Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Folk Songs Cover Love And Other Nuisances




Skimming through the lyrics of Russian folk songs can be an educational and alarming activity. This is no innocent endeavor, as I learned browsing through the verses of "Po Donu Gulyayet Kazak Molodoi," or, "A Young Cossack Walks Along the Don."


Seems innocent enough, doesn't it? But this young Cossack is walking along the banks of the River Don when he happens upon a crying maiden. When he asks her why she has been crying, she tearfully replies: Tsyganka gadala, za ruchku brala (the Gypsy told my fortune and took me by the hand); Ne byt' tebe doma zamuzhnei zhenoi (there will be no home for you as a married woman); Potonesh, devitsa, potonesh, devitsa, Potonesh, devitsa v den' svad'by svoyei (You'll drown, maiden, you'll drown, maiden, you'll drown, maiden on the day of your wedding).


Moved by her tears, the Cossack tries to soothe the young girl, and we can all probably guess what happens next. Our gallant young lad tries to convince her that she is not going to drown. Just to prove it he convinces her to marry him, promising to build a long bridge over the river to save her from such a fate.


After a one verse courtship, during which the bridge is being built, the two are wed. But this song has no Hollywood ending. Just as the Cossack is escorting his new bride over the bridge, her horse stumbles and throws her into the river. As the song closes, we hear the young girl's dying words.


Sperva zakrichala: Proshchai, mat', otyets! (At first she cried, farewell mother and father!); vtoroi raz vskrichala: Proshchai, bely svet! (Secondly she cried, farewell, white light!); v trety vskrichala: Proshchai, mily moi. Naverno ne zhit' nam s toboi (Thirdly she cried: farewell, my love. It's unlikely we'll be living together).


Perhaps swimming lessons would have been a better investment.


Moving on to the list of contents, I went in search of more cheerful ballads. Many of the themes were as indigenous as can be expected, featuring the forest, the field, ill-fated love. There were some promising titles, among them "Zastavil Menya Muzh," ("My Husband Forced Me"), and "Vo Lesochke Komarochkov" ("In the Little Forest Are [Many] Little Mosquitoes." Note that the word "many" is implied in the title, because the word mosquito is in the genitive case).


I particularly enjoyed the title, "Ya s Komarikom Plyasala," or "I Danced With a Mosquito." But when I flipped to the lyrics I found a young girl is driven so crazy by a mosquito that she begs her mother for, no, not bug repellent, but an ax. In the next verse we find the girl singing, Pokatit'sya golova, or the head is rolling off. Now there is a song to which we can all relate.