Filip Shiroka (1859-1935)

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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]

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