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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors



Agron TUFA, 2004 (Photo: Robert Elsie).

Agron TUFA, 2004
(Photo: Robert Elsie).

Webdesign J. Groß

Agron TUFA


Elegy on Light

And the light has emerged, each of its rays
Breaking and shattering like a crystal flute upon the rocks
Swelling in colours all its own.

Forth pours the light, rising
Like dough from sombre troughs.

Moist is the soil, overcast the sky,
At brookside gorge ghostly figures of soldiers
Tousled by rosy fingers.

Streams long gone dry
Gurgle now in a rave of murmurs.

And the light has emerged,
Bales, their golden hay tumbling gently
’gainst the tiny cottage windows.

Hastening, the sunlight touches,
Hastens and touches,
Kisses the bell at dawn
With its painted lips.

With sobs of apprehension, I gush:
“Praise be to God for the light
Given unto us, greater than the Illuminator himself!”

Wave after wave, wave after wave,
Its licks with its tongues the body of Aphrodite,
Sweeping night away
Until the sun has seized the summits.

[Stancë e vjetër për dashurinë e re. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Your tears – so well disguised –
Enveloped and finely fitted
Within the curved peelings of an onion,
That sacrificed – alas – its very essence
Hidden in the core
When it was stabbed by the gleaming blade
That minced your tender heart
Sleepy with fictive erudition.

Eurydice’s tears in the kitchen
Have no source
But you,
The only lachrymogenic ingredient
In the prosaic family salad.

(Moscow, 2001)

[Orfeu. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Angels in Crisis

… I had just returned from the last war. My hands were longing for the plough as I headed for the shed. I pushed open the door and, when I got used to the dark and the damp that reeked of mould and mildew, I was overcome by the vision before me – a bale of angels sneezing in the corner. One had swollen glands and couldn’t swallow, another gasped and struggled for breath. The other anaemic angels stammered in low voices to explain that one of their number had fallen tragically in love with the curved blade of the coarse-toothed saw on the other wall, but it had shown no interest in him. The third angel was all in a flutter trying desperately to say something, but failed because a fourth angel was squeezing his oesophagus for fun as the poor fellow gaped and belched for a full two to three minutes. A sorry sight they were indeed, sallow and covered in fungus, all huddled in a corner with less space than the sheaves of rye. I poked at them with my pitchfork and threw them out into the sun. Then, telling the farm hand to give them a cup of hot tea and some biscuits, I cautiously inquired if they could remember the goal of their forgotten mission.

(Tirana, 1 January 2002)

[Engjëj në krizë. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


* * *

Do you remember that other sky – so fathomless and foreign,
The shifting crowds in the streets, the cars,
And the snow swirling down upon us, covering
Like a glittering veil all the noise, visions, seasons – but
Above all – the shiver-white naked bodies
Of desperate loves.
Whatever happened to them? Where is the enigma
That dissolved in the purple of their fleshy lips?
Inevitably then, like a maimed carousel, the lame fragments
Falter frozen in landscapes and interiors,
Daubs of phrases, vows in the dark… Suddenly and forever
The perspective is severed,
As if some retina had burst behind the canvas -
From the inhuman glare at the tunnel’s end.

(Vienna, September 2005)

[Ty të kujtohet... Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


Old Stanza for a New Love

for Elvana

When we, without a word, lie down for the night
You will be the River, I will be the Log
And hardly will you be able, with your lips pressed on mine,
In squirming and quivers, to detach from my body...
Nowhere will you spill a crumb,
And I will envy neither the living nor the dead.

Then, they will baptize us... Yet you, unwearied
In the flow... You will be the River which bears the Log,
One day promised to five oceans.
I will be a banner for those tribes.
And if we find no fair names
I will perhaps call you Anna.

As if borrowed, the years which never return
From winter to winter will tumble to their fate.
Light and long the road we embark on,
Like every vehicle which strays from its goal,
The frontiers will appear in the end,
Though we have journeyed but half the way.

I will be naked, you will be bare,
The two of us crossing hills and vales.
In the law of the flow we will willingly leave
That land, where we never had foes,
And mighty hands on other banks
Will one day meet in that dry bed.

(Tirana 2000)

[Stancë e vjetër për dashurinë e re. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]



Albania is greater than its soil,
Than the sky stretching upwards above it.
It is the ancient dream of a ship,
A yacht kissing the depths.

It flaps and flutters in two halves,
Wings beating to sear bloody wounds.
It is not part of this planet, but a star,
A tear fallen from the eye of the Lord.


[Shqipëria, from the volume Rrethinat e Atlantidës, Tirana 2002, p. 49. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]



You get up in the morning
And remember you don't know where you left your eyes.
One, you forget you left at home,
The other dripped from a tap in silence.
Then you remember that you are only awake
And everything happened devoid of eyelids.
The conditions ripen
And respect flows like a cataract over that one-time skull.
You seem to have been harvesting
Lucerne forever and
A gentle sacrifice full of the smell of chlorophyll
Ploughs your farm-boy illusions.
A lucid childhood,
Lived normally and without regret,
Like all useful things, without which
There would be no ellipses or metaphysics,
No flights and crashes, no losses
Of Liburnian galleys
In the limp and practical body of man...

Present neglect and past oblivion,
How well they suit one another.


[Jashtë, from the volume Rrethinat e Atlantidës, Tirana 2002, p. 65. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Regulations at the Catholic School for Girls

The fine fragrance of writing hovered in their midst:
One could hear the arid crackle of mice munching biscuits,
Yet, it was a weary winter
That found them unprepared,
My majestic lovers.
All day long they aged in the classroom,
Salting their tender bowels
With talk of love. Vanished and
Forgotten was that distant day in April...
My chance appearance in the library
Came, it seemed, to a sad conclusion.
And in the end, the snow blasted and blew in all directions,
Every day a new storm.
They woke and rose, those wretched maidens,
With time unmoved in their beds.
I spread word of a distant age,
But where,
Where was I at that moment of crisis
When the dreams of my lovers
Turned tiresome and troubled?
Misfortune pelted like a hailstorm,
They found me nailed to my bed
In the most obscure of military hospitals in that town.
Now it was too late,
With poisoned milk in their breasts
They told me their tales in haste

And they cursed any future joy I might have,
Making tiny crosses on the cards
With their faded fingers. According
To my lovers (though pale their faces)
I would never be able to leave the hospital,
And yet, I did,
And found them blithe and all with child.
I saw their bellies like fresh tombs
From which wafted a fine fragrance of writing
And rustled to no avail
The licit sound of mice
Still revelling
With dry biscuits in the grass.

[Rregullat e Shkollës Katolike të Vajzave, from the volume Rrethinat e Atlantidës, Tirana 2002, p. 69-70. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


The Proof of the Land

The year had twelve seasons all summer long.
Fowl fled...
The lone, elegiac poplar
Signed a contract with the grass.
Entered a man with a hatchet
And sampled some of the pale poplar's pith,
Yet, it depends on how he filched it.
At any rate, with some pain in the flesh.
But the man is no longer,
Nor the grass,
Nor the poplar.
In all this struggle of annihilation
The grass wins out over the tomb.
The dead man now comprehends
That it isn't a question of pride, but of existence.
Yet, he sighs for posterity.
How many seasons will the springtime have?
God only knows what will happen with the light...
God only knows what will happen with God...
And the lord continues his undoing.

The rains fall stagnant, salacious
To affirm in grandeur their denial.

Ponderous, the proof of the land.

[Prova e tokës, from the volume Rrethinat e Atlantidës, Tirana 2002, p. 71. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]