The birth of a printed poetry is a sign of the high level of the development of national culture. Here we account the stages of elevation of the Old Belarusian Poetry during the early periods of Renaissanse and Barocco. This time was characterised by creation of rich polylingual poetical heritage by F. Skaryna, S. Budny, A. Ryms^a, V. Tiapinski, L. Mamonic^, L. Zyzani, H. Pel'hrimouski, M. Smatrycki, I. Trucevic^, F. Ievlevic^ and others. Much of the old belarusian poetry was written in Latin creating "New Latin Belarusian Poetry". Old Belarusian, Polish, Chech and Bulgarian (Church-Slavic) were other languages of poetical expression in XVI-XVII c. Belarus. Several literary societies emerged in XVI-XVII c. Belarus (the central part of the Grand Duche of Lithuania - GDL- at that time), mainly in Niasviz^, Vil'na, Kuteinsk and Polacak which have developed an evolved belarusian theory of versification.
Early ages (X-XV)
The printed poetical culture of Belarus was based on the richiest oral folk poetical traditions of our land. After the adoption of Christianity in X c. multiple collections of the theological and philosophical works were circulating in middleage Belarus. Before XVI c. all major Middleage Christian poets were already translated and known in belarusian literature. The most popular collections were the spiritual works of both Orthodox and Catholic religions from Iaan Damaskin, Vasil' Vialiki, Iaan Zlatavust, Hryhor Dvaiaslou, Iaan Mosh, Feakcyst Studyjski, Andrej Krycki, Leu Despat, Amvrosi Medyialanski, Hryhor Sinait and others.
The first famous Belarusian poet was Kiryla Turauski(XII c.). He has written renown "Words", Teachings", "Parables", two "Canons" and several poetical prayers. These poems bring us into spiritual world of our ancestors through the depth of centuries:
I togo radi steniu iz glubiny
i slezoiu boleznenoiu mi dus^eiu,
Kako ubo obrasc^usia tamo!?
Da spasena mi budet dus^a!
Other known poetical works created at early ages by belarusians include "The Divine Service of Ieufrassinnia of Polacak", "Trapar Barysu i Glebu", apocrifical poems "About the Pigeon Book", "About the Judgement Day","About the sinful Soul", "The Cry of the Land". The rhyme is often met in these works but it is not yet completely established as a constant element.
In XVI c. the growth of the ideas of Renaissanse opened up new directions in Belarusian Poetry. The first renown belarusian author of the XVI c. is Dr. Francis^ak Skaryna. He had printed in Prague (1517-.1519) and Vil'na (1522, 1525) books that have enormous historical and cultural value. The poetical passages in Skaryna's translations of "Iowe"(1517), "Exodus"(1519) and "Esther"(1519) were in fact first examples of the Renaissanse Belarusian Poetry. In his translations of Greek poems printed in "Small Traveller's Book"(1522) Skaryna saves the same number of stanza per verse as in greek originals(stanza paralellism). But the number of syllables per stanza iz not constant as it is in Greek original. Below is Skaryna's translation of Ten Commandments ("Second Book of Moses, named Exodus", Prague, 1519):
Veruj v Boga edinago,
The poetical works of Skaryna are presyllable poems with nonequal numbers of syllables per stanza(line). Few cases of isosyllabism are rather occasional.
Belarusian New Latin Poetry
In XVIc. GDL was yet integrated into western European culture. The common language of scientists and people of culture was Latin. Hundreds of people in XVI c. Belarus (center of GDL) were having university education (Krakow, Prague, Bologne, Germany, later - Vil'na University). The Catholic priests were also serving in Latin. Thus there was a broad audience capable of appreciation of Latin Poetry. The New Latin Poetry of Belarus was already a matter of several scientific works and few books were published on this topic. Perhaps one of this day we shall produce a special page on it. At the moment we shall limit ourselves just to this brief paragraph.
Among the most renown belarusian poets of XVI c. who were writing in Latin were Mikola Husouski ("The Song about Zoobr", "New and Famous Victory Upon Turks in the Month of July", "The Life and the Deeds of St. Hyacynt", "To St. Sebastian", etc.) and Ian Vislicki ("Prussian War").. Later belarusian poetry written in Latin was enriched by works of Renaissanse poets A. Ryms^a and I. Rydvan, and the poets of Enlightment - Mihal Karycki and Francis^ak Kniaz'nin.
Epigrams and Panegiriks
An interesting feature of XVI c. belarusian secular literature was full of the Romanticism. The values of knighthood, nobility and ethical issues were very important to the XVIc. society of GDL. Belarusian literature is unique among eastern slavuic kliterature in that it has the only translation of "Tristan and Isolda" romantic epic story. It sounds as "Trys^tan i Iz^ota" in belarusian. Apparently it was translated from serbian and was very popular. As a result of such interest in romantic epos numerous family coats of arms, mottos and panegirks appeared. And thus a great number of belarusian intellectuals has probed were probing themselves in this kind of heraldic poetry.
The work of many belarusian poets-epigramists is linked with the printing house of Vil'na Orthodox Christian Brotherhood. L. and S. Zyzani, Mialiet Smatrycki, monk Vital' and others were associated with this printing house. The first ever Belarusian Grammar "Grammatika Sloven'ska" by L. Zizanij was printed here in 1596. One of the most important event of the spiritual life of the XVI c. was the publication here in Old Belarusian and in Polish ofthe "Apocrysis" by Krys^taf Filaliet. This work has started a strong religious polemics. Eleven years later in 1608 "Antygrafi" by Mialiet Smatrycki was published here. This book included also the translations of several poems by Franchesco Petrarka and Mantuan Baptista, criticising Pope. In 1611 the first "New Testament" was published as a collective work by Smatrycki and others in Vilna Orthodox Brotherhood printing house. The famous "Dzioptry"(1611, monk Vital') and "Teaching Gospel"(1616, unknown author) were published here too.
In the second half of XVI c. a literary circle has formed in Niasviz^ and was mecenated by dukes Radzivils. S. Budny, A. Ryms^a, H. Pel'hrymouski, I. Radvan, I. Kozak and later B. Budny(1594) and S.Rysinski(1600) belonged to this circle. They printed panegirical poems primarily in printing houses of I. Karcan, D. Lenc^ycki and Mamonic^y in Vil'na. Thus the poem of "Radziviliiada"(1588) written in Latin by Ian Radvan was published as a separate book in the printing house of I. Karcan. It had also foreword and a poem "Glory" by Ian Kozak.
Another name associated with the printing house of I. Karcan was Ian Pratasovic^ - the Vil'na judge, who has published there several significal poems: "Paranimfus"(1595), "Epicedium"(1597), "Ialmuz^nik"(1597), "Kotrfet"(1597),"Inventorus rerum"(1608) and others.
Andrej Ryms^a was perhaps the most famous epigram writer in Old Belarusian language. He has written "Kotorogo sia miesiaca s^to za staryh viekov delo korotkoe opisanie"(Chronology) - the first in slavic literature account month by month of the events of biblic history. This types of chronologies existed in Byzantian literature, and served perhaps as an example to A. Ryms^a. He is also known for his poetical translations from Latin to Polish. A. Ryms^a was an example and the main influence of another belarusian poet - Leu Mamonic^.
Leu Mamonic^ was a son of a famous belarusian printer Kuz'ma Mamonic^. Leu had worked from the early years in the printing house of his father and uncle in Vil'na. He started to write poems in 1597. In 1600 Leu Mamonic^ strted his own printing house. In his printed editions he often placed emblematical poems as a dedication. Such is the epigram to Leu Sapega the Chancellor of the Grand Duche of Lithuania shown here.
Kgdy v vys^nih naboz^enstvo stanah mestce maet
Symbols of Belarusian family crests.
Sun, Moon, Stars, Venus. The shine of these sky objects was usually associated with nobility of soul, valor, glory, even generosity. Sometimes such parables as"moonlight dispelling the darkness of night" were even used (Mialet Smatrycki).
Cross was the most often used symbol to show the readiness to fight for the true Christian belief, herosim of ancestors in establishing Christianity. Another religious recognition sign was Mitra - the head-dress of Metropolitan.
Out of the arms, the favorite symbol was Arrow - symbol of the heroic defence of homeland, and another sense is nobility of the intentions.
Heart and Hand were most often depicted parts of human body. The heart was often pierced by arrow or sword. These symbol meant the readiness of the owner to selfsacrifice. The arrow in hand was indicating the antiquity of family.
Lily was a symbol of high ethics and morals in the everyday life.
River or water source meant the unexhausting life force, and generally life.
Eagle and Falcon - were symbolising the hight of the family and the military might, respectively.
All dukes had a Crown in their coat of arms.
The structure of epigram included usually the list of the high human qualities of the person followed by the wishes of prosperity, longevity, etc.
The flourishing of Belarusian Renaissanse has resulted in a conflict of new human standards, ethics and moral issues with an old religious dogma. This has started a broad and original process of Reformation in GDL(Belarus). The next century has brought a strong Catholic and in some cases Orthodox Contr-Reformation and resulted in multiple polemical works and poetry. Since the last 200 years the lands of Belarus were under russian Orthodox domination most of polemical literature by written in old Belarus by protestants, uniats (Greek Catholics) and Roman Catholics has been destroyed. So now we can judge about the polemics only reading Eastern Orthodox side of a story. This reminds me a lot of the critics of bourgeois literature that soviet students were forced to do in fifties without beeing allowed to see the originals. But lets go back to aesthetically more pleasing XVII century's debates..
Catholic polemists against Orthodox Christianity.
The most known belarusian poet defending Roman and newly invented Greek Catholic (Unia) churches was jesuit Piotra Skarga. In his work "Berascejski sabor i abarona iaho" (Krakau, 1597) he is defending Unia as the only saving of slavs. He is accusing Eastern Orthodox priests in lack of moral principles and discipline: "one can buy for a bit of gold or textile all their faith and dignity". Skarga praised Latin and stated that "none of the slavic languages could possibly become the language of science".
Orthodox polemists against Catholicism
The works of Skarga and other "latinists" were severely criticized by belarusian Orthodox poets-polemists in anonymous compillation "Zaharauski Sbornik". They were condemning a Pope's desire to rule the world, calling him a false prophet and heretic, and threatening him with a Judgement Day:
Bezotveten budes^' pred Carem
Since Eastern Orthodoxy established itself in belarusian lands some 400 years before Catholicism, orthodox priests were accusing the newly appeared belarusian Catholics in trading their old faith for a new in a greedy chase of power and social position. This was not too unjust since belarusian nobility often changed their faith into Catholic to get positions in Poland and sometimes even to be elected as a king of Rzhech Pospolita. The term "perehrist'" ("trans-crosser" meaning the change in the way of crossing from right to left crossing) is still sometimes applied by Orthodox believers to Catholics in Belarus.
The Latin was an object of passionate attacks of Orthodox poets because it was becoming a strong tool of denationalization of belarusian, lithuanian and ukrainian peoples. Ian Kazimir Pas^kievic^ was praising Belarusian ("rusc^izna") in his poem:
Polska kvitnet lacinoiu,
Here I must remind the reader that Litva and litvins were in the area around Vil'na and Hrodna - historical and cultural center of the GDL, Zhmudz' and zhamoites- northern part of GDL (present northern Lithuania) and the south of Belarus and Ukraine was designated as Rus' and rusins. Our Eastern neighbors were referred to as Moskovia and muskovites at that time. Years later this appeal "not to leave native language" was reiterated by belarusian poets-democrats like Macej Burac^ok.
Orthodox polemists against Reformation
The anti-reformation poetry of eastern orthodox poets-polemists was gathered in another collection - "Kieva-Mihajlauski zbornik". They critisized anti-trinitarian ideas of the unity of God-son, God-father and God-spirit:
O novovernii darmo smiaetesia
Catholic polemists against Reformation
The Catholics were opposed to Reformation even stronger. Their most known work in this is "Pryvitannie na pryezd Lutermahra" printed in Vil'na, 1642 written in Lacinka (latin alphabet adopted to Belarusian). This author choses a belarusian Orthodox peasant to tell the story and tries to hide his Catholic sympathies:
Tias^ko nam z liahami, a
gors^ z uniiatami,
The book is directed against a protestant pastor who arrived to Vil'na and in his preach used phrases in Greek. It is full of the jokes, plays of words and puns. Our peasant advices pastor "to go to Moscow and get teached there":
Skupavsia b es' v Neglinnei,
zabyvse b skogliti,
Unia (Greek Catholic) polemists.
The unia (Greek Catholic) polemic poetry is a very important part of the old belarusian poetical heritage. KIryla Trankviliion-Stauravecki is perhaps the most outstanding representative of it. He has written "Ziarcala bahaslouia"(1618) and "Evanhelle vuc^ycel'skae"(1619). His most famous work is "Perla S^matkas^tounae" . Here he explains the teachings about God and Universe to a reader in a poetical form. He explains the reason he writed this book as to make for simple and less educated men easier to come to God:
To mia do toi trudnoj pracy pobudilo v starosti let moih, aby c^elovek ohotneis^ii byl do c^itania rec^ij Bozskih i taemnic zabvennyh, kotoryia sut' poc^asti opisany sladkoiu movoiu pod metri...
"Perla S^matkas^tounae" had a big cycle of poems on the major events in Christian church:
"Praise on a glorious day of the Birth of our Lord Jesus Christ"
"Perla S^matkas^tounae" was extremely popular among the population of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia in XVII-XVIII centruries.
Of others Unia poets is known Yakub Ps^anica who was having poetical
polemics with the Orthodox S. Zyzani. S. Zyzani was a son of Lauryn Zyzani -
a famous author of the first belarusian Grammar printed in Vil'na in 1596.
A typical occasion to re-examine your views on God and Universe was always the death of a human. Lament was adopted in the Renaissance age as a popular form of a monologue. "Liamant na smerc' Liavona Karpovic^a" (1620) - one of the most original and significant of belarusian poetical works of XVII century is ascribed to Mialet Smatrycki. In this poem Smatrycki, following a tradition, is describing an ideal and a model to follow for his contemporaries:
Vedac' rac^is^' o ego
podvigah, o potah
In his lament Smatrycki states that it is necessary to follow the faith, truth, sacredness, to avoid bodily sins, illnesses, gluttony, weakness of the soul. He wants mankind to leave grief, arguments, unkindness, treason, lies behind.
Mialet Smatrycki was also an author of a second belarusian Grammar printed in Vil'na. It was strongly tied to the Church-Slavic (bulgarian) language and was pretty distant from the native old belarusian.
Of other important authors of laments I should mention A. Filipovic^ and his "Dyiareus^", brothers Kazimir and Bonifacyi Pats and their "Image of woman", Mihal and Stefan Drucki-Gorski with "Voices of Sons".
If you are interested to find out more about belarusian poetry, please visit the main belarusian poetry page maintained by Dz"micier Zinowiew.
I.V. Saverchanka, "Starazhytnaya Paeziya Belarusi. XVI-pershaya palova XVII
st.", Minsk, "Navuka i Tehnika" printing house, 1992.
UC Berkeley Library: PG 2834.35 S38 1992 Main.
[The History of Belarusian (Creeve) Book. An Attempt of Explanational Description From
the End of X to the Beginning of XIX Century], published by the Belarusian Center in
Lithuania, Publishing House of Sakalouski and Lan, Kouna 1926.
UCB Library PG 2834.2 A12H51926 Main
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