Poetry Kaleidoscope: Guide to Poetry

Serbian Epic Poetry

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Songs of Serbian epic poetry rarely, if ever, rhyme, but they are easy to remember as each line has exactly ten syllables and caesura after fourth syllable. An older form, called Bugarshtica, exists, which has fifteen to sixteen syllables. Songs could be recited, but traditionally they are sung along musical instrument called Gusle.


Their structure contains some repeating formulas ("Dear God, a big miracle", "years of days", "writes a tiny letter", "they have fought till summer day noon") and numbers; number three is used to such extremes that, for example, if something breaks, it always "breaks into three halves". Longer songs can have more than five hundred lines.


The corpus of Serbian epic poetry is divided into cycles:

  • Pre-Kosovo cycle - songs about events that predate the Battle of Kosovo
    • Cycle of Marko Kraljevic
    • (more)
  • Kosovo cycle - songs about events that happened just before and after Battle of Kosovo (no song covers the battle itself)
  • Post-Kosovo cycle - songs about more recent events
    • Cycle of Hajduks and Uskoks- song about them
    • Songs about I and II Serbian Uprising 1804 - 1815
    • (more)

Songs that sing about historical events depict them with varying degrees of accuracy.

Modern Serbian Epic Poetry

Serbian epic poetry is being made even today in this same form. Of course, modern songs sing about modern events and people, such as 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.


 Slavic antithesis:
 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.
 (Marko Kraljevic speaks: )
"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 thorn out?"
"I am feeling with my wing thorn out
 Like a brother one without the other."


  • "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

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