“SHTO MI JE MERAK POLJAK DA BIDNEM”

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem”
Traditional Folk Song
SONG INFO & LYRICS

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” is a well known and very popular traditional folk song, admired throughout the former Yugoslavia. It is a staple song in both Macedonian and Serbian folk music repertoires. A few versions of the lyrical content exist today, with some of them involving a different text, while most versions differ only slightly, with minor variations based on the actual dialects of different regions in which the song was traditionally performed.

The lyrics for this love-themed song revolve around a field guard who is expressing his admiration for a girl named Bozhana (Божана) who is harvesting the field. The mere fact that the narrator’s role is an armed guard gives us an insight into the social circumstances of the times of this song’s origins. Due to the volatile political situation in the wider region and a generally unstable environment with a perpetual risk of sudden outbreaks of conflicts, uprisings or even wars, workers performing any activities on the farms or in the fields were commonly accompanied by the armed members of their families or village. Normally, at least one or more armed members would be tasked with safeguarding the rest of the villagers who were ploughing, planting, sowing, weeding, harvesting etc. In some regions this practice was necessary because of the constant threats of attacks by thieves, outlaws or by the hostile neighboring clans. Unfortunately, such threats and attacks are still part of daily life for Serbian people living in constant fear in the Serbian province of Kosovo and Metohija. If you are interested in helping to provide a humanitarian assistance to people in need please consider donating to the International Not-For-Profit Humanitarian Organization “28. Jun” which is providing humanitarian, medical and disaster relief to the Western Balkans.

The lyrics shown below are a traditional version in the distinctive southern dialect of the Serbian language, as performed in the Vranje region in Southern Serbia. A beloved Serbian folk music singer Stanisha Stoshich (Станиша Стошић, 1946-2008) immortalized this song with his soulful voice and an expressive and heartwarming performance:

 

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” – Stanisha Stoshich:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d73euJucfU8

 

Song lyrics in Serbian Cyrillic alphabet:

Што ми је Мерак пољак да биднем”

Што ми је мерак
пољак да биднем, мори, Божано.
Што ми је мерак
пољак да биднем, мори, Божано.

Пољак да биднем
на твоју њиву, мори, Божано.
Пољак да биднем
на твоју њиву, мори, Божано.

Ти да ми жњејеш,
ја да ти појем, мори, Божано.
Ти да ми жњејеш,
ја да ти појем, мори, Божано.

Песме да појем,
пушке да фрљам, мори, Божано.
Ем да ти појем,
пушке да фрљам, мори, Божано.

 

 

Before I get to the actual translation of the lyrics I would need to clarify the meaning of a few specific words for which the non-native speakers would have a hard time finding a translation or for which no translation is currently available in any of the online dictionaries.

The word “мерак” or “merak” (pronounced as: “meh-rakh”) is originally an Arabic word, borrowed and incorporated in Turkish language, and later introduced into Serbian, Macedonian, Bulgarian and other languages during the Ottoman Empire’s rule of the Helm lands (also known as the Balkan region). The meaning of this word is:

– satisfaction, enjoyment, good feeling; ¹
– passion, craving, wish, will for something; ¹
– melancholy as a consequence of an excessive craving, passion or longing for something. ¹
– a wish, will (for something) ²

Although the translations above describe the primary meaning and its possible variations, the majority of the native speakers feel as if English language does not have a specific term to accurately describe a deep and strong feeling which this word denotes.

The word “пољак” or “poljak” (pronounced as: “po-lyak”) is an archaic word in the Serbian language which is very rarely, if ever, used in contemporary language. Today, its homonym word “Пољак” or “Poljak” (identically spelled but capitalized) is used to describe a man of Polish descent, while its original meaning was:

– field guard ²
– farm guard or guardian

In the old times it described a person that was designated as an armed guard safeguarding the farm and the workers, usually his fellow villagers.

The word “мори” or “mori” (pronounced as: “moh-ree”), also often written as “море” or “more” (pronounced as: “moh-reh”) and not to be confused with its homonym meaning “sea”, is frequently used in contemporary communication. Although virtually all native speakers are using this word on a daily basis, most of them wouldn’t be able to explain its exact meaning. Indeed, this word is not a specific term but rather an exclamation, with an aim of either an encouragement or a rebuke.² Since I couldn’t find a perfectly fitting translation for the given context, I just used a generic exclamation “oh” in its place.

Another word that needs an explanation is “фрљам” or “frljam” (pronounced as: “fr-lyam”) which appears in the last verse. The infinitive form of this verb is “фрљати” or “frljati” which means:

– to throw something from afar; ¹
– to throw; ²
– to throw (something at somebody), to shoot; ³

While the primary meaning of this word is “to throw (something)” – obviously, in this situation, given the firearm involved in the story, its less common meaning “to shoot” or “to fire (a rifle etc.)” would be more appropriate.

Another peculiar word in the last verse is “ем” or “em” (pronounced as a letter “M” or hem”).

This word is of Persian (Farsi) language origin ¹, it found its way to Serbian via the Turkish language and it is widely used in colloquial communication. It is a conjunction used as a function word to indicate connection or addition especially of items within the same class or type…” 4 and its meaning is:

– and, besides; ¹
– (as a connector) and … and ²

Disclaimer: I am by no means a professional translator and this is simply my attempt to create a simple translation into English language, only for the purpose of making this song somewhat more accessible to the non-native listeners and to help them understand the general context and the broad meaning of the lyrics.

“Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” – English translation by Koshanin:

 

How I’d love to be a guardian”

How I would love
to be a guardian, oh, Bozhana.
How I would love
to be a guardian, oh, Bozhana
.

To be a guardian
of your field, oh, Bozhana.
To be a guardian
of your field, oh, Bozhana.


For you to harvest for me,
for me to sing to you, oh, Bozhana.
For you to harvest for me,
for me to sing to you, oh, Bozhana.


To sing the songs,
to fire the rifle, oh, Bozhana.
And songs to sing,
rifles to fire, oh, Bozhana.

It is quite obvious from the explanations above that the Turkish language had a tremendous impact on local languages, including Bulgarian, Greek, Macedonian, Serbian and others. While the several centuries long rule of the invading Ottoman Empire is largely and rightfully regarded by locals as oppressive, negative and regressive, a large body of Turkish words and expressions still remained in use to this day. However, in the last few decades we are witnessing a sharp decline in usage of these borrowed words, partly due to the natural reintroduction of the local words and partly due to the enormous global influence of the English language, with its many modern or previously nonexistent terms. A large portion of these new additions to the local languages relate to modern technologies (such as computers, electronics etc), however a vast number of foreign words is unreasonably replacing the existing local words of identical meaning. This is definitely not an encouraging trend and according to the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) there are currently several hundred endangered and nearly extinct languages around the world today. If we add to this the problem of endangered animal, plant and especially the marine life species – one can’t help but wonder what are we doing to ourselves, our cultures and our planet?

On my album “Under the Sacred Tree” I have recorded my own solo piano arrangement of this song, which differs greatly from the traditional context. Many new elements were added, such as the altered melody, extended melodic lines, reharmonized song structure, additional instrumental sections, unorthodox ornamental elements and more. Basically, the only element of the traditional arrangement that was retained is the song’s original meter – the time signature of 7/8, although I have changed its rhythmic feel as well.

An alternate ‘432 Hertz tuning’ edition of Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem” from the album “Under the Sacred Tree [432Hz Edition]” was released in 2018. This album also features other traditional folk songs as well as my original compositions and it is available as a CD album or as a Digital Download at my online music store at: www.koshanin.bandcamp.com

Shto mi je merak poljak da bidnem [432Hz Edition]” by Koshanin:
http://koshanin.bandcamp.com/track/to-mi-je-merak-poljak-da-bidnem-432hz-edition

 

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References and quotations:

1. “Turcizmi u srpskohrvatskom jeziku” – Abdulah Škaljić – “Svjetlost” Izdavačko preduzeće – Sarajevo, 1965.

2. “РЕЧНИК савременог српског књиженог језика с језичким саветником” – Др Милош С. Московљевић – Гутенбергова галаксија – Београд, 2000.

3. “Територијално раслојена лексика у књижевном делу Драгослава Михаиловића“ – Докторска дисертација – Тања Ј. Танасковић Универзитет у Крагујевцу, ФилолошкоУметнички факултет – Крагујевац, 2018.

4. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

 

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