Serbian epic poetry: Wikis


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



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


The corpus of Serbian epic poetry is divided into cycles:

  • Non-historic cycle
  • Pre-Kosovo cycle - poems about events that predate the Battle of Kosovo
  • Cycle of Marko Kraljević
  • Kosovo cycle - poems about events that happened just before and after the Battle of Kosovo (no poem covers the battle itself)
  • Post-Kosovo cycle - poems about post-Battle events
  • Cycle of hajduks
  • Cycle of uskoks
  • Poems about the liberation of Serbia
  • Poems about the liberation of Montenegro

Poems depict historical events with varying degrees of accuracy.


Kosovo cycle

Kosovo curse:
Inscription of the curse on the Gazimestan monument

"Whoever is a Serb and of Serb birth,
And of Serb blood and heritage,
And comes not to the Battle of Kosovo,
May he never have the progeny his heart desires,
Neither son nor daughter!
May nothing grow that his hand sows,
Neither dark wine nor white wheat!
And let him be cursed from all ages to all ages!"

- Tsar Lazar curses those who are not taking up arms against the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Kosovo.
Kosovo Maiden by Uroš Predić
Dying Pavle Orlović is given water by a maiden who seeks her fiancée, he tells her that her love, Milan, and his two blood-brothers Miloš and Ivan are dead.
-taken from the Serb Epic poem

Modern Serbian Epic Poetry

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

People of Serbian Epic Poetry

Filip Višnjić dubbed the "Serbian Homer" both for his blindness and poetic gift, was a guslar (gusle player) that lived 1767–1834.


There two pines were growing together,
and among them one thin-topped fir;
neither there were just some two green pines
nor among them one thin-topped fir,
but those two were just some two born brothers
one is Pavle, other is Radule
and among them little sis' Jelena.
"I'm afraid that there will be a brawl.
And if really there will be a brawl,
Woe to one who is next to Marko!"
"Thou dear hand, oh thou my fair green apple,
Where didst blossom? Where has fate now plucked thee?
Woe is me! thou blossomed on my bosom,
Thou wast plucked, alas, upon Kosovo!"
"Oh my bird, oh my dear grey falcon,
How do you feel with your wing torn out?"
"I am feeling with my wing torn out
Like a brother one without the other."

Modern example of Serbian epics as recorded in 1992 by film director Paweł Pawlikowski in a documentary for the BBC Serbian epics; an anonymous gusle singer compares Radovan Karadžić, as he prepares to depart for Geneva for peace talk, to Karađorđe, who had led the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1804[1]:

"Hey, Radovan, you man of steel!
The greatest leader since Karađorđe!
Defend our freedom and our faith,
On the shores of Lake Geneva."


The ballads of Serbia occupy a high position, perhaps the highest position, in the ballad literature of Europe. They would, if well known, astonish Europe... In them breathes a clear and inborn poetry such as can scarcely be found among any other modern people.

Jacob Grimm

Everyone in the West who has known these poems has proclaimed them to be literature of the highest order which ought to be known better.

Charles Simic

See also

External links



  1. ^ Judah, Tim (1997). The Serbs - History, Myth and the Destruction of Yugoslavia. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 


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