Among the earliest extant Serbian poems are church songs commissioned and often composed by Saint Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Serbian Orthodox Church and of Serbian literature. These poems were patterned after Byzantine church songs, but there were also original Slavic songs among them. As the Serbian state grew in size and strength, more poetry was written, mostly in the form of pohvale (encomiums) to national and church leaders. In addition, in the famous biographies of Serbian kings and archbishops, as well as in historical writings, there are passages so strikingly lyrical and rhetorical that some scholars now treat them as poems. “Slovo ljubve” (c. fifteenth century; a song of love), by Stephan Lazarevi, and “Pohvala Knezu Lazaru” (1402; the encomium to Prince Lazar) are good examples of this kind of poetic literature. “Slovo ljubve” is written in a rather intricate form of acrostic, indicating that the poet drew on a sophisticated literary tradition.
With the advance of the Ottoman army into the Balkans and the gradual loss of Serbian independence, beginning with the Battle of Kosovo (1389) and ending with the fall of the last piece of Serbian territory (1459), Serbian literature entered a period of eclipse that would last almost until the eighteenth century. During this period, written literature was very difficult to maintain. Books were written exclusively by monks in secluded monasteries, aided by numerous intellectuals and writers from other countries who were fleeing the Turks. Among these writers, Dimitrije Kantakuzin (c. 1410-1474) and Pajsije (1550?-1647) stand out with their spiritually suffused poems.