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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Modern

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Dritëro AGOLLI

Dritëro AGOLLI

Webdesign J. Groß

Dritëro AGOLLI

 

The Cynic's Monologue

I loved you,
       I love you no longer!
             Worse can happen in life.
There are those who remain lovers
                   until they grow old,
There are those who are lovers
                   for but a month.
I loved you,
       I love you no longer!
             You were born to suffer,
                   so suffer!
I am an honest man,
                   I respect the truth.
There are those
       who do not love
             but lie
                   all their life.
I am straight to the point
             and blunt in tone,
I tell you
       "I don't love you"
                   on the telephone!

[Monologu i cinikut, from the volume Poezi, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1979, p. 226. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 46. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Petty Bourgeoisie

What's all the uproar?
             we can sit in the kitchen;
The food smells good, we won't go hungry;
If we are thirsty,
             we can drink;
If our nails are getting long,
             we can cut them!

[Mikroborgjezi, from the volume Mesditë, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1969. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 47. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Heart

Mountains, mountains, mountains,
Full of iron, heroism and grain!
No measure can contain you,
Only my heart, that has room for everything!

[Zemra, from the volume Poezi, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1979, p. 119. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 48. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Cow

The cow chews her cud in the hay-filled barn,
I lean my face against her great flank
Feeling from her inner depths the warmth,
The warmth of hay gathered in the meadows.
Over her black horns hangs an electric light
Shining down into the pail of milk.
I cannot leave the cow.
With my face against her flank, I smell the foaming milk.
The milkmaid gently removes the pail
And waits a moment, her hands dripping.
She says:
       "Are you a vet?"
I lift my face from the cow:
             "No, a poet."
She smiles and studies me with her blue eyes,
Lovely, wise and peaceful.
She reflects for a while and realises
I cannot write a line without a cow...

[Lopa, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 49. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Vineyard

The rows of crates are lined up in the vineyard,
Crates where raki and exquisite wines lie sleeping,
Rows like lines of verse,
Sometimes scanned, sometimes free.

No one asks the grape-pickers
Why the lines are long or short.
It's enough if they produce
A heavy wine or a twenty-percent raki.

[Vreshti, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 50. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Foundations

Here are the foundations of my old house,
The house I left once upon a time,
And here too is the old doorstep,
More than a doorstep - a stone.
Tender grass has covered both the doorstep and the foundations,
And above the grass, apple trees wave their branches,
Trees unknown to me when I was a child,
Apple trees that friends planted the day of my departure.
Under the grass together with the chiselled doorstep
Sleep old verses from school notebooks.
They sleep and the dense grass grows over them,
The apple blossoms cast their petals.
Visions of these one-time verses come alive
Whenever the road brings me back here,
And they rustle with the grass and apple leaves
And flutter past...
Then I sit down under a tree and talk to myself,
A blade of grass between my lips:
It is true that I have written poems in the city,
But deep down inside I am a farmer...
And I need not blush at having hung onto this lifeblood,
Lifeblood of good dreams,
Upon which I have built other dreams,
Beautiful, delirious dreams...

[Themelet, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 51. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

First Nostalgia

'You who leave your first hearth,
Do you know that it burns with
            fiery nostalgia?'

On the boulevard I stop for a moment in silence
In front of my old apartment building.
There is light in the windows
Where someone else now lives happily.

Greetings, brother, I say to myself,
Looking in the window from afar,
From the trees along the pavement a leaf
Falls onto the collar of my jacket.

So many years I lived there in peace and in excitement,
Where the lights are shining in the windows tonight.
I wrote many poems and articles,
Got married and raised children.

How many sleepless nights I spent
Pondering over my notes and books,
And entertaining friends who arrived at the door,
Entertaining them leisurely and hospitably.

And my friends - wise, noisy, audacious,
Read whatever I had written
With pleasure or turning up their noses,
Saying, "We expect real verse!"

And who knows how often with them
I took to the roads of Albania!
To hell with the kitchen, cups and saucers and spoons,
Let us look for verse together on our way!

And again with books and notes
I returned to that small apartment,
With my trousers full of burrs,
And juniper needles in my hair...

On the boulevard I stop and light a cigarette
In front of my old apartment building.
The glow in the windows burns with a first nostalgia
That can never be transferred elsewhere.

[Malli i parë, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 52. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

In the Ancient City

The two of us stroll through the ancient city,
With its many windows and orchards,
From every window we hear a ballad,
From every portal we hear a poem.
Can you feel the sound of verse?
It comes with a warm breeze from the city's ancient past,
It comes from the mouths of statues sleeping under the doorsteps,
And under the roots of vines hanging from the trellises.
Had you come two thousand years ago,
The ancient sculptors
Would have fashioned you in Alpine marble
And you would have slept under the foundations of a doorway,
Undiscovered for a long time,
And I would have arrived two thousand years later
To discover you and carry you off in marble to the Art Gallery...
Don't laugh!
That is certainly the way it would have happened.
How fortunate it is that you were not born two thousand years ago
And that we could now meet.
In my arms you will be warmer
Than as a statue in the gallery.

[Në qytetin e lashtë, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 54. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

A Couple of Words to Poets to Come

We had no time to write of love
Though we were impetuous lovers,
The country needed songs of freedom,
The country needed songs of grain ripening in the fields.
The country demanded of us poor poets,
That we teach courses to fight illiteracy,
That we build dams on the rivers,
That we light the flame of socialism in the mountains.
Do not wonder, oh poets yet to be born,
And do not judge us for what we have not accomplished.
Compared to you, we will look like simple monks
Laden with grain and heavy iron chains.
We, who spent many a sleepless night,
We, who accomplished many a great deed,
Could we not at least have written a couple of love poems,
Could we not have stammered, "Oh, my beloved?"
Do not believe we were heartless! If only you could have seen
The passions we felt for the girls we loved and heard
What sweet nothings we whispered in their ears on those radiant evenings!
But we lacked the time to publish those sweet nothings.
Our printers were busy with more important things.

[Dy fjalë poetëve që vijnë, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 55. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Work

Under his nails the dirt was dark blue,
Dirt from the fields and meadows,
Blue like the lines on the globe,
Like the strings of a violin.
Nor can it be washed out
With soap and water in the bath.
Dirt entered the furrows of those hands silently
Like a plough breaking through the soil.
I know those warm fingers,
Those good fingers.
My father's nails were blue with dirt
Even as he lay in his coffin.
He looked as if he were not dead at all,
But simply dozing before setting out for the fields
As he would do at dawn,
Lying back with his head in the palms of his hands.

[Puna, from the volume Fjala gdhend gurin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars: Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 56. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Wind

In the wind the trees cower and huddle together,
In the wind the trees long for a warming embrace,
But what of the two of us?
Far from each other?
I know not what wind could unite us apace.

(1971)

[Era, from the volume Udhëtoj i menduar, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1985, p. 126. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Snow

I remember the words that my grandfather spoke,
When we went for a walk in the white, silent snow:
The snow stays so quiet while icy and living,
It only speaks out in its ultimate woe.

(1980)

[Dëbora, from the volume Udhëtoj i menduar, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1985, p. 19. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

On the Appeal of Poetry

You say that I've written too much about cows,
And of grain in the fields I have penned too much verse.
So what? You have butter and milk in the morning,
At supper there's always that little white roll
On your plate, and beside it you clamour for meat.
You assert that we lose some poetic excitement
When mentioning cows all the time in our verse,
The appeal of a poem, you say's not from pastures,
But rather when under our skin a line bursts
With words, you insist, from some lofty preserve.

Yet listen, I've never, as much as I wanted,
Gone on about cows, yes, they merit much more,
I can't sever them from my pen and my paper,
It's cows that inspire me, my spring and my fall,
I would, if I could, teach them how to write poems.

I'm sure they'd be better than most of our bards!

(1984)

[Për shqetësimin poetik, from the volume Udhëtoj i menduar, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1985, p. 67. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Moon Over the Meadow

Like a title the moon hovers over the meadow,
Like a title that rises from a poem of love,
And in such a fair meadow did I once stand waiting,
I patiently hoped that you'd come with me, too...

This evening I watch it in that tranquil meadow,
Observe as it sets in the wet dewy grass,
And ask myself, plunged both in thought and in wonder
How oft has that title been penned and erased.

How oft's it been written and razed do I ponder,
Much as the titles have changed in my verse.
And through my grey hair does the wind blow and skitter,
As love, now departed, is flitting elsewhere.

[Hëna mbi livadh, from the volume Udhëtoj i menduar, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1985, p. 141. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Simple, but Useful Things

A cane, be it smooth, be it bumpy and knotty,
Some use for a blind man it always accords,
It's good for the lame, burdened down by their journey,
And handy for folk when attacked by the hordes.

A cane, be it smooth, be it bumpy and knotty,
Is worthy to wield both outside and at home,
At home to protect you against wrathful neighbours,
Outside to ward off mangy mad dogs who roam.

A cane in appearance could be fair or be ugly,
It's useful indeed for some other events,
You need it to beat all the dust from your handbags,
Or knock on the door when no buzzer's present.

A cane is a requisite for a policeman,
Is prized by a warden in prison cells damp,
A cane was once held by Apostle Saint Peter,
And once by blind Homer deprived of a lamp.

(February, 1996)

[Gjëra të thjeshta, por të dobishme, from the volume Vjen njeriu i çuditshëm, Tirana: Dritëro, 1996, p. 15. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Secrets of the Candle

The candle has something quite secret about it,
An aspect you cannot that well comprehend,
With its wax do hot tears form and flow down the taper,
As you sit observing that saintly stick's end.

The candle breathes out mystic wonder and goodness,
Takes hold and possesses your being again,
To dreams from the Bible you then are transported,
And all of life's vanities wither and wane.

In the drips of the candlestick holder's hot tallow,
Ensconcing your fathers' pale eyes which draw near,
Buzuku arrives, Budi, Bardhi, Bogdani,
Naim's there before you and melts in his tear.

You're touched and consoled like a saint come from ashes,
With the charred row of years stretching back for an age,
You sit there in silence and wait for the candle,
To speak and instruct you like some distant sage.

[Fshehtësitë e qiririt, from the volume Vjen njeriu i çuditshëm, Tirana: Dritëro, 1996, p. 97. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]