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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Early Authors





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Introduction to "The Life of the Virgin Mary"


I am bringing a new fruit to your table this morning which you have not tasted since you have been in heaven. In actual fact, it is a bit sour, wintry and wild. It does not look attractive like the others which your faithful servants bring you every day as presents. But do not reject it, Lady Saint Mary. Taste this one too, as if in Christ’s protection. I recall that once upon a time, a king ate some wild pears and said, "Indeed, I have never eaten pears as sweet as these." The king spoke thus not because the wild pears were actually sweet, but because when he had eaten them, they seemed like sugar to him. Let the two of us speak without misunderstanding now, Lady Saint Mary. Did you ever expect that you would be presented with an Arbëresh poem of the kind and length of the one I am placing in your hands this morning? I know that you have had innumerable long, sweet and beautiful poems in all the other languages, but in our Arbëresh language I can state that this is the first one you have received now, one which recounts your whole life, all your joy and suffering and the nails that transfixed your heart while you were here on earth. You have certainly never had a song like this, not even the Arbëresh would have imagined it. The Arbëresh language is so uncouth, poor and rough that you would think it impossible to express anything but swear words, curses, insults and indeed obscenities. If one begins to speak in Arbëresh for prayer, for preaching, for spiritual and intellectual thoughts, one sounds ridiculous.

[Oi e ndeermia Regin, from the volume Ghiella e Shën Mëriis Virghiër, Rome 1762, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1,p. 153]