Follow up to previous post – some clarification

A few words to clarify the content of the song in my previous post, “Are the songs beautiful?”  When I played this song for the singers in Zdravets, first of all I was delighted that my singing partners were as excited about the song as I am, and want to sing it.  But when I told them the text of the song, I got an unexpected question about the last part of the story:

….What Gjúro wants is to send the falcon to his home to see what’s going on there.  The falcon has already been to his home, he says: “The yard is all overgrown with weeds, and in the weeds there is a dead tree.  On the tree sit three cuckoos.  One of them is your mother, calling you to breakfast; the second is your sister, calling you to dinner; the third is your wife, calling you to bed.”

“So,” they said, “they’re all dead (the mother and sister and wife)?”  That interpretation had never occurred to me, but my friends have learned that cuckoos are not especially propitious omens in these songs, so they thought that Gjuro’s imprisonment had killed the whole family.  But I wasn’t so sure, and today I had the opportunity to ask a Bulgarian friend, a singer herself, who knows the song repertoire very well.  She confirmed my own interpretation (that they are not dead, but missing him terribly), and fleshed out for me some of the extensive symbolism in the song tradition:

  • First, a falcon or an eagle is recognized as the bearer of news (if the story is about a young woman, it might be a dove instead).  He has been to Gjuro’s home and found desolation:
  • Gjuro being imprisoned and unable to take care of it, the yard has become overgrown with weeds;
  • the tree in the yard (trees representing the roots, in this case the foundation of the home) has withered and died;
  • the three women (mother, sister, wife), bereft and abandoned, are represented as cuckoos, because cuckoos are known for their plaintive, lonely call.

So much intense feeling packed into a few short lines!  And so easy for us to completely miss the real meaning of the song, that lies just beneath this delicate phrasing.   This is one reason that I never decline to hear again a song that I might have heard a dozen times: because this singer might add a few words that completely change my understanding of the song, or clarify something I’ve puzzled about for years.  I’ll have more to say along this line in another post.