France Prešeren

more than a year ago
France Prešeren is without question the greatest Slovene poet and arguably the country's most important cultural figure. Since his death in 1849, his name and image have become ubiquitous throughout Slovenia with countless squares, roads, societies and theatres named after him, while his image currently adorns Slovenia's two-euro coin (and was previously on the thousand tolar note). In 1989 the seventh stanza of one of his later works, the patriotic Zdravlijca (The Toast), was chosen as the national anthem. Perhaps most notably however, the anniversary of his death on the 8th of February, is celebrated each year as the national day of cultural. All in all, not a bad legacy for an unsuccessful lawyer who only wrote poetry in his spare time and whose lifetime output can be contained in a single volume.

Born in the village of Vrba in what is today the Gorenjska region of north west Slovenia, Prešeren's mother had wanted him to become a priest - which seems something of a common theme among famous Slovenes. Instead he attended law school in the imperial capital Vienna beginning in 1821, finally acquiring a degree some seven years later. Upon his return to Ljubljana, he was employed as an assistant in a law firm - although he had wanted to practice as an independent lawyer his applications were repeated rejected until only two years before his death. In 1833, he met the woman who would become the great love of his life and muse of his later works, Julija Primic. Unfortunately for Prešeren, her wealthy merchant family didn't think much of the young law clerk, and any relationship between the two was all but out of the question. Prešeren finally accepted this fact after three years of failed courtship, and went on to father three children out of wedlock with a woman of more modest social status. By all accounts, Prešeren's life was an exceptionally unhappy one, filled with constant rejection, the death of close friends, little recognition of his poetry and not coincidentally, severe drinking problems.

However, as is often the case, personal misery gave birth to lasting artistic achievement, and today Prešeren is considered among the greatest European romanticists. His reputation only began to grow with the publication of his collected poems in 1866, which was prefaced by a now well-known essay on the significance of his work. And the rest, as they say, is history.


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