To enquire for the name of an author of this poem is a hopeless quest; there is only one original; and other medieval writings of Russia must likewise remain nameless.
But it is still possible from both internal and external evidence to localize and individualize the poet.
This poem is a little epic, to celebrate an event of merely passing interest, to invoke aid to release a minor prince of the House and revenge an unimportant defeat,--almost a broadsheet which was also a work of genius. It is narrowly and strictly historical. The date of composition is fixed by the reference to the eclipse of 1185, the adulation of Yarosláv of Galicia who died early in 1187, and also by the evident manner in which the first two sections were written as an appeal for help, without any anticipation of Ígoŕ's escape which is poetized in the third part.
Thus the poem is absolutely topical; and its accuracy is enhanced by its close connection with the contemporary Chronicles in style, grammar and matter. The historical invocations and reminiscences are not only in conformity with the records, but in many cases borrow their phraseology with the very slightest modifications.
The account of the battle, as many of the commentators have observed is so sharp, and contains corroborative details, which would almost make it appear that the poet was an eye-witness or a combatant; and Petrúševič goes so far as to infer that he must have been one of the Galician volunteers, i.e. in the train of Yaroslávna, Ígoŕ's wife, and thus summoned by Ígoŕ to aid him in this expedition.
Dubenski indeed puts forward a hypothesis that the writer may have been that of the Pilgrimage of Daniel the Palmer, in view of some similarities of words and idioms; but this is a mere possibility.
The style is strongly marked. There is a recurrence of animal similes, a very evident love of nature, not the modern lyrical worship,
but shown in an intense faith in Nature's cooperation and sympathy with mankind, a genuine survival of the old Pagan pantheocracy.
The style is terse and powerful. There is no waste of effort, no empty verbiage such as mars the longer and more intimate passages in the Chronicles; nor again any of that wearisome reiteration and loose metre that makes the bylíny so formless, turgid and unschooled. In fact, the writer seems to take his resolve "not to follow the school of the ballads of his own day" so seriously, that at the crises of his story, his narrative becomes almost telegraphic in its compression, e.g. the parting of the brothers Ígoŕ and Vsévolod, the recital of Ígoŕ's escape and rescue †; whilst in the invocations to the princes there is hardly one word that does not serve to explain their boundaries, their exploits, or their patriotic record.
This exactitude and conciseness, combined with poetic presentation, and a wealth of imagery drawn from the forests and the heavens, is broadly speaking the determinant feature of the style of the Slóvo; and it is not inapposite to remark that the Ipatíevski Chronicle, in the years succeeding the events of 1185, contains snatches of verse reminiscent of the Slóvo [e.g. 1195, 1196, 1201].
Probably, if not certainly, the close correspondence of the Chronicles and this poem tends to prove that the writer must have been connected with the monastic houses, which, year by year set down so faithfully the little incidents in Russia's anarchic history, and yet so often were able to discern and insist on the bigger events, e.g. the taking of Kíev by Mstíslav Andréyevič of Súzdal’ in 1171, the first approach of the Pečenegs, the Pólovtsy and the Tatars.
But all we have is the poem, and it is only from its style that any guess should be hazarded as to who the author may have been. He is a sincere patriot who has exact acquaintance with his country's history and deplores the petty selfishness of the numberless princes, between which the wide territories were being parcelled up; his ambition was a united Russia, and, it is perhaps for this reason that he coined the word Русичи sons of Russia, an affectionate patronymic not used since or before to designate the Russian people.
This poem must have enjoyed some fame, for it was woefully and unintelligently plagiarized in the Zadónščina to celebrate the great and unique victory of Dmítri Donskóy over the Tatars,--this copy is occasionally useful to enable to restore a text earlier than that of Musin-Puškin's MS.--and passages from the Слово are quoted in some of the XV or XVI century bylíny [of Rybnikov ed. 1861 I 19 l. 237 and other references in Kirĕyevski ‡]. Its semi-pagan tone and the comparative triviality of the history it celebrates must have contributed to its neglect.
xliii:† ll. 268-284 and ll. 677-689.
xliii:‡ Generally some pedantic by-play on the obsolete word шеломя, hill.