Albanian poetry in translation

The poetry of the Albanians hasn't had much chance to be known and appreciated in English. The single best resource for it is almost certainly here, the site of Robert Elsie, who has arguably done more than anyone in recent generations to preserve Albanian literature. If you're interested in Albanian poetry in literary rather than technical translation, here below are a few contributions to the effort. (And here’s Robert Wilton on youtube at the 2012 Festival of Literature in Orllan.) These capture the spirit, the meaning, the rhyme and, where possible, something of the rhythm of the original, while aiming at a meaningful piece of English poetry. That's the theory, anyway.



'Kristal' by Ismail Kadare

It's a while since we've seen each other and I feel

As if I'm forgetting you bit by bit,

As the memory of you dies in me -

As hair dies, and all things.

So now I need a point at which

To leave you; I'm hunting high and low

A verse, a note, a jewel

Where I release you, I kiss you, I go.

If no grave will hold you,

Neither marble nor crystal bed,

I don't have to drag you round,

do I, half-alive and half-dead?

If not a dyke to ditch you in,

I'll find a field of flowers and trees

Where, so softly, I will scatter

You, like pollen, upon the breeze.

I'll lull you like this, perhaps, and kiss you

And never return to that setting;

And neither we, nor anyone will know

Whether this was, or was not, the forgetting.

Day has dawned but gives no light,

the sun is up but gives no warmth.

What's Gjeto Basho Muji doing?

Muji is burying his own dear son...

At last Muji took the lonely path home,

where the boy's mother asked him straight:

Our son? Mujo, why shake your head?

You mean you've left him in the green valley, dead?

Wretched widowhood is now her path;

the stars have fixed one life for her: grief.

When at last she'd reached the green valley,

the mother began to curse the moon:

- May your light expire, old sir moon,

that you sent no sign, not a single one,

to the green valley, that I should run

to enter the grave beside my son.

When she came to the grave of her boy,

she saw the beech, three centuries old,

the beech limbs writhing helter-skelter,

one of the finest spreading over the grave.

Ajkuna's lament

Ajkuna's lament is part of the cycle of Albanian highland songs Eposi i Kreshnikeve; in this part of the larger network of stories, Omer, the son of Gjeto Basho Muji and his wife Ajkuna, has been killed defending a castle.

For boy and branch a beautiful spot;

a tear drops on the dust she loves.

They've stopped singing, the mountain doves,

They've stopped singing to listen.

- And don't you realise who has come,

unwelcoming and fast asleep,

beautiful boy of my own, o?

One last wish, beautiful son:

leave just once your darkened prison,

just one word from the son I bore;

you've never been gone this long before...

Beautiful Omer of mine, o;

is it your horse you're waiting for?

Run to play by the church once more;

go and hunt rabbits by Shala's roar;

scale the peaks with the ghosts of the brave;

your poor mother will guard your grave,

beautiful boy of my own, o...

Translated at Thethi, in the valley of Shala, Summer 2009. First published in Modern Poetry in Translation, Series 3 No. 13: 'Transplants', eds David and Helen Constantine, 2010.

My lovely Morea

My lovely Morea:

I have fled and you are dead;

I have fled, I have fled.

Could I somehow not have fled?

There I have a lord, my father;

There I have a lady, mother;

And there I have my brother

Hidden -

All hidden -

All hidden under the earth -

Oh, lovely Morea.

Morea is a place, of course, and this poem is a traditional lament; it's also a girl's name.

And for something with a touch of contemporary relevance…


'Nën Flamujt E Melankolisë' - 'Under the flags of melancholy' - by Migjeni

In our country

there are rather

sorry-looking banners flapping


… and no-one can say if

this is a state

really trying to create

something new-born.

Somewhere behind

the banners

you can find grey men

desperately trying

alchemy, a death-defying

effort to turn hope into glory,

to turn huff and puff into magic!

But all that we see

(and this is a little tragic)

Is merely a flea.

This farce has shattered

the joy of that February night

and, as if out of spite,

we crumbled.

Over the hunched men in cafés

And the chilly girls on Nënë Terezë

the banners flap and droop

looking rather sorry.

Because it's a bit of a handful, and because the man himself deserves it, Skanderbeg gets a page to himself