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Pathway: Main page arrow Articles arrow Referats and texts collection arrow THE LAY OF IGOR'S RAID
Russian History: XX century

Russian History: XIX сentury




Might it not behove us, brethren, to commence in ancient strains the stern lay of Igor's campaign, Igor, son of Sviatoslav?

Then let this begin according to the events of our time and not according to the cunning of Boyan. For he, Boyan the Seer, when composing a song to someone, soared in his thoughts over the tree (of wisdom), ran as agrey wolf over the land, flew below the clouds as a blue-grey eagle.

When he recalled the feuds of former times he would let loose ten falcons upon a flock of swans. And the first swan overtaken was the first to sing a song to old Iaroslav, to brave Mstislav, who slew Rededia before the Kasog regiments, and to handsome Roman, son of Sviatoslav.

Boyan, however, did not let loose ten falcons upon the flock of swans. But rather he lay his wise fingers upon the living strings and they sounded lauds to the princes. Let us begin this narration, brethren, from the old times of Vladimir to this present time of lgor, who strengthened his mind with courage, who quickened his heart with valour and, thus imbued with martial spirit, led his valiant regiments against the Kuman land in defence of the Russian land



lgor looked up at the bright sun, and saw that all his warriors became enveloped in darkness. And Igor spoke to his army:

    "Brethren and warriors! it is better to be killed in battle, than to become a captive. Let us mount our swift steeds, brethren! Let us view the blue river Don."

And the prince's mind was seized by ambition. And the desire to drink from the great river Don concealed the evil omens from him. And he spoke:

    "I want to break a lance at the Kuman frontier. I want, oh, my Russians, either to drink with you Don (water) from my helmet, or to leave my head there.

Oh, Boyan, the nightingale of yore! If you were to sing the glory of the (Russian) campaign, like a nightingale would you soar over the tree (of wisdom), soaring in your mind up under the clouds and singing the glory of both these ages. You would race along the trail of Trojan, over the prairies and the mountains. And the god Veles' grandson would sing Igor's song (thus),

    "It is not a storm that has driven the falcons over the wide prairies. It is a flock of jackdaws racing toward the great river Don."

Or you, Boyan the Seer, grandson of god Veles, would sing:

    "Steeds neigh beyond the river Sula. Glory resounds in the city of Kiev. Trumpets blare in the city of Novgorod. Banners fly over the city of Putivl."

lgor awaits his dear brother, Vsevolod. This fierce auroch, Vsevolod, (comes to him and) speaks:

    "My only brother, lgor, you are my only bright light. We are both the sons of Sviatoslav. Brother, order the saddling of your swift steeds, as my (swift steeds) are ready. They were already saddled at the city of Kursk. And my men of Kursk are famed as warriors. They were swaddled under trumpets. They were brought up under helmets. They were fed at lance point. The roads are known to them. The ravines are familiar to them. Their bows are taut, their quivers are open, their sabres have been sharpened. They race into the prairie like grey wolves, seeking honour for themselves and glory for their prince."


Then Prince Igor set his foot in the golden stirrup and rode into the open prairie. The sun barred his way with darkness and night, moaning with tempest, awoke the birds. The whistling of the beasts arose. And the Div arose and from the treetops it cried, enjoining unknown lands to listen: the land of the Volga, the land on the Azov Sea, the land at the river Sula, is the city of Surozh, the city of Kherson, and you, the idol of the city of Tmutorakan. The Kumans hastened by untrodden ways to the great river Don. Their carts squeak at midnight, one may say, as dispersed swans. lgor leads his warriors to the river Don. The birds in the forests of oak portend his misfortune. The wolves conjure the tempest in the ravines. The screeching eagles call the beasts to the feast of bones. Foxes bark at crimson shields. O! Russian land! You are already far beyond the hills.


Evening was fading late into the night. Finally the glow of dawn faded. Mist enveloped the prairie. The song of the nightingale had died out. The daws have begun to caw. Russian warriors barred the wide prairie with their crimson shields. They seek honour for themselves and glory for their prince. Early in the morning of Friday the Russians trampled the infidel Kuman armies, and, spreading like arrows over the prairie, they galloped away with beautiful Kuman maidens. And with them they took: gold and brocades, and costly velvets. With cloaks and coats and fur mantles and with all kinds of Kuman garments they began to bridge their way over the swarnps and marshes. The crimson banner, the white gonfalon, the scarlet panache, and the silver lance were taken to brave Igor, son of Sviatoslav. Brave Oleg's clan slumbers in the prairie. They have strayed far, flying. They were born to be offended neither by the falcon, nor by the gyrfalcon, nor by you, the black ravens, the infidel Kumans. Khan Gza flees like a grey wolf. Khan Konchak shows him the way to the great river Don.


Very early on the second morn bloody dawn announced the day. Black clouds arise from the sea and want to envelop the four suns. Blue lightning shows through the clouds. There is to be a mighty thundering. The rain of arrows will come from the great river Don. Here, on the river Kaiala, here, on the great river Don, lances will be broken and swords will be dulled on Kuman helmets. O Russian land! You are already far beyond the hills.

Here the winds, grandsons of god Stribog, blow the arrows from the sea against the regiments of brave Igor. The earth groans. the rivers become turbid. Dust covers the prairie. The pennants announce:

    "The Kumans have come from the river Don and from the sea. They encircle the Russian regiments from all sides."

The devil's children bar the prairie with their battle cries. The brave Russians bar it with their crimson shields. Fierce auroch Vsevolod! Your defence is firm, Your arrows rain down upon Kuman warriors. Your Frankish swords clang on Kuman helmets. Where you, fierce auroch, gallop gleaming in your golden helmet, there will lie the heads of infidel Kumans. There Avar helmets are cloven at your hands, fierce auroch Vsevolod. What wound can matter, brethren, to one who has forgotten honours and fortune, and his father's golden throne in the city of Chernigov, and the habits and ways of his dearly beloved and beautiful wife, the daughter of Prince Gleb?


There were the eras of Trojan. There passed the years of Iaroslav. And there were the campaigns of Oleg, Oleg, son of Sviatoslav. That Oleg fostered feuds with his sword and sowed the Russian lands with arrows. In the city of Tmutorakan he used to put his foot in the golden stirrup and its clinking could be heard by great Iaroslav, who lived long ago. And Prince Vladimir, son of Vsevolod, would stop his ears in the city of Chernigov. And the dubious glory of Prince Boris, son of Viacheslav, brought him to his final judgment, and he remained in eternal sleep on a burial shroud of green grass for offending brave and young Prince Oleg.

On the river Kaiala Sviatopolk ordered that his father be taken between two ambling Hungarian horses to be buried in the Cathedral of St. Sofiia in Kiev. Then, in the era of Oleg, son of misfortune, the feuding spread and grew. The fortune of god Dazhbog's grandson was destroyed. Human lives became shortened through the princes' discord. In those days the ploughman spoke but rarely, and the ravens often cawed, dividing corpses among themselves. And the daws talked in their own tongue, before flying to feed on corpses.


And so it used to be. There were battles and campaigns, but there had never been such battle as this. From early morning to night, from evening to dawn there flew tempered arrows, swords rained down upon helmets, Frankish lances resound, and all this in the unknown prairie, in the Kuman land. The black earth under the hooves was strewn with bones, was covered with blood. Grief overwhelmed the Russian land.

What noise do I hear? What clinking comes to my ears so early in the morning, before the dawn? Igor turns about his troops. He is saddened by the fate of his brother, Vsevolod. They fought for one day. They fought for another day. At noon on the third day Igor's banners fell. Here, on the shores of the swift river Kaiala, the brothers parted. The wine of this bloody banquet was drunk to the last. The Russians gave their guests to drink from the same cup. They died for the Russian land. The grass withered from sorrow, and the saddened trees drooped earthward.


And now, brethren, unhappy times have arrived. The prairie overwhelmed the Russian forces. Grief reigned over the forces of god Dazhbog's grandsons. Grief, like a maiden, entered the land of Trojan. She splashed her swan wings at the river Don, by the blue sea, and splashing, she put an end to the times of good fortune. The princes' fight against the infidel came to an end. And brother said to brother:

    "This is mine, and that also is mine."

And the princes began to argue about trifles, calling them important matters, and began to create discord among themselves. The infidels from all lands began to invade the Russian land and to win victory. Oh, too far toward the sea has the falcon flown, slaying birds! And lgor's valiant regiments cannot be resurrected! He is mourned by Grief and Sorrow, and they spread across the Russian land. Shaking the embers in the flaming horn, the Russian women begin to lament, saying:

    "No more, our dear husbands, can you be envisioned in our thoughts,nor can you reappear in our dreams, nor can you be seen with our eyes, and never again shall we jingle gold and silver"

And, brethren, the city of Kiev began to groan from grief, and the city of Chemigov also, from their misfortune. Anguish spread over the Russian land. Deep sadness flew through the Russian land. And the princes created discord among themselves. The infidels, victoriously invading the Russian land, levied a tribute of one vair from each household.

All this happened because Igor and Vsevolod, two valiant sons of Sviatoslay, once more revived evil forces which were curbed by their cousin, (another) Prince Sviatoslav. This stern prince of Kiev held (everyone) in fear and awe, for, as a tempest, his powerful regiments and his Frankish swords defeated and attacked the Kuman lands. They trampled under Kuman hills and ravines, made turbid Kuman rivers and lakes, dried out Kuman streams and marshes. Like a tornado, he seized Khan Kobiak from amongst his great iron regiments on the shore of the sea bay. And Kobiak fell in the city of Kiev, in the hall of Prince Sviatoslav. Now the Germans and the Venetians, the Greeks and the Moravians sing the glory of Prince Sviatoslav and reproach Prince Igor, who has lost his fortune on the bottom of the river Kaiala and filled the Kuman rivers with Russian gold. And here Prince Igor exchanged his golden saddle of a prince for the saddle of a slave. And the cities became saddened and joy vanished.

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