Anoj Pusej Dunojelio – a brief interpretation

Vaclovas Augustinas – Anoj Pusėj Dunojėlio

This is a Lithuanian folk song, that has been made into a choir „hit“ song and sang by church choirs all around the world. It’s quite mesmerizing to listen to. But I think people miss out on much of it’s experience by not having the full song, by not having the full, accurate translation. Some songs you can’t simply translate so they can be experienced – you have to sort-of explain them.

I have tried to translate it fully earlier, but the translation came out kind-of scary. So, instead, after listening to this song for , like, ten times in a row, I’ve decided to interpret the text.

The full Lithuanian lyrics have some extra lines written in brackets here. They are not sung in these church choir videos.

This song is so much more powerful emotionally, when you understand the lyrics.

Complete Lithuanian lyrics:

Anoj pusėj Dunojėlio
pievelė žaliavo
grėbė pulkas mergužėlių
grėbdamos dainavo.

Nedainuokit, mergužėlės,
tų graudžių dainelių.
Negraudinkit man širdelės
jaunam kareivėliui.

(Aš išjodams į karužę
Laimės neturėjau:
Ir sutikus pirmą kulką
Širdelę pervėrė)

Gul kareivėlis pašautas
nuo karės pašautas,
stovi juodbėris žirgelis
kamanoms pamautas.

Eikš, žirgeli juodbėrėli,
ką aš pasakysiu.
Aš ant tavo kamanėlių
laiškelį rašysiu.

(Parašysiu aš laiškelį
Aukso litarėlėms,
Ir atspausiu antsaudėlę-
Rūtų vainikėlį.)

(Nešk, žirgeli juodbėrėli,
Savo kamanėles,
Nešk vainiką seserėlei,
Mano seserėlei.)

(Pašers tave seserėlė
Žaliosioms rūtelėms,
Pagirdys tave močiutė
Graudžioms ašarėlėms.)


Incomplete and incorrect english translation from the YouTube clip description (the parts in brackets are skipped):

On the other bank of the river
A meadow grew green
Several virgins were raking grass
And they sang while they worked.

„Do not sing, my virgins,
These doleful songs.
Do not sadden my heart,“
Said a young soldier.

(While riding to war
Luck I did not have:
When meeting the first bullet
My heart was pierced.)

There lay a dead soldier
Shot in the battle,
There also stood his black steed
With his bridle still on.

Come, black steed,
I shall tell you something.
On your little bridle
I will write a letter.

(I will write a letter
In gold letters,
And press a seal-
Rue wreath.)

(Go on black steed,
Carry your bridles,
Carry the wreath to sister,
To my dear sister.)

((My)Sister will feed you
Green rues,
(My) Mother will (pour) drink to you
Of sorrowful (bitter) tears.)

This is a brief interpretation I made on the go in YouTube comment section and, with some edits, copied it here:

This song is so emotional for me.

The soldier in the song isn’t certainly dead*. He is shot, but he may still be alive. It’s a small mistranslation, but important to understand the song and it’s power. The maiden (not necessarily virgins, but most likely) are probably from his memories back home, before the war. Their songs are doeful to him, because he understands that he will never see or hear them again.
Those songs could have been the most joyful songs ever.
Doesn’t matter.
It’s the soldier’s subjective experience, while he is meeting his doom. Not in a terrifying sense, but as an inevitable end of a beautiful journey, which had ended too soon because of war.

When the song turns to his horse, to the black steed, it is the soldier himself who says „Come, black steed, I shall tell you something.“ We are not entirely sure if the horse comes to him; we aren’t sure if he is even uttering the words with his mouth, or just whispering to himself at this point. Because all he wants to do, as we see later, is say goodbye to his loved ones. And at this point – his only hope for that is through his horse.

The original song continues past the part where the soldier says „On your briddle I will write a letter.“ and goes on to ask his horse to carry the letter to his sister and mother.

It may be too late for him to extend even a finger towards his horse. Writing the letter is refered to, in the song, as an intention, but not as an action. The soldier probably couldn’t even write a letter if the horse came up real close to him.**
But still, in his death, he wants to say goodbye to his family, so he encourages the horse(somewhat desperately, maybe, but caringly as well), that if he „carries the letter, he will be fed by sister – he will be given Rues (a slightly bitter, edible flower) – and be given bitter tears to drink by mother“ – we can imagine his own mouth becoming bitter with tears, after he thinks about the pain of his mother and sister.

We know that he is a really young soldier – probably in his teens. In between the parts where he wants to write a letter, and where he promisses the horse that he will be fed if he carries it to sister and mother, he says that he will seal the letter with a rue. Rues in Lithuanian folklore simbolize purity and virginity.

It’s verry beautiful and sad, that even in his death the soldier wants to leave as little pain behind as he can. This is illustrated by him caring for his horse, though, only by words. But it’s also implied that his family comes first, so, by caring for the horse, by sending him home, he would send a message to his family, that they shouldn’t wait for him, and they also shouldn’t mourn him for too long.*** A simple goodbye.

We don’t know if the horse can make it back home – he probably can’t. So the sense of helplessness and hope is overwhelming.

The whole situation feels that much more desperate and intense, because we don’t really know for sure if the soldier himself is still alive, or if this subtle way of asking his horse to say goodbye to his family on his behalf is really just a „post-mortem“ dream of sorts – a ghostly wish, never to come true****…

Knowing the whole song, and listening to this shorter version with such a powerful finish only intensifies the feeling.

Almost everytime I hear this song, tears come rolling down my cheeks. And the beautiful performance doesn’t help to dry them up.

Anyway, this is my interpretation, and may be wrong or inaccurate. But, being Lithuanian myself, I think it’s pretty close.

* Now I’ve added the full Lithuanian lyrics, and it seems that the 3-d (optional) verse clearly contains a few lines about the soldier being shot, bullet piercing through his heart. So he is dead, and it actually would be the voice of his ghost singing sorrowfully to his horse, hoping that his family gets to know what had happened to him.
** Understanding that he is a ghost now, I can understand why he would have a problem literally writing a letter.
*** Or rather, properly mourn him, so he can rest in peace.
**** Now that we know, that he is actually dead, and this probably is a dead man’s dream, the real question becomes, will he ever find peace?

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