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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter III. The Nationalization of Space

The Daughter of Sláva

Ján Kollár
Traduction de Paul Selver

Texte intégral

1Title: Slávy dcera (The daughter of Sláva)

2Originally published: First published in 1821 in Prague under the title Básně (Poems) and comprising 86 sonnets. The second edition (1824) in Pest under the title Slávy dcera comprised 150 sonnets, including a Prelude and a closing sonnet. Though in subsequent editions in the course of Kollár’s life the number of sonnets rose, this second edition was considered the definitive edition after Kollár’s death.

3Language: Czech

4Translation taken from Paul Selver, An Anthology of Czechoslovak Literature (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1929), pp. 42–46.

About the author

5Ján (or, in Czech, Jan) Kollár [1793, Mosóc (Slo. Mošovce, present-day Slovakia) – 1852, Vienna]: poet, writer, linguist and Lutheran priest. Kollár was a Slovak by origin, but wrote in Czech. He studied at Latin schools in Upper Hungary and at the Lutheran lyceum in Prešporok (Hun. Pozsony, Ger. Pressburg, today’s Bratislava). A formative experience was his study at the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the University of Jena in 1817–19, where he came into contact with the ‘Young German’ national and democratic movement and Romantic literature. In Jena he also met a parson’s daughter, Friederika Wilhelmina Schmidt, who became his muse (Mína) and whom he married much later in 1835. He spent most of his life in Pest as a priest at a German-Slovak parish. Though influenced by Romantic political ideas in his youth, in his later years Kollár did not share the enthusiasm for overall democratization and republicanism. Instead, he adopted a loyalist attitude to the House of Habsburg and was critical of the revolutionary movement in the late 1840s. Towards the end of his life he was given the chair of Slavic archaeology and mythology at Vienna University. He was a firm promoter of the idea of linguistic Czechoslovakism that was for him a first step in the coming reunion of all Slavic languages. Together with Pavel Josef Šafařík, he is considered the creator of the ‘Slav myth’ in the Austrian monarchy in the early decades of the nineteenth century. From a literary point of view he is highly appreciated for his poetic language and considered to be one of the greatest neo-Classical poets in modern Czech and Slovak literature.

6Main works: Básně Jana Kollára [Poems of Jan Kollár] (1821); Slávy dcera [The daughter of Sláva] (1824); O literárnej vzájemnosti mezi kmeny a nářečími slovanskými [On the literary reciprocity among the Slavic tribes and dialects] (1836); Staroitalia slavjanská [Ancient Slavic Italy] (1853); Cestopis obsahující cestu do Horní Itálie a přes Tyrolsko a Bavorsko, ze zvláštním ohledem na slavjanské živly 1841, konanou [A travel journal about a journey in 1841 to Upper Italy and thence through the Tyrol and Bavaria, with special attention paid to Slavic elements] (1862).


7Interest in Slavic studies appeared among scholars in Central and Eastern Europe as early as the last third of the eighteenth century. It was not completely new, a vague ‘Slav’ consciousness having existed in the region as well as in the West Balkans (in the form of Illyrism) for centuries. From now on, however, Slavism in various forms started to be a subject of systematic studies and later even cultural and political thinking. In Bohemia the greatest promoter of this endeavor was the Czech linguist and literary historian Josef Dobrovský. If his approach can be characterized as a predominantly scholarly one, the research on Slavonic languages and archaeology done by the next generation of Czech and Slovak intellectuals was more emotionally and politically charged.

8The two most important representatives of this new type of Slav idea were the Slovaks Pavel Josef Šafařík (Pavol Jozef Šafárik) (1795–1861) and Ján Kollár, both writing in Czech (the literary language of the Slovak Lutherans, because of their Protestant education, being biblical Czech). Though they spent most of their politically and culturally active lives outside their native linguistic area, they contributed significantly to the new nationalist myth of Slavdom. Šafařík was a scholar who devoted himself to the task of demonstrating the antiquity and the equality of the Slavs in Europe. In his research he built upon the work of older scholars in Slavonic studies such as August Ludwig Schlözer, Josef Dobrovský, Wawrzyniec Surowiecki, and Jernej Kopitar. In his efforts, though, Šafařík was more detailed and systematic than his predecessors and contributed to the spread of Slavic studies throughout the academic world. Kollár was more of a publicist and poet, but his contribution to the myth of Slavness was probably even more substantial. It was his vast cycle of sonnets, Slávy dcera, which made him famous. This contained all the important Pan-Slav ideas which he elaborated on in his prose as well. Philosophically, Kollár, as well as Šafařík, had been influenced by Herder’s notion of Humanität and his ‘prophecy’ regarding the future of the Slavs in Europe. Not only did they espouse the imaginary cultural unity of the Slavs as their predecessors had, but, using the ideas of a unified German nation as proposed by the Burschenschaften (both having studied in Jena, the mainspring of the Burschenschaft-movement), they made a step towards a programmatic Pan-Slav ideology. Although the concept of the nation is ambiguous in his writings, Kollár spoke of the Slavs as a single, biologically designated nation with many dialects. This assumption had a vaguely political implication. Belonging to a large nation should have protected the respective ‘tribes’; that is to say, Czechs and Slovaks should have been safer as components of one great and advanced culture. For Kollár, the cultural reciprocity of all Slavs was the main task of the different Slavic tribes, but it did not necessarily imply political unity. In this respect, Kollár was a true disciple of Herder and promoted the non-political and non-state-centered concept of the nation that can be applied to many countries.

9With the first edition of Slávy dcera in 1824 Kollár created a new patriotic form of poetry with an erotic underpinning, which became a canonical model in Czech and Slovak literature with respect to both aesthetics and the expression of national emotions. In his sonnets he saw his love Mína and his motherland Slavia as identical. As Mína is a daughter of the goddess Sláva, an incorporation of patriotic ideals and the materialized vision of Slav reciprocity, the patriotic and erotic feelings of the poet unite in a natural way. In this way ‘subjective’ or ‘individual’ aspects dissolve in a supra-individual, collective whole of the Slav nation. In the Prelude Kollár laments over the present misery of the Slav nation, contrasting it to past glory, and gives an account of its imaginary geography. Despite the predominantly elegiac tone, the Prelude closes with an optimistic vision of the future development of humankind and the Slav nation.

10Slávy dcera had a great impact on many Czech and Slovak poets, who were fascinated by its language. Literary assessments have stressed the originality of Kollár’s poetics and seen his Pan-Slav ideas as more or less a result of fashionable Romantic ideas. On the other hand, the intellectual history approach tends to emphasize Kollár’s cultural-political program and his influence on the Pan-Slav movement. As a matter of fact, in the Czech and Slovak national movements the Slav idea played a controversial role. It encouraged the Czech and Slovak self-consciousness of being part of a greater Slav community. Slav identity, however, never seriously challenged the emerging Czech identity, but remained a supportive element in the ideology of the Czech national movement. Pan-Slav ideas were remarkably strong among the Romantic generation of Czech patriots (Josef Jungmann, Antonín Marek, Václav Hanka, F. L. Čelakovský). They also saw Russia as playing the leading role in the Slav movement. They did not, however, intend to sacrifice the Czech language and identity (to which they had devoted their lives) to an illusory ‘Russification.’ This sceptical tendency indeed strengthened after the brutal suppression of the Polish ‘November Uprising’ in 1830/31, which undermined belief in a natural Slav “harmony and solidarity.” Among Slovak patriots, Kollár’s Pan-Slav vision became rather isolated after Ľudovít Štúr’s successful separation of the Slovak national movement from Czech patronage during the 1840s.


The Daughter of Sláva

  • 1 Up to the mid-12th century this territory was inhabited by Polabian Slavs, before they were partly (...)
  • 2 Here the linden is referred to, the sacred tree of Slavs.
  • 3 In Slavic mythology the god of thunder. Especially among Eastern Slavs he is worshipped as the hig (...)
  • 4 A site of a fortified settlement on Rügen island, a religious center of Baltic Slavs destroyed by (...)
  • 5 Main site of the most powerful tribe of Wieletes, the Redars, with a pagan Slavic temple and golde (...)
  • 6 The prince and military leader of Lusatian Sorbs, defeated by Charlemagne in 806.

Here lies the country, alas, before my tear-laden glances,
Once ’twas the cradle, but now – now ’tis the tomb of my race;
Check thou thy steps, for the places are sacred, wherever thou turnest.
Son of the Tatra arise, cast to the heavens thy gaze,
Or to the mighty old oak, that stands there yonder, incline thee,
Holding its own against treacherous time, till to-day.
Ah, but more evil than time, is the man, who a sceptre of iron,
Slavia, on thy neck, here in these lands has imposed;
Worse than savage encounters and fiercer than fire and than thunder –
He who in frenzy blind covers his kindred with shame.
O ye years of the past that as night are lying around me,
O my country, thou art image of glory and shame;
From the treacherous Elbe o’er the plain to the Vistula faithless,1
From the Danube until Baltic’s insatiate foam.
Where the mellifluous tongue of the sturdy Slavs once resounded.
Now it, alas! is still, silenced by onslaughts of hate.
Who has committed this theft that cries for vengeance to heaven?
Who has upon one race outraged the whole of mankind?
Blush thou for shame, O envious Teuton, the neighbour of Sláva,
Many such sins have thine hands often committed of old.
Ne’er has an enemy yet shed blood – or ink – so profusely,
As by the German was shed, compassing Sláva’s decay;
Worthy of freedom is only he who values all freedom,
He who puts captives in bonds – he is a captive himself.
Far to the right I gaze, to the left I searchingly turn me,
But ’tis in vain that my eye Sláva in Slavia seeks.
Tell me, thou tree, their temple of nature,2 under whose shadow
They to primeval gods offerings formerly burnt,
Where are these nations, and where are their princes and where are their cities,
They who the first in the North called into being this life?
They taught the use of sails and oars to indigent Europe,
Taught how to sail o’er the sea, passing to bountiful shores.
Out of the ore-laden depths they dug the metals concealed there,
More from respect for the gods rather than profit to men;
They taught the farmer to till the bosom of the Earth with the plough-share,
So that the lands that were bare yielded the golden-hued corn.
They by the peaceful paths, the lime-tree sacred to Sláva,
Planted and scattered around fragrance and shadowy rest.
Where in marble arose the halls of the thunderer Perun,3
Now from the ruins distress shelter for the cattle has been made;
Where to the heavens uprose the old-famed towers of Arkona,4
Yonder the stranger’s foot tramples the fragments to dust.
There they bewail the ruins of Retra’s temples, the famous,5
Where they arose now dig lizard and serpent their nest.
The son of Sláva who comes from this land to visit his brother,
Is to his brother unknown, presses not warmly his hand;
Strange is his language that comes from his lips and from countenance Slav,
Countenance seemingly Slav sadly the hearing deceives.
For on her sons right deeply has Sláva imprinted her tokens,
Nor can the place or the time ever their traces erase;
Just as two rivers whose waters a single bed has united,
Still for long on the way parted their colours remain;
So by violent strife are these nations confusedly mingled,
Yet does their nature till now visibly sundered remain.
But have degenerate sons heaped often upon their own mother
Curses, and yet in their guilt cringed to the stepmother’s lash;
They in their nature are neither Slav or Teuton, but bat-like,
Half of the nature of one, half of the other possess.
Forest, stream, town and village unwilling their titles Slavonic
Altered; the form but remains, the spirit of Sláva is gone.
O who will come, these graves from a living dream to awaken?
Who will the rightful heir back to his country restore?
Who will tell us the place where Miliduch6 bled for his nation?
Who will a monument raise, keeping his memory fresh?
Now there are none remaining; the boorish countryman’s ploughshare,
Crashing destructively on, breaks up the warrior’s bones;
Wroth at the worthlessness of two generations, their shadows
Haunt the dim mist of decay, uttering cries of lament.
Uttering cries of lament that Fortune relentless continues
Letting their grandsons’ blood either decay or be changed;
Coldly in sooth would beat the heart of a man for his nation
If he would shed no tears here, even as o’er his love’s bones.
Ah, but be silent, O grief, serenely beholding the future,
Scatter with eye like the sun thoughts that arose in a cloud.
Greatest of evils it is, in misfortune to wrangle with evil,
He who assuages by deeds anger of heaven does best.
Not from a troubled eye springs hope, but from hands that are active;
Thus, and thus only, can now evil be turned into good.
Only the man, but not mankind can wander astray on the journey,
Oft the confusion of some favours the rest as a whole.
Time changes all, and by time truth is to victory guided,
What in their error the years planned in a day is o’erthrown.

12Translated by Paul Selver, in Paul Selver, An Anthology of Czechoslovak Literature (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1929), pp. 42–46.


1 Up to the mid-12th century this territory was inhabited by Polabian Slavs, before they were partly exterminated, partly Germanized.

2 Here the linden is referred to, the sacred tree of Slavs.

3 In Slavic mythology the god of thunder. Especially among Eastern Slavs he is worshipped as the highest deity.

4 A site of a fortified settlement on Rügen island, a religious center of Baltic Slavs destroyed by the King of Denmark, Waldemar I the Great, in 1168.

5 Main site of the most powerful tribe of Wieletes, the Redars, with a pagan Slavic temple and golden idol of the god Radegast (Radogost, Riedigost) installed on an island at Tollensee in Mecklenburg, destroyed by the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I the Great, in 955.

6 The prince and military leader of Lusatian Sorbs, defeated by Charlemagne in 806.


Paul Selver (Traducteur)

© Central European University Press, 2007

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