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Russia: The Bylina /Chastushka / Virši


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Slavic Verse

Russia: is the largest country in the world and is known for its literary accomplishments. But strangely other than some oral folk verse and a couple of epic adventures literature in Russia is fairly non-existent until the 17th century. Religious works of lyrical verse dominated the literary world until 1800s when a kind of revolution of literature occurred. Prominent structural poetic contributions include the Onegin Stanza or Sonnet from the verse novel Onegin, the epic form Bylina, the Chastushka and the Virši. Strangely there are few ballads and those that exist are said to be incomplete. Its lyrical poetry is treasured.

Nature is not what it seems to you,
It is no blind nor soulless image---
It has a soul, and freedom too,
It has love, it has a language.
              --Fedor Tutciv (1803-1873) found in the NPEOPP

  • The Bylina or Stariny (from Russian byl "story of real events") is a traditional Russian epic. It is a narrative of real heroic events as opposed to fictional or mythical stories. The verse form began with an oral tradition as far back the 10th century and appears to be first written down in the 17th century. The surviving examples are set in Kievan Russia in the time of a Prince Vladimir. The name bylina is a 19th century scholarly creation, the folk singers refer to these verses as songs of "olden times".

    These epics are recognized for their relative brevity. The verse is unrhymed and carry a language specific distinct rhythm.  The elements of the Bylina are:

    1. narrative, it tells a story.
    2. metered, accentual: only 3 or 2 strong stresses per line, usually with the last stress on the third from last syllable and often with the first stress on the third syllable of the line. The number of unstressed syllables between stresses varies. Conventionally, extra syllables and words might be inserted in order to get the desired spacing of stresses.
    3. strophic, uneven groups of lines.
    4. unrhymed.
    5. relatively short for an epic, typically only a few hundred lines.
  • The Chastushka (Russian-to speak fast) is a popular folk song that has emerged from the Russian cities and villages of the 1800s. It is folklore that ranged from political slogans to folk poetry sung and danced to. Primarily it reflects the concerns of the young and is usually topical and often impromptu. One source sited this form as the Russian equivalent to the Limerick.  The elements of the Chastushka are:
    1. most commonly a single quatrain. But it is not uncommon to have a string of Chastushkas performed with a musical refrain after each poem to give the audience time to laugh. Each quatrain is a stand alone poem.
    2. metered, trochaic tetrameter. The last foot of the line is often a single stressed syllable rather than a full trochee.
    3. rhymed, abab or abcb.
    4. usually humorous or satirical and often lewd and vulgar.
      One of 4 Examples found at Poetry Kaleidoscope poet and translator unnamed

      Mother, spare me, don't scold me
      For what I brought in my skirt.
      Just think, like me, Virgin Mary
      Without husband's help gave birth.

      And my attempt I don't think the Chastushka is normally titled, but without it my poem would make no sense. Sorry, nothing bawdy here.
      My Hand

      Never did I think you'd fail me.
      Broken bones have changed the whole scene.  
      Though my favored Right is trusty,
      missing help from Left, was unseen. 

      Tasks are awkward when you're gone,
      slicing onions, typing poems,
      hooking bras, and pulling pants on.
      Wiggling, grasping, crippled gems
                           ~~~Judi Van Gorder

  • Onegin Stanza or Sonnet
  • Virši or Syllabic Verse is an imported style of verse from Poland in the 17th century. Russian monk poet Simeon Polockij (1629-1680) delivered refined and ornate verse with surprise rhyme.  The elements of the Syllabic Verse are:
    1. isosyllabic, written in same number syllabic lines, usually 11 or 13 syllables per line.
    2. double rhymed, (both syllables of a 2 syllable word rhyme with both syllables of another word). The rhyme of this verse is always feminine.
    3. composed with caesura after the 5th or 6th syllable.


~~ © ~~ Poems by Judi Van Gorder ~~

For permission to use this work you can write to Tinker1111@icloud.com

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