Ballads of Romance and of the Turkish Period

The next and very significant group of Hungarian folk ballads consists of historical ballads (széphistóriás ballada), associated with the 15th to 17th centuries and with themes of romance and the Turkish period. Even earlier researchers thought of these ballads as the most eloquent examples of the old ballad style; indeed, on the basis of their rhythm, structure, language, and melodies they can be listed among the ballads which preserve the oldest elements. The ballads of Anna Molnár and Kata Kádár, the ballads of Szilágyi and Hajmási, Julia Szép and Julia Kis, as well as István Fogarasi and its companions belong here. Naturally, references to the Turkish period, to the prison of the Sultan, etc., belong only to the paraphernalia of romance such as the following ballad of Szilágyi and Hajmási, and not to the basic story:

Buddy, my good buddy, on the same bread living!
Seven years have gone by since they took us captive
To the Sultan’s prison, for a bunch of grapes each;
Never since then have we seen the sun a-burning,
Nor the moon and stars in all their ceaseless turning...”
This the Sultan’s daughter, standing by the door, heard,
Sultan’s fairest daughter spoke to them with these words:
“Hark you two Hungarians, hark to me and listen,
You’re to be set free soon from my father’s prison:
If I now release you, will you pledge yourselves too,
For to take me in to Hungary’s land with you?”
Great Miklós Szilágyi made her right this answer:
“Sure we pledge ourselves, ay, Sultan’s fairest daughter!...”
Straightaway she went back, Sultan’s fairest daughter,
To her father’s chamber.
There she took the gaol key, with that to unlock it,
And a few gold pieces put she in her pocket.
Back again she went then, and the gaol door opened.
Hardly had they left there, going in a hurry,
When the girl began to glance back in a furry,
Sultan’s fairest daughter.
“Hark, you two Hungarians, hark to me and listen,
Young men just released from my father’s prison:
{530.} Look, there comes, look, there comes, all my father’s army!
If they overtake us, o alas, they’ll slay you,
And they’ll take me back home.”
“Do not fear, do not fear, Sultan’s fairest daughter!
Neither will they slay us if our swords do serve us,
Nor will take you back home if the Lord preserve us.”
Soon the camp came rolling, merciless great army–
“Buddy, my good buddy, look ye to the damsel,
Let us never say die!”
As the army caught up, he engaged in battle.
Through their ranks he made a footpath rushing forward,
Then he cut a cartway on the sally backward,
Leaving of the huge host but a single coward;
For to tell the news he run for hide all homeward.
When this had been over, they resumed their journey,
Spoke László Hajmási, this is what his words be:
“Buddy, my good buddy, let us try each other,
Which of us can win her, Sultan’s fairest daughter!”
“Hark you two Hungarians, hark to me and listen,
Young men just released from my father’s prison:
Do not cross you swords or fight you for me ever
Here I kneel, come, my head from neck you sever...!”
Brave Miklós Szilágyi speaks at once and says this:
“Buddy, my good buddy, on the same bread living!
Willingly I give you Sultan’s fairest daughter,
For I have at home a ring betrothed woman,
Lawful wedded wife and helpmate of my bosom.”
When the Sultan’s daughter heard Szilágyi say so,
Readily she joined the other knight called László.
Brave Miklós Szilágyi went his way then homeward,
And László Hajmási took the damsel with him.

These ballads are often differentiated by passing nuances only from another group which portrayed the conflict, tragedies, and comedies of feudal social structure. This latter group is characterized by poetic formulations which carry the traces of both older and newer poetic styles. The story of the girl sold to the Turks and preferring to die is also revived in a more modern version dealing with the tragedy of the girl sold to the village miller (István Fogarasi). This group of the ballads of romance is linked together not only by the manner of presenting the themes and the narrative structure, but above all, by the folk-tale and narrative elements in its mirroring of society. It is not by chance that the 14th to 16th century literature of short stories and romance made use of this method of description throughout Europe. The phenomenon of the double influence could be verified by hosts of examples in this area also. {531.} The images of the structured society and its confined laws still vividly remind one of folk tales, but in the plot, the conflict already begins to fill up with elements of reality, of real conflicts. This characteristic duality, the innate contrast of description is one of the reasons for the captivating charm of this cycle of ballads, e.g. Barcsai.

“Go, my husband, go to Kolozsvár up northward,
Kolozsvár up northward, to my father’s courtyard,
Fetch from there, fetch from there great big rolls of linen,
Great big rolls of linen, cambric freely given.”
“Do not go, my father, leave not home, I pray thee,
Mother loves Barcsai, sure does as I say thee!”
“Do you hear, my woman, what this child is saying?”
“Heed him not, my sweet lord, sure he is but raving.”
With that he departed for to do as bidden,
For to do as bidden, off to town was ridden.
When he was but half-way, half-way of the journey,
Came into his mind the words said by his bairn wee;
Thereupon he turned back, went his way all homeward,
Went his way all homeward, stepped into his courtyard.
“Open the door, open up, quick, my wedded woman!”
“Right I will, right I will, sweet my wedded husband!
Only wait till I can put my workday skirt on,
Only wait till I can tie around my apron.”
“Open the door, open up, quick, my wedded woman!”
“Right I will, right I will, sweet my wedded husband!
Only wait till I can pull my new-soled boots on,
Only wait till I can tie my workday scarf on.”
“Open the door, open up, quick, my wedded woman!”
What was she to do but went the door to open.
“Go and get the key, the key to my big coffer!”
“Nay, I cannot give you the key to the big coffer:
Going through the garden for to visit next door,
I must have dropped it, the key of the big chest there,
But I’m sure we’ll find it when the day is dawning,
When the day is dawning, in the crimson morning.”
Thereupon he kicked his ornamented chest in,
Ripping one side right off, wrenching it and wresting:
Out of it came Barcsai, out he fell and rolled there,
Ay, he snatched his sword and severed head from shoulder.
“Do you hear, you woman, do you hear, you woman,
From among these three deaths ay you must to choose one:
Either choose that I should cut your head off right here
Or that I sweep with your silken hair the house clear,
Else you keep a vigil till the light breaks palely,
Seven boards of guests to hold a candle gaily.”
“From among the three deaths sure I choose the last one,
Seven boards of guests to holding candle gaily.”
“My servant, my servant, littlest of my servants,
Bring you forth, bring you forth that big bowl of pitch bring,
{532.} Bring you forth, bring you forth those big rolls of linen,
Those big rolls of linen, cambric freely given.
Start it at her head and wind her in them wholly,
Take those piles of cambric, round her head all roll ye,
Start it at her head and top to toe you tar her,
Start it at her toes and set it all on fire.
At her head I’ll set a Wallachian piper,
At her feet I’ll set a gypsy fiddle player;
Come and blow, Wallachian, blow your olah*Wallachian wood pipe,
Come and play you, gypsy, play your gypsy fiddle;
Blow it to the four winds, come and play, don’t tarry,
Let my wife be gay now, let her heart make merry.”

The figure of the wife punished for her infidelity is frequent in European folk poetry; variations of it can also be shown in the Gesta Romanorum. Equivalents of this ballad can be traced all the way to the Spanish ballads. It can be compared to certain creations of Eastern European, primarily Russian ballad poetry, but the form of punishment by burning occurs rarely. The roots of this cruel but beautiful Hungarian ballad reach far back into the Middle Ages.

Here we will simply mention that one of the informative, word of mouth phenomena in the development of ballads which belongs precisely to this cycle is the shaping of the ballad towards prose structure. We can observe in this group the different degrees of development towards a completely prose version, through the lines of which still throbs the rhythm of the verse. This is the secret of its strange, spontaneous beauty, and it is also an example of the creation of figures, not necessarily corrupted but sometimes of new beauty, by oral transformation, or as certain theoretical schools have called it with sharp disparagement, “by singing asunder”. It appears as if the development of the epic method of presentation created the conditions for prose transformation; however, so far few of us have examined the rules of this transformation.