Sir John Bowring about RKZ

The most remarkable remnant of antiquity existing in the Bohemian tongue, is a collection of old poetry, under the title Rukopis Kralodvorsk˜. Dobrovsk˜ in his History of Bohemian Literature, speaks of them as models for facility of style, purity and correctness of language, grace and strength of expression. Their publication created a strong feeling among all the Slavonian nations and may be considered certainly the most important addition ever made by one individual to the archives of popular Slavonian poetry. The discovery was in this wise. In the year 1817, Hanka had been visiting one of his friends at Dv–r Kr lov‚ (Queen's Court), a town which suffered with many others from the terrible visitations of ’i‘ka. He there heard, that in an under vault of the church tower, a bundle of arrows lay, and had lain there from the time of ’i‘ka. He ascended to see them, and while walking about the place, his foot struck against a quantity of parchment documents - he found they were covered with Latin letters and soon observed, that the writing was Bohemian. The transport of such a discovery may well be conceived. He sent to the authorities of the town one of the first transcripts he made, who shared in his enthusiasm, and presented the MS. to him as a reward. He afterwards deposited it in the National Museum of Prague. The MS. has been decided by competent judges to have been written at the end of the thirteenth century, though some of the poems are probably considerably older. They appear to have belonged to a far more extensive collection, of which they formed the 26th, 27th, and 28th chapters. The rhythmus is good, the versifications generally excellent; but the pieces are all written as if they were prose, in one continuous course.

The poems consist of epic and lyric pieces - or rather of historical ballads and songs; the whole are no less remarkable for their simplicity and strength, than for their flowing and regular versification.

The first Old©ich and Boleslav is a fragment and is not enough preserved to make the story intelligible. The second Bene¨ He©manov is an account of the overthrow of the Saxons.

The third is Jaroslav. The poem narrates that the daughter of the Khan of Tatary possessed hy a desire to visit the lands of the west, came with a long train of followers, and having reached Germany, whithe the news of her rank had preceded her, she was attacked in a forest, and with all her attendants pillaged and murdered. When the news reached Tatary, her father Kublay gathered his' army together, and after consulting the magicians, marched westward to avenge his beloved daughter's death. They met the Christians in battle, who would have subdued the heathens, had not the magicians again interfered to encourage the latter. But the Tatars conquer, they possess themselves of Kiev and Novgorod, they lay cruel burthens upon the Slavonians, and visit them with every species of calamity. Many and many attempts they make for their deliverance in vain. They call upon heaven, but the devastators still advance and at last reach Olmutz. Then Vnˆslav assembles the Bohemians, but they are driven into the highest parts of a mountain, where they suffer every thing that can be conceived from hunger, and thirst, and at last openly mutiny. Vnˆslav is killed by Tatar's arrow. Enfeebled and exhausted the Bohemians determine to surrender, when another hero, Vratislav, starts up, pours out the bitterest imprecations on the "cowards and traitors" bids the faithful follow him to the throne of the Virgin, where after having entreated the pity of heaven, they see the clouds gather, the rain fall, their thirst is quenched, they attack the Tatars, and after many bloody battles, in one of which Jaroslav pierces the son of Kublay through with his lance: "I by prosta Hana tatar vrahov" Hana is freed from the fury of the Tatars, who retire back to the oriental lands from whence they came.

The fourth is an historical ballad headed €estm¡r and Vlaslav. It narrates events which the chronicler Cosmas has recorded. Vlaslav is represented by him as a furious barbarian, who caused the children of his women captives to be taken away, and forced them tu nurse young dogs from their bosoms. €estm¡r written also €mir in the ballad - gathers his followers to attack the burner of villages - the causer of woe. The description ot the assembling is in the following words:
- "There are mountains to the right - and to the left are mountains - and on their tops - their high tops - the sun shines brightly - along their sides - both here and there - the armies are spread out - each hero with battle in his bosom."
A long and energetic account of the storming of a mountain-castle follows, and Vlaslav is destroyed by the hand of €estm¡r.

The fifth ballad contains so vivid a description of a tourney, and so complete a picture of a court of the chivalric epoch, that we shall give it entire, preserving the rhytmus of the original, and forbearing to indulge even in the introduction or suppression of a single word or phrase. The repetitions are characteristic of Slavonian poetry, and are found almost universally in the ballads of Russia and Servia. To our minds the whole poem is singularly national. - We visit the princely castle - are present at the festival - accompany the nobles to the tourney - hear the music between the different acts of the combat - witness the different jousts as they take place - and go with the victor to receive his garland. Yet no story can be more simply told. There is not the excess of a line.

The sixth and most striking of these historical ballads is certainly that of Z boj. Its measure is various, and adapted to the sentiments conveyed. It begins by describing a black forest, where is a rock, on which stands Z boj and having long looked around - he descends, - goes from hero to hero - and after uttering some secret words and bending himself before the gods, the heroes all meet at his summons in the Black forest. Z boj leads them to the deepest valley, and touches the Varito1 with this appeal: - "Hearts of men and brothers! with glances of flame! I sing to you a song in the deepest valley; I sing it from the deep of my heart; I sing in my sorrow. Our father has left us, and left with us orphaned children and helpless maidens. He has said to none, "Brother, speak to them, speak to them fatherly words!" And the stranger is come, come with might, and a strange tongue is heard, and strange customs are among us, and our women and our children follow them. But our wives shall go with us from Vesna to Morana.2 They bring the sparrow-hawk from the woods, and make us bend to the gods they worship. We may not strike our foreheads - we may not bring food to the gods where our father brought it, nor sing the songs where he sang them. The foes have filled the forests - they have broken up our gods.¦ ½½Ah, thou Z boj, thou singest from heart to heart, in the midst of thy grief thou singest the song like Lum¡r3 whose word and song shook Vy¨egrad and all lands - so movest thou thy brothers all - the gods love brave bards - sing on, for it comes from the heart to sing against the foe.¦¦ Z boj looked upon the burning glances of the brothers, Z boj thus stormed their hearts: "Two brothers were there, whose voices were roughening into the voice of manhood; they went to the woods; with the exercise of sword and battle axe and the sharp spear they strengthened their arms. They made the woods their home, and returned to their dwellings in joy. But as their hand was strengthened to manhood, and their spirits became manhood against their foes - and as these brothers grew stronger too - ha! they broke in upon the foe - they broke in like the tempests of heaven - and when they returned home - it was to be covered with blessings." The brothers sprung upon Z boj - they pressed him in their strong arms - they pressed their heart against his heart - they repeated again and again his words one to another. - The night hastened onwards to the morning - they were all scattered out of the valley - they glided home by the trees - they dispersed on every side of the forest.

The poet then goes on to describe the gathering together of the heroes by the brothers. Z boj blesses the host. Their movements are all recorded, and at every step the bard introduces his word of promise, of counsel, or of vengeance. Z boj himself takes a part in the fight, his blows are said to fall in front of the fight like a hail storm. There is a forcible description of the long-enduring battle and the progress of it. Z boj is represented as endowed with super-human strength, able to fell a tree with a single stroke of his battle-axe, destroying thirty enemies with his own hand, piercing his foes through at a distance of five fathoms, and following them without his shield with sword in hand - a very greyhound in pursuit, a lynx in perception; yet in the midst of all preserving a great self-possession, and exercising wonderful great-mindedness towards the fallen. The ballad concludes with this song of the bard: "Brothers! the mountain breaks through the mist, and the gods have given us victory. From tree to tree the gathering people are passing - there are crowds of flying souls. The wild beasts - the forest birds fly before them - all but the never-affrighted owls. Up to the mountain - upwards. - Bury the dead. - Bring offerings to the gods - to the gods, our saviours - bring rich offerings - hymn the hymns of praise.¦

The seventh ballad is the Zbyho¤, the eighth the Nosegay. It is fanciful and full of grace. The ninth the Strawberries. It will speak eloquently and touchingly for itself; it would not be easy to give a more striking picture of tenderness and passion. The tenth the Stag, the eleventh the Rose; the twelfth the Cuckoo, a happy expression of impatient affection of uneasiness under the too-slow flight of Time; the thirteenth, the Abandoned. In a few simple words, can a picture of solitude and sorrow be more touchingly delineated than therein? At last, how truly poetical is the fourteenth, the Lark, of which we give an unrhymed, undecorated version though it is not possihle to express in English that tone of gentleness and endearment, which the diminutive conveys in the malitkØ skrivn e - beloved larklet.

Other poems are Lubu¨a's Judgment, the song of love under the castle of Vy¨egrad, and King Vaceslav's song of love: the first is ihe oldest remnant of Bohemian verse.

Dr. John Bowring.

1) A musical instrument, perhaps the Greek BARBITON.
2) Vesna the goddess of youth - Morana the goddess of death.
3) Lumir - the Orpheus of the Slavonians.