from Shkodra.”
“Master, give me your protection.”
“I cannot take you in, Gjoka Prela,
That man from Shkodra will come and shoot me,
But I’ll give you a rifle, I’ll give you bullets,
Flee like a hawk and take to the mountains!”

     

 

 



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Song No. 10

Who is coming down from Valbona,
Five hundred sheep and five bells,
Avdyl Ysi with one hand,
Slowly, slowly for we have caught him,
Avdyl Ysi fired his cannonballs,
Three hours long the earth did shudder,
To our hips we rolled our pants up.

     
   

Song No. 11 – a riddle

Greetings, oh my brother, oh son of my wife,
Come and tell daddy: “Shove off, for the woman’s master is back.”

     
   

Song No. 12

“Dear Holle, who was it who seized you?”
“Dear uncle, Mustafa Ujka with a friend.”
“Holle dear, fair one, Mustafa Ujka is lost now.”

     

 

 



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Song No. 13

Dear Barja, son of Ymer
You were like the chick of a falcon,
Take Barja back to his mother,
From the son of […].
Rifles thundered ’round like cannons,
Like a priest did Hasan Bey flee.
Careful now, Jusuf Trebina!
For there are no hens here among the Slavic women,
Only Barja with his pistol,
Murtez Aga was a militiaman,
He fell on his bottom into the Seravija [river],
Daut, oh Daut, you swine,
Why did you slay my next of kin?

 

shqip / Albanian

 

[from Norbert Jokl: Vuks albanische Liedersammlung, herausgegeben und mit sprach-wissenschaftlich-sachlichen Erläuterungen versehen, in: Zbornik filoloških i lingvističkih studija A. Beliću (Belgrade 1921), p. 33-86; also in: Vuk Karadžić: Sabrana dela Vuka Karadžića, O Crnoj Gori, radni spici. Knjiga Osamnaesta, Priredno Golub Dobrašinović (Belgrade: Prosveta 1972). Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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