Shkodra

Shkodra poetry

16 Aug 2022
As the centre of Albanian cultural life, Shkodra has attracted and inspired many writers and poets. The most famous local poet was Migjeni, although others include Filip Shiroka and Gazmend Krasniqi, all of whom are featured here with some poems. We're grateful to the late Robert Elsie (www.albanianliterature.net) for the biographies and translations.

Migjeni, a name derived from the first letters of each word of Millosh Gjergj Nikolla, lived his short life from 1911 to 1938 and never managed to publish a book, but his work still kick-started contemporary Albanian poetry. He was born in Shkodra and at 14 went to study Russian, French Greek and Latin at St. John's Orthodox Seminary in Bitola, now in Macedonia. On his return to Shkodra he gave up on becoming a priest and became a teacher in Vraka, a village north of town, where he started writing poems and prose in Albanian. In 1936 his book containing 36 poems called Vargjet e Lira (Free Verse) was banned (it was reprinted in 1944 with two 'inappropriate' poems deleted and eight new ones added). In 1935, Migjeni fell ill with tuberculosis, and after visiting sanatoriums in Greece and Italy and a spell as a teacher in the mountain town on Puka, he died in an Italian hospital at the age of 26. His work consists of just 24 short prose sketches and 44 poems. Whereas most poets from the regions stuck to describing the beauties of the Albanian mountains and the sacred traditions of the nation, Migjeni focused on misery and suffering: "I suffer with the child whose father cannot buy him a toy. I suffer with the young man who burns with unslaked sexual desire. I suffer with the middle-aged man drowning in the apathy of life. I suffer with the old man who trembles at the prospect of death. I suffer with the peasant struggling with the soil. I suffer with the worker crushed by iron. I suffer with the sick suffering from all the diseases of the world... I suffer with man." Migjeni's poems were successful in literary circles even though he never published a book; ironically when his book finally did appear, it was in the same year that Stalinism was decided to be the best way forward in Albania.


Blasphemy

The mosques and churches float through our memories,
Prayers devoid of sense or taste echo from their walls.
Never has the heart of god been touched by them,
And yet it beats on amidst the sounds of drums and bells.

Majestic mosques and churches throughout our wretched land,
Spires and minarets towering over lowly homes,
The voice of the hodja and priest in one degenerate chant,
Oh, ideal vision, a thousand years old!

The mosques and churches float through memories of the pious,
The chiming of the bell mingles with the muezzin's call,
Sanctity shines from cowls and from the beards of hodjas.
Oh, so many fair angels at the gates of hell!

On ancient citadels perch carrion ravens,
Their dejected wings drooping - the symbols of lost hopes,
In despair do they croak of an age gone by
When the ancient citadels once gleamed with hallowed joy.


Song of noble grief

Oh, noble grief of the suffering soul
That into free verse bursts out...
Would you perchance take comfort
In adorning the world with jewels?

Oh, noble grief in free verse,
Which sincerely sounds and resounds,
Will you ever move the feelings of men,
Or wither and die like the autumn leaves?

Oh, song worthy of noble grief...
Never rest! But with your twin,
Lamentation, sing out your suffering,
For time will be your consolation.


Scandalous song
A pale-faced nun who with the sins of this world
Bears my sins, too, upon her weary shoulders,
Those shoulders, wan as wax, which some deity has kissed,
Roams the streets like a fleeting angel.
A pale-faced nun, cold as a marble tomb,
With greyish eyes like the ashes of spent desires,
With thin red-ribbon lips, tightly pressed to smother her sighs,
A chilling image of her has lingered in my memory.

From pious prayers she comes and to her prayers she returns.
In downcast eyes, in lips, in folded hands her prayers repose.
Without her prayers what fate would be the world's?
Yet they cannot stop another day from dawning.

Oh, nun so pale, making love to the saints,
Consumed in ecstasy before them like an altar candle,
Revealing herself to them..., oh, how I envy the saints,
Pray not for me, for I am hell-bent with desire.

You and I, nun, are two ends of a rope,
On which two teams tug one against the other -
The struggle is stern and who knows how it will end,
So, tug the rope, let the teams contend.

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Filip Shiroka (1859-1935) was born and raised in Shkodra, but spent much of his life in exile after the defeat of the League of Prizren in 1880, working as a railway engineer in Egypt and Lebanon. He wrote more than sixty mostly romantic poems, three short stories, articles and several religious translations before he died in Beirut.


Be off, swallow

Farewell, for spring has come,
Be off, swallow, on your flight,
From Egypt to other lands,
Searching over hill and plain
Be off to Albania on your flight,
Off to Shkodra, my native town!
Convey my greetings
To the old house where I was born,
And greet the lands around it
Where I spent my early years;
Be off thither on your flight,
And greet my native town!
...And when you come to Fush' e Rmajit,
Swallow, stop there and take your rest;
In that land of sorrow are the graves
Of the mother and father who raised me;
Weep in your exquisite voice
And lament them with your song!
For ages I have not been to Albania
To attend those graves;
You, swallow, robed in black,
Weep there on my behalf,
With that exquisite voice of yours
Lament them with your song!

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Gazmend Krasniqi (born in Shkodra in 1963) studied art and literature and has published several poetry volumes. Here we publish two of his poems about Shkodra.

Rozafa

All day we construct
And all night it collapses
(Legend)
A slight mist over the Buene scatters all tranquillity of sight:
Striving for the legend. Farewell, final silence!
Our destinies crossed and once more departed,
All simply for a Rozafa we never saw.
Stone upon stone, the remaining witness
Hushes, sprawled over its own fate,
Mute, impassive, no way to understand
How our power has at last been sucked away.
Wherever you go, you will find no creature alive,
Only a name, cast out of the ballad,
Spinning slowly, the old question in mind:
Was Rozafa dreaming of us, or are we?
Is she perchance erring afar upon magic paths,
Discerned only by God, the divine mind,
So that all human joys and pains
Seem so banal, they would make you blush.
Is she perchance planting the gentle banner of insistence
Between tribulations and sleep, where the cricket suffers,
Among ghosts who love as men and women
In the sluggish creep of stones towards tongues?
Is she perchance that drunken bird from the sun
Which hovers idly above us in the air's silence,
A small spot where fate places its finger,
A small spot where memory is forever frozen?


Skodrinon

Skodrinon! Skodrinon! A longing, to the chanting
Of nymphs and satyrs, bends from azure-blue towers
The fences of days, as the noble bison of fate
Bray as they may, drunk with gesture,
Full of divine hues when they loved us,
Let them wrest from these roofs the hidden traps,
Perhaps they are idling in our work, pensive and silent,
Treading on the prelude of our sober repose,
A garden that quivers under the frozen foliage
Of a plant unseen, yet filled with fragrance,
Fearful the roe looking on wordless,
As the echo of their prayers flits over our faces,
Proof that we are the tiny children who once played
In the nooks and crannies where beginning and end take their rest
With the enraptured bison of our Dardanian sea-love,
Proof of our love of this good earth,
And somewhere are tolling
The buried bells which may have been ours,
And golden-cuffed impatience tarries
In search of its own ancient temples of spirit and stone.

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