Saturday, January 28, 2006

"But with horses they talked Slovene"

There’s a famous scene in the movie “Crimson Tide” where Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington argue on the origin of the famous Lipizzaner horses. Hackman’s character says they’re from Portugal, while Denzel Washington claims they’re Spanish. Neither of them is right, of course. The Lipizzaner come from Slovenia. They originate from a little village called Lipica (Lipizza in Italian spelling), in the vicinity of Trieste (known as Trst in Slovene), just a couple of kilometers from the border with Italy.
No wonder the movie, which ends with Hackman admitting he was wrong and aknowleding Lipizzaners are in fact from Spain (!), infuriated many Slovenes. Although it was the Spanish Riding School from Vienna that made these horses world famous, the Lipizzaners have become, expecially in the last half century, one of the symbols of Slovenia. As a matter of fact, they will be depicted on the Slovenian 20 cent Euro coin.
Lipizzaners are considered to be among the most beautiful horses. They are renowned for their agility and grace. They are famous for being born completely black and then growing up to be completely white.

The first who elevated this animal to a symbol of Slovenes, was the poet Edvard Kocbek (1904-1981). In the mid-seventies he wrote this beautiful poem after a visit to the village of Lipica where the horses are still bred. There's my translation of the poem from Slovene.

The Lipizzaners (Lipicanci)

The newspaper reports:
Lipizzaners have taken part
In a historical film.
The radio explains:
A millionaire bought some Lipizzaners,
The noble animals remained calm
Throughout the flight over the Atlantic.
And the textbook teaches:
Lipizzaners are grateful riding horses,
They are native from the Karst, of supple hoof,
Gaudily trot, sharp temper
And a stubborn fidelity.

And yet I have to add, my son,
That these uneasy animals
Cannot be put into fixed formulas:
It is good when the day shines,
Lipizzaners are black stallions,
And it is good when the night reigns,
Lipizzaner are white mares,
But the best is when
The day comes out of the night,
Then Lipizzaners are white-black buffoons,
Court jesters of Her Majesty,
The History of Slovenes.

Others have worshiped holy cows and dragons,
Millennial turtles and winged lions,
Unicorns, double-headed eagles and Phoenixes,
But we have chosen the most beautiful animal,
It has proven itself on battlefields and circuses,
It has conveyed princesses and the Golden Monstrance,
Therefore the Emperors from Vienna spoke
French with skilful diplomats,
Italian with beautiful actresses,
Spanish with the infinite God,
And German with uneducated servants,
But with horses they talked Slovene.

Remember, kid, how mysteriously
Nature and the History of the World are bound together,
And how different is the spring of spirit
In each of the nations on the Earth.
You know well that we are a land of contests and races.
You thus understand why the white horses
From Noah's ark found refuge on our pure soil,
Why have they become our holy animal,
Why have they stepped into the legend of history,
And why they stir up our future,
They incessantly search for our promised land
And are becoming the enthusiastic saddle of our spirit.

I am constantly on the white-black horse,
My beloved son,
Like a Bedouin chief
I am blend with my animal,
All my life I've been traveling on it,
I fight on a horse and I pray on him,
I sleep on a horse and I dream on a horse,
And I shall die on a horse.
I learned all our prophecies
On the mysterious animal,
And I've experienced this song, too,
On its trembling back.

Nothing is darker
Than clear speech
And nothing is more true than a poem
That cannot be comprehended by reason.
Heroes limp in the bright Sun,
And sages stammer in the dark,
While jokers are changing into poets,
Winged Pegasi are speeding up in gallop
Over the cavities of our old land,
They are jumping and pounding,
The anxious Slovene animals
Are still trying to awake the legendary King Mathias.

He who still cannot mount a horse,
Should learn as soon as possible
How to tame the fiery animal,
To freely keep in the light saddle,
And to catch the rhythm of the trot.
But above all to endure in the premonition,
For our horses have come galloping from far away,
And they are destined to far distances.
Engines tend to fail,
Elephants eat too much,
Our road is a long one, though,
And it is too far to walk.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Three Poems by Edvard Kocbek

Edvard Kocbek was born in 1904 in a small village in eastern Slovenia. Already as a student, he got involved in the activities of Catholic groups that favored social action. In the years preceding World War II, he grew closer to Marxist ideas.
At the beginning of WW II., he led a consistent group of Catholics in the alliance with the Communist Party in order to fight the Fascist occupation. After the War, he covered some secondary positions within the structures of the new Communist Regime until 1952, when he was removed from power by means of a brutal denigration campaign.
He spent the rest of his life shut off from public life, restricted to his home. He was rarely allowed to speak in public, yet alone publish his works.
To the end, he remained a fervent Catholic, although he never clearly distanced himself neither from Marxism nor from the Communist Revolution he helped to establish. In 1977 he did however condemn the summary killings of Slovenian anticommunist militia members after the War: this resulted in another massive denigration campaign on his account, which lasted until his death in 1981.
As my first post on this new blog, you can read three of his poems that I translated to English.


The poem "A Prayer" (Molitev) was written in 1942 during the Italian military raid against the partisan resistance, while he was hiding in a cave, together with tens of other fellow resistance fighters, while the Italian Army was searching the area in order to uncover the leadership of the Liberation Front. In a moment of utter despair, when he was sure that his life is at an end, he produced what became one of his most known poems.

A Prayer (Molitev)

I am
because I have been
and everybody
will be able
to forget me.

And yet
I must say:
I am
and I have been
and I will be,
and that's why I'm more
than oblivion,
immeasurably more
than denial,
infinitely more
than nothing.

Everything that originates
is eternal,
birth is more powerful
than death,
more persistent
than despair and solitude,
than tumult and sin,
more solemn
than abjectness.
I will never
stop to exist.

Kocbek wrote the poem "Rocket" in 1969, the year the first man set foot on Moon. The same year a young Czech student, named Jan Palach, burned himself down in a public square of Prague as an act of desperate protest against the Communist repression in his country after the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia the previous year. Kocbek relates both events in an unique way, affirming the precedence of man over machine (the both “rockets”), civilization over technology, and individual human sacrifice over what he calls “an obsessed reiteration of a spinning World/ Caught up in death and darkness”.

Rocket (Raketa)

Moonlight is dangerous,
Mothers used to say,
Sleeping walkers on nocturnal roofs
Are very suspicious,
Fathers used to judge,
And yet children were dazzled
By the fireworks of a mad crowd,
And this mathematical excursion of force to the Moon
Is the greatest fraud of all time,
An obsessed reiteration of a spinning World,
Caught up in death and darkness.

Time is more mysterious than space,
History books heavier than atlases,
Earth is the most colorful of rainbows
And man is hotter than the Sun,
Among the bright Cherubim
The flame of spirit is the most irrepressible,
A burning rocket named Palach
Has measured history
From bottom to top,
Even black glasses have read
The smoky message.

In the mid-seventies, when Kocbek’s family was rearranging their home, they found a microphone hidden in the wall of their apartment. This certainly wasn’t the first experience of such a kind (a decade before, his whole personal archive “mysteriously” disappeared while he was out taking a walk), but the encounter shocked him enough to write this deeply moving poem. I couldn’t imagine a better testimony of the years of totalitarian state control, as well as of the resistance to a controlled and mechanized society in the name of humanist tradition.

Microphone in the Wall (Mikrofon v zidu)

So, we are alone now,
There’s nobody left but us.
And yet I will not let you go,
You won’t be able to rest nor calm down,
Your work has only started now.
You will listen to my silence,
My silence is more loquacious,
It will condemn you to the abyss of truth.
Listen now as you never have,
You beast with no eyes nor tongue,
You monster with ears only.
My spirit talks without voice,
It screams and yells inaudibly
With joy to have you here
And that you can hear me, you Great Suspicion,
Thirsty of revelation.
My silence opens books
And dangerous manuscripts,
Vocabularies and prophets,
Ancient truths and laws,
Stories of loyalty and torments.
You cannot rest.
You have to gulp, swallow awfully,
You are choking more and more,
Your ear is exhausted
And yet you cannot interrupt me
And there is nothing you can say in return.
My time has come,
I insult you and I curse you,
You concealer, impostor, poisoner,
Desecrator, slave, Satan,
Machine, death, death.
You swallow your shame
And you cannot stop
To answer me, Because you are a monster,
Because you only have ears
And a belly full of treason,
But you don’t possess a tongue, nor truth,
You cannot call me weakling,
You cannot call me powerful,
You cannot utter words “grace”, or “despair”,
You cannot cry to me, “Stop!”.
You are burning with slavish rage.
I greet you, you crippled creature,
I tell you it is good that you are here,
I am inexpressibly glad
That you are in the wall, day and night,
You cursed extension,
You rejected ear of the Great Suspicion,
You diabolical belly of an inhuman force
Which trembles day and night from weakness.
Now you have awaken my power,
My unified and undivided power,
I cannot foist to you
Anything but myself,
I am what I am,
Unrest and quest,
Sincerity and pain,
Sameness and nothing but sameness,
Faith, hope, love,
Your great counter-suspicion,
I am what I am,
You cannot divide me
And make me your duplicate.
You will never catch me
Out in a lie or calculating,
You will never be the hangman of my conscience,
You will continue to swallow my joy,
And, at times, sadness
That you are my enemy,
My infertile fellow,
So completely different and inhuman
That you cannot wrench yourself from the chain,
Nor go mad or commit suicide.
Now I can tell
I have worn you out,
Your tail has calmed down.
And yet this is only a draft
Of my revenge:
My true revenge is a poem,
You will never disclose me, never get to know me.
Nothing gives light to ears,
Ears were born with the wind
And with the passage of time,
And by the passage of time they shall be hushed,
While I am a tongue-flame,
A fire that has begun to burn
And will not cease to blaze
And scorch.