Friday, October 23, 2020

Poems of World War 2 - Josip Cazi and the Yugoslav Partisans



Through Forests and Mountains - Kindle edition by Walker, Margaret. Literature & Fiction Kindle eBooks @



                  Josip Cazi                                            

This morning Papuk was awoken at the crack of dawn, but not from birds chirping or squirrels clicking - a reconnaissance plane was searching over Papuk this morning, an ominous vulture in that dreary first light.

And round about the peak and its rugged sides ruby flares spread like blood into the branches of the firs, scarlet in the crimson dawn, as if snarling wings had cast over Papuk a bleeding squadron of fire.

The forest collapsed. Appalled and shaking, it roared and death flowed from the air like fiery rain. Lightning felled trees centuries old. Lucifer danced through Papuk and all its hell. Demons shrieked and shrieked all day, demanding the Partisans from the heart of the inferno.

But the heart they sought - in the mighty bosom of the mountain with its immense heartbeat - from it lashed hundreds of flaming arrows. From it shot thousands of thunderbolts, and the vultures slanted and slid. They overturned and fell in flames into the fiery forest. 
The wounded forest screamed appallingly: the cries of frightened deer and howling wolves by the thousand, in pain and with panicked voices. In the lake of fire flowers seemed to bloom, an inferno hissed from the surging flames, yelping and reeling.

All day Papuk was shaken, thundering and booming, all day Lucifer danced beside Papuk.
But now it is quietened and, as the day wanes, the glowing fires, in a hundred colours proud and exquisite, quiver in the forest, my mother.

And at sunset, Partisan songs sweep through it like an inexhaustible fountain. Along the slopes the column of soldiers moves out into the lowlands. They will go into action at night – the cycle of history is still turning. Above Papuk the fires die in the evening.



          Josip Cazi 

On rainy evenings we used to walk through the muddy factory town beside the Danube, Jelice, my blue-eyed girl - both tired from work.

But now you’re a fighter in the brigade of the Slavonians, my factory girl, the apple of my heart, whom I met on the slope of the mountain after many years. You used to be a child of the suburbs, the daughter of a fisherman.

Our meeting would be brief: a warm handshake.

Your mother?

     - in the camp.

Your house?

     - devastated.

Your fields?

     - unploughed weeds.

But the column of soldiers is moving on now. Again the brief grip of the hand, the regard in her blue eyes, lit up with joy. The warm trembling voice and sweet smile, like a fragrant, blossoming rose.

Jelice, my blue-eyed apple girl, my partisan rose with the wild hair, my fragrant quince in the blushing dawn, in pearls of dew.

My small hero.

Long ago you already entered the mountain peaks and I am still, for a time, down on the plains.

Through the forest glades and dewy shrubs I have a vision that the sun sent me your fragrant and dancing hair in greetings of golden ribbons.



         Josip Cazi 


Fireflies! In the bruised dawn the warm gold invigorates them. We are resting in the high mountains beside the forest. In the top of the beech tree, whose pearl overflows, a rooster is crowing at dawn and a blackbird plays on its silken flute.

The entire night we were in a hellish shootout and now we are in a meadow full of flowers. We are celebrating gladly by the woods and up the hill is heard the song of our comrades.

Hey, what are you singing about? About yearning, that like a barque sails through the soul. Oh, when I have a voice and when I sing the blood of my heart would pour into our song.

But you know how much I think about you, while my exertions mock me in the whistling shots and spattering shells, and death that follows them swiftly. My dear darling, this moment I am embracing you. This moment I care for you like a loving parent.

Oh, how I would love in any way to come to you, to lay your gentle head on my chest and shower you with kisses. After so many days and nights, my desire, my early dawn, my most beautiful flower among flowers!

Here in the sky the morning star is fading with all its grains of dazzling gold. Its name is dear to you, and so you are to me.

And the bird from our nest, our small son, our little treasure?

I heard that for fourteen nights and days you endured devastation while the mountains of Slavonia burned, with our toddler in a sling in your arms. The poor little thing, our white dove. Slavonia was a blazing sea. The villages were on fire, the bushes choked. Ancient forests – our mountain jewel and the shield of our land – all were swallowed in a fiery hell.

Oh, how you are, my sufferers? It was severe for you. Did the little one cry a lot? Where are you now? – for black sorrow gnaws at me. Over and over again I hope that I will meet you somewhere in some village, some refuge or on some Slavonian road. Your eyes are looking for me. My heart expects you.

Daddy! – some little orphan piped up yesterday as, all happy, he twitched my moustache. The grandmother scolded him bitterly but, to me, while I was caressing the golden strands on the child’s head, brimming tears trembled in my eyes – and I saw in my thoughts your two dear faces.


    by Josip Cazi  1941

At the first sight of our free homeland I sunk my head into the juniper bushes.

The morning smoked and froze. It expanded over the bay and the partisans held their rifles cocked in their arms behind a rocky outcrop.

Oh, free woods! Oh, free mountains! My native land!

I am kissing you, naked cliffs, full of zeal and joy like the son returning home to his old mother.


Hey! To the forest where the timid deer runs,

Where he smells the firs and the green pines.

To the hills where all wounds are healed,

Buds like flowers, in sunny freedom.

Hey! When would you come to me, my comrades, and rejoice, and with bowed head kiss the free cliffs over our bay.




Thursday, October 1, 2020

The Yugoslav Partisans and the Poems of Anđelka Martić



At the beginning of the twentieth century, two opposing political movements emerged from the fall of the old empires: the extreme right of fascism and the extreme left of communism. Today we hold communism in horror as something that restricts the freedom of the individual, but it should be seen in the historical context of those times.

Following the end of feudalism in Europe in 1848, there was a call for the national rights of individual countries that had once been part of empires large and small. Using Italy as an example, the Risorgimento became a movement to unify a country that had either belonged to a succession of empires or been independent city states like Florence, forever at each other’s throats. Italy was united in 1860, Venice was added in 1866 and finally Rome in 1870. If everything had stopped there, it might have been fine. Italian nationalism however, developed into ultra-nationalism and, from there, into a fascist empire in which Mussolini demanded more and more territory inhabited by people who did not speak Italian. Hitler was once known as ‘the German Mussolini’.

Enter World War Two and the Yugoslav Partisans.

Josip Broz Tito was a non-commissioned officer in the Austrian Army when he was bayoneted through the back in the Carpathian Mountains and taken prisoner by the Russians in 1915. Tito had no love for the Austro Hungarian Empire into which he had been born and, following his lengthy recovery, learned about communism in Russia. That he tended, nevertheless, to do things his way is illustrated by his break with Stalin in 1948 when Stalin attempted to boss him around. I spent two weeks in Yugoslavia in 1985 and, to me, it seemed a happy modern country.

Bearing this history in mind, I was delighted to read the poems of Anđelka Martić who joined the Yugoslav Partisans after her brother was killed in occupied Yugoslavia in 1942. I discovered her in 2018 when I bought a book in Rijeka called ‘Po Šumama i Gorama, Through Forests and Mountains, the Poems of the Fighters’. It was clear to me, as I read the poems, that the Partisans in Yugoslavia fought against fascism. As Basil Davidson writes in his book Partisan Picture ‘for them the equation was a simple one and, in destroying the apparatus of corruption and privilege and cruelty they understood by Fascism, they saw the way to their millennium.’

Anđelka Martić wrote her poems in Croatian. The verses are rhythmic and rhyme in either an ABAB or ABCB format. I’m still working on this in English, but for now I’d love to record the depths of Anđelka’s heart that I believe one can only find in poetry. 

TO MY FALLEN BROTHER by Anđelka Martić 

You’re gone, but the place in the line of soldiers

At which you waited is not empty,

Your young sister gladly took your heavy rifle

In her tender hands.

Now I am walking where you would have been, beside the mountain.

I am stifling my pain for you in a blaze of colour.

Dream quietly, brother, I know what you wanted,

Until the end your faithful rifle will be heard.

THE LONELY GRAVE by Anđelka Martić 

A lonely mound in a pine forest.

Silence everywhere, only the wind is whistling.

Somewhere far away, a lonely mother

With tearful eyes wails for her son.

But the trees in the forest, the branches sob.

They sway sadly, now easy, now more

Now the forest trembles again like her who calls,

Now the forest is stronger, it is ardent, it is calm.

Why, trees in the forest? Why does your wood

Disturb the silence on a peaceful day

And the scent of the flowers on the bleak grave?

This forest tells the story of that dead partisan…

It whispers to her about our struggle,

About wonderful life when the people win,

About our joy in the success of everyone

And how much these graves are worth!

And a long story about him while the darkness falls.

And when the dawn brightens the sky,

Then the whole forest shivers with whispers:

“Hail! fallen fighters, glory to you!” 

WHO ARE YOU? by Anđelka Martić 1944

       U listu “Slavonac” III. Bat., XXI, ud.div.

Who are you, who call us in order by our names?

Who from a distance come closer and closer, illuminated by the sun of joy?

Who are you, for whom lives fall, for whom they gently perish,

For whom our hearts will not stop yearning?

Who are you, who like a goddess calls us your own,

For whom the canons thunder, for whom we love to murmur,

For whom the villages long,

Without whom no one would want to live?

Who are you, who in ours ears whispers to us splendid and beautiful words,

Whom we think of in the fiercest colours?

What is your name, from where do you come?

O come soon, we desire you, we want your presence.

Who are you? What is your name?

O tell us, tell us, what is your lineage?

Through the mountains, through the gorges, the many rivers and fields,

Comes the echoing voice:

I am called freedom!

I am called freedom and I will come soon! 

I translated four of Anđelka’s poems and have two to finish. They reflect the beauty of the land for which the Partisans fought and which, it was clear to me, lay very close to her heart. She writes ‘Red [cyclamen] are everywhere through the forests where the fighters are moving. They see them and smell their pungent aroma. We twitch the gentle stems, we roll up the small flowerets and think it takes us back to the warm streams of our childhood. Once we ran in the woods, gathering red cyclamen. Our song filled the paths and tracks of the forest, but today the forests have become the graves of our fallen comrades.’ In her poems Anđelka first writes about the beauty of the land, but the tragedy of war always follows. ‘And so on a clear spring day, dreams are muddied by reality. But we are not sad because this struggle of ours, the story of thundering guns, concerns beautiful freedom.’

As Tito wrote, ‘Tuđe nećemo svoje nedamo.’
Tuđe means 'foreign' or 'other people's'. Nećemo is ‘we don’t want’.
Svoje is a possessive pronoun. It means ‘one’s own’.
Nedamo comes from the verb ‘dati’ to give. It means ‘we do not give’.

So ‘Tuđe nećemo svoje nedamo’ may be translated as ‘other people's [land] we don’t want, our [land] we don’t give.' 

My new novel about the Yugoslav Partisans will be published next year by Penmore Press. Its title is Through Forests and Mountains.