Kolec Traboini – writer and publisher

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Reference of Traboini colorful Work: http://traboini1.blogspot.com/

In Albania:
1975 Bachelor of Journalism, University of Tirana, Albania.
1975-1991 scriptwriter for Kinostudio Albafilm Tirane. My work included writing of scripts for documentary films.
I recived 1-st National Price for the film “Asdreni”, 1976, first for the film “Keshtjella e Kengeve” (The Castle of Songs), also won the best Film of the Year 1990 for the film “Deshmi nga Barleti” (Witness from Barleti) – a war history of 1468-1478, in my hometown Shkoder, North Albania.

In Greece:
1991-1995 immigrat in Athens-Grecce, worker and later Publisher and Editor of “The Egnatia” newspaper in two languages, Albanian and Greek.

In USA:
I moved to USA on July 1995. For over than three years, I published a non profitable Albanian Buletin as a contribute to the new Albanian Immigrant Community in Boston.

Free-lance Author:
I have authored several books, which have been published, such as “Petalet e Bajames se hidhur”, 1973 (trans. Leaves of Wild Almonds), “Balada e largesive” 1995 (Ballads from Afar), “Rapsodi Ushtore” 1995 (Rhapsodies reverberate-Satiric poems), “Gjurme ne histori” 1995 (History’ Tracks), “Katerkendeshi i mundimeve” 2001 (Quadrangle of Fatigue), “Mos vdis dashuri” poems 2002, (Don’t die our love).

Boston, May 2, 2002


WHERE ARE YOU GOD?!

Kosova, 1998

In difficult desperate situations
we raise eyes towards the sky
and cry
Oh God!
We don’t know if this is a revolt or a call for mercy
But, despite he horrible state of affairs,
hope always remains
as a ragtag faded flag
in the frigid heart of Old Lady Europe
as a skull of a horse at Waterloo.
I join with the pain and the hope
with damnation and hate
with love and mercy
with the aspiration and fate of every human being
there in the depths of the black well
of human hell.

Despite living in a free world
our spirit is broken by the darkness
broken by this tyrannical and hypocritical century
that does not feel remorse
in the face of massacres against humanity
in the face of slitting the angels’ throats
in the face of the blood streams and the splitting
of the skulls
in front of tanks that smash the fragile bones
of doves

Faced with the Middle Ages’ darkness
rising out of the
Balkan trenches
to wipe out and annihilate a nation.
With eyes towards the sky in revolt
do I have the right to say
now that man has fallen:
Where are you oh God?!

— K. Traboini, Boston, August 13, 1998

Translated by:
Ferhat Ymeri
Kent – Washington

This poetry has been published on the Anthology of the International Library of Poetry, 1999 – page 108, under the title “OF MEMORY’S BLESS”, on the section of the writers from USA and other authors from the world.


RACISM AND INTOLLERANCE IN THE SHADOW OF THE ACROPOLIS

I would like to remind all the contributors of the discussion on” racism and intolerance” that what our college Alush Kola has stated is nothing when compared with the reality of what has happened to the Albanian emigrants in the Greek territories. Such a long and endless discussion over the words of Mr Kola who has his own point of view, seems to me more like a passionate attempt to defend Greece than to discuss the ethics of discussion on this list. When I talk about Greece and Greek politics I am in no way referring to the Greek People , for which I have the greatest love and respect, but to certain sectors of its society which are responsible for the aggressiveness in Greek Politics. It is not racism to hate and denounce the destructive, violent and genicidal policies of political sectors of a state, but it is racism when you feed a people with hate towards another.

I would like to ask some of you if you know history in detail or even with approximation. Are you aware of the human fate of entire communities in Greece, which does not recognize any ethnicity except for the Greek?
Do you know that there are Turks in Ksanth whose ethnicity is not recognized? Are you aware that there are hundreds of thousands of Arvanites (ethnic Albanians) to whom the right of Albanian schooling has been denied and who are not even allowed to form clubs, while due to indirect attacks from the media they have stopped declaring their identity?

Do you know that on new year’s eve of 1993 , while the world was celebrating the coming of the new year, the Greek police forces, engaged in a witch hunt, where chasing down Albanians emigrants during the night under the eyes of their sensational cameras?

Let us ask the Albanian embassy in Athens how many Albanians were killed by the police , and how many disappeared without a trace. They are in the thousands. Let us look through the pages of the Greek newspapers “Elefterotipia”, “Tanea”, “Kathimerini”, “Apogjematini”, “Athens News” and others to find the terrible facts of how the Micotaki government has promoted racism. You have not seen ,and could not even in dream, the heads cut open, the burnt bodies of 18 year old boys, the adolescents killed by Greek landlords in black watered canals in Crete, and therefore you feel indignation with the words of Mr. Kola. I who write this to you , love the Greek People for their spiritual values of the simple people, for the beauty of their culture and all other things, for their marvelous poetry a part of which I have translated in the Albanian language for the newspaper for emigrants which I directed, but I could never forget the suffering of the Albanian emigrant, the chases, the killings, the public beatings the groups of 30 to 50 people tied together in the streets of Athens , reminiscent of the methods of medieval times, which I have witnessed during my sad 5 years stay in Greece.

And if I continue to ache in my soul for the lost and the murdered of my People (for which each of you should hold a minute of silence in your soul), this ,sirs. Does not mean that I am a racist or intolerant. I have lived through racism and intolerance during the 5 years which I have lived In The Shadow of the Acropolis.

KOLEC TRABOINI
5 years emigrant in Greece
Boston, September 17, 1997

Filip Shiroka (1859-1935)

| Culture & Arts | Filip Shiroka – Wikipedia |

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BIOGRAPHY

Filip Shiroka (1859-1935) is a classical Rilindja poet whose verse was first to become known in later years. He was born and raised in Shkodra and educated there by the Franciscans. Among his teachers was poet Leonardo De Martino (1830-1923), whose influence is omnipresent in Shiroka’s verse. His earliest verse publication, All’Albania, all’armi, all’armi! (To Albania, to arms, to arms!), was a rather weak nationalist poem on the defence of Ulcinj, which was written in Italian and printed in the Osservatore Cattolico (Catholic Observer) of Milan in 1878. Like many Albanian intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, Filip Shiroka spent much of his life in exile. In 1880, after the defeat of the League of Prizren, he emigrated to the Middle East, and settled in Egypt and Lebanon where he worked as an engineer in railway construction.

Shiroka’s nationalist, satirical and meditative verse in Albanian was written mostly from 1896 to 1903. It appeared in journals such as Faik Konitza’s Albania, the Albanian periodicals published in Egypt, and the Shkodra religious monthly Elçija i Zemers t’Jezu Krisctit (The Messenger of the Sacred Heart). Shiroka, who also used the pseudonyms Geg Postrippa and Ulqinaku, is the author of at least sixty poems, three short stories, articles and several translations, in particular of religious works for Catholic liturgy. His verse collection, Zâni i zêmrës, Tiranë 1933 (The voice of the heart), which was composed at the turn of the century, was published by Ndoc Nikaj two years before Shiroka’s death in Beirut.

Filip Shiroka’s verse, inspired by early nineteenth-century French and Italian romantic poets such as Alfred de Musset (1810-1857), Alfonse de Lamartine (1790-1869) and Tommaso Grossi (1790-1853) whom he had read as a young man in Shkodra, does not cover any unusual thematic or lexical range, nor is it all of literary quality, though the latter assertion is no doubt valid for most Rilindja poets. Shiroka is remembered as a deeply emotional lyricist, and as one of linguistic purity, who was obsessed with his own fate and that of his distant homeland. Recurrent in his work is the theme of nostalgia for the country of his birth.

Be off, swallow

Farewell, for spring has come,
Be off, swallow, on your flight,
From Egypt to other lands,
Searching over hill and plain
Be off to Albania on your flight,
Off to Shkodra, my native town!

Convey my greetings
To the old house where I was born,
And greet the lands around it
Where I spent my early years;
Be off thither on your flight,
And greet my native town!

And when you come to Fush’ e Rmajit,
Swallow, stop there and take your rest;
In that land of sorrow are the graves
Of the mother and father who raised me;
Weep in your exquisite voice
And lament them with your song!

For ages I have not been to Albania
To attend those graves;
You, swallow, robed in black,
Weep there on my behalf,
With that exquisite voice of yours
Lament them with your song!

[Shko, dallëndyshe, from the volume Zani i zemrës, Tirana 1933, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 275-275]

Lazer Shantoja (1892-1945)

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Persecution of Catholics in Albania
Used with permission from the Albanian Catholic Information Center. This article was originally published in the ALBANIAN CATHOLIC BULLETIN, Volumes 7-8, 1986-87. For more information about religious persecution in Albania write: The Albanian Catholic Information Center, Box 1217, University of Santa Clara, Santa Clara, CA 95053.

A BRILLIANT STYLIST OF ALBANIAN LITERATURE

— by Ernest Koliqi

During the tragic period between 1945 and 1949, Archbishop Vincenz Prendushi of Durres, Father Anton Harapi, the Franciscan Provincial, Ethem Haxhiademi of Elbasan, Father Bernardin Palaj, and Reverend Lazer Shantoja disappeared from the Albanian cultural scene. These men represented the leading intellectuals and seminal thinkers in the field of Albanian culture and literature. Their scholarly efforts and literary endeavors were suddenly ended by the Albanian Communist government.

I enjoyed the friendship of Reverend Lazer Shantoja for many years. I came to know of his great literary aspirations. At La Motte in Switzerland in the 1930s, Father Shantoja revealed his oft-delayed plans for a major literary work. He wished to preserve Albanian’s ancient culture and traditions which, after being sifted with western civilization, continued in a transparent modern form. Years earlier the great Albanian poet, Father Gjergj Fishta, O.F.M. (1871-1940), had sung of the heroic struggles of his people against all efforts by their enemies to break the ethnic solidarity of the nation. Shantoja wanted to develop Fishta’s theme but in a much larger fresco. He firmly believed that a national domestic life centered upon all-but-forgotten virtues could flourish but only if built around those hearths where the flames symbolized the cult of liberty based on belief in God.

Only in that setting could the conviction be found that “honor is for life a more necessary nourishing light than the sun itself.” Shantoja reluctantly spoke of this work for the plans were still in gestation. With a great deal of reticence, he revealed that he needed to renew contact with the soil, the people, and the atmosphere of his fatherland. In this regard, he always spoke in such playful and nostalgic phrases as: “I need to eat cornbread with goat cheese, that cheese which preserves the flavor of the foilage of our beech grooves upon which the goats feed.”

With Shantoja, in the La Motte parish home near the Franco-Swiss border, lived the priest’s elderly mother. She was a native of Shkodra. Although uneducated, she overflowed with rich human experiences. Not knowing a word of French, she was continually afflicted with an incurable homesickness. She immersed herself day and night in remembering the lost homeland, events of far away Shkodra, relatives and acquaintances and speaking of faded memories of the past. She spoke the native tongue of Shkodra perfectly. Her nuanced language sparkled with colorful phrases, and was always spoken with the distinctive intonations characteristic of Albanian women of every social class. The poet-son was greatly indebted to her for influencing his style of expression. Elements of his mother’s talents for expression run throughout Shantoja’s works. It was a priceless dowry from a mother to her son.

The Early Years

Lazer Shantoja was born in Shkodra in 1892. During his boyhood, he was steered towards a religious vocation by his priest uncle. In the Jesuit-run Pontifical Seminary at Shkodra, he received a solid cultural preparation and studied Greek, Latin and Italian languages. Shantoja distinguished himself in the language courses. In his early adolescence he came under the influence of the literary movement which appeared on the wake of the early Albanian Cultural revival. His distinguished Albanian Jesuit teachers–Fathers Ndre Mjeda, Anton Zanoni and Mark Bazhdari–served as his role models. For Philosophy and Theology studies he was sent to Innsbruck, Austria. There he learned to read, write, and speak the German language fluently.

Following ordination in 1920, Shantoja was placed in charge of several mountain parishes near Sheldija. This prosperous and pleasant region was not too far distant from Shkodra. I often heard about the learned young pastor who had transported a piano by mule-back over the difficult mountain paths to Sheldija. Almost everyone in the region called him the “pastor with the piano.”

In 1924, Archbishop Lazer Mjeda, the brother of the Jesuit poet Father Ndre Mjeda, came from Skopje to fill the vacant See of Shkodra. The new Archbishop was a strong-willed man of high moral stature and exceptional political foresight. Mjeda’s energy was undaunted. He quickly undertook enlightened and efficient measures to raise the social status and civil power of the Catholic population. He gave his support to the political activity of Luigj Gurakuqi, the Catholic founder and leader of the Christian-Democrat party. A majority of the Moslem population soon allied itself with this party. Archbishop Mjeda promoted the cultural initiative of the citizenry by appointing Shantoja his personal secretary. The poet arrived in Shkodra with his books and his piano. Afterwards in the evenings, piano concert music was played in the Archbishop’s palace. The musical notes from Schumann and Schubert’s works would pour down from the upper windows over the esplanade of the Cathedral and drift into the main thoroughfare. Citizens gathered nightly for the impromptu concerts. Awed passers-by would often gaze in admiration towards the palace window.

In 1923, an official Christian-Democrat party newspaper, ORA E MALEVE, (Defence of the Mountains) began publication. Shortly afterwards, the Archbishop assigned Shantoja to “actively participate” in its compilation. The newspaper enjoyed immediate and extraordinary success. The widely circulated newspaper disseminated democratic ideas throughout an Albanian society that was still imprisoned by anachronistic, medieval concepts.

Shantoja thrust himself into political competition with all the ardor of his capricious temperament. He demonstrated more of the spirit and style of an artist than the passion of a party member. It was precisely this artistic temperament that exploded in brilliant, polemic cues which struck the readers, enthused friends, and irritated his foes. Filled with a joy of expression, he caught in his aim every target. Shantoja’s newspaper work quickly gained him recognition as a writer. His short prose paragraphs and his scratching, corrosive, satiric verses were written in a piercing style and popular vein. They were received with avid interest by the readership.

Producing these emotion-filled works amused him tremendously. His articles of social and political criticism revealed Shantoja’s underlying intent to regenerate the spirit of his people. With the fervor of a true believer and with an unshakeable will, he set out to utilize his learning to fulfill his duty towards his country. Shantoja dedicated every line of his works to the spiritual elevation of the Albanian people.

Unfortunately, the Albanian people in the 1920s and 1930s had not yet reached a level of political maturity necessary either for understanding or sustaining the improvements suggested to them in the works of the innovators. Most Albanians failed to heed the call for better methods of government and the achievement of higher social levels.

The Exile Period

When the government of Bishop Fan Noli collapsed in 1924, hostile, anti-intellectuals filled the political vacuum with the help of foreign mercenaries. Shantoja joined hundreds of other literati and intellectuals in exile. He lived in Yugoslavia for a few years, then moved to Vienna before finally arriving in Berne, Switzerland. He obtained a position as a German speaking chaplain in a Berne Catholic church. Later he moved on to serve as the chaplain at La Motte where he gained fame for his sermons in French.

No impulse of hatred drove Shantoja to participate in political activities in Albania. His writings betrayed great depths of innate ingenuity. They contained fervent emotions and patriotic thoughts endowed with the freshness and idealism of everlasting adolescence. Shantoja’s works, even those considered the most mendacious, provoked admiration from his foes because of the sincerity and loyalty with which they were inspired, and because the bitterness of Shantoja’s irony was always lightened by the stirring elegance of his form.

Shantoja’s rare artistic sensitivity was supported by his solid cultural background, his knowledge of the major European languages and the mastery of his own native tongue. The poet remained open to the most varied manifestations of life and always demonstrated a love for people, music, and sports. Shantoja frequently climbed mountains in Albania, Austria and Switzerland with only a knapsack on his shoulders and an alpenstock in hand. It seemed that he was destined to leave a “mega work” revealing his creative genius, but unfortunately he never did. His memory is preserved only in some brief yet splendid prose, and in a few lofty lyric poems.

After spending 15 years in exile, Shantoja needed the inspiring breath of his homeland and renewed contact with his countrymen in order to create. While awaiting permission to return to Albania he translated the writings of Goethe, Schiller and various Italian poets. Meanwhile he wrote newspaper articles and poetry that appeared in the newspapers owned by fellow exiles. Throughout the final years of exile, there always remained stifled within him the desire to set about the work which would undoubtedly have affirmed his artistic genius and gained him world-wide recognition as a literary scholar.

Return to the Homeland

Finally, Shantoja was allowed to return to Albania in 1940. During this confused, troubled and anxious political period, events took him by storm. He settled down with his mother in a small house in Tirane where he intended to work peacefully with his books and notes. However, in 1944 he was arrested, thrown into a terrible prison, and tortured. After his captors broke his forearm and leg bones, he “walked” by supporting himself on his elbows and knees. When his mother was allowed to visit him, she saw him reduced to such a state that she begged the jailers to “Kill him. Do him this charity! Don’t let him suffer like this!”

Many people wonder why the communists harassed the priest poet in such an atrocious manner. After his return to Albania, he avoided political involvement. In fact, he conscientiously avoided all political currents agitating the country in 1941-1943.

Death of the Priest Poet

The only explanation for the barbarous treatment afforded Shantoja was that the Albanian communists were anti-western and anti-Christian. They hated the priest for upholding sane native traditions and for promoting the regenerative essence of “pure” western civilization, mixed with the truths of Christianity. The cultural enamel of western civilization, which sparkled in his prose and lyrics, irritated and frightened the communists. They saw him as an anti-communist instrument which could easily penetrate young hearts. Many youths enjoyed and adhered to Shantoja’s style. It was nurtured in substance with ethnic juices, but expressed in a very modern key in which suffering and humor harmonized elegantly. He knew how to express in words the typically sarcastic vein of the Albanian race marked with western humor. His few but exemplary works placed him in the mainstream of Albanian literature, next to the most refined Albanian stylist Faik Konitza (1875-1942).

The unspeakable cruelties endured by Shantoja reduced him to a state near death. Finally a communist woman soldier delivered the coup de grace by shooting him in the neck. His body was buried along with the octogenarian Moslem patrician Sulcio Bey Bushati in an unmarked tomb in an unknown place. Sulcio Bey Bushati had represented the whole of the noble Albanian traditions. He was a descendant of the house of princes that ruled northern Albania semi-independently of the “Sublime Porte” of Constantinopole. In burying the pious priest and Moslem nobleman together, the Communist deniers of God and of the homeland deluded themselves into believing they had thrust into oblivion a root of Albanian traditions and its revitalized offshoot.

A FORBIDDEN SONG

— by Rev. Lazer Shantoja

Reverend Lazer Shantoja had pseudonomously written and published a chain of sonnets dedicated to a young woman from Shkodra. The author’s identity was soon discovered and some pious Catholics were scandalized. Nevertheless, the moral character of Shantoja, a confessed Christian Martyr, remains beyond reproach.

Sensitive both to beauty and to those marvelous gifts lavished by God upon mortals, the poet could not remain indifferent towards the female presence nor to the painful feelings endured by his beautiful admirer. These verses express the tumult of emotions that follow from the renouncement of romantic love for a woman. Shantoja poignantly affirmed that only in Heaven could he be free from his religious vows and be enabled to realize perfect emotional expression and fulfillment.

Reverend Shantoja’s sonnets renounced any form of earthly love; yet they rank among the most beautiful of Albanian poems ever dedicated to a woman.

No, do not ask these verses of me.
Destiny forbids. Though you intoxicate
this poet, still his lips must close.
His heart’s song changes to a lament.

The lyre with which I wished to gain you honor
I lay down. It cannot thrill with joy
if you may not be goal to my desires
but an abstract goddess only and a Muse.

Flower for others then. I, keeping my life from
love, will pass my days, unique among poets,
remembering the kiss you gave me.

In my exile the hymn of joy I raised
to Aphrodite will come down
out of the shadow of sad cypresses.

Translated from E.Koliqi’s ANTOLOGIA DELLA LIRICA ALBANESE, Milano, 1963, by Prof. J. Torrens, S.J.

Pashko Vasa (1825-1892)

[ Pashko Vasa në shqip ] & [ Culture ]

O Shqipni, e mjera Shqipni – the original in Albanian
O Albania, poor Albania – translated by Uk Buçpapaj

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BIOGRAPHY

One figure from northern Albania who played a key role in the Rilindja culture of the nineteenth century was Pashko Vasa (1825-1892), also known as Wassa Effendi, Vaso Pasha, or Vaso Pasha Shkodrani. This statesman, poet, novelist and patriot was born in Shkodra. From 1842 to 1847 he worked as a secretary for the British consulate in that northern Albanian city where he had an opportunity to perfect his knowledge of a number of foreign languages: Italian, French, Turkish and Greek. He also knew some English and Serbo-Croatian, and in later years learned Arabic. In 1847, full of ideals and courage, he set off for Italy on the eve of the turbulent events that were to take place there and elsewhere in Europe in 1848. We have two letters from him written in Bologna in the summer of that revolutionary year in which he expresses openly republican and anti-clerical views. We later find him in Venice where he took part in fighting in Marghera on 4 May 1849, part of a Venetian uprising against the Austrians. After the arrival of Austrian troops on 28 August of that year, Pashko Vasa was obliged to flee to Ancona where, as an Ottoman citizen, he was expelled to Constantinople. He published an account of his experience in Italy the following year in his Italian-language La mia prigionia, episodio storico dell’assedio di Venezia, Constantinople 1850 (My imprisonment, historical episode from the siege of Venice).

It is no coincidence that this historical biography bears a title similar to that of the famous memoirs of Italian patriot and dramatist Silvio Pellico (1789-1845), Le mie prigioni (My prisons), published in 1832. In Constantinople, after an initial period of poverty and hardship, he obtained a position at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whence he was seconded to London for a time, to the Imperial Ottoman Embassy to the Court of St James’s. He later served the Sublime Porte in various positions of authority. In 1863, thanks to his knowledge of Serbo-Croatian, as he tells us, he was appointed to serve as secretary and interpreter to Ahmed Jevdet Pasha, Ottoman statesman and historian, on a fact-finding mission to Bosnia and Hercegovina which lasted for twenty months, from the spring of 1863 to October 1864. The events of this mission were recorded in his La Bosnie et l’Herzégovine pendant la mission de Djevdet Efendi, Constantinople 1865 (Bosnia and Hercegovina during the mission of Jevdet Efendi). About 1867 we also find him in Aleppo. A few years later he published another now rare work of historical interest, Esquisse historique sur le Monténégro d’après les traditions de l’Albanie, Constantinople 1872 (Historical sketch of Montenegro according to Albanian traditions).

Despite his functions on behalf of the Porte, Pashko Vasa never forgot his Albanian homeland. In the autumn of 1877 he became a founding member of the Komitet qendror për mbrojtjen e të drejtave të kombësisë shqiptare (Central committee for the defence of the rights of the Albanian people) in Constantinople. Through his contacts there, he also participated in the organization of the League of Prizren in 1878. He was no doubt the author of the Memorandum on Albanian Autonomy submitted to the British Embassy in Constantinople. Together with other nationalist figures on the Bosphorus, such as hodja Hasan Tahsini, Jani Vreto and Sami Frashëri, he played his part in the creation of an alphabet for Albanian and in this connection published a 16-page brochure entitled L’alphabet latin appliqué à la langue albanaise, Constantinople 1878 (The Latin alphabet applied to the Albanian language), in support of an alphabet of purely Latin characters.

He was also a member of the Shoqëri e të shtypuri shkronja shqip (Society for the publication of Albanian writing), founded in Constantinople on 12 October 1879 to promote the printing and distribution of the Albanian-language books. In 1879, Pashko Vasa worked in Varna on the Black Sea coast in the administration of the vilayet of Edirne with Ismail Qemal bey Vlora (1844-1919). He also acquired the title of Pasha and on 18 July 1883 became Governor General of the Lebanon, a post reserved by international treaty for a Catholic of Ottoman nationality, and a position he apparently held, true to the traditions of the Lebanon then and now, in an atmosphere of Levantine corruption and family intrigue. There he spent the last years of his life and died in Beirut after a long illness on 29 June 1892. In 1978, the centenary of the League of Prizren, his remains were transferred from the Lebanon back to a modest grave in Shkodra.

Though a loyal civil servant of the Ottoman Empire, Pashko Vasa devoted his energies as a polyglot writer to the Albanian national movement. Aware of the importance of Europe in Albania’s struggle for recognition, he published La vérité sur l’Albanie et les Albanais. Etude historique et critique, Paris 1879, an historical and political monograph which appeared in an English translation as The truth on Albania and the Albanians. Historical and critical study, London 1879, as well as in Albanian, German, Turkish and Greek that year, and later in Arabic (1884) and Italian (1916). The Albanian edition, Shqypnija e shqyptart (Albania and the Albanians), was published in Allfabetare e gluhësë shqip, Constantinople 1879 (Alphabet of the Albanian language), along with work by Sami Frashëri and Jani Vreto.

In this treatise designed primarily to inform the European reader about his people, he gave an account of Albanian history from the ancient Pelasgians and Illyrians up to his time and expounded on ways and means of promoting the advancement of his nation. Far from an appeal for Albanian independence or even autonomy within the Empire, Pashko Vasa proposed simply the unification of all Albanian-speaking territory within one vilayet and a certain degree of local government. The possibility of a sovereign Albanian state was still inconceivable. He never lived to read Sami Frashëri’s above-mentioned treatise ‘Albania – what was it, what is it and what will become of it?’, printed twenty years later, in which the concept of full independence had finally ripened.

To make the Albanian language better known and to give other Europeans an opportunity to learn it, he published a Grammaire albanaise à l’usage de ceux qui désirent apprendre cette langue sans l’aide d’un maître, Ludgate Hill 1887 (Albanian grammar for those wishing to learn this language without the aid of a teacher), one of the rare grammars of the period.

Pashko Vasa was also the author of a number of literary works of note. The first of these is a volume of Italian verse entitled Rose e spine, Constantinople 1873 (Roses and thorns), forty-one emotionally-charged poems (a total of ca. 1,600 lines) devoted to themes of love, suffering, solitude and death in the traditions of the romantic verse of his European predecessors Giacomo Leopardi, Alphonse de Lamartine and Alfred de Musset. Among the subjects treated in these meditative Italian poems, two of which are dedicated to the Italian poets Francesco Petrarch and Torquato Tasso, are life in exile and family tragedy, a reflection of Pashko Vasa’s own personal life. His first wife, Drande, whom he had married in 1855, and four of their five children died before him, and in later years too, personal misfortune continued to haunt him. In 1884, shortly after his appointment as Governor General of the Lebanon, his second wife Catherine Bonatti died of tuberculosis, as did his surviving daughter Roza in 1887.

Bardha de Témal, scènes de la vie albanaise, Paris 1890 (Bardha of Temal, scenes from Albanian life), is a French-language novel which Pashko Vasa published in Paris under the pseudonym of Albanus Albano the same year as Naim Frashëri’s noted verse collection Luletë e verësë (The flowers of spring) appeared in Bucharest. ‘Bardha of Temal,’ though not written in Albanian, is, after Sami Frashëri’s much shorter prose work ‘Love of Tal’at and Fitnat,’ the oldest novel written and published by an Albanian and is certainly the oldest such novel with an Albanian theme. Set in Shkodra in 1842, this classically-structured roman-feuilleton, rather excessively sentimental for modern tastes, follows the tribulations of the fair but married Bardha and her lover, the young Aradi.

It was written not only as an entertaining love story but also with a view to informing the western reader of the customs and habits of the northern Albanians. Indeed the rather strained informative character of this prose fable is one of its major artistic weaknesses. Bardha is no doubt the personification of Albania itself, married off against her will to the powers that be. Above and beyond its didactic character and any possible literary pretensions the author might have had, ‘Bardha of Temal’ also has a more specific political background. It was interpreted by some Albanian intellectuals at the time as a vehicle for discrediting the Gjonmarkaj clan who, in cahoots with the powerful abbots of Mirdita, held sway in the Shkodra region. It is for this reason perhaps that Pashko Vasa published the novel under the pseudonym Albanus Albano. The work is not known to have had any particular echo in the French press of the period.

Though most of Pashko Vasa’s publications were in French and Italian, there is one poem, the most influential and perhaps the most popular ever written in Albanian, which has ensured him his deserved place in Albanian literary history, the famous O moj Shqypni (Oh Albania, poor Albania). This stirring appeal for a national awakening is thought to have been written in the period between 1878, the dramatic year of the League of Prizren, and 1880.

Oh Albania, poor Albania

Oh Albania, poor Albania,
Who has shoved your head in the ashes?
Once you were a great lady,
The men of the world called you mother.
Once you had such goodness and such wealth,
With fair maidens and youthful men,
Herds and land, fields and produce,
With flashing weapons, with Italian rifles,
With heroic men, with pure women,
You were the best of companions.

At the rifle’s blast, at lightning’s flash
The Albanian was always master
In battle, and in battle he died
Leaving never a misdeed behind him.
Whenever an Albanian swore an oath
The whole of the Balkans trembled before him,
Everywhere he charged into savage battle,
And always did he return a victor.

But today, Albania, tell me, how are you faring now?
Like an oak tree, felled to the ground!
The world walks over you, tramples you underfoot,
And no one has a kind word for you.
Like the snow-covered mountains, like blooming fields
You were clothed, today you are in rags.
Neither your reputation nor your oaths remain,
You yourself have destroyed them in your own misfortune.

Albanians, you are killing your brothers,
Into a hundred factions you are divided,
Some say ‘I believe in God,’ others ‘I in Allah,’
Some say ‘I am Turk,’ others ‘I am Latin,’
Some ‘I am Greek,’ others ‘I am Slav,’
But you are brothers, all of you, my hapless people!
The priests and the hodjas have deceived you
To divide you and keep you poor.
When the foreigner comes, you sit back at the hearth
As he puts you to shame with your wife and your sister,
And for how little money you are willing to serve him,
Forgetting the oaths of your ancestors,
Making yourselves serfs to the foreigners
Who have neither your language nor your blood!

Weep, oh swords and rifles,
The Albanian has been snared like a bird in a trap!
Weep with us, oh heroes,
For Albania has fallen with her face in the dirt.
Neither bread nor meat remain,
Neither fire in the hearth, nor light, nor pine torch,
Neither blood in the face, nor honour among friends,
For she has fallen and is defiled!

Gather round, maidens, gather round, women
Who with your fair eyes know what weeping is,
Come, let us lament poor Albania,
Who is without honour and reputation,
She has become a widow, a woman with no husband,
She is like a mother who has never had a son!

Who has the heart to let her die,
Once such a heroine, and today so weak?
This beloved mother, are we to abandon her
To be trampled underfoot by the foreigners?

No, no! No one wishes such shame,
All dread such misfortune!
Before Albania is thus forlorn
Let all our heroes perish with rifle in hand.

Awaken, Albania, wake from your slumber,
Let us all, as brothers, swear a common oath
And not look to church or mosque,
The faith of the Albanian is Albanianism!

From Bar down to Preveza
Everywhere let the sun spend its warmth and rays,
This is our land, left to us by our forefathers,
Let no one touch us for we are all to die!
Let us die like men as our forefathers once did
And not bring shame upon ourselves before God!

[O moj Shqypni, ca. 1878, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 265-267]



Vaso Pasha

O Albania, poor Albania!

O poor Albania wearing patches!
Who’s thrown your head into ashes?
Once you were o mighty fair lady,
Mother of men fighting so bravely;
you’re rich in blessings and nobility,
Fine girls and young lads: What a property!
You had many sheep and plenty of land,
you had silver weapons and guns in hand;
Your man so daring and your woman so tender,
Of all your friends, you were the best!
When bullets were falling like autumn rain,
Albanian valour never poured in vain:
Her sons fought the battle and often died,
For liberty which proved to be their pride!
If your warrior gave his pledge of honor
He was the hero of fierceful battles
and never threw mud on glorious banners!
But today, Albania tell me how you are?
Once a high tree, but now a broken car;
The world is trampling her feet on you,
and none utters sweet words of your Dew!
Once you were like a snow-covered mountain,
A flowered field you were, but now only a fountain
with neither water, nor fame, nor a good name,
you ruined them and for this you are the blame!
Albanians! You’re killing each-other without mercy,
you divided into a hundred groups: it’s no fancy;
Some assert to be religious and other to be honest;
One claim to be Turkish, the other to be Latin,
Some call themselves Greek, the other Serb,
But we are all brothers, o poor wretched birds!
Religions has provided you with apples of discord,
To ride on your back freely and make your life short!
There comes the foreigner and occupies your hearth
you are given money and then begin to forget
Ancestor, their advice, blood and honest pledge,
thus your wear the yoke of a ruthless invader
Becoming obedient preys once and for ever!
Wail your sword and weep your guns everywhere
For Albania is caught in trap like a hare!
Let valour has fallen down on the ground!
She is so poor and totally starving,
She doesn’t have fire or light and is blinding,
Her face is pale and she got no friends,
Her pain is severe and perhaps never ends!
Unite you lasses, come close you women,
Let your pretty tearful eyes speak,
and cry your hearts out for Albania’s poor,
She’s empty, nameless and devastated, for sure;
She’s like a widow abandoned for ever,
She’s like a mother without children so ever,
Who’s so ruthless as to let her pass away?
She is too brave, but she is so ill today,
Shall we allow the iron heel to kick her face?
She is our beloved mother and deserves no disgrace.
No, No Nobody is ugly enough to love such shame,
Only rascals could involve in this dirty game;
Better die fighting on her glorious behalf,
than watch her die and burst into a bloody laugh!
Arise you Albanians, from sleep arise,
Unite around each-other and open your eyes,
Leave aside religion and break the chains:
Albania is yours, do away with her pains.
The land lying between Tivari and Preveze,
Where the sun sparkles down bright hot rays,
Is ours t’was our ancestor’s as well,
None can touch it, we’ll send him to hell
Let us die manly and never kneel down
And tell GOD we abhor shame and being undone!!

The English translation by Uk Buçpapaj

Ndre Mjeda (1866-1937)

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Ndre Mjeda



BIOGRAPHY

Classical poet Ndre Mjeda (1866-1937) bridges the gap between late nineteenth-century Rilindja culture and the dynamic literary creativity of the independence period. Mjeda was born on 20 November 1866 in Shkodra and, like so many other Gheg writers of the period, was educated by the Jesuits . Influential in his upbringing were Jesuit writer Anton Xanoni (1863-1915) and Franciscan poet Leonardo De Martino (1830-1923). The Society of Jesus sent the young Mjeda abroad for studies and training. He spent an initial three months in the spring of 1880 in the village of Cossé-le-Vivien near Laval in the west of France and thereafter attended a college at the Carthusian monastery of Porta Coeli north of Valencia, Spain, where he studied literature. In 1883, we find him in Croatia studying rhetoric, Latin and Italian at a Jesuit institution in Kraljevica on the Dalmatian coast. From 1884 to the beginning of 1887, he trained at a college run there which was run by the Gregorian University of Rome, and in 1887 transferred to another Gregorian college in Chieri southeast of Turin where he remained until the end of that year.

It was during these years that Ndre Mjeda began writing verse in Albanian, including the melancholic and much-read poem Vaji i bylbylit (The nightingale’s lament), published in 1887 in the booklet Scahiri Elierz (The honorable poet), expressing his longing for his native Albania. Also of this period is the poem Vorri i Skanderbegut (Scanderbeg ’s grave). The theme of the exiled Albanian yearning nostalgically for his homeland under the Turkish yoke was nothing unusual in Rilindja literature, in particular in the decade following the defeat of the League of Prizren, and many of his other poems are devoted to such nationalist themes. In Mjeda’s verse, however, we sense the influence not only of the Rilindja culture of the age, but also that of his mentor Leonardo De Martino , the Scutarine Catholic poet whose refined 442-page bilingual verse collection L’Arpa di un italo-albanese (The harp of an Italo-Albanian) had appeared in Venice in 1881. An equally important component in Mjeda’s verse were the contemporary poets of Italy: the patriotic Giosuè Carducci (1835-1907), the pensive Giovanni Pascoli (1855-1912) and the sensuous Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938), as well as the Latin literature of classical antiquity.

From 1887 to 1891, Mjeda taught music at the College of Marco Girolamo Vida in Cremona on the River Po, the city of composer Claudio Monteverdi and of Antonio Stradivari . There and in Soresina he continued writing verse and at the same time devoted himself to the translation of religious literature. In 1888, the Propaganda Fide in Rome published his Jeta e sceitit sc’ Gnon Berchmans (The life of St John Berchmans ) about a Jesuit saint from Brabant, and in 1892 T’ perghjamit e Zojs Bekume (Imitation of the Holy Virgin) translated from Spanish. In later years he was to publish a translation of the Katekizmi i madh (The great catechism) in three volumes, Historia e shejtë (Sacred history), and a life of St Aloysius of Gonzaga.

From 1891, Mjeda studied for a couple of years at the theological faculty of a Gregorian college in Kraków in Catholic Poland. In 1893, we find the poet in Gorizia on the Italian-Slovene border and in the following year back in Kraljevica where he taught philosophy and philology and served as librarian at the Gregorian college. He was subsequently appointed professor of logic and metaphysics. It was in 1898 that a conflict is said to have broken out among the Jesuits of Kraljevica, apparently concerning their loyalties to Austria-Hungary and the Vatican. The exact details of the scandal are not known, but Ndre Mjeda was somehow involved and was promptly expelled or resigned that year from the Jesuit Order. Mjeda was a member of the Literary Commission set up in Shkodra on 1 September 1916 under the Austro-Hungarian administration, and from 1920 to 1924 he served as a deputy in the National Assembly. After the defeat of Fan Noli ’s June Revolution and the definitive rise of the Zogu dictatorship at the end of 1924 he withdrew from politics and served thereafter as a parish priest in Kukël, a village between Shkodra and Shëngjin. From 1930, he taught Albanian language and literature at the Jesuit college in Shkodra, where he died on 1 August 1937.

Mjeda’s poetry, in particular his collection Juvenilia, Vienna 1917 (Juvenilia), is noted for its classical style and for its purity of language. It is probably no coincidence that the title of this work for which Mjeda is best remembered is the same as Giosuè Carducci ’s lyric volume Iuvenilia which was published almost half a century earlier. Mjeda’s Juvenilia includes not only original poetry but also adaptations of foreign verse by Tommaso Grossi (1790-1853), Giuseppe Capparozzo (1802-1848), Charles Wolfe (1791-1823) and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832). A second cycle of poetry begun by Mjeda was to be devoted to the ancient cities of Illyria: Lissus (Lezha), Scodra ( Shkodra), Dyrrachium (Durrës) and Apollonia (Pojan). However, only the first two parts of this cycle ever saw the light of day. Lissus, composed of twelve sonnets, appeared in May 1921 in the Franciscan monthly Hylli i Dritës (The day-star), and Scodra was published posthumously in 1939.

Though not covering an especially wide range of themes, Mjeda’s poetry evinces a particularly refined language under the influence of the nineteenth-century Italian classics and, in general, a high level of metric finesse.

To the Albanian eagle

High amongst the clouds, above the cliffs
Sparkling in perennial snow,
Like lightning, like an arrow,
Soars on sibilant wings
‘Midst the peaks and jagged rocks
The eagle in the first rays of dawn.

The azure sky above its head,
Companion of the stars, glows
Like jewels, like the shimmering
Gold of a bridal gown,
Or the radiant night in which
A god bestows wisdom and grace.

Your kingdom is silent,
Eagle, arbiter of freedom,
And in the empty wastes
The harmony of stars
And the rising moon give you comfort,
And the pensive Muse is heard.

But above the forlorn flatland
Where your children in lamentation lie,
Thunder resounds,
Lightning flashes,
And you above those peaks
Hear no echo of their lament.

Oh, descend to us, royal
Eagle, once more, as you did
When in battle, majestic
Castrioti the Great shone forth
And the whole world trembled
At the brandishing of his sword.

[Shqypes arbnore, 1931, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 356-357]

New Books from Elsie and ‘Dukagjini’

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Migjeni



By Stephen Schwartz *)
The estimable Dukagjini publishing house in Peja, Kosova, has issued two books that will bring immense joy to all Albanians and all friends of Albanians, among whom I count myself. These pathways of delight are slender volumes, but are rich with illumination: Free Verse, by Migjeni, and Gjergj Fishia’s Highland Lute, Cantos I-V. Both are presented bìlingually, with the Albanian original and the English translation on facing pages. Both are edited by the greatest Albanologist of non-Albanian origin alive today, Robert Elsie. Unfortunately, however, these editions as yet lack an American distributor.

I will begin with the volume of Migjeni because it includes so many remarkable gifts for the English reader. Migjeni (1911-1938) was the founder of the modernist style in Albanian, a worthy contemporary, in the regional context of Srecko Kosovel (1904-1926), the most daring experitnentalist among the South Slavic poets. Both died young. But these two have much more in common, and share much as well, in biographic and literary terms, with other avant-garde poets who appeared around the world at that time. One might even describe the phenomenon as a global literary revolution.

Young poets like Migjeni, Kosovel, the Italian Giuseppe Ungaretti (teacher of our great Martin Camaj, who was my good friend), the French surrealists, the Russian futurists, the Spanish “generation of 1927,” and the Catalan Joan Salvat-Papasseit, emerged from the horrors and disillusion of the fist world war with an entirely new literary sensibility. They sought to overturn all existing values; to write against every existing literary canon and convention; to break down the barriers between thought and language, between dream and reality. They were revolutionaries of the word, and worthy grandchildren of Rimbaud, Mallarmd, and Lautrémont, the poets of radical linguistic transformation who appeared in France in the late 19th century and who redefined world literature.

The values and achievements of the French pioneers of literary modernism, it might be said, took two generations to penetrate the minds of ambitious young poets in lanpuages like Albanian, Slovenian. Catalan, and even Italian and Russian – and to produce the entirely new conception represented by the surrealist style. But this process of saturation of more distant cultures and later generations was given an immense impetus by the shtick of the first world war. In that vast machinery of bloodshed, a war carried out without recourse to any appeal but those of militarism and brutalization, young intellectuals were shattered. Taking up their pens, they confronted a morality in ruins, and Migjeni (1911-1938) responded to it with rebellion. This new sensibility even touched nations and literatures, such as those in Spain, that had been left outside the actual combat.

Migjeni and Kosovel stand apart from others, in my view, for two reasons. First, they introduced modernism to their literary cultures quite abruptly; neither Albanian nor Slovenian had passed through the intervening phases of symbolism and other, more genteel varieties of aesthetic experiment. Second, they had an enorinous and somewhat mysterious success in merging the avant-garde with a refined sense of language, which both Albanians and Slovenes may have gained from the influence of nearby Italy. But Mtgjeni is distinctive from all the rest of them, in another way: by the human immediacy of his work. Although poets like Kosovel expressed the postwar revolt through formal experimentation, the verse of Migjeni shows endearing, Albanian qualities absent from the works of most of his foreign contemporaries: tragedy, candor, and sympathy for the oppressed. He comes to us, in effect, as the first writer in Albanian addressing the rest of the world, as well as his readers among the sons and daughters of the eagle.

Elsie’s magisterial talent as a translator is magnificently displayed in this volume. How touching it is to read the stirring and serpentine lines of the young son of Shkodra in gorgeous English rendition:

“Song of the West, song of man drunk with self-confidence,
Song of another faith, with other temples and solemn rites,
In which from morn to night human brains and feelings melt,
In an apotheosis of iron: the souls pass through smokestacks.”

No mistake should be made: Migjeni was a revolutionary, but in art rather than politics – and that is the only kind of revolution that remains defensible. Elsie quotes a conversation between the poet and a Trotskyite friend, in which Migjeni said, “My work has a combative character, but for practical reasons, and taking into account our particular conditions, I nust maneuver in disguise.” Migjeni’s heart remained that of a protestor and a defender of human vitality and raw truth: it was thus that he introduced into Albanian literature a number of previously-unknown topics, including anticlericalism and sexuality. B

ut the universal tone and relevance of his work are shared by other Albanian modernists, including the Kosovar classics Esad Mekuli, Beqir Mysliu, and Ali Podrimja. I think often, in this context, of the special relationship of Guillaume Apollinaire, the patron saint of modemists who emerged after the first world war, and our Faik Konica. The companionship of Apollinaire and Faik was a harbinger for me, of the acceptance of Albanian into European literature, on equal terms and with equal rights. That entry will he facilitated by these volumes produced under Elsie’s loving care.

*) Stephen Schwartz is senior policy analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC.

— taken from “Illyria

MIGJENI (1911-1938) – prose

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Migjeni



[ New Books from Elsie and ‘Dukagjini’ ] – by Stephen Schwartz

 

REFRAIN OF MY TOWN

 

“Sir, sir, please sir, please give me something!” That’s the refrain, the beautiful refrain of my town. When morning awakens in the streets, when the sun’s rays begin to scatter between the legs of passersby, and the shadows of cars and carriages begin to slide along the ground, the refrain on the sidewalks starts up, the beautiful refrain of my town: “Sir, sir, please sir, please give me something!” Who could possibly express the beauty of this refrain? Mozart? Beethoven? Ha, ha, ha! Only the sidewalks of my town know how to sing that melody and only its inhabitants hear it. And they like it. For the people there love music.

From morning to night they hear the same refrain and are never bored by it. They’ve never chased away (or given a penny to) a singer yet. No! They are great music fans. The refrain sounds especially beautiful in the twilight: the streets of the town are take on a romantic air (like that which you see in colour pictures). People satisfied with their daytime activities go out for a bit of nightlife. The sky smiles like a virgin and everyone’s lips long to give it s sensuous kiss… and in the midst of it all, the beautiful refrain of my town. Can you imagine such joy?

I don’t know if what I’m going to tell you now is a dream or a nightmare.

“Sir, sir, please sir, please give me something!”. A boy, some ten or twelve years old, like a pretty little puppy (white, black or reddish-brown) leaping up and down to lick its master’s hand, limps along behind a gentleman. He gives a light and gentle tug at the seam of his coat, very gentle, for he is afraid of waking the wrath of the lord, of a god, a devil, the wrath of this gentleman, I mean. He therefore gives a gentle tug and whines, “Sir, sir, please sir, please give me something!” But the gentleman is lost in thought: the new season is beginning!

The season! the season! Always the season, and as the season changes, so does his wife, his children and he himself – whatever the season calls for. Preoccupied by such thoughts, he paid no attention to the little beggar who, wasting no thoughts on the season, reflected to himself on how well the gentleman must have dined, how warm his coat was, how fine his shoes were… Carried away by such thoughts, he gave a stronger tug at the gentleman and whined more loudly, “Sir, sir, please sir, please give me something!” Suddenly, the gentleman gave a turn and slugged the little beggar in the face. “You good-for-nothing,” he snarled and departed without giving anything. No, or rather, he did give the pale face a slug.

A groan from the child’s breast attracted the attention of passersby. “Hey, look,” someone cried out, “the little beggar is trying to steal something”. The people thought that the boy had attempted to pick the gentleman’s pocket and had therefore been slugged. The blood flushed from the little beggar’s heart into his face and like a stalked bird he gathered all his infant force to flee. He spurted off, relentlessly pursued by fear, and only came to a halt when his face and back were bathed in sweat. A hole, a tiny hole that I could crawl into somewhere far away and die of hunger – that was his only thought. Another boy, a bit older, saw the little beggar running and cried out with a laugh, “Hey, you twirp, where are you off to? Hang on! Don’t you remember what we decided? That I’d throw a handful of coins in your face and that you could keep them… Will you keep your promise?”

“Alright, but don’t throw them hard. And let me cover my face with my hands so that you don’t blind me.”
“OK, let’s do it. What are you trembling for? You’re not afraid, are you?”
“No… but I’m hungry.”

“So, you’re not afraid…” and hurled the money in his face, the coins scattering with a jingle. The little beggar, the poor boy, didn’t move his head, but then weakly got down on his knees and, smiling, began to pick up the pennies. A red drop shone on his forehead in the sun. It was blood.

No, no. It was no dream, but a nightmare when a singer, inspired by the refrain and by these events, though falsely inspired, sang deceptively:

On the mercy of the merciless
The little beggar survived.
His life ran its course
In dirty streets,
In dark corners,
In cold doorways,
Among fallacious faiths.
But one day, when the world’s pity dried up
He felt in his breast the stab
Of a new pain, which contempt
Fosters in the hearts
Of the poor.
And – though yesterday a little beggar,
He now became something new.
An avenger of the past,
He conceived an imprecation
To pronounce to the world,
His throat strained
To bring out the word
Which his rage had gripped
And smothered on his lips.

Speechless he sat
At the crossroads,
When the wheels of a passing car
Quickly crushed
And… silenced him.

[Një refren i qytetit tem, originally published in Illyria, 15 July 1934, from the volume Migjeni, Vepra, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 122-126, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


 

FORBIDDEN FRUIT

 

A thirty-year-old. Unemployed, he stands in front of the movie theatre signs, on a work day. Pttt. he spits, turning away from the signs. He has the impression that someone called him, but no, no one called. No one needs a worker. And so he continues with his daily activities: He takes a look at the signs in front of the movie theatre. Pfff. They know how to live, he says and approaches the signs to study them at close hand. The same film as always is playing: an attractive girl standing beside a good-looking young man. The worker looks at them with envy. He has a dislike for the leading man and give him a nasty stare. He spits and looks down at his shoes. Even he doesn’t know what it is, the incarnation of his shoes, his worn out old shoes. He bends over to tighten them with a bit of string. Oh, he groans as he straightens up. He wanders off, along the sidewalk of course. You can even go barefoot on the sidewalk. Why not!

He moves slowly, taking it easy. Like a man without a job. Others saunter by too, but not at ease, more in a hurry. How good it is to be able to take it easy, to move slowly like a gentleman. But, what am I saying? Is it really a good thing to move slowly and take it easy? Yes and no! No and yes! It depends. For a gentleman, it’s a good thing to walk slowly, it’s good for the digestion. For a working man, it’s not good. Why? You know. Our worker walks slowly and takes it easy. Just like a gentleman. That’s the way the times and the world are nowadays. If you want to be a gentleman, you can. Our worker doesn’t want to be a gentleman or imitate one, but the times. He doesn’t like it. He just doesn’t like their pompous ways. Not that it bothers him, it’s just… well, you know.

Bong, bong, bong, bong. Four o’clock in the afternoon! How cruelly the bells resound in a worker’s guts. The bell tower of the church strikes four and resounds in a worker’s damn guts. Four! Four! Four! Four everywhere! And why four? Why? Arguing. Revolt. Almost a revolution. A revolution in miniature. It resounds. A cannon… No! the starving guts.

Our worker continues to loiter in the streets of the town. He is looking for work. Like his fellow-workers in Berlin and London. Nowhere is there a loaded truck for him to unload. Nowhere is there a traveller with suitcase in hand in need of a porter. Nowhere! Nowhere! No one wants his sweat. Nowhere a couple of lek to be made.

The worker stops in front of some shops and stares into the window. He takes a look and savours our romantic era. He is in front of the store window of a stationary display. Behind it are postcards of movie stars. He grits his teeth. Out of anger he raises his fist to… But there are laws! And police! The consequences flash through his mind. He turns from the stars in disdain and spits. He continues his way and spits again. He looks to the left and to the right. And spits again. Starving and in rags he saunters past the shops full of “forbidden fruit” (a tale from the Bible).

An instinctive desire yearns to find expression. Our worker gets control of himself once again! Laws! Police! To play it safe, he folds his hands behind his back. His hands are strong, powerful. They could even seize the devil by the throat and strangle him. But the law protects the devil, too.
Bong, bong, bong, bong! How long is it going to last?

[Moll’ e ndalueme, originally published in Jeta dhe kultura, 20 July 1935, from the volume Migjeni, Vepra, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 132-135, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


 

THE STUDENT BACK HOME

 

In one of the cities of Central Europe, Nushi was reading the letter which the postman had just delivered. He recognized that it was from home the moment he received it. Yes, the white, rectangular envelope conjured up visions of the one-storey house with the little yard full of flowers. He then saw his father, who had written the letter, returning home at dusk and bringing nighttime with him. Comings and goings were extremely uncommon the moment he closed the door behind him. Patriarchal custom was violated only rarely when someone would come to announce a birth, a death or the arrival of an unexpected guest. A law, and what a law it was! Whoever violated it would spend the whole night with the sensation of having tread on something cold and slimy like a snake. This was exactly the feeling Nushi had whenever his father looked at him. It was as if he had trod on a snake. This was one of the reasons why he was in no hurry to return home. He had been studying at the university for over three years now and could still not bring himself to return home for Christmas or Easter. “What will I do there?” he would say to himself.

But the letter he received now gave him a definite deadline. “Your sister is going to get married in a month and, as her brother, you must not fail to be there.” Such was his father’s command. At the beginning, Nushi felt quite pleased about the matter and was happy at the prospect of returning, but when he thought about it at length, his enthusiasm dissipated. He was the type of person ruled more by intellect than by emotion.

***
“Is this really the same yard I left three years ago? I could have sworn it was bigger,” Nushi thought to himself as he glanced about to see if anything had been built in it which might have made the yard look smaller. There was nothing new. The same trees: the fig, the plum, the vine trellis and the same flowers. The roses were in their usual place, and just beyond them was the honeysuckle bush. When he entered the house, the rooms seemed so tiny. The furniture looked as if it had never been touched by human hand. Everything was exactly where it had been, as if it were destined to rot on the spot. At the same time, everything seemed smaller. Nushi then discovered the cause of this optical illusion. His mind was still on the large buildings and broad squares of the city he lived in. Yes, everything now seemed smaller to Nushi, everything except his brothers and sisters who had grown. They were bigger than he had imagined them while abroad. He noticed that his mother had lost a tooth and that his father’s forehead was wrinkled and his moustache now grey.

“You finally made it,” said his father, seeing him. Nushi was touched to see his father and wished to express his feelings, but his father simply shook his son’s hand. Nushi found no adequate response. When he gave his sisters a hug, they seemed to be unsure as to whether to kiss him or not. Only his mother embraced him without hesitation, the smack of her kisses resounding in the room.

One evening, in the midst of a conversation with his engaged sister Agia, she exclaimed “Mother!” and rushed off to the kitchen. “Mother, Nushi says that girls like me, even the married ones, go to school.” She broke into convulsions of laughter at seeing the expression on her mother’s face. “Don’t laugh like that, the neighbours will hear you. It is not in good taste.” The daughter gave no reply. She was so absorbed at the stories her brother was telling her that she could think only of those marvellous lands where girls were not kept indoors, where they could go out for a walk with the boys without shame, where they could dance. Oh, how beautifully they must dance!
“Nushi!” she called out from the kitchen, “will you teach me to dance? One of my girlfriends has been driving me mad, boasting that she knows how to dance.” (Just you wait until Nushi teaches me how to dance! she thought as she dried a plate). The brother took his sister by the hand and began to show her some steps, and it was dancing arm in arm that their father caught them.

“Are you not ashamed of yourself? You’re going to get married tomorrow! And you, “he said, turning to Nushi, “you are no longer a little boy. It is a good thing that you got back early tonight!” added his father with a scowl on his face.

His sister went back into the kitchen and Nushi excused himself, saying he was tired.
“Tired in your own home? No, nothing like that ever happened to me. That seems to be why you had such difficulty finding your way back home.”

Nushi did not know what to say. He did not know how to talk to his father. When he was a child, he understood him far better. There had been a time when his father was more than just a father in his imagination. He was an ideal, an ideal of childhood dreams. But that time had passed. Nushi now realized that his father was one of a thousand fathers like him in town, one of the many who are busy transforming their children into living anachronisms, into images of themselves, worthy heirs of a sombre past.

“I’ve been told that you were out walking with some boys who are not of our faith.”
“But they are my friends.”

“Your friends, are they? Haven’t you been able to find better friends? Are there no boys of our faith here?”
“I simply happened to meet them and couldn’t just leave them like that, dad. But all right, from now on I will only go out with the boys you approve of,” Nushi replied in an attempt to appease his father.

“Very well. Listen to your father and you will not regret it. You should keep the company of people you can learn from. What can you possibly learn from the company you are keeping now? Boys of that faith will never become good men, whatever school they may attend. Listen to your father.”

And Nushi listened. He wanted to be an obedient son. How could be not listen to the father who had given life to him, who had raised him and done so much for him? Anyway, what choice did he have? Nushi listened, though against his own will. He paid attention to his father’s words and endeavoured not to frown. His brothers and sisters sitting around them paid attention to everything that was said, too. They were all ears. How could they fail to listen? His mother was also listening from the kitchen, filled with a sense of awe at the learned words of her spouse. A whole family, enclosed within the walls of the house and within a patriarchal environment, was now preparing to face the future.

“I hope they don’t put me to shame,” thought the head of the family to himself, casting a glance at the members of his household. “They must never put me to shame. I must hold them back, tighten the screws as much as possible, retain them until they suffocate and burst. How difficult it is to raise children nowadays! How hard it is to keep control of the girls! In the old days… Do you realize, children, that when I was your age… when I first began to earn a living… so that, thanks be to God, you would have enough to fill your bellies…”

Nushi listened. Everyone listened. Who would dare not to listen? Nushi did so and thought to himself, “Perhaps experience in life has made this man so strict.”

One evening, Nushi began to miss those distant lands, that city where he was studying. He loved his home, or to put it more exactly, he loved to see his family sitting around the fire: his parents, his brothers and sisters, but there was a strong sentiment which tied him to those distant lands – those lands where you could live and enjoy life to the full, however you wished, young or old, philosopher or simpleton. Nushi was aware of the appalling contrast between those lands and his own home. Being young, he was captivated by their marvellous and he meditated upon the reasons why his country was so backward. He began to hate those reasons with all the passion of his youth. He hated the past which was yet so close to him, as was his father. As a parent, his father was close, but as a representative of society and as an individual, he was a long way off.

All the disagreements and misunderstandings arose from there being so many individuals under one roof, so many beloved and at the same time, detested beings. Living with them was like being faced with the dilemma of an operation. To amputate the leg and live, or not to amputate and die. A tragic alternative. Nushi was aware that it was not his father’s fault for being the way he was. He was the product of his environment, of the society in which he grew up. It was for this reason, too, that he still cherished a paternal affection for Nushi, although he could never put it into words. But did his brothers and sisters love their father? He recalled the feelings he had had for his father as a little boy. The feelings were inspired more by fear than by love. His sisters now trembled at the sight of him, and his brothers showed absolutely no desire to spend time with him. They disappeared whenever he arrived.

“What would you be doing now, Nushi, if you were still abroad?” said Agia, interrupting his thoughts as she entered the room in her lively manner.

“It is the time of day for a walk, so I would probably be out walking with one of the guys or with…”
“Or maybe with a girl, ha ha,” countered his sister with a giggle.

“Yeah, why not? It doesn’t matter there whether you are out with a boy or a girl. Here everyone goes crazy if they see a girl walking with a boy. There, no one pays any attention whatsoever. Everyone minds his own business.”

He was filled with nostalgia for those distant lands as he described to his sister all the beautiful things he had seen and the way people lived there. He told her about important public events and of the little scandals which had occurred. Agia listened attentively. From time to time, she interrupted with a question. The expression on her face changed constantly during the course of her brother’s tales. She would let out a cry of astonishment without even realizing it. Nushi spoke with all the power of his emotions so that his sister would understand everything, unaware that his words were gradually giving birth within her to a dream which would surely never be realized, which would torture her young heart. She would sigh and lament, “What good is it to be alive here?” – a lamentation heard more and more often in our country. Nushi grew silent and reflected on the fact that his sister was now engaged and would soon be married off to some good-for-nothing.

Linked by memories of a common childhood, Nushi was extremely fond of his older sister. They had grown up together. On cold winter evenings, shivering under the blankets, they used to cuddle up and listen to one another’s hearts beating. Their bodies warmed to the murmur of a long fairy tale and they sensed the presence of something new and foreign, something as yet unknown to their bodies which now, in the warmth of the bed, was coming to be, was growing and rocking them to sleep. When their mother came in and saw them sound asleep in one another’s arms, she felt a sense of joy, but also an ever so slight sense of jealousy which clouded her bliss for a moment.

Nushi knew his sister well. She was still the same Agia she had been as a little girl. Vivacious and full of joy, but not as inclined as her girlfriends to romantic daydreams. She had no time for dreaming, as she had to help her mother with household chores: washing the dishes, sweeping and polishing the floors, and looking after the constant needs of half a dozen brothers and sisters with whom God, as they say here, had blessed her parents. Agia had no time for reveries. Nushi was aware of this fact, as he was of his sister’s beauty. What he did not know, but wished to find out, was what his sister thought of her coming marriage, of her marriage to a good-for-nothing. Nushi had spoken to his future brother-in-law on several occasions. All that he could recollect of him was the banal smile of a swollen, pallid face, the utter boredom of his mutterings, his bad teeth and his apish snobbery.

Such was his future in-law. “He comes from a good family and is a competent businessman,” his father had remarked. That was enough for his wife. By the next day, everything had been settled. And Agia? Agia is a good and clever girl and listens to her parents (which amounts to the same thing). When she first caught sight of her fiancé in the living room, or rather through the keyhole, she paled slightly, but no doubt out of emotion – nothing else. “He’s a bit on the short side,” noted her aunt, “but he’s loaded with money. What a lucky girl you are!” Agia was doubtful of her luck and grew morose. It was only when Nushi arrived that she recovered some of her liveliness and that her laugh could once again be heard throughout the house.

Nushi still did not know what she thought of the marriage. One night, when their father happened to mention the up and approaching marriage, Nushi and his sister exchanged glances. She then got up and went into the kitchen. Nushi remained silent as his father talked, and thought about his sister’s glance. She had given him such a startled look that he now understood. Nushi understood everything from one glance. It was a much-used means of communication in such families in which no one had the right to speak freely.

The next day, Nushi happened to return home to look for a book. He was not expecting anyone to be there. In his room he found Agia with her hands over her eyes to try to cover them. He approached.

“What is the matter, Agia? Why are your eyes all red?”
“From the smoke…”

Nushi was suspicious and went into the kitchen, but there was no fire on.

“Why have you been crying, Agia?”
“I wasn’t crying,” said his sister, endeavouring to smile.
“Yes, you were.”
“I was not,” she countered, rushing out of the room as if she had work to do.

From a distance, Nushi tried to elicit some reaction from her by giving her a smile, but it was to no avail. On leaving the house, he realized why Agia had been crying. He recalled the look she had given him the day before. He wanted to go back into the house, but he knew that Agia would be too ashamed to say anything. Shame, and especially shame on the part of engaged girls, is yet another link in the chains which constrain life here. How should an engaged girl not be ashamed when she knows that she is being sent to her husband for the sole purpose of going to bed with him?

She can imagine no other possible relations with the man she is going to marry, since she had never even exchanged a word with him. Shame? How can she be anything but ashamed? They say that only dishonourable girls have no sense of shame. Shame is therefore a necessity, and it is one which impedes them from raising their voices to defend themselves against those who decide on their happiness. “I don’t want to!” No, such an utterance has never been heard up until now in our family from an engaged girl. Any husband, whoever he may be, is at least a man.

Nushi was resolved to tell his father that he did not approve of Agia’s marriage. It was a difficult decision and he had to wait for the best opportunity to speak to him. One evening, when his father was in a particularly good mood and seemed willing to talk, Nushi endeavoured to express his opinion on the marriage.

“Well, who else do you think we could find for her? Indeed, where will your other sisters ever find a husband like him? He is from a good family, is wealthy and is the most industrious young man in the bazaar.”

“Yes, but nowadays, father, girls like to take a good look at their future husbands.”
“You don’t mean that we should have asked her for her opinion, do you? What could she possibly know?”
“She is not happy about it.”
“Only at the start. With time, she will be happy with him.”

That is all I have been able to accomplish for Agia, thought Nushi to himself and was enraged at not having been able to do more for her. He lost confidence in himself. “It was your only opportunity to show the strength of your character, of your mind and of your love to save someone precious from the clutches of such fatal customs. But what chance did you have? How could anyone lead a sane life in such an atmosphere? You have striven in vain to make your own contribution to society, to do a noble deed. At the very first attempt, you have failed.” Such were the thoughts that kept him awake through the night until he finally fell asleep towards dawn.

Agia stopped asking him questions about the marvels of those distant lands. Her mind was on the good-for-nothing husband she was to marry. The more she thought about him, the worse he seemed. “A guileless individual.” she overheard her girlfriends saying. Agia felt a sense of revolt taking possession of her, a revolt which had become apparent in her attitude to her brothers and sisters, and occasionally to her mother. From time to time, she would fly into a rage, drop a cup, a plate or a glass, or break something she happened to have in her hand. When her mother complained about the broken dishes, she countered sharply, “I didn’t do it on purpose,” and ran off to hide in a corner and weep.

Nor did Nushi tell her any more about the marvels of those distant lands. He only spent the time at home that he had to. His father reprimanded him for coming home late at night, but he simply gave no reply, and the sermon was thus brought to an abrupt end. When he noticed the preparations being made here and there for the wedding, he was reminded of a film he had once seen. It was called ‘Ecstasy,’ the story of an unsuccessful marriage.

“We mustn’t allow anything to put us to shame,” said his father. “Everything must be made ready for the wedding. Everything must be in order. Take care not to forget a thing,” said his father to his mother.

The wedding went off well. Everyone had a good time. There was raki and wine galore. Weddings are not an everyday happening. They must therefore be occasions of joy. To the health of the beautiful bride! To the health of the host. Many a toast followed to a clinking of glasses and a ‘down the hatch,’ from which songs now resounded, like the unoiled, squeaking wheels of an ox cart.

God knows the singers themselves were well enough oiled. The women were busy singing a song about stuffed vine leaves. They all talked at the same time, each of them listening to no one but themselves, and giggling about. In the corners were the children, munching on something or other for the most part and amazed to see their mothers in a state of excitement such as they had never been in before.

“Why is Agia getting married?” asked her younger, seven-year-old brother.
“Daddy told her to.”
“I know that daddy told her to, you idiot, but why is she getting married?”
“My mommy is married, too, and so is yours.”
“That’s true. But why do they get married?”
“So that they can go to bed with their husbands,” intervened a older boy of nine.
“How do you know anyway?” asked Agia’s brother.
“It’s true. My mommy goes to bed with my daddy,” replied the precocious lad.
“Don’t say wicked things or I’ll tell on you at school,” said the nine-year-old, before departing in search of something sweet.

All during the wedding celebrations, Nushi felt sick to his stomach. He could not get into the spirit of things, with all the noise and to-do. He needed to help arrange things and deal with the guests. He was obliged to greet and talk at length with cousins he had never seen before and tell them all about his stay abroad. His eldest cousins inspected him with great curiosity and wished him well. The younger cousins smiled and showed their unbound admiration for him. Nushi felt nauseated. He did his best to get into the spirit of things, to drink with the guests and even to sing with the women, but all the time he had the impression he was making a fool of himself.

He did not even reply to the congratulations of the women guests when he happened to enter the bride’s room. Agia stood there, as erect and pale as a candle. “Come in. Don’t be ashamed,” the women said to him as they arranged the bride’s veil. Nushi wished only that the whole ceremony would be over with as soon as possible. Let Agia depart whither fate, or more exactly her father, had consigned her. Perhaps she will come to love her new husband, as his father had said, he thought to himself.

“No, I have never seen a bride weep so much on her wedding day,” said one of the women when, as custom decreed, they came to escort her to the house of her new husband.
“Well, there is no reason why she should not weep. After all, she is leaving her parents, and her brothers and sisters.”
“I heard that Agia did not even want the boy,” said a third woman with a sigh, turning away from her companions.
“Indeed. But what better husband could she possibly find? They say the lad is wealthy enough and is from a good family.”
“Yes, he is.”
“You probably heard that from what’s-her-name trying to get the lad for her own daughter.”
“No, on the contrary. I, too, have heard that Agia did not want the boy,” said a fourth woman who could not help herself from breaking into the enigmatic gossip and who had her eyes fixed upon the doorway all the time.
“It was strange. She wept the most when she said farewell to her brother. Poor Nushi. The tears were welling his eyes, too.”
“Yes, it is a pity. You can see that they’ve married her off by force.”
“Well, after all, what does it matter? We were all married off by force. Where had we ever met our husbands beforehand? They married us off to the first man who asked. If a Gypsy had been the first one to ask, they would have given us to him. That is our destiny,” exclaimed a woman with a masculine face.
“I feel sorry for Agia. She is a good girl,” said the youngest among them.

“Well, were we any worse?” countered the woman with the masculine face, and scowled at her companions.
Two days after the wedding, Nushi went to visit Agia at her new home in order to say good-bye, since he was soon to leave the country. When he announced his departure, she began to weep and did not stop crying until after he left. At the gate, she threw her arms around him and hugged and kissed him so warmly and tenderly that he never forgot that the moment.

***
Social conventions are inviolable. Woe to those who try to contravene them. At least, they seem that way. May the aura of decency in our city shine forth untouched. May the light of our day-to-day social relations shine forth like polished shoes in the mud. And if a woman suffers in anguish from having to sleep with her elderly or ignorant husband, and loves another, what does it matter? It is of no importance. Marital relations are sacrosanct. That is what the church says at any rate. There is only one catch. No scandals are allowed. Do anything to avoid scandal. Scandal is as lethal a danger to one’s honour as a 42 degree temperature is to one’s body. Society begins to languish at a certain temperature, and if you wish to maintain your honour and your immaculate reputation, take care that the temperature does not surpass a certain threshold.

At the market in our city, when people sing the praises of a young man, they use various attributes, as they would elsewhere. Among the most usual of these attributes is ‘son of the devil.’ Any apprentice in the market whom they call thus will do well. It means that he will be someone of importance. Not that he will become a millionaire, but that he is skilled enough to learn his profession well and to satisfy the demands of his master. One of these young men was Luli, an apprentice of Agia’s husband. And what a ‘son of the devil’ he was. Without Luli, Agia’s husband would never have had much success in his trade. That was the opinion held by the other members of his guild who were all interested in getting Luli to work for them. But in vain. Although Luli was only twenty years old, he refused to leave his master who had no reason to be unsatisfied with him.

When Luli first saw his master’s wife dressed as a bride, he was overwhelmed by her beauty, and by the ugliness of her husband-to-be. Up until the wedding he had looked upon the man simply as his boss, as the storekeeper who paid his wages regularly and generously. He found it difficult to imagine that this man was the husband of a woman as beautiful as Agia. In his mind, Luli had formed an opinion of him. His master sat behind the counter and watched how his apprentice was handling the sales, weighing goods, receiving payment and bringing the money to him. Seated at his desk, he would give a toothless smile to those under his command. Luli was by no means afraid of him. He felt as little fear as one might feel for a slightly older colleague.

But now that his master was married to such a beautiful woman, there was an unconscious pang of dissatisfaction in the depths of his soul. This instinctive discontent, which Luli, the simple apprentice of a merchant, was unable to analyse, expressed itself from time to time in anger and jealousy. “What a fool. And what a beautiful wife he got for himself!” Luli once confided to a close friend. This opinion of his master crossed Luli’s mind again and again. The friend, smiling and pulling Luli’s arm, had only made things worse by agreeing with him.

***
Three years later, Nushi returned home, having finished his studies in medicine. The optimism which had given him the strength to complete his degree as a doctor was still with him when he arrived in town. The whole world now revolved around him; his friends, cousins and acquaintances all revolved around him like the planets around the sun. He was the epicentre. At least, that was the way it seemed to him. And a fact it was. Nushi wondered why, but he had no time to reflect on the matter. He was too caught up in a series of greetings, visits, luncheons and dinner parties, and in new, select acquaintances.

Even at home, things had now changed for Nushi. His brothers and sisters behaved differently in his presence. The word ‘doctor’ seemed to exude an odour of drugs which evoked a fear of illness. His brothers and sisters lost their fraternal love and now looked up to him and admired him. Nushi noticed that even his father behaved differently in his presence. If Nushi happened to return home late at night, his father made no remark. On the contrary, his father spoke to him cordially, asking him whom he had seen that day and whom he had just been out with. His questions, now devoid of the bitterness and irony of the past, evinced an objective interest. He also began talking to Nushi of the career which the latter would soon being embarking upon.

“The time has come that I will need your assistance because my business is not doing well. Up to now, I have managed to keep it going, but things are getting worse. What a relief it is that you have finished your studies. Your sisters are grown up now and you will have to give a bit of thought to them, too.”

Nushi smoked his cigarette, observing the fumes rising, and through the smoke, saw the face of his father speaking gently, especially when he mentioned Nushi’s imminent work as a doctor. Whenever another member of the family showed up, he changed his tone and became somewhat more severe.

Nushi of course, being a doctor, was also something of a psychologist. He studied his father’s behaviour attentively both in his presence and in the presence of the others. A new thought took violent possession of his brain. He shook his head as if trying to rid himself of it. He had come to the conclusion that the so-called family spirit was nothing other than egoism. Nushi remembered having read something about this in a book. It was true. If his father’s attitude towards him had changed, it was due to the fact that Nushi was about to start making a living. One might consider it quite normal for a father to expect assistance from his son to support the family, as his father was no longer in a position to do so.

But Nushi’s reasoning was more radical, more left wing, as they say nowadays. Three years ago, although Nushi was already grown up, his father behaved like a tyrant, whereas now, though still no angel, he was striving to be Nushi’s best friend. Three years ago, you were not even allowed to open your mouth. You were nothing in your father’s eyes because you had no earnings. But now, with prospects of a fat income looming, it was “I salute you and I tip my hat, or rather my black fez to you.” It was thus, in the form of a dialogue, that Nushi studied the situation, although with little pleasure.

He refused to subscribe to the new material doctrines or to admit that there was no ideal family and that the love which we regard as sincere, only reflected material or physical interests. Nushi shook his head, wishing to rid himself of the thought which was destroying all his sacred ideals which had been wrapped in a veil of mystery. Like a drowning man clinging to a raft, Nushi clung to that mystery to preserve his illusions. But the values he held sacred were in vain because he was beginning to realize that the mystery in them, like a lifesaver on the high seas, was nothing but deception. And yet it was a deception which he clung to because he needed it, even though he knew it was a lie.

After three years of marriage, Nushi had seen Agia change considerably. She had not had any children as yet, but her waist and thighs had expanded and she looked pregnant. The blossom in her cheeks was no longer what it had been, and her eyes which could once look deep into his soul meandered and only crossed his from time to time, just enough to remind him that she was talking or listening to him. Nushi was surprised at the change, considering the fact that married sisters usually show even greater affection for their brothers. On leaving her house, he had the impression of not having visited his sister Agia at all. Perhaps she was just being bashful, he said to himself. That evening, Nushi told his family that he had visited Agia and that she had changed a lot. On hearing him, his father turned to his mother and noted: “What a fool her husband is. Is he waiting for me to go and tell him to fire his employee?”

“But he cannot run his business without him. You know what a clever worker Luli is,” replied his mother gently, giving Nushi a furtive glance. “If he doesn’t mind, why should you be bothered?”

“Are you serious? Haven’t you heard what people have been saying?” countered his father, raising his voice and looking at Nushi.

Nushi said nothing but the conversation almost took his breath away. The blood rose to his head. He soon regained his composure though and began thinking about what his parents had been saying.

Perfect harmony reigned at Agia’s house. No disputes, fights or ugly scenes, as they say. Perfect harmony reigned. For example, when her husband got home from shopping or from work in the evening, Agia did her best to see that everything in the house was in order so that he could rest after a hard day’s work. They even asked one another how the day had been, if there had been any problems or if anything new had taken place. Agia carried through with these family rituals in a cool though sincere manner. Her husband, more emotional, went further.

He would approach Agia and pinch her cheek with his two fingers smelling of fat, as one would pinch a little child. He would stroke her hair or the nape of her neck and look longingly at her figure. Then, relishing in conjugal bliss, he would light a cigarette, have a glass of raki and begin to talk about his day at work. Agia would shuffle back and forth in the living room, doing this and that, listening to her husband and answering now and then.

“Did Luli bring you everything you wanted?” asked her husband raising his glass.
“Yes,” she replied briefly. “But you forgot to give him the pepper,” she added with a slight blush, and turned away.

“Did he bring you this? Did he bring you that?” When Agia said yes, he continued: “Yes, Luli is an honest fellow. Up to now I’ve had no cause for complaint whatsoever,” and made a zero in the air with his fingers. “In the store, I trust him more than I do myself because he’s clever. Of course, I know there are people trying to make me get rid of him by spreading all sorts of rumours, because they want him for themselves.”

Hearing this, Agia blushed right to the temples, her heart began to pound and she replied in a more than usually brusque manner: “But why do you send Luli to me during the day when you could bring what we need home yourself in the evening?”

“Well, where would I get the meat for our lunch? Why shouldn’t he come? People do talk, but I know why…” Agia wondered if there were any reasons why he should not come when she was alone at home. It was the perfect time for him to come, whispered an emotion from the depths of her being – though, as the respected wife of a merchant, she tried to resist it. But the emotion took hold of her young body and she replied to her husband:

“Don’t forget to send me the pepper tomorrow.” She wondered, too, if there was anything else she might need to order.
“All right, I’ll send it along, with some fresh meat. The butcher said they would be slaughtering tomorrow. Anything else?”
“No…”

***
Nushi knocked once or twice at the door leading to the courtyard and, seeing that no one had come out to open it, he entered and walked up towards the house, wondering why Agia had not come out. At that moment he met Luli on the steps who murmured, in a somewhat agitated manner, that he was sorry for the delay in coming out to open the door. Nushi was surprised at first, thinking that something might have happened, and then had a doubt. Hesitantly but instinctively, he ran up the staircase. He found Agia with her back to the door, one hand in her hair and the other one fiddling mechanically with some ingredients in a bowl. Turning around, she saw her brother and smiled at him, but her face was pallid.

“What’s wrong, Agia?” Nushi asked, taking her hand.
“Nothing at all, Nushi. Why?” she replied somewhat confused.
“You’re pale.”

“Yes, I have a bit of a headache, or rather, I had a headache this morning, but I’m all right now,” stammered Agia, her voice and her expression giving way to her brother’s piercing glance. Her heart began to pound in fright and her knees quivered. She would have fallen if Nushi had not been there to prop her up.

“Agia, you shouldn’t really be working so much anymore,” said Nushi, turning his head towards the window and trying to speak as calmly as possible. She tried to get a peek at the expression on his face but could only see his ear and part of his chin as he looked out of the window onto the road, gritting his teeth.

“Look, Agia,” he turned to her suddenly, “don’t work so much. The less you work, the better off you will be. You won’t have breakdowns like that. And it’s not good for you to work while you’re pregnant.”

Agia looked into her brother’s eyes and saw that he meant nothing more than what he had said, and Nushi was relieved to see that he had succeeded in deceiving his sister, in convincing her that he suspected nothing of her relations with Luli. He went on to talk about various matters, asking his sister about this and that, and she inquired about their father, mother, brothers and sisters, laughing all the time.

Nushi left his sister’s place with a smile on his face. And he was happy and relieved. Indeed, he was surprised at the joy and tranquility he felt. But an hour earlier, something might have happened. Yes, Nushi thought to himself, just like it would have up in the primitive mountains. The rifle would have spoken, so that people large and small would know what respect is, so that honour could be cleansed. Someone would have died and society would have been satisfied. Not that society is malevolent – it is just that people in our town get bored, and cleansing one’s honour with the rifle is a great sensation. It may keep you up for several nights on end, but at least it gets rid of the boredom. After all – honour, my friends – honour is not water.

It may be champagne, but it’s certainly not water. Smiling still, Nushi remembered that an hour earlier, he had been on the verge of committing an act which would have been quite spectacular and theatrical. Yet he had managed to check his emotions immediately. He now smiled at the thought of himself with a fez over one eyebrow, with a long moustache and with a rifle in his hand, standing over the body of his sister and her lover, the two of them slaughtered for having tasted of the forbidden fruit.

This manly act is what ennobles our people, say the moralists. This barbarous act only serves to reveal how primitive and ignorant our country really is, countered Nushi to himself. I may be amoral, but my way of thinking, my ideology if you will, is incompatible with what society tries to impose upon me. I make use of its morals as a screen, and make fun of them behind its back. I’m playing society’s game, just like hundreds of other people do. So, society, if you don’t want everyone to make fun of you behind your back, change your style. Get rid of all the stuffiness.

[Studenti në shtëpi, 1936, from the volume Migjeni, Vepra, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 201-224, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

MIGJENI (1911-1938) – poetry

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Migjeni



BIOGRAPHY

With Migjeni (1911-1938), contemporary Albanian poetry begins its course. Migjeni, pen name of Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, was born in Shkodra. His father, Gjergj Nikolla (1872-1924), came from an Orthodox family of Dibran origin and owned a bar there. As a boy, he attended a Serbian Orthodox elementary school in Shkodra and from 1923 to 1925 a secondary school in Bar (Tivar) on the Montenegrin coast, where his eldest sister, Lenka, had moved. In the autumn of 1925, when he was fourteen, he obtained a scholarship to attend a secondary school in Monastir (Bitola) in southern Macedonia. This ethnically diverse town, not far from the Greek border, must have held a certain fascination for the young lad from distant Shkodra, since he came into contact there not only with Albanians from different parts of the Balkans, but also with Macedonian, Serb, Aromunian, Turkish and Greek students.

Being of Slavic origin himself, he was not confined by narrow-minded nationalist perspectives and was to become one of the very few Albanian authors to bridge the cultural chasm separating the Albanians and Serbs. In Monastir he studied Old Church Slavonic, Russian, Greek, Latin and French. Graduating from school in 1927, he entered the Orthodox Seminary of St. John the Theologian, also in Monastir, where, despite incipient health problems, he continued his training and studies until June 1932. He read as many books as he could get his hands on: Russian, Serbian and French literature in particular, which were more to his tastes than theology. His years in Monastir confronted him with the dichotomy of East and West, with the Slavic soul of Holy Mother Russia and of the southern Slavs, which he encountered in the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Ivan Turgenev, Lev Tolstoy, Nikolay Gogol and Maksim Gorky, and with socially critical authors of the West from Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Schiller, Stendhal and Emile Zola to Upton Sinclair, Jack London and Ben Traven.

Free Verse - Migjeni On his return to Shkodra in 1932, after failing to win a scholarship to study in the ‘wonderful West,’ he decided to take up a teaching career rather than join the priesthood for which he had been trained. On 23 April 1933, he was appointed teacher of Albanian at a school in the Serb village of Vraka, seven kilometres from Shkodra. It was during this period that he also began writing prose sketches and verse which reflect the life and anguish of an intellectual in what certainly was and has remained the most backward region of Europe.

In May 1934 his first short prose piece, Sokrat i vuejtun a po derr i kënaqun (Suffering Socrates or the satisfied pig), was published in the periodical Illyria, under his new pen name Migjeni, an acronym of Millosh Gjergj Nikolla. Soon though, in the summer of 1935, the twenty-three-year-old Migjeni fell seriously ill with tuberculosis, which he had contracted earlier. He journeyed to Athens in July of that year in hope of obtaining treatment for the disease which was endemic on the marshy coastal plains of Albania at the time, but returned to Shkodra a month later with no improvement in his condition. In the autumn of 1935, he transferred for a year to a school in Shkodra itself and, again in the periodical Illyria, began publishing his first epoch-making poems.

In a letter of 12 January 1936 written to translator Skënder Luarasi (1900-1982) in Tirana, Migjeni announced, “I am about to send my songs to press. Since, while you were here, you promised that you would take charge of speaking to some publisher, ‘Gutemberg’ for instance, I would now like to remind you of this promise, informing you that I am ready.” Two days later, Migjeni received the transfer he had earlier requested to the mountain village of Puka and on 18 April 1936 began his activities as the headmaster of the run-down school there.

The clear mountain air did him some good, but the poverty and misery of the mountain tribes in and around Puka were even more overwhelming than that which he had experienced among the inhabitants of the coastal plain. Many of the children came to school barefoot and hungry, and teaching was interrupted for long periods of time because of outbreaks of contagious diseases, such as measles and mumps. After eighteen hard months in the mountains, the consumptive poet was obliged to put an end to his career as a teacher and as a writer, and to seek medical treatment in Turin in northern Italy where his sister Ollga was studying mathematics. He set out from Shkodra on 20 December 1937 and arrived in Turin before Christmas day. There he had hoped, after recovery, to register and study at the Faculty of Arts. The breakthrough in the treatment of tuberculosis, however, was to come a decade too late for Migjeni. After five months at San Luigi sanatorium near Turin, Migjeni was transferred to the Waldensian hospital in Torre Pellice where he died on 26 August 1938. His demise at the age of twenty-six was a tragic loss for modern Albanian letters.

Migjeni made a promising start as a prose writer. He is the author of about twenty-four short prose sketches which he published in periodicals for the most part between the spring of 1933 and the spring of 1938. Ranging from one to five pages in length, these pieces are too short to constitute tales or short stories. Although he approached new themes with unprecedented cynicism and force, his sketches cannot all be considered great works of art from a literary point of view.

It is thus far more as a poet that Migjeni made his mark on Albanian literature and culture, though he did so posthumously. He possessed all the prerequisites for being a great poet. He had an inquisitive mind, a depressive pessimistic nature and a repressed sexuality. Though his verse production was no more voluminous than his prose, his success in the field of poetry was no less than spectacular in Albania at the time.

Migjeni’s only volume of verse, Vargjet e lira, Tirana 1944 (Free verse), was composed over a three-year period from 1933 to 1935. A first edition of this slender and yet revolutionary collection, a total of thirty-five poems, was printed by the Gutemberg Press in Tirana in 1936 but was immediately banned by the authorities and never circulated. The second edition of 1944, undertaken by scholar Kostaç Cipo (1892-1952) and the poet’s sister Ollga, was more successful. It nonetheless omitted two poems, Parathanja e parathanjeve (Preface of prefaces) and Blasfemi (Blasphemy), which the publisher, Ismail Mal’Osmani, felt might offend the Church. The 1944 edition did, however, include eight other poems composed after the first edition had already gone to press.

The main theme of ‘Free verse,’ as with Migjeni’s prose, is misery and suffering. It is a poetry of acute social awareness and despair. Previous generations of poets had sung the beauties of the Albanian mountains and the sacred traditions of the nation, whereas Migjeni now opened his eyes to the harsh realities of life, to the appalling level of misery, disease and poverty he discovered all around him. He was a poet of despair who saw no way out, who cherished no hope that anything but death could put an end to suffering. “I suffer with the child whose father cannot buy him a toy. I suffer with the young man who burns with unslaked sexual desire.

I suffer with the middle-aged man drowning in the apathy of life. I suffer with the old man who trembles at the prospect of death. I suffer with the peasant struggling with the soil. I suffer with the worker crushed by iron. I suffer with the sick suffering from all the diseases of the world… I suffer with man.” Typical of the suffering and of the futility of human endeavour for Migjeni is Rezignata (Resignation), a poem in the longest cycle of the collection, Kangët e mjerimit (Songs of poverty). Here the poet paints a grim portrait of our earthly existence: sombre nights, tears, smoke, thorns and mud. Rarely does a breath of fresh air or a vision of nature seep through the gloom. When nature does occur in the verse of Migjeni, then of course it is autumn.

If there is no hope, there are at least suffocated desires and wishes. Some poems, such as Të birtë e shekullit të ri (The sons of the new age), Zgjimi (Awakening), Kanga e rinis (Song of youth) and Kanga e të burgosunit (The prisoner’s song), are assertively declamatory in a left-wing revolutionary manner. Here we discover Migjeni as a precursor of socialist verse or rather, in fact, as the zenith of genuine socialist verse in Albanian letters, long before the so-called liberation and socialist period from 1944 to 1990. Migjeni was, nonetheless, not a socialist or revolutionary poet in the political sense, despite the indignation and the occasional clenched fist he shows us. For this, he lacked the optimism as well as any sense of political commitment and activity. He was a product of the thirties, an age in which Albanian intellectuals, including Migjeni, were particularly fascinated by the West and in which, in Western Europe itself, the rival ideologies of communism and fascism were colliding for the first time in the Spanish Civil War. Migjeni was not entirely uninfluenced by the nascent philosophy of the right either.

In Të lindet njeriu (May the man be born) and particularly, in the Nietzschean dithyramb Trajtat e Mbinjeriut (The shape of the Superman), a strangled, crushed will transforms itself into “ardent desire for a new genius,” for the Superman to come. To a Trotskyite friend, André Stefi, who had warned him that the communists would not forgive for such poems, Migjeni replied, “My work has a combative character, but for practical reasons, and taking into account our particular conditions, I must manoeuvre in disguise. I cannot explain these things to the [communist] groups, they must understand them for themselves. The publication of my works is dictated by the necessities of the social situation through which we are passing. As for myself, I consider my work to be a contribution to the union of the groups. André, my work will be achieved if I manage to live a little longer.”

Part of the ‘establishment’ which he felt was oblivious to and indeed responsible for the sufferings of humanity was the Church. Migjeni’s religious education and his training for the Orthodox priesthood seem to have been entirely counterproductive, for he cherished neither an attachment to religion nor any particularly fond sentiments for the organized Church. God for Migjeni was a giant with granite fists crushing the will of man. Evidence of the repulsion he felt towards god and the Church are to be found in the two poems missing from the 1944 edition, Parathania e parathanieve (Preface of prefaces) with its cry of desperation “God! Where are you?”, and Blasfemi (Blasphemy).

In Kanga skandaloze (Scandalous song), Migjeni expresses a morbid attraction to a pale nun and at the same time his defiance and rejection of her world. This poem is one which helps throw some light not only on Migjeni’s attitude to religion but also on one of the more fascinating and least studied aspects in the life of the poet, his repressed heterosexuality.

Eroticism has certainly never been a prominent feature of Albanian literature at any period and one would be hard pressed to name any Albanian author who has expressed his intimate impulses and desires in verse or prose. Migjeni comes closest, though in an unwitting manner. It is generally assumed that the poet remained a virgin until his untimely death at the age of twenty-six. His verse and his prose abound with the figures of women, many of them unhappy prostitutes, for whom Migjeni betrays both pity and an open sexual interest. It is the tearful eyes and the red lips which catch his attention; the rest of the body is rarely described. For Migjeni, sex too means suffering. Passion and rapturous desire are ubiquitous in his verse, but equally present is the spectre of physical intimacy portrayed in terms of disgust and sorrow. It is but one of the many bestial faces of misery described in the 105-line Poema e mjerimit (Poem of poverty).

Though he did not publish a single book during his lifetime, Migjeni’s works, which circulated privately and in the press of the period, were an immediate success. Migjeni paved the way for a modern literature in Albania. This literature was, however, soon to be nipped in the bud. Indeed the very year of the publication of ‘Free Verse’ saw the victory of Stalinism in Albania and the proclamation of the People’s Republic.

Many have speculated as to what contribution Migjeni might have made to Albanian letters had he managed to live longer. The question remains highly hypothetical, for this individualist voice of genuine social protest would no doubt have suffered the same fate as most Albanian writers of talent in the late forties, i.e. internment, imprisonment or execution. His early demise has at least preserved the writer for us undefiled.

The fact that Migjeni did perish so young makes it difficult to provide a critical assessment of his work. Though generally admired, Migjeni is not without critics. Some have been disappointed by his prose, nor is the range of his verse sufficient to allow us to acclaim him as a universal poet. Albanian-American scholar Arshi Pipa (1920-1997) has questioned his very mastery of the Albanian language, asserting: “Born Albanian to a family of Slavic origin, then educated in a Slavic cultural milieu, he made contact again with Albania and the Albanian language and culture as an adult. The language he spoke at home was Serbo-Croatian, and at the seminary he learned Russian. He did not know Albanian well. His texts swarm with spelling mistakes, even elementary ones, and his syntax is far from being typically Albanian. What is true of Italo Svevo’s Italian is even truer of Migjeni’s Albanian.”

Post-war Stalinist critics in Albania rather superficially proclaimed Migjeni as the precursor of socialist realism though they were unable to deal with many aspects of his life and work, in particular his Schopenhauerian pessimism, his sympathies with the West, his repressed sexuality, and the Nietzschean element in Trajtat e Mbinjeriut (The shape of the Superman), a poem conveniently left out of some post-war editions of his verse. While such critics have delighted in viewing Migjeni as a product of ‘pre-liberation’ Zogist Albania, it has become painfully evident that the poet’s ‘songs unsung,’ after half a century of communist dictatorship in Albania, are now more compelling than ever.

Song of Youth

Sing, youth, the loveliest song you know!
Sing the song that seethes within your breast,
Let your joy burst forth in passion…
Don’t hold back your song! Let it soar.

Sing your song, youth. I beg you sing…
Let it seize you, kiss you, inspire you to love
With youthful ardour… Let the foaming wave of feelings
Which your song arouses surge over us.

Sing your song, youth, and laugh like children!
Let the sound of your voice rise to the heavens
And echo back to us again, from the envious stars.

For we adore you, as we adore the sun.
Sing, youth! Sing your joyful song!
Laugh, youth, laugh! The world is yours.

Broken Melody

Broken melody — tear sparkling in the eye
Of a woman loved…
Please past,
Jewel lost,
A trampled dream
Lips unkissed
In the broken melody.

With silent sobs the naked shoulders shake,
Their whiteness dazzling…
Stabbed, stabbed with remorse
For the moments of mindlessness,
For her ruined fate,
For the happiness lost
In the broken melody.

Face hidden in her hands in shame,
Remorsefully the woman weeps,
With heart despairing
(A broken guitar,
A voice stifled
On lips kissed by pain
In the broken melody).
Silent he stands beside the woman weeping

Scolding tears of shame
That dim her eyes.
Some money on the table quickly lays
And goes away,
Leaving the woman lost
In the broken melody.
But when another comes, lust mounts again,

The heated blood
Pounds furiously through the veins,
Benumbing mind
… and only gasps
And grants are heard
In the horrid melody.

Preface of prefaces

Songs of resurrection
The sons of a new age
May the man be born…
Awakening
The spark
Song of youth
Songs unsung

Songs of poverty

Poem of poverty
Urban ballad
The highlander’s recital
The slums
Blasphemy
Broken melody
The prisoner’s song
Songs of noble grief
The shape of the Superman
The lost rhyme
Autumn on parade
Scandalous song
Resignation
Fragment
New spirit
The themes
The weight of destiny

Songs of the West
Song of the West
Wandering souls

A song on its own
A song on its own

Songs of youth

Springtime ecstasy
Two lips
Spring sonnet
Z. B.
The encounter
One night
Prayer
Around the table
On the swing of fate
The yearning of youth

Final songs

A sleepless night
Suffering
Luckless inspiration
Incomprehensible song
Solitude
Under the banners of melancholy

Poem of poverty

Poverty, brothers, is a mouthful that’s hard to swallow,
A bite that sticks in your throat and leaves you in sorrow,
When you watch the pale faces and rheumy eyes
Observing you like ghosts and holding out thin hands;
Behind you they lie, stretched out
Their whole lives through, until the moment of death.
Above them in the air, as if in disdain,
Crosses and stony minarets pierce the sky,
Prophets and saints in many colours radiate splendour.
And poverty feels betrayed.

Poverty carries its own vile imprint,
It is hideous, repulsive, disgusting.
The brow that bears it, the eyes that express it,
The lips that try in vain to hide it
Are the offspring of ignorance, the victims of disdain,
The filthy scraps flung from the table
At which for centuries
Some pitiless, insatiable dog has fed.
Poverty has no good fortune, only rags,
The tattered banners of a hope
Shattered by broken promises.

Poverty wallows in debauchery.
In dark corners, together with dogs, rats, cats,
On mouldy, stinking, filthy mattresses,
Naked breasts exposed, sallow dirty bodies,
With feelings overwhelmed by bestial desire,
They bite, devour, suck, kiss the sullied lips,
And in unbridled lust the thirst is quenched,
The craving stilled, and self-consciousness lost.
Here is the source of the imbeciles, the servants and the beggars
Who will tomorrow be born to fill the streets.

Poverty shines in the eyes of the newborn,
Flickers like the pale flame of a candle
Under a ceiling blackened with smoke and spider webs,
Where human shadows tremble on damp stained walls,
Where the ailing infant wails like a banshee
To suck the dry breasts of its wretched mother
Who, pregnant again, curses god and the devil,
Curses the heavy burden of her unborn child.
Her baby does not laugh, it only wastes away,
Unwanted by its mother, who curses it, too.
How sorrowful is the cradle of the poor
Where a child is rocked with tears and sighs.

Poverty’s child is raised in the shadows
Of great mansions, too high for imploring voices to reach
To disturb the peace and quiet of the lords
Sleeping in blissful beds beside their ladies.

Poverty matures a child before its time,
Teaches it to dodge the threatening fist,
The hand which clutches its throat in dreams,
When the delirium of starvation begins
And when death casts its shadow on childish faces,
Instead of a smile a hideous grimace.
While the fate of a fruit is to ripen and fall,
The child is interred not maturing at all.

Poverty labours and toils by day and night,
Chest and forehead drenched in sweat,
Up to the knees in mud and slime,
And still the empty guts writhe in hunger.
Starvation wages! For such a daily ordeal,
A mere three or four leks and an ‘On your way.’

Poverty sometimes paints its face,
Swollen lips scarlet, hollow cheeks rouged,
And body a chattel in a filthy trade.
For service in bed for which it is paid
With a few lousy francs,
Stained sheets, stained face and stained conscience.

Poverty leaves a heritage as well,
Not cash in the bank or property you can sell,
But distorted bones and pains in the chest,
Perhaps leaves the memory of a bygone day
When the roof of the house, weakened by decay,
By age and the weather collapsed and fell,
And above all the din rose a terrible cry
Cursing and imploring, as from the depths of hell,
The voice of a man crushed by a beam.
Under the heel, says the priest, of a god irate
Ends thus the life of a dissolute ingrate.
And so the memory of such misfortunes
Fills the cup of bitterness passed to generations.

Poverty in drink seeks consolation,
In filthy taverns, with dirty, littered tables,
The thirsting soul pours glass after glass
Down the throat to forget its many worries,
The dulling glass, the glass satanic,
Caressing with a venomous bite.
And when, like grain under the scythe, the man falls
To the floor, he giggles and sobs, a tragicomic clown,
And all his sorrow in drink he drowns
When one by one, a hundred glasses downs.

Poverty sets desires ablaze like stars in the night
And turns them to ashes, like trees struck by lightning.

Poverty knows no joy, but only pain,
Pain reducing you to such despair
That you seize the rope and hang yourself,
Or become a poor victim of ‘paragraphs.’

Poverty wants no pity, only justice!
Pity? Bastard daughter of cunning fathers,
Who like the Pharisees, beating the drum
Ostentatiously for their own sly ends,
Drop a penny in the beggar’s hands.

Poverty is an indelible stain
On the brow of humanity through the ages.
And never can this stain be effaced
By doctrines decaying in temples.

[Poema e mjerimit, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 34-43]

Blasphemy

The mosques and churches float through our memories,
Prayers devoid of sense or taste echo from their walls.
Never has the heart of god been touched by them,
And yet it beats on amidst the sounds of drums and bells.

Majestic mosques and churches throughout our wretched land,
Spires and minarets towering over lowly homes,
The voice of the hodja and priest in one degenerate chant,
Oh, ideal vision, a thousand years old!

The mosques and churches float through memories of the pious,
The chiming of the bell mingles with the muezzin’s call,
Sanctity shines from cowls and from the beards of hodjas.
Oh, so many fair angels at the gates of hell!

On ancient citadels perch carrion ravens,
Their dejected wings drooping – the symbols of lost hopes,
In despair do they croak of an age gone by
When the ancient citadels once gleamed with hallowed joy.

[Blasfemi, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 55]

Song of noble grief

Oh, noble grief of the suffering soul
That into free verse bursts out…
Would you perchance take comfort
In adorning the world with jewels?

Oh, noble grief in free verse,
Which sincerely sounds and resounds,
Will you ever move the feelings of men,
Or wither and die like the autumn leaves?

Oh, song worthy of noble grief…
Never rest! But with your twin,
Lamentation, sing out your suffering,
For time will be your consolation.

[Kanga e dhimbës krenare, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 63]

Autumn on parade

Autumn in nature and autumn in our faces.
The sultry breeze enfeebles, the glowering sun
Oppresses the ailing spirit in our breasts,
Shrivels the life trembling among the twigs of a poplar.
The yellow colours twirl in the final dance,
(A frantic desire of leaves dying one by one).
Our joys, passions, our ultimate desires
Fall and are trampled in the autumn mud.

An oak tree, reflected in the tears of heaven,
Tosses and bleeds in gigantic passion.
“To live! I want to live!” – it fights for breath,
Piercing the storm with cries of grief.

The horizon, drowned in fog, joins in
The lamentation. In prayer dejected fruit trees
Fold imploring branches – but in vain, they know.
Tomorrow they will die… Is there nowhere hope?

The eye is saddened. Saddened, too, the heart
At the hour of death, when silent fall the veins
And from the grave to the highest heavens soar
Despairing cries of long-unheeded pain.

Autumn in nature and autumn in our faces.
Moan, desires, offspring of poverty,
Groan in lamentation, bewail the corpses,
That adorn this autumn among the withered branches.

[Vjeshta në parakalim, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 71]

Scandalous song

A pale-faced nun who with the sins of this world
Bears my sins, too, upon her weary shoulders,
Those shoulders, wan as wax, which some deity has kissed,
Roams the streets like a fleeting angel.

A pale-faced nun, cold as a marble tomb,
With greyish eyes like the ashes of spent desires,
With thin red-ribbon lips, tightly pressed to smother her sighs,
A chilling image of her has lingered in my memory.

From pious prayers she comes and to her prayers she returns.
In downcast eyes, in lips, in folded hands her prayers repose.
Without her prayers what fate would be the world’s?
Yet they cannot stop another day from dawning.

Oh, nun so pale, making love to the saints,
Consumed in ecstasy before them like an altar candle,
Revealing herself to them…, oh, how I envy the saints,
Pray not for me, for I am hell-bent with desire.

You and I, nun, are two ends of a rope,
On which two teams tug one against the other –
The struggle is stern and who knows how it will end,
So, tug the rope, let the teams contend.

[Kanga skandaloze, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 73]

Resignation

In tears have we found consolation…
Our heritage in life has been
Misery… for this whole world
Is but a grave in the universal womb,
Where human reptiles are condemned to creep,
Their will crushed in the grip of a giant.
– An eye adorned in purest tears of profound pain
Shines from the far side of hell,
And at times, the reflection of a fleeting thought
Flashes round the globe
To give vent to awesome wrath.
But the head hangs, the sorrowful eyelids droop
And through the lashes wells a crystal tear,
Rolls down the cheek and splashes on the earth,
And in every splash of a teardrop a man is born
To take to the road of his own destiny.
In the hope of the smallest victory, he roams from land to land,
Over roads covered with brambles, among which he passes
Graves washed in tears and crazy folk who snigger.

[Rezignata, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 75]

Fragment


On the mercy of the merciless
The little beggar survived.
His life ran its course
In dirty streets,
In dark corners,
In cold doorways,
Among fallacious faiths.
But one day, when the world’s pity dried up
He felt in his breast the stab
Of a new pain, which contempt
Fosters in the hearts
Of the poor.
And – though yesterday a little beggar,
He now became something new.
An avenger of the past,
He conceived an imprecation
To pronounce to the world,
His throat strained
To bring out the word
Which his rage had gripped
And smothered on his lips.
Speechless he sat
At the crossroads,
When the wheels of a passing car
Quickly crushed
And… silenced him.

[Fragment, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 77]

The themes

Is there the theme of a poem among fading memories,
Among the happy memories of childhood innocence,
When the heart was full of worldly pleasures,
Desires, hopes and ever-sweet dreams?
Is there the fiery theme of a poem of love
Among the lingering memories of eager youth,
With sonorous rhymes and ardent vows,
Full of the lust for life and shouts of mirth?

On the pallid faces of fallen women
Loitering in doorways to sell themselves,
On their faces a tragic poem is carved
In tears and grief that rise to the heavens,

In dark corners where derision reigns
In disgust, and the insane jeer
At their wives and children,
There in revolt great themes await creation.

In hidden corners where fear dwells
And passivity lurks to smother life,
There in betrayal does the theme take its source
And with it, the poet pens his verse.

Throughout man’s life do themes of all kinds
Come and go. Now the ultimate of themes has come,
Frightening in our fantasy – the paling of the face,
An ominous shadow, and the death knell tolls.

[Motivet, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 81]

Suffering

For some time now
I have seen clearly
How from suffering my eyes are growing larger,
The furrows in my face and brow are growing deeper,
And my smile has grown bitter…
…and I have come to realize
That the coming days
Will no longer be constructive ones
Of energy and work, but simply the passing
Of a waning life.

With time, I have come to see
How this treacherous life
Has singed
Each of my senses,
One by one,
Until nothing remains
Of the joy
I once had.

Oh life,
I did not know before
How much I dreaded
Your grip
That strangles
Ruthless.

But helpless now,
I gaze into the mirror and see
How from suffering my eyes are growing larger,
The furrows in my face and brow are growing deeper,
And that soon I will become
A tattered banner,
Worn and torn
In the battles of life.

[Vuejtja, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 123]

Under the banners of melancholy

The banners
Of a mournful melancholy
Wave
Throughout our land…
Nor can it be said
That here live a people
Who are building
Something new.
Here and there in the shadow
Of the banners
An effort can be seen,
A gigantic struggle
To triumph over death,
To give birth to something great,
To bring a jinni to light!
But (oh, irony of fate)
From all that labour
Only a mouse is born.
And thus this comedy
Bursts our vein of humour,
And we ourselves
Burst into rage.
Over the threshold of each house
That contains a sign of life
Mournful melancholy
Unfolds its banner.

[Nën flamujt e melankolisë, from the volume Vargjet e lira, Tirana: Ismail Mal’ Osmani 1944, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, published in English in Migjeni, Free Verse, Peja: Dukagjini 2001, p. 135]

Poems by Gjekë Marinaj

[ The Official Website of Dr. Gjekë Marinaj ] & [ Culture & Arts ]

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Gjekë Marinaj



To Dusitsa – Unawares

The planets have lost nothing of importance
In their semi-intoxicated revolutions.
From the quaint standpoint of man,
They seem equidistant, indifferent…

Majestic like grand pyramids,
They are nonetheless overwhelmed by your candid nature,
And cast off the weariness of age,
like a fine nylon decollete,
Eager to behold themselves in the mirror of
your surpassing beauty.

Your beauty is so ravishing
That the planets seem like beads on your neck.
…And, even as they take pleasure in themselves,
They eye each other with envy, my beloved.

Looking out from where I stand,
Straddling the gap between being a man
And elected by fate to be your lover,
It’s odd that down there on earth,
humans don’t identify you with space.
But then, how can those poor wretches discern your world…!

Earthlings send up astronauts, space ships, Apollo 13…
To find life on other planets, beloved.
Unaware that something magical occurred
With your birth,
And that all those planets are aligned
And hang like fabulous ornaments around your neck.

The Girls of California

They walk tiptoe on the muscular arms of mother earth,
Spinning magic webs with the shifting shadows
of their movements,
Translucent wonders – glances that ensnare
Touch them, and the universe is transformed into crystal domes.

The girls of California,
Soft-spoken and sweet-voiced,
The language of their bodies suffices to cause earth tremors;
While with young men – spectacles through whom the sea
appears like a rose in bloom –
They use honeyed words;
And the sound of their voices reverberates like
an oncoming echo
From a virginal star-studded realm.

California is a perennial Greenland of girls.
Hence,
The stagnant clouds linger in confusion between them
and the heavens.
Hence,
The frustrated volcanoes of Hawaii angrily vomit
the fire in their belly
To singe the salty lips of the waters.
Truly,
Without the girls of California, beauty itself would feel
like an orphan.

Those beautiful, honey-tongued blondes
Transform the lives of boys into dreams of long duration
And breast-feed those dreams to merry manhood.

HORSES

We spend our lives running
We see only what’s ahead of us
We don’t care what happens behind us.
We are nameless;
“Horses” is what everybody calls us.
We don’t weep.
We don’t laugh.
We keep quiet.
We listen.
Eat what is set before us,
Go where we are told.
None of us is keen of mind.
The steed mounted by a king
Had a lofty post.
The steed mounted by a princess
Had a saddle of gold.
The peasant’s horse
Had a saddle of straw.
The wild horse
Slept outdoors all his life.
But vis-à-vis man, we have been and remain just horses!

Albania

Tonight I shall furtively arise from slumber
wearing the lovely mask of a dream.
I entreat you, my Albania, to do likewise –
You, the breath that blew the breeze of life
to evoke painful chimes of love…
Let us toy with the minutes the way the years toy with us
in this unique moment of parching thirst.
Tonight let us meet at the crossroads of the heavens.
You shall have no difficulty spotting me…
For we are so much alike, my precious.
In my locks reside the citizens of the future.
Each strand is a dwelling without barred windows.
The cries of children and the laughter of tired mothers
are lullabyes I use to lull stale evenings to sleep.
For the first time, the silence shall generate white bedsheets
to soak up the fluids of hardened skins of pain…
Seclusion will dissolve the modern veil of nakedness.
I shall resemble your tattered flag smelling of foul odors,
dusty like the ashen soil of the moon, perhaps Butrint…
oh, Albania!
The letters of your name keep me from becoming destitute.
Your voice lights up shattered cities of antiquity
like hot sands in flight,
where the dappled spine of my laughter lies scorched.
I want to meet you face to face, beloved!
And should it happen that I’m blinded by your splendor,
I shall the better see myself and others.

WHICH ONE OF US IS ME?

On the wings of polished noises
the full face of the miraculous
you revealed to me in the dark pit that was my home.
The soft rains of your tender love
inundated the meadows of my renewed spirit.
All of the fowls of the world took off
from the verses of Neruda
and showed up to give meaning to the skies
that are even now washing clean the powder of the rebel years
and the thick locks of my grief.
We are kneaded so seamlessly
one with the other, beloved,
that I’ve become a stranger to precision;
which one of us is me,
in the all-too-often glass-fragile Globe of love?

A MOTHER SPEAKS TO HER POET SON

Your infantile face opened up
with the blossoming of peach trees…
Whom you resembled. But I wanted you
more handsome still.
Within my eyes I hid you
so your evolution from blossom
to fruit
might be ever so brief.
Your growth left no footprints on my apron.
Even as a toddler you yearned to catch the rainbow
with your hand;
but each time the rainbow drifted away
with the hoary locks of the sky.
You came back crying.
Now you neither cry nor run
after it.
Because you have your own rainbow – of words.
Is this not a rare thing of beauty?
Once I measured your growth by the palms of my hands.
While now others measure it
by the lines of poetry you write.
You are a poet
and the poets reach extends beyond the boundaries of space.

YOUR EYES

As ambassador to the realm of marine life
I answer for the loss of lips in fishes.
Since
Secrets reveal themselves above all in dreams,
Since
Your eyes charge the batteries for the transition from
day-to-night and night-to-day,
Since,
Were your eyes for a moment to become a darkened sky,
Mine would become sockets in the skull of an empty ocean,
For,
At times, love is perversely fated to see with Homer’s eyes.
This was the speech I gave before the creatures of the deep,
In the “sea” chamber.
Perhaps from that day onward,
The crocodiles took umbrage at man…
The icebergs no longer publish poems about seagulls,
And crabs plod along without the aid of their eyes!
Fishes alone remained open-mouthed and lipless…
Wonder-struck by your eyes, making me hesitate
To tell other people…
Your eyes
They are the abode where my soul hangs on a nail
its winter garments.

YOU SHALL SENSE MY HALTING STEP

(To my native land)

How may other children have you driven into exile since then…
You, my gray-stone cradle, my summer magic.
What remains, and
What has been scorched within my body from longing for you,
I do not know:
My shoes, headed your way, are leaving ashen footprints on the road
Your landscapes are daring to revive and let go of the rot
of yesteryears.
You have mellowed the cold wind blasts of separation!
Aware that I have outgrown my leaf-green diapers,
Knitted with rainbow fingers wielding thin pine needles…
Much time has passed since last we saw each other, but still we
keep alive the memory, dear soul.
I shall tread in trepidation…
Yet, I know that you shall not let me weep in the
meadows reserved for welcoming your offspring,
Once again you shall proffer me your medallion of reconciliation;
In daytime, the racing eye of the sun,
Succeeded at night by the face of the moon,
Hang on the delicate chain of my being.
I am pouring out my heart in defiance of the word “oblivion”!
See, how you’ve shriveled, along with me:
The trees that once shed tears,
To make fables come alive,
Are hardly more than stumps…
Now, they can relate only ballads…
The wretched grass has drooped to the ground.
(how could it keep fresh and green?)
Therefore, knowing that my native lands are your welcoming arms,
I shall transform myself into a bird
And come to revive your withered dreams in the life-giving
rains of your caring mothers.
With you in my soul, I cannot die on my feet.
You shall sense my halting step, as I wait for the fulfillment
of this vision.

We Were Adolescents And Put Off Love

Till Tomorrow

At the time, the air resounded with the sounds of the city.
Yonder, the forest waited graciously to envelop
us with its green veil.
We felt that our first encounter called for quieter places
The sky was blue; no fog was in the offng.
It was noon. Yet, it seemed like dusk somehow!
We hadn’t touched liquor, yet felt intoxicated.
How could we fathom the thirst for the unknown?
Or ignore the devouring looks of people…?
How could we trust the open spaces of the plains?
Or the eavesdroppmg of birds…?
Or the sly glances of the sunflowers?
Wasn’t it a sin to make the leaves of the forest
yearn with longing when they looked upon us…?
What if the grass …where we frolicked …caught fire
From our torrid passion and burned up?
Hm? We were adolescents,
Which is why we put off love till tomorrow.

Martin Camaj (1925 – 1994)

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Martin Camaj



BIOGRAPHY

Camaj (1925-1994) was born in Temali in the Dukagjin region of the northern Albanian alps. He is an émigré writer of significance both for Albanian literature and for Albanian scholarship. He received a classical education at the Jesuit Saverian college in Shkodër and studied at the University of Belgrade. From there he went on to do postgraduate research in Italy, where he taught Albanian and finished his studies in linguistics at the University of Rome in 1960. From 1970 to 1990 he served as professor of Albanian studies at the University of Munich and lived in the mountain village of Lenggries in Upper Bavaria until his death on 12 March 1992.

Camaj’s academic research has concentrated on the Albanian language and its dialects, in particular those of southern Italy. His literary activities over a period of forty-five years cover several phases of development. He began with poetry, a genre to which he remained faithful throughout his life, but in later years also devoted himself increasingly to prose. His first volumes of classical verse Nji fyell ndër male, Prishtina 1953 (A flute in the mountains), and Kânga e vërrinit, Prishtina 1954 (Song of the lowland pastures), were inspired by his native northern Albanian mountains for which he never lost his attachment, despite long years of exile and the impossibility of return. These were followed by Djella, Rome 1958 (Djella), a novel interspersed with verse about the love of a teacher for a young girl of the lowlands.

His verse collections Legjenda, Rome 1964 (Legends) and Lirika mes dy moteve, Munich 1967 (Lyrics between two ages), which contained revised versions of a number of poems from Kânga e vërrinit, were reprinted in Poezi 1953-1967, Munich 1981 (Poetry 1953-1967). Camaj’s mature verse reflects the influence of the hermetic movement of Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti (1888-1970). The metaphoric and symbolic character of his language increases with time as does the range of his poetic themes. A selection of his poetry has been translated into English by Leonard Fox in the volumes Selected Poetry, New York 1990, and Palimpsest, Munich & New York 1991.

My land

When I die, may I turn into grass
On my mountains in spring,
In autumn I will turn to seed.
When I die, may I turn into water,
My misty breath
Will fall onto the meadows as rain.
When I die, may I turn into stone,
On the confines of my land
May I be a landmark.

[Vendit tem, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 32]

To a modern poet

Your road is good:
The Parcae are the ugliest faces
Of classical myths. You did not write of them,
But of stone slabs and of human brows
Covered in wrinkles, and of love.
Your verses are to be read in silence
And not before the microphone
Like those of other poets,
The heart
Though under seven layers of skin
Is ice,
Ice
Though under seven layers of skin.

[Nji poeti të sotëm, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 33]

The old deer

The shepherds abandoned the alpine pastures
For the warmth of the lowland valleys,
Sauntering down the trails, talking loudly
About women and laughing
Beside the water of the stream bubbling forth
From well to well.
The old deer raised its head from the scorched eartz
And observed the pale foliage. Then
It departed to join its sons,
They too with their minds on the does.
Broken, it too abandoned the alpine pastures and followed
The merry murmur of the stream below, a fiery arrow,
The wanderer in search of warmer pastures and winter grass
Which it will never touch!
When they slew it, the shepherds pried its eyes open
And saw in the pupils
The reflection of many deer drinking water from the stream.

[Dreni plak, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 34]

Mountain feast

Blood was avenged today.
Two bullets felled a man.
Blood was avenged today.
Under the axe-head
The ox’s skull bursts by the stream.
(Today there will be great feasting!)
Blood was avenged today.
The wailing of men gone wild
Mingles with the smell of meat on the fires
And the autumn foliage falls
Scorched on the white caps
At the tables, outside.
Night. At the graves on the hill
Fresh earth, new moon.
The wolves have descended from the mountains
And drink blood at the stream.

[Drekë malsore, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 35]

First elegy

When I am exhausted
By the tribulations of age, steep like a cliff,
Feel no pain for me, Taze,
Stretched out on the bier,
A lamb ready for sacrifice.
Let the old women mourn over me that day
For their own people long since dead.
And one more request, my wife:
When my father died, we slaughtered two oxen
To feed the starving – and the ants of the threshing-floor
With breadcrumbs.
But I shall die amidst people who are
Always full,
So at my wake serve
Only bitter coffee.

[Drekë malsore, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 36]