Spiritual Verses

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Spiritual Verses


(in Russian, dukhovnye stikhi), old epic and lyrical folk songs with a religious content; one of the forms of the folklore of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian peoples.

The material and plots of spiritual verses go back to literary (primarily religious) sources (the Bible, saints’ lives, church hymns, and legends and apocrypha), but they are simultaneously works of folklore, with its characteristic motifs, rhymes, and linguistic forms. Spiritual verses have been known since the 15th century (the poem about Adam). The wandering poor and blind—the “passing pilgrims”—sang spiritual verses while accompanying themselves on a musical instrument. Beginning with the 17th century, spiritual verses were especially widespread among the Old Believers, as well as among the sectarians. Typical of the 17th century are the spiritual verses which go back to written chants and the Psalms.

Along with strictly religious themes and ideas (the poems “On the Last Judgment” and “The Lament of a Sinful Soul”), the spiritual verses reflect in an original way on historical events and articulate folk judgments about good and justice, the origin of the world, and other topics (the spiritual verses “On the Dove Book” and “About Egorii the Brave”). Among the Old Believers there is a cycle of satirical spiritual verses.


Bezsonov, P. A. Kalikiperekhozhie: Sb. stikhov i issledovanie, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1861-63.
Veselovskii, A. N. Razyskaniia v oblasti russkikh dukhovnykh stikhov, fasc. 1-6. St. Petersburg, 1880-91.
Fedotov, G. P. Stikhi dukhovnye. Paris, 1935.
Sokolov, Iu. M. Russkiifol’klor. Moscow, 1941.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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