Sen Svaja: Kraitis iš pelkės / Dowry from a Swamp

January 12, 2021

Tripartite Fairy Tales

Listening Post 286. Three women who present themselves as pixies, mixing real and mythic realms. Three pillars: Smart theatricality; venue (a biodiverse marsh); and group name (Sen Svaja), from an Old Prussian term meaning “with family,” implying not only blood but also those adopted from outside. The sundry elements of Dowry from a Swamp work and play in the service of darkly magical folk songs, five from the trio’s native Lithuania, plus tales from Macedonia, Serbia, Norway, Turkey and the United States. The music from Dorota Girskienė, Živilė Rimšaitė and Agota Zdanavičiūtė also comes in three parts (vocals, zither, percussion) and the women provide a prologue in the album notes: On the third day of the young moon, they meet deep in the forest, in an abandoned bathhouse; after refreshing themselves with water vapor, they pull a dowry—a rich trove of stories—from the swamp. The album’s opening track, about a shepherd conversing with his flock against a shadowy soundscape, sets the rustic tone, but from then on it’s all about the fraught business of young couples—gazing, loving, complaining, separating, dreaming and regretting. In the idyllic Leno Mori a young man worships a woman’s beauty, “eyes like cherries, lips like a jewel box” (video 1). Desertion follows a romantic encounter in Mislinčius (The Hunter, video 2), though the story ends on a hopeful note. The lovers in Sinoć Sjala (It Shone Last Night, video 3) are literally star-crossed, while Aš atsikėliau (Early in the Morning, video 4) is a matchmaking song with mixed signals. The worst has already occurred in Jenta (Girl, video 5), as a young woman destroys her ex-boyfriend’s belongings. Love is complicated but Sen Svaja’s dowry is perfectly measured: Minimal instrumentation provides deft balance for three beautiful, alluring voices. But be warned: Those who follow these fairies may get their feet wet. (CPL-Music)

Sen Svaja: Kraitis iš pelkės / Dowry from a Swamp
Dorota Girskienė: Vocals, percussion
Živilė Rimšaitė: Vocals, zither, percussion
Agota Zdanavičiūtė: Vocals, zither, percussion

Note. Sen svaja is from the Old Prussian, meaning “with relatives,” or “with our own.” Notwithstanding the common association of “Prussian” with Germany, Old Prussian, now extinct, was part of the Baltic language family, to which Lithuanian and Latvian belong.


Leno Mori
(From the Macedonian lyrics)
Your eyes, Leno mori, are as the cherries of Voden
Give them to me, so that I may eat them
Give them to me, Leno mori, so that I may quench my desire
Give them to me, so that my longing goes away

Your face, Lena mori, is as a peach from Lerina
Give it to me, so that may I eat it!
Give it to me, Leno mori, so that I may quench my desire
Give it to me, so that my longing goes away

Your lips, Lena mori, are as a jewel box from Kastoria
Give them to me, so that I may open them
Give it to me, Leno mori, so that I may quench my desire
Give it to me, so that my longing goes away

Your body, Lena mori, is so thin and tall
Give it to me, so that I may hold it
Give it to me, Leno mori, so that I may quench my desire
Give it to me, so that my longing goes away.


Mislinčius / The Hunter
(From the Lithuanian lyrics)
Once a hunter went for a walk in the woods with his dogs
He went where dogs were barking and found a young girl lying there
The hunter approached and stood quietly until the girl turned to him
He sat on the green grass and they chatted sweetly like a pair of pigeons
He embraced her, kissed her lovingly and gave her a ring as a sign of love
“Good bye, young girl, I won’t look after you, I am going with my dogs to search for happiness”

She returned home, went to her garden and saw that the lilies and rue* were bent
The leaves of the lily flowers and rue had fallen
On the branch of rue she saw the cradle swinging
In that cradle she sees her baby boy sleeping
The baby has a round face like her boyfriend
The girl was crying and she didn’t hear when the boyfriend was shouted:
“Please forgive me, dear girl, I am going to marry you and won’t leave you through the ages”

*rue flower = a symbol of virginity


Sinoč Sjala / It Shone Last Night
(From the Serbian lyrics)
One little star shone last night
My sweet lamb, for the two of us

A bright star you can talk to
She should have someone to greet, but does not

I am sorry my marigold
I am taken from you


Aš atsikėliau / Early in the Morning
(From the Lithuanian lyrics)
I wake up early in the morning
Aleliumai rūtele*, early in the morning
I have milled two rye
Two rye and the third buckwheat
The third buckwheat for my groom
The black and curly one has arrived
Black and curly but young and not married
Young and not married, shod with iron
He is shod with iron and squeezed by heath
What do you need, my guest?
Do you want to drink, or do you want to eat?
I want neither drink nor food
I only need a young girl
A young girl and her white hand*

*Aleliumai rūtele is refrain common in winter songs
*a white hand is a matchmaking symbol for a young and beautiful girl but can also indicate a young girl who doesn’t work hard


(From the Norwegian lyrics)
The girl went up on the hill, stood on a rock and sobbed
“I can’t have the boy I had last year,” so she destroys both his box and pipe 

Shiny box and brass pipe, I can’t have the boy I love
She destroys both the box and the pipe 



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