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The Song of an Old Man

Love Song of a Young Man

When Our Camps Separated 

There Stood a Handsome Fir

To the Frozen Sea 

Libation Song for a Birth Ceremony




The poetry of the Yukaghir, a poor hunting tribe in eastern Siberia, consists of improvisations or verses handed down from narrator to narrator or from singer to singer through generations. Verses handed down in this way can be expected to vary from person to person. As can be seen, verses from these people deal with familiar themes in human life: experience of aging, expression of love, appeals to a harsh environment for relief, and celebration of a birth.

The number of speakers of Yukaghir has diminished greatly since these verses were collected. In 1987 there were less than 200 speakers of the two branches of this language.


The Song of an Old Man

Oh, old age came to meó

It threw me down like a rotten tree.

I look like a scorched stump, see.

                    Yukaghir Singer


Love Song of a Young Man

She is white as snow,

Her eyebrows are black as ink,

Her hair is soft as silk,

She shines like the sun.

I am hurrying to her

Never to part with her.

                    Yukaghir Singer


When Our Camps Separated

When our camps separated
I looked after him:

He is tall like a mountain ash
His hair covered his shoulders
Like black squirrels' tails.
When he disappeared
I lay down in the tent:
Oh, how long is a spring day?
But the evening came
And through a hole in the tent cover
I saw my love coming.
When he came in
And looked at me
My heart melted
Like snow in the sun.

                    Yukaghir Singer


There Stood a Handsome Fir

There stood a handsome fir

Vasya felled it there.

Meadow green was their bed,

Moving clouds their coverlet,

Soft bush of willow

Served as their pillow,

And the firmament

Was their upper tent.

                    Vasya,Yukaghir of the Omolon River.


To the Frozen Sea

You, owners of the green and trees,

Help me.

Sea mother, who has as cover

Seven snow mounds,

As bed, eight ice layers,

As collar, black foxes,

As foam, arctic foxes,

As waves, cub foxes,

Help me,

Sea mother, owners.

                    Yukaghir Shaman


Libation Song for a Birth Ceremony

The boys, like the rushes,

The maids, like the mushrooms,

From the grass of the steppe

They have made a scourge;

With the water of the spring

They have made ablution;

With the nine silken threads

They have made a scourge.

                    Buryat Shaman




Adapted from Peoples of Asiatic Russia by Waldemar Hochelson. American Museum of Natural History, 1928. Reproduced by courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History.

An online site providing information about the Yukaghir is maintained by Elana Maslova at Stanford University

                        Selection, Adaptation and Introduction © Rex Pay 2001