Designed by Emil Chendea
Edited by Zoe Dumitrescu-Buºulenga
Albatros Publishing House, Bucharest, 1976

Master Manole
has appeared in six languages
in a volume

A volume designed by Emil Chendea
Edited by Prof. Zoe Dumitrescu-Buºulenga

Our brochure contains a commentary on the text
by Prof. Zoe Dumitrescu-Buºulenga
in English, French, German, Russian and Spanish.

Between history and myth, set against a definite time and place and soaring up towards timeless heights to express eternal truths of the spirit and its works, The Ballad of the Argesh Monastery or of Master Manole is endowed with that strange and fruitful ambiguity of the great creations handed down to us by the ancient world.

A production of the peoples' voice, as Herder would have said, it explains, for the remote time of traditional wisdoms, in art images, the truths of creative process; it sets, like an impressive model, valid for the whole Balkan area, the archetypal impulses of those participating in the noble game of construction. What was a bridge with the Greeks or the Serbians, the object of construction in the Romanian version of the ballad is a monastery, a masterpiece of architecture, erected for pure worship or to the memory eternal of the patron, he himself the legendary founder of the country. It deals with the feudal competition between the one who orders and patronizes the building ad majorem Dei gratiam, but also meant to enhance his glory and sometimes even his vainglory, and the one who, more often than not anonymous and forgotten, fulfils the actual ritual of construction. Who can yet remember now the forgotten artist of those unforgettable arks, in whose pious minds were engraved the compelling commands of the genius? Who can yet discern, beneath the rustling of that forest of hands which a French art historian could almost see and hear, in the proud structures of the medieval churches, the simple sound of the man who drew the plan? Paul Claudel, in the verses of his plaintive style like a litany, spoke of the sacrificial fate of the most outstanding masters who would wed suffering in order to carry on with endeavour the ruthless toil of achieving beauty.

The Voivode of the ballad who commands, and flies into a rage, and mercilessly punishes the naive boasting of the masons is, as usual, identifiable. He is the patron and his name can be read on majestic inscriptions. He is the one who pays and therefore he can supplant the creation rights of the great master. On hearing him scolding and rejoicing, one recalls a cry like the one uttered by the holy-minded emperor Justinian who, through a hybris prevailing among most of the potentates of the world, thought himself to be in competition with another great founder of edifices in history. "I have defeated you, Solomon !" triumphantly cried the Byzantine despot before the giant church of St. Sophia in Constantinople; he believed that the excellence of the building ordered by him surpassed the richness and beauty of the temple in Jerusalem, erected by emperor Solomon, David's son.

Following the Byzantine tradition, here is our Voivode evincing archetypal reactions. No one in the world should enjoy so much beauty and magnificence. The masterpiece made for him should indeed possess the absolute value of uniqueness. His insidious question addressed to the masons results, after their rash and foolhardy answer, in a death sentence which shall render impossible the reproduction of their work, therefore its devaluation. They and the master, the architect, Manole, will not share the same death; Manole's fate is a singular one.

Although the Icarian idea which originally also derives from an architect's mind (Dædalus', the builder of the Labyrinth in Cnossos) belonged to him, Manole's death is not the same as the craftsmen's and journeymen's who spring from the roof to their deaths, as in an expressionist vision, with all of them lying split round the monastery. His agony quickened by the voice of remembrance makes his last moments even more bitter. But like all those loved by the gods, his death is not a common one; he undergoes a metamorphosis and is changed into a magic substance, the water of a fountain which will watch, as in the whole myth of Romanian construction, his masterpiece. The reward of creation and of supreme sacrifice is the eternal presence of the builder, like a guardian spirit, near his work. With his share of eternity earned not only through his genius and work, but also through the immolation of all that was dearest to him, his wife and his unborn baby, the master now belongs to another order which escapes time and decay. Now, how had Manole lived and how can his exceptional destiny be accounted for? As the ancients understood it, the destiny of any creator, embodied especially in that of the architect, was one also consisting of a few archetypal elements. Like Homer's heroes, like the prophets, like the poeta vates, the artist would receive inspiration in his sleep. Manole also has a dream-vision:

"What a dream I dreamed
In my sleep! Meseemed
A whisper from high,
A voice from the sky,
Told me verily
That whatever we
In daytime have wrought
Shall nights come to naught...

A sacrifice is demanded from him, as from them. And it seems significant to me that in some of the variants the craftsmen's oath is broken by them, but not by Manole. He follows his destiny to the bitter end, without cheating. The sacrifice demanded from him is carried out unhesitatingly, in a gradation accompanying the erection of the building, in a kind of necessary analogy with the parts of the body, as in a ritual amplified by the rhythm and incantatory values of the exquisite musical legato of the poetic diction.

From now on the conflict between the prince and the builders no longer touches him. Manole has gone out of time and has attained, through sacrifice and achievement, to the stage where the dialogue with men ceases and death becomes transfiguration. The hero has reached the inmost depth of suffering at that magic point which suddenly becomes the apex.

A myth of such beauty engenders numberless translations, lyric, epic or dramatic (from Goga to Blaga and Labis), as well as more or less specialized glosses. In no work or exegesis inspired by the myth, however, can one hear those matchless levels which are implicit in the simple Romanian ballad. It is there like Miorişa, at the crepuscular, mysterious doorstep of ancient truths.

Translated by DAN DUŞESCU

The Ballad of Master Manole
Translated by Dan Duşescu


Down the Argesh lea,
Beautiful to see,
Prince Negru he wended
By ten mates attended:
Nine worthy craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
With Manole ten,
The highest in fame.
Forth they strode apace
There to find a place
Where to build a shrine,
A cloister divine.
And, lo, down the lea
A shepherd they see,
In years so unripe,
Playing on his pipe.
To him the prince sped
And thus spoke and said,
"Handsome little swain
On thy sweet pipe playing!
Up the Argesh stream
Thy flock thou hast ta'en;
Down the Argesh green
With the flock thou'st been;
Didst thou hap to see
Somewhere down the lea
An old wall all rotten,
Unfinished, forgotten,
On a green slope lush,
Near a hazel brush?"
"That, good sire, I did;
In hazel brush hid,
There's a wall all rotten,
Unfinished, forgotten.
My dogs when they spy it
Make a rush to bite it,
And howl hollowly,
And growl ghoulishly."
As the prince did hear
Greatly did he cheer,
And walked to that wall,
With nine masons all,
Nine worthy craftsmen,
With Manole ten,
The highest in fame.
"Here's my wall!" quoth he.
"Here I choose that ye
Build for me a shrine,
A cloister divine.
Therefore, great craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
Start ye busily
To build on this lea
A tall monastery;
Make it with your worth
Peerless on this earth;
Then ye shall have gold,
Each shall be a lord.
Oh, but should you fail,
Then you'll moan and wail,
For I'll have you all
Built up in the wall;
I willso I thrive
Build you up alive!"


Those craftsmen amain
Stretched out rope and chain,
Measured out the place,
Dug out the deep base,
Toiled day in, day out,
Raising walls about.
But whate'er they wrought,
At night came to naught,
Crumbled down like rot!
The next day again,
The third day again,
The fourth day again,
All their toil in vain!
Sore amazed the lord
His men he did scold,
And he cowed them down
With many a frown
And many a threat;
And his mind he set
To have one and all
Built up in the wall;
He wouldso he thrive
Build them up alive!
Those nine great craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
Shook with fear walls making,
Walls they raised while shaking,
A long summer's day
Till the skies turned grey.

But Manole shirked,
He no longer worked,
To his bed he went
And a dream he dreamt.
Ere the night was spent,
For his men he sent,
Told them his intent:
"Ye nine great craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
What a dream I dreamed:
In my sleep meseemed
A whisper from high,
A voice from the ski,
Told me verily
That whatever we
In daytime have wrought
Shall nights come to naught,
Crumble down like rot;
Till we, one and all,
Make an oath to wall
Whose bonny wife erst,
Whose dear sister first,
Haps to come this way
At the break of day,
Bringing meat and drink
To husband or kin.
Therefore if we will
Our high task fulfill
And build here a shrine,
A cloister divine,
Let's swear and be bound
By dread oaths and sound
Not a word to speak,
Our counsel to keep:
Whose bonny wife erst,
Whose dear sister first,
Haps to come this way
At the break of day,
Her we'll offer up,
Her we shall build up!"


When day from night parted
Up Manole started,
Climbed a trellis fence,
Climbed the planks, and thence
The field he looked over,
The path through wild clover.
And what did he see?
Alas! Woe is me!
Who came up the lea?
His young bride so sweet,
Flower of the mead!
How he looked aghast
As his Ana came fast,
Bringing his day's food
And wine sweet and good.
When he saw her yonder
His heart burst asunder;
He knelt down like dead
And weeping he prayed,
"Send, O Lord, the rain,
Let it fall amain,
Make it drown beneath
Stream and bank and heath,
Make it swell in tide
And arrest my bride,
Flood all path and track
And make her turn back!"
The Lord heard his sigh,
Hearkened to his cry,
Clouds he spread on high
And darkened the sky;
And he sent a rain,
Made it fall amain,
Made it drown beneath
Stream and bank and heath.
Yet, fall as it may,
Her it could not stay,
Onward she did hie,
Nigh she drew and nigh.
As he watched from high,
Sorely did he cry,
And again he wailed,
And again he prayed,
"Blow, O Lord, a gale
Over hill and dale,
The fir-trees to rend,
The maples to bend,
The hills to o'erturn,
Make my bride return,
Stop her path and track,
Make her, Lord, turn back!"
The Lord heard his sigh,
Hearkened to his cry,
And he blew a gale
Over hill and dale
That the firs did rend,
The maples did bend,
The hills did o'erturn,
Nor would she return.
Ana came up the dale
Struggling ‘gainst the gale.
Reeling on her way;
Nothing could her stay.
Poor soul! Through the blast,
There she was at last!


Those worthy craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
Greatly did they cheer
To see her appear.
While Manole smarted,
With all hope he parted,
His sweet bride he kissed,
Saw her through a mist,
In his arms he clasped her,
Up the steps he helped her,
Pressed her to his chest,
And thus spoke in jest,
"Now my own sweet bride,
Have no fear, abide;
We'll make thee a nest,
Build thee up in jest!"
Ana laughed merrily,
She laughed trustfully,
And Manole sighed,
His trowel he plied,
Raised the wall as due,
Made the dream come true.
Up he raised the wall
To gird her withal;
Up the wall did rise
To her ankles nice,
To her bonny thighs.
While she, wellaway,
Creased her laugh so gay,
And would pray and say,
"Manole, Manole,
Good master Manole!
Have done with your jest,
'Tis not for the best.
Manole, Manole,
Good Master Manole,
The wall squeezes hard,
My frail flesh is marred."
Not a word spoke he,
But worked busily;
Up he raised the wall
To gird her withal;
And the wall did rise
To her ankles nice,
To her bonny thighs,
To her shapely waist,
To her fair, young breasts.
While she, wellaway,
She would cry and say,
She would weep and pray,
"Manole, Manole!
The wall weighs like lead,
Tears my teats now shed
My babe is crushed dead."
Manole did smart,
Sick he was at heart;
And the wall did rise,
Pressed her in its vice,
Pressed her shapely waist,
Crushed her fair, young breasts,
Reached her lips now white,
Reached her eyes so bright,
Till she sank in night
And was lost to sight!
Her sweet voice alone
Came through in a moan,
"Manole, Manole,
Good master Manole!
The wall squeezes hard,
Crushed is now my heart,
With my life I part!"


Down the Argesh lea,
Beautiful to see,
Prince Negru in state
Came to consecrate
And to kneel in prayer
To that shrine so fair,
That cloister of worth,
Peerless on this earth.
There it stood so bright
To his eyes' delight.
And the prince spoke then,
"Ye good team of ten,
Ye worthy craftsmen,
Tell me now in sooth,
Cross your hearts in truth,
Can you build for me,
With your mastery,
Yet another shrine,
A cloister divine,
Ever far more bright,
Of greater delight?"
Then those great craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
Boasting cheerfully,
Cheering boastfully,
From the roof on high,
Up against the sky,
Thus they made reply,
"Like us great craftsmen,
Masons, journeymen,
In skill and in worth
There are none on earth!
Marry, if thou wilt,
We can always build
Yet another shrine,
A cloister divine,
Ever far more bright,
Of greater delight!"
This the prince did hark,
And his face grew dark;
Long, long there he stood
To ponder and brood.
Then the prince anon
Ordered with a frown
All scaffolds pulled down,
To leave those ten men,
Those worthy craftsmen,
On the roof on high,
There to rot and die.

Long they stayed there thinking,
Then they started linking
Shingles thin and light
Into wings for flight.
And those wings they spread,
And jumped far ahead,
And dropped down like lead.
Where the ground they hit,
There their bodies split.
Then poor, poor Manole,
Good master Manole,
As he brought himself
To jump from a shelf,
Hark, a voice came low
From the wall below,
A voice dear and lief,
Muffled, sunk in grief,
Mournful, woebegone,
Moaning on and on,
"Manole, Manole,
Good master Manole,
The wall weighs like lead,
Tears my teats still shed,
My babe is crushed dead,
Away my life's fled!"
As Manole heard
His life-blood did curd,
And his eyesight blurred,
And the high clouds whirled,
And the whole earth swirled;
And from near the sky,
From the roof on high,
Down he fell to die!
And, lo, where he fell
There sprang up a well,
A fountain so tiny
Of scant water, briny,
So gentle to hear,
Wet with many a tear!

See also:
The Myth of the Masterbuilder
The Story of Manole
Wikipedia: Curtea de Argeş Cathedral
Wikipedia: Meşterul Manole