The poets and the world war: "Sumatra" by Miloš Crnjanski

Crnjanski in 1914
Miloš Crnjanski was born in Csongrád (Hungary) in 1893. He moved soon with his family to Timisoara (Romania) and grew up in a Serbian patriotic atmosphere. We can easily figure out that he is under special observation immediately after the Archduke's assassination in Sarajevo. In fact he was initially persecuted but lately sent by the government of Wien to the Galician front, in the summer of 1915. He was forced to leave the comrades for pneumonia and spent quite a long recovery period in the military hospital of Wien. After this time he took his place in the second lines, as telephone operator in a railway station. He published his first anti-war poems in the middle of the European havoc and carnage. In 1917 he attended the school for reservists and was assigned to the supreme command of the Austro-Hungarian army in the Friuli region, precisely in San Vito al Tagliamento (Northeast Italy). He wrote more than one poem dedicated to the experience of war and he also kept diaries (we remember The Diary of Čarnojević). The poem we propose today is not far from resembling the missing manifesto of "Sumatraism" and was written after the war. It's an interesting example of the poetry that was conceived after the disaster, a frequent situation we may find everywhere, with different tones and expressions, in the aftermath. Crnjanski's most renowned and translated work is Migrations ("Seobe"), which is also considered his masterpiece. He died in Belgrade in 1977.


Now we are carefree, tender and airy.
Let us think: how quiet are, the snowy
peaks of the Urals.

If we get sad over a pale figure,
whom we have lost on some evening,
we know that, somewhere, a rivulet,
instead of it, all in red, is flowing!

One love, morning in foreign land,
envelops our soul, gets tighter,
in endless peace of blue seas,
from which the crimson corals glitter,
like, from my distant homeland, cherries.

We wake up at night, smiling dearly,
to the Moon with its bow bent,
caressing the distant hills, tenderly,
and icy mountains, with our hand.

Belgrade, 1920

(Translation by Lazar Pašćanović, see also here for a French translation)


Sad smo bezbrižni, laki i nežni.
Pomislimo: kako su tihi, snežni
vrhovi Urala.

Rastuži li nas kakav bledi lik,
što ga izgubismo jedno veče,
znamo da, negde, neki potok
mesto njega teče!

Po jedna ljubav, jutro, u tuđini,
dušu nam uvija, sve tešnje,
beskrajnim mirom plavih mora,
iz kojih crvene zrna korala,
kao, iz zavičaja, trešnje.

Probudimo se noću i smešimo, drago,
na Mesec sa zapetim lukom.
I milujemo daleka brda
i ledenegore, blago, rukom.

Beograd, 1920