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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Oral Verse


  Webdesign J. Groß

Songs of the Frontier Warriors

INTRODUCTION  8. Mujo’s Courser 16. Mujo and Jevrenija
 1. Mujo’s Strength  9. Young Omeri 17. Halili Avenges Mujo
 2. Marriage of Mujo 10. Zuku Bajraktar 18. Omer, Son of Mujo
 3. Mujo’s Oras 11. Osmani and Radoica 19. Death of Omer
 4. Mujo Visits the Sultan 12. Ali Bajraktari 20. Ajkuna Mourns Omer
 5. Marriage of Halili 13. Arnaut Osmani 21. Death of Halili
 6. Gjergj Elez Alia 14. Zuku Captures Rusha 22. Mujo Wounded
 7. Mujo and Behuri 15. Mujo’s Wife Kidnapped 23. After Mujo’s Death

Gjergj Elez Alia

The hero Gjergj Elez Alia has been on his deathbed for nine years, tended by his faithful sister. A baloz emerges from the ocean, demanding tribute, including Gjergj’s sister. Gjergj awakes from his slumber, sends his sister to have the warhorse shod and challenges the baloz to a duel. Gjergj slays the baloz with his cudgel and saves the country. Brother and sister then die in each other’s arms and are buried in a common grave under a linden.







































Gjergj Elez Alia, the greatest of heroes,
For nine years now on his bed has he languished,
Night and day one sister stays at his bedside,
Cleansing his wounds for nine years with spring water,
Cleansing his wounds all the time with her teardrops,
And wiping the blood with the locks of her long hair,
She bound his wounds in the shawl of their mother,
Their father’s old garments protected his body,
Down at the foot of the bed hung his weapons.
Each night when tucked into his bed by his sister,
He weaned his thoughts off of his body’s discomfort,
But writhed with the pain he had caused to his sister.
Rumour was spreading and it became known that
A swarthy baloz had emerged from the ocean.
The monster was evil and bent on destruction,
From all of the regions he claimed heavy tribute:
“Each household shall give me a whole roast of mutton,
Each household shall render to me a fine maiden,
Day after day a kreshnik must be slaughtered,
And week after week must be ravaged a region.”
Soon it was Gjergj who received the injunction,
The cheeks of her brother were covered in teardrops,
How could he cede to the baloz his honour?
Now did the sister start keening and wailing,
With tears in her eyes, then to Gjergj she lamented:
“Death, my dear brother’s forgotten to take us
With mother and father lying far ‘neath a linden,
And you for nine years have been chained to your bedstead?
Your sister, must she to the baloz be ceded?
Why doesn’t the kulla collapse and destroy us,
Why doesn’t our tower turn into a tombstone,
Protecting and keeping your honour untarnished?”
Gjergj was heartbroken at hearing her grieving,
And opened his eyes, contemplating his sister.
The cheeks of the hero were streaming with teardrops,
And speaking out now, did he rage at the kulla:
“Oh, fortress of mine, may you blacken, grow dismal,
And may you be rotten from top down to bottom,
May you for tenants have serpents and vipers.
How have you let the floors dampen with raindrops?”
“No, my dear brother,” responded the sister,
“You don’t understand, the fever’s confused you,
It hasn’t been raining at all, my dear brother,
It’s simply the tears of your sister you’re seeing!”
Gjergj took the hand of his sister and squeezed it,
Stroking her arm with his firm solid fingers,
He looked at his sister, her eyes full of sorrow,
With words clear and lucid did he now address her:
“My good sister, why the weeping?
Why do you tear my heart asunder?
For nine full years now have I quivered
Like the beech trees in the sunlight,
No respite have I been given,
But tell me, has your brother ever
Of clothes, food, water e’er deprived you?
Has your brother ever cursed you,
Or let his anger out upon you
That you’d rather leave and marry?”
How well answered now the sister,
While his hand was on her forehead:
“Why do you speak so, my burgeoning beech tree?
Perchance has the fever got hold of your senses?
I’d rather be buried alive than be married,
You’ve never deprived me of food or of water,
And never begrudged me fine garments and footwear,
And never more harshly than now have you spoken,
Other than you I’ve no father or mother,
I beg you, my brother, do not be offended
By all of the worries I’m to you confessing.
Nine springtimes have passed and your body remains here,
You’ve never got up and gone out of the doorway?
And not a complaint have you heard from your sister,
But should I thus give myself now to the baloz?”
The hero then rose to his feet and gave orders:
“Go and fetch my warhorse, woman,
And make your way straight to the city,
Find the farrier, my blood brother,
Tell him Gjergj does send him greetings,
Let him ready brassy horseshoes,
And with nails of steel do fit them,
For the baloz shall I challenge!
And should the farrier not be willing,
Take it to my friend, the blacksmith.”
The maid then set out for the city,
To find the farrier, his blood brother:
“Success and greetings to you, brother!”
“And to you greetings, distant sister!”
“To you does Gjergj convey his greetings,
And begs you fit and shoe the courser,
Do make ready brassy horseshoes,
And with nails of steel do fit them,
For the baloz he will challenge.”
Slyly spoke the farrier brother:
“If you give me, maid, your favours,
I’ll ensure your brother’s triumph
And wings to fly I’ll give his courser!”
Oh, what fury seized the maiden:
“How dare you, man, may your tongue wither,
I thought I’d come to our blood brother,
The steed’s not been here for nine years now,
And you behave like some lewd gypsy,
For I’m devoted to my parents
Who are rotting in the graveyard,
And to poor Gjergj, gravely weakened!”
To the blacksmith rode the sister:
“To you does Gjergj convey his greetings,
It’s his turn now to do battle,
As best you can, please shoe the courser,
Do make ready brassy horseshoes,
And with nails of steel do fit them,
For the sea baloz he’ll challenge.”
As if ‘twere his, he shod the courser.
Returning home, the maiden found him
Waiting, shaded by a linden.
What of the hero, Gjergj Alia?
He’d sent his greetings to the baloz,
To meet him early at the war grounds.
“I’ve no maiden for you, baloz,
My sheep have not been fattened for you,
I’ve but one sister, not to give you,
Who else would bind my injured body?”
When the dawn first lit the mountains,
To the war grounds came the heroes,
And began exchanging insults:
“From the grave, Gjergj, have you risen?
Why’ve you called me to the war grounds?”
Wisely did the hero answer:
“I well understand, haughty words have you spoken
Nine years have gone by that I’ve been on death’s doorstep,
But you have revived me now with your arrival.
You demanded my sister before doing battle,
You wanted my sheep without asking the shepherd,
Now I have come to the war grounds to teach you
An ancient tradition we’ve from our forefathers,
Without rendering arms there is nothing we’ll give you,
Never to you will I render my sister,
Without doing battle before on the war grounds,
Your day has come, baloz, so make yourself ready.”
Thus spoke his challenge Gjergj Elez Alia,
They spurred on their steeds and they rushed into battle,
The baloz stormed forth and attacked with his cudgel,
Down to its knees tumbled Gjergj’s swift courser,
And over their heads did the cudgel spin past them,
Twenty-four yards flying into the valley,
Twenty-four yards in the air rose the dust cloud,
Now it was his turn for Gjergj to do battle.
Skilfully pivoting, he hurled his cudgel,
Through the air did it hurtle and struck down the baloz.
The baloz collapsed and the earth gave a shudder.
In barely a moment did Gjergj draw his sabre,
And heaving it, severed the head from the body,
The torso he dragged by the feet then behind him
And hurtled it into a lake with the courser,
The river flowed black with the blood of the monster,
And for three whole years it infested the region.
The victor then turned and went back to his kulla,
And there he assembled all of his companions,
“Take counsel, companions, in what I now tell you,
To you do I offer my tower and fortress,
To you I bequeath and bestow all my money,
All my belongings and all of my cattle,
And assign you the sister of Gjergj Elez Alia,”
The hero then turned and in one final effort
Threw his arms round the neck of his unlucky sister,
At that very moment the two hearts ceased beating,
Dead to the ground fell both brother and sister,
No better spirits have ever been rendered.
His friends began mourning in great lamentation,
And for the two siblings a wide grave dug open,
For brother and sister, their arms round each other,
And over the grave did they make a fair tombstone,
That brother and sister would not be forgotten,
And there, at the headstone they planted a linden,
A place of repose for the birds in the summer.
And when in the spring the hills broke into blossom,
A cuckoo flew by and reposed on the gravestone
And found that the twigs of the linden had withered.
Then it took flight to the tenantless tower,
And found that the rooftop had fallen to ruins.
Winging, it landed on one of the windows,
And called from its perch to a wanderer passing,
“Oh, wanderer passing by into the mountains,
Should you be singing, cease here for a moment,
Should you be crying, then mourn and lament here,
For I have searched o’er the high mountain pastures,
For I have flown o’er the low winter meadows,
For I have wandered from house to house weeping,
I nowhere could find him, Gjergj Elez Alia!”

shqip / Albanian


[Recorded in Nikaj (District of Tropoja). Published in: Visaret e Kombit, vol. II. ed. Bernardin Palaj and Donat Kurti (Tirana 1937), p. 42-48; and Folklor shqiptar II, Epika legjendare (Cikli i kreshnikëve), Vellimi i parë. ed. Qemal Haxhihasani (Tirana 1966), p. 87-91. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck, and first published in English in Songs of the Frontier Warriors (Këngë Kreshnikësh): Albanian Epic Verse in a Bilingual English-Albanian Edition (Wauconda, Illinois: Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, 2004).]