Bulgarian Poetry in English

Ascent

by Peyo Yavorov

[„Възход”]




... A sea of red is all around me, splashing.
The waves are tossing me about.
And through the abyss – laughing and then lashing –
an evil demon: darkness-bound.
Black under me... Red all around me, splashing.


I know these waves… those beating toxic waves –
the scum of life itself.  And they…
are crimson with my blood. No blow you saved,
in such a mighty cruel way,
and now this fiery flood will scorch the waves.


Through salty waves my stunned eyes open. Ray
of light. A wondrous ray of light.
Dawn after night of tempest. A sluggish sway -
the abyss is at peace. So slight
a movement. My soul pervades a morning ray.



And this is you. You are this source of light.
And you are bathing in my blood.
This chest, this heart is pouring for you – a delight!
You having shed it, in this flood
you were in purest waters. You – the light!


... Celestial glow. And, oh, how I am blind.
No single cloud in skies of hot
to cloak a fraction of your rise. Your mind,
your proud ascent. I dare not
before you cast my eyes... And I am blind.




See original poem here.

Translated by Georgi Ivanov
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A Tale of Honor

by Hristo Smirnenski

[“Приказка за честта”]

It was an honour I never

have hoped for, to be sure!

The Devil invited me in

to try his best liqueur.

 

A candle lit his sharp profile.

Through smoke-rings in a haze,

With moist eyes Mephistopheles

upon me fixed his gaze.

 

His mien, though tinged with autumn grief,

was proud and cheerful too.

He cried: “In vino veritas” –

I shall be frank with you!

 

I can no longer bear the yoke

of cunning and deceit.

Here’s to your other-worldly warmth

and worldly woes we meet!

 

Long, long ago I came to earth

and as a joke, you see,

took worldly Truth to be my wife,

but she cuckolded me.

 

My honour to avenge I vowed.

In jealousy and pain,

I trampled human honour down

but mine I’ve not regained.

 

I sought in exploits to excel –

I died in many frays.

Though worthy causes I upheld,

no honours came my way.

 

Then in the street one day I propped

a sign I had prepared.

‘Here is a man without a scrap

of honour,’ it declared.

 

But, strangely, no one looked askance!

And why I never knew.

All men around me doffed their hats:

‘No honour? Good for you!’

 

A gentleman kissed me on sight:

‘Pal, you too?! Man alive!’

Two pretty ladies did invite:

‘Tomorrow tea at five!’

 

Amazing! Such attention rare

all did to me devote.

Kings, ministers, court ladies fair

fond letters to me wrote.

 

Behold me, rolling now in gold.

A man of place and pride!

A thief, a shameless rogue – I know –

but… honoured far and wide!

 

He paused, our glasses he refilled

and raised a toast with glee.

Then, blowing rings of smoke, he fixed

his bright green eyes on me.

 

See original here.

Translated by unknown.

 

 

Johannes

by Hristo Smirnenski

[“Йохан”]

The night has spread its raven hair,

O’er the house and round the trees,

And nothing stirs the winter air,

The street is empty, and so’s the square,

And nothing shows the town’s unease.

 

A creak disturbs the heavy calm,

A man comes out and scans the street,

A woman follows in alarm;

She stretched her imploring arm,

“Stay here, Johannes!” her lips repeat.

 

The man turns back and waves his hand,

The pallid moon lights up his face,

And then upon the drowsy land

Again the peace and hush descend,

The moon spins out its silvery lace.

 

Beneath the sheet of gleaming snow,

Berlin sleeps tired of its plight.

And then – a roar, a blast, a blow,

A continuous crackling flow,

And rushing echoes rend the night.

 

Berlin’s awake, shuddering with fright.

The shrieks and shouts increase its woe.

A streak of flame cuts through the night,

And then – another, a fire bright

Throws o’er the town a ruby glow.

 

*

 

At the barricade he is unknown,

And no one asks what is his name.

Johannes creeps behind a stone,

An old man there has crouched alone,

Shooting like one who knows his aim.

 

The storm does rage with all its might.

Man after man falls stricken dead,

With a gun in his hand clasped tight.

Blood streaks down faces deadly white,

And paints the snow in dazzling red.

 

From down the street machine-guns flash

With murderous fire-spitting snouts.

Incessant hails of bullets lash

Against the men in fatal clash

With enemies, despair and doubts.

 

*

At the barricade he’s now alone,

The old man’s prostrate at his feet,

His blood is tricking round the stone;

Before he gasps his dying groan,

He feebly says: “Retreat! Retreat!”

 

The ranks of hussars come very close,

Johannes firmly clutches his gun,

He stands upright to face the foes,

And cries out: “Come, I’ll meet your blows!

Come, you sons of crime, I will not run…

 

You, wretches, every drop of blood

Which stains the innocent snow,

Will rise into a mighty flood,

It will wash the land and clean the mud

Of your despotic rule – the people’s foe!”

 

Enraged, a soldier hisses back:

“Shut up, you slave, and raise your hands!

You should have stayed in your dirty shack?”

Majestic like a rocky stack

Johannes meets the swarming bands.

 

“Down with tyrants!” is his proud reply.

A dozen wicked shots ring out,

And their echo hits the frozen sky.

Johannes sinks, still holding high

His head. He dies defiant and unbowed.

 

*

 

In the poor house Johannes’ wife,

Tightly clasping her baby child,

Is list’ning tense to the distant strife,

And every shot is a keen-edged knife

Which stabs this creature, frail and mild.

 

Quietly her bloodless lips repeat:

“Johannes, why did you go away?”

In despair and sorrow complete.

The fog hangs heavy in the street,

The early morn is cold and grey…

See original here.

Translated by unknown (possibly Peter Tempest).

Little Brothers of Gavroche

by Hristo Smirnenski

[“Братчетата на Гаврош”]

 

City so loud and lewd,
Conceived in spite,
In vain your crowded streets
Blaze festive bright.
For through the violet dusk
Poor children go,
With outraged innocence
Thin faces glow.
Child victims of deceit,
Life crooks their backs,
They loiter in your streets
In cast-off caps.
At every dazzling pane
They form a ring,
But in their eyes what pain
And suffering!
They sigh and go their way,
Ragged and tired,
Past windows that display
What they desire…

 

See original poem here.
Translation by Peter Tempest

Two Souls

by Peyo Yavorov

[“Две души”]

I do not live: I burn. In acrimony raging
Two souls are dueling within my breast:
The soul of a devil, the soul of an angel.
Their breathing is flame and it gives me no rest.

Not one flame bursts but two – whatever I am touching,
And in each stone two heartbeats I hear clash…
Wherever I go there is an odious doubling
Of two warring faces, which vanish in ash.

And everywhere the wind that follows me is spreading
The ashes: all my footprints are effaced.
For I am not living – I burn! – and am shedding
A trail of grey ashes across a dim waste.

See original poem here.

Translation by Peter Tempest.

A Dead Soldier

by Dimcho Debelyanov

[“Един убит” – fragment]

He’s a foe of ours no more –
For a wave the storm was driving
Swept all enemy survivors
Over to the other shore.
Who is he? Where did he fight?
Whose call brought him in defiance
On a day of whirlwind triumphs
Without triumph here to die?
Was he coming here to show
Pity when the trumpet sounded?
It was death he sought – he found it.
Now he’s dead he’s not our foe!

See original poem here.

Translated by Peter Tempest.

Elegy

by Dimcho Debelyanov

[“Елегия”]

I wish to think of you forever thus:
Without a home and without hope, despondent,
Your scorching palm into my own palm thrust
And on my breast your sad face resting fondly.

I’ll leave at dawn, you too must come at dawn
And bring to me your parting look of sorrow
So I recall that sad fond look tomorrow
In that triumphant hour when Death calls!

And you release a palm that’s hot and flushed
And off you go, into the darkness peering,
Too weak to shed a tear, too weak and weary.
I wish to think of you forever thus.

 

See original poem here.

Translated by Peter Tempest.

A moan

by Peyo Yavorov

[„Стон”]

to Lora

 

My soul’s a moan. My soul’s a wounded dove.

My soul’s a painful, longing call.

A flying bird about to fall,

that’s poisoned, festered with this love…

My soul’s a call. My soul’s a wounded dove.

I ask you: what does make-up, break-up mean?

I’ll tell you: there is hell and pain I’ve seen –

and in them there is love.

 

The visions are so close, the road is long.

Her smile is curious and breezy,

her flesh craves flesh, her spirit easy,

but youth’s a blissful, greedy song.

The visions are right here, the road is long.

She’s glowing right in front of me, so near

and yet, who’s calling, longing, she won’t hear –

her youth’s an easy song.

 

See original poem here.

Translated by Georgi Ivanov.

I am in pain

by Peyo Yavorov

[„Аз страдам”]

I am in pain. And in a hard day’s work of self-delusion,

and in the self-dissolving peace of rest,

and in the heat of busy day, the zest,

and in some otherworldly dreams of cold illusion,

and when I fly and when I fall – my self I kill…

I suffer still.

 

And when I rise, I only rise to find

the gorge below me will expand;

and when I push myself up, try to stand,

my soul desires slumber, peace of mind.

And ever lowest low and far beyond again –

I search in vain.

 

I am in pain. And I gave up

the joys of life. I got fed up.

And when I’m pure, and when I sin,

and when it pours on me, and when it’s fair –

the pain is there.

 

And I keep searching. And maybe suffered life in vain…

Did I search pain?

 

See original poem here.

Translation by Georgi Ivanov.

Mother country

by Peyo Yavorov

[„Родина”]

I love you, mother country, and it’s pain,

it’s often angry grief, because of you,

(with hundreds little names) that bends me, too,

and I drag on, poor soul unmindful, with your chain…

 

But what are you? Some land of clean-cut border?

The dirt of valleys deep, the crest of hills,

a land just numb to heat and rain and chills –

today one folk, tomorrow others have their order.

 

Where are you, mother mine, I often wonder?

Amongst the wolves that prey and sheep that hide,

amongst the crowd that sloshes side to side,

spills far and back – that nameless numbers order?

 

Aren’t you the home of mother-song I knew,

that very thing that first caressed my ear?

Aren’t you that spawning spirit of sincere:

the fruit of words – of life that’s always new?

 

But it is here, right inside me, isn’t it?

Where all things past – a dismal echo – weep,

and where the future whispers when I sleep

its distant calls, and draws my heart along with it.

 

You are inside me, mother country, inward chambers!

And I have you, but joy and grief still blend,

because unwanted burdens my back bend.

And I have you – to be alone amongst the numbers.

 

See original poem here.

Translated by Georgi Ivanov.

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