Serbian Poet Milutin Bojic
Storm approaching Corfu
Photo by Alex Matos
The remaining survivors of the Serbian Army arrive on Corfu
Aleksandra's Note: The epic nature of the history of the Serbian people has often best been captured in the words of poets and writers. Milutin Bojic, a Serbian patriot born in Belgrade in 1892, was born just in time to enter young manhood at the beginning of World War I. In 1915 he was one of the many thousands of Serbs who made the legendary retreat across the brutal Albanian mountains after the Germans and Bulgarians attacked his homeland with a vengeance. He survived the retreat and reached the promised land of Corfu Island, the Greek sanctuary where the Serbian Army would miraculously resurrect itself, living long enough to put to words the story of the Serbs at this critical time in their history. He would not, however, survive the war. Struck by tuberculosis after reaching Salonika, he would not live to see the final magnificent victory on that front in September of 1918. At the age of 25, in 1917, he died. Fortunately, Milutin Bojic lived long enough to capture the essence of the soul of his people through his gift for expression. Even those of us who cannot imagine the hardships endured but can still be awed by the glorious capacity for survival and perseverance that is such a mysterious and noble quality inherent in the Serbian national consciousness can read the words of a Milutin Bojic and be moved.
He was just a young man when he died, but his words will live forever.
Though Milutin Bojic is probably best known for his haunting WWI poem "Blue Graveyard" ("Plava Grobnica"), I wanted to highlight "Without Complaint", written in the last year of his life almost a century ago, that can serve to remind anyone who reads it today of our capacity to overcome the greatest obstacles and setbacks and to persevere, retaining both our soul and our humanity.
Nothing more for us is new or strange,
All lands to us are dear and kindred:
In the bright sun, beneath the wild storms’ rage,
We were as calm as in our native land.
Within us through our wanderings we bear
Our homeland and its sufferings’ renown;
And now, I beg you, Fate, lay her to rest,
Stained with the blood of our eternal wounds!
And so for us the oceans are not strange,
Nor yet the graves of centuries long dead;
Calmly we sit at table in the world’s great hall
While still the foe drinks in our flowers’ scent.
With trumpets like a solemn church parade,
Alone, or with our children, wives, and herds,
We wander on from place to place, from town to town,
Bearing the banners of our greatness and our fall.
The scale we learned of old we now play out once more,
The scale of fate with others less than kind;
And so for us today nothing is strange,
It seems we passed through everywhere before.
And when we stir anew the ashes of our hearth,
And tell again the tales of olden days:
We’ll listen to the fire, hear its mirth,
Just as the master, homewards from the hunt
Carries upon his lips the self-same song
With which he left that morning for the mountain.
Translated by Bernard Johnson
Ни чудног ни новог за нас нема више,
Све су земље нама и драге и сродне:
Сред сјаја, и врх нас кад се буре свише,
Бесмо мирни, као усред земље родне.
Отаџбина наша са патње је знана,
Лутајући ми је носимо у себи;
Она је у крви наших вечних рана,
И, кушам те, судбо, такву је погреби!
Зато нама нису океани страни,
Ни гробови старих умрлих столећа;
Мирни смо на гозби у светској дворани
И кад небрат пије мирис нашег цвећа.
Ми, као литија, лутамо с трубама
Од кута до кута, од града до града,
Час сами, час с децом, стадом и љубама,
Носећи стегове и власти и пада.
Понављамо скалу што познасмо рано,
Скалом судбе којом други једва мили;
Зато нама данас ништа није страно,
Чини нам се, свуда већ смо једном били.
И кад разгрнемо пепелишта снова,
Стари ће се дани уз реч да помену:
Слушаћемо ватру и веселост њену,
Ко домаћин што се вратио из лова
С песмом с којом јутрос у планину крену.
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