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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Sabri HAMITI, 1991 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Sabri HAMITI, 1991
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Sabri HAMITI

 

The Flowers on the Balcony

My girlfriend and I plant flowers on the balcony,
We soak them daily with fresh spring water
To teach our son their names.
This is the highest of gardens,
On the fifth floor.
In the fields it rains on the blooms,
But on the balcony we sprinkle them.
When sun-ripened summer returns
We give the poor flowers a holiday
And gather our things for a trip to the coast...
My flute will keep them alive,
Says the mountain boy on the balcony next door.
We bring souvenirs back from the sea,
Sand, photos and salty water
For the dead blossoms on the balcony.
No flute is to be heard, only the wind and the rain
Beat at the windows in anger
We retreat into our skins
And, leaning against the radiator
We warm our aching bone.

[Lulet në ballkon, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 270. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Telegram

You're off in Europe and we don't know where you are stop
You turned twenty-eight today stop
And Mirani turned eight stop
He's learned the whole alphabet stop
Last night he did all his homework stop
Penning it carefully in his notebook stop
Father bought some groceries stop
He's coughing again stop
Mother died three days ago stop
We buried her under the blooming hawthorn tree stop
We did not call you, did not know how stop
You're off in Europe and we don't know where you are stop
The hodja said the funeral could not be delayed stop
We did not eat cake for your birthday without you stop
The candles are burning and going out stop
Come back alive for we are still waiting stop
Stop stop stop

[Telegrami, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 278. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Road Signs

Red means: stop!
Amber means: get set!
Green means: go!

The bemused masses race to the next crossroads,
Where the street divides into two white knives.
To the right green, to the left red.
The eager masses crowd to the left.

Such is the (fatal) fate of traffic,
(from green to red,
From Right to Left.)

Tires, lube for the brakes turn to mud,
The heart stops beating...

Stop!
Get set!
Go!

Hard is the straight street,
Harder still the crossroads,

The traffic police say:

First, you set off on green,
Turn to the right because you have the right of way,
And carry on in a circle!

There is no (fatal) fate in a circle.

[Shenjat e rrugës, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 280. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Telephone

He doesn't know how to read and write,
But he knows numbers up to ten,
Counting on his fingers.

Himself at one end of the line,
The World at the other,
He learned to talk.

Hello, hellooo!
He can call by heart
With his eyes closed.

Hello, hellooo!
This is number 1234567890.
Can I talk to the World?
Where is the World?

He doesn't know how to touch or feel,
Colours, faces, and scenes
He draws with words.

Hello, hellooo!... Telephoning
The world
Ahhh...

The world has fallen asleep
The telephone is dead.
His neck on the table
No voice

Hellooo?

[Telefoni, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 291. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Prizren

This city is proud of its stature and size,

By car it takes an hour,
On foot a hundred years,
You set off counting the trees, the fountains and songs,
The tombstones and eons.
Three generations old when you reach it,
With the weight of time on your back.

Ailing and tired of solitude,
You find an ancient house in town,
Guarded by two ancient men,
One with a necktie and papers,
A felt cap and pistol, the other.

You measure your age and your loneliness
In the cracked earth, the crumbling roofs,
The smokeless chimneys...
And learn of the balance of words and of things.

The fortress above you is silent
With teeth as long as time itself,
Who has known more solitude:
The fortress, the river or you,
Or Prizren itself, that ancient city?

[Prizren, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 306. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Ali Podrimja

Let it all be forgotten
Let it all be forgotten

My brother spit in my face
Laughing, guffawing

I saw him weep

Let it all be forgotten

Last night I embraced someone
My friend, forgive me, my friend

I was drunk last night, my friend

Let it all be forgotten.

[Ali Podrimja, from the volume Trungu ilir, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1983, p. 321. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

George Castrioti

Every time the frost comes
We recall Your name,
The first and the second,
We do our best to teach it to the children.

Names arise from the shades of the past.
Nish, Kruja, Albulena and Berat.
And again the two names: the first and the second,
One for oneself, one for the others.

Every time the frost comes
We recall Your name.
The living, the suffering. What value has life
When nourished by past memories?

The children, who learn names quickly,
Do not want only this, they want more,
They want life, a name for themselves,
The children who do not thrive on memories.

Every time the frost comes
We recall Your name,
When the barking of dogs in the night
Destroys the profound and infinite silence.

A name for oneself and one for the others,
Making amends for life
Ask the children when they grow up.
They know no memories, only dreams.

[Gjergj Kastrioti, from the volume Leja e njohtimit, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1985, p. 13. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 186. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Death of Young Don Quixote

Literature tells us:
Don Quixote, having read books,
Rushed out of his library
And entered his own existence.

His endless adventures
Belong to literature, to the sublime,
Not to life.

Don Quixote has a house full of books,
The biggest one in this town.
He has a stentorian voice:
He talks all the time, without ever hearing
The truth!

And the books on the shelves
Bite their tongues
And keep silent.

Exhausted by their own weight,
They break the shelves
-And fall onto the head of young Don Quixote,
Burying and suffocating him.

The obituary in the newspaper read:
'He died at his desk.'

[Vdekja e Don Kishotit të ri, from the volume Leja e njohtimit, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1985, p. 79. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 185. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Refrigerator

Look well inside it, the sun and the moon,
The waves of the sea, the shores and the storms,
The rooster at war will you find, and bellwether,
Guarded and kept by a flute-playing shepherd.
There you'll encounter a comb and some water,
Toothbrush and razor within its walls, too,
Laces for boots and buttons for blouses,
Needle and thread have their place and venue.
Look well inside it, there's song and there's silence,
Nettles and hawthorn and bitter crab apples,
And you will hear surly shouts and deep sighs there,
All of them minded and watched by dead quiet.
In it you'll meet all your years and your errors,
Hatred and love there with each of your struggles,
The wolf and the fox, the cries and the oak trees,
All of them stored undefiled by your memory.
Outside is time, all the days, months and years which you
Count to yourself using toes, using digits,
Counting till teeth and your fingernails fall out,
Tallying each till your beard's fathoms long.

[Frigoriferi, from the volume Leja e njohtimit, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1985, p. 86. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Blindness

for Jorge Luis Borges

You will die one day, dear Jorge,
One night, all alone and forgotten!
Have you not felt condemned for years now,
For decades dreaming in the dark, bereft of your sight?
The Divine Comedy you read with your fingers,
You bathe in the dust of derelict cities,
Like string you lace memories and senses in knots,
Compelling the expanses of time to embrace.
You will die one night, dear Jorge,
One day, all alone and forgotten,
At the most you will be a speck of dust
Borne by the winds to the Arabian deserts.
Your labyrinth is the brainchild of solitude,
A trap which seizes misery by the throat.
Have you not felt for years now, poor Jorge,
Sentenced and doomed to dream in the dark?

[Verbimi, from the volume Leja e njohtimit, Prishtina: Rilindja, 1985, p. 90. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 184. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]