Associated by recreational folk dancers with the dance Vranjanka are two songs popular in Serbia and North Macedonia. In recreational folk dance circles, by far the most popular is Šano dušo. For more on Šano dušo, click: https://folkdancefootnotes.org/music/lyrics-english-translations/sano-duso-vranjanka-english-lyrics/
However in Serbia and North Macedonia, equally popular is another song Otvori mi belo Lenče, [known to folk dancers more simply as Belo Lenče]. While Šano dušo has music and lyrics whose authors are known, Otvori mi belo Lenče appears to be a true “folk” composition that spontaneously appeared in the mid-1890’s in the Vranje area of Serbia. Vranje had been captured from the Ottomans less than 20 years earlier, and Ottoman territory was only a few miles away.
The Story of the Song
In 1982, professor Momcilo Zlatanović published Folk Poetry of Southern Serbia, in which he details his research into the song’s origin. Milan Ristić (known in the song as Mile Pile, “Mile dear”) was a wealthy landowner; Jelena Stamenković (belo Lenče, “white Lenče” diminutive form of the Macedonian female name “Lenka”) was young woman from the poor side of town, considered beautiful due to her very white skin. Both were born in Vranje in the 1800’s. One day in the mid-1890’s, while Mile was out inspecting his properties, he saw Lenče, she saw him, and it was love at first sight. In those days marriages were arranged between families by the family patriarchs, even among the rich, and both Mile and Lenče knew they would not be allowed marry. Still, they continued seeing each other, (though it appears their love was never consummated). Town gossip evolved into a song, gleefully sung everywhere, including within earshot of the lovers.
To avoid further scandal, Jelena was put under constant surveillance. Because she was illiterate, even notes could not be passed to her. Quickly her father married her to Kosta Stošić, a tram driver. 18 months later, Milan’s grandfather (his father was dead) married Milan to “blue-eyed and slender Ljubica”, a cultivated girl from the respected Goločevo family. Quoting a Google translation from this source; https://www.vranjenet.rs/belo-lence-posalice-do-elegije/ “Belo Lenče, from joke to elegy“; “but the song is louder and louder. There is no cafe, no celebration, no wedding without it. It is spreading to the surrounding bazaars, to Gjilan, Pristina, Kumanovo, Leskovac…
The main characters of that lyrical song intimately enjoy it and sing it to themselves. Milan still visits fields and vineyards, cruises around the city on white [horse] and meets Jelena every day, and she seems to know when [he rides DB], she is always at the gate, despite the warnings she receives from her parents… Their spouses are increasingly jealous, and if they forget for a moment in agony, he immediately reminded them of a song he had ordered in a nearby tavern by some drunken bekrija. As they go to a party or a wedding, among the first, and then almost after every third, they sing “Open to me, white Lenče”.
Love flared up for another five years and hinted at the dissolution of marriages. Under such pressure, Kostina and Jelena’s parents decide to move the couple from Vranje….to Belgrade. Her husband worked there from 1903 as a tram worker.…Belo Lenče and Mile Pile, although cruelly separated, did not interrupt their love fantasies…”
And from this site: https://www.bastabalkana.com/2017/11/pesma-otvori-mi-belo-lence-krije-jednu-od-najlepsih-ljubavnih-prica/ “In vain Mile took Ljubica to parties and merriment, and pampered her, as soon as the song “Open to me, white Lance” resounded, Ljubica angrily and jealously took her husband’s hand and they went home…..Lenče had six children, Mile had nine.…Lenče, they say, desperately wanted to at least marry [her] son to Mile’s daughter. One day, accompanied by Ljubica’s and Milan’s son, a young engineer Mihailo Stošić came to propose to their daughter Persida. He had only one flaw – he was the son of Beli Lenče. When she found out about it, Ljubica turned green with rage. ‘What?! Am I going to kiss Belo Lenče like a friend? Never!‘ “
In 1941 Lenče was killed during the Nazi bombing of Belgrade. When he found out, Milan, who had served as an officer in WWI, immediately re-enlisted to fight the Germans. “when an armored train was destroyed, witnesses state that he then said: ‘This is for my Lenče!’ Then, through tears, he sang his song, which, also crying, was accepted by all comrades-in-arms, to be heard to the sky. Milan Tasić died in Vranje in 1960 and was buried in the Shapranac Cemetery. At his request, the words “Mile Pile” are on the monument…..Legend has it that the song “Otvori mi Belo Lenče” was heard from a cafe in Vranje on the day of Milan’s funeral – maybe by accident…”
Otvori mi belo Lenče – the Song
There are many different sets of lyrics. I’ve attempted to match lyrics to the YouTube of the particular singer.
Lyrics as sung by Stanisa Stosic: Otvori mi belo Lenče vratanca, šalaj portanca Open for me, fair Lenče. the door, the blessed portal, //da ti Ljubim, belo Lenče, ustanca rujna, rumena. // That I may love you, fair Lenče, little lips, blushing roses. Ja ne mogu, Mile, pile da stane, da ti otvori I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you. Legnala mi stara majka na fustan, šalaj na fustan. My elderly mother was lying Legnala mi stara majka na fustan, ludo na fustan. on a fustan (sleeveless dress), crazy fustan. ///Pa ne mogu, Mile, pile da stane, da ti otvori/// I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you.
Lyrics as sung by Gordana Lazarević: ///Otvori mi belo Lenče vratata, mori portanca/// Open for me, fair Lenče. the door, the dear portal, ///Da ti Ljubim, belo Lenče ustanca rujna, rumena. /// That I may love you, fair Lenče, little lips, blushing roses. Ne mogu ti, Mile, pile da stanam, da ti otvaram I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you. legnala mi stara majka na fustan, ludo, na fustan My elderly mother was lying on a fustan (sleeveless dress), crazy fustan. Pa ne mogu, Mile, pile da stanam, da ti otvaram I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you.
Otvori mi, belo Lenče vratanca, aman, portanca Open for me, fair Lenče. the door, the blessed portal, //da ti ljubim, belo Lence ustanca rujna, rumena// That I may love you, fair Lenče, little lips, blushing roses. Ne mogu ti, Mile, pile da stanam, da ti otvaram I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you. legnala mi stara majka na fustan, ludo, na fustan My elderly mother was lying on a fustan (sleeveless dress), crazy fustan. Pa ne mogu, Mile, pile da stanam, da ti otvaram I am unable, Mile, my little chicken, to rise, to open for you. Maja Odzaklijevska stars in a 1985 production of Koštana, seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2eZyLnAnN4 At the 1 hr 20 min 54 sec mark, she sings Otvori mi, belo Lenče.
Otvori mi, belo Lenče vratanca, aman, portanca Open for me, fair Lenče. the door, the blessed portal, da ti vidam belo Lenče liceto, aman* ?????, So that I can see, o white Lenche, your face, mercy ???? da ti vidam belo Lenče liceto, belo rumeno So that I can see, o white Lenche, your face, white roses? Jas ne možam mile pile da stanam, da ti otvoram, I can't, dear love, get up, to open the door for you, //legnala mi stara majka na fustan, aman zaspala// my old mother is laying on my dress, aman*, she fell asleep *Aman (mac. Аман) = an interjection - a Turkish loanword originally meaning "mercy." Ja zemi si belo Lenče nožici, aman ??????? So get, my white Lenče, the scissors, aman scissors, iseči go belo Lenče fustanot, aman fustanot, and cut, o white Lenče, the dress, aman the dress, A 4th verse, not heard on these YouTubes, A jas ḱe ti kupam Lenče poubav, aman pošaren, And I'll get you, Lenche, a prettier one, aman more colorful, //od 60 groša Lenče aršinot, aman aršinot,// I'll pay it 60 groschen*, Lenche, for an an arshin*, aman, an arshin. *groschen http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groschen * Arshin (mac. Аршин) = an old measure of length (arm length - from the palm till the shoulder).