Ivan Goran Kovacic - Croatian Beloved poet of our times

Written by Ivan Marjanovic de Tonya on 04 November 2010.

Croatian Beloved Poet of Our Times
Blood is my daylight and darkness too.
Blessing of night has been gouged from my cheeks
Bearing with it my more lucky sight.
Within those holes, for tears, fierce fire inflamed
The bleeding socket as if for brain a balm –
While my bright eyes died on my own palm
(Krv je moje svjetlo i moja tama.
Blazenu noc su meni iskopali
Sa sretnim vidom iz ocinjih jama;
Od kaplja dana bijesni oganj pali
Krvavu zjenu u mozgu, ko ranu,
Moje su o?i zgasle na mom dlanu.)
(From „Matica” iseljenicki calendar, 1971)
These are the first verses of Croatian poet Ivan Goran Kovacic's poema The Pit”… This poema is a testimony to every sound and to every color of death approaching the innocent victim. This poema is a testimony to every drop of innocent blood spilt in slowest and bloodiest acts of international war crimes. This is the field of light and darkness, the field of thirst and hunger, the field of pain in tears - simply, this is, step by step, the poetic killing field of tears.
But, let us pause in a moment of silence... Glory to Croatian poet Goran, self nicknamed after the region in Croatia in which he was born in 1913. Only but a few photographs of Goran are known to exist. At only 30, this tall, h
andsome, burly blond-haired poet, who loved everyone and who was loved by everyone, was executed in 1943 for nothing but for loving his Croatian people and for beleiving in freedom, liberties and a better way of life in his native Croatia and in the world. Hence this essay by this author, who traveled to Croatia and to Goran's birthplace Lukovdol in 1987 to participate in most revered poetic get together of young and old poets from Croatia and from around the world at so called „Goran's Spring“ (Goranovo proljece), Poetry Festival which is traditionally held on poets birthday, on March 21st every year since 1955.
Dante – the prophet of laughter and tears; Shakeaspeare – the universally accepted teacher of drama and tragedy and sonnets to this day; Goethe – the genius of poetic spectacles in which love and characters go awry; Pushkin – the romantic and tragic poet, a storyteller from people for people who died in a duel at the age of 38 defending his wife's honor; Lord Byron – the flamboyant love seeker whose passion narrowly escaped even the hint of poetic incest; De Lorca – the precursor of modern day poetic avant-gard; Krleza– the gigant and a quiet gentleman whose mind never bent to changes in any social order; Dickinson – the misterious lady whose love for life was self exiled to darkness of a single room after publishing only 4 poems in her lifetime (more than 2,000 poems were found at her bedside after her death and were published thereafter!)... So many poets and writers and so many thousands of precious, brilliantly creative minds... Goran is one of them...
Ivan Goran Kovacic was born in 1913 in Lukovdol, a town in Gorski Kotar, a mountainous region of western Croatia. He was like all other kids who were born immediately prior to World War I. A large number of men from his hometown went to war and never came back. Women wept on streets. Church bells tolled marking tragedy after tragedy. At the age of five, he witnessed the Austro-Hungarian empire crumble in defeat. Goran was sent by his parents to Karlovac to continue his education. Here, in Karlovac, he wrote his earliest poems and short stories. His first poems appeared in High School years in many publications for young authors.
After finishing the High School, Goran attenden studies at Zagreb University, majoring in philosophy, never graduating. In 1932, Goran and onother two young poets published first collection of poems Lirika 1932. His highly acclaimed poems in kajkavian dialect presented a new poet of exceptional feelings and a poet who knew how to utilize the beauty of his native language with poetic gusto. He lived in a big city, but he never forgot his birthpace, the people he grew up with and the beauty of Gorski Kotar. – these became the main inspiration in his highest quality fast-paced novelettes, which he published in „Dani gnjeva“ (Days of Wrath), published by Matica Hrvatska in Zagreb in 1936.“
(Accordin to and as per Nikola Milicevi?c „Zapis o Goranu“ /An Essay About Goran/, „Matica“ iseljenicki kalendar, 1961)
What happened next, is of monumental importance to Croatian (and world ) literature. The same year, in 1936, Goran wrote his poem „My Grave“ („Moj Grob“) in which, for the first time, he prophetically predicted his tragic destiny:
„In dark mountain my mound shall rest,
Above, wolve's howling, and black branches' fest,
No one else shall come, but a friend dear, -
Upon his return, he shall straighten the trail of his tear.“
(U planini mrkoj nek mi bude hum,
Nad njim urlik vuka, crnih grana sum,
Nitko da ne dodje, do prijatelj drag, -
I kada se vrati, nek poravna trag.)
(„Matica” iseljenicki calendar, 1961)
This is the poem from which the moto for Goran's Spring had been „harvested: „No one else shall come, but a friend dear“ (Nitko da ne dodje, do prijatelj drag).
As the World War II flared up in Europe, Goran and another, elder noble Croatian poet, Vladimir Nazor, Goran's immediate mentor, joyned Croatian partisans and other British, French, Russian and American allies around the world in struggle against fascism and Naziism. During this time, Goran wrote a number of poems and Croatian most famous poema „The Pit“. Unfortunatelly, most of his works he had written during WW II were lost – only some of his poems were published or printed out.. This we know - Goran's destiny crossed quiet a difficult path...
For some unknown reason, even today Goran is perceived only as the author of one of the most authentic war poems, poema „The Pit“. But to understand Goran, means to dig deep into our Croatian history and even deeper into our Croatian culture and thus distinguish mits from reality. Goran was not a politician, and he was not a blind follower of the Communist doctrine. Goran was one of foremost Croatian intellectuals of his time.
„Nazor remainded me of Goran; I ask Krleza:
-         Goran was not a Communist, was he, when joining the partisans?
-         No, no, he was not, brother, he was a smart man and he sew where Pavelic's croatism was leading, so he ran to forests.
-         You asked him, as far as I know, to become the associate of “Pecat”? (“Pecat” (Seal), Zagreb 1939-40 - a leftist, prosocialist publication /periodical/ which promoted art as a political weapon - author)
-         Yes, but he was an outstanding member of Hrvatska seljacka stranka (Croatian Peasant Party), so he couldn’t associate himself with “Pecat“…
…- I also received the reprint of Goran’s “The Pit”, and I also have the original which was given to me by Malinar in 1944. (Andjelko Malinar, a close associate of Miroslav Krleza author)That poema was distributed illegally in Zagreb.
(Enes Cengic: „S Krlezom iz dana u dan” /With Krleza from Day to Day/, Zagreb 1985)
Therefore, Goran was a follower of Stjepan Radic, the foremost Croatian bona persona who directly dealt with Serbian counterparts during King Alexandar's reign, and who, following the unification of South Slavs, strongly protested against the all-Serbian hegemony thereafter.
Politics aside, Goran was a Croatian partisan and a perfect observer of imperfect world that surounded him from his birth. We must not overlook his short stories and novelettes. Those who did not read one of his kajkavian poems and novelettes so fondly structured around his people, the people of his birthplace, can not understand how righteous he was in his love for his people and for his (future) country at times of blinded ideals.
It is enough to read just a few lines from his story „The Millers“ to realize his brilliant painting of good vs. evil. As the story goes, a village had a Mill and a miller named Despot (Tyrant). This miller had five sons. As time passed by, sons grew up, devided the estate and lived happily thereafter. But new times arrived. In the United States, as news circled around, the Dust Bowl (in Great Plains of 1930s – author) was killing people and animals from north to south. Fires were destroying everything... People in Goran's story, by Kupa River, became jelous of miller's sons. As it turned out, the mill was set on fire and four people died inside the mill. And:
„The old mill villagers started farming. With millers gone quiet even the old mill falls went speechless. The bricklayers took the mill stones and used them in building the new houses.
-         It was (the mill – author) well insured! – whispered confidentially a farmer (seljak) from nearby. - It was worth it.
But at municipal cemetery four graves kept getting darker and darker, like curses...“
In „Seven Bell Ringers of Mother Maria“, Goran describes a harsh life of a village church bell ringer Jure Gresnik (George the Sinner). Gresnik’s wife delivered their eight child, a little girl. Gresnik can’t sleep, he can’t work. At the beginning of story, being illiterate, Gresnik writes a long, grammar imperfect letter about his eight girls to his brother in America and “seeks help”. Being familiar with Gresnik’s corrupt, tyrant and prodigal mind, his brother forwards a simple answer:
“Dear Jura!
You write you have eight children.
Dear brother, spit out over the threshold, not into the house, and everything will be just fine!”
As it turned out, the villagers, with the help of village priest, let both Gresnik and all his children ring the church bell in turns for decent pay. Some time later, bad weather approached the village. Gresnik’s two youngest little daughters, Branka (Defender) and Tuga (Sadness), start ringing the church bell. Suddenly, the hale destroys most of the village’s crops. Gresnik is blamed for the loss. Gresnik, who was known to occasionally use fault language, starts using fault language more often. His cursing irritates the village elders and they decide to elect someone else to ring the church bell. Disappointed, Gresnik hangs himself in the bell tower. Due to some “state ordinances”, a person who committed suicide, couldn’t be buried at village cemetery. Gresnik is taken far away from the village, to Gorski Kotar mountain forests, where a church bell could not be heard, and is buried in a deep pit, as to prevent animals from ransacking his grave. In final episode of this story, Martin the pot maker and his wife bring salvation goodies to former bell ringer’s widowed wife now in aftershock comma and to her children. The concluding sentence makes the point of this tragic story:
“Martin’s wife distributed cookies from basket to children.
-         Branka, don’t cry, father had a bigger funeral than the priest. The bell rang longer for him! – comforted her Tuga, offering the given cookies.
The pot maker’s wife broke into sobbing and hugged the children.”
Goran was in love with his Croatian people and with their ways of life, yet he never gave up in his yearnings for a more just society in a more just world. He could laugh with the witty Gorans of Gorski Kotar mountains and he could sympathize with the plights of Gorans living by the river banks. Women in Goran's stories are talkative and ever confronting each other and their men for spending nights at „krcma“ (tavern) and for pretending to pray in churches. Goran was very familiar with all aspects of Christian, Catholic religious rites and with all humor surounding accidental misgivings among the warm-hearted churchgoers. Very often he would let people from little towns and big cities confront each other in kajkavian dialekt:
„How much wood from our forest, from our town
Did the city swallow down!“
(Kuliko drv iz nase sume, iz nase sel
je grad pojel!)
Descriptions of Gorski Kotar's serenity and its natural beauty are candy-like scrambles of kajkavian words:
Through forest guides a tiny trail,
blue from shade, like sunray yellow an’ frail!
In it the trail of rabbit, deer,
and the wheel mark, deep, black in gear.”
(Cez sumo vodi mali pot
od lada plav, od sonca zot!
V njemu trag je zajcov, srn,
i zarez kola, glibok, crn.)
(From Matica“ iseljenicki kalendar, 1961)
Children in Goran's stories are good God fearing children, living the lives of more or less fortunate little human beings. Croats in Goran's literary works are authentic by their words and by their deeds, yet ever interested in the rest of the world.
And now, to understand the complexity of Goran's poetic achiewements and his bigger than life exemplary moral character, one must journey to the core of historic circumstances which yealded one of the most revered war poets of 20th century.
Rerely in history of mankind was there a poet who gave the world such poverful poetry in such a short time – he was only 30 years old when killed in WW II., in 1943. When we think about the avantguard writers, when we think of Yesenjin and Mayakovski, we think of Russian people; when we think of De Lorca, we think of Spanish people. Anne Frank? – dear Lord, without her diaries we would never be able to grasp the love for life by a young Jewish girl at the hands of Naziis in WW II. And, yes, in recent history, the diary of a Bosnian Anne Frank, a 12 year old Zlata Filipovic, for whom the ethnic cleansing in 1990s in former Yugoslavia is not supposed to make any sense. Therefore, without Ivan Goran Kovacic, our Croatian people and the peoples of the world would not hear such a powerful cry against wars and bloodshed among peoples of southern Europe and amongst the peoples in the world. Goran's trail of tears is a trail of destruction of a (Croatian and any other) people and its future freedom, liberties and the better ways of life, the ideals Goran gave his life for. Yet, Goran, by writing his poetic diary and by predicting and describing his own death in „The Pit“, believes in future of his people and in the future of the world.. „The Pit“ is a testimony of destruction of „goodness“ at the hands of evil forces.
„Goran's „The Pit“, poema in 10 chants, represents the highest point in his artistic creation. Devided in strophes of six verses (double classic Dante's tercine) – „The Pit“ in the form of poema presents psychologically and artistically powerful presentation of a disturbed life of a (war crime – author) victim...“ (Vera Balen: Ivan Goran Kovacic, „Maticin iseljenicki kalendar, 1958)
„The Pit“ is blindness symbolized by darkness in which, out of blindness, the froots of his, Goran's ideals - a light (freedom) - shall emerge:
„Who are you? Where from? I don't know, but I feel
The warmth of your light. Sing. For I feel in crying
I am starting a life, even though I might be dying.“ -
(Tko ste. Odakle. Ne znam, al se grijem
Na vasem svijetlu. Pjevajte. Jer cutim,
Da sad tek zivim, makar mozda mrijem.)
(„Matica” iseljenicki calendar, 1958)
Most talented poet of his generation, Ivan Goran Kovacic is at the same time most tragic person in newer Croatian poetry, in which he ensured his everlasting and notable place in Croatian poetry with his poema „The Pit“ (Jama), as well as with many poems written in kajkavian dialect of Lukovdol, which enabled him to express pain and cryes and curses and happiness with authenticity.“ (Vlatko Pavletic, foremost noted Croatian literary critic, 100 Poets of Yugoslav Peoples, „Mladost“, Zagreb 1984)
To be perfectly clear: 66 years after Goran's tragic death, we Croats and the freedom loving peoples around the world still attempt to understand ethnic cleansing, the killings, war crimes and rapes taking place even today around the world. To this author, according to history, Goran was a messenger of peace and hope. Hence, Goran, a Croat defending Serbs from his fellow Croats was killed by Serbs. This painful historical truth about humanity cheeted by crime, by Christian teachings, shall be forgiven but not forgotten.
This author was born at the end of World War II, therefore he was not a witness to any war crimes, be it in World War I, World War II and/or in civil and homeland wars in 1990's in lands of former Yugoslavia. This author merely repeats the lessons history teaches us today. This author hereby reserves the right to let the dead rest in peace and to admire the courage of those who suffered but survived and who are good human beings, good enough not to repeat the same mistakes. This author therefore respects true poetry but wholehearthly preffers peace and international harmony.
This author kindly brushes aside any and/or all politics, as secondary leading forces, and instead accepts the human and material sucrificies made by the United States, British and other alies, Croatian (and Yugoslav) partisans included in struggles for world freedom, world liberties and better way of life in the world. These are the ideals the American people died for in World Wars and these are the ideals that we, the American people, born here or naturalized, swore to protect under the United States Constitution. By saying so, this author also humbly bows to sacrificies Croats and other peoples from former Yugoslavia, Croatian poet and writer Ivan Goran Kovacic included, made for our future and for the future of mankind. Goran gave his life, so we can have a better life and a better future, politics having no place here, no doubt about it. The above are the ideals of Ivan Goran Kovacic. This is what „The Pit“ is all about, not about politics...
In 1991, at the time of siege of Vukovar by remnants of Yugoslav Army, this author remembered Goran and his poema „The Pit“. Listening to and reading what was happening to good willed and innocent Croats, Serbs and Bosnjaks and to their once more by war raveged lands, this author wrote a poem in memory of Ivan Goran Kovacic and his poema „The Pit“:
(For Croatian poet Ivan Goran Kovacic,
the author of poema „The Pit“)
Listen, how at midnight, from darkness, the wolves growl,
how, along the road, squeaks the half-frozen, white, fir-tree;
under the fir-tree gapes out the pit, bleeding corpses cut free;
above the pit, the midnight shadows, shoulder to shoulder, in a prowl...
On the bottom of the pit, the dead, forehead to forehead, in frozen sludge,
as if on order, the pupils, from darkness into darkness, stare:
the tears have long since rolled down into the icy glare;
in each dead look illuminates a burned down village in swollen smudge.
Look how the dead souls lag alongside the steady human trail,
wondering why the hungry typhoids, still, don't join in.
The dead souls are wailing, the wounds, old and new, hurt in spin;
hunger peeping from their garments, the dead souls lag so frail.
The wolves are howling, the bloody knife growls above the pit...
Under the kinife, father and son, butchered, are quiet by the moonlite.
The dead shadows, glancing at behind, turn yellow in fever, at the sight.
Down in the pit, corpses embrace; outside, even the death escaping the slit...
By Ivan Marjanovic De Tonya
San Diego, December 22, 1991
(Note: This poem was included in manuscript dedicated
to defenders of Vukovar, copyrights at The Library of Congress,
and in the manuscript dedicated and sent to Pope John Paul II.)
Ivan Goran Kovacic was only 30 years old when he gave his life for humanity. To this author's mind comes Jesus Christ – according to history and the Bible, Christ was only 30, or perhaps 33 years old when he gave his life for humanity. It is not coincidence that people die for the good of life at the begining of prime of their intelectual stature.. Herefore, a poetic (literary) question: can we imagine what Jesus Christ would have accomplished for humanity in his later years if he had lived his prime life? Can we imagine what Ivan Goran Kovacic would have accomplished in Croatian literature and in world literature if he had lived his prime life? Prophetically, Goran's life was sacrificied for this author's life too – so this author could be born at the end of a senseless World War and so he could, 66 years later, enjoy the froots of Goran's ideals, which are admired even here in this ever poetic and democratic America, where „The Pit“ is gaining acceptance as one of the greatest antiwar poetic works of the 20th century.
Like every year since 1955, on March 21, on Goran's birthday, yet anothet Goran's Spring will take place, in a different town in Gorski Kotar, as practiced since recently. This way, many more people will be able to join in celebration of Goran's contribution to poetic world and to humanity. Inspired by Goran's poetic masterpieces, yet another poet will receive Goran's Prize in Poetry for his or her masterfully crafted poetic work in Croatian Language.
(Ivanu Goranu Kovacicu)
Oprosti, Gorane, što u tisini ovog
Lukovdolskog žbunja
Tvoje kosti:
Krv slobodnog covjeka ne moze zaboraviti
Noz u grlo
I jauk, smrt
Sto je mucki vrebala iznad tvojih beonjaca.
Gorane, oprosti:
Pjesnici iz svih krajeva svijeta
Pjesmom te traze.
Svud gdje si bio, drska ostrica noza
Gdje je bila, na
Svakom koraku
Gdje je vuk jagnje klao…
Pjesnici, Gorane, tisini
Tvojih kostiju dosli su da se na suncu dive…
I gdje god pjesma slobodnih
Pjesnika, Gorane, prozove kao svjetlost tvoje ime,
Ova osuncana zemlja u dah kaze:
“Svjetionik u Lukovdolu stoji na strazi rime.
Ovdje je u oblacima sivim mrak na beonjace
Pjesnika pao!”
Oprosti, Gorane, sto u tisini ovog
Lukovdolskog zbunja
Tvoje kosti.
Pjesnice, oprosti…
Pjesnici još zive…
Pjesnici, Gorane, stoje u stavu mirno,
Kao pitomci najpocasnije straze.
I pjevaju:
“Nek ne dodje, do prijatelj drag,
Nek ne dodju oblacine sive!”
By Ivan Marjanovic De Tonya
Lukovdol, 21.III. 1987.
(Note. This poem in Croatian was included in manuscript
“Lirika sa Pacifika”, which was exhibited at Interliber ’05 in Zagreb.)
No matter what part of the world we Croats call our home, we are still Croats, we belong to each other and to our brothers and sisters in our homeland and we cherish with them our common heritage. According to Goran’s life story, and thanks to Goran, we Croats are part of a big human family – we are the band of brothers (and sisters) around this globe.
Peace and love were foremost on Goran’s mind in a world growing ever more hostile during his short lifetime. As Goran was loved in his yuth, he is loved by today’s young generation too.Just like Goran, we Croats are part of the world and as such we owe to ourselves and to the future generations a world in sustainable peace and in love for life. This we know - for only in peace our true colors and the true colors of our children will be visible. This we know – for only in love for one another and in respect of one another’s life can we have the future. The future with the rest of the world, the one which Goran envisioned but which was taken too early from his innocent eyes and from his big Croatian heart – the future with freedom, liberties with all our similarities and with all our differences, and the future with better ways of life Goran died for - shall remain ours.
This author toasts all good willed men and all good willed women of the world with a sip of Croatian „sljivovica“ plum brandy and wishes everyone peace, good health, many happy children and many, many good poems and many, many unforgettable life worthy stories.
* The End *

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