||Who could this man be?
||he year 1836. The world was no better
and no worse than it is now, only different. Life was
less comfortable, but more easy-going. People could certainly
afford to take more time over everything they did than
those born so many years later. The stomping of horses'
hooves echoed on the cobbled streets and squares of Ljubljana;
instead of Mercedes, Audis and BMWs ladies and gentlemen
- in other words, the pillars of society - travelled around
in well (or not so well) upholstered coaches and chaises.
There were no problems associated with industrial air
pollution yet, although it was hard to breathe in the
narrow streets of this capital of the ancient Duchy of
Carniola: horse manure and the assorted rubbish the townspeople
dropped wherever it suited them, created more than ample
opportunities for the development of unpleasant odours
- people used to describe them as 'bestial'. Running water
was still science fiction: the Ljubljana authorities did
not build water mains until half a century later. Human
excrement would simply fall into open cesspits, so that
the smell spread far and wide; they were emptied only
when somebody felt like doing this unpleasant job. Slovenes
did not even have their own word for toilet: up until
1844, only foreign words were used - such a 'Abtritt',
'Privet' or 'sekret'. Only in 1844 did Kmetijske in rokodelske
novice (The Farming and Crafts News), edited by the vet
Dr Janez Bleiweis,
suggest the use of the word "vstraniše" for the contraption
which is nowadays taken for granted, as "we throw away
into it that which cannot go anywhere else" (Translator's
note: the Slovene word 'vstran' means 'away'). Thus it
is not surprising if towns then - just like medieval walled
trade and craft settlements - were still a breeding ground
of all sort of diseases. Tuberculosis, diphtheria, measles,
scarlet fever, dysentery, typhus, trachoma, smallpox,
various sexually transmitted diseases and, from 1836 onwards,
cholera, were everyday visitors to Ljubljana households.
Fire, too, was a great problem - particularly because
many house owners at the outbreak of fire still ran to
church to pray for intercession from St. Florian, instead
of taking action to extinguish it.
||Customs and habits
In general, people sought comfort in drink: the inns,
coffee houses, gin houses and houses of even worse repute
were full. Priests, as the professional guardians of public
morals, criticised and warned against various intoxicating
substances, but even their crusade against alcohol was
totally ineffective. The Slovene attitude to the "drops
which bring comfort to the needy" has always been marked
by broad-mindedness and tolerance (there are few other
Slovene words with so many diminutives as the word for
wine vino - vince, vinček, vinčece - although many swear
by 'fire water' as a much faster route to a false paradise,
which does not require you to pass water so frequently).
Secular experts also had to resign themselves to defeat:
the Ljubljana town medical officer Fran Viljem Lipič,
who completed his career as a professor at the Vienna
medical school, in 1834 published in the Carniolan capital
the world's first scientific anti-alcohol treatise, but
in spite of this the drinking did not abate. Not drink,
but sobriety was the enemy!
||The fashion of the time dictated that
ladies should wear various hats, decorative bows and long
skirts; for special evenings they also wore fancy crinolines;
waists had to be tightened as far as possible. Gentlemen
used to wear long trousers (usually striped or checked;
only now and again in the evening could you still see
wide knickerbockers with long silk socks, which were customary
in the 18th century), waistcoats and tall hats, and to
carry walking sticks; jackets were quite long, particularly
at the back, so that they reached down nearly to the knees.
In Ljubljana, trousers known as 'congress trousers' were
a particularly distinguished part of the male wardrobe
nearly right up until 1830 (in memory of the Congress
of the Holy Alliance in 1821). The 'best society' found
entertainment playing cards (the Bishop of Ljubljana at
the time, Anton Alojzij Wolf, was very fond of this),
at the theatre (even the saintly bishop from St. Ambrož
and later Maribor, Slomšek, would occasionally find his
way there) and on the dance floor: people would twirl
tirelessly, perspiring to the sounds of the waltz, the
(fast) polka, the galop, the polonaise, the mazurka. The
rhythm was dictated by the two famous Vienna band masters
Josef Lanner and Johann Strauß Senior.
||A new era is coming, the middle-class
Of course, the simple country-people could be differentiated
from the higher classes - the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie
- by their appearance: they were not just shabbier but
also different at first glance. According to the beliefs
of the time, adulthood came with confirmation (godparents
did not give their godchild a mobile phone, as it had
not been invented yet, but a wide-brimmed hat, which they
then wore at special occasions throughout their life).
Their dwellings were dark and humble; in some houses you
could even find domestic animals in the living quarters.
The impoverished peasants, cattlemen and carters had no
practical say in public matters: although having their
personal freedom, they still had to pay socage to those
with secular and church powers, who in return behaved
extremely arrogantly towards them. Thus, even as late
as the first half of the 19th century, a particular castle
official used to tell peasants in the Slovene part of
Styria that he was no more and no less than God's fourth
authority on earth. But at the same time, many were already
aware that the era of the millennium-long feudal social
order was running out. The industrial era was knocking
on the door. Its symbols were the steam engine and the
railway, and the words usually defining this era are progress,
technology and energy. In 1844, Bleiweis's newspaper drew
the attention of Slovenes to the fact that: "The one who
does not go with the flow of time, drowns." Urban life
was less and less dependent on the seasons: factories
worked day and night, flooding the market with their products
year after year. If in the past wealth and social prestige
were granted by the ruler's decrees on privileges, now
money became the deciding factor: it could buy practically
anything. Those in whose pockets coins jingled were considered
honourable and worthy of respect, as were those who could
boast a university degree. Whoever proved their capabilities
either through wealth or learning could count on being
listened to and viewed favourably by society. Among the
inhabitants of the provincial capital Ljubljana - in the
middle of the 19th century there were around 15,000 -
one could in 1836 come across France Prešeren. Nowadays
every Slovene knows this man, but this was not so then.
Not that he looked anything special. A man dressed as
they used to dress in towns - just like all the others
who had anything to do with the court. He was not as good
looking as his brother Jožef, who died very young and
had a reputation as "the most handsome student in Ljubljana",
but this does not mean that we should consider him ugly
or uninteresting in the eyes of the Ljubljana (and other)
beauties. (The well-off Miss Khlun from Graz, for example,
was very interested in him at one time). Anyway, the lawyer
born in the village of Vrba
in Upper Carniola at the turn of the century (3rd December
1800), who in 1828 graduated in law with distinction at
the venerable University of Vienna, was perhaps too often
busy with 'liquid matters', but who could begrudge that
to an unmarried man! No-one is perfect. (And in this context,
everyone is no-one.) After all, one had to relax after
a heavy day, as Slovenes even then - as today - put a
lot of energy into going to law, suing and defending and,
with the help of 'smooth-talking lawyers', appealing,
revising, recurring, protesting, complaining, liquidating,
arbitrating and subverting. In his later years, Prešeren
described his working day with the following words: "For
seven hours a day I work at Dr
Crobath's (i.e. the lawyer's office), so I can then
drink at old Metka's for two hours." But in spite of his
close friendship with 'demon alcohol', he never lost a
||Prešeren and Kopitar
Of course, people knew that Prešeren wrote poems. His
sonnets, written in German and Slovene were known in the
middle-class salons, whereas in the smoke and alcohol
vapour filled rooms of various drinking houses he was
more known for his improvised occasional verses, which
could not be printed because of the boldness of the thought
expressed in them or the critically-ironic causticity.
Words which appeared in public were under the watchful
scrutiny of the 'organs of public order'. In the imperial
capital Vienna, the very strict and conservative first
minister Clemens Count Metternich (1773-1859) was in charge
of government matters. He was not a stupid man, far from
it, but he found it hard to accept the constant change
taking place in the world around him. What he most wanted
was for everything to remain as it was. The crown was
on the head of the simple, rickets-afflicted emperor and
king Ferdinand (from the Habsburg lineage), who did not
interfere in politics. His most famous regal act was the
formulation of the sentence which history has remembered
very well: "I am the emperor and I want some noodles!"
Metternich created a network of police agents throughout
the Habsburg monarchy, which stretched from Italian Milan
in the south-west, to Ukrainian Lvov in the north-east,
and from Czech Prague in the north-west to Montenegrin
Kotor in the south-east. But above all he managed to muzzle
the press using censorship. Even though this was more
of a nuisance than a serious obstacle to the spread of
new liberal ideas (freedom, equality, brotherhood), it
was still bothersome. Many Slovenes also served the hard-driving
minister; the best known among them was, without a shadow
of a doubt, the pushy grammarian Jernej Kopitar (1780-1844),
who following his "years of education" in the Ljubljana
house of the enlightened noble Žiga Zois Baron of Edelstein
(1747-1819), took a job at the court library in Vienna
and then zealously climbed the official ladder. The terribly
ambitious Kopitar was quite a negative force: because
in 1808 or 1809 he had published the academically impeccable
grammar of the Slavonic language spoken in Carniola, Carinthia
and Styria, he maintained that he was now and forever
to be the first judge of matters relating to the Slovene
language. As a censor, he pressed hard on his fellow countrymen,
whilst being quite flexible towards the authorities. He
used to plot against all those who were slightly above
average: he spread vicious rumours against the poet and
linguist Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819), he baited the first
academic teacher of the Slovene language, Janez Nepomuk
Primic (1785-1823), who was employed at the secondary
school in Graz (Kopitar's insidiousness was one of the
reasons why Primic went mad) and used every possible way
of hindering the publication of Kranjska čbelica (The
Carniolan Bee), in which Prešeren published some of his
works. The hopelessly authoritarian Kopitar, who felt
threatened by virtually every literary gifted Slovene,
was of insignificant appearance, but tried to hide this
by keeping up with all the fashionable novelties and follies.
It is no wonder that Prešeren wrote the following satirical
sonnet on Kopitar's account (the original is in German):
||You've heard about the wicked designs
of the goblins:
how these red-haired beasts
greedily grabbed coins,
and yearned for the love of beautiful girls;
but when they failed in all their attempts,
they dragged the beauties up the slopes,
locked them inside high walls,
so that no-one could disturb their prey.
Don't think that this is just hot air;
I saw him, the disgusting pander,
that threat to pretty girls.
"Who is the sly fox?" "Mister Jernej
"And the girl?" "Slovene literature."
"The prison she's kept in?" "Censorship."
(Translator's note: in those instances where no published
translation of a poem is available, a rough translation
of the basic sense of the poem is provided.)
||The poet was not particularly kind to
the sullen Vienna censor, who was all but a happy man
in his private life, but he was not unjust to him. Particularly
not in view of the fact that Kopitar was an ardent supporter
of the eccentric grammarian Fran Serafin Metelko (1789-1860),
who created havoc among his fellow countrymen with his
ridiculous alphabet (he concocted it from Latin, Cyrillic
and newly made-up letters; it was a very inelegant and
unintelligent mess). Luckily, more sensible people, led
by Prešeren and his friend Matija
Čop (1797-1835), in a polemic conducted through letters
and in newspapers, blocked Metelko's alphabet, which would
otherwise have separated Slovenes from other European
nations not just in their language but also in the way
they wrote. Prešeren also wrote the famous sonnet on kaša
(porridge) against those advocating the new alphabet and
their Frankenstein leader from Vienna.
||Prešeren's poetic themes
The poet simply could not stand stupidity and tyranny,
in any shape or form. He unambiguously attacked the notoriously
stupid Slovene grammarians, who had long tainted the lives
of their fellow Slovenes with their desperately silly
ideas and petty whims. He also tackled those who prescribed
the direction literary development was supposed to take;
he dealt with these in his satirical dialogue Nova
pisarija (The New Writing) and in the parabolic legend
Orglar (The Minstrel).
In the latter even God himself warns his over-zealous
servant, who wants to teach the holy songs to the nightingale
as it celebrates its love:
||The nightingale is just and right
For what he sings is my command (
To him that I inspired I gave
The gift of melody divine;
So let him sing these songs of mine
Till he be silenced in the grave.
(Translated by Janko Lavrin)
||Everyone should thus live in harmony
with their inner self; no-one, however well-intentioned,
has the right to bully others. People should be accepted
as they are and not be asked to 'improve', 'correct' or
'adjust' themselves. Prešeren despised any curtailment
of freedom: it is thus not surprising that he did not
even have a watch chain (as was customary at the time),
as it reminded him too much of a real chain, a symbol
of serfdom. Nor did the poet observe the gloomy political
conditions at the time of Metternich's absolute rule with
indifference. At the sunset of his life, he wrote Zdravljica
(A Toast) which, under a banner of freedom, united
into universal brotherhood all people of good will and
all the nations of the world. Admittedly, this was Utopia,
but a Utopia that was worth imagining. Prešeren's poem
found an echo in the hearts of his fellow Slovenes; thus,
the following monumental verse became the central message
of the Slovene national anthem:
||God's blessing on all nations,
Who long and work for that bright day,
When o'er earth's habitations
No war, no strife shall hold its sway;
Who long to see
That all men free
No more shall foes, but neighbours be.
(Translated by Janko Lavrin)
||But Prešeren's poems did not all revolve
around the great theme of freedom; his verses were first
and foremost an expression of his powerful love - for
the opposite sex as well as for his nation. The love we
see in Prešeren's poetry has many faces: it can be full
of tender hope and open confidence, as in the 7th Ghazal
(No two who read
my verses ever think the same), but also of endless
suffering, as in the following sonnet, describing the
fate of an unrequited lover:
||Sometimes it happens that the Muhammadans,
the Buddhists in remote China,
or the people among whom Brahmins preen,
celebrate with their Christian captives.
The joy of the first three is shown by their loudness,
the trumpets' sound, the sound of flute with tamboura;
whilst the latter celebrate in the depths of their
in lonely corners, surrounded by darkness.
It was your name-day, and strings played loud,
they were rejoicing with singing and dancing,
all your happy friends;
whilst I celebrated with tears in my eyes,
in loneliness, my prayers for happier days
rose from my full heart and up to heaven.
||The poet knows both happiness and unhappiness
in love. The former is linked to the joy of literary creativity,
and the latter to the pain accompanying the recognition
that sometimes even total devotion, as well as the best
intentions and wishes, do not open the heart of the loved
one. Prešeren, who dedicated Sonetni venec (A Wreath of
Sonnets) to his chosen love - the delicate Miss
Julija Primic from Ljubljana - sensed that he would
be rejected (just like the unhappy Italian poet Torquato
Tasso, who in the 16th century adored Leonora d'Este).
||Since from my heart's deep roots have
sprung these lays,
A heart which can't be silenced any more;
Now I am like Tasso who of yore
Would sing his Leonora's fame and praise.
He could not plead his love whose tortuous maze
Bemused his years of youth, and fiercely tore
His life beyond all hope; and yet he bore
The burden he revealed in secret phrase.
My passion is aflame, although I find
Your glance gives me no hope when you are near;
Lest I offend, my lips are sealed by fear.
My poor heart's fate, so bitter and unkind,
My secret burden - all this they make clear,
These tear-stained flowers of a poet's mind,
(Translated by V. de S. Pinto)
||But he loves her no less because of
this. Like the other Romantics, he maintains that a human
heart can not be dictated to, as love is not something
which is exchanged (or even bought and sold) on the market
of dreams and reality. On the contrary: the heart dictates
to the individual, without taking into account profit
or loss. Love simply is - and if necessary, it spites
the whole world! You can never escape your fate. A real
love drama can be deciphered from Prešeren's poetry. Its
beginning can be seen in the verses:
||The years that endanger the heart,
the years of my youth, were taking their leave;
I had known beautiful local girls
and seen fair foreign daughters;
my heart's freedom was not taken,
proud thoughts arose in me
that love can do little or nothing
to the one that stands firm.
A virgin of heavenly beauty came,
but oh that I had never seen her face.
The red of dawn is shamed by her cheeks
and the burning heavenly stars by her eyes,
he will never recover whose heart is pierced
by the arrow of her clear gaze.
Who could describe the gentleness of her mouth,
or her seductive snow-white breast?
Here, everything is still well; not a cloud in the sky.
But the sensitive poet still can not be completely free
of worry as the circumstances of the first encounter with
the chosen one might have a deeper meaning, as we can
see from the sonnet Je od vesel'ga časa teklo leto (A
year has passed since the happy event). The joyful
Christian time - the birth of the Saviour Jesus Christ
- had passed long ago and the poet found himself in a
place whose name is more reminiscent of Christ's death
(Trnovo - a crown of thorns). The time is also all but
happy: the Saturday of Easter Week is in fact the day
of God's death (Prešeren does not mention "God's grave"
unintentionally). The birth of love, which is another
name for life or its source, is a kind of miracle at a
moment like that (a moment marked by death). But it is
a miracle only for Prešeren: other people, engaged in
pious tasks, see things differently; the mixture of religious
and romantic faith (a spark which cannot be extinguished
- an eternal flame - is its symbol) is for them an unacceptable
sacrilege. Prešeren's loved one also shares this opinion,
as the beginning of his love also means the beginning
of his misery. But (let us not forget here that this was
the time of incorrigible and inconvertible romantics!)
that was not a sufficient reason for a man to give up
his deepest feelings. Particularly if the man was a poet,
as he may discover in his hopelessly unhappy love - just
as in hopeful happiness - a source of the deepest poetry
(as can be seen in the sonnet in which Leonora and her
admirer are mentioned). Or to put it another way: even
unhappiness is not beyond purpose, even though that purpose
is sometimes hard to discern. But it needs to be said
that Prešeren sees this purpose very clearly in the Wreath
of Sonnets: his poetry wishes to awaken the whole
of "Slovenehood", that is to say all those who speak the
Slovene language. Here, the sensual love for a women is
linked to an active love for his fellow Slovenes, the
nation he belonged to. Thus, nothing is lost; nothing
is in vain - even though many things may be to no avail.
Primic of course did not return Prešeren's feelings.
Prešeren did not seem a solid enough man to her domineering
mother who, day and night, took care of the spiritual
and physical well-being of her beloved daughter. He had
a university degree, but had not climbed the ladder of
promotion at work as he should have done; he seemed unable
to get his own legal practice, thus acquiring a reliable
and, more importantly, sufficient income. But the poet
knew that himself, as he realised with bitterness in his
heart that wisdom, justice and knowledge were like dowerless
virgins (because it is true in all areas of life that
"only money can buy fame" and "a man's worth is measured
by what he can pay"). In those days, marriage was as much
a consequence of business as of love: the clever individual
married with riches in mind! Wealth woos wealth. Money
creates money (and misfortune creates misfortune). Anyway:
what was a man who announced his proposal in a newspaper
thinking!? (The wreath of sonnets with the acrostic dedication
"Primicovi Juliji" was published as a supplement to the
newspaper Ilirski list, which was printed in German.)
Had the era of troubadours and noble knights not passed
long ago? Even serenades were less and less common with
every passing night! No no, Prešeren was not the right
one. He could not be. He must not be! Julija's mother
probably thought something along these lines - and promised
her daughter's hand to the wealthy nobleman Jožef pl.
Scheuchenstuehl. The man was a 'good catch' whichever
way you looked at it, and on top of everything else he
could boast an aristocratic lineage. Of course, by that
time people knew that aristocrats had no 'blue blood'
running through their veins - they even had to go to the
toilet like everyone else! - but a pl. in front of the
surname (short for 'plemeniti', an aristocratic title)
still held a magic magnetic power for most of those who
could not boast of one. Prešeren's great contemporary,
the French writer Balzac, for example, put a lot of effort
into convincing people around him of his aristocratic
background (his surname should thus have been de Balzac;
because he was a brilliant writer, he succeeded in this
completely and the whole world fell for it, even though
it was a hoax: in fact, the man was a self-made nobleman!)
||Even though Prešeren was mercilessly
snubbed on the marriage market of provincial Ljubljana,
his ardour did not cool. This, after all, is not an emotion
which relies on the reaction of the other person or others.
Nature demands free passage - even though civilisation,
with all its conventions and prejudices, tries its best
to oppose it. Therefore the following sonnet,
written as a justification of the Wreath, was no surprise,
even though it raised a considerable amount of dust among
the upright townspeople of the Carniolan capital:
||He knew no prayer, the hard-headed knight,
other than the one in praise of she,
who became the mother of God;
but he always prayed with the right thought in his mind.
When his spirit broke free from his troubled flesh
the legend says a beautiful blossom
grew from his grave straight from his heart,
with letters in gold saying: "Ave Maria!"
From dawn until daylight turns to dusk,
my fiery song sounds out at night
only for you, and no other daughter of Eve;
that before death put out the strength of the flame
a wreath grew from my heart, forgive me,
which bears the letters of your name!
|| Prešeren, as a man of noble romantic
sentiments, could not admit defeat, even though he closely
resembled the limited hard-headed knight in the medieval
legend. Like a pious pilgrim he used to go to the studio
of his friend, Matevž Langus, who had been commissioned
to immortalise Julija's image (and whose name is spelled
out in the Slovene acrostic):
||Many a pilgrim goes to Rome, to Compostella
Or where St. Anthony guards Jesus,
they visit Trsat or St. Višarje,
or even Mary's Celje once in their life.
They yearn to glimpse images of life
in paradise. A trace of the shadow
from the glory beyond, imprinted on the altars,
cools the desires of their pious love.
And so to look at the image of the maiden,
The shadow of her heavenly beauty, a cheating dream
in which there is barely a trace of truth.
My desires command me to your home;
My heart is less tortured by the arrows,
The hours run quicker, the sighs from my heart softer.
||His friends' deaths
Even though Langus did his best to depict the freckled
Miss Julija (who on top of everything else apparently
had one shoulder noticeably lower than the other) in as
flattering a way as possible, it has to be said that this
portrait of Prešeren's eternal love is not a particularly
wonderful work of art. And anyway: a picture is a picture.
Which, sooner or later, has to leave the painter's studio.
And the poet was left to his own devices. But still, his
thoughts circled around a single matter, as his poem Kam?
(Where Now?) bears witness.
To add to his misfortune, death took from him one friend
after another: in 1835, when it was crystal clear that
Julija was beyond his reach, Matija
Čop, a connoisseur of everything beautiful and a sensitive
critic, drowned whilst swimming in the Sava. Five years
later, the unfortunate bon-viveur Andrej
Smole (1800-1840) also bade farewell for ever. He
had been full of grandiose plans for the blossoming of
Slovene literature. Prešeren glorified the memories of
both men with deeply felt verses: to the former, he dedicated
both a German and a Slovene elegy, as well as the relatively
long verse narrative Krst
pri Savici (The Baptism at the Savica), and to the
latter one of his most beautiful poems, bearing the simple
title V spomin
Andreja Smoleta (In Memory of Andrej Smole).
The "Baptism at the Savica" is a rather grim tale of medieval
battles between the invading Christians, who use not only
words, but also fire and sword to spread their message
(and to top it all, are helped by foreign, i.e. Bavarian,
military intervention), and the old Slovene pagans, who
defend the freedom of their people without any hope of
victory. The main hero of the poem, the pagan leader Črtomir,
after defeat on the battle field and because he loves
Bogomila, who has already accepted the new faith, converts
to Christianity and becomes Christ's soldier - a priest.
On the surface, this is a totally unheroic act: Črtomir
did not give up his life for his ideals. But what if there
is nothing beyond the grave? What if death is nothing
but an absolute end - the end of any purpose - and nothing
else? Why then sacrifice oneself? (And anyway: is physical
death the worst that can possibly happen to a man? Is
the worst not the death of one's spirit(uality), which
the body may even survive?) Prešeren, in his poems of
personal confession, never talks about what there is after
life: in the Sonnets
of Unhappiness and other poems which deal with human
existence and its cessation, he only says that there (i.e.
on the other side) is different from here. In The Baptism,
too, the curtain falls when the poet would have to say
something clear about the 'other side': Črtomir and Bogomila
part and never see each other again in this world. But
whether Bogomila's hope of meeting again in heaven is
fulfilled or not, we are never told. Thus, behind a relatively
simple story, there is a heap of hidden, crucial questions,
to which there are no answers. In the poem God remains
silent and does not answer people's fears or hopes. Is
it then surprising that the life of those people ("travellers")
seeking the truth in one of the Sonnets of Unhappiness,
is described as "despair", and its setting as an "abyss"?
The poem dedicated to Andrej Smole is on a similar 'wavelength':
all that can be said about the deceased is that he is
not unhappy - as he had been whilst still among the living.
Nothing else. No comforting thought about how a man is
rewarded in 'the other world' for his goodness (and the
poet says about his dead friend: "
There was no one half
so good in our city!").
||But let us go back to 1836, when Prešeren
published "The Baptism
at the Savica". Most of his poetic work, which had
slowly grown into the book "Poems", was already behind
him. He also had a clear vision of his future, as he jokingly
described in one of the early sonnets:
||Cupid, you and your beautiful old woman
will no longer lead me by the nose;
I won't sing your praises without pay
till the end of my days like poor Petrarca.
Parca has spun me a sufficient number of years,
what have I gained from my singing?
No girl has ever loved me,
I'll no longer burn incense for the two of you.
Your promises are empty jokes,
I'm fed up of serving you, who are so ungrateful;
the years ahead that are left to me,
I'll spend all day making a mint from lawsuits,
in the evenings, I'll empty goblets with my friends
chasing away the clouds of worry with wine.
||The backdrop to the drama of the poet's
life became darker and darker, but he did not stop creating,
even though it had become just another name for suffering
- just as it used to be another name for hoping (even
the truest expression of hope). In 1838, he wrote the
exceptionally carefully and rigorously formulated poem
Pevcu (To the Poet)
(all the stanzas in the original have their own final
vowel and are symmetrically arranged around a central
axis; there are fourteen lines, as in a sonnet), which
talks about the poet's fate in a very embittered way:
'Tis given to lighten the soul-fretting gloom!
Rout the vulture that seizes the heart for its prey.
From dawn unto darkness, from darkness till day!
How to blot out the memory of yesterday's woes,
And the eyes before threatening anguish to close,
To flee from today with the irk of its throes!
A poet is not vain if though dare
Both heaven and hell in thy bosom to bear!
To think of thy calling, and grieve without peace!
(Translated by Paul Selver)
||The relationship with Ana Jelovšek
The late 1830s were probably the lowest point in Prešeren's
life. He became entangled in a sexual relationship with
the young adopted daughter of the old Mrs Primic (the
girl was thus Julija's adopted 'sister', but had, however,
escaped from her adoptive 'mother'). But this love was
not a sacred altar to him, it was only a "beautiful thing".
The fate of their children was sad, as the parents, due
to financial hardship, could not take good care of them:
two died in childhood. The other, Ernestina,
who became a seamstress, later wrote a book about her
father in German. At the beginning of the 20th century
the poet Anton Aškerc published it in Slovene.
||In the forties, the skies cleared a
little (but sadly, not completely). In Ljubljana, the
Imperial farming society for the Duchy of Carniola started
publishing an agricultural weekly Kmetijske and rokodelske
novice (The Farming and Crafts News) (1843). Dr
Janez Bleiweis, the "father of the Slovene nation"
became the editor. He saw his role as a very wide one
and soon began to devote some space in the weekly to literature.
This was of great significance, as our poets and writers
had very few opportunities to publish their work. Prešeren,
too, took advantage of the opportunity. And after many
rejected applications, he also now managed to get a legal
practice in Kranj.
|| During this period, as before, the
poet took a keen interest in the world around him, in
spite of his increasing health problems. Thus, for instance,
he noticed and welcomed in his own way the arrival of
the then wonder of technology, the railway, in Slovenia
(the witty dialogue poem Od
železne ceste - About the Railway; in 1846, trains
started running between Graz, the capital of Styria, and
Celje). He also knew about the greatest musical virtuoso
of the first half of the 19th century, the Italian violinist
Niccolo Paganini, whom he mentions in the poem Ženska
zvestoba (Female Faithfulness) ("
he got used to playing on one string only"). He participated
as much as he could in the revolution of 1848, which not
only led to the ultimate demise of the feudal order and
did away with the much hated, humiliating socage, but
was also a real "spring of nations". As the unpleasant
censor Kopitar died in 1844, Prešeren was able once again
to start thinking seriously about publishing his poems.
Fran Miklošič (1813-1891), a liberal minded Slovene from
Styria, became the new supervisor of Slavonic print in
the Habsburg monarchy. He was much more generous than
his predecessor and did not create any special problems
for Prešeren. (In 1848, he also became one of the initiators
of the idea of a united Slovenia, as well as being a renowned
professor at the university in Vienna, and a member of
the Academy of Science there; the Emperor Franz Josef
even gave him the title of knight). Thus, at the end of
1846 (1847 in the actual book) France Prešeren's "Poems"
finally saw the light of day. The literary public - both
German and Slovene - received them favourably and Bleiweis's
Novice started referring to Prešeren as a celebrated poet.
But this success came too late. Prešeren's alcoholism
and physical ruin were becoming increasingly obvious.
In mid-1848 the poet, because of the suffering linked
to his unstoppably progressing cirrhosis of the liver,
tried to commit suicide, but was saved in time. He spent
the last few months of his life in a state of total despondency.
Various visitors appeared at his bedside: doctors trying
to cure him (but miracles are not within the domain of
their science; even the triumphs of the medical profession
are sooner or later buried beneath the earth!), relatives
enquiring about his legacy, and acquaintances one after
another coming to say their goodbyes. At the end, even
a priest visited this liberal-minded man and tried to
offer him religious comfort. The press, too - the public's
eyes and ears - showed a relatively high level of interest
in the course of Prešeren's illness, even though he was
not a prime minister, a president, a rock or film star.
And there was no shortage of news in those days: the Emperor's
grey-haired, eighty-two-year old field marshal, Count
Radetzky (who spoke Slovene; in Zidani Most he once addressed
the railway workers in Slovene and gave them money to
buy themselves a drink), and his regiments - the most
famous among them the "steel" 47th Lower Styria regiment
- mercilessly chased the Italians along the river Po;
in Hungary, there was an abortive attempt to remove the
Habsburg dynasty from the throne there and an unsuccessful
revolution; the Communist Manifesto was published and
threatened the capitalists on the workers' behalf
short, in the 19th century they really did respect people
of spirit, not just good looks or the mayflies of the
entertainment vanity fair.
||The poet died at dawn on the 8th of
February 1849. On the same day, the following obituary
appeared in Ljubljana:
of the National Guard in Kranj informed Slovene society
in Ljubljana that our famous poet, Mister
Doctor of Law, and Imperial lawyer, died on the 8th day
of this month at eight in the morning, after a long illness,
having received the final sacrament.
The funeral will be on Saturday, 10th day of this month,
at ten in the morning. We invite all his friends and acquaintances,
all the bodies within Slovene society and all Slovenes
generally, to come to the funeral in Kranj and pay this
famous man their last respects.
||Since then Prešeren has meant much more
to generations of Slovenes than just one of the nation's
literary figures. He is nothing less than our poetic genius.
He accompanies us from the cradle to the grave. Time moves
on, but Prešeren's work remains an island of permanent
beauty in a turbulent sea of change.
|| prof. dr. Igor Grdina
The text was published in the book Prešeren.doc, published