BEFORE entering upon the consideration of the more important features of the poetical folk-lore of Russia--the relies of mythic and ritual song, the remains of a wide-spread system of sorcery which have drifted down to our days in the form of truncated spells, exorcisms, and incantations, and the fragmentary epics or metrical romances called Builínas--before endeavouring to fix the fleeting images they offer of the past, it may be as well to tarry awhile in the present; to trace a rapid outline of the general aspect of Russian popular poetry; to give some brief account of the songs which are sung on ordinary occasions by the peasantry, of the times and places when and where they are usually to be heard, and of what manner of persons they are who sing them. And perhaps the simplest method of conveying this information will be to describe in a few words what are, so far at least as the younger members of the
peasantry are concerned, two of the most popular institutions of Russia--the Khorovod, or choral dance, and the Posidyelka, or social gathering.
As soon as the long winter has fully passed away, and the spring has made its welcome influence felt, the thoughts of the younger members of every village community in Russia begin to turn towards the blended dance and song of the Khorovod. Before long, what are called the vernal Khorovods are making their voices heard all over the land, to pass successively into those of summer and autumn, before they disappear at the approach of wintry weather. Whence were derived these circling dances to the sound of song, or at what period, they gained their hold upon the Slavonic peoples, neither history nor tradition can say. All that the Russian peasant cares to know about them is, that they formed the favourite solace of generation after generation of his ever-toiling and often suffering ancestors, and that the songs which belong to them have been for the most part carefully handed down from parent to child from some remote period of time of which he has but a very vague idea. Nor have the researches of the learned thrown any very clear light on the subject, nothing definite being known even as to the origin of the word Khorovod--one of which the equivalent, among many of the Slavonians, is the simpler term Kolo, a circle.
But it is not on the history of the Khorovod that it is proposed to dwell at present, but rather on the songs associated with it, on the poetical delineations
of Russian social life for which it has offered itself as at once canvas and frame, on the long series of versified domestic dramas towards the performance of which it has from immemorial times contributed successive generations of actors. To the student of the popular poetry of Russia the Khorovod is one of the most instructive, as well as interesting, of the institutions of the country. How rich in popular poetry that country is but few foreigners are thoroughly aware. And indeed there are many of its natives who have but a very slight idea of the poetic wealth amassed by the great body of their countrymen--the full appreciation, and the careful study of the songs of the common people being among the results of comparatively recent times.
A vein of natural and genuine poetry runs through the thought and speech of the Russian peasant, and so in the songs which accompany him through life there is a true poetic ring. But it is not on their poetic charm alone that their value depends. They have the additional merit of frequently offering a faithful picture of the manners of the people by or among whom they are sung; of often echoing the expressions, and embodying the sentiments, of the many millions of Russian men and women of low degree, with whose inner Eves it is not easy to become acquainted. As in the Builínas, or "metrical romances," to which the people love to listen,--fragmentary epics dealing with the adventures of princes and heroes,--the dimly-seen form of the historical past of Russia is supposed by most of their
commentators to reveal itself; so in the songs of the villagers, by common consent, may be recognized the principal features of the life led within the family circle by the Russian peasants. On them, remarks one of the. principal collectors of his country's popular poetry 1, their songs have no slight influence. Commencing at the side of his cradle, song accompanies the Russian man during the games of his childhood and the sports of 'his youth, and gives expression to his earliest feelings of love. In the ears of the girls it is always ringing; and if it depicts in sombre hues the unwelcome change from maiden freedom to wedded subjection, it also paints, in glowing colours, the happiness of mutual attachment. To the husband and wife it suggests many a form of loving words, and teaches them how, with croons about the "evil Tartars" of olden days, to lull their babes to sleep, and to soothe the restlessness of their elder children. Song lightens the toil of the working hours, whether carried on out of doors, amid exposure to sun and wind, and rain and frost, or within the stifling hut, by the feeble light of a pinewood splinter; it enlivens the repose of the holiday, giving animation to the choral dance by day and the social gathering by night. The younger generation grows up, and song escorts the conscript son to the army, the wedded daughter to her new home, and mourns over. the sorrow of the parents of whom their children have taken what may be a last farewell.
Then comes the final scene of all, and when the, tired eyes are closed for ever, and the weary hands are crossed in peace, song hovers around the silent form, and addresses to its heedless ears passionate words of loving entreaty. Nor does its ministering cease even then, for, as each returning spring brings back the memory of the past together with fresh hopes for the future, song rises again above the graves of the departed, as, after the fashion of their pagan ancestors, the villagers celebrate their yearly memorial of the dead.
Who composed these songs no one can say, and even what date ought to be assigned to them cannot well be determined. The mythical fragments have evidently come down from heathen times, bearing the unmistakable stamp of great antiquity; and many of the ritual songs, including those relating to marriage, have probably been sung for many hundreds of years., But the majority of the songs with which we have to do at present, those used by Khorovod performers, must be referred, so far at least as their present form is concerned, to a much later date. Judging by their structure, says Tereshchenko 2, these songs belong to different, but not distant periods. A few of those which will presently be quoted, such as the "Millet Sowing," the "Titmouse," and the "Poppy Growing," he attributes to the Sixteenth Century, but the rest to the Seventeenth or Eighteenth. As to their composers, he
continues, all that we can determine about them is that they must have belonged to the common people, for otherwise they never could have expressed with so much sympathy the simple thoughts and feelings of the villagers, or described with such accuracy, and with so complete a freedom from artificial embellishment, the commonplace occurrences of village-life. The latter part of this criticism is not likely to be disputed, but as regards the dates of the songs Tereshchenko's arguments have not been universally accepted as conclusive.
When a holiday arrives, in fine spring weather, even the saddest looking of Russian hamlets assumes a lively aspect 3. In front of their wooden huts the old people sit "simply chatting in a rustic row," the younger men and women gather together in groups, each sex apart from the other, and talk about their fields and their flocks, their families, and their household affairs. Across the river they see their horses, free from labour for the day, browsing in the green meadows; above the copse rises the blue cupola of a neighbouring church; beyond the log-houses a streak of road stretches away into the distance, and loses itself among the woods which darken the plain and fringe the horizon. Along the village street and the slope towards the river stroll the girls in their holiday array, merrily wending towards the open space in which the Khorovods are always held, and singing as they go--
The beautiful maidens have come forth
From within the gates, to wander out of doors.
The have carried out with them a nightingale,
And have set the nightingale upon the grass,
On the grassy turf, on the blue flowers.
The nightingale will break into song,
And the beautiful maidens will begin to dance;
But the young wives will pour forth tears.
"Play on, ye beautiful maidens,
While you still are at liberty in a father's home,
While you still lead a life of ease in the home of a mother."
When the appointed spot is reached they form a circle, take hands, and begin moving this way and that, or round and round. If the village is a large one a couple of Khorovods are formed, one at each end of the street, and the two bands move towards each other singing a song which changes, when they blend together, into the Byzantium-remembering chorus--
Will I go, will I go.
With my lance the wall
Will I pierce, will I pierce.
After this they proceed with their games and songs under the guidance of the Khorovodnitsa, or leader of the dance. If they become tired of performing by themselves, they invite the village youths to join them, singing--
The bright falcons have met in the oak-forest:
Into the greenwood have flown the white cygnets,
Fluttering about from bush to bush,
. . . . . . . . . .
"How shall we make ourselves nests?
How shall we build ourselves warm nests?"
Didi, Ladi, Didi, Ladushki!
"How shall we maidens form our Khorovod?
How shall we fair ones begin new carols?"
Often, however, the Khorovod remains composed of girls alone, and then she who plays the male part in any of what may be called the little operettas which they perform, sometimes adopts a man's hat or cap, in order to be in keeping with her assumed character. Of these brief metrical dramas, the number of which is considerable, the following may be taken as specimens:
In the Murmanka Shlyapa, the "Murman Cap 4," a drunken Pan, or Lord, comes staggering in, followed by a Pan'ya, or Lady. Presently his cap falls off, and he orders the Lady to pick it up. The chorus sings--
From the Prince has come a drunken Lord,
He has dropped his Murman cap.
To the Lady young the Lord has cried,
"Come hither, come hither, O Lady young,
Pick up, pick up, my Murman cap."
The Lady, in the pride of her maiden liberty, replies--
"I, my Lord, am not thy handmaid;
I am the handmaid of my father
And of my mother."
The chorus recommences--
From the Prince has come a drunken Lord,
He has dropped his Murman cap.
To his Lady young the Lord has cried,
"Come hither, come hither,
My Lady young,
Pick up, pick up,
My sable Murman cap."
By this time the Lady has become his wife, so she no longer refuses to obey his commands, but replies with humility,
"My Lord, I am thy handmaid,
I will pick up thy sable Murman cap,
And I will place it on thy daring head 5."
The idea of the despotic power of the husband is expressed still more strongly in the favourite game of "A Wife's Love." A youth and a girl, or more frequently two girls, one of whom wears a man's hat, take their place in the middle of the circle of singers, who begin--
Wife, I am going,
To walk through the bazaar 6.
Wife, my wifie,
Hard is thy heart.
Wife, I will buy thee
Muslin for a sleeve.
Wife, my wifie,
Hard is thy heart.
See, wife, here is
Muslin for a sleeve.
The husband offers his present. At first his wife will not look at it; presently she snatches it from his hand, and flings it on the ground. The chorus sings.
Good people, only see!
She does not love her husband at all!
Never agrees with him, never bows down to him,
From him turns away!
The second act is similar to the first. The husband buys his wife a golden ring, but it fares no better than his former present.
Then comes the third and final act, in which the husband cries--
Wife, I will go
To the bazaar
Wife, I will buy thee
A silken whip.
This time when he brings his new offering, and says--
Is your dear present!
She looks upon him affectionately, he gives her a blow with the whip, and she bows low before him and kisses him, while the chorus sings--
Good people, only see!
How well she loves her Lord I
Always agrees with him, always bows down to him,
Gives him kisses.
And the satisfied husband concludes with the words,
Wife, my wifie,
Soft is thy heart 7.
The subject of wife-beating plays a considerable part in Russian popular poetry. The following song may serve as a specimen of the manner in which it is treated.
Across the Don a plank lay, thin and bending
No foot along it passed.
But I alone, the young one, from the hilt
I went along it with my true love dear,
And to my love I said:
O darling, dear!
Beat not thy wife without a cause,
But only for good cause beat thou thy wife,
And for a great offence.
Far away is my father dear,
And farther still my mother dear;
They cannot hear my voice,
They cannot see my burning tears 8.
The "Millet-Sowing," the "Hedge" and the "Beer-Brewing" will occur in a later chapter: the "Geese," the "Sparrow," and many others of the same kind, ought to be described among the "games" of which the Russian people possess so rich a store, rather than among their poems, and therefore we will not dwell upon them at present, but there are a few others in which historical allusions occur, and which therefore seem to deserve especial attention. Such, for instance, are the "Titmouse" and the "Oak Bench."
The subject of the first is marriage. The Bulfinch, after many unsuccessful attempts, determines to get married; so his sister, the Titmouse, invites
the birds to her dwelling, in order that he may choose a spouse. The person who represents the Bulfinch wanders about inside the Khorovod, seeking for his bride among its members, who sing--
Beyond the sea the Titmouse lived; not grand,
Not sumptuous was her state--but beer she brewed,
Bought malt, and borrowed hops. The Blackbird brewed,
And the distiller was the Eagle grey.
"Grant us, O Lord, that we the beer may brew,
May brew the beer, the brandy may distil--
We will invite as guests the little birds."
The widow Owl, though uninvited, came.
The Bulfinch wandered through the passages,
The Owl caressed the feathers of her head.
Among themselves the birds began to say,
"Why ever don't you marry, Bulfinch dear?"
"Fain would I marry could I find a bride.
I'd take the Linnet--only she's my mother.
I'd take the Titmouse--only she's my sister.
I'd take the Magpie--but she chatters so.
But there, across the water, lives the Quail:
Neither my mother nor my aunt is she:
Her do I love, and I will marry her 9."
This song is said to have been written during the reign of Ivan the Terrible (A.D. 1533-1584) but to have been prohibited for a time, on account of its containing allusions to the life of a certain influential Boyar.
In the "Oak Bench" a girl sits pensively in the middle of a circle of young people who, with linked hands, move around her, singing--
By the river side
Lies an oaken bench,
An oaken plank
On that oaken bench
Sits a fair young Swede,
In a blue pelisse,
With a girdle of silk.
Presently some of the youths leave the circle and lay hands on her--
There have come dragoons,
They have seized, have laid hold of the Swedish woman,
Have set her in a carriage,
Have taken her along the banks of the Moskva.
The prisoner begins to weep, on which some of the youths console her, others strike up merry music, and the rest break into a lively dance--
The Swedish woman has begun to weep piteously,
But the dragoons console her,
They strike upon their drums,
They tootle on their fifes.
At the sight of so much merriment the captive forgets her sorrows, and joins her warders in the dance, while the chorus sings--
The Swedish woman has grown more joyous,
The Swede has begun to dance,
And having danced she has bowed low.
Well done! O, ye dragoons!
Ye know how to seize a Swedish woman,
And at consoling a Swedish woman are ye expert 1.
This song is one of many similar relies of the war between Peter the Great and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden.
But such chants as this, although rendered interesting by their historical associations, are not remarkably poetic. It may be as well, therefore, before going farther, to give some specimens of songs which possess intrinsic as well as accidental merit, prefacing them, however, by a few words of deprecatory criticism.
There are two points in which these dramatic sketches of Russian life may seem defective to foreign eyes--they may appear to lack variety of form, and still more to be wanting in contrast of colour. Nor can it be denied that they are often monotonous and sombre. In former days, at least, the ideas of their composers not unnaturally revolved in a narrow circle. In the choice of their themes, the popular poets seldom ventured off the beaten track; in the treatment of their subjects they rarely deviated from the ordinary method. And the tone of their compositions, undoubtedly, is apt to be painfully subdued. Although one of the saddest features of Russian peasant life, the slavery which weighed so heavily on the mass of the people from the time of Boris Godunof to that of Alexander II., is seldom, if ever, alluded to in the popular songs, yet a settled gloom too often prevails in many of the pictures they offer, unbroken by a sparkle of high light, unrelieved by a touch of warm colour. In this, however, they are not out of keeping with the landscape of certain
parts of Russia, suggestive as they are of grey plains dotted with sad brown huts, or of dark forests where no sound is heard but the sighing of the wind through the pines. But such drawbacks being admitted, it is only fair to recognize the merits also of these songs of the people--the untutored freshness of their thought, the nervous vigour of their language, the musical ring of their versification, their complete freedom from the sickly affectation, the wearisome sentimentality, and the tawdry ornamentation of the mock pastorals and spurious idylls of the age in which very many of them were composed. Unfortunately it is next to impossible to give in a translation, however faithful it may be, any idea of the greater part of these merits. The stuffed nightingale of the taxidermist is but a poor exchange for the living songster of the woodland.
Love is, of course, the inspirer of the great majority of these songs, but it is generally the darker side of love which they reveal; it is on its sorrows, its disappointments, its betrayals, that they lay most stress. The separation of lovers, for instance, is one of their favourite themes. Generally it is a girl who bewails her lot, lamenting over the departure of him who is so dear to her. Such is the case, for instance, in the following lyric--
Valley of mine, sweet valley!
O thou wide valley!
Within that valley
A Guelder-rose tree grew,
And on that tree
There sat a Cuckoo kookooing.
"Wherefore, O my Cuckoo,
Art thou kookooing?"
"Wherefore, O sad maiden,
Art thou sorrowing?"
"How can I, poor Cuckoo,
Cease from kookooing?"
"How can I, sad maiden,
Cease from sorrowing?"
"One green garden had I--
And that is withering!"
"One dear--friend had I--
And he is departing!
Alone does he leave me,
The young one, alone 2!
Sometimes it is the youth who mourns for a lost love--stolen away from him perhaps by a richer rival.
"Why, O Dove, art thou so joyless?
How can I, poor Dove, be joyous?
Late last night my mate was with me.
My mate was with me, on one wing she slept,
Slept on one wing, embraced me with the other,
With the other embraced me, calling me her dear one.
Dear beloved one! Dovelet blue!
Sleep, yet do not sleep, my dovelet,
Only do not, sleeping, lose me, darling."
The Dove awoke, his mate was gone!
Hither, thither, he flung himself, dash'd himself,
Hither, thither, in homes of Nobles,
Homes of Nobles, Princes, Merchants.
In a Merchant's garden did I find my Dove,
In a Merchant's garden, underneath an apple-tree
Underneath an apple-tree, wounded sore with shot!
The Merchant's son had wounded my Dove,
Wounded her with a weapon of gold 3.
But the desertion is generally on the part of the "good youth." The girl's heart remains faithful to its love.
Misty is the sunlight, misty;
None the sun can see.
Mournful is the maiden, mournful:
None her grief can tell.
Not her father dear, nor her mother dear,
Nor her sister dear, dovelet white.
Mournful is the maiden, mournful.
"Canst not thou find a solace for thy woe?
Canst not thou thy dear friend forget?
Neither by day nor yet by night,
Neither at dawn nor by the evening glow?"
Thus did the maiden in her grief reply--
"Then only my dear love will I forget,
When my swift feet shall under me give way,
And to my side my hands fall helplessly;
What time my eyes are filled with dust,
And coffin boards my bosom white conceal 4."
When her lover is taken from her, a girl is sometimes described as being so crushed by the blow that she can no longer endure to live. Such a despair as this is described in a song which commences with a broken-hearted youth's complaint--
"Keep watch no more by night, dear love,
The waxen taper burn no more,
No more await me at the midnight hour.
Ah me! our sunny days have passed away,
The stormy wind has carried off` our joys,
And scattered them across the open plain!
My father has arranged,
My mother has enjoined,
That I should take another as my wife!
There blaze not in the sky two suns,
Nor shine two moons,
Nor can the youth's heart two loves know.
My father I will not disobey,
My mother's behests I will fulfil.
And I will take another as my wife--
Another will I wed--Death early wooed,
Death early wooed by violence!"
Then melted into tears the maiden fair,
And thus with tears she spake:
"Oh thou, my love, my eye's delight!
No dweller in the white light will I be
When thou art gone, my source of hope!
The swan knows not two mates,
Two mates the dove knows not,
Nor I two loves."
No longer keeps she watch by night,
But still the waxen taper burns.
Upon the table stands a coffin new,
Within the coffin lies the maiden fair 5.
A maiden whose parents wish her to marry a stranger and give up her "hope, her heart's beloved," exclaims in her grief--
Forth will I go
To the meadows green.
With outcry loud
On Harm will I call.
Come hither, come hither,
Ye beasts of prey!
Here is luscious food--
Come tear me to shreds!
Only leave untouched
My beating heart,
And bear it away
To the hands of my dear one.
Ah I there let him see
How fondly I loved him 6."
Sometimes it is death that steps in between two lovers and separates them for ever. Here is part of a song expressing the passionate grief of a youth whose "dovelet dear," whose "sweet cygnet," has passed away "at the rising of the bright sun."
O winds, warm winds,
Warm autumn winds,
Breathe not, ye are not wanted here.
But hither fly ye stormy winds
From the Northern side;
Asunder rend moist mother earth,
And furrowing the open field,
The open, sweeping plain,
Reveal to me the coffin planks,
And let me for the last of times,
To my beloved one say farewell 7.
And here is a slightly modified extract from another, in which is heard the wailing of a "fair maiden" at the death-bed of her lover. As he lies there in his last agony, at his right hand stand his father and mother, on his left his brother and his sister. At the
head of his couch are his friends. " Opposite his heart" stands the fair maiden" weeping and bitterly lamenting.
If God would grant my love his health,
Were it but for one idle day,
Though it were only for one little hour--
Then would I wander with my love,
Would tread the mossy turf,
Would pluck the flow'rets blue,
Would weave a garland for my love,
And place it on my darling's head.
Then homewards leading him in glad content,
Would say, "My hope, my love!
We two will keep together, love,
Nor part, my darling, till at death
We say farewell for ever to the light
Leaving behind us some such fame as this--
That we two loved each other tenderly,
And loyally, my love, together died 8."
To the tears of a wife the songs attach less importance than to those of "a dear friend," or of a mother or a sister. In one instance a brave youth lies dead beside a thicket in the plain--
There weeps his mother--as a river runs;
There weeps his sister--as a streamlet flows;
There weeps his youthful wife--as falls the dew.
The sun will rise and gather up the dew 9.
And indeed a dying husband often seems to think less about the sorrow of his wife than about that of his parents and his children--
Not for my kinsman do I grieve,
Nor for my youthful wife--
But for my little ones I grieve.
My darling little ones are left,
Dear little tiny innocents,
To suffer pangs of hunger and of cold 1.
Not only do the songs frequently describe the indifference which is likely to attend upon marriages contracted without the intervention of love, but they find a fruitful theme in the hatred into which that indifference sometimes deepens. Many of the most striking among them are devoted to tales of crime, especially to stories of poisoning. One of them, for instance, which is said to be founded on fact, describes with repulsive realism the murder of an old husband by his young and faithless wife. But it is generally the husband who makes away with his wife, sometimes merely because he is tired of her, sometimes in order that he may fill her place with one who is nearer to his heart.
It is generally by the agency of poison that a husband rids himself of the wife who has become an encumbrance--
Thanks, thanks to the blue pitcher!
It has rid me of my cares, my longings!
Not that cares afflicted me.
My real affliction was my wife.
"Hast not thou long been ailing, wife?
Get worse and worse then, wife,
Make haste to die!
Then shall I lead a freer life."
I will take a sharp axe;
I will seek the green copse;
I will fell a young pine;
I will build a new room;
I will set in it a glazed stove,
And I will take to myself a young wife,
And to my children a cruel stepmother.
But the children answered him and said:
"Be thou burnt with fire, thou new room!
And do thou die, O cruel stepmother!
But rise, rise again, O our own mother dear 2!"
In many cases the poisoner is a girl, who, driven wild by passion or hate, avenges her real or fancied wrongs by the deadly cup.
Through the meadow she went
The wicked one;
She dug for an evil root.
"I dug for the evil root,
Deep, deep down!
I washed the evil root,
White, all white!
I dried the evil root
Dry, all dry!
I pounded the evil root,
Small, so small.
I dressed the evil root,
Dressed it--and meant it
For my cruel love.
To the lot of my own dear brother
That evil root fell.
At eventide, my brother
Began to moan.
At midnight, my brother
Called for the priest.
With the grey light, my brother
"Bury me, my sister
Between three roads;
The Petersburg and the Moscow
And the road that leads to Tver.
All who pass by
Will pray to God,
And on thee, sister,
A curse invoke 3."
In one song, which bears the stamp of a foreign origin, and is probably of a mythical character, a sister intentionally offers a deadly draught to her brother, with the design of consuming him with fire. He happens, however, to let a drop fall from the cup on his horse's mane, which instantly begins to burn. Thereupon he cuts off her head at once, remarking that she is a snake and no sister of his. But this piece of oriental savagery is merely a lyrical setting either of ideas connected with the old and deeply rooted belief in witchcraft, of which an account will be given in another chapter, or of some mythological fragment which has given rise to various stories of a somewhat similar kind; as, for instance, that of Arthur's narrow escape from death at the hands of Guendolen--an incident which Sir Walter Scott borrowed, in his "Bridal of Triermain," from the German
tale of how Count Otto of Oldenburg was invited by a fairy maiden to drink from a magic horn, and how 'he let a portion of the proffered beverage fall on his white steed, the hair of which it immediately burnt off. 4. But whatever maybe its origin, it decidedly must not be looked upon as in any way typical of the relations existing between brothers and sisters in Russia. On these relations the Russian songs do not dwell nearly so much as the Servian, but still there are to be found among them expressions of brotherly or sisterly love or regret. Of such a nature is the following lament, which is interesting, moreover, inasmuch as it contains one of the allusions to the Tartars--those terrible enemies who used to overrun the land--which are to be met with in Russian popular poetry so much less often than might have been expected.
In his garden green
A youth sowed flowers,
And having sown them, wept,
"Ah me! blue flow'rets dear,
Who is to water you?
To shelter you from evil frosts?
My father and my mother are too old,
A sister had I once,
But she for water to the Danube went.
Was she drowned in the Danube's waves P
Was she lost in the forest dark?
Did the wolves her body rend P
Or evil Tartars carry her away?
In the Danube had she been drowned,
Turbid with sand the Danube's waves would roll;
If the wolves had her body rent,
Scattered across the plain her bones would lie.
If the Tartars had carried her off,
Surely some tidings would have reached my ears 5."
In one instance a husband's mere wish proves fatal to his "evil wife." It must be remembered that death was usually represented by the Slavonians, unless under strong ecclesiastical influence, as a female being.
Against my will was I married;
I have taken an evil wife.
An evil one, not to my liking,
Neither in feeling nor thought.
Lovingly live with her--that will I not.
Across the stream will I go,
Love will I make to the girls.
As for that wife of mine
I will go pray for her death.
Along the bank of the stream
Death, the beautiful. goes.
"Ho there! My beautiful Death!
Turn thee back again, Death!
Make an end of my wife!"
Scarce had I spoken--when Death
Began her work with my wife.
Scarce had I time to look round--
Shrouded in linen white was her corpse!
Struck was the stroke on the bell 6.
One more extract may be given, in which an unnatural husband longs for his wife's death. The cry of A--oo 7 which occurs in it is the Slavonic equivalent
of the Australian Coo-ey, and is a call with which the woods of Russia may be heard ringing in summer and autumn, when the young people wander through them gathering nuts and berries--
Out in the dreamy woods,
There goes wandering a fair maiden,
That fair maiden, darling Mashtenka.
Masha was gathering berries and mushrooms,
Ere she'd gathered her berries and mushrooms,
She lost her way in the gloomy forest,
Began to A-oo to her dear friend.
"A-oo! A-oo! Thou dear friend,
Not far art thou, dear; wilt not thou answer to my call."
I cannot answer to thy call,
For over me are watchers three--
Watchers three--three stern ones they.
The first watcher--my wife's father,
The second watcher--my wife's mother,
The third watcher--my young wife."
"We will find him, we will consume him with fire;
Consume him with fire; cast him into the swift stream."
Oh! arise, thou terrible storm-cloud!
Strike dead my wife's father!
Pierce her mother with thy arrow,
Beat my young wife to death with the rush of rain!
But spare, spare, the fair maiden,
The fair maiden my olden love 8."
In the next song the "olden love" dies, and the news of her death is brought to him to whom she used to be dear, but with whom fate has not allowed her to be linked--
From under the stone, the white stone,
Fire blazes not, nor pitch seethes,
But a youth's heart is seething.
Not for his father dear, nor for his mother dear,
Nor for a young wife well-beloved,
Seethes the heart of the youth;
But for a maiden well beloved,
For her who used to be his love.
"There had reached me broken tidings
That the maiden fair was ill.
Quickly follows them a letter--
The maiden fair is dead.
I will sadly to the stable:
Lead my good--my best horse forth,
Hasten to the church of God,
Tie my horse beside the belfry,
Stamp upon the mould.
Split open, damp Mother Earth!
Fly asunder, ye coffin planks!
Unroll, O brocade of gold!
Awake, awake, O maiden fair,
O maiden fair, my olden love 9!"
A great number of the songs are devoted to the sorrows of a young wife, condemned to live with an old and uncongenial husband. The following is one of the most characteristic of her complaints. It may be as well to take this opportunity of remarking that when poetry which deals with the various relationships of married life has to be rendered into English, the poverty of our own family nomenclature, compared with that of Russia, is very cramping to a translator, Such odious terms as father-in-law, mother-in-law, and the rest of the endearing appellations
of a spouse's kinsfolk so ominously terminating in law, are all but inadmissible, and it is absolutely impossible to find English equivalents for many of the numerous Slavonic names for persons mutually affected by the various degrees of consanguinity and connexion. Inherited by the Slavonians from their Aryan ancestors in Central Asia, they have been retained by them in many instances all but intact, and they remain among them to bear witness to the strength of their domestic attachments, to the vigour of their family life.
Fain would I be sleeping, dreaming:
Heavy lies my head upon the pillow.
Up and down the passage goes my husband's father,
Angrily about it keeps he pacing.
Thumping, scolding, thumping, scolding,
Never lets his daughter sleep.
Up, up, up, thou sloven there!
Up, up, up, thou sluggard there!
Slovenly, slatternly, sluggardish slut!
Fain would I be sleeping, dreaming:
Heavy lies my head upon the pillow.
Up and down the passage goes my husband's mother,
Angrily about it keeps she pacing.
Thumping, scolding, thumping, scolding,
Never lets her daughter sleep.
Up, up, up! thou sloven there!
Up, up, up! thou sluggard there!
Slovenly, slatternly, sluggardish slut!
Fain would I be sleeping, dreaming:
Heavy lies my head upon the pillow.
Up and down the passage steals my well-beloved one,
All so lightly, softly, keeps he whisp'ring.
Sleep, sleep, sleep, my darling one
Sleep, sleep, sleep, my precious one!
Driven out, thrown away, married too soon 1!
If the last song was dark with discontent, the next is expressive of the utter blackness of despair. The word rendered in it by sorrow is the Russian Gore meaning misfortune, calamity, woe, a being who, as will be seen farther on, often figures in the popular tales--as for instance, in that in which a poverty. stricken wretch tries to keep up appearances by singing, and hears another voice in unison with his own, for which he cannot account until he discovers that it belongs to Gore--to misery, who is keeping him company. The fish into which sorrow is supposed in the song to turn itself, is the Byelaya Ruibitsa, a large Caspian fish, probably the largest with which the poet was acquainted.
Whither shall I, the fair maiden, flee from Sorrow?
If I fly from Sorrow into the dark forest,
After me runs Sorrow with an axe.
"I will fell, I will fell the green oaks;
I will seek, I will find the fair maiden."
If I fly from Sorrow into the open field,
After me runs Sorrow with a scythe.
"I will mow, I will mow the open field;
I will seek, I will find the fair maiden."
Whither then shall I flee from Sorrow?
If I rush from Sorrow into the blue sea--
After me comes Sorrow as a huge fish.
"I will drink, I will swallow the blue sea:
I will seek, I will find the fair maiden."
If I seek refuge from Sorrow in marriage--
Sorrow follows me as my dowry.
If I take to my bed to escape from Sorrow
Sorrow sits beside my pillow.
And when I shall have fled from Sorrow into the damp earth--
Sorrow will come after me with a spade.
Then will Borrow stand over me, and cry triumphantly,
I have driven, I have driven, the maiden into the damp earth 2."
As these dolorous laments might leave on the mind of the reader the erroneous impression that Russian popular poetry is of a morbid character, it will be as well to give at least one specimen of a love-song, in which the pathetic does not deepen into the tragic.
The little wild birds have come flying
From beyond the sea, the blue sea.
The little birds go fluttering
About the bushes, over the open field,
All have their mates and rejoice in love.
Only the good youth, Alexándrushka,
A homeless orphan in the wide world,
Grieves like a pining cuckoo,
And melts away in burning tears.
The poor lad has no one,
No one in the wide world to fondle him,
No one ever brings joy to the orphan.
Uttering words of kind endearment.
Should he go out into the open field--
There to trample underfoot his cares,
His misery and his bitter longing--
His longing and his misery not to be shaken off--
Or should he go out into the dark forest,
His sorrow will not fly away.
The heart of the good youth
Is eaten up with care.
He fades, he withers in his loneliness,
Like a blade of grass in the midst of a wild plain.
To the youth not even God's light is dear!
But Dunya dear has taken pity
On the poor fellow, on the orphan.
She has caressed the homeless one,
She has Spoken to him terms of endearment,
The beautiful maiden has fallen in love
With the lad, Alexándrushka--
She has covered him with her silken veil.,
She has called him her darling, her beloved one-
And his sorrow and sighing have passed away 3.
During the summer months, as has already been observed, it is in the Khorovods that songs are chiefly to be heard, their period varying in different localities, and being most prolonged in the neighbourhood of towns or in places where manufactories bring together large numbers of young people. In the villages, as
soon as the harvest and other field-labours are over, and the evenings begin to grow dark and long, commence the social gatherings of the young people called Posidyelki, Besyedui, Dosvitki, etc. In the greater part of Russia the Posidyelka prevails--so called from posidyet', to sit awhile. This is how it is described by Tereshchenko:--
When the appointed evening comes, the village girls take their work to a cottage selected for the purpose, and there spend some hours in spinning and combing flax, hemp, and wool. As they sit at their work they lighten it with much laughter and chattering, discussing their domestic affairs, or the character of their sweethearts, or they sing such songs as--
"Spin, my spinner!
Spin, idle not!"
"Gladly would I have spun,
But to the neighbour's I'm called
At the Besyeda to feast."
The green copse
All night moaned--
But I, poor Dunya,
All night sat up,
Waiting for my love 4
At first they all spin away steadily, but about a couple of hours after supper-time they throw aside their work, and take to playing games. By degrees the youths make their appearance, and exchange greetings with the girls. After a time the distaffs,
spindles, combs, and hackles are put away, and the young people begin dancing to the sound of reed pipes, balalaikas, and other musical instruments, or of songs sung by the girls in chorus, such as--
Remember, dear, remember,
My former love,
How we two together, my own, would wander,
Or sit through the dark autumnal nights,
And whisper sweet secret words.
"Thou, my own, must never marry.
I, the maiden, will never wed."
Soon, very soon, my love has changed her mind:
"Marry, dear, marry! I am going to wed 5."
Sometimes the songs are of a very melancholy nature, as, for instance:--
Oak wood, dear oak wood,
Green oak wood of mine!
Why moaning so early?
Low bending thy boughs?
From thee, from the oak wood,
Have all the birds flown?
One bird still lingers,
The cuckoo so sad,
Day and night singing kookoo,
She never is still.
Of the wandering falcon
The cuckoo complains.
He has torn her warm nest,
He has scattered her young.
Her cuckoolings dear.
In her lofty chamber
A maiden fair sits;
By the window she weeps
As a rivulet flows
As a spring wells she sobs.
Of the wandering youth
The maiden complains--
From her father and mother
He lured her away
To a strange far off home,
Strange, far off, unknown,
He has lured her--and now
Fain would fling her aside 6.
In the middle of a series of such melancholy songs as these, the girls will suddenly begin to dance. "The performers (says Tereshchenko) stand facing each other, and beat time to the music with their feet; then they turn round in opposite directions, change places, and anew stamp on the ground, and anew turn round." If they dance to the sound of song, the women and girls form a circle around them, as in the Khorovod, and sing what are called plyasovuiya pyesni, dance-songs-from plyasát', to dance. Here is a specimen. In the original, each alternate line is composed of the exclamation, Akh! moy Bozhin'ka! followed by a repetition of the last words of the preceding line:--
Ah! on the hill a pine-tree stands!
Ah! dear Lord! a pine-tree stands!
Under the pine a soldier lies!
Ah! dear Lord! a soldier lies!
Over the soldier a black steed stands,
With its right hoof tearing up the ground,
Water it seeks for its soldier lord.
"Water, my steed, thou wilt not find.
From the ground the soldier will never rise.
Gallop, my steed, by bank and brae,
By bank and brae, gallop on to my home.
There will come to greet thee a grey-haired dame,
That grey-haired dame is my mother dear.
There will come to greet thee a lady fair--
That lady fair is my youthful wife--
To greet thee will little lordlings come--
Those little lordlings my children are.
They will join in caressing thee, my steed--
They will join in questioning thee, my steed.
Say not, my steed, that I bleeding lie--
But tell them I serve in my troop, dark steed,
In my troop I serve, my step I gain."
His death gains the soldier beneath the pine,
His death! dear Lord! beneath the pine 7.
To the Posidyelki of Great-Russia correspond the Little-Russian Dosvitki, so called because the young people keep up their amusements do svita, till the dawn, and the White-Russian Supretki. On spring and summer evenings, also, are held social festivals which often last all-night, and which in White-Russia are called Dozhinki,, and in Little-Russia Vechernitsui--from vecher, evening. These Vechernitsui often led in old times to quarrels, and even to murders, among the hot-blooded Cossacks; but it is said that it was always very rare for them to be accompanied by any bad consequences so far as the girls who took part in them were concerned. Each girl is attended at, these gatherings by her regular and acknowledged sweetheart, and his attentions almost
always end in marriage. This is the case, also, at the Posidyelki, Besyedui, etc., of Great Russia. A singular amount of liberty is conceded to the rustic lover, but he would meet with general reprobation were he to take advantage of his position, and then attempt to evade making amends for his wrong-doing.
Of the Besyedas in the Olonets Government--one of those outlying districts in the north-east of Russia, in which the songs of old times have been best preserved--a very pleasant and picturesque account has been given by Ruibnikof, a collector to whom students of Russian folklore are deeply indebted. When October comes, he says, the young men of each village choose some clean and spacious cottage, and meet in it almost every evening during the winter months. These gatherings commence at seven o'clock, and last till a late hour. Each of the men pays the owner of the cottage from two to three kopecks a night for the right of entry, or from twenty-five to thirty [from tenpence to a shilling] for the whole season. When music is required, they make a special collection for the purpose. As a general rule the girls are admitted free, but in some districts they pay their share of the expenses.
If we follow the guidance of Ruibnikof to one of these merry gatherings, we find ourselves in a spacious izbá--a term applied to the whole cottage as well as to its "keeping-room". Its ceiling is made of interlacing planks. On the left of the door is a brick stove, with ample space between it and the wall, and liberal accommodation for sleepers on the polati, or
raised flooring carried from the stove to the opposite side of the room. Along the walls stretch benches, and above them shelves. One of the walls is pierced by three windows, the middle one of which, called the red or fair window, is somewhat larger than the others, and at the end of that wall is the corner of honour where stand the icónui, or holy pictures, with a lamp burning before them. The scene is lighted up by a number of candles placed on the cross beams and shelves.
Before long the room becomes full. Not only the immediate neighbours, but also the lads and lasses from the surrounding villages have met together, some of them coming from places as much as eight or nine miles distant. The girls occupy the benches extending from the stove to the centre window, dressed for the most part in thin chemises. with short sleeves, and in red sarafans, or stuff petticoats, fastened at the waist with a girdle of ribbon. Round their necks are thrown handkerchiefs of different colours, but not so as to hide their necklaces of glass beads. In their ears are large earrings, also of glass. On their heads they wear a network of horsehair, decorated with lace and beads, to which some add a sort of ornamented coronet of glass beads. The old people and the married couples sit near the stove and take no active part in the amusements, unless it be that here and there some old woman holds a lighted fir wood splinter for the benefit of the guests. Near the door stands the owner of the cottage and collects the entrance-money. The young men stroll about on the
side opposite that occupied by the girls, most of them dressed in blue caftans, though here and there a burlak, a man who is in the habit of working for wages In Petersburg, wears a long surtout, "or even a Palmerston-Paletot 8."
After a time the amusements of the evening begin, games and dances following each other in regular order, attended by songs, which are not chosen capriciously at the will of the singers, but are accepted in accordance with the dictates of established usage. Hour after hour the singing goes on until the, party breaks up, the lights are put out, and, escorted by their "dear friends," the girls speed, home across the snow.
It would be easy to give picture after picture of a similar kind, in which should be portrayed the bright side of social life among those Russian peasants who remain faithful to the old manners and customs of their ancestors. But to do full justice to the subject a whole volume would be required, and not a mere introductory chapter. And so we will tarry no longer in the region of the picturesque, but will proceed to clear the way for the discussion of the mythical and ritual or ceremonial songs which have to follow, by giving a rapid sketch of some divisions of the general subject which have not yet been noticed.
The songs which have been quoted in the preceding pages belong for the most part to the class of those called Golosovuiya (golos = voice) or Protyazhnuiya,
long drawn out (protyagát' = to prolong). One of them, however--that of the wounded soldier--has already been referred to the division of the Plyasovuiya, or dance-songs. The song in which the wife begs not to be beaten except for good cause, is ranked in the collection from which it is taken among the Obryádnuiya, or Ritual and Ceremonial Songs, inasmuch as it specially belongs to the Obryád [feast or ceremony] of the Toloka, or friendly assistance rendered to a man by his neighbours at harvest time. Of the Obryádnuiya Pyesni, by far the most important class of Russian songs 9, a detailed account will be given farther on, those of a mythical nature being taken together, and the Svádebnuiya Pyesni, or Marriage Songs, [Svad'ba = marriage] of which one or two specimens have already been given, being discussed in a separate chapter, as also will be the Zapláchki, or Wailings for the Dead. Of five other divisions, to which a considerable space has been devoted by Sakharof in his collection, it will be sufficient merely to give a few specimens.
Of these five divisions, four comprise, together with some others, the "Cossack Songs," "Robber Songs," "Soldier Songs," and "Historical Songs," most of which may be arranged together as descendants or imitators of the old semi-historical poetry of Russia. There exist in the memories of the people, as has already been observed, a vast number of poems called Builínas--
fragmentary epics, to which neither our metrical romances nor our historical ballads exactly correspond, although they offer certain points of resemblance--and the historical songs, and most of the others of which we have just spoken, are generally written in the same style and metre as the Builínas, and often contain scraps of poetry which have been borrowed from them. As a general rule, however, there is not much poetry to be found in the "Soldier Songs," or "Historical Songs" in Sakharof's collection. As for the "popular poetry" laboriously produced now-a-days in the towns, and unblushingly fathered upon soldiers and gipsies, it is not worthy of serious notice, contrasting as it does most unfavourably with that which flowed spontaneously in olden days from the well of Russian undefiled. Here and there, however, in remote parts of the country, the old Slavonic faculty of improvisation still lives among the peasantry, and sometimes gives birth to metrical effusions which are caught up by their hearers, and so added to the common stock of current song.
"Almost every woman," says Ruibnikof, speaking of the neighbourhood of Lake Onega, "can give expression to her feelings of distress, either by constructing a new lament (zapláchka), or by adapting an old one to the circumstances." And he proceeds to speak of a zapláchka improvised by a young woman of the neighbourhood. A first cousin of hers died, and all the family bitterly lamented his loss. But his cousin's grief was expressed in a lyrical form with such force and clearness, that her zapláchka immediately acquired
notoriety, and was adopted by other women, who now sing it whenever a similar calamity befalls them 1. Some idea of its nature may be obtained from the following extract, which forms about a third of the whole:--
Against my mother do I make complaint,
Who did not let me go, unhappy me,
To him, the dear, the loved,
My cousin dear.
Grieving I would have sat
The sick, the painful bed beside.
Sadly would I have begged
My cousin dear to speak.
Perchance to me he might have spoken, said
If only just one secret word
Which I would then have sadly told
To my dear aunt beloved,
Unhappy that I am, I would have given
To death, swift-footed, keen,
My raiment gay,
My pleasant way of life,
And all my golden store ungrudgingly . . .
But never would have let my cousin dear depart 2.
Of the Cossack and Robber Songs given by Sakharof, and the other songs called Udaluiya--bold, daring, courageous, etc.--some are not a little prosaic; but there are also many of them that are as remarkable for their freshness and vigour, as for the interesting nature of the historical allusions they contain. The Cossack Songs are generally about the Don or the Volga; along the banks of those rivers ride the Cossack horse, or on their waters float the
Cossack boats. In one song a young Cossack, riding away on a foray, sorrowfully parts from his betrothed; in another he sends from his last field a farewell message to his home. In all of them breathe the same feelings of courage, of loyalty, of independence, the same attachment to a free life, the same contempt for death. Of the Tsar himself they speak, as a general rule, with devotion; but his messengers are not always treated with respect. One of the songs, for instance, describes how a great Boyar (probably a certain Prince Dolgoruky), starts from Moscow for "the quiet Don Ivanovich," boasting that he will hang up all the Cossacks. They, suspecting his intention, meet together and form a great circle, in the middle of which he takes his stand and begins to read aloud "the Tsar's Ukases." When he comes to the royal titles the Cossacks all doff their caps, but he keeps his on,--
Thereupon they rose in commotion,
Flung themselves upon the Boyar,
Cut off his proud head,
And threw his white body into the quiet Don;
And having killed him, they said to his corpse,--
"Respect, Boyar, the Gosudar,
Don't go glorying or giving yourself airs before him."
Then they went to the Tsar with their confession:--
"O thou, Father orthodox Tsar!
Judge us according to a just decision,
Order to be done to us what pleaseth thee.
Thou art master of our bold heads 3."
A subject which is frequently treated in the songs is that of a Cossack who lies grieving in a dark prison. In one instance he entreats his parents to ransom him, but they say they cannot do so; then he turns to the "fair maiden" whom he loves, and she immediately hastens to release him. In another song a prisoner who has lain for twenty-two years in "a dark dungeon without windows or doors," within the white stone walls of "the famous city of Azof," hears "His Sultanic Majesty, the Turkish Tsar himself" go by, and calls out to him, demanding that he may be set free, adding,--
If thou dost not order me to be let out,
I will at once write a letter,
Not with pen and ink,
But with my burning tears,
To my comrades on the quiet Don.
The glorious, quiet Don will rise in anger;
The whole Cossack circle will fly to arms;
They will shatter the Turkish forces,
And lead thee, O Tsar, away into captivity.
On hearing this "His Sultanic Majesty" immediately cries to his "field-marshals,"--
"Set free the brave youth,
The brave youth, the Don Cossack,
Let him go to his Russian land,
To his White Tsar 4."
Of a more poetic mature is the following address to the favourite river of the Cossacks:--
Father of ours! famous, quiet Don!
Don Ivanovich, our nourisher!
Great praise of thee is spoken,
Great praise and words of honour.
That thou didst swiftly run in olden days,
Swiftly but all clearly didst thou run.
But now, our nourisher, all troubled dost thou flow,
Troubled unto thy depths art thou, O Don.
Then glorious, quiet Don thus made reply,--
"How otherwise than troubled can I be?
I have sent forth my falcons bright,
My falcons bright, the Don-Kazáks.
Deprived of them my steep banks crumble down,
Deprived of them my shoals are thick with sand 5."
And so is this description of a battle with the Tartars:--
Beyond the famous river Utva,
Among the Utvinsk hills,
In a wide valley,
A cornfield was ploughed.
Not with the plough was the field ploughed,
But with keen Tartar spears.
Not with a harrow was the field harrowed,
But with swift feet of horses.
Not with rye, nor with wheat, was the field sown,
But that cornfield was sown
With bold Cossack heads.
Not with rain was it moistened,
Not with strong autumn showers;
That field was moistened
With burning Cossack tears 6.
Most of what have been styled the "Robber
Songs" are reminiscences of the famous insurrection of the Don Cossacks, headed by Stenka Razín, against the Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich. For several years that insurgent chief maintained his power along the course, not only of the Don, but also of the Volga, forcing the merchant-ships which sailed down that river to pay him tribute, and at times setting the country in a blaze, from Simbirsk to the Caspian. Both on land and on the rivers, as well as on the Caspian Sea, he long set the forces of the Tsar at defiance. Once he surrendered, and promised to live peaceably, but he soon broke out into even more furious revolt than before. At last he was beaten near Simbirsk, and soon afterwards was taken prisoner and sent to Moscow, where he was put to a cruel death in the year 1672. In one of the Songs the Sun is entreated to rise "above the high hill, above the green oak wood, above the landmarks of the brave youth Stepan Timofeevich, called Stenka Razín," for the thick fogs of night lie heavy on the hearts of the insurgents:--
Rise, rise, O red Sun,
Give warmth to us, poor sufferers.
No thieves are we, nor highwaymen,
We are the workmen of Stenka Razín.
Our oars we wave--a ship we board,
Our maces 7 we wave--a caravan we seize,
A hand we wave--a maiden we carry off 8.
The last survivor of a band which has been crushed in fight makes his way slowly homewards through the dark forests, sadly thinking of his comrades who are either dead or in prison. Arriving at a river, he is rowed across it by the ferrymen, but no sooner does he reach the other side than he feels that death is close at hand, so he cries,--
Bury me, brothers, between three roads,
The Kief and the Moscow, and the Murom famed in story.
At my feet fasten my horse,
At my head set a life-bestowing cross,
In my right hand place my keen sabre.
Whoever passes by will stop;
Before my life-bestowing cross will he utter a prayer,
At the sight of my black steed--will he be startled,
At the sight of my keen sword--will he be terrified.
"Surely this is a brigand who is buried here!
A son of the brigand, the bold Stenka Razín 9!"
When these freebooters are taken prisoners, they make it a point of honour to maintain a defiant demeanour in the presence of their capturers. One
of them is asked by the Tsar himself whether he has had many companions in his forays, and who they were with whom he robbed and stole. This is his answer:--
I will tell thee, O source of hope, orthodox Tsar,
All the truth will I tell to thee, the whole truth.
The number of my companions was four.
My first companion--the dark night,
My second companion--a knife of steel,
My third companion--my good steed,
My fourth companion--a tough bow,
And my messengers were keen arrows."
Whereupon the Tsar compliments him upon his knowledge of how "to steal and to make bold reply," and rewards him with "a lofty dwelling in the midst of the plain, with two pillars and a cross-beam."
It is not always a freebooter whose courage in the presence of his enemies is lauded in the songs. In one of them it is a Knyaz Boyárin, a Boyar Prince, who is going to the scaffold amid the tears of his family, and who prefers death to the humiliation of asking for pardon--in another the bold criminal is "a great Boyar, the Strelitz Ataman," condemned to death "for treason against the Tsar's Majesty"--an allusion, no doubt, to the executions which took place under Peter the Great, after the failure of the Third Insurrection of the Stryel'tsui, the Russian Prætorians, in the year 1698. As the Ataman [Hetman] is being led to the block from the Kremlin--
In front of him goes the terrible headsman,
Bearing in his hand a sharp axe;
After him follow his father and his mother,
His father and his mother and his young wife;
They weep as a river flows,
Their sobbing is like the sound of a rushing stream,
And amid their sobs they incessantly entreat him.
"O child, dear child of ours!
Humble thyself before the Tsar,
Offer him thy confession.
Perchance the Gosudar Tsar will pardon thee,
Will leave thy bold head on thy strong shoulders."
Hard as a stone grows the heart of the brave youth;
He stiffens his neck and defies the Tsar,
Not listening to his father and mother,
Not pitying his young wife,
Feeling no sorrow for his children.
He was led to the Red Field,
And there his bold head
Was struck of from his strong shoulders 1.
Many of the songs are devoted to love. Here, for instance, is the outline of a romantic story. A brave youth leaves his native Ukraine, and enters into the service of "the King of Lithuania," who shows him great favour. The King has a fair daughter, whose heart is won by the young Cossack, a fact of which her father is made aware by the youth's "own evil brothers," who repeat the idle boastings in which he had indulged when under the influence of strong drink. The King in his wrath orders his favourite to be taken out at once to the place of execution. His commands are obeyed, and the youth soon stands at the foot of the gallows:--
On the first step mounted the youth:
"Farewell, farewell. my father and my mother!"
On the second step mounted the youth:
"Farewell, farewell, my kith and kin!"
On the third step mounted the youth:
"Farewell, my sweet Princess!"
The Princess heard the voice afar off,
She hastened into her lofty chamber,
She seized her golden keys,
She opened a silver coffer,
She took two steel daggers,
And pierced her white bosom.
In the open field swings the brave youth,
On the daggers bends down the Princess and dies 2.
The only consolation which the bereaved father can find is that of cutting off the heads of the fatal informers.
By way of conclusion, the following romance of robber life maybe given:--
It was in the city of Kief
That there lived a rich widow:
Nine sons had she,
Her tenth child was a daughter dear;
Her did her brothers carefully bring up,
Brought her up and gave her in marriage,
To a young dweller by the sea,
To a rich Boyár.
He took her to the seaside,
And there they lived a year, two years,
But in the third year they grew weary,
And set off to pay her mother a visit.
They travelled one day, the travelled two days,
The third day they made a halt,
To cook kasha, and to let their horses graze.
It was not evil crows that flew down on them,
It was evil robbers who pounced upon them.
The husband they put to death,
His child they flung into the sea,
His wife they kept as a prisoner,
And after that they lay down to sleep.
But one of their number did not lie down to sleep,
Did not lie down, but prayed to God,
And took to questioning the captive.
"Moryanka, Moryanka, Moryanushka 3,
From what city dost thou come?
Who are thy father and thy mother?"
The captive tells her story in the words with which the song opens, to the horror of her listener.
With a loud cry exclaimed he then--
"O brothers, brothers of mine!
No mere dweller by the sea have we slain,
We have slain the dear husband of our sister!
No mere child have we flung into the sea,
But our own sister's son!
No mere seaside woman have we taken captive
We have taken captive our own sister!
Sister dear, our own sister!
Do not tell this to our mother.
We will find thee another husband,
We will endow thee more richly than before."
But with tears does the sister reply,--
"With whatsoever ye may endow me,
Ye cannot bring my dear one back to life 4."
Of the Soldier Songs some refer to the wars with Sweden, as, for instance, one in which "General
Boris Petrovich Sheremetef " marches out of Pskoff, and his troops "chase the Swedish general up to the very walls of Dorpat;" and another in which a girl tells her mother of a dream she has had--how in a vision of the night she saw a steep hill on which lay a white rock; and on this rock grew a cytisus bush, on which sat a dark blue eagle, holding in its claws a black crow. To which the mother replies that she will explain the dream.:--
The steep hill is stone-built Moskva,
The white rock is our Kreml Gored,
And the cytisus bush is the Kremlin palace;
The dark blue eagle is our father the Orthodox Tsar,
And the black crow is the Swedish King.
Our Gosudar will conquer the Swedish land,
And the King himself will lead into captivity 5.
Many of them refer to various military and naval exploits, one describing how a Russian Admiral terrified the Turks, another telling how the blood of the infidels was poured forth at the taking of Azof, and a third embodying the expressions used by the Orthodox Tsar himself, as he steered across the Caspian Sea one of a fleet of thirty Russian ships.
Some of the most interesting are devoted to the soldier's sorrows. In one, for instance, we see the young conscript enrolled among the "Imperial dragoons," and hear him lament as his long locks fall before the official scissors:--
Not for my black curls do I mourn,
But I mourn for my own home.
In my home are three sorrows,
And the first sorrow is--
I have parted from my father and mother,
From my father and from my mother,
From my young wife,
From my orphaned boys,
From my little children 6."
In the days when long terms of military service were the rule, a conscript was generally looked upon as lost to his native village, and the occasion of his departure was one of great sorrow and mourning. Here is a song which used to be sung by the relations of a recruit when he took leave of his home, in a district of the Archangel Government. The inhabitants of the village, old and young, would collect on such an occasion, and amid sobs and tears would listen to the sad lament:--
Warm, warm, O red Sun!
Shine, shine, O bright Moon [Myésyats]!
Together with the clear stars,
Together with the bright Moon [Luná],
So that we, the old thieves-bloodsuckers,
May be able to see to go to the dram-shop
To go to the dram-shop and take counsel:
From the rich to take--and not to restore,
From the poor to take--and so to ruin.
Beyond the brook, beyond the river,
In the house of an old widow
Is her only son Ivánushko--
Of him will we make a soldier.
Good and pleasing is he by nature,
Favour has he found in the eyes of the girls,
Of service has he been to all the commune 7.
In another song we witness the setting out of a mighty army:--
The powerful army of the White Tsar,
Going, brothers, to the Prussian land.
Sturdily the soldiers march, "all joyous, all powdered;" one only of them is sad, for after him follows a fair maiden, bitterly weeping. "Do not weep," he says, trying to comfort her,--
Not thou alone art unhappy,
I also, the bold youth, am sad-
Going to a far-off land
To an unknown, far-off land
Do I go in the service of the Gosudar 8.
In a third it is not for his own sorrows that the soldier weeps. His tears flow for the mighty monarch who is no more:--
Ah I thou bright moon, bátyushka!
Not as in old times dost thou shine,
Not as in old, in former times,
For from the evening to the midnight hour,
From the midnight hour till the grey dawn,
Dost thou hide thyself behind clouds,
Dost thou cover thyself with black vapour.
So was it with us, in Holy Russia.
In Petersburg, that famous city,
In the church of Peter and Paul,
At the right side of the choir,
By the tomb of the Emperor,
By the tomb of Peter the First,
Peter the First, the Great,
A young sergeant prayed to God,
Weeping the while, as a river flows,
For the recent death of the Emperor,
The Emperor, Peter the First.
And thus amid his sobs he spake,--
"Split asunder, O damp mother Earth
On all four sides--
Open, ye coffin planks,
Unroll, O brocade of gold--
And do thou arise, awake, Gosudar,
Awake Bátyushka, Orthodox Tsar.
Look upon thy army dear,
The well loved, the brave.
Without thee are we all orphans,
Having become orphans, have we lost all strength 9."
This song may serve also as a fair specimen of the class styled "Historical." The faculty of composing Builínas, or what are usually styled the real historical poems of Russia, is supposed by some writers to have existed among the people till the time of Peter the Great, and then to have expired during the great social revolution brought about by that monarch. Of these Builínas--whether of the Vladímir cycle, or of the series referring to Iván the Terrible, Alexis Mikhaílovich, and other Tsars who lived after the Tartar period--I hope at some future period to give a detailed account. At present it is rather with lyric than with epic poetry that I propose to deal, and therefore I will not dwell any longer on the "Historical Songs," and those of a similar nature. But before parting with the subject, it may not be amiss to say a few words about the Builínas and their reciters.
Until the beginning of the present century very few persons even suspected that Russia could boast of possessing a national epos. It was vaguely reported that a considerable mass of more or less historical poetry was floating about in. the memories of the people, but little had been done to secure and preserve it. From time to time small collections were made, one of the most interesting of which, so far as English readers are concerned, is that which is now at Oxford, having been formed by Richard James, an English clergyman, a great number of whose manuscripts are preserved in the Bodleian Library. He was in Moscow in the summer of 1619, and spent the ensuing winter in the extreme north, where he was detained on his return home by way of Archangel. His collection consists of six poems, chiefly relating to events which had recently taken place in Russia 1.
In the year 1804 there appeared at Moscow a book which extended the growing knowledge that there existed in Russia a rich mine of historical poetry. This was the work entitled "Ancient Russian Poems," containing 26 out of the 61 old "epic poems" which purported to have been collected by a certain Kirsha Danilof, towards the middle of the 18th century, at the Demídof mining works, in the Government of Perm. Fourteen years later the entire collection was edited by Kalaidovich. No farther steps of any importance were taken till about twenty
years ago the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences began to publish a rich collection of national songs, and some ten years later the first parts appeared of the two great collections made, the one by P. B. Kiryeevsky, and the other by P. N. Ruibnikof. The former is still in progress, the latter was completed in the year 1867.
With respect to the contents of these two rich storehouses of national poetry--for the building up of which the greatest credit is due to the patient explorers and collectors just mentioned, and their aiders or supervisors, such scholars, for instance, as Aksákof, Bezsónof, Busláef, Dahl, Kostomárof, and many others--the theory most in repute--in Russia is that they are all poetic relics of the past history of the country, and that in them may be studied its successive phases, from the far-off days of heathenism to the period of social revolution under Peter the Great, when, together with many other things appertaining to the past, the faculty of composing "epic" poetry dwindled away. But it should also be mentioned that another theory exists, but meets with only scant favour, to the effect that the poems which are regarded as records of Russia's earliest days are merely renderings of eastern romances, which have been borrowed by Russian minstrels from Mongol and Turkish sources, and altered in accordance with Russian ideas. Into the questions raised by the antagonism of these two theories I hope, at the fitting time, to enter; at present I content myself with stating their existence.
According to one of the supporters of the first
theory 2, the epos of the Builínas may be divided into certain cycles, each of which has its own poetic characteristics, and is to some extent expressive of the outer and inner life, the actions and the sentiments, of its own period. The earliest of these cycles is supposed, by the school of critics to which he belongs, to be that which deals with the mythical personages generally known as the "Elder Heroes," and considered to be "evident personifications of the Powers of Nature." Closely connected with it is the Cycle named after Vladímir the Great, and containing a number of fragmentary epic poems chiefly relating to the deeds of the "Younger Heroes"--the Russian Paladins of ancient days, whose somewhat shadowy forms are seen grouped around that of Vladímir himself, the Slavonic counterpart of Arthur or of Charlemagne, as he holds high revel within the halls of Kief.
Next in order of time to the Vladímir, or Kief Cycle, is placed that of Novgorod, prized for the pictures of life it is supposed to offer during the days of that ancient Republic's pride and prosperity. The fourth place is occupied by the Royal or Moscow Cycle, which deals with really historic characters and events, and ultimately resolves itself into the classes of Historical and Soldier Songs of which notice has already been taken.
As a specimen of the mythical Builínas, we may take the story of Svyatogor. He is one of the most
striking of the " Elder Heroes." His name is derived from his dwelling-place, which is v svyatuikh gorakh, "among the Holy Mountains." He is of gigantic stature, and his weight is such that the earth itself can scarcely support him. His strength is so prodigious that it is a burden even to himself. On one occasion, however, it proves insufficient. Svyatogor, we are told, has made himself ready to start on an expedition:--
He saddles his good horse,
And he goes forth into the open field.
With Svyatogor is no one equal in strength,
And the strength through his veins
Courses with right living force.
Heavily laden is he with strength as with a weighty burden.
See now, Svyatogor exclaims:--
"Could I but find its equal in weight 3
I would lift the whole earth!"
Svyatogor riding over the steppe
Lights upon a little wallet 4.
He takes his whip and pushes the wallet--it does not move:
He tries to move it with a finger--but it does not yield:
He grasps it from on horseback with one hand--but it will not be lifted.
"Many a year have I ridden about the world,
But to such a wonder has my riding never brought me,
Such a marvel have I never seen before;
That a little wallet
Will not move, nor yield, not let itself be lifted!"
Down from his good steed lights Svyatogor,
With both bands he seizes the wallet,
Lifts the wallet a little higher than his knees
But into the earth up to his knees sinks Svyatogor,
Down his white face pours a stream not of tears, but of blood 5.
Ilya Muromets, the representative of the younger race of heroes, has been told by the mystic beings who infused almost matchless strength into his formerly crippled limbs, that he might safely fight with all the heroes he might meet except three or four--the first of the exceptions being Svyatogor. Accordingly, after a time he saddles his good steed, and goes out in search of adventures. One day, as he rides afield, he sees a white tent beneath a tall oak, and in the tent is a huge bed, on which he lies down. Going to sleep, he slumbers on for three days and three nights,--
On the third day his good steed
Hears a loud roar from the northern side
Damp mother earth staggers,
The dark forests rock.,
The streams overflow their steep banks.
Then the good steed strikes the ground with its hoofs, but cannot wake Ilya until it cries aloud with
a human voice, and tells him that Svyatogor is coming to the tent. Ilya leaps to his feet, lets his horse go free, and climbs up among the branches of the oak. Thence he sees how--
There comes a hero taller than the standing woods,
Whose head reaches to the fleeting clouds,
Bearing on his shoulders a crystal coffer.
The hero comes to the green oak,
Takes from his shoulder the crystal coffer,
Opens the coffer with a golden key:
Out comes thence a heroic woman
Such a beauty on he whole earth
Had never been seen, never been heard of.
As soon as she leaves the coffer she proceeds to spread a sumptuous table, and Svyatogor eats and drinks, and then goes into the tent and falls asleep. His wife comes out from the tent, sees Ilya in the tree, and orders him to come down. This part of the narrative is almost identical with a portion of the story told in the first chapter of the "Arabian Nights," but the sequel is different. After Ilya, has obeyed,
The beautiful one, the hero's wife,
Placed him in her husband's vast pocket,
And aroused her husband from his deep sleep.
The hero Svyatogor awoke,
Placed his wife in the crystal coffer,
Locked it with the golden key,
Sat upon his good horse,
And started for the Holy Mountains.
Then his good horse began to stumble,
And the hero struck it with his silken whip
On its stout haunches.
Then the horse said, with a human voice,--
Formerly I carried the hero and the hero's wife,
But now I bear the hero's wife and two heroes.
No wonder that I stumble!"
And the hero Svyatogor drew out
Ilya Muromets from his pocket,
And began to question him,
As to who he was and how he came
Into his deep pocket.
Ilya tells him all that has happened, and Svyatogor, after making himself a widower, enters into a bond of fraternity with him, adopting him as his "younger brother," and instructing him in all the science with which it befits a hero to be acquainted. The two comrades afterwards travel on together "to the Northern Mountains," and on their way they come to a great coffin.
On this coffin was written this inscription,--
"Whosoever is destined to lie in this coffin,
He will lie down in it."
Ilya Muromets lay down in it;
For him was the coffin too long and too broad.
Down lay the hero Svyatogor:
Him did the coffin fit.
Thus spake the hero,--
"The coffin is made exactly for me.
Now lift the lid, Ilya,
Cover me up."
Thus answered Ilya Muromets,--
"I will not lift the lid, elder brother,
Nor will I cover thee up-
No little joke is this thou art playing,
Intending to bury thyself."
Then the hero took the lid and closed the coffin with it himself.
But when he wished to raise it,
In no manner could he do so.
He struggled and strove hard to lift it,
And he cried aloud to Ilya Muromets,
"Ah! younger brother!
Surely my fate has found me out;
I cannot lift the coffin-lid,
Do thou try to lift it."
Ilya Muromets tried to lift the coffin-lid [the story goes on to say in prose], but what could he do I Then thus spoke the hero Svyatogor,--
"Lift up my sword of steel, and strike across the coffin-lid."
But to lift Svyatogor's sword of steel was beyond the strength of Ilya Muromets. Then the hero Svyatogor called to him and said:
"Bend down to the coffin, to the little chink that is in it, and I will breathe upon thee with heroic breath 6."
So Ilya bent down, and the hero Svyatogor breathed upon him with his heroic breath. Then Ilya felt that thrice as much strength as he had possessed before was added unto him, and he lifted the sword of steel., and struck across the coffin-lid. From that mighty blow wide flew the sparks, and where the sword of steel had struck, on that spot stood out a ridge of iron.
Again did the hero Svyatogor call to him--
"I stifle, younger brother, once more try to strike with the sword--this time along the coffin-lid."
Ilya Muromets struck the coffin lid lengthways, and there also there sprang up a ridge of iron.
Again the hero Svyatogor exclaimed,--
"My breath deserts me, younger brother. Bend down to the chink, and I will breathe on thee once more, and will give over to thee all my great strength."
But Ilya Muromets replied,--
"Strength enough have I, elder brother. Were it otherwise, and had I more, the earth would not be able to support me."
Then spake the hero Svyatogor,--
"Well hast thou done, younger brother, in that thou didst not obey my last command. I should have breathed on thee with the breath of the grave, and thou wouldst have lain dead near me. And now farewell! Take to thyself my sword of steel, but fasten to my coffin my good heroic steed. No other than I can hold that steed in hand."
Then passed out of the chink his dying breath, and Ilya bade farewell to Svyatogor, made fast his good steed to his coffin, girded Svyatogor's sword of steel on his loins, and went his way into the open field 7.
As a specimen of the romances which are referred partly to the mythical cycle, and partly to that named after Vladímir, we may take the story of the hero Sukhman, as told in a Builina heard by Ruibnikof near Petrozavodsk. One day a great feast is being held at Kief, in Vladimir's palace. By the evening the guests have waxed merry and boastful over their cups.
"The fool brags of his young wife,
The idiots vaunt their wealth of gold,
But the wise man boasts of his old mother."
Only Sukhman utters no vaunt, sitting in silence at the oaken table. Noticing this, Vladímir asks what ails him; has he not received the wine-cup in his turn, or has some drunkard insulted him, or has he been allotted a lower seat than that to which his father's merits entitle him? He replies:--
The wine-cup came to me in its proper course,
And my seat is that which my father's son may claim,
And no drunkard has insulted me.
Still, he says, he will not yield like the rest to merriment and boasting; but this he will do: he will bring to Vladímir a white swan, caught by his hands without having been wounded. Having thus spoken, be rises from table, quits the festal hall, saddles his good steed, and rides away till he comes to a blue sea, into which lead creeks with quiet waters. Creek after creek does he examine, but in none of them "swim either geese, or swans, or small grey ducks." So, as he cannot think of returning empty-handed to Kief, he determines to ride on to the banks of "Mother Dnieper."
When he reaches that river, he sees that Mother Dnieper is not flowing as she used to flow, but all her waters are turbid with sand. "Why dost thou not flow as of old, Mother Dnieper?" he cries. "How can I flow as of old?" replies the river, and then goes on to complain that she is beset by forty thousand pagan Tartars, who are building bridges across her.
"By day they build bridges; by night I sweep them away;
Utterly at the end of her strength is Mother Dnieper."
Sukhman resolves to attack the infidels, so he sets his horse at the river, and clears it at a bound. Then he tears an oak out of the ground, and uses it as a club against the Tartars, when he comes up
with them. Each swing of his terrible weapon "cuts a street in their ranks," each backhanded sweep "clears away a cross-street." At length all the Tartars are killed, with the exception of three who hide among the willow bushes which fringe the Dnieper's shore, and await Sukhman, with arrows fitted to their bowstrings. He follows them, and puts them to death, but not before he has been pierced by three arrows. Of these, however, he makes light, pulling them out, and "applying poppy leaves to his bleeding wounds."
On his return to Kief, when he is asked for the live and unwounded swan "he had promised, he describes the victory he has obtained, but Vladímir will not believe him.
He ordered his trusty servants,
Seizing Sukhman by the white hands,
To fling the brave youth into a dark dungeon.
And he sends his nephew Dobruinya to Mother Dnieper, to make inquiries about Sukhman's conduct. Dobruinya visits the field of battle, sees the bodies of the dead Tartars, and carries back to Kief the fragments of the great oak which Sukhman had shattered in the fight. Vladimir hears his report, and cries:--
"What ho! my trusty servants
Swiftly run to the deep dungeon;
Lead Sukhman forth,
Bring him before my bright eyes.
I will show favour unto the youth
For this his great service,
And recompense him with towns and suburbs,
Or with villages and hamlets,
Or with countless wealth of gold at will."
So they hasten to the dungeon, and tell Sukhman that he is to reap the reward of his brave deeds. And Sukhman comes out from the dungeon, and goes forth into the open field--
But then spake the brave youth these words:--
"The Sun 8 knew not how to show me favour;
The Sun knew not how to reward me;
So now his bright eyes shall not behold me!"
He tore the leaves of the poppy
From off his bleeding wounds;
And thus did Sukhman speak:--
Flow on, O, Sukhman-River,
From out of my burning blood;
My burning blood shed uselessly 9!"
Having given these specimens of the contents of the two great collections of national poems recently published in Russia, I will attempt to convey some idea of the manner in which those poems were collected. The best method of doing so seems to be to condense the graphic account of his . exploring journeys drawn up by one of the chief compilers,. P. N. Ruibnikof. How great was his industry may be measured by the fact that its results fill four large volumes. These contain 236 Builínas, the number of verses in the entire work amounting to rather more than 50,000. Kiryeevsky's collection, the whole of which has not yet been published, is on fully as great a scale.
In the course of the year 1859 Ruibnikof, who was then employed upon Government business in Petrozavodsk, a town situated on the western shore of Lake Onega, was informed that a number of old and curious songs were preserved among the rural population of the Olonets Government, and during the ensuing winter he betook himself to the task of collecting these "memorials of national poetry," making especial use of the opportunity afforded him by a visit which he paid to the Shungsk Fair, whither he was sent in search of certain statistics. Thither, he was informed, numbers of Kalíki (in modern days generally blind psalm-singers) formerly used to repair, and there they would sit by the churchyard and sing songs to crowds of listeners. But in the year 1850 "the police had begun to drive the singers away from the churchyard, and would no longer allow them to sing in the streets." At his urgent request, however, the Police-master contrived to find a couple of minstrels, and brought them to his lodgings. "When they had warmed themselves and talked a little," he says, "I began to ask them to sing any thing they knew. At first they would not, but when I had myself recited something to them from memory out of the Kniga Golubinaya, they began first one Stikh (religious poem), and then another, and sang through all the pieces they knew." From their dictation Ruibnikof wrote down a number of poems. Eventually he induced the police authorities to cease from harassing them, and so "from that time they again appeared at the Fair, took up their old quarters by
the churchyard, and once more solicited alms from the public by singing religious poems."
About the same time he became acquainted with a celebrated Voplénitsa or professional "Wailer." The Wailer is, as we shall see farther on, a personage of no small importance in a Russian community, for it is she who sees that old customs are religiously preserved at marriages and funerals, and on other solemn occasions. She it is who teaches the bride to mourn in becoming verse for the loss of her "maiden freedom," and prompts the widow and the orphan to wail as befits them over the coffin or the grave of the departed. The particular Wailer in question enjoyed so widely spread a reputation that she was often summoned to remote spots, even to a district inhabited by Old-Ritualists, who kept up ancient customs with great strictness, and were, as a general rule, able to do their own "howling" for themselves. From her he obtained a number of good wedding songs and funeral "complaints."
But so far as Builínas were concerned, only rumours reached his ears. The Shungsk people did not care for such things. The Chinovniks (or civil officials) thought his interest in them was a proof of sheer idleness, the merchants gave up their minds to business alone, and the rest of the community seemed to him to be by no means well disposed towards such profane poetry as is represented by the Builina. In that part of the country the Russian Puritans known as Old-Ritualists abound, and they, according to Ruibnikof,--with whom, however, Hilferding has
recently declared himself completely at variance on this point--feel for secular poetry what was felt in olden days by the Slavonic framers of the rules drawn up for persons leading an ascetic life, who were forbidden "to sing Satanic songs or to scandalize the profane world."
But he was told that there was a certain tailor called Butuilka (or the Bottle), who was in the habit of roaming from village to village, and of singing Builínas as he worked. Ruibnikof immediately set off in search of him, twice crossing Lake Onega on the ice, and once traversing its waters in a wretched boat, but he could not succeed in finding him. It was not till 1863 that he made the poetical tailor's acquaintance.
In the summer of 1860 Ruibnikof received a roving commission to collect statistics about the Government of Olonets. This gave him an excellent opportunity of studying the manners and customs of the peasantry in remote districts, and he profited by it to the uttermost. It is well known, he says, how difficult it is for a Bárin--a "gentleman"--and how especially difficult it is for a Chinovnik, or Government official, to gain the confidence of the common people, or to obtain from them any details about their way of living. Still, if they see that their visitor respects their customs, and is of a sympathetic nature, they are by no means inaccessible. On the contrary, they readily respond to his advances. It is an advantage to the inquirer to wear the national dress. "But his dress is not the main point. What he must do is to respect the independence of the religious beliefs of
the people, the characteristics of their way of life, the hard labour of the agriculturist and the artisan, and at the same time to fling aside all bookish prejudices and fine airs. In that case the peasant will not refuse to recognize as a brother even a man who has received a university education, and will readily tell him all he wants to know." And so, "one fresh May morning," having donned the dress of the common people, Ruibnikof went down to the quay at Petrozavodsk, and began to look for a boat to take him to the other side of Lake Onega. The ice had scarcely had time to thaw, but boats had already begun to arrive from different parts of the lake, laden with butter, eggs, and meal, and manned by peasants who gave their services as rowers in return for a free passage. There was, however, only one boat from that part of the shore to which he wished to go. So in it, although it could offer but small accommodation, he was obliged to start. The boat left the quay at night, rowed by three men and a woman, but had not got far on way when a strong head wind arose, and about six o'clock in the morning the weary rowers were glad to take refuge under the lee of a desolate little island about eight miles from Petrozavodsk. Ruibnikof landed and walked to a small hut intended for the benefit of weather-bound mariners, but it was full of peasants, for several other boats had been forced to take shelter from the storm, so he made himself some tea at a wood fire which was burning outside, and then lay down to sleep on the bare ground.
Before long he was awakened by strange sounds.
Some one was singing beside the fire. He had heard many songs, but never such a one as that to which he was now listening. "Lively, fantastic, joyous, it now streamed rapidly along, and now with broken flow seemed to recall to mind something antique, something forgotten by our generation." For a time Ruibnikof remained betwixt sleeping and waking, unwilling to move, "so pleasant was it to remain under the influence of an entirely new impression." Half slumbrously he could see a group of peasants sitting a little way off, listening to a song sung by a grey-haired old man, with a full white beard, keen eyes, and a kindly expression of countenance. When one song was ended another began, which turned out to be one of the Novgorod Builínas.
When the second song came to an end Ruibnikof got up and made acquaintance with the singer, a peasant named Leonty Bogdanovich. He heard many Builínas sung afterwards, be says, and that by skilled minstrels, but their performance never again produced the strong impression which was made upon him by the broken voice of the old singer to whom he listened that stormy spring morning, on the desolate island amid the wild waves of Lake Onega.
After spending some hours in friendly chat with the peasants, who formed a circle round the wood fire, Ruibnikof agreed to change boats and to accompany some of his new acquaintances to their village. One of the party was the singer, who helped to speed the hours by singing snatches of song to the men and by gossiping with the women. His age was seventy
years "with a tail," but he was brisk and hearty, though "he had known but few good days in his life." About midday the boat came to the "Monk"--a long and narrow sandbank in the middle of the lake, much dreaded in stormy weather--and towards evening it was gliding between the indented shores of a secluded gulf, dotted with many islands. Here and there appeared villages and hamlets, and along the edge of the water were cottages, and little piers to which skiffs were attached. On went the voyagers, Leonty Bogdanovich singing the following song, in which the rest joined in chorus--
It is not the cuckoo that is mourning in the moist wood,
Nor the nightingale that is sadly complaining in the green garden,
Alas, it is a good youth who tearfully laments in a time of need.
. . . . . .
My mother can I not recall to mind,
And who was it who gave to me, the orphan, to eat and to drink?
To me, the orphan, did the Orthodox Commune give to eat and to drink,
To me, the good youth, did mother Volga give to drink,
My yellow curls did a beauteous maiden twine.
And late in the evening they landed below the village of Seredka.
That evening as Ruibnikof was sitting in the cottage of the old singer, Leonty Bogdanovich, who had insisted on showing him hospitality, he was told by his host that the two best skazíteli--or reciters--of
the neighbourhood lived close by, their names being Kozma Ivanof Romanof and Trofim Grigorief Ryabinin. "Take me to Ryabinin to-morrow morning," said Ruibnikof. "No," replied Leonty. "I must give him notice first. He is a proud man, and a stubborn one. If you don't persuade him beforehand, you'll get nothing out of him."
The next day Ruibnikof wandered about the village, and made acquaintance with a number of the cottagers, many of whom afterwards came to spend the evening with him. While they were talking and telling him stories, an old man of middle height, stoutly built, with flaxen hair and a small grey beard, stepped across the threshold. This was Ryabinin.
To Ruibnikof's request that he would sing "about some hero or other," he at first refused to accede. "It would be improper to recite profane songs at present," he replied, "to-day is a fast. One should sing religious songs." Ruibnikof explained that there could be no sin in reciting Builínas, which treated of "ancient Princes and Holy-Russian heroes," and at last Ryabinin allowed himself to be persuaded, and first said and then sang one of the epic poems. Such was the commencement of Ruibnikof's acquaintance with a "reciter" from whom he afterwards obtained three-and-twenty Builínas.
Ryabinin was well off for a peasant, having a good allotment of land, and making a fair livelihood by fishing. The other fishermen- held him in great respect "on account of his knowledge of epic poetry," and used to take it in turns to do his share of the
work when they were out fishing in common, in order that they might listen to his songs. He had acquired his stock of poetry partly by listening to an uncle who was a celebrated "reciter," and to a certain Kokotin, who kept a traktír, or tavern, at St. Petersburg, and who was a great lover of Builínas, of which he had a collection in manuscript. But his chief instructor had been one Ilya Elustaf'ef, the principal reciter of the whole province of Olonets, "who knew a countless number of Builínas, and could sing for whole days about different heroes." The peasants used to gather round him and say, "Now, then Ilya! sing us a Builina." And he would reply, "Give me a poltina (half a rouble); then I'll sing a Builina." And if one of the richer peasants produced the coin the old man would at once commence his recital. In this respect Ryabinin differed from him, for his pride prevented him from taking money from Ruibnikof, who says, "In spite of my urgent request, he would not consent to receive any thing from me in return for what he had taught me. When I, at my departure, gave his eldest daughter a handkerchief, be immediately presented me with an embroidered towel, and thought fit to account for his gift, and the reception of my present, as follows:--'When friends part for a long time, it is customary among us to exchange presents by way of remembrance.'"
A few days after his arrival Ruibnikof made the acquaintance of the other reciter, Románof. This was a blind, white-haired old man of ninety, who lived in a rude hut with an old woman to wait upon
him. He had for his Support the rent derived from his allotment of ground, and also a sum of six roubles allowed him yearly by the Duma or council. The rent he received each year for his piece of ground was paid in kind, and amounted to 20 poods of rye flour,--the pood being equal to about 36 lbs.--a pood of salt, a pood of groats, and three loads of hay. Moreover he kept a cow, and had money laid up for "a black day."
Románof was very willing to sing, and when he was invited to do so he poured forth Builina after Builina which he had learnt in early days. In former times, according to his account, it was customary for the old men. and women to meet together and make nets, and then the "reciters" used to sing Builínas to them.
From Románof fourteen Builínas were obtained by Ruibnikof, who, after his return home to Petrozavodsk, kept up the acquaintance he had made with him and with Ryabinin. Besides these two, he became acquainted with several other "reciters," such as Shchegolenkof, for instance, a tailor who wandered about the neighbouring villages in search of work, being too weak to undertake field-labour, and whose niece also was able to sing several poems. On one occasion Ruibnikof was taken to see another woman who could sing. At first she refused to do so, but eventually complied with his request while suckling her babe. He is of opinion "that women have their own bab'i starinui (women's old poems), which are sung by them with special pleasure, but not so readily by the men,"--but this statement has been contradicted by Hilferding. In another village an old
woman sang him a starina, having previously stipulated for a small piece of money, in return.
Among the other singers whom Ruibnikof turned to account was Terenty Jevlef, a surly man of fifty, living in a solitary hut he had constructed for himself; Andrei Sarafanof, a middle-aged man occupied in fishing; and Peter Ivanof Kornilof, an elderly blind man living with his relations, and deriving a fair livelihood from the rent paid him for the use of his share of the communal lands. On one occasion a singer of local fame was summoned, who sent back word that he was too ill to come. Ruibnikof set off in search of him, and arriving at his cottage was told that he had gone off to the woods. Thither he went in search of him, and having found him, asked him why, he had taken to flight in so unnecessary, a manner. The singer explained that he had got into trouble about a fire in the woods, and that he had fancied Ruibnikof was an officer of the law who had come to inflict legal penalties upon him. As soon as Ruibnikof had told him his real mission, the peasant's fear left him, and he took his place beside the stump on which his visitor had sat down, and then and there sang him a Builína.
In one of the villages Ruibnikof found an excellent singer, Nikifor Prokhorof by, name, who sang away, to him during the whole of two evenings, his cottage being full of peasants all the time. "The old people listened silently, and the younger ones also sat quietly, only now and then interrupting the story, by their exclamations. But at the most exciting pas.
sages they fidgetted a little on their seats, and bent forwards towards the reciter, as, for instance, when he told them how Ilya's son, not recognizing his father, bent his tough bow and shot an arrow into Ilya's white tent. From Nikifor Prokhorof, who gained his living by field-labour, Ruibnikof obtained twelve Builínas.
In the town of Pudoj, as Ruibnikof was informed, builine poetry used once to be held in great respect. Sixty years ago the merchants and other townspeople, even the civil officials being included in the number, used to meet together in the evenings on purpose to listen to Builínas; but long before his visit they had gone out of fashion. Fortunately he made the acquaintance of a young man, Andrei Sorokin, who kept an inn which his father had kept before him, and who was in the habit of telling stories and reciting ballads to his customers. "Travellers go to him in the evening and often sit up all night listening to his long stories about different heroes."
In the Kargopol district Ruibnikof found that the Kalíki, who looked on their singing and reciting from a thoroughly commercial point of view, asked payment for all that they contributed in the way of ballad poetry or hymns. "Up to this time," he says, "I had been accustomed to offer money of my own accord in return for singing, especially when I took away a peasant from his work. Some of the singers refused to take my money, others accepted it, either as a gift or as a recompense for their loss of time."
One of the Kalíki had a cottage of his own, but
scarcely ever lived in it, preferring to go about with his comrades to fairs and markets, and there to gain money by singing "spiritual songs." Along the river Onega live numbers of sectaries, who are very fond of such poetry, though they profess to object to all that is mundane. In the Archangel Government, however, where there are rich peasants in the villages, this Kalika sometimes recited Builínas.
Sometimes an attempt was made to deceive Ruibnikof. A peasant named Bogdanof, for instance, who had received some money from him for singing Builínas, wanted to earn more, so he "recalled to mind a number of fragments of tales, legends, and traditions, and did his best to weave them into a Builina." The result was unsatisfactory, but the minstrel was not to be discouraged; going to a Kabak, he fortified himself with strong liquors and returned to the attack. Failing a second time, he betook himself to a neighbour, who told him a starina, which he tried to repeat to Ruibnikof, breaking down, however, at the end of the first ten lines. Eventually he became so troublesome that be had to be abruptly sent about his business. Another time a village "scribe" brought Ruibnikof half-a-dozen poems which he professed to have heard, but which he had really transcribed bodily from the printed collection of Kirsha Danilof. With Butuilka (the Bottle) whose real name was Chukkoef, Ruibnikof made acquaintance in 1863. He is the possessor of a good piece of land, but his main income is derived from tailor's work, in quest of which he spends nearly the whole winter, wandering from
village to village in one of the districts bordering on Lake Onega. H e afterwards visited Ruibnikof at Petrozavodsk, and there sang to him all the Builínas he knew.
In some of the districts around Lake Onega, as, for instance, in those of Petrozavodsk and Pudoj, the remains of the old epic poetry are carefully preserved by the rural population. Every peasant there "is acquainted with the contents of some Builínas, and with the names of certain heroes," and every intelligent man of a certain age has a Builina or two committed to memory. Even if he thinks at first that he knows nothing about them, he will, if he reflects awhile, find at least fragments of them coming into his mind. In some places they are chiefly retained in the memories of the Skazíteli, or reciters, who sing them from a love for poetry, in others they are only to be heard from the Kalíki, who make a livelihood out of them. As a general rule the singers have learnt them from their fathers or grandfathers. Most of the Kalíki make a point of handing them down to their children. "But the greater part of the reciters," says Ruibnikof, "leave no heirs for their poetic stores, and in the course of twenty or thirty years, after the deaths of the best representatives of the present generation of singers, the Builínas, even in the Government of Olonetz, will be preserved in the memories of but a very few members of the rural population 1."
4:1 Ruibnikof, III. p. iii.
5:2 IV. 136.
6:3 Tereshchenko, iv. 136-140.
8:4 The Murmanki were large caps, richly adorned with fur, worn in old times by the Grand Dukes and Boyars. The word may possibly be corrupted from the name Norman.
9:5 Tereshchenko, IV. 158.
9:6 The Kitai-Gorod, or China-Town of Moscow, is part of the bazaar outside the Kremlin. It takes its name from Kitaigrod in Podolia, the birthplace of Helena, the mother of Ivan the Terrible.
10:7 Tereshchenko, IV. 238.
11:8 Shein, I. 403.
12:9 Tereshchenko, IV. 280.
13:1 Tereshchenko, IV. 165.
16:2 Shein, I. 310.
17:3 Shein, I. 323. The last line is translated from another copy.
17:4 Sakharof, I. iii. 208.
18:5 Sakharof, I. iii. 208.
19:6 Sakharof, I. iii. 206.
19:7 Sakharof, I. iii. 204.
20:8 Sakharof, I. iii 207.
20:9 Sakharof, I. iii. 209.
21:1 Sakharof, I. iii. 204.
22:2 Shein, I. 358. The epithet applied to the stepmother is a purely conventional one. Just as in the songs an axe is always called sharp, a pitcher blue, a hand white, a girl beautiful; and a youth or a horse "good," so is the stepmother always styled likhaya, malicious.
23:3 Shein, I. 328.
24:4 Thorpe's Northern Mythology, III. 128. Deutsche Sagen, 541.
25:5 Sakharof, I. iii. 205.
25:6 Shein, I. 356.
25:7 The vowel sounds a, u, pronounced as in Italian.
26:8 Shein, I. 341.
27:9 Quoted from an old MS. by Shein, I. 324.
29:1 Shein, I. 336.
30:2 Shein, I. 322.
31:3 Tereshchenko, II. 345. Sakharof, I. iii. 130.
32:4 Tereshchenko, V. 156.
33:5 Tereshchenko, V. 157.
34:6 Tereshchenko, V. 159.
35:7 Tereshchenko, V. 165.
38:8 Ruibnikof, III. 427-429.
39:9 The word "song" is used here in the sense in which we generously employ it. The Russian term Pyesni is applied to poems of all kind, epic as well as lyric.
41:1 Ruibnikof, III. xlvii.
41:2 Ruibnikof, III. 423.
42:3 Sakharof, I. iii. 238.
43:4 Sakharof, I. iii. 237.
44:5 Sakharof, I. iii. 240.
44:6 Sakharof, I. iii. 243.
45:7 The Kisten is a metal ball to which a leather strap or a short wooden handle is attached, a kind of "slung shot."
45:8 Sakharof, I. iii. 227.
46:9 Sakharof, I. iii. 226. The same idea occurs at the end of our own ballad of "Robin Hood's Death and Burial:"--
"Lay me a green sod under my head,
And another at my feet:
And lay my bent bow by my side,
Which was my music sweet;
And make my grave of gravel and green,
Which is most right and meet.
Let me have length and breadth enough,
With a green sod under my head:
That they may say, when I am dead,
Here lies bold Robin Hood."
48:1 Sakharof, I. iii. 224.
49:2 Sakharof, I. iii. 230, 231.
50:3 Moryanka means a female dweller by the seaside. Moryanushka is an affectionate diminutive of the word.
50:4 Sakharof, I. iii. 228.
51:5 Sakharof, I. iii. 232.
52:6 Sakharof, I. iii. 234.
52:7 Ruibnikof, III. 460.
53:8 Sakharof, I. iii. 235.
54:9 Sakharof, I. iii. 232.
55:1 Professor Buslaef has written an interesting article on these poems. Ist. Ocherki, I. 470-548. They have been printed by the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences.
57:2 See Maikof, "On the Builínas of the Vladímir Cycle." p. 1.
58:3 Tyaga seems to mean here the equivalent of the earthly weight. In order to lift the earth Svyatogor must find a standing-place capable of supporting him when so heavily burdened. The remark is somewhat similar to that attributed to Archimedes.
58:4 Peremetnaya Sumochka, a pair of wallets or bags, fastened together so as to be thrown across the shoulders or the saddle.
59:5 Ruibnikof, I. 32.
62:6 The breath (dukh) was supposed to be intimately connected with the soul (dusha).
63:7 Ruibnikof, I. 33-42.
66:8 Solnuishko, or "Dear Sun," a name frequently given to Vladimir in these poems.
66:9 Ruibnikof, I. 26-32.
79:1 Ruibnikof, iii. pp. vi-lii. Hilferding, however, denies that the Builínas are dying out.