Dæmon in the Wood; Appendix

Gol Alija, et alii

Two male contestants at the green tree displace the females of the foregoing Turkish tale in an oral epic multiform of the Two Trees’ story from Novi Pazar in erstwhile Yugoslavia. The American collector Milman Parry recorded the tale there from an elderly bi-lingual (Serbo-Croatian and Albanian) story-teller named Salih Ugljanin in 1934. Salih told the tale in Serbo-Croatian; it was nominally about an orphan and recluse named Ali, who abandoned society after two serious personal misfortunes and went to live as a voluntary exile in the wilderness:101 Ali and his sister were orphaned when they were young, and then a band of border-raiders plundered the district where they lived, kidnapped his sister, and took her away to parts unknown. Alone and embittered, Ali withdrew to live in an icy cave on a high mountain. There, like the English Robin Hood, he began to form a company of bandits and highwaymen. Later, he provided his band with a flock of a thousand sheep, which he put in charge of one of his companions, Ibro Huremović, as chief shepherd.

This was not exactly a temple-flock, nor was Ibro exactly the guardian of cattle as depicted on ancient Mesopotamian seals (cf. Figures 53 and 54). Yet the flock and its fabulous shepherd suggested to Salih a doorway with a banded stock set upright before it just as surely as if Salih had known the iconography derived from the story of the Two Trees in ancient Mesopotamia. But of course his knowledge was better than that—he knew the traditional Two Trees’ story itself in its South Slavic reflex: Immediately he had formed the flock, Ali had a fir-tree that stood before the door of his cave covered with gold-plate, and bound the bole of the tree with three heavy bands of gold. Beneath it he constructed a fountain of gold and silver, and then proclaimed the whole mountain a fane, forbidding even the birds of the air to trespass over it in their flight. This strict interdiction endured for twelve years, until a train of events began in Istanbul that was fated to end Ali’s seclusion and the inviolability of his mountain sanctuary.

Ali’s gilt pillar is the epicenter of his all-male, bandit society on the mountain, signifying its unity and self-sufficiency. As hewn wood, it is a traditional symbol of concentricity, but it is not suited to denote separation like the segregation of Ali and his forty thieves from the rest of mankind. A green tree in a wild place is required for that signification, and Salih supplied one at the proper moment in his tale: The sultan in Istanbul hears that a certain Christian king has a uniquely lovely daughter named Nastasija, and he determines to have her. He dispatches orders to one of his Muslim vassals in Bosnia to go to the neighboring Christian kingdom and capture the girl, or forfeit his own head. The vassal thinks himself unable to carry out so risky a venture, and decides instead to send from his retinue a certain rogue named Radovan to go and enlist the help of the bandit-chief Ali. Radovan must therefore travel onto Ali’s interdicted mountain at the jeopardy of his own life. This he does, until he emerges above a clearing on the mountain and sees there Ali’s wondrous shepherd Ibro with a golden rifle on his shoulder and dressed “all in silver and pure gold.” The shepherd’s twelve dogs spy the emissary Radovan and set on him, whereupon

Radovan fled up a green fir tree
till he found a perch on the branches of the fir.

Fir trees are a commonplace image in Serbo-Croatian oral epic tradition, but the description and circumstances of the two in Salih’s tale are extraordinary. The gilding of the dry fir that stands before the entrance to Ali’s lair is highly unusual, and the golden shepherd who frightens Radovan like a guardian seraph at the green fir is equally peculiar. The events which next occur beneath the two trees set them even farther apart not only from the common imagery of this tradition, but also from each other: Alerted by his dogs, Ibro the shepherd approaches and looks into the branches of the tree, where he sees Radovan. He takes his golden rifle from his shoulder with a lethally threatening gesture, and calls to Radovan to ask him who he is and why he trespasses on the forbidden mountain. Radovan is saved from death by a happy accident. He recognizes Ibro, a friend from the past, and appeals to their former friendship. Ibro’s threatening attitude changes suddenly to one of warm welcome when Radovan identifies himself. The interloper descends then from the branches of the fir, but he is so overwhelmed by hunger that he collapses at Ibro’s feet. The shepherd feeds him white bread gratis and so revives him.

Albert Lord, first editor and translator of Milman Parry’s collection from Novi Pazar, remarked in a note to this story: “It is not clear what the function of the theme of hunger and bread is. It has not been foreshadowed, nor does it have any importance in any later action.”102 Seen as motifs in the international story of the Two Trees, Radovan’s hunger and Ibro’s bread are obviously the usual hunger of the cosmotact and his people, and the usual nourishment which a preternatural person offers to the cosmotact at the sign of the green tree in the wilderness. But whereas the sense of these two motifs is perfectly apparent in the larger context of Old-World fable as a whole, it was anything but obvious within the confines of Serbo-Croatian oral epic tradition, even to a man who knew that tradition so well as did Albert Lord. Here again is an instance where comparative analysis of oral fable on an international scale penetrates its local meaning better than local, ethnically delimited study can do, because informed comparative analysis can discriminate between the basic elements of fable and the idiosyncracies of particular cultures to a degree which studies confined to this or that language or region cannot emulate.

In the twentieth-century Balkans the two trees did not individually or as a pair carry anything like the heavy charge of symbolic meaning which they had for various Bantu peoples in modern Africa. Yet the story was just as prominent in South Slavic as in Bantu tradition, and like other Balkan singers of tales in this century, Salih Ugljanin faithfully maintained the Two Trees’ pattern with all its constituent motifs in his repertory, even though neither he nor any cult among his people attached any special, extra-narrative importance to any part of the pattern. As local reflexes of the story’s generic motifs, Radovan’s hunger, Ibro’s bread, and each of the other elements in Salih’s multiform of the Two Trees’ story had a germinal meaning—its meaning in the story-pattern. On some other cultural soil with favorable social, economic, religious, and other circumstances, any of those motifs might have struck root and grown into a great and locally potent symbol. But that was not the fate of the motifs in the story of the Two Trees in the Balkans; the rationale for Salih’s use of them was neither more nor less than that they were traditional in the basic pattern of his tale.

So A. B. Lord has put us onto the right course toward understanding Radovan’s encounter with Ibro, a superficially unmotivated piece of Salih’s tale, by pointing out that its significance is self-contained, inherent in the story itself, and not to be found in Salih’s or anyone else’s opinion (or lack of opinion) about it. Correspondingly, Salih’s business as an oral narrative poet was not to rationalize or explain the elements of his stories in any sense, not even to the extent of making the elements necessarily cohere as he told them. His function was rather to reproduce all the motifs in the patterns of the tales he knew as fully and as exactly as he could. A meticulous adherence to the traditional pattern of a story was far more important both to him and to his listeners than anything he or they might happen to think about the story in the way of explanation or philosophy. Explanatory and philosophical musings come and go, but unless a tale is well and truly told—a good re-creation of what has been told before in the tradition—there would be nothing to muse about or to explain, because oral fable cannot exist without retelling.

Thus the fact of Radovan’s collapse from hunger at the green fir mattered to Salih more than why he was hungry, or why he collapsed at just that moment in Ibro’s presence. Nor did it matter whether Radovan’s hunger and Ibro’s feeding ‘contributed’ anything at all to the subsequent ‘development’ of the tale; tradition dictated only the inclusion of those motifs, not their motivation in any way. When Salih had finished telling of Radovan’s hunger and how Ibro fed him, he had obeyed perfectly that part of his mandate from tradition; he had well and truly reproduced several requisite motifs of the Two Trees’ story. The others followed in turn. After he has eaten Ibro’s bread, Radovan asks by what route he may reach Ali’s cave, and Ibro begins to tell him: ‘Go this way,’ he said, ‘from right to left, and you will find a dry-branched fir-tree.’

The ‘tension of essences’ drew Salih’s mind swiftly on from the green tree to a dry one, because in oral fable where the one is the other follows. Only the identity of the trees as firs and the widdershins direction of the tension between them betray Salih’s Balkan and European milieu. But Salih had yielded to the force of association between the Two Trees a bit too soon; he began to narrate the dry wood with its attendant constellation of motifs before he had completed the circle of motifs that cluster about the green wood. He had omitted one important motif in particular. The preterhuman denizen of the green tree in the wilderness is regularly the keeper of a hitherto inaccessible source of wealth and well-being: cf. the Lamba father-in-law’s fabulous câches of food; the riches in Grendel’s underwater lair [Beowulf vv. 1612-3]

Ne nōm hē in þǣm wīcum,    Weder-Gēata lēod,
māðm-ǣhta mā,    þēh hē þǣr monige geseah;

the Mukuni Rain-Lord’s boundless stores of precious water essential for the sustenance of all life on the Central African Plateau; Jehovah’s Promised Land flowing with milk and honey; and so forth. Salih had made Ibro give a simple meal to Radovan, but had not yet linked Ibro as the preternatural denizen of the green tree with the requisite treasure of unexploited food, womanhood, or wealth (wealth being the imperishable means of buying the more basic but perishable commodities of food and progeny). Responding to this piece of unfinished pattern, Salih did what the Lenje narrators of Kapepe did at a comparable narrative juncture: he returned to complete the unfinished part of the pattern through a progression. Ibro continues his directions to Radovan:

Pass by the dry-branched fir tree, and you will find another great fir where the bandit’s sheep are grazing. There a thousand sheep are grazing, all in the shade beneath that green fir. Pass on to the height beyond, where you will come upon a cloth spread from the fir to the door of the cave; beneath that fir there is another, dry and encased in gold plate, with three hoops of gold about it...

In this manner Salih created a twofold progression with four members:

Green Fir Dry Fir Green Fir Dry Fir
of ordinary size;
site of a man’s
entertainment by
a preternatural
designates the way
to site of shelter
for Ali’s animals
of gigantic size;
site of a
richly decorated;
designates the way
to site of shelter
for Ali’s men

The field of a thousand herbivores feeding under the canopy of Ali’s enormous green fir is so forcefully reminiscent of ancient Aegean and Mesopotamian iconography (cf. Figures 23-25 and 59-62 in the main text) that it almost seems Salih must have known and consciously imitated ancient art as he composed his tale in Serbo-Croatian. But that is simply impossible. The same is true also of Ali’s wonderful door-pillar. The only alternative conclusion seems to be that oral fable is ultimately a more conservative medium of imagery than even graven stone or gold. By 1934 the iconographic traditions of the ancient Aegean and Mesopotamia had so long ago died out that they might as well have belonged to another planet, and there is no reason to think that they were ever known in Salih’s region of the Balkans anyway. Yet in that year Salih Ugljanin still knew the green tree as the feeding and resting place of gentle herbivores, and the upright hewn stock marking the gateway of a sanctuary, as surely as if he had himself heard those motifs woven together in the pattern of the Two Trees’ story from some long-dead Sumerian or Minoan teller of tales.

A tradition of oral fable is in this way a veritable time machine, affording those like Salih Ugljanin who have achieved the intellectual discipline required to operate it a facility of cultural communication over prodigious spans of time.

With the two trees now doubly established in his tale, Salih went on to elaborate the cosmotactic adventure that belongs with them: Radovan takes the way indicated to him by Ibro the shepherd and eventually comes to the dry fir before Ali’s cave. There beside his gilt coven-tree Ali agrees to go to Korman for the beautiful girl Nastasija, and makes a last will and testament against the chance that he may not return alive from so hazardous an expedition into the lands of a traditional enemy. In the will Ali apportions his accumulated treasure to his forty companions and to Radovan according to their former service and friendship to him.

This act of positive, benevolent reciprocity completed at the place of the hewn wood, Ali proceeds to Korman, where his mission is one of negative reciprocity, i.e., retribution and vengeance: In Korman Ali finds his lost sister and recaptures her; then he captures the King’s daughter, Nastasija, and plunders the King’s treasury, even as in Ali’s youth the King of Korman had plundered Ali’s wealth and female kin.

Thus Ali metes out to the ogreish King of Korman the same abuse which he and his people had earlier suffered at the hands of that ogre. The cosmotactic dénouement (in its characteristically South Slavic form) follows: Coming home from Korman, Ali dissolves his band of forty thieves, marries Nastasija (who is happy to marry him), and returns to live in a normal, sociable manner as a respected citizen in his native community. Thus Ali discharges the cosmotactic mission which Radovan transferred to him from the more exalted officers of the empire, and so finally sets aright the disorders of a world which he did not create.

Omer Hrnjica

Salih had numerous other multiforms of the Two Trees’ story in his repertory of tales. Some of these are discussed in the Preface to this book; another concerned the Dioskouroi of the Muslim epic tradition in Serbo-Croatian, Mujo and Halil Hrnjica, and Mujo’s son Omer who once fought off a marauding band of Hungarians from the cover of dry wood...103

A group of thirty maidens led by an especially attractive, nubile young woman named Mejra Bojičić goes to reap a field of ripe wheat. The field lies in an exposed position on the Hungarian border, and so Mejra’s brother Ali with thirty-two comrades-in-arms accompanies the girls to keep watch over them while they work. Mujo Hrnjica hears of the reaping-party, and sends his twelve-year-old son Omer to work beside Mejra for the sport of it. Omer goes, carrying his uncle Halil’s flint-lock rifle:

Beneath a dry fir Omer put off his clothes and laid down his arms, then took up a steel scythe and began to cut beside Mejra. So together they reaped the fine wheat.

Omer and Mejra are famous lovers in South Slavic lyric and balladic tradition. By making them reap together in the wheatfield, Salih succinctly established the requisite ideational nexus of food and potential progeny, and then moved on to a scene of ogre-taming and retribution at the dry tree:

No sooner had they found the rhythm of their work than the mountain resounded and the Prince of Zadar appeared with his thousand fiends. Ali and his men were fast asleep in the deep shade, and so the Prince captured and bound them, and took them away as prisoners onto the mountain. Then the Prince caught sight of the girls in the wheat, and commanded his troop: “Forward, dirty Magyars! Let us seize the Turks’ girls where they are reaping the fine wheat!” They rushed headlong down the mountain toward the girls. But the Sirdar’s son Omer threw down his steel scythe, reached for his far-sounding rifle, and fought from behind the dry fir. There he slew two and twenty of the enemy.

Omer bears all the usual traits of the cutting, ogre-slaying, cosmotactic hero whom one expects to find acting out the routine of vengeance at the dry wood. Even the kind of fire-arm he fights with, his uncle’s elaborately mounted and inlaid Turkish cevherdar bespeaks the wielder of the hewn wood in contrast to his dangerously but less potently armed Christian ogres, the Prince of Zadar and his Hungarian troop, who wound Omer with a much less elegant, crudely hafted weapon, the şeşhane, a kind of long rifle.

But Omer in turn was wounded with fierce wounds, two of them inflicted by the enemies’ long rifles. Yet he did not cry out, nor did the mountain echo with his complaint. He only took Mejra Bojičić and fled with her up the mountain till he came to a green fir. There beneath the green fir he sat down, and Mejra took him in her lap. He cried then, and the whole mountain echoed the sound.

So Omer escapes from the strict reciprocity of giving and taking blow for blow with an uncivilized enemy whom he prevents from lawlessly taking away his food and his women at the dry tree to the gratuitous sanctuary of the green tree. There in the shade of the green wood the two herbivores (wheat-eaters) Omer and Mejra rest, while Mejra gently entertains the wounded Omer. It is a scene of great tenderness given and received without thought of price or exchange. Yet it is also a scene frought with mortal danger (as the locality of the green wood must be), because Omer is badly wounded and the listener must wonder, as do Mujo and Halil later in the tale, whether Omer will survive or die. Uncertainty and lack of measure or rule permeate every event here at the green tree in the wilderness, even Mejra’s effort to summon help:

Then Omer said to Mejra, “Oh, Mejra, Bojičić’s sister! Take my uncle’s flint-lock and load it. Aim it toward Kladuša and fire it, that my uncle and the Sirdar may hear it and help me this day!” Mejra loaded the piece, but her woman’s hand did not know the right measure and she filled it too full of powder. When she took aim at the town of Kladuša and put fire to the flint-lock it exploded and the whole mountain groaned. Mujo’s glass windows trembled from the shock.

Ali Vrhovac

Salih Ugljanin’s knowledge of the Two Trees’ story was not exceptional among singers of epic tales in Serbo-Croatian, even though his choice and concatenations of nominal motifs were sometimes startlingly unusual. Milman Parry’s collecting in northern Bosnia, at the opposite extreme from Novi Pazar in the geographic range of Serbo-Croatian oral epos in 1934, produced several multiforms of the story. A young singer named Ćamil Kulenović sang one of those multiforms for Parry’s recording apparatus in the town of Bihać. Situated in the Bosanska Krajina, Bihać was some two hundred miles distant from Novi Pazar, separated from it by very mountainous terrain over the whole distance, and was demographically quite distinct from Novi Pazar and its province of the Sandžak. The degree of nominal dissimilarity between Salih Ugljanin’s multiforms and Ćamil Kulenović’s was proportionately great, but the story of the Two Trees was nevertheless generically the same story in Bihać as it was in Novi Pazar.

Ćamil’s tale, Parry text No. 1976,104 ran as follows: Mustapha, governor of a Muslim border province called the Lika, sits in his council-chamber surrounded by his liegemen. But one of his men, Ali Vrhovac, is absent. Tattered and burnt from battle, one of Ali’s Christian servants enters the council-chamber and announces that a traditional Christian enemy of the Lika named Captain Gal has attacked Ali’s demesne at Vrhovi with a corps of militia and taken Ali and his lady prisoners. He accuses Mustapha of betraying Ali to Captain Gal for a carriage-load of ducats. Mustapha’s other liegemen are disposed to believe this allegation, and one by one they leave in anger to go and verify the facts of the matter for themselves.

Left alone with only an ensign to attend him, Mustapha also decides to go to Vrhovi, but his horse will not move from the place where he mounts it in his own courtyard. He exchanges horses with his ensign, but the same thing happens again. Then a wood-nymph calls to Mustapha from a mountain to the south to tell him that he has been falsely accused, and that the false accusation is the cause of his immobility. He may not move until he is cleared of it. She describes to Mustapha how at Vrhovi his doubting liegemen have one by one fought their way into the camp of Captain Gal’s marauding troop, and while fighting have shouted to the captive Ali their question whether he was betrayed into captivity. When Ali has vindicated Mustapha to all seventy of them, Mustapha’s horse is released from its mystical paralysis, and Mustapha rides with his ensign to Vrhovi. There he sees the carnage left behind by Captain Gal’s force as it fought and withdrew toward its own territory beyond the frontier. Ćamil’s verses 720-723 describe Mustapha’s sighting of the enemy:

Kroz Vrhove protišće goluba,
pa on krenu sentu Velebitu,
do bunara i starca jablana,
đe je dundar Gale kapetana.
He pressed his dove-grey horse on through Vrhovi,
and turned then toward the frontier on Mount Velebit,
toward the well and agèd apple-tree
where Captain Gal’s horde was gathered.

Pursuing Captain Gal’s rapacious troop, Mustapha’s liegemen have overtaken and engaged it beside a well where stands a living tree. Mustapha and his ensign join in the fray too, but the fighting is useless and they soon retreat; the disunited Muslims are unprepared for the sustained, organized battle which they would have to fight in order to free Ali from the Captain’s superior force. Each of the Muslims has charged into the ranks of the enemy separately and without any concerted plan of attack. Ill-equipped, leaderless and disunited, they can do nothing effective to stop Captain Gal’s lawless taking of their comrade Ali’s person and chattels, nor can they make him pay a proper price in blood for his looting and mayhem at Vrhovi. One by one Mustapha’s men emerge from the mellay beaten and wounded. Each comes separately to Mustapha to beg his forgiveness for their former disrespect in doubting his honour. Without a word of reproach to any of them, Mustapha receives each of the seventy gently and forgivingly, and confers his blessing on each with the words:

Halal tebi od meneka bilo,
baš k’o mliko od tvoje matere.
My benediction be upon you; freely given,
may it nourish you like your mother’s milk.

Thus Ćamil’s green fruit-tree at the well in no-man’s land fulfills its prescribed function as a focus of disunity, suddenly alternating peril and kindness, and emotionally motivated, unreciprocal dealings between both friends and enemies. The motif of feeding appears on cue, if only in a simile, and the motif of hidden and discovered identity is present too in the enigma of whether Mustapha, the duly appointed regent of the Lika, is really his people’s defender or betrayer.

Having thus described the Muslim disaster at the green tree, Ćamil moved quickly on to the antidotal hewn wood. It was a rod of fir: Hurt and disheartened, the Muslims break off the skirmish and return to their homes, while Captain Gal withdraws with his captives and booty to his own lands beyond Mount Velebit.

The Muslims recuperate from their wounds for two months. Then a Muslim spy discovers and reports to Mustapha the whereabouts and condition of the prisoner Ali Vrhovac. In the words of the spy:

I was there and saw with my own eyes,    1015
oh my bey Mustapha, chief of all the Lika!
I saw my brother bound
in the courtyard of the Prince of Novi.
Across his knees he held a stake of fir,
and he wore nothing but breeches and a thin shirt,
bare-headed and barefoot.
The stake was pointed with a steel tip;
his hands were bound,
and heavy shackles on his legs.

The Christians mean to execute Ali Vrhovac by impaling him on the stake which they have made him hold.105 It is however a great error on their part to have equipped him with an instrument of hewn wood (no matter how much they intend it to his harm), because it introduces reciprocity into the tale. The nearer the cruel Christians come to executing Ali on the stake, the nearer the Muslims come to their moment of revenge for the injuries they have suffered. The Christians’ reported abuse of Ali infuriates Mustapha, who sets about relieving his captive subject by imitating Captain Gal’s method of border-raiding, and certain other Christian habits: Mustapha gathers a troop of fighting men to raid the Prince of Novi’s demesne where Ali is held prisoner. Mustapha’s wounded liegemen have recovered from their wounds and are eager to unite in this expedition under his command. The entire Muslim troop dresses in Christian disguises and proceeds into the Christians’ country. There on the road they meet a contingent of Christians that is taking Ali to the church which they intend should be his place of execution. Ali carries on his shoulder the stake for his own impalement.106

One of the Muslims, a famous blasphemer who is now disguised as a Christian priest (thus imitating the ogres who from the Muslim point of view were most typical of Christendom), insinuates himself into the executional procession on the pretext of securing Ali’s conversion to Christianity so as mockingly to absolve him of his sins before death. The rest of the Muslims, still disguised as lay Christians, join the procession as though to witness the execution.

Fig. 67. Detail of a prospect of Papa (Hungary) in: Georg Braun von Hogenberg, Civitates orbis terrarum, Bruxelles, 1618, showing a modern
Balkan devolution of the retributive use of hewn wood.

The procession reaches the church, where the stake is fixed upright in the ground before the church door. When the blasphemous rites of conversion and absolution are finished, the executioners raise Ali to impale him on the stake. This is the signal to the Muslims to throw off their disguises and attack the Christians. They rout the Christians and free Ali, who himself kills Captain Gal by cutting him in two through the waist. The Muslims loot the district and return to their own lands laden with booty.

By united action, close imitation of the original ogre Captain Gal, and well-timed concealment and revelation of their identity, Ćamil’s Muslim heroes rejoin Ali, their cutter and bearer of hewn wood, to their own community, and return enriched to their own country. Ćamil Kulenović told the story of the Two Trees fully and well, though he was a young story-teller of still only modest accomplishment.

The most able singer of epos whom Milman Parry found in the Balkans, and the man who sang the longest verse tales ever collected in a Slavic language, was a Montenegrin peasant farmer, butcher, and long-time soldier named Avdo Međedović, from the district of Bijelo Polje. The difference in ability between the two epic bards Ćamil Kulenović and Avdo Međedović was not directly correlated with either the wholeness nor the scope which they gave to the pattern of the Two Trees in their tales. Excellence in story-telling is a matter of performance, not of what is performed. Avdo did what many Balkan singers of epic did when he incorporated the two trees with almost telegraphic brevity in the last six verses of The Wedding of Smailagić Meho, an epic tale which in his performance in 1935 had a grand total of 12,311 verses.107 The final six verses with the two trees in them were part of a benediction that was the customary ending of an epic performance in the Serbo-Croatian tradition. In it the story-teller wished pleasure and comfort upon his listeners: pleasure from his narration, and comfort from the hand of God (Christian or Muslim). The eight lines of Avdo’s benediction were composed stichically, but arranged in four periods of two verses each, or four logical (though not rhythmic) couplets.

Od mene Vi malo razgovora,
a od Boga dugo i široko. 12305
Vita jelo, pouzdigni grane,
svoj gospodi da su zdravo glave!
Zelen bore, pomogni nam Bože!
Amin, Bože, hoće ako Bog da.
Po sad doba da se veselimo, 12310
veselimo i pesme pevamo.108

I give you for my part a little conversation,
and may God bless you with longevity and plenty.    12305
Lift thy branches, oh thou pliant fir,
that all my lords may have good health and clear understanding!
And thou, green pine, help us, oh Lord!
So shall it be, if God wills; amen.
Now in this time let us be merry,    12310
merry with singing of songs.

The subjects of the first three couplets are explicitly men and God, alternating antiphonally from verse to verse in the first couplet, and from couplet to couplet thereafter. The subjects of the final, fourth couplet are again a complementary pair, human happiness and epic narration; this time a pair of human and divine properties rather than the beings themselves are referred to, since epic narration is here understood as the corpus of orally imparted traditional knowledge about God’s ordination and guidance of human affairs. The two trees in the second and third couplets respectively are (dry) fir and green pine. Like Salih Ugljanin’s pillar of fir and Ćamil Kulenović’s fir stake, Avdo’s fir also belongs to a context of human needs and human purpose as distinct from the green pine with its context of God’s inscrutable, preterhuman will. Schematically stated, the substance of the eight verses is as follows:

verse 12304 The bard’s power of benediction
verse 12305 Divine power of benefaction
verses 12306-7 Apparent human needs and human instruments
verses 12308-9 Inscrutable divine purpose and divine instruments
verse 12310 Present human pleasure
verse 12311 Past doings of men and preternaturals


Highly condensed references to the Two Trees’ story like the terminal verses of Avdo Međedović’s epic tale are typical of oral lyric poetry in Europe. Indeed, references to narrative patterns in lieu of narration are so typical of European oral traditional lyrics that one may justifiably call the lyric a referential genre of oral poetry. The archaic tradition of dainos in Lithuanian, for example, abounds in references to all sorts of stories, including the story of the Two Trees. The daina quoted in the translation below tells, for instance, of interference at a wedding by the Lithuanian sky-god and preterhuman hewer, Perkunas.

The poem begins with reference to a procedure for getting preternatural progeny (an attempted exogamic marriage of a tree with a star) and ends with an allusion to the holiday (St. John’s Day) that heralded the beginning of harvest (i.e., the getting of vegetable food) in the annual cycle of traditional peasant agrarian economy in Lithuania. The action belongs to a mythic time when the present order of the cosmos had not yet been established (stars might still contemplate marriage with trees); Perkunas cosmotactically hews down the would-be bride-groom to prevent such a monstrous alliance. The question stated and answered in the subsequent dialogue of the piece is how to coordinate marriage (i.e., wearing the white bridal gown) with food-getting by cultivation and cutting (with wooden-hafted tools) rather than by dependence on the green oak (bearer of wild nuts). Two high authorities, male (Perkunas) and female (the sun), collaborate to make the bereft bride give up the green wood and reconcile herself to the hewn:

Morning star lauded her wedding,
but Perkunas rode through the gate,
struck, felled the green oak.

—The oaken blood welled out,
splotched my spotless gown,
spattered my wreath.

Sun’s daughter wept
for three years as she gathered
together leaves that had withered.

—Where, O Mother mine,
shall I wash clean the gown?
Where wash the blood away?

—Young one, daughter, child,
go to that still pool
where the nine streams flow.

—Where, O Mother mine,
shall I dry out my clothes?
Where in the wind dry them?

-Young one, daughter, child,
in that still garden
where the nine roses bloom.

—When, O Mother mine,
shall I put on the gown?
Walk out in the white gown?

—Young one, daughter, child,
on that miracle day
of nine suns white above.109

This imaginary Lithuanian bride’s acquiescent reaction to the death of a transgressive lover is diametrically opposite to that of her Limba sister in Dauda Konteh’s tale “The Man Killed for a Banana.” The main personae of the Limba tale and the Lithuanian daina are the same: husband, supreme male authority who kills the husband, mother, and daughter. But the Limba women’s response to the same situation was all remorseless vengefulness, and the avenging woman moved away from the hewn tree to the green one, exactly counter to the submissive Lithuanian women’s progress from green to hewn. Limba and Lithuanian poets arranged the motival pieces of this story-pattern in different sequences and supplied the personae with different motivation for their acts, yet the same generic pattern of narrative informed them both.

The Lithuanian sky-god, hewer, and cosmotactic hero Perkunas regularly cuts down transgressive bridegrooms in the dainos. The green oak’s transgression was in attempting preternatural exogamy—choosing for his bride a star, a female of the wrong genus. Elsewhere the transgression is incest (morning star being daughter of the sun in this mythology, as seen in the preceding poem):

The moon wedded the sun
in the first springtime.

The sun rose in the dawn,
the moon abandoned her,

wandered alone, afar,
and loved the morning star.

Angered, Perkunas thundered
and cleft him with a sword:

—How could you dare to love
the daystar, drift away
in the night alone, and stray?110


Table of Appendices

Table of Volume Contents

Index of Whole Archive’s Contents