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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors



Shaip BEQIRI, ca. 1998

Shaip BEQIRI, ca. 1998

Webdesign J. Groß



Freedom Confined

Keep the door ajar,
Draw back the heavy drapes
For freedom is slow to come,
It will infiltrate your soul
And has no will to leave.

Do not latch the window
For soon it will return
To bring in some fresh air,
Even after its final breath
There's no way it can escape.

[Derën lëre hapur, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 17. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Half a Conversation

for Martin Camaj

Look where they've brought us again,
Those naked wings of words.

Had we remained but shepherds
We'd have put our dreams to graze
On the endless plains of time.

Through the lowest hole of the flute
We'd have trilled our homeland to song.

Had we been mere lumberjacks
We'd have sawed off the knees of day
In the forest's shadowy depths.

With our fresh, undamaged lungs
The meadows would ring with new songs.

Had we been simple millers
We'd have turned a shade of grey
Behind our unseen white masks.
We'd have savagely milled sorrow
For the wakes of wives in childbed.

Let us crush the dregs of our hopes
In our deep and crystal palms.

We'll be the last hole of the flute,
We'll gaze at the green slopes from our sills
But we won't hid our greying hair.

Better that we be poets
Leaving traces of fallen teeth
On the great skull of solitude.

[Gjysmëbiseda, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 28-29. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Sleepy Caravan

The Asian night grew dark
Before our very eyes,
Before oblivion dawned.

The caravan followed the stars,
Followed the sigh of the wind.

Each of us had forgotten
A large part
Of our tiny lives.

We arrived before departure
And crossed that cursed bridge.

[Karvani i përgjumur, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 74. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Sky in the Embrasure

Beyond the impassable water
There shone a naked moon,

Through the rippled face of the wave
Never reaching the other bank
It unravelled a braided dream,

On pursuit through the wilderness
Followed a fury of flaming clouds,

We strayed through the forest of night,

Groping with fingers thin
Overthrown in the slith'rings of fear,

In the shade of a crooked tree
We saw neither the clear horizon
Nor the veined sky in the embrasure,

Two sphinxes forever blind
Chased each other around the tower
And never the two did meet.

With teeth fallen out through the ages
They gummed the ravaged moon,

Searched the forest for eyes in the dark,

From beyond a star a wild wave
Sought to subside on the bank,

A broken shaft of lightning
Created the transparent blue
Of day sunken low in a hollow
Where the sphinxes exchanged one last look.

[Qielli në frëngji, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 76-77. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Why bring them up at this moment,
My long-forgotten omissions,

At this fair and glorious moment
When you can get nowhere
With my dirty deed now cleansed.

Oh, what shall I do on this square
In the shade of your mighty crowns,

On this dim patch of rough cement
Where unblessed children are born
Of your mercy and my wrath.

[Katarsa, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 96. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Rhythm and Nothing

The time has come to jump
Into one another's skin,

And to believe without a doubt
The great truth
That embraces our home.

Before we are ever dreamed of
It will surely rouse and wake us.

Stripped right down to the bones
Like raw flesh we will need to wander
Through a grove of secrecy
In ceaseless search of our star.

The beloved time has now come
To heed insomnia's tune,
Our two hearts' severed rhythm.

Behind the transparent curtains
Will we leave the window ajar,

The time has come to be seen
As if in a shattered mirror
In the eyes of one another.

You will willingly give your breast
To that rare little half-truth and fib,
I will surreptitiously blow
On its living, ephemeral dust.

We, my love, will be deep,
Far beyond the melted tear.

You will wrap your destiny bare
Around my defenceless bone
Trapped in an azure hollow.

Yes, the time has come to die,
Though we've hardly begun to live.

[Ritmi e asgjë, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 100-101. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


A Deceived Bone

You could have overcome it all
With your magic and foreign power,

Could have been
The only gold tooth,
An arrow aimed at my life,

Shadow of the jaw
Over every exalted brow,

Hook of dispersed dreams,

You could have overthrown it all
In that age when nothing flowed,

While you measured yourself with my wound
You could have been carving your life
Like a knife, a wing, a mute fife,

Your root never grew strong and green,
Left is a trunk with no shelter for recall,

Perhaps alive you'd have held me,

In your pith it is still blowing,
And you wish to be my tombstone
And forget everything else around you,

You cannot turn to flesh and blood,
So betrayed by the power that abandoned you,

Now you can no longer escape
From the snake skin of that hope
And immure yourself in departed time,

Why do you need that foreign urn, black bone of mine?

[Një asht i mashtruar, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 121-122. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Herd of Clouds

You suspect that all is radiant here
For nighttime hovers and listens
Behind closed doors,

It has fled in desperation,
Where the harsh January wind blows,

No boulevard sees its end,

The multi-coloured lights fracture
In the eyes of people unknown,
Each bearing a large suitcase,

In which they stowed milk for their children
And some dreadful plastic toys,

Two-day-old bread for the feast

In their hands they hold withered roses
For the forgotten birthdays
Of those who sigh in the corners,

I see them running about
Across the darkened square
To reach their foggy verandas,

How they cower in secret
At the foot of the sleepy tree
With dozens of photos of the dead
To pick wildflowers from hills and dells,

Curious shepherds they are,
Putting their herds of clouds to pasture
In the endless fields of solitude.

[Grigja e reve, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 126-127. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Grey-haired Requiem

In vain you shake the sorrow
From the grey hair of our forefathers,

Between your crutches you stumble,
Squeeze yourself into time
And compare yourself to the shadows of wings,

The hour of death does not wake you,
Nor the roar of the boulder which does not fall,

Like two butterflies you knot that tie
Around your fat and cancerous neck,

Only dead do you enter me.

[Rekuiem i thinjur, from the volume Prangat e praruara (Tirana: Toena 1998), p. 153. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]