Ivan Minchov Vazov (June 27, 1850 – September 22, 1921) was a Bulgarian poet, novelist and playwright, often referred to as “the Patriarch of Bulgarian literature”. He was born in Sopot, a town in the Rose Valley of Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire).
The exact date of Vazov’s birth is disputed. His parents, Saba and Mincho Vazov, both had a lot of influence on the young poet.
After finishing primary school in Sopot, Mincho send his son to Kalofer, appointing him assistant teacher. Having done his final exams in Kalofer, the young teacher returned to Sopot to help in his father’s grocery. The next year his father send him to Plovdiv to Naiden Gerov‘s school. There Vazov made his first steps as a poet.
He returned to Sopot and then went to Olteniţa in Romania to study trade despite his lack of interest in it. He was immersed in literature. Soon he left Olteniţa and went to Brăila where he met Hristo Botev, a Bulgarian revolutionary and poet. From Brăila he went to Galaţi to his uncle where he met Botev again.
In 1874 he joined the struggle for his country’s independence from the Ottoman Empire. He returned to Sopot in 1875 where he became a member of the local revolutionary committee. After the failure of the April Uprising of 1876, he had to flee the country, going back to Galaţi, where most of the surviving revolutionaries were exiled. There he was appointed a secretary of the committee.
Vazov was probably heavily influenced by Hristo Botev, who was the ideological leader of the Bulgarian revolutionary movement. He started writing his famous poems with Botev and some other Bulgarian emigrants in Romania. In 1876 he published his first work, Priaporetz and Gusla , followed by “Bulgaria’s Sorrows” in 1877.
Bulgaria regained its independence in 1878 as a result of the Russo-Turkish War, 1877-1878 and Vazov wrote the famous Epic of the Forgotten. He became the editor of the political reviews “Science” and “Dawn.” He was, however, forced into exile once again, this time toOdessa, because of the persecution of the russophile political faction. Returning to Bulgaria with the help of his mother Suba Vazova, he started teaching. Vazov’s next stay was in Svishtov, where he became a civil servant.
Ivan Vazov’s house, now a museum, in Sofia, Bulgaria
He moved to Sofia in 1889 where he started publishing the review Dennitsa.
Vazov’s 1893 novel Under the Yoke, which depicts the Ottoman oppression of Bulgaria, is the most famous piece of classic Bulgarian literature and has been translated into over 30 languages.
Later in his life Vazov was a prominent and widely respected figure in the social and cultural life of newly independent Bulgaria.
Other famous works
Some of the other famous works by Vazov include the novels New Country (1894), Under Our Heaven (1900), The Empress of Kazalar (1902), Songs of Macedonia (1914), It Will Not Perish(1920) and the plays Vagabonds (1894), Borislav (1909) and Ivaylo (1911).
Vazov’s bas-relief at Vazovova Street, Bratislava
Vazov’s home in Sofia has been turned into a museum, containing a restoration of his residence with period furnishings, as well as Vazov’s taxidermically preserved dog. Although the museum is ostensibly open Tuesday through Saturday, it is in practice not always staffed, so visitors are advised to call in advance. The museum is located at the corner of Ivan Vazov Street and Georgi S. Rakovski Street in Sofia.
The Bulgarian Ivan Vazov National Theatre in Sofia is named after him. The Ivan Vazov National Library (Bulgarian: Народна библиотека “Иван Вазов”) in Plovdiv is also named after Vazov. A park near St. Sofia Church in Sofia features the city’s best-known monument to Vazov.
Vazovova Street in Bratislava, Slovakia, and Vazov Point and Vazov Rock on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica are also named after Ivan Vazov.
I am Bulgarian
I am Bulgarian and strong
Bulgarian mother has born me;
beauties and goods so many
make my native land so dear.
I am Bulgarian and love
our mountains so green,
to be called Bulgarian
is the greatest joy for me.
I am a free Bulgarian,
in place of liberty I live;
everything native Bulgarian
I cherish, observe and adore.
I am Bulgarian and grow
in days so great, in time of glory;
I am son of a land so wonderful
I am son of a tribe of courage.
EACH country has its national poets. They are people who were not only good at writing but also at exposing the depths of their fellow countrymen’s souls. When celebrating their greatest moments, such as Liberation Day on March 3, Bulgarians remember the one and only person that used poetry and prose to tell the world of the Bulgarian soul, and the Bulgarian struggle to become a nation – Ivan Vazov.
After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878 and the restoration of its state independence, the new state began developing its culture in entirely new conditions. During the first decades of freedom, Bulgarian governments were anxious to help the country out of the Orient and its backwardness, which stimulated the multifarious influences of modern European culture. The “European shift” affected all cultural spheres – education, science, literature and art. In a number of cases the cultural accomplishments outstripped even the modernisation of the state itself or its economy.
Literature has always had a leading position in the Bulgarian cultural environment. Literary life was marked by the existence of two conflicting trends containing the main ideological leanings, which sprung up after the liberation. The first one, supported by the literary circle around Vazov, tried to pave the way for Bulgarian literature along the lines of critical realism in conjunction with folklore. The second trend was represented by the circle of the Misul (Thought) magazine, co-edited by Kiril Krustev, a literary critic and Pencho Slaveikov, another Bulgarian poet. And here we meet the master.
Vazov was born in 1850 in the town of Sopot, situated in the beautiful Valley of the Roses, one of the most poetic sites the country has. Some people believe that it was one of the influences on the future great poet and novelist. The other was the struggle to overthrow Ottoman rule, which had for five centuries strangled the Bulgarian nation and limited its development.
Vazov also inherited a series of special virtues from his father, Mincho Vazov, who was a trader and a true Bulgarian, bearing the spirit of the Bulgarian people that had inhabited these lands for so many centuries. His mother also strongly influenced his development.
After finishing school in Sopot, Vazov was sent to Kalofer, another town bearing the spirit of the Bulgarian revival, and was appointed assistant teacher. After the years of exams in Kalofer, the young teacher returned to Sopot to his father’s grocery to help him with his work. But, thirsty for more education and further development, the next year Vazov went to Plovdiv to continue his education.
In Plovdiv, Vazov made his first steps as a poet. By his father’s wish he went to Oltinitsa, a university town in Romania to study trade. But his soul was not keen to explore the secrets of the economy. He was immersed in his world of poetry. Soon he left Oltinitsa and went to Braila where he met Hristo Botev. Hardly anything else in this world could have had a greater influence on Vazov than the revolutionary spirit of Botev, who was the moral father of the Bulgarian liberation struggle.
Later, he himself took part in the process of liberation and after the Bulgarian state was revived from the ruins of Ottoman rule, he was regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the country.
For more than 50 years, Ivan Vazov was the most highly regarded figure in Bulgarian literature. He was a citizen-poet who considered the social mission of literature an organic part of the nation’s life and fate. He wrote his most compelling works to glory Bulgaria’s national reawakening and to articulate the ideas of the past, lest they be forgotten by post-liberation society.
His view of the Bulgarian national character had an enormous impact, and to this day his works remain an invaluable treasure of Bulgarian cultural history. Vazov is considered the patriarch of Bulgarian literature because he provided the highest standards for future generations of writers, who would seek in his verse a solution to their doubts and a confirmation of their ideas.
Vazov was in fact the founder of all the literary genres employed by modern Bulgarian literature. His wide-ranging works are a brilliant manifestation of his artistic creativity. Partly because of his love of his homeland, its freedom and its nature, and his ability to incorporate into his works Bulgaria’s traditions, history, morality, and national spirit, Vazov has come to be regarded as Bulgaria’s national poet.
Vazov’s Pod Igoto (Under the Yoke) enjoys the status of Bulgaria’s national novel. Set against the background of the tragic April Uprising in 1876, it is an extended examination of Bulgarian character and the national awakening. From his poems, the most significant are collected in the Epopee to the Forgotten, true songs for the greatest Bulgarians in history. http://sofiaecho.com/2003/03/06/636139_ivan-vazov-the-revolutionary-poet
Read Ivan Vazov’s novel “Under the Yoke” HERE or HERE
EPIC OF THE FORGOTTEN:
“The monastery curbs my restless spirit.
A person seeking repentance in it
Must banish from memory the world of sin,
Spurn every temptation, find peace within.
My conscience a different mission dictates me.
This long black cassock that piously drapes me
Does not reconcile me to heavenly joys
And whenever in chapel I raise my voice
To praise the Lord so I enter Heaven,
I think it’s to others He pays attention,
To those in the valley of tears – pour folk,
And my prayer disappears in the air like smoke,
And in anger God shuts his ears, refuses
To hear our hymns and loud hallelujahs.
I think, too, about those Heavenly Gates
That nobody knows which way they face,
The approach is not from monastic quarters,
The road from the busy world is shorter;
I think the pure tears that widows shed,
The laboring ploughman’s honest sweat,
A comforting word, a righteous endeavor,
A truth averred and upheld forever,
A brotherly hand that without any fuss
We offer a man who has need of us –
All these are dearer to God Almighty
Than the idle anthems that we are reciting.
I think every human being can find
His kin and brothers among mankind
Whom the monk on taking the vow renounces,
I think God a higher aim has found us,
And without this cassock or beard I might
Spare suffering folk some fearful plight.
I think that canonical dispensation
Will not soon abolish their lamentation,
And my fellow-man needs now not prayer
But help and counsel in his despair,
I think that the truly good shepherd is he
Who stays with his flock in the rain and heat,
My brothers a terrible yoke are bearing,
I sin because none of their woes I’m sharing.
It’s high time already for me to depart,
To leave this retreat from the world apart,
To speak new words, bear a secret message
To those who are dragging their grievous fetters,”
Thus spake he, and vanished.
For nine years he roamed
Without sleep or rest, without hearth or home,
Changing his name, under many disguises,
Stout-hearted, ready for sacrifices,
And brought understanding support and light
To slaves in a slave were the words he uttered,
Full of sweet hope that soared and fluttered.
Often he spoke of the struggle, revolt
As imminent of which was as yet unsettled.
He tested the brave to find men of mettle
To carry the glorious enterprise through;
For him every hearer was brother, too.
He turned a clear gaze to the shadowy future.
He loved his dear country and joyed in its beauty.
A rover he was, and simple as a child,
Frugal as a hermit fasting in the wild.
No stranger to hill-top, forest or valley,
There was not a path his feet had not traveled,
The wilderness, too, knew the sound of his voice,
The cottages knew it, the poor folk rejoiced
And opened their doors to him, left them unbolted.
Nothing he feared, he would sleep in the open;
Alone, deep in thought, he would take to the road.
A young man at daybreak, at nightfall – an old.
Yesterday’s merchant would now be a pauper,
Blind man or cripple – whichever was called for.
Today in the mountain, tomorrow in town,
The word of rebellion he spread all round
And spoke behind closed doors of freedom and dying,
Said now was he who would raise in the flood
The first people’s banner and shed his own blood.
Needed were courage, grit, firm resolution,
Fear was sheet villainy, pride – dissolution,
We are all equal, he said, in that hour –
People he braced with fresh vigor and power.
Every age, class and sex, trade and vocation
Joined with a will in the great undertaking:
The rich man a with money, the poor man with strength,
The maid with her needle, the sage with his pen,
Whilst he – naked, barefoot, with no land or chattels –
Was ready to lay down his life in that battle!
Utterly fearless, his courage sufficed
To die a hundred times on the cross like Christ,
To burn at stake like Huss, or to perish
Sawn, like Simon, for the truth he cherished.
For him Death was brother as well as friend.
In his sleeve he sewed poison of terrible strength.
At his waist was a trusty weapon he wielded
To terrify enemies whenever needed.
A stranger to sleep, relaxation and rest
He was spirit and made manifest.
His thoughts he expounded concisely and clearly,
His forehead at times would frown severely,
With wrath and reproach his gaze would fill,
Revealing a staunch heart and iron will.
He traveled unseen, like a phantom fleeting,
He’d turn up in church, at a neighbors’ meeting,
Appear without sign, disappear without clue,
Everywhere welcomed, everywhere pursued,
Once at a numerous public assembly
He suddenly entered, greeting presented
And giving a scoundrel a slap in the face
Quit the town secretly, leaving to trace.
His name in itself was a signal for panic,
The authorities hounded him everywhere, planted
Cordons round twenty-odd towns at a go
To trap their ubiquitous spirit-like foe.
In awe would all gaze at his earnest expression,
The title of saint he was gives by peasants
Who, huddled together away from spies,
Would listen agape and with rapturous eyes
Ti the sweet words of danger he spoke, all hearers
Found mush that had troubled their souls grow clearer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The wonderful seed fell in people’s hearts and
Grew swiftly to yield an abundant harvest.
But he was betrayed, and betrayed by a priest!
This groveling worm, this despicable beast,
This outrage to God, on the Church this foul blemish,
Through whose vicious treason the deacon did perish!
Through infamous rogue who no shame ever saw,
Who appeared here on earth Heaven knows what for,
This sneaking betrayer, this priest in God’s service,
Such title without shame or conscience usurping,
Whose lips, from which venom and bitterness ran,
Cried basely: “Take hold of him! That is your man!”
Who raised his right hand not in blessing, but pointing
In treason – no thunderbolt struck ti destroy it! –
Whom I now deliberately do not name
For fear such a mention my poem profane,
Whose mother bereft was of reason and ruthless,
This priest with one equal in Hell – and that Judas,
Thus plunged a whole nation in mourning and tears!
And still the man lives, in our midst he appears!
Thrown into jail all in blood and in fetters
Levski to terrible pain was subjected.
Shame on his torturers – powerless to break
A heart so resistant! No moan did he make,
No curse or appeal for mercy he uttered,
But there in the darkness he proudly suffered!
Death was approaching, fear faraway.
Nothing did he in a whisper betray.
He met every query – a bitter ordeal –
With only one answer, a silence severe,
And said: “I am Levski! One and the same!”
And never once mentioned another’s name.
But keen to rob Levski of living breath
The tyrant one morning decreed his death.
The Tsars, the rabble and odious tyrants
In order to crush man’s proud aspiring
And cries of protest, and heartening thoughts,
And eternal truth – that life-giving source,
Have ever invented punishment, trying
To annihilate those whose fame is undying:
They devised for Prometheus rock and abyss,
For Socrates poison and prejudice,
The stake for John Huss, ball and chain Columbus,
The Golgotha crucifix for Jesus the humble –
And thus do such ending whose cruelty appalls
Win aureoles later, far brighter than all.
In splendor and shame, like the crucifix, hallowed!
The sight of your victims hes made our hearts ache,
We’re seen from your bar bodies swing and shake
And southerly winds with the dead limbs playing,
And jubilant tyrants their venom displaying.
O glorious scaffold! You shine with the light
Of heroes who died here! Must holy sight!
A terrible token, a sign of that freedom
For which in your shadow folk die and lie bleeding,
The lion, the hero: all honor is due
To those who to this day still die upon you.
For in that dark age we refer to as “bondage”
The rogue and the spy and the man with no honor
Would peacefully die in their forehead, their conscience – sold,
But death on your bar, holy scaffold, was always
No mark of disgrace – but on earth fresh glory,
A summit from which a brave heart could survey
Toward immortality the straightest way!
“O reckless and foolish one! Wherefore art
thou ashamed to call thyself Bulgarian?…
Or did not the Bulgars possess a kingdom and
state? Be thou not deluded, Bulgarian, but
know thine own origin and tongue…”
A hundred and twenty years1 back… Deep shadow!
There, where the Mount of Athos narrows,
A refuge hidden from worldly deceit,
For prayer and rest a placid retreat,
Where only is heard the Aegean roaring,
The whispering gorse and the seabird soaring,
Or the solemn tolling of a vesper bell,
In a humbly furnished, slumbering sell
That a spluttering lamp was dimly lighting,
An obscure, pale-faced monk was writing.
What was he penning there, pensive, alone?
The Life of a saint, or a sacred tome
Commenced long ago, then long forsaken,
Again at this midnight hour undertaken?
Was he recording there tokens divine,
Or composing a eulogy, fair and fine,
To a miracle-worker in wonders abounding
Of Egypt, Greece, or the Holy Mountain?
Why was he taxing body and brain?
Was he a philosopher? Was he insane?
Was this the imbecile imposition
Of an abbot of rigorous disposition?
At last he relaxed and said: “That is the end:
A new life chronicle I have penned.”
With glances of tenderest rapture he greeted
His labour of many long years, now completed,
The fruit of his vigil, his will-power’s child,
Which half of his span upon earth had beguiled –
A glorious Life! While it was begotten,
All else, even Heaven, he had forgotten!
Never did mother so tenderly gaze
On her first-born son, nor hero raise
Fond eyes to the prize of his desiring!
Like a Bible prophet in ancient style,
Or the hermit severe of Patmos isle,
Who boldly unfolded the secret of darkness
And God’s own will on the roll of parchment,
Pale and elated, a glance he hurled
To darkest chaos, to the starry world,
To the gleaming Aegean that softly slumbered,
And, raising the pages aloft, he thundered:
“Henceforth Bulgarians near and far
A history possess and a nation are!”
Let them discover from these my writings
That once they were great and again shall be mighty,
From glorious Budin to Athos Mount
Our law was esteemed of great account.
May all our brothers read here and remember
That Greeks are perfidious people and clever,
That we have repulsed them – and more than once –
That’s why they can’s stomach the likes of us;
That we, too, had kingdoms and capital cities,
And native-born patriarchs, saintly figures;
We, too, in this world have performed a good deed,
Given all Slav peoples the books they read;
When other folk shout: “You Bulgarian!” wildly,
Let brothers know this is a name to take pride in.
And know that great God, to whom praises are sing,
He, too, understands our Bulgarian tongue;
And shameful it is when a person goes running
To join with the Hellenes, his kith and kin shunning,
Spurning his God-given native speech
And his very own name, like a senseless beast.
Woe to you, fools, who like sheep are erring,
The poisonous potion of Greeks preferring,
Who fell of your very own brothers ashamed
And Hellene corruption greedily acclaim,
Who sinfully scoff at the bones of your fathers
And mock all our ways, as too simple and artless:
It’s not your own kin, though, who sully your name,
You fools, it is you are the cause of their shame!
Read and discover upon these pages
The deeds of your forebears in long-gone ages:
How bravely with many a kingdom they fought,
And powerful kings to them tribute brought,
And the Bulgar state led a great existence;
How Boris the saint in Preslav was christened,
How churches there sprang up at Assen’s will,
How the Tsar sent gifts; about Samuil,
Who lost his own soul in the depths of Hades,
Conquered Durazzo and Greece invaded;
Read here and know of Tsar Shishman as well
And how into bondage our kingdom fell;
And of Ivan Rilski, whose sacred relics
Show still their miracle-working merits;
Read how great Kroum beat Nicephorus, lined
His skull with silver and drank from in wine,
How Simeon drove out the Magyar raiders
And had from Byzantium humble obeisance.
A scholar was he, a philosopher wise,
His own native language he did not despise
And when there was no one for subjugation
He sat and wrote books as his relaxation.
Here read and now study what I have set down,
In many a legend and chronicle found,
Read, brothers, so men do not mock and ignore you,
Nor foreigners give themselves airs before you…
This book now receive! It is my bequest,
So may it be copied, made manifest,
And scattered through lowland and valley, go speeding
Wherever Bulgarians are dying, bleeding.
Find here revelation, the grace of God’s truth,
To young – gift of wisdom, to old – gift of youth!
Whoever shall read it, shall never repent it,
Who masters it, he shall have knowledge in plenty.”
Thus spake the man in the anchorite cell,
Who gazed at the past and the future as well,
Who, many a service and sacrament skipping,
Had never relinquished the pen he was gripping
And many a canon and fast had not kept,
But toiled without cease and at rest never slept.
Thus spake, a hundred and twenty years before us,
This hermit of Athos, in God’s view not flawless,
Who secretly kindled, when all ways lay dark,
In people’s awareness the very first spark.
(The Defence of Perushtitsa)
O stirring of glory, O sombre sad stirring,
Days of proud struggle, O days of adversity!
Epic obscure and by us unacclaimed,
Epic abounding in heroism and shame!
The church was tight-packed with young women and children,
Insurgents ecstatic had fathers within the gray walls,
They now knew what fate lay in store for them all,
For three days the foe had been firing in fury
Around the small church. But no scaring, no luring,
No skirmish, no menace had any success.
The rebels held firm and with lips tightly pressed
Never uttered a word, not a man there intended
To sully his lips with the shame of surrender.
As hot as an oven and thick with a pall
Of gunsmoke the air by the outer church walls
Was choking their breath. The familiar cry
Of feverish hunger rose shrilly nearby.
Pale children lay screaming with faces contorted
Beside their dead mothers, near stiffening corpses,
The battle was raging within and without
And all eyes were blazing with fire devout.
The sick and the healthy, the poor and the wealthy,
Young fellows with fair hair and grey-headed elders
Were all taking part in the last fight of all.
“Be brave and fear nothing!” a mother would call
To her son as she passed him the rifle she loaded,
While grandmother, haggard and staggering, folded
Her apron to bring up more bullets to fire;
The husband stood watching, amazed and inspired:
The wife he loved dearly stood by her beloved
To see that his flashpan with powder was covered.
Their children cried out as they heard the first thud
Of bullets and saw the first spouting of blood.
The struggle was seething within and without.
Many men in in eternal chill sleep were laid out
And thick was the smoke, even death could no longer
Instill any terror. Not milk spurted strongly
But blood from the bosoms of mothers there slain.
All eyes were ablaze, as if crazed and insane.
In a frenzy old men hither, thither would run
With hands all atremble to fare any gun…
The wild foes outside in their fury unbounded –
The church had by bashibazouks been surrounded –
Were fuming and shouting and firing hot lead
And, reeling in impotent wrath, drooping dead.
Their chieftain, with bood from his wounds freely running,
Observed the grim harvest around him, said nothing,
A panicky fear left him gasping for breath
At the sight of these lowly folk sowing grim death,
Not begging for mercy but bullet-lead scattering.
Far off down the high road came suddenly clattering
Regular troops, moving swiftly along…
The sight in them heartened the foe, but among
The folk in the church it aroused consternation,
They sensed a now imminent castigation.
The battle abated… The gunsmoke cleared,
A voice calling out in the chaos was heard:
“O brothers, the bashibazouks we resisted
Because they are cruel and desperate brigands…
But here are the Sultan’s men. Let us give in!”
“No, better die fighting through thick and thin!”
“Hand over your weapons!” “No!” “What shall we do then?”
“Yield to them? No, we shall fight and subdue them!”
“Who is the traitor?” they cried in disgust.
“There’ll never be parley between them and us!”
“For shame!” cried a woman and taking a rifle,
She fired at the soldier then, reeling, fell lifeless
And all there were stunned by the deafening roar!
Their souls blazing proudly with courage unbending:
“To these Turkish hordes we shall never surrender!”
So shooting began and the battle again
Resumed its funereal fearsome refrain.
But now more funereal fearsome then ever.
Death swept through the church where all lives were in peril.
All faces bore traces of gloomy despair,
Her children no mother could recognice there.
Now guns faced the church with enormous jaws gaping.
Flames billowed, bombs burst, a hot whirlwind was raging!
The church wall was swaying and making a sound
As when a great storm him a beech on high ground
Or earth tremors waken a deep-seated rumble.
They suddenly saw the old church wall crumble.
Pale Perushtitsa, the birthplace of heroes,
Glory to you and your progeny fearless!
Glory eternal to your ashes, the grave
Where the rebels perished to surrender,
Who fought on in darkness but died in splendour.
In struggle confronting the Turkish wrath
You rose like a lion barring its path,
Your head never bowing, your sword never yielding,
Your holiest shrine never shamefully ceding,
Our freedom with sanctity you endowed
And took for our suffering vengeance proud.
To you we bow down, town to ashes burnt,
Of valiants battle a testimony stern!
Your children were staunch in these perilous hours
And made your destruction a triumph of ours,
Because your great downfall was of a new order,
In history a splendid new page it recorded.
Because amid baseness and general disgrace
You shone in blue heaven with radiant grace!
Because you fell into your grave so appalling,
Like Prague, Saragossa, with honour and glory,
All swimming in blood and enveloped in smoke;
And, finally, you were the first town to show
How people should perish – not uttering prayers
Not crying out: “Mercy!” when many were scared;
A small town, obscure, without fortress or might,
Barehanded and leaderless in your fight,
With no famous past, no renown in antiquity
That gives great and small towns a sense of equality,
In your frightful death and your heroines’ fame
You rivaled great Carthage, put Sparta to shame.
But soon came the soldiers, the church encircling,
For every side horror and death converging,
The rabble inflamed by their gluttonous rage
And thirsting for butchery, bloodshed and rape
Were grinding their teeth, bombs were bursting and falling,
The young girls were shrieking and babies were bawling.
Demented young mothers with eyes full of tears
Ran smashing their skulls on the church walls in fear
And fell to the ground, while yet others, grief-stricken
And terrified, smothered their very own children.
And then it was Kocho, a maker of boots,
An old rebel, wounded but resolute,
Called out to his young wife, a good looking woman,
Holding their golden-haired child to her bosom:
“Young wife! Now the carnage will start as foreseen.
And that’s not the worst thing… you know what I mean.
Is death what you wish?” And the poor wretched mother,
Distracted and pale, a deep cry seemed to smother.
Her infant with quivering hands she set down
And, tenderly kissed its milky white brow,
She stood up and said: “Let my child then die second!
Strike me first!” …When Kocho withdrew the sharp weapon
That pierced her while bosom, a fountain of red
Gushed forth from gash. Kocho bowing his head
Looked down at the child. The poor infant was weeping!
“Your mother shall still have you in her safe-keeping!”
He vowed and again struck as if in a dream,
His scarlet face turning away from the scene.
The little head slumped and the tiny limbs quivered,
The infant’s young blood with its mother’s blood mingled.
Said Kocho: “Of all of my strength I’m bereft,
Yet still there’s enough for one final blow left!”
With both hands he drove the hot dagger in deeply
There where his own heart was tumultuously beating,
Then fell in the pool of red blood he had spilled,
Wide-eyed, with the blade driven in to the hilt.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And the church loudly echoed as maids and young women
Were raped or struck down and in blood there left swimming!
While God up above, gazing down through the smoke,
Watched all this unruffled and never once spoke!…
THE VOLUNTEERS AT SHIPKA
(August 11, 1877)
What if we still carry shame on our forehead,
Marks of the whip, signs of bondage abhorrent;
What if remembrance of infamous days
Hangs like a cloud over all we survey;
What if in history no place we’re allotted,
What if our name be a tragic one, what if
Old Belasitsa and recent Batak
Over our past throw their deep shadows black;
What if men mockingly laugh in our faces,
Pointing to newly lost fetters, to traces
Still on our necks of the ages-long yoke;
What if this freedom was gives our folk?
What of it? We know a recent true story,
A shining new symbol, a symbol of glory,
That proudly within every bosom pulsates
And noble strong feeling within us awakes;
There on a mounting that glows in the distance,
Heaven’s blue vault on its broad shoulder lifting,
Rises a famous wild peak with blood on its moss,
A monument huge to a deed that’s immortal,
Because a deep memory lives in the Balkans,
Because there’s a name that shall live for all time,
As bright as a legend in history it shines,
A new name, its roots to antiquity tracing,
As great ad Thermopylae, all fame embracing,
A same to wipe shame away, with its plain truth
Smashing to smithereens calumny’s tooth.
For three days out youthful battalions
The pass have defended. The high mountain valleys
Re-echo the battle’s tumultuous roar.
The onslaught’s ferocious! Again the dense hordes
Along the ravine for the twelfth time are crawling
Where warm blood is flowing and bodies are sprawling.
Assault on assault! Swarm on swarm they advance!
Once more at the towering peak Suleiman
is pointing: “Rush forward! Up there are the rayahs!”
Away race the hordes in a rage wild and dire,
A thunderous “Allah” re-echoes afar.
The summit replies with a rousing “Hurrah!”,
A hail of fresh bullets and tree trunks and boulders;
Spattered with blood, our battalions boldly
Retaliate, every man in his own way
Striving to be in the front of the fray,
Each, like a hero, death bravely defying,
Determined to leave one more enemy dying.
Cannon are pounding. The Turks with a cry
Rush up the slope where they tumble and die;
Coming like tigers, like sheep they go flying,
Then come once again: the Bulgarians fighting
Like lions are running along the redoubt,
Neither heat, thirst nor toil are they worried about.
The onslaught is fierce, the rebuff no less stout.
For three days they fight but no help is arriving,
And no hope is visible on the horizon,
And no brother eagles come swiftly with aid.
No matter. They’ll die, but die true, unafraid –
As died the brave Spartans who stood against Xerxes.
Fresh waves are now rolling up; all are alerted!
A last effort’s needed: the moment is grave.
And then does Stoletov, our general brave,
Roar words of great courage: “Young volunteer fighters,
Now crown Bulgaria with laurels of triumph!
The Tsar has entrusted the pass, the whole war,
Himself even, unto these muscles, of yours!”
Thus heartened, our proud and heroic battalions
Courageously meet the next thrust of the rallying
Enemy hordes! O heroic time!
Fresh waves of assailants the cliffs now climb.
Our men have no bullets, with bravery girded,
Their bayonets broken, their breasts ever sturdy,
They’re all to a man ready gladly to die
On the ridge which the whole of the world can descry,
To die here like heroes triumphant, victorious .
“The whole of Bulgaria watches, supports us,
The peak is a high one: if we run away,
She’ll see us – so better to die here today!”
No weapons are left! What remains is the slaughter!
Each stone is a bomb and each tree-trunk a sword is.
Each object – a blow, and each soul – flame that sears.
From the peak every tree, every stone disappears.
“Grab hold of the bodies!” they hear a voice crying,
At once through the air lifeless corpses are flying,
And over the hordes like black devils they dive
And tumble and roll as if they were alive!
The Turks quake and tremble, not having seen ever
The living and death fight a battle together,
And raise a shrill cry of demoniac rage.
In life and death combat the armies engage.
Our heroes, there standing as steady as boulders,
Meet bayonet steel with steel breasts no less boldly,
And sing as they cast themselves into the fray
When they realize Death shall now snatch them away.
But still our young heroes rebuff, sink and swallow
The hordes that is wave upon wave swiftly follow.
The peak any minute shall ours be no more.
Then suddenly Radetzky arrives with a roar.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
And today, every time there’s a storm in the mountain,
The summit recall this grim day and, recounting
The story, its echoing glory relays
From valley ti valley, from age unto age!
Plovdiv, November 6, 1883