On December 7th Bulgaria marked the 100 birth anniversary of one of its greatest poets – Nikola Vaptsarov. This is his last poem written at 2 p.m. on July 23rd 1942 just before he faced the fascists’ firing squad.
The fight is hard and pitiless.
The fight is epic, as they say.
I fell. Another takes my place –
Why single out a name?
After the firing squad – the worms.
Thus does the simple logic go.
But in the storm, we’ll be with you,
My people, for we loved you so.
2 p.m. – 23 July, 1942
Great Bulgarian poet Nikola Vaptsarov was one of the most innovative authors in Bulgarian literature and a man with a complex and tragic fate. He was born on December 7, 1909, in one of the most well-known families in the town of Bansko in Southwesten Bulgaria. His father was among the leaders in the fights for the liberation of this region which remained within the borders of the Ottoman Empire until 1912. Later, he was a friend of the royal family. Vaptsarov’s mother was a graduate of the American College in Bulgaria and instilled in her children a deep interest in culture. Vaptsarov himself graduated the Naval Machinery School in Varna (on the Northern Black-Sea coast). Gifted with a sharp mind and a literary talent, he had the opportunity to lead an undisturbed life with a secure good income. He chose the life of an ordinary worker instead, and thus shared the hard toil, unemployment, and poverty of his characters. He wanted to describe the big contradictions of the 20th century, to see the romanticism hidden in machines, and to voice his belief in a better and fairer world. In the 1930s, he joined the Bulgarian Communist Party. During the WWII, when Bulgaria was an ally to Germany, he was among the organizers of the antifascist resistance movement. He was sentenced to death and was executed by a firing squad on July 23, 1942.
“There are thousands of pages published on Vaptsarov – both biographical accounts and critical reviews of his literary works”, Katya Zografova, main curator of Nikola Vaptsarov’s Museum in Sofia says in an interview for Radio Bulgaria. During the Socialist regime, official editions of his works in Bulgaria included a preface that said that fate was cruel to Vaptsarov during his life, but generous after his death. This is beautifully put but it is not true because what does a generous fate mean when Vaptsarov was virtually turned into a monument… Later, after the democratic changes of 1989, some self-pronounced specialists in Vaptsarov’s works tried to degrade him and claimed that he did not deserve to be among the highest ranked names of Bulgarian literature.”
Katya Zografova says, adding: “Bulgarian readers discovered Nikola Vaptsarov when his collection of poems entitled “Motor Songs” was published in 1940, yet the book went unnoticed by the literary critics, neither was it promoted by some institution or by his leftist comrades. So, Vaptsarov was discovered by the ordinary people, by his readers. For this reason, no ideology was able to wipe out the love of Bulgarians for Vaptsarov. His writing is warm and compassionate, and he is extremely humanistic in his views. His poems express his love for his fellow-beings and have an intimate touch even when he deals with the most universal issues of history. This is one of the reasons he is so well loved by his readers because he seems to be talking to them as close friends do. Yet, despite the seemingly simple, easy and accessible style of his poems, they carry deep messages. He is one of the most often translated Bulgarian authors. His poems have been published in more than 40 countries and have been translated into more than 60 languages.”
Nikola Vaptsarov is the only Bulgarian citizen to receive the International Honorary Peace Award, posthumously given to him in 1952. UNESCO proclaimed the year 2009 as Year of Vaptsarov to commemorate the 100th anniversary since his birth. “Vaptsarov is a modern European and world poet whose works are increasingly sought by young readers”, Katya Zografova says.
“The young generation likes him in a very special way. Young people today are rather skeptically minded, they lack inner motivation and faith. At first reading, they see Vaptsarov as an incredibly naïve romantic whose utopist visions never materialized. Life still has not become “fairer than a song, more beautiful than a spring day”, as he writes. So, young people first read him with a disbelieving smile, but gradually grow deeply fond of him. Because if we don’t feel Vaptsarov’s faith for which he had to suffer so much, we will have nothing else to do but turn our homes into bunkers and wait for the end of the world. His works reveal the alienation between people, the pervading hatred and dehumanization of modern life and compares them to a universal gangrene and leprosy. He devoted his whole life and writing to his belief that we should have faith in mankind.”, Katya Zografova, main curator of Nikola Vaptsarov’s Museum in Sofia, says in conclusion.
A Song of Man
a lady and I
on the topic:
"The man of our time".
a peevish, excitable lady
Overwhelmed me with torrents
of muddled complaint
and a hailstorm of verbal
"Just a moment, - I said. - Just a moment!
But she cut me short, taking offence:
"I beg you, stop talking.
I tell you - I hate man!
He doesn't deserve your defence."
"I read of a fellow
who took up a chopper
against his own brother
and killed him.
and attended a service at church,
and afterwards said he felt better."
I shuddered in horror, and felt none too bright.
But I'm not
in my theory,
so I quietly said,
as an honest man might:
"Let's make a test case of a story.
The case took place in a village, Mogila.
The father had hidden
The son got to know of it,
took it by force
and then did away with his father.
But after a month, or
was it a week,
the authorities made an arrest.
But the court
doesn't function to give men a treat,
and sentenced the culprit to death.
They duly conducted the villain
they gave him a number and can,
but there in the prison he met honest people,
a real man.
I don't know
the leaven that stirred him,
I don't know
the way it was made.
But a song
much more clearly than talking
opened his eyes to his face.
And then he would say:
"O my God, how I floundered!
And here am I waiting
When you're hungry
you've only to make a false step and you sink.
"You wait like a bull for the slaughter,
turn about, in your eyes there's
is world order!
But perhaps we could better our life..."
He struck up his song, sang it quietly
in front of him
floated forth like a wonderful vision...
Outside in the passage
they talk in a whisper.
There follows a moment of calm.
Then somebody cautiously opens the door.
A few people. Behind them a guard.
One of them
in a fearsome flat voice:
"Get up on your feet, man!" he bawled.
The others looked on,
with vacant expression
examined the dripping grey walls.
The man in the bed
understood that right now
life had finished with him,
and at once
he leapt up and brushed off the sweat from his brow.
like a wild staring ox.
But little by little
the man understood
that his fear was no use,
he would die.
And a curious radiance
lit up his soul.
"Shall we go now?" he asked them.
and they followed after him,
The soldier thought:
"Let's get it over and done with!
You're a tight corner now, pal."
Outside in the passage
they talked in a whisper.
The corners were hidden in shade.
At last they came down to the courtyard.
the sky shone with brightening sky
where a star in its brilliance bathed.
And fell to considering deeply his
"My fate is decided,
I'll hang from rope.
But that's far from the end,
I would say.
For a life will arrive that is fairer
and more beautiful than a spring day..."
He remembered the song,
a thought flashed through his mind,
(In his eyes a small fire was kindling).
He smiled a broad smile full of brightness
braced his shoulders and then started singing.
What's you view of it? Maybe
you think we've discovered
a case of a complex, hysterical?
You can think just whatever you like of the matter -
today, my dear friend,
you're in error.
The man calmly,
sentence by sentence
so firmly recited the song,
that they stared at him
and watched him in fear and alarm.
And even the prison
was quaking in terror,
the darkness too panicked and ran.
The stars, smiling happily, shouted for joy,
cried out to him:
"Bravo, young man!"
From here on the story is clear. The rope
dropped on the shoulders, then
But still his contorted
and bloodless blue lips
to the words of the song were compressed.
And now we have come to the final denouement.
Well, what's your opinion, reader?
had started to sob,
the poor woman
as if in a trance began shrieking:
"How horrid, how horrid! You tell the whole story
as if you'd been there on the spot!..."
What's horrid about it?
The man sang a song -
and that's very fine, is it not?
English version: Rossitsa Petcova