They steal horses, don’t they? (Căpitane de judeţ / To a county captain)

In Romanian, when someone gets a good beating, one can say they hit him like a horse thief. That’s what usually happened to horse thieves when they were caught. And in the rural regions of Wallachia and Moldova there were a lot of thieves and rustlers hiding out in the thickets.

Sure, the forests aren’t that shady nowadays and thieves usually get a fair trial after the beating, but the game’s still on. In fact, I’m pretty sure somewhere in Romania a horse is being stolen as we speak.

This is exactly what this old Wallachian song is about. A young horse thief learns the tricks of the trade from his elder. He gets caught and tries to persuade the captain of the county (some sort of sheriff or maybe just the ad-hoc leader of a local posse comitatus) to let him go so he can bring the horses back. Eventually, he gets his ass kicked and blames a nearby tree for not having warned him.

Şi-am zis verde lemn de prun
Spune, spune hoţ bătrân
Spune caii când să-i fur?

Noaptea pe fulgeratură
Pe negură şi pe brumă
Pe negură şi pe ceaţă
Atunci caii buni se-nhaţă
Colea-n zori de dimineaţă
Pe negură şi pe brumă
Că te las cu deştu-n gură
Că nu se cunoaşte urmă

Căpitane de judeţ
De ce mă bagi la coteţ
Pentr-un pui de mânzuleţ
Că nu l-am vândut cu preţ
L-am vândut pă zece mii
Să iau pâine la copii
Căci calu’ l-am dat pă bani
Şi iapa pă icusari
Să le dau la lăutari

Dă-mi drumu’ până-n chindie
Că-ţi aduc o herghelie
Că-ţi aduc neică o mie
Dacă-mi dai până la prânz
Ţi-l aduc fir-ar de mânz
Ţi-aduc mama cailor
Şi tata-l cârlanilor
Şi pe păzitorul lor

Când cânta cocoşu’ o dată
Eram cu murgii pă baltă
Când cânta de două ori
Număram la gălbiori
Le dădeam la frăţiori
Să aibe dă sărbători
Ia Ileano pune-i bine
Că la iarnă nu se ştie
Că la iarnă-i vreme grea
N-avem Leano ce mânca
Nici la lăutari ce da

Când eram la aldămaş
N-aveam loc de păgubaşi
Pusei mâna pe pahar
Dar păgubaşii pe par
Păgubaşe nu mai da
Că-ţi aduc pe Galbena
Tocmai de la Brăila
Că-ţi aduc pe Galbena
Şi cu v’o cinci după ea.

Fir-ai să fii măi făgui
De ce n-ai venit să-mi spui
Să-mi iau armele din cui
Să trag la puşcă vergeaua
Şi să-mi apuc poteceaua
La lăstaru’ cât undreaua
Unde cântă turtureaua
Turtureaua şi toţi cucii
C-acolo se strâng haiducii

And I said oh, green plum wood,
Tell me, tell me, old thief
When’s the right time to steal a horse?

At night, when it’s thundering
When it’s dark and frosty
When it’s dark and foggy
That’s when you can snatch a good horse
Around here, at the break of dawn
When it’s dark and foggy
I can leave’em bewildered
‘Cause there’ll be no trace

Oh, county captain
Why are you sticking me in the pen
For a baby foal
Didn’t even sell him for the right price
I sold him for ten thousand
To get bread for the kids
I gave away the horse for money
And the mare for Turkish piasters*
To pay the musicians

Set me free till evening
And I’ll bring you back a drove of horses
I’ll bring you a thousand of ’em, man
Give me till midday
And I’ll bring back the damned foal
I’ll bring you the mother of all horses
And the father of all colts
I’ll even bring you their watchman

By the time the rooster crowed once
I was leading the horses by the lake
By the time he crowed twice
I was counting coins
Giving ’em to my brothers
For the holidays
Take ’em, Ileana,
‘Cause we don’t know what’ll be this winter
The weather’ll be rough
We won’t have anything to eat
Or give to the musicians

When we were drinking to seal the deal**
The victims crowded in on me,
I was reaching for the glass
But they – for the cudgel
Stop hitting me, horse-owner,
Cause I’ll bring back Galbena***
All the way from Brăila****
I’ll bring back Galbena
And another five or so horses

God damn you little beech tree*****
Why didn’t you come warn me
So I could have grabbed my guns from the hanger
Pulled the rod from my rifle
And taken the forest path
To where the twigs are like needles
Where the turtle dove sings
The dove and all the cuckoo birds
‘Cause that’s where the highwaymen gather

* By the time this horse thief got caught, Romania was probably an independent nation with its own currency and all, but roving bands of lăutari (musicians) would still gladly accept old Ottoman coins.

** The aldămaş was a glass of hard alcohol (plum brandy, perhaps) meant to symbolically finalize a deal. Usually followed by more alcohol, changing one’s mind and arguing over said deal.

*** Means “Yellow”. Is the name of a horse. A stolen horse.

**** Trading city on the Danube, bordering the vast Bărăgan plain. There would have been a lot of horses stolen and sold in or around Brăila, but I’m pretty sure this song was first sung way further east of there, in Teleorman or Oltenia (someone once told me it’s from Gorj county). So Brăila is a long ride away. Good luck getting the horses back.

***** Some sing făgui (little beech tree), some sing vătui (little rabbit). The latter a lot more sense doth make.

5 thoughts on “They steal horses, don’t they? (Căpitane de judeţ / To a county captain)

  1. I’ve heard variations that used the verse “Fir-ai să fii de vătui” instead of “Fir-ai să fii măi făgui”. “Vătui” means a baby rabbit/wild hare. That would make a bit more sense if it were to “[…] come warn me” compared to a beech tree…
    Just my two cents.

  2. Your translations are excellent! Looks like you’ve let the blog rest, but do more, if you have time. They are much appreciated.

    My request is for an in-depth translation of the lyrics to: “Am iubit si am s-o iubesc”… On the surface, it seems to mention wife-beating pretty frequently. Is this an overly-literal reading of the meaning?

  3. This is a really great site! I’d love to see more translations. I can speak Romanian OK, but sometimes I can’t grasp the meaning of some expressions found in folk songs. It would be great to hear your explanations of some of these.
    I see the last post is from 2014 though, so maybe that means you have run out of time for such a project. I hope not!

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