Ukrainian Folk Songs and the Danube

The Danube has been a recurring theme within Ukrainian folk songs. These folk songs are divided into different categories expressing the common experiences, history and daily lives of the Ukrainian people and manifest human emotions. These experiences cover the entire life span, and it is probably because of the universal content and the artful clarity of expression that these folk songs have survived for many centuries. Different rhetorical figures, such as epithet, repetition and metaphors are often used in combination with alliteration, assonance and onomatopoeia in these folk songs.

One category of Ukrainian folk songs is songs about soldiers and recruits. These folk songs developed from old Cossack songs and contain references both to different historical periods and to the lives of the Cossacks. The themes are concerning the emotions associated with going to war and the parting with one’s family. These folk songs have inspired compositors such as Joseph Haydn, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Ludwig van Beethoven.

In Ukrainian folks songs, and especially in folk songs over the lives of soldiers, such as “Їхав козак за Дунай” (Cossack rode beyond Danube), the Danube is used both literary and as a metaphor. The Cossack is both literary about to cross the Danube to go to war, and the Danube is also to be considered a metaphor for a mystical river separating the two worlds of the real world and life on one hand and the afterlife and life after death on the other. To cross the Danube, thus, metaphorically becomes a symbol for to go to the other world or to die. The Cossack is about to ride and cross the Danube, and was risking facing death in battle and thus never to return. Also, to drink water from the Danube is used as a metaphor for losing one’s memory and forgetting everything. This can be understood in the folk song “Тихий Дунай” (Silent Danube). Both these folk songs exemplify repetition, use of metaphors and other rhetorical figures, and give insight into the lives of the Ukrainian people in times of hardship, war and suffering. Unfortunately, this hardship and suffering is not far from the lives of people in parts of Ukraine today.

Їхав козак за Дунай Cossack rode over Danube
Їхав козак за Дунай, сказав: “Дівчино, прощай!Ти, конику вороненький, неси та гуляй!”
Постій, постій, мій козаче, твоя дівчина плаче,
На кого ж ти покидаєш – тільки подумай.

Лучше було б, лучше було б не ходить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б не любить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б та й не знать,

Чим тепер, чим тепер забувать.
Вийшла, руки заломавши і тяженько заплакавши:
“Як ти мене покидаєш – тільки подумай!”
“Білих ручок не ламай, ясних очок не стирай;
Мене з війни із славою к собі дожидай”.

 

Лучше було б, лучше було б не ходить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б не любить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б та й не знать,
Чим тепер, чим тепер забувать.
“Не хочу я нічого, тільки тебе одного;
Ти будь здоров, мій миленький, а все пропадай”.
Свиснув козак на коня: “Оставайся здорова!
Як не згину, то вернуся через три года!”
Лучше було б, лучше було б не ходить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б не любить,
Лучше було б, лучше було б та й не знать,
Чим тепер, чим тепер забувать.

 

Cossack was going over Danube saying – Girl, good bye
You, my good horse, carry me gaily!
Stay, stay, Cossack, your girl is crying
Who will care of her – did you though about it 

It would be better, would be better not to go

It would be better, would be better not to love
It would be better, would be better not to know

That now, that now to forget
She went out bending her arms and started to cry heavily –
How can you leave me – did you think about it?
Do not wring your hands, do not torment your eyes
Wait for me from war, I’ll come with fame
It would be better, would be better not to go
It would be better, would be better not to love
It would be better, would be better not to know
That now, that now to forget
I don’t want anything only you
My dear, I wish you be healty, nothing more
Cossack sat at the horese whistling – Be healty
I will come in 3 days If I won’t die

 

It would be better, would be better not to go
It would be better, would be beter not to love
It would be better, would be better not to know
That now, that now to forget

 

Тихий Дунай Silent Danube
Тихий Дунай, тихий Дунай
Бережечки зносить…
Молодий козак, молодий козак
Отамана просить:”Пусти ж мене, отамане,
Із війська додому,
Бо вже скучила, бо вже змучилась
Дівчина за мною”.

“Ой рад би я пустить тебе,
Та ти довго будеш;
Та напийся ти води зимної,-
Дівчину забудеш”.

“Пив я воду, пив зимную,
Та й не напивався;
Доки жить буду, не забуду я,
Кому присягався”.

Silent Danube, silent Danube
Berezhechky blows …
A young Cossack, a young Cossack
asks the Ataman:”Let me also, Ataman,
With the troops home
For already missed, because already weary
The girl behind me. ”

“Oh councils would I let you
And thou shalt long;
And you drink cold water –
Man forget. ”

“Peel the water I drank in winter,
And do not get drunk;
As long as I live, I will not forget,
To swear. “

Olof Eriksson

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