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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Greece and Turkey in Europe: Vol. XIX.  1876–79.
 
Turkey in Europe, and the Principalities
Servia
Battle of Kossovo
From the Servian
 
        
Translated by Robert Lord Lytton
  
  At the battle of Kossovo (15th June, 1389) Lazarus, the last Servian Knès, was destroyed, with his army, by the Sultan Amurath the First.

I.
THE SULTAN Murad o’er Kossovo comes
With banners and drums.
 
There, all in characters fair,
He wrote a letter; and there
Bade his estaffettes despatch        5
To bear it to Krouchevatch,
To the white-walled town of the Tzar,
To the hands of Prince Lazar.
“Listen, Lazarus, chief of the Serbs, to me!
That which never hath been, that which never shall be,        10
Is that two lords one land should sway,
And the same rayas two tributes pay.
Send to me, therefore, the tributes and keys;
The golden keys of each white town;
And send me a seven years’ tribute with these.        15
But if this thou wilt not do,
Then come thou down over Kossovo:
On the field of Kossovo come thou down,
That we may divide the land with our swords.
These are my words.”        20
 
When Lazarus this letter had read,
Bitter, bitter were the tears he shed.
 
II.
A gray bird, a falcon, comes flying apace
From Jerusalem, from the Holy Place;
And he bears a light swallow abroad.        25
It is not a gray bird, a falcon, God wot!
But the Saint Elias; and it is not
A light swallow he bears from afar,
But a letter from the Mother of God
To the Tzar who in Kossovo stays.        30
And the letter is dropt on the knees of the Tzar;
And these are the words that it says:—
 
“Lazarus, Prince of a race that I love,
Which empire choosest thou,—
That of the heaven above,        35
Or that of the earth below?
If thou choose thee an earthly realm,
Saddle horse, belt, spur, and away!
Warriors, bind ye both sabre and helm,
And rush on the Turks, and they        40
With their army whole shall perish.
But, if rather a heavenly crown thou cherish,
At Kossovo build ye a temple fair.
There no foundations of marble lay,
But only silk of the scarlet dye.        45
Range ye the army in battle array,
And let each and all full solemnly
Partake of the blesséd sacrament there.
For then of a certainty know
Ye shall utterly perish, both thou,        50
And thine army all; and the Turk shall be
Lord of the land that is under thee.”
 
When the Tzar he read these words,
His thoughts were as long and as sharp as swords.
“God of my fathers, what shall I choose?        55
If a heavenly empire, then must I lose
All that is dearest to me upon earth;
But if that the heavenly here I refuse,
What then is the earthly worth?
It is but a day,        60
It passeth away,
And the glory of earth full soon is o’er,
And the glory of God is more and more.
 
“What is this world’s renown?”
(His heart was heavy, his soul was stirred.)        65
“Shall an earthly empire be preferred
To an everlasting crown?
At Kossovo build me a temple fair:
Lay no foundations of marble down,
But only silk of the scarlet dye.”        70
Then he sent for the Servian Patriarch:
With him twelve bishops to Kossovo went.
It was at the lifting of the dark:
They ranged the army in battle array,
And the army all full solemnly        75
Received the blessed sacrament,
And hardly was this done, when lo!
The Turks came rushing on Kossovo.
 
III.
“Ivan Kossantchitch, my pobratime,
What of the Turk? How deem ye of him?        80
Is he strong, is he many, is he near?
Our battle, say! may we show him?
May we hope to overthrow him?
What news of him bringest thou here?”
 
And Ivan Kossantchitch replied:        85
“Milosch Obìlitch, my brother dear,
I have lookt on the Turk in his pride.
He is strong, he is many, he is near,
His tents are on every side.
Were we all of us hewn into morsels, and salted,        90
Hardly, I think, should we salt him his meat.
Two whole days have I journeyed, nor halted,
Toward the Turk, near the Turk, round him, and never
Could I number his numbers, or measure his end.
From Eràble to Sazlia, brother, my feet        95
Have wandered; from Sazlia round by the river,
Where the river comes round to the bridge with a bend;
And over the bridge to the town of Zvétchan;
From Zvétchan to Tchéchan, and further, and ever
Further, and over the mountains, wherever        100
Foot may fall, or eye may scan,
I saw naught but the Mussulman.
 
“Eastward and westward, and southward and nor’ward,
Scaling the hillside, and scathing the gorse,
Horseman to horseman, and horse against horse;        105
Lances like forests when forests are black;
Standards like clouds flying backward and forward,
White tents like snowdrifts piled up at the back.
The rain may, in torrents, fall down out of heaven,
But never the earth will it reach:        110
Nothing but horsemen, nothing but horses,
Thick as the sands which the wild river-courses
Leave, after tempest, in heaps on the beach.
Murad, for pasture, hath given
To his horsemen the plain of Mazguite.        115
Lances a-ripple all over the land,
Tost like the bearded and billowy wheat
By the winds of the mountain driven
Under the mountain slab.
Murad looks down in command        120
Over Sitnitza and Lab.”
 
“Answer me, Ivan, answer ye me,
Where may the tent of Murad be?
His milk-white tent, may one see it afar
O’er the plain, from the mountain, or out of the wood?        125
For I have sworn to the Prince Lazar
A solemn vow upon Holy Rood,
To bring him the head of the Turkish Tzar,
And set my feet in his infidel blood.”
 
“Art mad, my pobratime, art mad?        130
Where may the tent be, the tent of Murad?
In the midst of a million eyes and ears:
In the midst of a million swords and spears,
In the heart of the camp of the Turk.
Fatal thy vow is, and wild is the work;        135
For hadst thou the wings of a falcon, to fly
Fleeter than lightning, along the deep sky,
The wings of the falcon, though fleet be they,
Would never bear thee thy body away.”
*        *        *        *        *
VI.
Now, when the dawn from her red bower
Upclomb the chilly skies, and, all        140
Athwart the freshening city tower,
The silent light began to fall
About the breezy yellow flower
That shook on the shadowy city wall,
Militza, through the glimmering streets,        145
Goes forth against the Eastern gate.
There, all i’ the morning light, she meets
The army on to the distant down,
Winding out of the dusky town,
To mantle the field in martial state,        150
And trample the dew-drop out of the grass.
O brothers, a goodly sight it was!
With curtle-axe, in complete steel,
So many a warrior, lusty and leal,
So many a spearman, stout and true,        155
Marching to battle in order due.
And foremost among that stately throng,
With, over his helmet’s golden boss,
Floating plumes of the purple rich,
The gallant Bocko Yougovitch        160
Bearing the standard of the Cross.
All blazing gold his corselet beamed,
Imperial purple fold on fold,
The mighty Christian ensign streamed
Over his red-roan courser bold;        165
And high upon the standard top
Against the merry morning gleamed
An apple wrought of purest gold;
Thereon the great gold cross, from which,
All glittering downward, drop by drop,        170
Great golden acorns, lightly hung,
Over his shining shoulder flung
Flashes of light o’er Yougovitch.
*        *        *        *        *
VII.
All when the misty morn was low,
And the rain was raining heavily,
Two ravens came from Kossovo,        175
Flying along a lurid sky:
One after one, they perched upon
The palace of the great Lazar,
And sat upon the turret wall.
One ’gan croak, and one ’gan call,        180
“Is this the palace of the Tzar?
And is there never a soul inside?”
 
Was never a soul within the hall,
To answer to the ravens’ call,
Save Militza. She espied        185
The two black birds on the turret wall,
That all in the wind and rain did croak,
And thus the ravens she bespoke:
“In God’s great name, black ravens, say,
Whence came ye on the wind to-day?        190
Is it from the plain of Kossovo?
Hath the bloody battle broke?
Saw ye the two armies there?
Have they met? And, friend or foe,
Which hath vanquisht? How do they fare?”        195
 
And the two black fowls replied:
“In God’s great name, Militza, dame,
From Kossovo at dawn we came.
A bloody battle we espied:
We saw the two great armies there,        200
They have met, and ill they fare.
Fallen, fallen, fallen are
The Turkish and the Christian Tzar.
Of the Turks is nothing left;
Of the Serbs a remnant rests,        205
Hackt and hewn, carven and cleft,
Broken shields, and bloody breasts.”
And lo! while yet the ravens spoke,
Up came the servant, Miloutine:
And he held his right hand, cleft        210
By a ghastly sabre stroke,
Bruised and bloody, in his left;
Gasht with gashes seventeen
Yawned his body where he stood,
And his horse was dripping blood.
*        *        *        *        *
        215
Then when the servant, Miloutine,
Three draughts had drained of rosy wine,
Although his eyes were waxing dim,
A little strength came back to him.
He stood up on his feet, and, pale        220
And ghastly, thus began the tale:
 
“They will never return again,
Never return! ye shall see them no more;
Nor ever meet them within the door,
Nor hold their hands. Their hands are cold,        225
Their bodies bleach in bloody mould.
They are slain! all of them slain!
And the maidens shall mourn, and the mothers deplore,
Heaps of dead heroes on battle-plain.
Where they fell there they remain,        230
Corpses stiff in their gore.
But their glory shall never grow old.
Fallen, fallen, in mighty war,
Fallen, fighting about the Tzar,
Fallen, where fell our lord Lazar!        235
Nevermore be there voice of cheer!
Nevermore be there song or dance!
Muffled be moon and star!
For broken now is the lance,
Shivered both shield and spear,        240
And shattered the scimitar.
And cleft is the golden crown,
And the sun of Servia is down,
O’erthrown, o’erthrown, o’erthrown,
The roof and top of our renown,        245
Dead is the great Lazar!
 
“Have ye seen when the howling storm-wind takes
The topmost pine on a hoary rock,
Tugs at it, and tears and shakes and breaks,
And tumbles it into the ocean?        250
So when this bloody day began,
In the roaring battle’s opening shock,
Down went the gray-haired Youg Bogdan.
And, following him, the noblest man
That ever wore the silver crown        255
Of age, grown gray in old renown.
One after one, and side by side,
Fighting, thy nine brothers died:
Each by other, brother brother
Following, till death took them all.        260
But of these nine the last to fall
Was Bocko. Him, myself, I saw,
Three awful hours,—a sight of awe,
Here and there and everywhere
And all at once, made manifest,        265
Like a wild meteor in a troubled air,
Whose motion never may be guest.
For over all the lurid rack
Of smoking battle blazed and burned,
And streamed and flasht,        270
Like flame before the wind upturned
With great imperial ensign splasht
With blood of Turks: where’er he dasht
Amongst their bruised battalions, I
Saw them before him reel and fly:        275
As when a falcon from on high
Pounce on a settle-down of doves,
That murmurs make in myrrhy groves,
Comes flying all across the sky,
And scatters them with instant fright;        280
So flew the Turks to left and right,
Broken before him. Milosch fell,
Pursued by myriads down the dell,
Upon Sitnitza’s rushy brink,
Whose chilly waves will roll, I think,        285
So long as time itself doth roll,
Red with remorse that they roll o’er him.
Christ have mercy on his soul,
And blesséd be the womb that bore him.
Not alone he fell. Before him        290
Twelve thousand Turkish soldiers fell,
Slaughtered in the savage dell.
His right hand was wet and red
With the blood that he had shed,
And in that red right hand he had        295
(Shorn from the shoulder sharp) the head
Of the Turkish Tzar, Murad.”
*        *        *        *        *
 
 
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