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The Song of Igor's Campaign,
Igor son of Svyatoslav and grandson of Oleg

Translated by Vladimir Nabokov

Original of this text is located at the "Cossack page" #home1.gte.net/artiom/slovo/slovo.htm You can find another translation of "The Song of Igor's Campaign" at Russian History Home Page #www.dur.ac.uk/~dml0www/igorraid.html


Might it not become us, brothers, to begin in the diction of yore the stern tale 5 of the campaign of Igor, Igor son of Svyatoslav? Let us, however, begin this song in keeping with the happenings 10 of these times and not with the contriving of Boyan. For he, vatic Boyan if he wished to make a laud for 15 one, ranged in thought [like the nightingale] over the tree; like the gray wolf across land; 20 like the smoky eagle up to the clouds. For as he recalled, said he, the feuds of initial times, 25 "He set ten falcons upon a flock of swans, and the one first overtaken, sang a song first"— to Yaroslav of yore, 30 and to brave Mstislav who slew Rededya before the Kasog troops, and to fair Roman son of Svyatoslav. 35 To be sure, brothers, Boyan did not [really] set ten falcons upon a flock of swans: his own vatic fingers he laid on the live strings, 40 which then twanged out by themselves a paean to princes. So let us begin, brothers, 45 this tale- from Vladimir of yore to nowadays Igor. who girded his mind with fortitude, 50 and sharpened his heart with manliness; [thus] imbued with the spirit of arms, he led his brave troops against the Kuman land in the name of the Russian land.

Boyan apostrophized

O Boyan, nightingale of the times of old! If you were to trill [your praise of] these troops, 55 while hopping, nightingale, over the tree of thought; [if you were] flying in mind up to the clouds; [if] weaving paeans around these 60 times, [you were] roving the Troyan Trail, across fields onto hills; then the song to be sung of Igor, that grandson of Oleg [, would be]: 65 "No storm has swept falcons across wide fields; flocks of daws flee toward the 70 Great Don"; or you might intone thus, vatic Boyan, grandson of Veles: "Steeds neigh beyond the Sula; glory rings in Kiev; trumpets blare in Novgorod[-Seversk]; banners are raised in Putivl."

Vsievolod's speech

Igor waits for his dear brother Vsevolod. And Wild Bull Vsevolod [arrives and] says to him: "My one brother, one bright brightness, 75 you Igor! We both are Svyatoslav's sons. Saddle, brother, your swift steeds. As to mine, they are ready, saddled ahead, near Kursk; 80 as to my Kurskers, they are famous knights- swaddled under war-horns, nursed under helmets, 85 fed from the point of the lance; to them the trails are familiar, to them the ravines are known, the bows they have are strung tight, 90 the quivers, unclosed, the sabers, sharpened; themselves, like gray wolves, they lope in the field, seeking for themselves honor, and for their prince glory."

The Eclipse and Igor's speech

Then Igor glanced up at the bright sun and saw that from it with darkness 95 his warriors were covered. And Igor says to his Guards: "Brothers and Guards! It is better indeed to be slain than to be enslaved; 100 so let us mount, brothers, upon our swift steeds, and take a look at the blue Don." A longing consumed the prince's 105 mind, and the omen was screened from him by the urge to taste of the Great Don: 110 "For I wish," he said, "to break a lance on the limit of the Kuman field; with you, sons of Rus, I wish either to lay down my head or drink a helmetful of the Don."

Igor sets out; accumulation of omens

Then Igor set foot in the golden stirrup and rode out in the Champaign. The sun blocks his way with 115 darkness. Night, moaning ominously unto him, awakens the birds; the whistling of beasts 120 [arises?]; [stirring?] the daeva calls on the top of a tree, bids hearken the land unknown- the Volga, 125 and the [Azov] Seaboard, and the Sula country, and Surozh, and Korsun, and you, idol of Tmutorokan! Meanwhile by untrodden roads 130 the Kumans make for the Great Don; [their] wagons screak in the middle of night; one might say -- dispersed swans.

Igor rides on

Igor leads Donward his warriors. His misfortunes already are forefelt by the birds in the, oakscrub. 135 The wolves, in the ravines, conjure the storm. The erns with their squalling summon the beasts to the bones. The foxes yelp 140 at the vermilion shields. O Russian land, you are already behind the culmen! Long does the night keep 145 darkling. Dawn sheds its light. Mist has covered the fields. Stilled is the trilling of nightingales; the jargon of jackdaws has 150 woken. With their vermilion shields the sons of Rus have barred the great prairie, seeking for themselves honor, and for their prince glory.

The first engagement

Early on Friday they trampled the pagan Kuman troops and fanned out like arrows 155 over the field; they bore off fair Kuman maidens and, with them, gold, and brocades, and precious samites. 160 By means of caparisons, and mantlets, and furred cloaks of leather they started making plankings to plank marshes 165 and miry spots with all kinds of Kuman weaves. A vermilion standard, a white gonfalon, a vermilion penant of [dyed] 170 horsehair and a silver hilt [went] to [Igor] son of Svyatoslav.

Night, and dawn of Saturday

In the field slumbers Oleg's brave aerie: far has it flown! Not born was it to be wronged 175 either by falcon or hawk, or by you, black raven, pagan Kuman! Gzak runs like a gray wolf; Konchak lays out a track for him 180 to the Great Don. On the next day very early bloody effulgences herald the light. Black clouds come from the sea: 185 They want to cover the four suns, and in them throb blue lightnings. There is to be great thunder, there is to come rain in [the 190 guise of] arrows from the Great Don.

Saturday: the Kumans counter-attack

Here lances shall break, here sabers shall blunt against Kuman helmets on the river Kayala by the Great 195 Don. O Russian land, you are already behind the culmen! Now the winds, Stribog's 200 grandsons, in [the guise of] arrows waft from the sea against the brave troops of Igor! 205 The earth rumbles, the rivers run sludgily, dust covers the fields. The banners speak: "The Kumans are coming from the Don and from the sea 210 and from all sides!" The Russian troops retreat. The Fiend's children bar the field with their war cries; the brave sons of Rus bar it with their vermilion shields.

Vsevolod in battle

Fierce Bull Vsevolod! You stand your ground, you spurt arrows at warriors, you clang on helmets 215 with swords of steel. Wherever the Bull bounds, darting light from his golden helmet, there lie pagan Kuman heads: 220 cleft with tempered sabers are [their] Avar helmets- by you, Fierce Bull Vsevolod! What wound, brothers, can matter to one 225 who has forgotten honors and life, and the town of Chernigov -- golden throne of his fathers -- and of his dear beloved, 230 Gleb's fair daughter, the wonts and ways!

Recollections of Oleg's feuds

There have been the ages of Troyan; gone are the years of Yaroslav; there have been the campaigns of Oleg, 235 Oleg son of Svyatoslav. That Oleg forged feuds with the sword, and sowed the land with arrows. He sets foot in the golden 240 stirrup in the town of Tmutorokan: a similar clinking had been hearkened by the great Yaroslav of long ago; 245 and Vladimir son of Vsevolod every morn [that he heard it] stopped his ears in Chernigov. As to Boris son of Vyacheslav, 250 vainglory brought him to judgment and on the Kanin [river] spread out a green pall, for the offense against Oleg, the brave young prince. And from that Kayala 255 Svyatopolk had his father conveyed-- cradled between Hungarian pacers [tandemwise]- to St. Sophia in Kiev. 260 Then, under Oleg, child of Malglory, sown were and sprouted discords; perished the livelihood of Dazhbog's grandson 265 among princely feuds; human ages dwindled. Then, across the Russian land, seldom did plowmen shout [hup-hup to their horses] 270 but often did ravens croak as they divided among themselves the cadavers, while jackdaws announced in their own jargon that they were about to fly to the feed. Thus it was in those combats and in those campaigns, but such a battle had never been heard of.

Termination of battle

From early morn to eve, and from eve to dawn, tempered arrows fly, sabers resound against helmets, 275 steel lances crack. In the field unknown, midst the Kuman land, the black sod under hooves was sown with bones and irrigated with gore. 280 As grief they came up throughout the Russian land. What dins unto me, what rings unto me? Early today, before the 285 effulgences, Igor turns back his troops: he is anxious about his dear brother Vsevolod. They fought one day; 290 they fought another; on the third, toward noon, Igor's banners fell.

Defeat and Lamentations

Here the brothers parted on the bank of the swift Kayala. Here was a want of blood-wine; here the brave sons of Rus 295 finished the feast- got their in-laws drunk, and themselves lay down In defense of the Russian land. The grass droops with 300 condolements and the tree with sorrow bends to the ground. For now, brothers, a cheerless tide has set in; 305 now the wild has covered the strong; Wrong has risen among the forces of Dazhbog's grandson; in the guise of a maiden [Wrong] has stepped into 310 Troyan's land; she clapped her swan wings on the blue sea by the Don, [and] clapping, decreased rich times. 315 The strife of the princes against the pagans has come to an end, for brother says to brother: 320 "This is mine, and that is mine too," and the princes have begun to say of what is small: "This is big," while against their own selves 325 they forge discord, [and] while from all sides with victories the pagans enter the Russian land. 330 O, far has the falcon gone, slaying birds: to the sea! But Igor's brave troops 335 cannot be brought back to life. In their wake the Keener has wailed, and Lamentation has overrun the Russian land, shaking the embers in the 340 inglehorn. The Russian women have started to weep, repeating "Henceforth our dear husbands cannot be thought of by [our] 345 thinking, nor mused about by [our] musing, nor beheld with [our] eyes; as to gold and silver none at all shall we touch!" 350 And, brothers, Kiev groaned in sorrow, and so did Chernigov in adversity; anguish spread flowing over the Russian land; abundant woe made its way midst the Russian land, while the princes forged discord against their own selves, [and] while the pagans, with victories prowling over the Russian land, took tribute of one vair from every homestead.

Victories of Svyatoslav III recalled

All because the two brave sons of Svyatoslav, Igor and Vsevolod, stirred up the virulence 355 that had been all but curbed by their senior, dread Svyatoslav, the Great [Prince] of Kiev, [who kept the Kumans] in dread. He beat down [the Kumans] With 360 his mighty troops and steel swords; invaded the Kuman land; leveled underfoot 365 hills and ravines; muddied rivers and lakes; drained torrents and marshes; and the pagan Kobyaka, out of the Bight of the Sea, from among the great iron Kuman troops, 370 he plucked like a tornado, and Kobyaka dropped in the town of Kiev, in the guard-room of Svyatoslav!

Igor blamed

Now the Germans, and the Venetians, now the Greeks, and the Moravians 375 sing glory to Svyatoslavm, but chide Prince Igor, for he let abundance sink 380 to the bottom of the Kayala, [and] filled up Kuman rivers with Russian gold. Now Igor the prince has switched 385 from a saddle of gold to a thrall's saddle. Pined away have the ramparts of towns, and merriment 390 has dropped.

Svyatoslav's dream

And Svyatoslav saw a troubled dream in Kiev upon the hills: "This night, from eventide, they dressed me, "he said, "with 395 a black pall on a bedstead of yew. They ladled out for me blue wine mixed with bane. From 400 the empty quivers of pagan tulks they rolled great pearls onto my breast, and caressed me. 405 Already the traves lacked the master-girder in my gold-crested tower! All night, from eventide, demon ravens croaked. 410 On the outskirts of Plesensk there was a logging sleigh, and it was carried to the blue sea!"

The Boyars explain their sovereign's dream

And the boyars said to the Prince: "Already, Prince, grief has enthralled the mind; for indeed two falcons 415 have flown off the golden paternal, throne in quest of the town of Tmutorokan -- or at least to drink a helmetful 420 of the Don. Already the falcons' winglets have been clipped by the pagans' sabers, and the birds themselves 425 entangled in iron meshes." Indeed, dark it was on the third day [of battle]: two suns were murked, 430 both crimson pillars were extinguished, and with them both young moons, Oleg and Svyatoslav, were veiled with darkness and sank in the sea. 435 "On the river Kayala darkness has covered the light. Over the Russian land the Kumans have spread, like a brood of pards, 440 and great turbulence imparted to the Hin. "Already disgrace has come down upon glory. 445 Already thralldom has crashed down upon freedom. Already the daeva has swooped down upon the land. And lo! Gothic fair maids 450 have burst into song on the shore of the blue sea: chinking Russian gold, they sing demon times; they lilt vengeance for Sharokan; and already we, [your] Guards, hanker after mirth."

Svyatoslav's speech

Then the great Svyatoslav let fall a golden word mingled with tears, and he said: 455 "O my juniors, Igor and Vsevolod! Early did you begin to worry with swords the Kuman land, 460 and seek personal glory; but not honorably you triumphed for not honorably you shed pagan blood. Your brave hearts are forged of hard 465 steel and proven in turbulence; [but] what is this you have done to my silver hoarness! "Nor do I see any longer 470 the sway of my strong, and wealthy, and multimilitant brother Yaroslav — with his Chernigov boyars, 475 with his Moguts, and Tatrans, and Shelbirs, and Topchaks, and Revugs, and Olbers; for they without bucklers, with knives in the legs of their boots, 480 vanquish armies with war cries, to the ringing of ancestral glory. "But you said: Let us be heroes on our own, let us by ourselves grasp the 485 anterior glory and by ourselves share the posterior 490 one. Now is it so wonderful, brothers, for an old man to grow young? When a falcon has moulted, he drives birds on high: he does not allow any harm to befall his nest; but here is the trouble: princes are of no help to me."

The Author apostrophizes contemporaneous prnces

Inside out have the times turned. Now in Rim [people] scream under Kuman sabers, 495 and Volodimir [screams] under wounding blows. Woe and anguish to you, [Volodimir] son of Gleb! Great prince Vsevolod! Do you not think of flying here from 500 afar to safeguard the paternal golden throne? For you can with your oars scatter in drops the Volga, 505 and with your helmets scoop dry the Don. If you were here, a female slave would fetch one nogata, 510 and a male slave, one rezana; for you can shoot on land live bolts- [these are] the bold sons of Gleb! 515 You turbulent Rurik, and [you] David! Were not your men's gilt helmets afloat on blood? Do not your brave knights roar 520 like bulls wounded by tempered sabers in the field unknown? Set your feet, my lords, in your stirrups of gold to avenge the wrong of our time, 525 the Russian land, and the wounds of Igor, turbulent son of Svyatoslav. Eight-minded Yaroslav of Galich! You sit high on your gold-forged throne; 530 you have braced the Hungarian mountains with your iron troops; you have barred the [Hungarian] king's 535 path; you have closed the Danube's gates, hurling weighty missiles over the clouds, 540 spreading your courts to the Danube. Your thunders range over lands; you open Kiev's gates; from the paternal golden throne you shoot at sultans 545 beyond the lands. Shoot [your arrows], lord, at Konchak, the pagan slave, to avenge the Russian land, and the wounds of Igor, 550 turbulent son of Svyatoslav! And you, turbulent Roman, and Mstislav! A brave thought 555 carries your minds to deeds. On high you soar to deeds in your turbulence, like the falcon that rides the winds as he strives in turbulence 560 to overcome the bird. For you have iron breastplates under Latin helmets; these have made the earth rumble, and many nations- 565 Hins, Lithuanians, Yatvangians, Dermners, and Kumans- have dropped their spears and bowed their heads beneath those steel swords. 570 But already, [O] Prince Igor, the sunlight has dimmed, and, not goodly, the tree sheds its foliage. 575 Along the Ros and the Sula the towns have been distributed; and Igor's brave troops cannot be brought back to life! The Don, Prince, calls you, 580 and summons the princes to victory. The brave princes, descendants of Oleg, have hastened to fight. 585 Ingvar and Vsevolod, and all three sons of Mstislav, six-winged [hawks?] of no mean brood! Not by victorious sorts did you grasp your patrimonies. 590 Where, then, are your golden helmets, and Polish spears, and shields? Bar the gates of the prairie with your sharp arrows to avenge the Russian land and the wounds of Igor, turbulent son of Svyatoslav. No longer indeed does the Sula flow in silvery streams for [the defense of] the town of Pereyaslavl; and the Dvina, too, flows marsh-like for the erstwhile dreaded townsmen of Polotsk to the war cries of pagans.

Izyaslav recalled

Alone Izyaslav son of Vasilko made his sharp swords ring against Lithuanian helmets- [only] to cut down the glory 595 of his grandsire Vseslav, and himself he was cut down by Lithuanian swords under [his] vermilion shields, [and fell] on the gory grass 600 [as if?] with a beloved one upon a bed And [Boyan] said: "Your Guards, Prince, birds have hooded with their 605 wings and beasts have licked up their blood:' Neither your brother Bryachislav nor your other one—Vsevolod—was there; 610 thus all alone you let your pearly soul drop out of your brave body through your golden gorget.

Conclusion of Apostrophe

Despondent are the voices; drooped has merriment; 615 [only?] blare the town trumpets. Yaroslav, and all the descendants of Vseslav! The time has come 620 to lower your banners, to sheathe your dented swords. For you have already departed from the ancestral glory; for with your feuds 625 you started to draw the pagans onto the Russian land, onto the livelihood of Vseslav. Indeed, because of those 630 quarrels violence came from the Kuman land.

Vseslav's fate recalled

In the seventh age of Troyan, Vseslav cast lots for the damsel he wooed. By subterfuge, 635 propping himself upon mounted troops, he vaulted toward the town of Kiev and touched with the staff [of his lance] the Kievan golden throne. 640 Like a fierce beast he leapt away from them [the troops?], at midnight, 645 out of Belgorod, having enveloped himself in a blue mist. Then at morn, he drove in his battle axes, 650 opened the gates of Novgorod, shattered the glory of Yaroslav, [and] loped like a wolf to the Nemiga from Dudutki. On the Nemiga the spread sheaves 655 are heads, the flails that thresh are of steel, lives are laid out on the threshing floor, souls are winnowed from bodies. Nemiga's gory banks are not 660 sowed goodly- sown with the bones of Russia's sons. 665 Vseslav the prince judged men; as prince, he ruled towns; but at night he prowled in the guise of a wolf. From Kiev, prowling, he reached, 670 before the cocks [crew], Tmutorokan. The path of Great Hors, as a wolf, prowling, he crossed. For him in Polotsk 675 they rang for matins early at St. Sophia the bells; but he heard the ringing in Kiev. Although, indeed, he had 680 a vatic soul in a doughty body, he often suffered calamities. Of him vatic Boyan once said, with sense, in the tag: 685 "Neither the guileful nor the skillful, neither bird [nor bard], can escape God's judgment." Alas! The Russian land shall moan recalling her first years and first princes! 690 Vladimir of yore, he, could not be nailed to the Kievan hills. Now some of his banners have gone to Rurik and others to David, but their plumes wave in counterturn. Lances hum on the Dunay. The voice of Yaroslav's daughter is heard; like a cuckoo, [unto the field?] unknown, early she calls.

Yaroslavna's incantation

"I will fly, like a cuckoo," she says, "down the Dunay. I will dip my beaver sleeve 695 in the river Kayala. I will wipe the bleeding wounds on the prince's hardy body." Yaroslav's daughter early weeps, in Putivl on the rampart, repeating: 700 "Wind, Great Wind! Why, lord, blow perversely? Why carry those Hinish dartlets on your light winglets 705 against my husband's warriors? Are you not satisfied to blow on high, up to the clouds, rocking the ships upon the blue 710 sea? Why, lord, have you dispersed my gladness all over the feather grass?" Yaroslav's daughter early weeps, in Putivl on the rampart, 715 repeating: "O Dnepr, famed one! You have pierced stone hills through the Kuman land. 720 You have lolled upon you Svyatoslav's galleys as far as Kobyaka's camp. Loll up to me, lord, my husband that I may not send my tears seaward thus early." 725 Yaroslav's daughter early weeps, in Putivl on the rampart, repeating: 730 "Bright and thrice-bright Sun! To all you are warm and comely; Why spread, lord, your scorching rays on [my] husband's warriors; [why] in the waterless field parch their bows with thirst, close their quivers with anguish?"

Igor's escape

The sea plashed at midnight; waterspouts advance in mists; God [?] points out to Igor the way from the Kuman land 735 to the Russian land, to the paternal golden throne. The evening glow has faded: Igor sleeps; Igor keeps vigil; 740 Igor in thought measures the plains from the Great Don to the Little Donets; [bringing] a horse at midnight, 745 Ovlur whistled beyond the river: he bids Igor heed— Igor is not to be [held in bondage]. [Ovlur] called, 750 the earth rumbled, the grass swished, the Kuman tents stirred. Meanwhile, like an ermine, Igor has sped to the reeds, 755 and [settled] upon the water like a white duck. He leaped upon the swift steed, and sprang off it, [and ran on,] like a demon wolf, and sped to the meadowland of 760 the Donets, and, like a falcon, flew up to the mists, killing geese 765 and swans, for lunch, and for dinner, and for supper. And even as Igor, like a falcon, flew, 770 Vlur, like a wolf, sped, shaking off by his passage the cold dew; for both had worn out 775 their swift steeds. Says the Donets: "Prince Igor! Not small is your magnification, and Konchak's detestation, and the Russian land's 780 gladness." Igor says: "O Donets! Not small is your magnification: 785 you it was who lolled a prince on [your] waves; who carpeted for him with green grass your silver banks; 790 who clothed him with warm mists under the shelter of the green tree; who had him guarded 795 by the golden-eye on the water, the gulls on the currents, the [crested] black ducks on the winds. 800 Not like that," says [Igor], "is the river Stugna: endowed with a meager stream, having fed [therefore] on alien rills and runners, she rent between bushes a youth, prince Rostislav, imprisoning him. 805 On the Dnepr's dark bank Rostislav's mother weeps the youth. Pined away have the flowers with condolement, and the tree has been bent to 810 the ground with sorrow." No chattering magpies are these: on Igor's trail Gzak and Konchak come riding. 815 Then the ravens did not caw, the grackles were still, the [real] magpies did not chatter; only the woodpeckers, in the osiers 820 climbing, with taps marked [for Igor] the way to the river. The nightingales 825 with gay songs announce the dawn. Says Gzak to Konchak: "Since the falcon to his nest is 830 flying, let us shoot dead the falcon's son with our gilded arrows." Says Konchak to Gza [sic]: "Since the falcon to his nest is flying why, let us entoil the falconet by means of a fair maiden." And says Gzak to Konchak: "if we entoil him by means of a fair maiden, neither the falconet, nor the fair maiden, shall we have, while the birds will start to beat us in the Kuman field."

Igor's return

Said Boyan, song-maker of the times of old, [of the campaigns] of the kogans -- 835 Svyatoslav, Yaroslav, Oleg: "Hard as it is for the head to be without shoulders bad it is for the body to be without head," -- 840 for the Russian land to be without Igor. The sun shines in the sky: Prince Igor is on Russian soil. Maidens sing on the Danube; 845 [their?] voices weave across the sea to Kiev. Igor rides up the Borichev [slope] 850 to the Blessed Virgin of the Tower; countries rejoice, cities are merry.


After singing a song to the old princes one must then sing to the young: Glory to Igor son of Svyatoslav; 855 to Wild Bull Vsevolod; to Vladimir son of Igor! Hail, princes and knights fighting for the Christians against the pagan troops! 860 To the princes glory, and to the knights [glory]-Amen.

Last-modified: Fri, 08 May 1998 04:28:46 GMT
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