Date of writing: December 3, 1934
STORY. Musa Keserđija drinking wine at the tavern in Stamboul reflects that he has served the Sultan nine years without reward and resolves to leave for the level coastland, build himself a tower, and waylay the priests, the pilgrims, and the merchants.
This he does, and in vain the Sultan sends against him first his best heroes and then Husein Vezir. Musa disperses the army of Husein, captures him alive, strips him of his beard, and sends him back with it to the Sultan. On his arrival Husein tells the Sultan that no living hero can destroy Musa; but Ćuprilić vezir says that he can be destroyed by Marko, who is now in prison. The Sultan feels little hope at this, for, he says, Marko has been a year in prison and his bones must already have rotted. But Ćuprilić finds him alive, though in a hideous state, takes him to a barber and then to the Sultan, who promises Marko whatever he wishes if he slays Musa. Marko points out that after a year in prison he is in no condition for such a combat, but must rest in a tavern for a month.
At the end of the month the Sultan again asks him if he is ready for the combat. Marko then asks for a piece of dry wood nine years old from the attic. This he squeezes and bursts, but without any sign of water. Marko then says that he must stay another month in the tavern. After this time he again makes the test, the wood bursts, and three drops of water spurt forth. Marko says that he is now ready for the combat, and goes to the blacksmith Novak to have a blade forged.
A week later he returns for the blade and asks Novak if he has ever forged a better, and if he may try it. At Novak's bidding he tries the blade upon the anvil and cuts the anvil half through. He asks Novak again if he has ever forged a better sword. Novak answers that he had forged a better, for a better hero, for Musa, when he left for the coastland. When Musa tried the blade he cut through the whole anvil and the anvil block. Marko tells Novak to hold out his hand that may be paid, cuts his arm off at his shoulder, and gives him a hundred ducats to buy wine. He goes to the Sultan who welcomes him and has Šarac20 prepared for him. Šarac dances with joy at the sight of his master.
Marko then sets out and seeks Musa, whom he finds at the pass of rugged Glačanik Musa is seated upon his horse with his legs crossed and is tossing his mace to the clouds and catching it as it falls. They meet. Musa summons Marko to step aside from his path, and Marko makes the same summons to Musa. Musa hurls his mace, which Marko catches and tosses upon the grass. Marko then draws his sword and they fight with swords until these are broken. They then seize one another and wrestle until noon. There is froth upon their mouths: on the mouth of Musa white froth, on the mouth of Marko white froth with blood.
Musa throws Marko and sits upon his chest, whereupon Marko calls upon his vila to aid him. The vila answers him and tells him that she had warned him not to fight on Sunday. Musa looks up when he hears the vila, and at this moment Marko draws a hidden knife and rips Musa open from the belt to the throat. With difficulty he gets free of the dead body and looks at the heart. There are three serpents in it, one wearied, the second barely awake, and the third still sleeping a dead sleep. This serpent when wakened tells Marko to thank God that he had slept deeply, since he would otherwise have destroyed Marko. Marko laments that he has slain a better hero than himself, cuts off the head of Musa, and returns to Stamboul. There he flings the head of Musa before the Sultan, who leaps up in terror. Marko tells him not to be afraid, and asks him what he would have done had he seen the living head. The Sultan gives great treasure to Marko, who then returns to his castle and to his agèd mother.
The poem "Marko Kraljević i Musa Keserđija" was published by Vuk Karadžić, to whom it was dictated by Tešan Podrugović of Gacko [An English translation of this text is in the Appendices]. It has probably been the most popular of all the songs of the Marko cycle, and the one which has most often been printed in the school readers and in the pjesmarice published in cheap editions for popular sale. Nikola stated that he had learned the song from his uncle Đuro, but when I later questioned him he admitted that he had also read the poem in a little pjesmarica when he was in the army. I asked him then if he had given me the song as his uncle sang it or as he had read it, and he said that he had written it as he heard it from his uncle, with the possible exception of a few verses from the pjesmarica. This is probably so (it should be stated at this point that no statement made by any singer can be simply taken at its face value; as many later cases will make clear).
The poem is still a very popular one in Hercegovina. Velija Šetka offered it of his own accord in a very full form at Pileta (Text no. 7). We likewise have the poem from Nikola's uncle Vlaho (Text no. 18), whom we asked for it; from Vlaso [recte Vaso] Gligorević, who sang it of his own accord on Ivan Planina (border of Hercegovina and Bosnia, Text no. 274a) [Text No. 274a will be found in the Appendices]; from Dimitar Arsić of Aleksandrovo (near Skoplje, and thus near Kačanik), whom we asked for it (sung Text no. 470); and finally from Ilija Mandarić in the Lika (Text no. 517) whom I asked to sing it, since he said that he had learned it by reading. There are also versions in the Matica hrvatska (I,2,42) from the island Šipan and (I,2,43) from Oriovac in Slavonia; in Grčić from Sinj; and in Tomić (page 187) from Veles in Macedonia.21
A comparison of the first lines of Nikola's song with the first lines of the text of Podrugović shows that Nikola indeed made use of a pjesmarica. I even suspect him of having consulted the pjesmarica between our first and second meetings so that he could have an old song to sing for us, and I shall ask him at the right moment.
The principle whereby the use of printed texts can be detected in the songs is the converse of the principle whereby no two singers ever sing the same song alike. All my observations of the poetry so far have, without exception, pointed to the conclusion that a singer who learns a song from another singer makes his own version more or less from the same themes (of the theme much must be said further on, and a suitable classification of them devised) but almost altogether out of his own verses. There are, it is true, certain cases where the verses will be identical: