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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse

 

   
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Songs of the Battle of Kosovo

INTRODUCTION Version 3 | 1937 Version 6 | 1954
Version 1 | 1923 Version 4 | 1952 Version 7 | 1955
Version 2 | 1931 Version 5 | 1954 Version 8 | 1998

Songs of the Battle of Kosova of 1389
Version Five, recorded in 1954 by Anton Çetta





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Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
Once there was a Prince Llazari
He was quite a wealthy fellow,
Wealthier than all of Europe.
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
One day Prince Llazari woke up,
Got his sixty pandours ready,
Took them all, the queen to visit,
For a feast on Çiçavica.
Let us see where he is off to,
Brough his sixty scribes all with him,
All the best ones in the country,
For a feast on Çiçavica,
There to drink the cool, fresh water,
There the cool, fresh air inhaling,
Hear now what the king said to them:
“All ye scribes, now listen to me,
Never close your eyes for sleeping,
Do not ask for food or water,
Write the whole day in your notebooks,
Make accounts of all my fiefdoms,
And then bring the notebooks to me.”
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
Look, the sixty scribes reacted!
Day and night they filled the notebooks,
Never seeking food or water,
Never stopping, never sleeping.
When three days and nights had passed by,
To the king they took their notebooks,


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“Mark our words, king, by your eyelight,
You may chop our heads off but we
Cannot add up all your riches,
Can’t record all of your fiefdoms,
God did give you endless bounty,
Who but God can calculate it?”
How the monarch was delighted!
“Praised be Allah,” did he cry out,
Swore an oath to the Almighty,
“Only does the sea divide us,
Stops me from attacking Turkey,
Sacking Mecca and Medina,
Conquering holy Damascus,
Munching figs and dates forever,
Nevermore in need of foodstuffs.
At the coast the Turks are lurking.”
Then the king lay down for sleeping,
With the queen supine in slumber.
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
In the night the queen was dreaming,
In her sleep she had a nightmare,
Waking, to her feet she rose up.
Screamed aloud with din and clamour,
Straight away the king did leap up,
“What is wrong, queen, why the screaming?
Never has it been your custom.”
How was it the queen responded:
“By your leave, king,” did she answer,
“I was dreaming, had a vision,
’twas a nightmare, king, God save us!”
“Tell me, good queen, of your nightmare.”
“Oh, my king,” the queen responded,
“Heavy fog befell Kosova,
Many jet-black jackdaws flying,
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
Many jackdaws, some white-headed,
Many eagles, too, were flying,
And before them a kulshedra
Snapped its jaws and ate your heart out.
I was frightened, woke up screaming.”
His affairs the king did gather,
Off to Krushevc did he hasten,
Thirty priests did he detain there,
Thirty monks did he make prisoner,
“Give my dream an explanation,
Or I’ll chop your thirty heads off!”
What is it the thirty priests did?
What is it the thirty monks did?
Swiftly did they seek their scriptures,
Night and day they read their writ to
Give the dream an explanation
For the king who waited for them.
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
To the king they then expounded:
“All that fog, king, in Kosova,
Of your breath it is a symbol,
All the jackdaws that you saw there
Are a symbol for your army,
And the eagles that did lead them
Are your officers in battle,
And the kulshedra before them’s
You, commander of the army,
On your path the world to gobble.”
’mongst them was a priest courageous,
To his feet he jumped, proclaiming:
“Listen, sire, to what I’m saying,
All these fellows by you gathered
Dare not tell the bare truth to you,
’round the bush, good king, they’re beating.
By the Lord, good king, who made me,
May he make you healthy, happy,
But your reign will fall and perish,
Sultan Murat’s taken over.
Were I not to bring this message!
With your laws you cannot stop me.
You have asked me, king, directly,
I have given you plain answer,
Twelve days you may hold me prisoner,
Twelve days, when the time is over,
I’d be rescued by the sultan.
If he doesn’t come and get me,
You may freely execute me.”
That night did he have a vision,
Sultan Murat turned up in it.
In the morning did he wake up,
“Everything the sultan’s taken,
All my manors razed and ravaged,
All the glass and windows broken,
All the sentries fled and vanished.
Woe, the sultan has destroyed us.
Let us go to Sheh-Islami,
We will tell of our misfortune.”
When they spoke to Sheh-Islami
Did he rise, proclaiming Allah,
Hastened off to see the sultan,
But he did not dare approach him.
“Woe!” he mourned, “the sultan’s crazy!”
To the Saracen they set off,
To his feet the Saracen rose,
Hastened off to see the sultan,
But he did not dare approach him.
“Woe!” he mourned, “the sultan’s crazy!”
To the Grand Vizier they trotted,
To his feet the Grand Vizier rose,
Hastened off to see the sultan,
But he did not dare approach him.
To his mother did they hurry,
She went off to see the sultan,
Entering the sultan’s quarters,
With a scarf her head to cover.
“Greetings to you,” she addressed him,
“Greetings, may you be victorious.
Tell your mother what has happened.”
“Mother, I have had a nightmare,
Now’s the time to take Kosova.”
“What gain is that barren country
When you’ve Mecca and Medina,
When you’ve got holy Damascus?
You’ve got food galore to live on,
Figs and dates to last forever.”
“Nothing do I own without it,
Çiçavica’s fresh, cold waters,
Shady places there for feasting,
Water turned to white upon it,
Grain, three hundred grams a kernel,
I have nought without Kosova.”
“Pleasant journey does your mother
Wish you, hoping that in Mazgit
You will build a mausoleum.”
With that did depart the mother.
What was it the sultan did then?
Swiftly all this officers he
Summoned and addressed them, saying:
“Officers, now listen to me,
You may think that I am crazy,
It is time to take Kosova.
Let the scribes prepare the call-up,
Let them gather in my fiefdoms
Bring them to me all to Stamboul
I have all their orders for them.”
All the scribes prepared the call-up,
All the fighters went to Stamboul,
Look what said the sultan to them,
Rising to his feet to greet them,
Banner seizing, out he ventured.
When the sultan looked upon them,
All the people there before him,
Hark to what the sultan told them.
When he spoke, the criers clamoured:
“Who will now go with the sultan,
To Kosova goes the sultan,
To Kosova to do battle,
If you want to reap your riches,
You’ll accompany your sultan!”
When he spoke, the criers clamoured:
“If you are an only son I
Swear I will not take you with me,
Homeward go with my permission.
Those of you who have just married,
You, too, will I not take with me,
Pleasant journey home I wish you,
I just want the willing soldiers,
No one will I force to follow.”
Twenty thousand men in Stamboul,
Countless did they all step forward.
Hear now what the sultan shouted:
“In God’s name!” and they departed,
On their journey set off marching.
When the sultan reached the seaside,
When he spoke, the criers clamoured,
Sets of prayers two he offered,
There the sultan begged of Allah,
And, behold, the sea did open,
Thus the sultan walked right through it,
O’er the dry land crossed the ocean.
When he spoke, the criers clamoured:
“Listen to me, all my soldiers,
Should some of you have regrets, then
Go back home, you have permission,
For the sea path is still open,
After that there’s no returning.”
Many soldiers did return home.
Hear now what the sultan uttered,
Sultan spoke, the criers clamoured:
“Listen to me, all my soldiers,
If you men will venture with me,
Turn first, let your shrouds be measured,
Keep them in your kitbags with you,
I will say a prayer for you,
It’s not easy winning fiefdoms.
If you will not join the columns,
Go back home, good journey to you!”
Many soldiers did return home,
Seventeen thousand men in Stamboul,
Prayers twelve thousand did they offer,
Shrouds twelve thousand taking with them,
Stuffed the shrouds into their kitbags,
“In God’s name!” cried and departed,
To Salonika they hastened,
Praise be to the Lord Almighty!
Only two hours did the fighting
Last, Salonika was taken,
All the palaces they captured,
Seized the city and took power.
“See the ducats,” said the sultan,
“Let no one approach or touch them!”
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
When they reached the Plain of Golesh
All of Golesh did they conquer,
Only two hours was there fighting,
Set themselves up as new rulers.
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
When the sultan got to Skopje,
There he fought a mighty battle,
For two hours was there fighting,
But he could advance no further,
For three days and nights they battled,
But he could advance no further,
Thus his troops began to waver.
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
For the sultan was now puzzled.
“What is going on?” he wondered,
“Someone’s done a deed forbidden.”
Look at what the sultan did now,
Called his soldiers to stop fighting,
For three days and nights ’twas quiet,
Three days did the sultan pause there.
Look at what the sultan did now,
’round him did his call his army,
When he spoke, the criers clamoured,
Hearken to how he addressed them:
“Listen to me, all my soldiers,
For I’ve something I must tell you,
Someone’s done a deed forbidden.”
One among you’s stolen something,
Stolen goods will foil the fighting.”
To him did reply the army:
“Of a theft we swear no knowledge.”
Then spoke up a youthful soldier,
To the sultan he admitted:
“Listen to me, oh my sultan,
In a garden I in Skopje
Filched an apple and an onion,
I’ve still got them in my kitbag,
Is this why our war is failing?”
Look at what the sultan did now,
Had the Tatar soldiers seize him,
Who were travelling with the army,
He a bag of ducats gave them,
“Off, you devils, to the garden!
Have a word there with the gardener,
Beg the gardener for forgiveness,
Give him all he wants in ducats.”
What was it the gardener answered,
He who was a Jewish gardener,
What was it the gardener answered,
“I shall ne’er forgive the sultan,
He’s not here to conquer fiefdoms,
He is here my goods to plunder.
Listen,” said he to the Tatars,
“If the sultan should be willing
To appoint me as his Vizier,
If that soldier should agree to
Take as wife my poor blind daughter,
I will then forgive the sultan.”
They returned, informed the sultan.
To the Tatars did he answer:
“Go, my sons, and tell the gardener,
We will pay the bride-price for her,
Teach him how to say his prayers,
Let him thrice profess to Allah,
So that I can make him Vizier,
And the man will wed his daughter.
Do make sure, oh Tatar soldiers,
He becomes a faithful Muslim.”
They returned, informed the gardener
Who performed all his ablutions,
Thrice professing then to Allah,
So the sultan made him Vizier,
And the soldier wed the daughter,
Soon her eyes retrieved their vision,
She became a charming houri.
Then the sultan set to battle,
In two hours’ time in fighting
All of Skopje did he conquer,
Took the city and seized power.
Soon to Kaçanik advancing,
He in Kaçanik did battle,
Heavy fighting did take place there.
To the sultan did men hasten,
“The Vizier and his son have fallen,
Sheh-Islami and his son, too!”
In a fury was the sultan,
Mighty oaths he swore to Allah,
“I will never keep from fighting,
I will take and seize the planet
Till blood bathes the horses’ bridles,
Till this calf is four years older,
Only then will I cease fighting!”
Hear our prayers, oh God Almighty,
And the Lord let loose a rainstorm,
Mixing all their blood with water,
Blood and water all together
Rose and bathed the horses’ bridles,
And that calf was four years older,
Thus the oath came true, it happened,
When the sultan reached Kosova,
Ferizaj had little fighting,
All the town he snatched and conquered.
Look at what the sultan did now,
To the Lord did pray the sultan:
“Stop this wind and rain, Almighty,
Clear the skies of all the showers,
That I see where I am fighting.”
And the Lord did stop the rainfall,
Sending o’er the land a windstorm,
All the smoke and fog dispersing.
God and sultan thus joined forces,
As he’d prayed, was it accomplished.
Mighty oath he swore to Allah,
To a cherry tree he sauntered,
Bent and broke one of its branches,
Fresh, cold water did flow from it,
Fresh, cold water, pure as snow is,
All the soldiers did drink from it,
All the soldiers made ablutions,
Then the sultan stopped the fighting,
Stopped and looked into his field glass,
All Kosova could he see there,
Krushevc Plain did he examine.
There he saw seventy towers,
Seventy towers massed in total,
Side by side with loopholes in them,
Fighting, battling one another,
One was bigger than the others,
This was, yes, the king’s own tower.
Hark to what the sultan then said:
“Is there any soldier ’mongst us
Who has worked here selling boza,
Who has worked here selling halva,
Who’s informed and who can tell me
What the towers in that place are,
Seventy towers in that place there,
One among them looking larger?”
’mongst them was a migrant soldier:
“Sultan, they’re the Krushevc towers,
And the king does own the largest,
Thus the keys to all Kosova,
He is ancient Prince Llazari.”
So the sultan wrote a letter,
Sent it off to Prince Llazari:
“Listen, ancient Prince Llazari,
Cede and give me all Kosova,
Hand me all the keys now swiftly,
To the war grounds come, do battle!”
To the king was sent the letter,
When the king received and read it,
To his feet he leapt a-sweating,
Loudly did he shriek and clamour:
“Oh good God, what’s happened to us?
What’s this letter I’ve been given?
Someone plotted, sent it to me.”
Who helped ancient Prince Llazari?
To his right - Vuk Brankoviqi,
Left was Millosh Obiliqi,
Both these fellows were his in-laws,
Older was Vuk Brankoviqi.
What said Millosh Obiliqi?
“By the Lord that did create me,
To Kosova’s come the sultan!”
What said then Vuk Brankoviqi:
“Listen, Millosh Obiliqi,
You have always been a traitor!”
What did Millosh Obiliqi?
Halfway he unsheathed his sabre,
Ready on the spot to fight him,
What said Millosh Obiliqi?
“You have always called me traitor,
Now I fling to you the gauntlet,
Meet me out on Shala’s war grounds,
With your field glass you will see the
Sultan now who’s in Kosova.”
All three went to Shala’s war grounds,
Bore the silver field glass with them,
All Kosova could they see there.
There, they saw, made out the sultan
Come with all his arms and weapons,
All Kosova decked in tenting,
For the army bread and biscuits!
If a needle’d fallen ’mongst them
It would not have hit the ground there.
What said ancient Prince Llazari?
“By the Lord that did create me,
To the sultan I’ll surrender,
No use making war upon him.”
What said then Vuk Brankoviqi?
“I’ll give up, become a Muslim.”
What said Millosh Obiliqi?
“By the Lord that did create me,
I will not become a Muslim,
Not surrender without fighting.”
Praise be to the Lord Almighty,
What said Millosh Obiliqi?
“Listen to me, king, together
We will plan, make preparations,
Thirty graceful maidens choosing,
We will give them clothes and footwear,
Each a pan of golden ducats,
Send them to the Turkish army.
If they pilfer all the money,
And enslave all of the maidens.
Have no fear to fight the sultan.
Swiftly send them to the sultan,
He’ll not take our fiefdoms from us.
If they do not rob the maidens,
If they don’t enslave them either,
Do not think that we’ll ignore them
For without a battle, fighting,
We will not give up our fiefdoms.”
Swiftly were the maids made ready,
To the Turks they sped with ducats,
Through the soldiers’ camp they wandered,
Day and night they strolled amongst them,
No man cast an eye upon them,
For three days and nights they lingered,
No man paid the least attention.
Hungry were the thirty maidens,
Begged for bread from all the bakers
Who reported to the sultan.
Hark to what the sultan said now:
“Give them food, take not their money.”
Food they gave the thirty maidens,
Thirty maidens ate their fill, and
Then they set off on their journey,
Back to ancient Prince Llazari,
To convey to him their message.
“Speak up, maidens, what has happened?”
Then the maidens started talking:
“Listen to us, oh you people,
With the Turks did nothing happen,
Three full days and nights we loitered
In around the Turkish army,
No one cast an eye upon us,
And we almost died of hunger.”
Thus the thirty maidens answered.
What did ancient Prince Llazari?
Sent a letter to the sultan,
“I will now surrender to you,
And will offer my submission.”
What said then Vuk Brankoviqi?
He wrote also to the sultan,
“I’ll this day become a Muslim,
But don’t rob me of my language
Leave unto me all my customs.”
“May it be!” replied the sultan.
Since that time they have been Bosniaks.
What said Millosh Obiliqi?
“Listen, oh Vuk Brankoviqi,
Listen sultan, you, our sunlight,
All of you have called me traitor,
You’ll see Millosh Obiliqi
When you die upon the war grounds!”
What did Millosh Obiliqi?
To his feet did Millosh scramble,
Well his saddle mare he readied,
Donned his clothes and put his boots on,
Forged a suit of mail as armour,
And the mare in armour covered,
Setting off then for the war grounds,
To Kosova’s plain he hastened.
When the sultan there beheld him
Did he gather all his guardsmen:
“When that Millosh Obiliqi
Comes, I don’t know how to greet him,
His own country he’s defending,
Tell me how I should receive him.
If I give my right hand to him
He, surprised, will show allegiance,
That will be the situation.
If I give my left foot to him
He’ll expect it from his sultan
And forever show submission.”
Heed well what they told the sultan:
“Make the choice you wish, oh father.”
Soon thereafter Millosh entered,
Look at what the sultan did then,
His left foot he offered to him.
What did Millosh Obiliqi?
Took his dagger, felled the sultan,
And the sultan’s soul did leave him.
Swiftly did the soldiers surge but
With their swords they could not slay him.
In their midst was an old woman,
“You have no idea, soldiers,
“Never will you slay this fellow,
He is in a coat of armour,
On the ground now lay your sabres,
For the hooves are unprotected,
Thus the mare will falter, tumble,
And you’ll catch the fellow living.”
On the ground they laid their sabres,
Swiftly was the mare bowled over,
Millosh did they capture living.
Not a sword or sabre’d touch him.
Once more spoke up that old woman:
“Sultan’s soldiers, you know nothing,
You can’t slay him with these sabres,
You must light a fire and stoke it,
And the suit of mail will singe him,
Swiftly he’ll remove his armour.”
So at once they made a fire,
Millosh then took off his armour,
What said Millosh Obiliqi:
“Listen to me, Turkish soldiers,
For I have some things to tell you,
Bring that woman here to see me,
I have so much money with me,
To her will I give the money,
Let the poor old woman hear this.”
Look, they brought the woman to him,
Bound the hands and feet of Millosh.
With his teeth he bit into her
Nose and flung her to the pavement,
Sprawled her out and there she perished.
Then they chopped the head off Millosh.
What did Millosh Obiliqi?
Stowed his head under his armpit,
Swiftly set off on his travels,
Till he reached Kisello Banja,
Left his head there, though still living,
Strolled two hours with no head on.
Then a girl and woman saw him,
“Mother, look, a headless fellow!”
“I be headless, you girl eyeless”
To the ground then tumbled Millosh,
On the spot the maid was blinded,
Millosh’s soul departed and the
Sultan reigned for years five hundred.

 

[Recited by Halim Dauti (b. 1889) of Vllahia north of Zveçan, in August 1954. He learned this song from Maliq Zhabari who died about 1939. Published by Anton Çetta in: Gjurmime Albanologjike, Prishtina, 1, 1962, p. 263-275. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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