Serbian epic poetry

Serbian epic poetry

Serbian epic poetry (Српске епске народне песме) is a form of epic poetry originating in the Serbian lands, today's Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia. The main cycles were composed by unknown Serb authors between the 14th and 19th centuries. They are largely concerned with historical events and personages.


Their structure contains some repeating formulas ("Dear God, a great miracle", "years of days", "writes a tiny letter", "they have fought till summer day noon") and numbers; the number three is used to such extremes that, for example, if something breaks, it always "breaks into three halves". Longer poems can have more than five hundred lines. Each line has exactly ten syllables and caesura after fourth syllable. Songs could be recited, but traditionally they are sung accompanied by a musical instrument called gusle.


The corpus of Serbian epic poetry is divided into cycles:
*Non-historic cycle
*Pre-Kosovo cycle - poems about events that predate the Battle of Kosovo
*Cycle of Marko Kraljević
*Kosovo cycle - poems about events that happened just before and after the Battle of Kosovo (no poem covers the battle itself)
*Post-Kosovo cycle - poems about post-Battle events
*Cycle of hajduks
*Cycle of uskoks
*Poems about the liberation of Serbia
*Poems about the liberation of Montenegro

Poems depict historical events with varying degrees of accuracy.

Modern Serbian Epic Poetry

Serbian epic poetry is being made even today in this same form. Modern songs sing about modern events and people, such as the Kosovo war or Radovan Karadžić. Some modern songs are published in books or recorded, and under copyright, but some are in public domain, and modified by subsequent authors just like old ones. There are new songs that mimic Serbian epic poetry, but are humorous and not epic in nature; these are also circulating around with no known author. In the latter half of the 19th century, a certain MP would exit the Serbian parliament each day, and tell of the debate over the Monetary Reform Bill in the style of epic poetry.


*Slavic antithesis:

*(Marko Kraljević speaks: )

*cquote|"Thou dear hand, oh thou my fair green apple, Where didst blossom? Where has fate now plucked thee? Woe is me! thou blossomed on my bosom, Thou wast plucked, alas, upon Kosovo!"

*cquote|"Oh my bird, oh my dear grey falcon, How do you feel with your wing torn out?" "I am feeling with my wing torn out Like a brother one without the other."

Modern example of Serbian epics as recorded in 1992 by film director Paweł Pawlikowski in a documentary for the BBC "Serbian epics"; an anonymous gusle singer compares Radovan Karadžić, as he prepares to depart for Geneva for peace talk, to Karađorđe, who had led the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1804 [cite book |author=Judah, Tim |title=The Serbs - History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia |year=1997 |location=New Haven and London |publisher=Yale University Press] :


* Jacob Grimm
* Charles Simic

ee also

*List of national poetries

External links

* [ An article about Serbian oral tradition]
* [ Songs from Kosovo cycle]
* [ The Battle of Kosovo - Serbian Epic Poems] Preface by Charles Simic "Swallow Press/Ohio University Press," Athens 1987
* [ Heroic Ballads of Servia] "translated by George Rapall Noyes and Leonard Bacon", 1913


** [ Lesson in rhyme]
** [ Poem for Karadjordje]
** [ Fate of vizier Mahmud-pasha in the village of Krusa]
** [ Pit of Korich] [ Part 2] [ Part 3]


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