Milan Rakič: Želja

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A Wish

When for me, too, comes the time to die,
Lord, allow me to die during autumn nights,
smiling and serene in the power of youth,
under the sumptuous splendor of a September sky!

...O, to die so! Without screaming or people,
without the dull, stupid comedy of dying,
inaudible as dies the scent of a wilting flower;
and to erase life and all endless despair,

all this in one breath, in the power of youth,
under the sumptuous splendor of a September sky!

You would come to me without a tear in your eye,
though choked and torn apart with suffering,
you would hide your sorrow and your endless sadness
in the secret corners of your tender soul.

You would come to me, and with only one look
you would say a last farewell to an old companion,
and with loving tenderness and a modest kiss,
erase the secret, inevitable sadness.

Come! The time is now! As during happy days,
we shall go alone from the boring city,
we shall go alone to the pleasant regions,
far away from people, far away from sorrows.

...Above us the sky will twinkle with splendor,
and the soundless universe will embrace us softly....

Then I shall become silent, there are no more words,
all I will do is kiss your pale hand;
and breathing calmly, always more and more quietly,
I shall depart from life, from sorrows and grief,
carefree and serene, vigorous and smiling,

and close my eyes forever! And then,
mysteriously I shall feel as in a dream,
with the secret tenderness that falls from the stars,
and the freshness that rises from newly plowed fields,
the light of your eyes, so compassionate and loving.

       --Milan Rakič (1876-1938). From Anthology of Serbian Poetry: The Golden Age (pub. 1984), ed. (and translator) Mihailo Dordevic (d. 1991)

Kad i meni dodje čas da mreti treba,
bože, daj da umrem u jesenje noći,
nasmedan i vedar u mladačkoj moći,
pod raskošnim sjajem septembarskog neba!

....O, umreti tako! bez piske, bez sveta
bez dosadne, glupe komedije smrti
nečujno k'o miris uvenulog cveta;
i život i dugo očajanje smrti,

kao jednim dahom, u mladačkoj moći,
pod raskošnim sjajem septembarske noći!

Ti bi došla k meni bez suze u oku,
i ako te boli razdiru i guše, skrivajući jade i tugu duboku
u kutima tajnim nežne tvoje duše.

Ti bi došla k meni, i pogledom jednim
poslednje bi zbogom rekla starom drugu,
i miloštom krasnom, i poljupcem čednim,
zbrisala bi tajnu, neizbežnu tugu.

Dodji! Čas je kucn'o! K'o u srećne dane,
poći ćemo sami iz dosadnog grada,
poći ćemo sami u pitome strane,
daleko od ljudi, daleko od jada.

... Nad nama će nebo treptati u sjaju,
grliće nas blago vaseljena nema....

Zaćutaću tada. Nema reči više,
poljubiću samo tvoju ruku bledu;
i dišući mirno, sve tiše i tiše,
ostaviću život, nevolju i bedu,
bezbrižan i vedar, nasmejan i čio.

I sklopicu oči za navek! I tada,
osetiću čudno, kao kad se sniva,
sa miloštom tajnom što iz zvezda pada,
i svežinom skoro pooranih njiva,
sjaj očiju tvojih bolećiv i mio.

Chekhov on wishing for death in a hopeless illness


Whenever there is someone in a family who has long been ill, and hopelessly ill, there come painful moments when all timidly, secretly, at the bottom of their hearts long for his death.

        --Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), in "The Witch," chapter 4. Translator:  Constance Garnett (1861-1946). Quoted in "What broke my father's heart," article by Katy Butler in the New York Times, 14 June 2010

Czesław Miłosz: The loneliness of the dying


...when Giordano
climbed to his burning
he could not find
in any human tongue
words for mankind,
mankind who live on....

Those dying here, the lonely
forgotten by the world,
our tongue becomes for them
the language of an ancient planet....

      --"Campo dei Fiori," Warsaw, 1943.  Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004). From Selected Poems, 1931-2004, translated by Miłosz and Robert Hass.

Nikolaus Lenau: The sky brooding on its grief


In the face of heaven a thought is wavering,
the dark clouds there, so frightening, so heavy--
like the mentally ill in asylums--
throw bushes in the wind back and forth.

From the sky comes a gloomy rumbling,
the dark eyelashes blink many times,--
as eyes blink when they are about to cry--
and out of the eyelashes twitches a weak ray of light.

Now cool showers slink out of the bogs,
and light fog over the heather;
the sky, brooding on its grief,
lets the sun fall carelessly from its hand.

    --Nikolaus Lenau (1802-1850), pseudonym of Nikolaus Franz Niembsch Edler von Strehlenau, a Hungarian-Austrian poet.


Am Himmelsantlitz wandelt ein Gedanke,
Die düstre Wolke dort, so bang, so schwer;
Wie auf dem Lager sich der Seelenkranke,
Wirft sich der Strauch im Winde hin und her.

Vom Himmel tönt ein schwermutmattes Grollen,
Die dunkle Wimper blinzet manches Mal, -
So blinzen Augen, wenn sie weinen wollen, -
Und aus der Wimper zuckt ein schwacher Strahl. -

Nun schleichen aus dem Moore kühle Schauer
Und leise Nebel übers Heideland;
Der Himmel ließ, nachsinnend seiner Trauer,
Die Sonne lässig fallen aus der Hand.

Leo Tolstoy: Prince Andrei stops fearing death

Crop_keats_on_deathbed He dreamed he was lying in the room he actually was in, but that he had not been wounded and was well. A great many people of various sorts, unimportant people of no significance, appear before him. He talks to them, arguing about something trivial. They are preparing to go away. Prince Andrei dimly realizes that all this is of no consequence, that he has other, more serious concerns, but he continues to talk, astonishing them all with shallow witticisms. Gradually, imperceptibly, all these persons begin to disappear, and are supplanted by a single problem: the closed door. He gets up and goes to the door to bolt and lock it. Everything depends on whether he succeeds in locking it in time. He starts toward it, tries to hurry, but his legs do not move and though he knows he will not be in time to lock the door, he frantically exerts all his powers. He is seized by an agonizing fear. And this fear is the fear of death. It stands behind the door. But while he is helplessly and clumsily crawling toward the door, that ominous something is already pressing against it and forcing its way in. Something inhuman-- death-- is breaking in and must be stopped. He lays hold of the door, strains himself to the utmost just to prevent it from opening-- to lock it is no longer possible-- but his efforts are feeble and ineffectual and the door, pushed from outside by that horror, opens and falls shut again.

Once more it pushed from outside. His final, superhuman efforts were unavailing, and both halves of the door noiselessly opened. It entered, and it was death. And Prince Andrei died.

But at the very moment he died, Prince Andrei remembered that he was asleep, and at that very moment, having exerted himself, awoke.

"Yes, that was death. I died-- and I awoke. Yes, death is an awakening!"

And his soul was suddenly suffused with light, and the veil concealing the unknown was lifted from before his soul's vision. He felt as if powers that till then had been confined within him were liberated, and from then on that strange lightness did not leave him again.

When, waking in a cold sweat, he moved on the divan, Natasha went to him and asked him what was the matter. He did not answer but looked at her strangely, not understanding.

...With his awakening from sleep that day, there began for Prince Andrei an awakening from life. And compared to the duration of life it did not seem to him slower that the awakening from sleep compared to the duration of a dream.

        --Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), War and Peace (book 4 part 1 ch 16), tr Ann Dunnigan

Ancient poem from Georgia: Who ever heard of any son whom no mother reared?

The Youth and the Leopard

[A very young man has killed a leopard, but the leopard killed him too. His mother mourns.]

As she wept, she bound the wounds
the leopard's claws had left on her son.
"Child, you are asleep, not dead,
it's hard work that has worn you out...
This much, no more, I shall weep for you,
your death is not a cause for tears.
Farewell, the sign of the cross be with you;
for this is the gateway to the grave.
At least I have brought up one real son,
a warrior who fought a savage leopard."

As she slept, the ghosts appeared
now of the leopard, now of her son.
Now the leopard seemed to rip
the iron bodice off her son;
now it seemed her son was winning,
flinging the leopard head over heels.
And, strange to say, after such dreams
she would awake with sobs and tears.
At times she would think, "Who ever heard
of any son whom no mother reared?
Perhaps the leopard's mother tooSad_leopard_in_cave
is, like me, crying day and night.
I shall leave and go to her
and give her comfort in her grief,
so that she tells me all her tales
and I shall tell her of my son,
for she is sorrowing for her son,
killed without pity by the sword."

        --Ancient poem from Georgia, anonymous, published in The Elek Book of Oriental Verse (1979), Gen. Ed. Keith Bosley

Górecki, Polish folk song: Where has he gone, my dearest son?


Where has he gone,
My dearest son?
Perhaps during the uprising
The cruel enemy killed him

Ah, you bad people
In the name of God, the most Holy,
Tell me, why did you kill
My son?

Never again
Will I have his support
Even if I cry
My old eyes out

Were my bitter tears
to create another River Oder
They would not restore to life
My son

He lies in his grave
and I know not where
Though I keep asking people

Perhaps the poor child
Lies in a rough ditch
and instead he could have been
lying in his warm bed

Oh, sing for him
God's little song-birds
Since his mother
Cannot find him

And you, God's little flowers
May you blossom all around
So that my son
May sleep happily


   --Polish folk song in the dialect of the Opole region, set to music by Górecki in his Third Symphony; translated by: Unknown [Please tell me if you know]

Kajze mi sie podziol
moj synocek mily?
Pewnie go w powstaniu
zle wrogi zabily.

Wy niedobrzy ludzie,
dlo Boga swietego
cemuscie zabili
synocka mojego?

Zodnej jo podpory
juz nie byda miala,
chocbych moje stare
ocy wyplakala.

Chocby z mych lez gorkich
drugo Odra byla,
jesce by synocka
mi nie ozywila.

Lezy on tam w grobie,
a jo nie wiem kandy
choc sie opytuja
miedzy ludzmi wsandy.

Moze nieborocek
lezy kay w dolecku,
a moglby se lygac
na swoim przypiecku.

Ej, cwierkejcie mu tam,
wy ptosecki boze,
kiedy mamulicka
znalezc go nie moze.

A ty, boze kwiecie,
kwitnijze w okolo,
niech sie synockowi
choc lezy wesolo