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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Martin CAMAJ, 1962

Martin CAMAJ, 1962

Webdesign J. Groß

Martin CAMAJ

 

My land

When I die, may I turn into grass
On my mountains in spring,
In autumn I will turn to seed.

When I die, may I turn into water,
My misty breath
Will fall onto the meadows as rain.

When I die, may I turn into stone,
On the confines of my land
May I be a landmark.

[Vendit tem, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 32]

 

Mountain feast

Blood was avenged today.
Two bullets felled a man.

Blood was avenged today.

Under the axe-head
The ox's skull bursts by the stream.
(Today there will be great feasting!)

Blood was avenged today.

The wailing of men gone wild
Mingles with the smell of meat on the fires.
And the autumn foliage falls
Scorched on the white caps
At the tables, outside.

Night. At the graves on the hill
Fresh earth, new moon.

The wolves have descended from the mountains
And drink blood at the stream.

[Drekë malsore, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 35]

 

First elegy

When I am exhausted
By the tribulations of age, steep like a cliff,
Feel no pain for me, Taze,
Stretched out on the bier,
A lamb ready for sacrifice.
Let the old women mourn over me that day
For their own people long since dead.

And one more request, my wife:
When my father died, we slaughtered two oxen
To feed the starving - and the ants of the threshing-floor
With breadcrumbs.
But I shall die amidst people who are
Always full,
So at my wake serve
Only bitter coffee.

[Elegjí e parë, from the volume Lirika midis dy moteve, Munich 1967, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 36]

 

Found Thread

Last night the street lamps winked out and the town
Languished in blackness until day break.

Housewives searched for oil lanterns
But could not find them in the dark.

At dawn the sun strode up and cast a pale glow
On the facades of skyscrapers.

In the morning I stared at the circle of dreams
On the ground
And found the lost thread
At the margin of the light.

[Fill i gjetun, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 7, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

A Bird Languishes

The Canon of Birds says:
Every bird shall stretch its wings and perish on the grass,
Punishment for having plied the forbidden border
Between heaven and earth.

A bird languishes upon the lawn, at death's door,
The leaves in the trees are
Unreachable birds and companions
Frolicking in the sunlight.

In the distance are two millstones pounding
At one another, as is their wont,
Silently.

[Një zog lëngon, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 8, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Disregard

After midnight the moon cast its beams
From the cliff top to the river below.
Half asleep
The little owl sings in the rays:
Eyes, two drops of water, sparkle, and the song
Drips into the valley, the darkness.

At dawn, someone on the riverbank found
The broken beak of the little owl and stammered:
Oh! Look at that sound that fell
And shattered on the rocks.

[Mospërfillje, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 11, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Death - Crackling

Death - the crackling
Of a dry leaf,
Wait for me at the end of the earth
With no chrysanthemum in your hand.

Wait, benumbed swallow,
With wings o'er the waves, for my breath

To soar to the heavens,
Feathered like a white raven.

[Vdekje - krizëm, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 14, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Unexpected Guest in Berisha

When the guest entered the house at dusk,
Seven brothers looked askance
As if he were walking over their heads and not
Over the dry floorboards. Nor did they, as ancient custom demands,
Greet and speak with him, but stared at the ground.

The youngest of them broke the silence,
Removed the lahuta from its place
And laid it in the guest's lap for him to play.
When he held the lute's body,
Gently stroking its side
With his rough fingers,
And plucked its foal-hair string with his thumb,
The brothers and the old man, head of the household,
Understood that the stranger was a singer
Like no other among them.

The beginning holds the heart in sway,
Not the end of the song.

[Mysafir i papritun në Berishë, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 15, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Avalanche

At six o'clock in the morning
It still withstood the storm.
At noon the forest, the face
Of the mountain, plunged into the river.

The sun came out and shone on the fresh earth,
The ruptured roots, the shattered trees
And the end in my conscience.

The inhabitants of the mountains on the other side asked:
Frail land, where can we now hide our eyes
On your treeless brow?

[Mal i rrëxuem, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 17, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Winter

Snowflakes in the treetops
And spring heather swathed in ice,
The eye searches for a hidden fire,
The badger its lair
In the womb of roots and remembers
The warmth of breath
Under a white sheep's hide.

The hedgehog with its spines embedded deep in flesh
Flickers without a flame
Within the four walls of the earth.

[Dimën, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 21, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

My Mother

The dry sumac quivers
On the promontory above the Drin, drubbed
By the savage winds of St Andrew's Day.
And she declares to me: "You're a dead weight
In my breast!

Cross the river
Before winter's end!"

[Ime amë, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 21, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Failure

I began singing in the choir
At the wrong moment: out of fear, shame?
"Alright, get out!" said the teacher.
"Get out!"

I descended from the last row
Like a red pepper plucked from the beam,
And counted the steps, one by one,
To the end,
Under the earth
With the weight of one hundred eyes on my shoulders.

[Deshtimi, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 27, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Springtime in an Arbëresh Village

The buds emerge from the cracks in the rocks
And from the hummocks on the path to the cliff.
The tender tiny faces with thin stems
Listen to the conversations of the strong-fisted women
Returning from the fields
And none of them mentions the spring.

My days there passed as in a dream
With eyes fixed on the early spring flowers drowned
In the month of April's wild rising grass.

I woke up on the day of my departure with a wreath
Of meaningless words in my hand.

[Pranvera në katundin arbresh, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 28, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

There Before the Tribes Arrived

You were
There before the tribes arrived
With your milk in a fissure in the rock
And with your feet in salt water.
They gave you but one name: Shkodra.
And they called you a crowned city
And they cast stones at your head
And ancient iron.

How often did you awaken drenched with blood
And observe yourself in the mirror?
Bearing a woman's name, you bathed in the waters
Of the river and enthroned yourself with fresh garments
Upon the cliff
Your brow shining in the sun over the fields.

[Aty si tash para se me ardhë fiset, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 31, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

In the Shade of Things

In the shade this afternoon where I took my rest
I plucked a blade of grass in my thoughts.
The night crickets are chirping.

Near the hearth I hear the pods
Of ginestra
Bursting in my breast.

[Në hijen e sendeve, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 33, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

To a modern poet

Your road is good:
The Parcae are the ugliest faces
Of classical myths. You did not write of them,
But of stone slabs and of human brows
Covered in wrinkles, and of love.

Your verses are to be read in silence
And not before the microphone
Like those of other poets,

The heart
Though under seven layers of skin
Is ice,

Ice
Though under seven layers of skin.

[Nji poeti të sotëm, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 37, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 33]

 

That Mountain of Ice Divides Time

(That mountain of ice had a name,
Its name was taboo!)

Before my eyes closed in sleep,
I beheld that peak of pale ice
At my feet.
The wind arrived with the sun and melted it,
And there, in my shadow, appeared a flower.

[Ai mal akulli ndan kohën, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 40, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Fragment

The worker sets off in search of work abroad
With a piece of sky in his arms
And sea salt in pinewood boxes.
In his hand he holds a slingshot,
And river pebbles in his mouth
Instead of bread.

The road before him is lit
By his eyes' glowing embers.

[Fragment, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 41, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The old deer

The shepherds abandoned the alpine pastures
For the warmth of the lowland valleys,
Sauntering down the trails, talking loudly
About women and laughing
Beside the water of the stream bubbling forth
From well to well.

The old deer raised its head from the scorched earth
And observed the pale foliage. Then
It departed to join its sons,
They too with their minds on the does.

Broken, it too abandoned the alpine pastures and followed
The merry murmur of the stream below, a fiery arrow,
The wanderer in search of warmer pastures and winter grass
Which it will never touch!

When they slew it, the shepherds pried its eyes open
And saw in the pupils
The reflection of many deer drinking water from the stream.

[Dreni plak, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 47, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and first published in English in An elusive eagle soars, Anthology of modern Albanian poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 34]

 

Two Generations

My father was
A sad-looking fellow,
A leafless olive tree
With black pits on every bough.

His words rumbled loudly
Within us
As if they were a famished wolf's howling
Alone in the barren cliffs.

My brother took
His place,
My barefoot brother
- cold wind on the horizon -

And blew at the autumnal fire
With full cheeks,
And all the sparks became
Sons.

[Dy brezni, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 53, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Abandoned Village

Abandoned village
Behind the back of the earth
With houses and lanes which abut
Cliffs.

Inside, the old people light
Fires in the evening in ashes
Burnt endlessly. The moon
After setting everywhere else,
Stops for a moment at their windows
And speaks to the folk
Frightened of the Evil Eye.

[Katund i lanun mbas dore, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 62, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Hostile Sea

The sea bears everything with it, say the old people,
With the ever-blowing wind on one side
And pine and fruit trees on the other
Pressed to the ground.
We, the ancient inhabitants,
Love the land. Even the crickets
Bursting in the hot roots of the pine trees
Smell of resin and not of the sea.

Even the spirits of gods
Are hidden in the rocks and not in the salty
Sea! Sweet figs
Swoon red-lipped on their heads
In sacrifice.

[Deti anmik, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 72, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Fragile Land

(To the tribes below the Drin)

Between Molç Mountain and Qerret
There opens a gorge leading down to the river,
Formed as if it had been a lake,
And we were out there alone, on it, still,
In dugouts of maple.

We used to know by heart
The names of choice fish and not
Of preying birds and wild
Foliage.

Even the sheen in our eyes
Would be blue and not black.

We would float in the water
Not in the clouds.

[Vend i thyeshëm, from the volume Njeriu më vete e me tjerë, Munich 1978, p. 87, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]