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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Bardhyl LONDO, 1991 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Bardhyl LONDO, 1991
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Bardhyl LONDO

 

The monuments

Along the streets,
             in schoolyards, city squares
They stand
             silent,
                   pensive.
I call out to the passers-by
             as Leonidas to the Spartans:

Oh people,
       do not see but majesty
             in the monuments!

Here is a man transformed into bronze
He was once a warrior
             with quill and sword.
If you but touch him
His wounds
Will drip once again
With blood.

Here is a poet transformed into marble
He was once a simple man,
             he laughed and cried like a child.
Put your ear to his chest
His heart was broken
Out of anguish for you,
Oh people!

Blood-paved road
       life of a phoenix....
Do not see but majesty
             in the monuments!
Since they had a life
             full of tribulation
Let us make eternity easier
For them.

And let your heart beat a little faster, oh passer-by.
Do the best you can
When you look them in the eye,
And if you cannot
       become a monument
             yourself,
Be worthy
Of your fellow citizens!

[Monumentet, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 25, 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. 162]

 

Çajupi

Send me a stone, a stone, he said
       as he died in distant Heliopolis.
There were others, others there were
       who demanded feather pillows.
With chapped and parched thirsting lips
       he dreamt of a bit of water from a fountain.
There were others, others there were
       who sipped their whiskies in a bar.
Vito quivered. Mara’s tears dried:
       the eyes of the poet of grief had closed.
There were others, others there were
       who twirled like tops at a ball.
A sorrowful death, worthy of a great existence,
       eternity has now begun its journey.
There were others, others there were
       who signed the deed of oblivion at death.
There were others, others there were
       of whom we know neither when they lived nor died.
Nonetheless, may it distress us, brother,
       that we could send him no stone while he lived.

While he lived, while he lived, that we sent him not even a stone...

[Çajupi, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 28, 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. 164]

 

Who are you?

Who are you? Challenge of the centuries,
Spectre of tyrants, terror of kings.
You demand freedom. Your rifle has no cock.
You long to fly and you spread no wings.
Dressed like a priest, you make fun of God.
Who are you? God or the devil?

At times Beethoven, at times Khayyam.
You know neither when you laugh nor when you cry.
Sweet Ophelia, raven that startles you.
That grieves you so and you know not why,
Sombre Hamlet, Sancho the joker,
Half ascetic, half sinner.

At times hatred, at times love.
Who are you? Fire or ash?
You love noise, you speak of silence,
Half jester, half king
Your feet in Boston, your heart in the Balkans.
One eye laughs, the other weeps.

Your hands are freezing, you are not on fire.
You drink of the rivers and die of thirst.
Deafening silence, thunder and calamity.
Who are you, who are you?
Oh, genius is indeed veiled in a dilemma,
Within a tear the man shines through!

Thus you scale the centuries;
Challenge of oblivion, terror of kings,
Singing fire, biting frost.
Who are you? Noli the Albanian!

[Kush je ti?, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 30, 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. 165]

 

Migjeni

Give me a wave -
       and I’ll give you a river,
Give me a word -
       and I’ll give you a song,
Give me a bird -
       and I’ll give you a sky,
Give me a love -
       and I’ll give you pain,
Give me a hope -
       and I’ll give you a life,
Give me a fist -
       and I’ll give you freedom,
Give me a dream -
       and I’ll give you a future,
Give me a god -
       and I’ll give you blasphemy.
Mi            (you
       gje            find
             ni            me)
             all this,
Mi
       gje
             ni
and I’ll give you a name:
       MIGJENI

[Migjeni, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 32, 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. 166]

 

Lasgush Poradeci

Death had forgotten him. Startled,
It lost its way in his fragrant verse.
The day he closed his eyes
The lake at Pogradec in wonder froze over
Like one huge tear...

[Lasgush Poradeci, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 34, 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. 167]

 

The poet’s last request

If your eyes rest upon this verse and ponder,
I shall see
A fair vision.

If your eyes quiver, even for a moment, on reading this verse,
I shall resound like a guitar
All through the night.

If your eyes pass over this verse with indifference
I shall have found my death.

Do not forget to come to my funeral.

[Amaneti i poetit, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 40, 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. 168]

 

Chronicle of a love affair

On Monday we met. We said each other's names.
On Tuesday we became friends. We smiled.
On Wednesday we made love. We lost our way.
On Thursday we had an argument. We were saddened.
On Friday we reviewed the past few days like a film.
On Saturday we sought ways to find one another.
On Sunday we rediscovered our love, like Columbus.

And then it was Monday again.

[Kronikë dashurie, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 66, 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. 169]

 

Whenever

Whenever I walk past the drugstore
I shake like the leaf of a poplar in the autumn.
May you never enter it, my love,
May your hands never hold a prescription.

Whenever I walk past the hospital
I quiver like the broken string of a harp.
May you never take this road, my love,
May you never cross that threshold, my dear one.

Whenever I walk past the ambulances
I shudder at the thought that you might be in one.
May you never hear their sirens,
May you never know how swiftly they move.

Whenever I walk past cemeteries

I never walk past cemeteries.

[Sa herë, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 72, 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. 170]

 

Ithaca

Ithaca slumbers under the September sky.
The olive trees are like women awaiting their tardy husbands.
I am filled with a longing for my home far away,
For my wife in Tiranë who will not sleep tonight.

Help me, Ulysses! Cast off your legendary cloak!
Tell me something wise, something fervent.
Roads begin, get lost, run forth, disappear
More intricate than the stitching on Penelope's woven gown.

Roads, roads, roads...
To the east, to the west,
To the Ionian, to the Aegean.

The times are indeed modern,
But you can lose the thread again
As in the time of Ulysses.

Which one will take me to my Ithaca?
Which word will calm my waiting wife?
Far from the sirens of the sea screaming hysterically once again,
Far from the Circes of the twentieth century!

I will not lose this road!
I will find it even blind!

We are all a little like Ulysses,
Even if we do not have a Penelope
We do have an Ithaca!

[Itaka, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 81, 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. 171]

 

Morning on the Acropolis

The statues wipe their sleepy eyes.
(Can a statue actually sleep?)

Under the tunics,
Under the wreaths of laurel
The hearts of the thousand-year-old statues await a new day.

And look: over Lykabettos and over the chariot of Achilles
The sun-face of Glezos appears.

The thousand-year-old statues set off on their way.

Farewell, Manolis!

[Mëngjesi në Akropol, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 83, 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. 172]

 

Feelings in search of Homer in Athens at midnight

Midnight loiters in the old quarters of Athens
Like a blind old woman not knowing her way.
Blind are the crossroads,
Blind
The monuments.

Lifeless are the eyes of the Acropolis statues,
Lifeless
The many-hued eyes of the traffic lights.

I am looking for you, oh great blindman.

And if I find you,
I will go blind myself!

[Ndjenjë duke kërkuar Homerin në Athinën e mesnatës, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 84, 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. 173]

 

Meeting with Leonidas

The freeway is silent,
The Aegean is silent
Like a body, paralysed and lifeless.

The trees,
The birds,
The clouds are silent.

There are only the two of us, oh great leader,
The two of us and this fair silence,
With no strikebreakers.

How will we understand one another then?

...Those of us who know the language of freedom
Have no need of an interpreter.

(Thermopylae, September 1983)

[Takim me Leonidhën, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 85, 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. 174]

 

Only Ithaca remains

The ships have changed. They are no longer like those of Ulysses.
The love affairs have changed. They are no longer like those of Menelaus.
The women are different. They are no longer like Helen.

And again the successors will change over the centuries.

Only Ithaca remains.
Ithaca for the child, Ithaca for genius,
It, the eternal,
Dreams,
       love,
             life,
                   death:
Ithaca - man himself.

[Vetëm Itaka mbetet, from the volume Si ta qetësoj detin, Tirana: Naim Frashëri 1988, p. 86, 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. 175]