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Robert Elsie
Albanian Literature

Albanian Authors

 

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Becoming a poet

To be an oasis in the wilderness,
Not to forget there are many who thirst in this world.

To be a lantern in the darkness,
Not to forget there are many blind in this world.

To be a ship in the waves,
Not to forget the forgotten masses are waiting on the banks.

To say pig to the pig and Socrates to Socrates
And drink your part of the poison.

To write an open letter to the Lord
And list all the sins.

To dig your own grave on the highest mountain peak
And turn into a lightning rod.

[Të jesh poet, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 5, 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. 136]

 

Biography of the root

Who knows when you were born,
In what age, in what place?

Who knows when you sprouted,
On what hill, in what dale?

No one can measure your age,
In years, in seasons.

The teams,
The experts
Search in vain.

You are like life itself.

Your branches,
Twigs,
Buds grow.

Your trunk thickens like a sauce,
You refine the flavour
Without worrying about theories, origins,
Expertise, diagnoses...

A strong root. Stubborn.
Ancient. Young.
Homeland.

[Biografia e rrënjës, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 7, 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. 137]

 

Albanian rhapsodies

Have you been to the source of the Black Drin,
To Saint Naum, in the south?
Have you seen how its waters flow
Like a gentle lyric poem.

Have you been to the source of the White Drin,
To the North Albanian Alps, among the mountain cliffs?
Have you seen how their waters roar
Like epic verse.

Have you been to the source of the Black Drin
To Ohrid, to Struga?
Have you seen how its waters weep
Like a clarinet at twilight.

Have you been to the source of the White Drin
To Radavc near Peja?
Have you seen how its waters quiver
Like the strings of a lute.

Have you seen how our rivers flow
Through the gorges and mountains,
Have you heard their melodies:
Albanian rhapsodies.

[Rapsodi shqiptare, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 12, 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. 138]

 

Psalm for Saint Naum

You are too beautiful
To be true

You are too sinful
To be holy

An azure curse
Slumbers in your eyes

How I pity you!

[Psalm për Shën Naumin, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 15, 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. 139]

 

Ballad of the dry mountain

There is a mountain in the south
Between two lakes
They call the Dry Mountain

And no one can tell you
How this mountain
Stays dry surrounded by water

Nearby is a meadow
With the startling name
The Meadow of Tears

And no one can tell you
How this mountain
Stays dry near the tears either

There is a mountain in the south
Between two lakes
They call the Dry Mountain

And no one can tell you
Why this mountain
Always thirsts near the water

Dry Mountain
No grass, no trees, no birds
Dead for the living.

Like a human being
Withered from desire.

[Balade për Malin e Thatë, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 16, 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. 140]

 

The names

For our children
We have chosen beautiful names,
Good names:
Drilon,
          Shkumbin,
Gramoz,
          Korab,
Vjosa,
          Valbona...
May they flow behind us
Like our rivers,
May they rise above us
Like our mountains.

[Emrat, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 18, 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. 141]

 

My dead

First of all my mother died,
Then my sister,
Now recently my father.
I was left motherless,
I was left sisterless,
I was left fatherless.
But we have been reunited
Because I -
Cannot live without them.
I cannot live
Without my dead,
I don't want to,
          I don't know how.

[Të vdekurit të mi, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, 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. 142]

 

The hounds of Sodom

First they bite,
Then they bark.
The hounds of Sodom!
A bizarre race.

How can one tell
When they wag their tails
As a sign of friendship;
When they gnash their teeth
As a sign of menace.

First they bite,
Then they bark
(They bite by night,
They bark by day) -
An ancient habit
Of their pedigree.

They treat the living
And the dead the same:
They dig up their bones,
They lick clean their guts.
It's always the same.

The hounds of Sodom,
A noble race!

[Qentë e Sodomës, from the volume Arna dhe ëndrra, Prishtina 1987, p. 68, 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. 143]