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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Xhevahir SPAHIU, 1992 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Xhevahir SPAHIU, 1992
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Xhevahir SPAHIU

 

History

The blood dripped and grew roots in the stone,
We wiped the gore off our swords with our thick white flannel,
When we had no weapons
We would pluck out one of our ribs
And make of it a sword.

[Histori, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 16. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 128. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Sunday Taxis

At the station under the pines twenty-seven taxis
Are waiting in silence this rainy night.

Tomorrow they will cross the city again
Like the raindrops on my brown coat.

What journeys attend them? And what do they dream of,
These taxis napping in the neon light?

In their metallic dreams mingle the reflections
Of lives which tomorrow will merge on each other's paths.

Some will be ridden in by real loves,
In others the victims of matchmakers will weep.

If I knew in which taxi the tears would sit,
I would throw my body under the wheels to stop it.

[Taksitë e së dielës, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 42. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 131. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

For You

Love is present in full.

In these eyes
In these words
In the brief silence between them is love.
And even before the two of us were born,
I was waiting for you! Waiting for you!
                     Waiting for you!

[Për ty, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 53. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 129. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Eagle

Out of the azure heavens
           the eagle swooped down one day
Onto the flag.

The heart
           said to the hand: carve!
And the hand carved it in stone.

The eagle
           from its refuge in the cliffs
Penetrated the expanses of song.

Penetrated
           the hero's breast
And replaced the heart.

[Shqiponja, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 62. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 130. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

To Be with You

To touch your silence as one touches an object,
To stare deep into those eyes,
Where love drifts like a boat
And not to want to be with you forever?

To walk with my arm around your shoulders
And not to feel the roar of the blue waves,
Lemon trees over my head?
The boats like fires in the night?

To be with you,
To laugh with you,
And not to understand that the sea
Is trying to escape its own conch?

To be with you?
To be with you!

[Të jesh me ty, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 75. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 131. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Foxes

One evening I was gazing at the cypress trees:
Fair
And gracious.

At once I seemed to see
Foxes hiding in the ground,
The wind plying their thrusting tails...

Why did I think of you, foxes?

Perhaps because cypress trees are always planted
Near idols,
Near temples!

[Dhelprat, from the volume Vdekje perëndive, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1977, p. 92. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 131. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

In the Roots of Words

          To the memory of Professor Eqrem Çabej

Words older than the Iliad,
Words younger than the sprouting twigs
Totter,
Are shrouded for a moment in haze.

He has left us...

He descended in silence to the bones of the earth
Where our language and molten lava have their source

He is no longer...

He went to hew a house forever
In the roots of words.

(17 August 1980)

[Tek rrënja e fjalëve, from the volume Heshtje s'ka, Tirana: Naim Frashëri, 1989, p. 29-30. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

My Debts

I am going to die,
Die drowning in debt,
Suffocating in water or a gas chamber is nothing by comparison,
I'm in debt to my mother for I raised her no tombstone,
I'm in debt to the oak tree for I made it no trellis,
I'm in debt to love for I stole it last Sunday,
I'm in debt to crime for I called it not by name.
I'm going to die,
Die drowning in debt.
I'm in debt to the word for I saw it not in my dreams,
I'm in debt to the raven for I whitened not its feathers,
I'm in debt to the year 1913 for I cleansed not its wounds,
I'm in debt to the future for I left on its doorstep
The darkness of a distant age.
I'm going to die,
Die drowning in debt.
I'm in debt to the living,
I'm in debt to the dead,
I will have to sell my tombstone
To pay my debts,

And place a full stop here.

Now it is your turn to speak
Of the debts you owe me.

(1989)

[Borxhet e mia, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 5-6. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

The Man With No Name

I am a man with no name,
I live in a ballad.
"Who just passed by?" the pedestrians ask.
"What is his name? Who?"
"Sir,"
"My good fellow,"
"Hey man!"
I go my way, not looking back,
I am a man with no name and don't know what age we live in:
They have locked my name in files and offices,
Twisting its neck in ruddy rows,
Adding question marks like menacing scythes,
Are petrified whenever my name and I are together.
I am a man with no name,
An anonymous being.
Have people forgotten to speak and to write?
Oh Lord, worse than that,
They have forgotten to love one another.
Where did my name go,
Tell me where is its grave?
I suspect I will one day go mad,
And tug on the road at the sleeves of passers-by,
Begging them:
"Tell me, sir,
What is my name?"

(25 August 1985)

[Njeriu pa emër, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 9-10. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Speech

They said to speech: you are now free.
But speech lacked the strength to reply: I've no need.
What use is it now
Since I did not speak out when I should have?
I am left without wings,
I am left without a sky,
I am life without a dream,
I am a dream without a life.
They said to speech: you are free.
It's hard, said speech, hard
To believe you're free.
When you've swallowed your own syllables,
When you've been slashed to a stump,
Even freedom becomes a prison.
They said to speech: freedom lives.
Speech replied:
I am not Constantine who set out seeking death.
They said to speech: you are freedom.
It doesn't take much to understand that.
Speech believed them
And opened its mouth,
Uttering
Not sounds,
           but blood.

(21 February 1986)

[Fjala, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 11-12. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Infinity

Beyond the blue mountains is the sea,
Beyond coming days is infinity.
I feel it,
I feel it,
I feel it,
The beauty of the everything I cannot see.

(1971)

[Pafundësi, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 19. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Dedication

Blue sky,
Blue sky,
Blue sky,
Here and there
A white cloud hovering
In silence.

We who from foreign mouths
Have but known abuse
Hunger
For a smile.

(1972)

[Dedikim, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 20. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

To Wake Up Late

To wake up late means
Finding the flowers dewless, heads a-drooping.
To wake up late means
Love has left behind a pale imprint.
To wake up late means
Death has long signed your papers.

But wake up anyway.

[Të zgjohesh vonë, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 21. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Sketch

The Lombardy poplars spend their winter
Under a grey-leaden sky,
No more birds,
No more winds,
Here and there in them
Nests
Like wounds.

[Vizatim, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 70. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Translation of the River

I sit and translate the river,
Hard to render
This watery thing,
Rare words,
Fixed expressions,
Eternal rhythms,
A hundred fountains in unison
Recounted ancient myth.
All night long I translated the river.
At dawn
My version was gone.

(Skrapar, 1983)

[Përkthimi i lumit, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 71. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Song of Freedom

The earth writhes like a slaughtered lamb.

The shepherd asks: what is this life?
The dead man wonders: back to the Middle Ages?

Like murky rivers
Poets rave
In fury.

They stole the lead,
With lead did they shoot them,
Delirious toasting in capital cities,
While babies drowned in blood,
And old men slumped weary on doorsteps.
                     Vengeance and rousing slogans:
Unity, fraternity - crimes behind curtains -
They declared over and gone.

But the songs,
Will the songs awaken unfettered?
Will life, of its own, wrench out
The dagger thrust into its back?

Kosova is in its ninth month
And will give birth to freedom.

(1990)

[Kënga e lirisë, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 84. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Our history

The blade of the sword we came down in a dash.
The sword then came down upon us in a flash.

[Historia jonë, from the volume Kohë e krisur, Tirana: Lidhja e Shkrimtarëve, 1991, p. 105. First published in English in An Elusive Eagle Soars, Anthology of Modern Albanian Poetry, London: Forest Books 1993, p. 134. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Forbidden Love

Let loose your stag, Artemis.

Span your bow,
Shoot your arrow,
Should the teardrop from the stag's eye
Console you,
Shoot.

Let loose your stag, Artemis.

For love hungers
And autumn, much dreaded season,
Keens
As if in mourning.

Your arrow, once shot, can never return
And age is no crab in a backward gait.

Do the ravings of birth terrify you?
Slide, slide along the surface of life,
Hunter of yourself.

On your head is fixed
A crescent-shaped nest;
In its reflection
In the Luxembourg Gardens
Doves make love until they go mad.

Let loose your stag, Artemis,
But shoot not that arrow.

The doe dressed in mourning
Lingers
Forever
Behind the linden tree.

(Paris, October 1992)

[Dashuri e ndaluar, from the volume Ferrparajsa, Elbasan: Onufri, 1994, p. 59-60. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Kosova

The peasants in my section of the country asked me about Kosova.

River Drin, River Osum,
Mount Sharr, Mount Tomorr,
Here and there the same words spoken.

One difference is certain:
The shackles.

[Kosova, from the volume Ferrparajsa, Elbasan: Onufri, 1994, p. 64. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

 

Torquemada

Chop off their heads, ordered Torquemada.
Without a trial? stammered a grey-haired judge.

God will be their judge, said the inquisitor,
Even those gone before them know that.

God himself turned grey,

Waiting in vain for the indictment.

[Torquemada, from the volume Rreziku, Tirana: Ideart, 2003, p. 71. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]