The Ballad of Prince Marko and Maid Magdalena

Research a great thing, especially when it involves your wife’s grandmothers.

My historical fantasy, Charming Lies, needed a Bulgarian folk-song for an important scene, and what better song than the one sung by Pavlina’s great grandmother during the wheat harvest? This harvest song is supposed to be sung by two groups of women as they cut the wheat with their sickles. The rhythm of the song matches the bending-and-straightening rhythm of cutting wheat, and the groups can keep track of each other as they call-and-respond.

The story of the song is part of the much longer cycle of Prince Marko (Krali Marko). Marko was a historical person: a local lord over parts of what is now Serbia, Kosovo, and Macedonia when the area became part of the Ottoman Empire. He is remembered as an intermediary between the independent Slavic states (his father was co-ruler of the Serbian empire before its collapse) and the new Turkish overlords. He also, apparently, was popular with the ladies.

The song begins thusly:

Hark, Magda
Hark, Magdalena
Marko comes
Magda to carry off
He sent her roses
She sent him yellow weeds
This Magda took as a joke
But Marko, for truth.

A fun word here is otnosi (carry off). Bulgarian village tradition, as in many places on the Balkans and in Turkey, is for men to “steal” women. A man gathers together his male relatives and friends (svatvoni, or “marriage-party,” or perhaps “posse” would be a better translation) and assaults the home of his bride-to-be, whose own relatives defend her. These days the tradition lives on in a ritual where the groom has to pass a gauntlet of psychological and financial tasks set forth by the bride’s family, such as promising how much of the housework he will do, and putting money in her shoes.

Early pokes Magda, her mother
Early on holy Sunday.
Takes her to the high balcony
So she can see from above.

The word I translated as balcony (chardak) is more like an outdoor room or second-story porch.

“What is that in the field…stars?
And around the stars a bright moon rises?”
Spake, spake Magda the Beauty:
“lele male, lele stara male!
“Those are not true stars,
“That is Marko’s wedding party.
“That is not the bright moon, there.
“That is Marko, the groom.”

~The next part my grandmas-in-law couldn’t remember exactly, but anyway Magda pretends to be dead when Marko comes to carry her away~

Spake, spake the best man:
“Soon, quickly, you two speedy brothers-of-the-groom
“Give us the Fire Life-Burning
“To put down the shirt of Magda
“So we know does not fool us.”

They put the Fire Life-Burning there, but Magna did not move so much as a hand.

In order to determine whether she was really dead, Marko’s wedding-councilor (kum, or “best man” in my translation) asks the close male relatives of Marko (devera, or “brothers-of-the-groom”) to get painful magical crap to stick down Magda’s shirt, into her pazva, the place where she keeps things safe. I mean where she keeps her money.

Hm. Still creepy. Let’s back up. A pazva (related to “pazya,” to keep or save) is the place where you keep your important stuff, like money. A man’s pazva was in the sash around his waist, but a woman kept her stuff tucked between the collar of her woolen outer dress (sukman) and her cotton shirt.

So what Marko and his kum are doing is something like putting a snake into someone’s pocket. There’s a lot of important stuff in the general…area? But they aren’t stealing from or sexually harassing her…exactly.

Spake, spake the best man:
“Soon, quickly, you two speedy brothers-of-the-groom
“Give us the Snake Three-Headed
“To put down the shirt of Magda
“So we know she does not fool us.”

They put the Snake Three-Headed there, but Magda did not move so much as a hand.

Spake, Spake Marko, young Marko
“I beg, I beg, best man
“I will put my hand down her shirt
“Never can Magnda fool me then.”
Marko put his hand down her shirt
Then did Magda, below her upper lip, smile.

Spoke, spoke the mother of Magda:
“Alas Madga. Alas my beauty
How could you scorn the Fire Life-Burning
how could you scorn the Serpent, Three-Headed
and you could not scorn the hand of Marko?”

Awww. See what happened? After Marko and his kum put fire and snakes on Magda’s chest , she kept on pretending to be dead. But when he put his HAND down there…well.

Also a point of clarification: “below her upper lip” (mustak) is not a mustache, but the space between the upper lip and the nose (no, it isn’t the philtrum, either). You smile below that.

Keep scrolling for the original Bulgarian. Bonus points if you can spot the fossilized noun cases and Indo-European cognates! You can do it! Come on! Anybody?
Deli Magda
Deli Magdalena
Marko Prosi
Magda se otnosi
On i prashta kitka posilek
Ona nemu ot zhaltoto tsveki
Tova Magda za shega go znae
A Marko za istina.

Rano rani Magdinata maiko
Rano na sveta nedelya
Izkachise na visoki chardak
Ta razgleda nagore

Shto e pole…zvezdi utanalo
Ni stre zvezdi yasen mesets gree
Duma, duma Magda ubavitsa
Lele male, lele stara male!
Tova ne sa tiya sitni zvezdi
Tova sa si markovi svatovni
Tova ne e toya yasen mesets
Tova si e Marko mladozheniya.

Duma, duma kuma gospodina:
Skoro barzo dva barzi devera
Donesete ogan zhivozharets/ zmiya troeglava
Da pusnem Magde u pazvoni
Ne moi Magda umama da pravi.

Pa pusna ogin zhivozharets/zmiya troeglava, a Magda ni s noga ni s raka.

Duma, duma Marko mladi Marko:
Prosi, prosi kume gospodine
Da si braknem u pazvoni
Ne moe Magda umama da prai
Pa si brakna Marko u pazvoni
Pa se Magda pod mustak usmikhna.

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