Mitko Madzunkov

The Birthplace of Literature


Oblivion is a synonym for absence and unreality. It resembles the time before one is born: everything is there, along with our parents—it is only ourselves who are absent. Remembering is a synonym for presence and endurance. It extends in the opposite direction, towards élan, the spirit of life—backwards, that is, not forwards in time. One of the greatest contradictions of life is that it is situated in the past. Even if the present moment were capable of encompassing all the essentials, these would be gathered from the past life, not the future. With the help of thought, we are able to inhabit space all the way back to its primal sources. Our mental presence in a certain period from earthly history could even possess a wider perspective within past reality when compared with the perspective of those who actually lived in that epoch. It is only our internal, living ambition which is directed forwards in time, towards the place reserved for other people and different encounters, yet without us. Recalling the past, however, is considered retrograde. The past remains unknown, while history becomes reversible. The eyes of mankind are directed towards the empty stage of the future while the past is left to the sciences and the arts. The most important thing in this division of matters is left outside the main currents of existence. No matter how despised, the past has a great psychological and marketing value. The past increases the value of the living. Hence the attempts of many scientific disciplines, such as archaeology, historiography, linguistics, anthropology, even poetics and hermeneutics, are often reduced to appropriation (‘whose is whose’) rather than to occupation of the past as an empty, uninhabited and purely spiritual space.


The interpretation of memory is a quest for words, artefacts and works of art which will affirm reality through the authenticity of that which was created in one territory. If you don’t know history, then know geography! Everything can be contested apart from the fact that one was born in a certain place. The primary subject of historiography should be geography. Events always occur in a particular place, in a certain space: this is what essentially determines them. National histories which are incapable of establishing this vertical are imposing their own limits, both ethical and ideological. The situation is similar with regard to literature. We may ask ourselves: “Isn’t this essence too banal, so that everything is taking place at a certain time and place; What, then, is the point?” The point is in the choice. We choose the time, but the space chooses us. When I say it chooses us, I mean it determines us. The national history of one people, for example, which takes place in one particular space, does not determine the events but does determine the substance of the events, and that is the subject, the instigator of those events, the people who lived or who live in that space. By taking this approach, historical questions are not solved or determined in advance but are clearly posed, while that which was not clear becomes proximate. Literary space connects narrative time and poetic experience to something which is close to us, particularly because narrative space, apart from the visible world, penetrates the limitless areas of the human soul. If there is a civilization vertical in the language and literature originating from a specific territory, this must be recognizable in the most prominent works of the authors of that territory (of that region!). If these signs of recognition are different from those left by the peoples of neighbouring territories, then this represents a sufficient proof of the particularity of that people and its works. Belonging to the civilization complex of global artistic tradition, which also includes neighbouring nations, tells us of the dignity and achievements of one culture. This paper intends to show this using the example of Macedonian literature: which specificities are its own and only its own; in which ways it is connected and inter-connected with neighbouring cultures; and whether its most noteworthy achievements possess a wider general significance.


What do collective and individual memory relate to in the finest literature? Firstly, they relate to a story which is deeply personal but has general importance. Secondly, to humanity’s universal myths. Thirdly, to the poetic metamorphosis of language. All of these things, when considered individually or collectively, have the function of preserving life-forms in a new but recognizable and persistent way. I will illustrate this with examples from world literature. Let us take the structure of the Mahabharata.[1] Vyasa is the legendary creator of this Indian epic. At the beginning, Sauti, the narrator, recounts Mahabharata to his listener, Saunaka. His manner of retelling shows that Vyasa tells the story in exactly the same way as he himself heard it from Vaisampayana, in the sacrificial snake pot of King Janamejaya Raja in Hastinapura. It is important to emphasize that Janamejaya Raja belongs to the same lineage as one of Mahabharata’s main protagonists, Arjuna, who is Krishna’s second half, as well as the earthly embodiment of Vishnu-Narayana. Arjuna is related to Vyasa, who is not only the spiritual but also the physical father of his heroes. Namely, Vyasa is Satyavati’s son (Shantanu’s wife, Pratipa’s son), who starts the genealogical lineage of Mahabharata. Vyasa is Vichitravirya’s step-brother, whose lineage he will continue by giving birth to Dhritarashtra, Pandu and Vidura. From the former descend the Kauravas, while from the latter descend the Pandavas: the two warring sides and the epic’s central theme. Pandu’s wife, Kunti, among other children, also gives birth with Indra to Arjuna, the father of Parakshita, whose son is Janamejaya Raja. In Hastinapura, following the wish of Vyasa, Vaisampayana retells Mahabharata precisely to Janamejaya Raja. Thus, the poet-ancestor addresses the King who is his last biological descendant, but at the same time the first in an endless line of listeners. The conclusion is told simultaneously by Vaisampayana and Sauti, thus creating a story within a story. This type of structure shows that the author is completely united with his work and his heroes, including the sky’s horizon. This is where the general significance of the text stems from—a text which is at the same time deeply personal—and this aspect bears the awareness of this significance. Hence we are not surprised when, at the end of the retelling, the prince-snake Takasha, while leaving in the night in the depths of the River Ganges, greets “first the poet, then the story-teller, and the king.” This order should be remembered.

One of the fundamental stories of humankind is that of banishment from Heaven and acceptance of the rules of a temporary and troubled reality as a destiny. Banishment from Heaven is the most well-known parable of man’s birth and entering into exile, into a life that ends with death. Death and disappearance are motifs which are complementary with exile and foreignness, as is the longing for return to the original state, to a paradise lost (a topic which at the same time confirms and negates life, nourishing a sweet utopia amidst bloody reality!). Literature does not have so many major themes. The history of world literature can be represented as a replenishing of the narrative map of the world, wherein major themes are replaced by minor ones. This means that “intrigue” replaces action along with all ideological, religious, familial and other temporary and private matters. Poor literature, apart from being badly written, also features a story which can be any story and anybody’s story, and at the same time no-one’s story. Good literature, apart from being affirmed as such by its every verse or sentence, follows those eternal themes and states which demonstrate changes in emotion and thought in general, changes in form within the framework of something which is permanent and of general significance, while being fixed upon one particular, changeable, sensually-recognizable and close world. There is no surer or better way of valuing the authenticity of literature than through the perspective of those universal stories—also seen as universal states of civilization.

The myth of the quest or journey, the leaving of one world for another world and the return home, is humanity’s central story, the principal theme of its anthropology and literature (as we know from Northrop Fry, Vladimir Prop and others). Going to the “tenth kingdom” and bringing back a shining (“golden”) object is the basis of all of mankind’s initiatory rituals (Prop). The maturing individual depends on this: one cannot be spiritually born as an individual until one symbolically dies; separation from one’s past life, from the collective and from the family, is the high price one has to pay. But in literature’s memory, in particular in folklore, the main actors in this initiatory transformation are not remembered as guides in the underworld but as ugly and frightening demons of evil. This shows that memory is related to sensory experience, while the story changes according to that which was remembered.

Remembrance in literature is remembrance on the road away from home and back home. The most general theme in literature is that of life bounded by birth and death, while its main motif is the search for the meaning of that life. In Dante, Odysseus is portrayed at the border of the known world, advising his friends to use the short night for their senses to become accustomed to the unknown. In Homer, the nymph Calypso offers love, wealth and immortality to Odysseus, but he prefers to see the smoke rising into the air from the chimney of his father’s house. This is one of the key spots in world literature. It denotes from whence and from what poetry is born: literature is born from the smoke which is everything else but that. Where one is born is where one’s remembrance is born. In literature, this remembrance is always chrono-topic: past life is connected to certain places that are related to memories which alone do not possess great significance. One of the most important comparisons in literature is the above-mentioned one of smoke rising from the chimney of one’s father’s house and immortality. If smoke is more important than immortality (and immortality is known as the highest goal throughout the centuries), we cannot help but wonder “then, what is that smoke like?” It is the smoke that is the birthplace of literature.

Literature is made up of images of ordinary things, it is made of breadcrumbs, nut-shells, hazel-trees in bloom, smoke. These images preserve eternity and represent eternity themselves: that is why they are more important than immortality, since without them immortality would become temporary. The simplicity of that which permanently ties remembrance is one of the most overwhelming truths of life, witnessed in the literature of all nations and all times. Homer’s Calypso cannot believe what she hears; she resembles a modern capricious star who thinks that the gods are depriving her of her luck because of jealousy and that there must be some rational explanation for the strange behaviour of Odysseus, who, instead of the promising life on the island, chooses sufferings in order to return home. He admits that Penelope is not as tall or as beautiful as Calypso. “She is only a woman, while you are immortal. Yet I want to go home and I cannot think of anything else.” The most exciting thing after his return will be precisely his staying at home, seeing his home through eyes that have seen strange lands: the unforgettable images related to the swineherd Eumaeus; his recognition by his faithful dog Argos; and, later, by his old wet-nurse Euryclea; and his encounter with his father Laertes in the vineyard.

Eternity cannot be captured without the positioning of these ordinary images of everyday life, images which make Homer unsurpassed till today. His spirit can be sensed in all other stories about the quest and the “return”. Let us consider the most well-known example, James Joyce’s Ulysses. Nabokov, applying his usual precision, excludes the false parallel with Homer’s epic, otherwise widely accepted by critics, and focuses on certain details which are essential for the development of literary ideas. One of these is synchronicity. Things occur simultaneously in two different places; the link between these events, which do not have any meaning at all outside the story’s framework, establishes the unity of the narrative time of 24 hours. Years in Homer became hours in Joyce; mythical time is condensed into one day, and this day (Thursday, 16th June 1904) is given absolute significance precisely by the emphasis put on the smallest details. These are the details which in a chrono-topic manner link the ordinary and the daily with the idea of being and eternity. Enumeration has a similar function. In Homer’s Iliad, in the Boeotian chapter, there is an enumeration of ships and heroes. This sounds monotonous until we understand that these are the heroes who are to die in the Trojan War and ships which will never return home. Long lists have a similar function in the work of Joyce. They position the material world inside its dramatic ordinariness. The horses running in a horserace and the ticket thrown in the Liffey are ascribed extraordinary importance: the results of the race and the journey of the ticket are to be followed synchronically through several chapters in order to show us that this is the eternity of everyday life and that there is not another one. In Homer the story is linked to wide spaces and a long time-flow; in Joyce everything happens simultaneously and in one place, in one city where every street, every pub and object play the role of the smoke rising from the father’s house. In this context, the quest of the imagined spiritual father Leopold Bloom for his spiritual son Stephen Dedalus is inverse if compared to the quest of Telemachus for his father and that of Odysseus for his birthplace. Molly Bloom is a significant reduction of the faithful Penelope, but her function is the same: she is the woman who is ordinary in everything but the feelings she has for her husband who is connected to her.

Literature’s ‘knot spots’ are part of one and the same branch. They can be viewed as a means of the development of literary ideas or the transformation of a plot (about which I have written elsewhere). They have their own historical vertical. One of the great mistakes of postmodernism is the conviction that everything is everyone’s, that spiritual products do not have an origin and a home. This is not valid for the sphere of spirituality simply because there are huge divides between original and falsified works. Alcaeus is considered the first to have compared human fate to a ship sailing on rough seas. In this case the name of the poet is not what is most important, even though it should be remembered; what matters is the fact that divine things have their origin and that language has its own forgotten memory, that metaphors are created by someone, that the story of the quest is eternal only for those who do not stray from that road. The one who was loved by Alcaeus and whose name was Sappho, the greatest poet of her time, established the highest norms of lyric poetry: namely, that words are immortal; that love, with all her temptations, is more important than everything else in the world, and that the individual is above the collective, that the individual emotional world is stronger than all armies.

In order to begin talking about literature, one first has to abandon all the usual stereotypes about it. For the majority, literature is a worldly space of painless and successful intrigues. Authentic literature is not welcome on the market, as it sells eggs different from real ones. When Flaubert writes that eggs are ordered in the form of a pyramid, this image cannot be fully conveyed by any film studio, as this metaphor contains the idea of the real pyramid in all its grandeur and all its related implications. If put on canvas this image would look like a caricature, while in literature these images are perceived as ordinary because they are built inside the language and literature begins where the known language ends and a new one ensues. What is remembered in language has a different existence from that which is remembered by the community or the individual. Language “remembers” (contains) meanings which sometimes appear and sometimes disappear in linguistic practice. Collective memory preserves only that which is saved from the black holes of the etymological sea. From a literary and historical perspective, the individual in poetry is as old as the collective. The development of poetry often represents a walk backwards, towards the ancient source (for example, from rhymed towards unrhymed verses). Modern poetic feeling is shaped from eternal poetic needs, which can be best seen through the possibility of creating new relationships with nature with the help of live metaphors.


Here I should like to reflect on the Macedonian context. We have a problem with naming, not only with how others have named us (and still do so), but also with how we name ourselves. This problem stems from the use of metonymy. It applies when something is being named with a different name, using the principle of proximity/closeness. The best known metonym in Macedonian poetry is the sunset in Konstantin Miladinov’s poem Longing for the South (Т’га за Југ), which refers to human death. And when this poet, or his brother Dimitar, say that they are Bulgarian, essentially this is also a metonym. This metonymical game begins with the movement of the Old Slavs. There is self-awareness (as in regional identifications), but the more general level is always accepted. Thus the original name Slavs corresponds with an awareness of belonging to the Slavic tribe in general, while later declarations as “Greek” or “Bulgarian” stem from an awareness of belonging within Orthodoxy or one of the Orthodox churches. Thus, at the beginning, in order to preserve religious affiliations under Ottoman occupation, there was a necessary connection with the Patriarchate, hence the metonymical acceptance of the “Greek” identification/name, while during the Exarchate there was a metonymic acceptance of the name “Bulgarian”, mainly because of the similar Slavic language. However, this poetic inclination—so obvious in our language and not only in poetry—has been misused. Saying one thing while having something else in mind is usual in linguistic practice. Even Odysseus changed his name in order to save himself from Polyphemus: but with this act he did not become someone else; on the contrary, this only affirmed the main attribute of his identity! The relationship between No-man/Nobody and Someone is eternal poetry. It is a centuries-old practice in Macedonia. Dimitar Miladinov could have taught Greek in the town of Sremski Karlovci and been considered Greek, but he affirmed his true identity with what he wrote in his Collection of Folk Songs.

Creative interpretation of history, based on metaphoric discourse, sometimes brings us more easily to the truth. It should not be forgotten that free poetic thought is a predecessor of science and philosophy. As the declaration of one’s identity can be metonymical, so the proofs in support of one’s identity can be indirect and hidden. For example, one of the key points in the Autobiography of Marko Cepenkov is the conclusion as to the importance of folklore for the survival of a people threatened with forceful acceptance of Greek identity. It is obvious that the people in question are not the Bulgarians, who for centuries had lived in a state of their own and at that time had an independent church, a codified language, an Academy, science and literature, but another people hidden under the Bulgarian name who lacked all these things.

In Mahabharata, Vyasa spent an “entire three years” composing the text inside his head. Once he had finished, he invited Shiva’s son, Ganesha, to write it down for him. Ganesha agreed, but “if you stop somewhere, I will get up and leave forever.” Vyasa agreed, but “under this condition: if somewhere you do not understand what I want to say, you will not write it down until you do.” This is the case both in literature and in life: it is useless to set conditions until one understands the thing.

Another proof of belonging, which is characteristic of Macedonian literature and is similarly indirect and seemingly contradictory, is bilingualism. Accepting the language of a more developed environment in a situation where one’s own language is not yet codified or sufficiently developed is not uncommon. But when this other, voluntarily accepted, language becomes an object of nationalistic manipulations, then the author returns to the embrace of his own language, even when he does not know it well—like Prlichev. His translation of Homer’s Iliad in an all-encompassing Slavic meta-language resembles the futile exploration of the roots of the linguistic tree, but this utopia has its metaphoric value, similar to that present in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, who also attempted the creation of a meta-language. Nabokov wrote that this is one of the greatest failures in the history of literature, and the same could be said of Prlichev regarding his translations; however, these attempts are colossal metaphors which tell us of identity and the aims of their authors.

When discussing the Macedonian language, one must mention Blaze Koneski. His codification of the Macedonian language, taking as its basis the central dialects, resembles a central metaphor. It is well-known that Slavic languages enter shadowy areas in border regions and gradually transform into other languages. Nowadays it is said that the Macedonian language was codified by Misirkov, whose contribution is precious. But then why does he call the language “makedoncki” (instead of “makedonski”)? Blaze Koneski is to be praised for the introduction for the letter “s” in our language, which appears as the first letter in many important words, such as “sun” (sonce) and “one’s own” (svoj). That is why Koneski’s language is the crown of his scientific work, but also of his poetry abundant with metaphors.


A central topic in world literature contained in the myth of the quest is reflected in another topic of Macedonian folk life, that of economic migration and longing for the motherland. In this context, someone once asked the question: “Why are even wedding songs in Macedonian sad?” It is because in these songs, as in everything else in Macedonia, the emphasis is placed on separation and not on meeting. The title of a folk wedding song, “The cherry tree snapped from its root”, refers to the fact that at the beginning of the wedding the bride is not happy that she is to have a husband and grieves the separation from her mother and her “dear relatives”. The topic is more complex, however, as the cherry-tree is a symbol of virginity. The uprooting symbolizes the beginning of new life and marriage which, for the bride, did not mean personal satisfaction and happiness but duties, hard work, births, worries. And where life is sad, similar songs follow.

One can sense here Nietzsche's concept of ressentiment. As if life were in the past, in what happened a long time ago, or in what is the private history of a village, a town, a family, or in the years related to one’s childhood and early youth; and as if everything in the future life is foreign, life in vain and eternal longing. Thus sorrow and nostalgia are complementary with joy, as there is not a feeling of love which does not include pain and separation—as in the words of a folk song: “I fell in love with a girl / from young to old / the time came for marrying her / but the girl fell ill.” Encounters exist in symbiosis with separations, and the same is true for joy and sorrow, the longing for the distant and the longing for the motherland; thus, everywhere in Macedonian literature where the pomegranates and the carnations are in bloom, where sitting “by the Vardar” is taken as a living personification, where the lakes are “darkening blue”, all these “signs of recognition” represent in our literature that which is deeply personal, deeply collective and at the same time deeply painful.

It is this variant which has become dominant through time, though it is not the most valuable thing in our arts; it is an archaic nostalgia which fixes memory as a butterfly stabbed with a needle, thus tying it to one moment which will later be repeated and re-lived while life passes by. It is life’s memory which neither remembers the road left behind nor recognizes the changes which have occurred in the world in the meantime. We have seen its remains in wedding songs, while its principal archetype is economic migration. The psychological profile of this archetype is the awareness of the fleetingness of life: someone goes somewhere, out of necessity, with the intention of fulfilling a task (earning money, getting education), in order to return again. The case of refugees is a similar one - with the same awareness of the temporariness of their stay, with the difference that it was not done willingly and they cannot return at will. In both cases a shared characteristic is the absence of life dynamics. The temporariness of the situation does not allow for the acceptance of the new environment as a new life, and this leads to a state of hibernation: time flows for the outside world. The subject imagines their reality as a suspended past to which they are awaiting return, to bring themselves back to life and continue the journey together. At the same time, the new environment is only a place of sojourn which is not real life. Life is something which is happening to others, while economic migrants spend their time in waiting. They have left with the baggage of the reality of the time of their leaving and there is no other reality for them. Hence it is clear that the nostalgia for the return to the homeland is nothing but a yearning, a dream, because the return to something which had been is not possible. The yearning is fixed upon something which is more surreal than real and the nostalgia endures, usually living longer than a life itself spent in futile waiting.

As mentioned above, the same destiny is shared by refugees who are called “first” or “second” in Macedonia according to whether they arrived during the Balkan Wars or after the Second World War. The former came from one foreign state to another, while the latter came from a foreign state to their own state; however, what was said earlier about economic migrants is also valid for these two categories: the temporary life is spent waiting, while the real one never comes. A third category consists of those who were expelled from our country, of whose nostalgia we know nothing although we can feel it. Their memories have also been connected to the same "topomastics” until they have merged with the national matrixes to which they belonged to or which they willingly chose.

Their story is still untold. Yet what we are interested in is not so much the historical framework but the way in which certain issues become collective memory before being described in literature. It is not the ambition of this essay to address this broad topic. The relationship between the individual and the community, the family and the nation, between national history and our understanding of it, between reality and dreams, and between material and imaginary life horizons, can be understood and viewed through the example of migrations, forced and willing movements and departures, when life erases the imaginary life between reality and memory and becomes but a handful of remembrances within a sea of oblivion. The history of peoples could be seen as a permanent shifting of grounds above which float the ashes of what can be summarized in one word: assimilation. No-one should be persuaded that the past life is contained in the multi-storey cemetery that at the same time preserves the forgotten, anonymous energy of generations: the word “food” (hrana), which derives from “сохранить” (preserve = bury) and which is preserved and buried in many Slavic languages, affirms this. This particular word, like no other, permanently preserves life within its secret etymology. How is it possible that the grave, food and preservation are all contained in one place? The graves of the ancient Slavs were beneath their thresholds; dead people were kept as protectors of the family, while food was rare and hard to be preserved, like the dead, so it had to be kept in dark and cold places resembling graves. Thus, life and death merged and intermixed, while all that remained was the word, open as a shell and dispersed through languages, yet hidden. That is the story of memory: memory is more able to preserve and keep us from across the border than we are able to preserve her from daylight. Everyone departed from somewhere and everyone arrived somewhere; everyone, sooner or later will negate the forgotten reality of the past life for the one which he himself established (remembered). But at this sensitive border between the day and the night, between the visible and the invisible, it is literature which like a spiritual force creates the painful story of eternal yearning out of the miniature remains of the past and the unpredictability of everyday life. And eternal yearning is nothing but another name for remembrance.


The poetic image is the birthplace both of our own and of world literature. The smoke rising from the chimney of the father’s house is one of these poetic images. The lake “blue by the wind darkened” is another. The lake is literature’s obsession, her permanent motif, as is the home, foreign lands, the surreal. One of the most beautiful lyric poems written in Macedonian is called Lake, by Mateja Matevski. There is present is also the motif of the grave. This particular poem contains that spirit of modern lyrics for which Milosh Crnyanski, after his return from London, would so praise Macedonian poetry. The connection of distant things; the cascade of light waters as in the music of Debussy; the pulse of the surreal among the flood of such obviousness.[2]

You are to me that lake. That beauty and a woman.
Sunday noon. A mast with forgotten wings.
I think you are present. But the shore is full of foam
As if you are not a lake and you have never been.

The poem Longing for the South by Konstantin Miladinov is unusual. I am not sure if there is a similar example in world poetry of a poet writing only one (high quality) poem at the time of the birth of a national literature and this particular poem being the best and most characteristic written in that particular language. In the context of our topic, the creation of collective and individual memory, it is important to emphasise that this ranks high in the sphere of one of the most central themes in world literature (the journey, leaving and return). The composition of the verse of ten metrical units does not resemble the same that is commonly used in folklore. There is nothing local in this poem: the place of return is very vaguely defined as being within the border of the Ottoman Empire (“to see Istanbul”) and later, as if in concentric circles, the poet focuses on the lake (“to see Ohrid, Struga”). The images used in the poem:

You see a clear lake whiten,
Blue by the wind darkened,

are still alive: they can be seen with one’s own eyes. They connote the unique feeling which is highly characteristic of our folk poetry: that death is not important—that in the world of beauty it even becomes something one desires. The last line of the poem: “That the sun may set, while I die” has the magic of one of the most beautiful paintings by Breughel, The Fall of Icarus. While the ploughman is working and looking at the ground and the shepherd is staring at the sun not knowing what is happening, Icarus has already fallen into the green sea: it is the setting sun which tells us the same as Miladinov’s last line: that the ending of a life is the setting of a sun. As if the impressive boat is mocking the flyer’s fate whose legs are half visible in the water. Maybe Turner was inspired precisely by this painting when he painted An English Packet Boat Arriving. This painting also portrays a sunset and the sea and the sky are as bloody as the smoke coming from the boat: after so many journeys, the boat is also going to rest. It is an image of temporariness, while Breughel’s painting conveys human indifference toward any flight. Konstantin Miladinov, on the other hand, as if he were a s soul-mate with Edgar Allan Poe, portrays the beauty of dying itself. There is no way which does not lead to the grave, and when the act of dying happens at home, amidst everlasting beauty, then death itself becomes beautiful.

In Prlichev’s Autobiography his mother says to him before he goes to prison: “Do not fear! There are hundreds of candles burning in front of St. Clement. If you are scared, my milk was in vain.” She is Neda, born of Homer’s epics, from the male characters: no heroine of Homer’s is so enduring. Her endurance is even painful; but, as a consolation, there is the flame of the candles in front of St. Clement’s icon. It is only he who could protect our “Second Homer”, a poet who would have received every recognition and prize had he remained in the embrace of the Greek language. Reality and poetry merge in Prlichev’s Serdar in a painful way. As Neda’s character is fully inspired by the poet’s mother, so the fate of the protagonist (Kuzman) is the imagined destiny of the poet himself: the candle at Kuzman’s grave is the one lit in the Autobiography.

Under the marble cross, on the Western side, one
Opening is engraved:
Continuously the candle shines with a pale flame…
Kuzman lies under the grave.

I described Prlichev’s grave in one of my earlier short stories entitled The Road to Lychnidos: “they have neglected the little grave.” Recently I visited again the same place behind the Church of the Mother of God Perivleptos; the grave is now well kept, but there were no flowers on it and no one around. What is given by God is preserved in the verses of Konstantin Miladinov and in nature. Lake Ohrid, as long as it exists, will keep the poet’s verses with its whitening and darkening. What is given by the people is missing on Prlichev’s grave. If Kuzman’s name is replaced with the name of the poet in the above-quoted lines there would be no change in the versification: Under the marble cross, on the Western side, one / Opening is engraved: / Continuously the candle shines with the pale flame… / Grigor lies under the grave. This would only confirm that the real grave of the poet is the grave of his soul, described by himself. The grave is not on the threshold of the house, but behind the altar of the church, in heavens’ heights, and no matter whether there is a candle burning or someone is around, the candle with the pale flame will shine continuously. Graves are always places of remembering, but it rarely happens that they are also the birthplaces of literature.

In order to illustrate the genius of Marko Cenepkov, I will point to his masterwork Silyan the Stork, about which I wrote a long time ago. In the context of remembrance, I will try to compare Silyan the Stork with Homer. In one of my previous papers, I mentioned that certain scenes from the sojourn in the “lower land” with Aji Klyak-Klyak evoke certain scenes with Eumaeus. But I did not talk at all about the main analogy related to the return home. For the purposes of this paper I have intentionally selected those scenes linked to the return of Odysseus, which are almost parallel to the return of Silyan. It is not my intention to apply the epithet “the Second Homer” to Cepenkov, but only to underline the obvious similarities. We could begin with the most important element, the smoke rising from the chimney of the father’s house. As I mentioned previously, this is the core metaphor in Homer, as smoke is more important than immortality. When Silyan returns home as a stork, having broken the bottle of water which would have brought him back to his human form, he lands on the chimney of his father’s house. Like Odysseus before revealing himself, Silyan also observes his family and the life in the house through foreign eyes. Odysseus was recognized by Eurycleia by the mark on his leg. Silyan’s sign of recognition is also a mark on his leg from an earlier fracture. The scenes with Aji Klyak-Klyak relate to those with Eumaeus, mainly because of their familiarity and pastoralism. Both the meeting of Odysseus with Laertes and of Silyan with his father are accompanied with miraculous stories told by the sons. The images connected with memory in both cases are similar in that they are simple and ordinary: we have mentioned their character in Homer, while in Cepenkov those images are linked to the “fields, the meadows, the vineyards and the plains”.

In Koneski's poetry there are images which are at once close to the folk being and entirely merged with subjective sensations. The Difficult One (Teshkoto) is a poem which is rich in patriotism and ideology but also possesses perfect form. It is composed of alexandrines sculptured in marble, with a clear caesura in the middle of the line. The first lines are among the most beautifully written, resembling those of Lamartine. They have engraved within the common emotion of our people a painful, wounded mood which cannot be compared to anything else. It has been years since I read the poem, but it resounds inside me with the same striking force. If I quote it, I do not think that I would get it wrong, the strict meter and the frightening sound lead me as if through an enchanted land. Those are the features of great artworks—when a sentence or a line can make up for what is missing. “Why I feel like crying like a child” - Koneski is a master of portraying those emotional states which seem impossible to express. Among the authors of his generation, he is the only one with such a well-cultivated syntax and it is precisely this syntax which gives the strength of morphology itself, being the inner order of things. Even today his poetry sounds modern because it contains all the elements which have made lyrics alive for time immemorial: coherent form, melody, and the ability to convey the most complex matters through seemingly simple linguistic means and precise metaphor, as in his poem The Angel of St. Sophia. While in the strong alexandrines of The Difficult One the fundamental feeling of pain and inexplicable sorrow correspond with the emotions of the entire nation, in the palimpsest of the Angel we see the painful consciousness of personal isolation and solitude. The angel which is sleeping below the fresco and will one day unleash its wings is a metaphor for the eternal spirituality and creativity of the people; but the same metaphor, when transposed onto the poet, speaks of the temporariness of the human being and “there is no painter that can save it.” When all the lights are turned off, man is left alone and this destiny of his is the fundamental thing: personal joy and personal sorrow cannot be replaced by anything which is anyone else’s. This is one of the most significant revelations in poetry’s history. These are the sacred places in literature where eternity’s energy is remembered, concealed in the seemingly dry seeds of words. It is enough that a human’s eyes shed light upon it for that the seed to start to grow and the eyes to fill with tears. True remembrance is always exciting and painful because it brings with it the awareness of temporariness, but also the awareness that, although gone, it exists: it is the consciousness of the real presence in the heart of existence itself. Memories from national literature contain the soul of every art: deep emotions connected to eternal images. Inexplicable sorrow, tears over the grave of one’s own soul or the impossibility of returning home are things which have been described by many authors in many different ways. What ties the above-cited examples to our soil are not only the waves, the candles, the strong mothers, the idyll of the fields, the meadows, the vineyards and the plains, the flutes and the drums, but our soul begotten by these images, born inside these images: this refers to all people, but it is only ourselves who remember it in this particular way.

(Translated by Ljubica Spaskovska)

Acad. Mitko Madzunkov
(Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Skopje, Macedonia)


The European project for poetics and hermeneutics, Interpretations, focusing this year on memory and art, should turn to the past in search of words, artefacts and artistic works which will confirm the reality of a certain territory through the authenticity of the works created in that territory. If you do not know history, learn geography! Everything can be contested except the fact that somebody was born in a certain place. If there is a cultural and creative axis in the language and literature created on a specific territory, this should be clearly evident in the most significant works produced by the authors from that region. Provided that these signs of recognition differ from those produced by neighbouring nations, they can be considered sufficient evidence of the distinctiveness of this nation and its creations. By becoming a constituent of the cultural complex of the artistic traditions of the world, which includes neighbouring nations as well, this specific culture only confirms its worth and achievements. This paper aims to demonstrate this situation with the example of Macedonian literature: what traits are its exclusive attributes; in what manner it is related or dissimilar to its neighbouring cultures; and whether its most notable achievements are of universal importance.

[1] According to the prose summary of William Buck. The quotations are from the translation by Meto Jovanovski.

[2] It is the same feeling mentioned in the context of foam by Goethe in the second part of Faust: “Look at her, like foam/ it is Lilith…” Or Vladislav Petkovich-Dis, in Maybe She is Sleeping: “As if my whole dream were made of foam.” Those are rare moments which are proof of the miraculous inner relationships between great authors.

На Растку објављено: 2009-03-03
Датум последње измене: 2009-03-09 21:46:09

Пројекат Растко / Проект Растко Македонија