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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Rudolf MARKU, 2001

Rudolf MARKU, 2001

Webdesign J. Groß

Rudolf MARKU

 

Caligula's horse

And it came to pass that Caligula's horse
Was proclaimed senator.

A fair horse, almost divine,
It strode majestically into the hall,
Greeted everyone with due regard,
Taking no notice of rank or office, even of the ministers,
And went straight to its appointed place
Modestly,
             As if it were ashamed of being there.

It immediately saw through those around it,
Murderers, profiteers, sycophants, wheelers and dealers
It never assented
             to the conquest of other countries,

To the lowering of salaries, or to the raising of prices,
Nor did it take any notice of pompous speeches,
Never did it applaud,
             but listened to the speeches of the orators
             with sheer indifference
And it never dreamed of taking advantage of its senatorial
             position to publish fat books.

On occasion, glancing at the sleepy faces of its citizens,
It would dream of how it used to frolic in the meadows,
Of the clear blue sky, of spring water.

Later it was engulfed by such sorrow
That the senators began looking askance at it,
They began murmuring about its wild past,
About the dubious company it kept, about its unbridled lifestyle.

Nonetheless, it lived a long life
And it used its power better than anyone else had,
That is:
             not at all!

[Kali i Kaligulës, from the journal Nëntori, Tirana, 9 (1988) p. 58, 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. 188]

 

In memory of my mother

Without a word of warning to anyone
My mother died.

She did not want to bother anyone,
The world had enough problems and worries of its own,
She wandered off, so to speak, on tiptoe.

And since then, I have been more caring of old people,
I give them my seat on the train, on the bus,
Sometimes I feel like taking them into my arms like children.

Even when I don't know them, I talk to them, smile idiotically,
In winter I am afraid they will catch a chill or a cough.
I always avoid the obituaries.

I have no desire to read of her age
Now that I know how to decipher the wrinkles
And to fathom the magic of greying hair.

I have the impression that some day
A letter from afar will fall into my hands
"How are you doing? How are the others?"

Without leaving her address
She continues to wander on tiptoe
Amidst the din of the world, its pain and lamentation.

[Në kujtim të nënës, from the journal Nëntori, Tirana, 9 (1988) p. 57, 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. 189]

 

Arithmetic

One times one
Is not even two.
What number would you get
With me times you?

[Aritmetikë, from the journal Drita, Tirana 16.12.1990, 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. 190]

 

Moment

I climbed one day up into the mountains, the mountains of Tropoja,
To the dizzying heights I had never seen before.
Sculptor, when you set to carving with your chisel,
Do not strike hard, for I am within the rocks!

[Moment, from the volume Udhëtim për në vendin e gjërave që njohim, Tirana 1989, p. 61, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The extras

In every production on earth, from earliest times on,
In Aeschylus, Shakespeare, in films and on stage,
Appear midst the deafening action, the silent ones,
The extras.

They have no names, have no real characters,
But are dignified as they walk across the stage,
They are not for Hamlet, but of course
Are not for the usurper king either.

No one knows their names
Or what they ever thought, the extras,
But after the play, for their silence,
They always take care to go and pick up their cheques.

[Figurantët, from the volume Udhëtim për në vendin e gjërave që njohim, Tirana 1989, p. 124, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The crab

The crab wanders backwards,
Counterclockwise,
Against the rotation of the earth.

A straight line is more perilous
For the crab that wanders backwards
Than the thin rope used by an acrobat.
Oh, what a tribulation for the poor crab
To see lines in school notebooks,
Or lines on lips when smiles are formed,
Or long lines in which verse is written,
Or straight vertical lines of passersby,
Or the awesomely straight lines of tombstones.

The crab wanders backwards,
Counterclockwise,
Against the rotation of the earth.

(February 1989)

[Gaforrja, from the volume Udhëtim për në vendin e gjërave që njohim, Tirana 1989, p. 128, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

A man from the Balkans in London

A man from the Balkans in London is a torrent
Flowing into the tranquil Thames. In Hyde Park
He is a mountain piled upon the broad meadows,
In Trafalgar Square he is a grey wolf
Talking to the four sleepy lions,
Waking their fantasies perverted by the tourists,
Teaching them again to howl as they once did.

A man from the Balkans in London knows well
That he is under suspicion by Scotland Yard
(And even more under suspicion in his own country).
He is the one to show lesbians
The pleasures of sex in bed with a man.

A man from the Balkans in London has tales
To make Alfred Hitchcock pale. Sherlock Holmes
Goes into early retirement when faced
With the muddled crimes which the man from the Balkans confesses.
Whenever he longs for the cafes of Mamurras
He listens to the BBC. Neither Wellington's monument
Nor Nelson's column can catch his interest,
About the queen he says: how can she be queen
If she is being mounted every night by her husband?

A man from the Balkans in London is a torrent
Flowing into the tranquil Thames.

[Një Ballkanas në Londër, manuscript, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Globe Theatre, Southwark

I know how worthless the Globe Theatre is
Here on the banks of the Thames (Saint Paul's Cathedral
Has long said no mass for the soul of Hamlet).
Tonight they are performing Macbeth in an African version,
A black Macbeth will have an easier time
Hiding the bloodstains and the traces of the crime,
Will have an easier time pretending
That Banquo's ghost is but a shadow,
Soon at the Globe Othello
Will be white - some stubborn Dane,
Perhaps a Parisian or a Scotsman,
And the Globe Theatre
They say is not even on its original foundations.
I know how worthless the Globe Theatre is
Here on the banks of the Thames in Southwark;
The wolves are howling in the highlands of the Balkans
The knives reveal their sparkling blades. The weapons are still slaughtering.
There is no audience in the highlands of the Balkans,
The foundations have been there, unmoved, for centuries,
And no one pays for a ticket.

[Teatri Globus, Southwark, manuscript, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Good-looking chick on Regent Street

Oh, good-looking chick on Regent Street
You approach and will never know
What howling of wolves you awaken within me
(I'll seize you by the arm, rip off
Your skirt in true Balkan fashion,
And more than just the skirt).

Were they wolves or the devil you awakened within me?

Oh, good-looking chick on Regent Street
What luck you're not a lesbian
I can show you my tower, you can climb to the top
(Blaise Cendrars called it his Eiffel Tower)
I see you like the idea - with my hands
I will rip and tear away all of your skirt

You can climb to the heights of the Balkans

[Vajzë e bukur në Regent Street, manuscript, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Actors after the performance

The final applause died down in the auditorium
And a little child scampered off, turning its head
As if he knew that now was the moment.
The actors came out from behind the heavy curtains
Without taking off their costumes, without removing their makeup;
Hamlet and the murderers of his father share a cigarette
And talk about a day at the beach together,
Exchanging similar views about ghosts;
Macbeth peels an apple with the lethal dagger
And gives half of it to King Duncan,
A summons for divorce proceedings awaits Romeo
From his beloved wife Juliet

And all of this without curtains, without tickets

[Aktorët pas shfaqes, from the volume Vdekja lexon gazetën, Elbasan 1995, p. 90, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Deer in Stockholm

Amidst the bustling traffic of a winter evening
Appear the deer, timid and stubborn,
As if they had been sent by some Ancient Order
To find out where it went astray on this planet.

They stroll among the cars as if the strict police
Of the Kingdom of Sweden did not exist.
Oh divine deer. What ever are you doing here?
How could you be so naive as to believe in human beings?

Deer who stopped in front of the Royal Library
There is no need this year to announce a Nobel Prize for Literature.
In the highlands of the Balkans, in accordance with an Ancient Order,
We'll recite our rhapsodies to the rhythmic howling of the wolves.

(Stockholm, January 1992)

[Drerët në Stokholm, from the volume Vdekja lexon gazetën, Elbasan 1995, p. 57, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Mountains

Late last night,
Not expecting a single knock,
A roaring noise was heard in the yard.

Not with arrogance or with courtesy,
The Mountains entered my house.
On the doorstep they flung off the snow
As we shake our coats when rushing in
Out of a storm.
Silent and wise, without a single word,
They made it known that they had come from afar.
A few torrents tumbled down their laps,
Capricious and yet shy,
Like tykes in awe of their grandfathers,
A few wolves howled at the lampshade
- mistaken of course for the moon -
A plummeting avalanche was proffered as a pillow
As mountain goats knelt to watch
The news, with myriad murders and money markets.

Early one morning, at the cock's crow, if you will,
They departed, without a farewell, without a backward glance.

When the children returned from school
I watched them from my window as they played with stones for the first time,
Trying to construct some crooked walls that could never collapse.

[Malet, 2006, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Impossible Dialogue

Now that I have reached my father's age,
With no dis-ease or Oedipus complex
I invite him to a bar for a drink. It is late
As we stroll down the street enjoying the ladies of the night.
Who cares if they are virgins or whores,
I assure him it all will remain our secret,
Not a word to mother in the after-world.
We tell each other everything we never said,
We gaze at the moon, bathe in the river, fish and felicitate,
Raise a hymn to death - only Death has made it possible
For me to reach my father's age.

He has waited so long in his solitary grave,
We hasten to confide everything we never said,
I know that tomorrow he will be uneasy with me,
             as before an elder,
And will want to die again.

[Dialog i pamundur, 2006, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

A Moon Drowned in the Thames

A moon drowned in the Thames,
In its tranquil waters, in its dormant depths.

Some sleepy ducks don't deign to notice,
The wild geese are dead to the world,
Dreaming of their taiga in the far north.

Boats sway gently at the banks,
Preserving people's memories
It's not their fault that they can't dream.

Alone in the city of London tonight,
I saw the moon drown in the Thames,
In the river that tells me it won't wait
For me to end my song.

In the river that will never wait for me to die.

[Një hanë u mbyt në lumin e Tamizit, 2006, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Crucified Descend from Golgotha

The crucified descend from Golgotha
In the fading twilight. A few garments
Gathered in a bag. When they mounted Golgotha,
They knew at least where they were going. And now
No one knows them. They thought they were Christ,
They long for a jeer
Or a crown of thorns. They are lonely
As they descend from Golgotha. What shall we do? What shall we do
With this life of ours? Pontius Pilatus washes his hands of them,
Christ arises in eternal glory,
Matthew begins to write his first lines,
Mary wipes away her last tears,
And the journey of the Three Wise Men will never happen again.
What shall we do? What shall we do with this life of ours?
They are forlorn as they descend from Golgotha,
No airport to welcome them, no railway station
As they descend now in the fading twilight.
And Herod, who might have known them, is no longer.
More powerful rulers have ascended the throne.

At least when they mounted Golgotha
They knew someone would jeer,
They knew someone would place a crown of thorns on their heads,
They knew they would be bound for crucifixion.

[Të kryqëzuarit zbresin Golgotës, from the volume Vdekja lexon gazetën, Elbasan: Onufri, 1995, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Do Not Play with Fire

Do not play with fire!
People have often told me,
As a word of counsel
Or with a sublte smile.

Firemen of today,
Without horrendous screams, without sirens and helmets,
Come and see if you can find a flicker around me,
A solitary match or a glowing ember.

You never believe there are cold winters,
Low temperatures and frost
Your warming smile always
Promises serene weather.

The thing is not to start any fires.

I have known you for centuries
When on time, at the prescribed hour,
You crucified Prometheus.

[Mos luaj me zjarrin, 1988, from the volume Vdekja lexon gazetën, Elbasan: Onufri, 1995, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Excuse Me, Have You Found Anything Lost?

Sometimes it happens,
You don't know what it is,
But you're sure you've lost something!
And you start to look around,
You delve deep into pockets,
To no avail.

So I beg you, and I ask:
Has anyone found a world?

It can happen when you walk
At dawn or at dusk,
And you feel perplexed,
For you chance to lose something,
Hands grope down in your pockets,
You begin to search, but all in vain.

So I beg you, and I ask:
Has anyone retrieved a world?

[Ju lutem, mos gjetët diçka të humbur? 1988, from the volume Vdekja lexon gazetën, Elbasan: Onufri, 1995, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]