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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Eqrem BASHA, 2001 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Eqrem BASHA, 2001
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Eqrem BASHA

 

Dark ballad for a bright day

The leader of the band X with a dark hat
With dark gloves and a dark overcoat
Dark eyes dark hair dark eyebrows dark beard
With ten dark-eyed companions
And a long dark limousine
Broke into a shop in a luckless town
In the middle of the bright day
From there they took to the road
And hastening back to their den to divide the loot

The dark won out on that bright day

The heavy fog covered their tracks
The leader of the band X with a dark hat
With his ten companions and his big limousine
Divided the bright loot in their dark den
Added up their money and found it worthwhile
The leader of the band X became the boss
And joined forces with leader Y
The leader of the band X with a dark hat
Became the leader of X Y and Z a week later
With three deputies and a host of fighters
Then the leader of the band XYZABC with a dark hat
With X deputies and X-times a host of fighters
Held a solemn banquet and set up
A dark state with dark roads and dark towns
With a dark army and dark police and a dark administration
Dark ministers and a dark parliament
             on a bright day

[Baladë e zezë e një dite të bardhë, from the volume Yjedet, Prishtina: Rilindja 1977, p. 72, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Ode to mediocrity

We the mediocre
Were born somewhere in the middle
Cried in mezza voce
Were wrapped in medium-quality swaddling clothes
Neither expensive
Nor cheap
We the mediocre
Neither rose
Nor fell
We left a bit of space at the beginning
And at the end
So that our blades would not be blunted

We the mediocre
Eat at mid-day
Sit midpoint at the table
Find our names halfway down the list
Speak up in the middle of a conversation
Tighten our belt at the midriff
Have a beauty spot amid our brow
We the mediocre
Bite into the centre of the apple
We the mediocre
Get married neither young nor old
We the mediocre
In the midst of mid-life
Build an average home
Neither wealthy nor poor
We the mediocre
Neither clever nor stupid
Neither strong nor weak
We the mediocre
Neither big nor small
Neither guilty nor innocent
We the mediocre
Equidistant at middle-age
Live an average life
In the middle of this century
And in the middling midst of the middle
We get accustomed to it
We the mediocre
And do not stop at the end of the road
And do not start at the beginning
But stand rather somewhere
In the middle

We the mediocre
Walk right through the middle of the world

[Odë mesit, from the volume Atleti i ëndrrave të bardha, Prishtina: Rilindja 1982, p. 13, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Ballad of the man the world did not know

Every morning he sent letters off to the whole world
With imaginary addresses and confusing messages
And on them he licked the stamps of his suffering
The man the world did not know

He rose and bowed to present himself
With arms raised he cried out to his own idols
He loitered in train stations, anticipated friends who never came to see
The man the world did not know

Every day at dawn he waited at the gate
For the postman to bring him replies
To his correspondence from someone in the far wide world
The man the world did not know

Message after message, words and requests
Not a scrap of dust on his typewriter
Not even the spiders came to rest in the room
Of the man the world did not know

And one day he stopped living, he had no more ink
His quill dried up, his typewriter fell silent
Who is this poor fellow? they said when they found him dead
The man the world did not know

The funeral parlour buried him
And put on his grave a tombstone
Only one letter arrived at his address
The bill for the burial
             Of the man the world did not know

[Baladë për njeriun që nuk e njihte bota, from the volume Atleti i ëndrrave të bardha, Prishtina: Rilindja 1982, p. 17, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Nighttime traveller of this world

He did not get up like everyone else - in the morning
For him the day began in the trenches of the desperate
He arrived in this world from the night
And travels nocturnally to reach the day’s end

He did not get up when the sun rose
Nor was he born when ants awakened
In the final analysis you cannot write poetry about him
Because he is not human but a mole feeding
On the rotting roots of this world
He is neither alone nor with friends
To do his portrait you need shadows
Greyish hues and light filtering in through the fog

He did not get up like everyone else - in the morning
He travels his whole life long from the edge
To the heart of darkness

He belongs - as they say - to the family of the mole
Which respectable folk chase with poison
To protect their healthy roots

You cannot write even a verse about him
Although he is sensitive and employed
Married to a wife who loves him, with two or three children
With two or three mortgages and an apartment
In the third district of the second residential zone
Of local municipality number one in region number three

And yet - he is sensitive
He twice attempted to commit suicide
The third time no one noticed
He stopped in the middle of the road
And did not go through with it
For a beautiful day dawned, startled him and frightened him off

He did not get up like everyone else
Nor has he ever washed his face in the morning dew
The light reflecting in the sparkling waters of the pristine well
Always keeps him blind
This is why he does not sleep when the rest of us do
He does not get up when everyone else does
He is quite prosaic on matters of poetry
You cannot write a ballad, modern verse
Or short lyrics about him
He is someone you never notice
From Building No. 7 of District No. 3, Unit CX 12/7, No. 23
On the 12th floor of Residence 47, left wing
A proletarian with a milk bottle at the door every day
And a roll of newspapers criticizing the degenerate morals
Of the world in which he lives

Any verse about him would be without appeal
And yet
He lives in this world
And merits
Having two or three words
Written about him
In a poem

[Udhëtar i natës së kësaj bote, from the volume Udha qumështore, Prishtina: Rilindja 1986, p. 15, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Cold

Two headlights
Two policemen
Keeping watch over the cold night

A bird
Killed in an accident
Lies in the frigid night
No dreams
No solemn funeral

I stand on its behalf
In the middle of the road
In the frozen night
And search
For a model obituary

[Ftohtë, from the volume Udha qumështore, Prishtina: Rilindja 1986, p. 37, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Balkan menu

Don’t set the table, love
Let’s go out for dinner
We’ll leave early
And come back late
Life here in Europe’s changed
Come on, love, let’s go
Let’s have some punch
At the Admiral Bar
And a coupe royale
At the Montreal sidewalk cafe
In Benny’s pool room
We’ll try a carom behind our backs
We’ll have a cappuccino
At Marilyn’s cafeteria
And a martini with olives at the Florida Club
Don’t set the table, love
Let’s go out for dinner
To the Miami Pizzeria
And have a pizza New Jersey
An escaloppe viennese at the Roma restaurant
And then go to Parma’s
For a coupe macédonienne
And when it gets late
We’ll go back home
To empty our bowels
In a Balkan latrine

[Meny ballkanik, from the volume Zogu i zi, Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit 1995, p. 31, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The streetsweepers of Prishtina

Who could know the town better
With the sandalled feet of children
On tank tracks

With the mouths of little boys
Drinking water
From teargas cartridges
Who could know the town better
Than those who wash it at night
And cannot cleanse its wounds

No one
More than the clotted veins
Which turn pale in the morning
In the eternally busy vaults
Of Europe’s morgue

[Larësit e Prishtinës, from the volume Zogu i zi, Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit 1995, p. 32, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The wolf

In the wilds of the forest
I saw only squirrels
Hares
Deer
Badgers

In the wilds of the forest
The wolf is always right beside you
He is your neighbour
You can smell him

In his jaws
Are pieces of your life

[Ujku, from the volume Zogu i zi, Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit 1995, p. 89, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The nightingale sings

Who is that bird singing on a branch alone
And where is its flock
Which is the plaintive song
And which is the season

            That bird has a voice adept
             At singing on a solitary branch
             No friends no family
             It has come to earth on its own
             With a flute in its beak and anguish
             Which is neither a wound
             Nor a song

What is that mourning so near which belongs to us
Sing to us nightingale sing

[Këndon bilbili, from the volume Zogu i zi, Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit 1995, p. 93, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The audience

The head of the protocol department asked
What are you involved in
We are tired I said
Alright, but what are you involved in
In ourselves
We said
We have been occupied
We would like to have a little rest

Are you involved in politics
Oh no
Our goal is freedom

The department head took note
And gave us a startled look

They look naive he said
As he came in to meet us
And desperate
They are Albanians
They come from a land of hatred
They want to be understood
They don’t insist on love

[Audienca, from the volume Zogu i zi, Skopje: Flaka e vëllazërimit 1995, p. 132, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]