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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

By 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

    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,

    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.

    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.”

    When Lazarus this letter had read,

    Bitter, bitter were the tears he shed.

    A gray bird, a falcon, comes flying apace

    From Jerusalem, from the Holy Place;

    And he bears a light swallow abroad.

    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.

    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,

    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

    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.

    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,

    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?

    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,

    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.)

    “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.”

    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

    Received the blessed sacrament,

    And hardly was this done, when lo!

    The Turks came rushing on Kossovo.

    “Ivan Kossantchitch, my pobratime,

    What of the Turk? How deem ye of him?

    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:

    “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,

    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

    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

    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;

    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:

    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.

    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

    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?

    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?

    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;

    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.”

    Now, when the dawn from her red bower

    Upclomb the chilly skies, and, all

    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,

    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,

    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,

    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

    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;

    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,

    Great golden acorns, lightly hung,

    Over his shining shoulder flung

    Flashes of light o’er Yougovitch.

    All when the misty morn was low,

    And the rain was raining heavily,

    Two ravens came from Kossovo,

    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,

    “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

    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?

    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?”

    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,

    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,

    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

    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.


    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

    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,

    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,

    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!

    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,

    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,

    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?

    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

    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.

    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,

    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,

    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:

    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;

    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,

    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

    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

    (Shorn from the shoulder sharp) the head

    Of the Turkish Tzar, Murad.”