KAŠTELAN and KRLEŽA into English




(Predvečerje u travnju l939)


I wave a green scarf at the new eve:

do not arrive, sweet eve, do not arrive.


I prattle with bloody hand to bright happiness:

I know no one of my dears, nevertheless.


Only love grows on with no doubt,

when the candle of our words goes out.


The yellow April rides a horse.

I’m buoyant.  I’m a boy.  It’s night.

Rides a horse.  Wears a sword.


A bullet flies into the tiny heart.

Waves a sword.  Rides a horse.






I sing the Slavic pain in pentameters

O my mountain, O lost childhood mine.

I have no wings, neither six-winged mace.

My hawk was shot and slaughtered in the highlands.

Moaning, moaning, stony-hearted mountain.

(From the book of poems The Red Horse, l940, banned and destroyed by censorship)







Gallop, my horse.  D’you hear the bugle?


steed of mine.


O rider, my rider,

is the way long?  Where is it,

your star?


D’you hear the neighing.  The drum.  The thudding.

And the clangor of steel,

D’you hear, steed of mine?


–Where is it, the dawn and the lance of sun.  And the well of clear water,

rider of mine?


Gallop, my horse. D’you hear the bugle?


steed of mine.

(From The Magic Flute, 1949)




(Pjesme o mojoj zemlji)




This is a beautiful country. Most dear to me. Nowhere so many algae

As in the bay of my childhood.  Meadows and unbroken horses.

How many rivers and waterfalls.  Come to us, friend.

We are on the Balkans.  In Yugoslavia.


We shall share bread and joy, and sorrow if you’re sad.

We know the pain of knife and throb of wound.

There are poplars too, sky-tall, and sun for all painters and bathers

and clear rapids. You can see for yourself, mind.


You shall see the whole country laid out. Such as it is.

And where the gutted shells were. We shall tell you all as you meet us.

There beside the building site: yesterday still gallows

where we rose in defiance with Tito.


You know where the Balkans are, Yugoslavia — right there.

A country of socialism. Come and see. You may by sea or by air,

Our truth is written down in blood everywhere.

Look and measure wherever you care.


This is a beautiful country. Most dear to me. In her we were

dying even for you, far-away comrade, as our folk can.

This is a beautiful country.  Socialism in the Balkans.

For you too, far-off comrade, our blood and dreams we did not spare.




Nine dawns down nine waters of yours,

only the price of blood flowing with might.

How many slaves, ferries and carters

in the black kingdom’s deepest night.


Nine dawns down nine mountains of yours,

town and country aflame with fire,

the head on a pike, corpses on a stake,

the half-moon rides on above them higher.


Nine by nine how many knives,

how many famines, how many a razed place.

O how many times did you, my country,

faced by the sword look death into face.


Nine by nine how many rivers of blood,

with nothing but keening, gallows and alack.

A mourning that made even the dawning morn

turn back into black night over your rack.


Nine dawns down nine waters of yours,

down nine mountains and ridges nine,

and the tenth is a joy that spreads its wings

like to the spring, this homeland of mine.

(ca. l948-49)








I count the tracks on candid snow.  Death upon death.

Death are all my tracks.


Death upon death.  Death upon death.

Death are all my tracks.


Each goes


to its



Each goes onward to its tomb.


as springs do

to their



Each goes onward to its tomb.




Whence this day, fiery dove on the palm,

whence this voice, on which shore does it grow

all dawn-born?  Hear the night when fires alight in the wood.


Whence this voice, on which shore does it grow?

In each track, on each step:  freedom, freedom,

freedom out of the wound, freedom out of blood does grow.


In each track, on each step freedom, freedom:

when songs are dying, you that are all love, as a wild rose on the wayside, as spread wings;


You that are all love, when songs are dying,

will you dying give off a living love-light

steel-rending, death-defying?


Will you dying give off a living love-light

which is born anew in every single heart,

will you sing dawn-voiced in the night?


If I fall in the dark, carry my greetings to the living,

carry from tomb to heart, carry through darkness

the song that dies not:  freedom, freedom.


+/ The typhoiders:  in Winter 1942-43 a typhoid epidemic raged among the Partizans.  Without medicaments and hospitals, the often delirious sick had to retreat with the main body through the Bosnian mountains, mainly on foot.






I saw her naked and loved her

with my eyes and hand and sadness in my palm,

I serpented as the serpent, I sickled with the sickle,

drawing water till I got unshod and tickled.


I loved the hands, I loved the woman, night street,

and a tercel and a cricket, a wicked one,

my turtle-dove, green pasture, young mare,

I ached with blood, I naked with dawn, the songster.




(Ako sam val)


If I’m a wave in this sea

that heaves and never tires

can it be that I’ve lived in vain

when no cloud but bears lightning fires?


I’m no he-man.  Ashamed.  Alone.

And my footsteps are dogged by sadness.

My country, you have town and garden:

who will give you such tenderness?





(Volio bih da me voliš)


I should like you to like me,

and be a flower in your hair.

If you are night, I’ll be the dawn

and the light-flash dewdrops wear.


I should like you to like me

and all the days a pealing bell.

If you’re a spring, I too shall be

in living stone a clear well.





(San u kamenu)


Only the sun, the sun,

and the gulls wheel in their flight

into your dream

on the stony ridge of Mosor.


O the winds, the winds,

only the winds know the warmth of your cheeks,

the breath

and the breathing of grass in the Karst-fields.


Tempest and rains

sing your lullaby

tempest and rains.


Only the sun, the sun,

and the gulls wheel in their flight

into your dream

on the stony ridge of Mosor.



+/ Mosor, a mountain near the Adriatic Sea. Partizan stronghold during World War 2.

(Translated April 1987)







(Dijalog u troje, ili ljubav bez krova)


–I gave myself to you; from you

I now shiver through and through.


–I too gave myself for you to enfold,

now I am distant, hard and cold.


In the entrails a man grows.

Happy, unhappy–who knows?




(Riječ mati djela)


The Word is a pregnant woman bearing giants.

Her nerves shriek and her womb rends filled with blood.

The axis of all things flashes through the Word.

The Word is a pregnant woman,

and the Deed,

that bloody giant,

is the quiet Word’s son.

The titanic and granite Deed,

rending the darkness like a volcano,

moving the stars like dice on a platter,

that Deed is child of the Word,

the still, aching Word, a pregnant woman

awaiting delivery, sobbing painfully at nightfall.




(Pjesma hromog djavla)


O why do these bells lament today in mist

and sorry trains of grey shades flow on?


It is the military, beating their rotten tambourines

and singing songs disconsolate, quiet, penitential

and lighting thrice blesséd candles.

They are bearing three-ribbonned black standards.

And blood is flowing.

And the cracked bells whimper.

And the guns bark.

And the weddings and mute funerals

all move today like lunatics.

And all the men today burn each other up with their glances

like meat-eaters foaming wolves.


O why do these bells lament today in mist and sorry trains of grey shades flow on?


O I see Thee!

And this is Thine host, O Lord! Lord! Lord!

It is Thy bells lament in misty songs

and Thy church swallows up the dead multitudes

and feeds on this rotten flesh. The beast!

And Thy despotic hand goes on reaping victims new.

Lord! I, Thine lame devil, I know who Thou art!

Lo, how long ’tis that I stand on the porch of your temple,

where the angels sing Glory unto Thee in holy golden veils,

and the saints snarl at me like to sharp fangs

to tear me apart: the lame wether of hell

shattering with his horns the iron-bound doors,

and kicking your stone jaws,

and breaking up your sacraments and your golden chests

and raging frenziedly in flame and anger.

Hey! D’you hear! Lord! Thou first general of hosts

for whom men beat drums and light tapers,

how many times did I chase Thee around the chapel?

When the broken windows tinkled in fright

I blasted Thy peace with the curse of hell;

how many times did I laugh at Thy lying rot?

And I know:  blood of Thine flowed down the steps.

And Thou didst fall.  And Thou art not, Thou art not…

Yet behold: under the standards hung with the Pope’s words

and Thy generals’ swords

Thy army sings the song of madness and evil,

and the battle-call echoes mightily among the trumpets.


But never mind!  For Thou didst fall wounded among the drums

and blood of Thine flowed down the steps.


(Translated April 1987)










Tira-lira, tiralee,

piped the flute under

the gallows tree.


Tira-lira, tiraloo,

the gallows are

for me and you.


My hat’s at a rakish angle set,

rain and wind

my coverlet.


Be Christens we or fiends of hell,

for us will toll the felons’ bell.


Thru’ all times and eternity

gallows are the remedy.


Streams of blood will flow away,

flow for ever and a day.


Out of this hell there is no way,

the lords grow fat, poor Tom must pay,

scarlet May-time, bloody May.


Tira-lira, tiralee,

piped the flute under

the gallows tree.




(Nenadejano bogčije zveličenje)

remembrance of a spanish painting


Unexpected divine augmentation

will flash forth upon us like the starry scintillation…


Of all cares and burdens final alleviation

the Lord of Heavens, our sweet aspiration…


What time the Lord God each our bruise

with his finger on Doomsday will soothe.


On that Final Day, the Day of Anger,

all the poor folk and every begging ranger,


Whom nobody ever cared about a whit,

will be as a cloud, a white, hazy light…


Where eternally holy days in holiday white shine

with music and flowers, rosemary and columbine


And in the diamond, velvet, pearly Sistine,

all pilgrims, whores, ragamuffins and blind

in linen clean with God

will dine and wine.




(Baba cmizdri pod galgami)


And what the devil are you snivelling about

you grimy peasant grimalkin,

because your son’s had the thieves’ ruff given him?

Only a fine rogue gets the gallows way out,

don’t drool, you stinking she-fool.


They could have stretched him on the rack,

wrenched his nails off with red-hot tongs,

Yet our Good Lord has kept you from all such wrongs

and delivered you forever of this firebrand man-Jack!


God’s disposal is stronger than man’s proposal,

stronger than God, by god, is Sir Earl.

Shut up or you’ll get one across your trap, old girl.


No use crying. In the tavern there’s a carousal,

your son’s friends are having a spree for his boon!

Come with us, Mum!

It’s too late going to mass in the afternoon!



  1. ON THE RACK++/

(Na mukah)


On the rack extorted avowals and forced confessions of the Stubica rebels Ellias Gregoricz and Michael Gossetich obtained by the officially empowered justice Juris Doctor Sir Johann Huetstocker as examiner in the Capital City of Vienna on the Fourth Day of May A.D. l573.


Blood, that salty, villeinous

Stubica blood,

that black, that crimson,

smelly, thick blood,

why flows there that dumb, blind, greasy,

horribly lukewarm blood?

Dark, deep, anguished, whereto, wherefore drip the drops of  blood?


Three hangmen, three hooded Germans, like to three bloody carnival masks…

In each rib a nail, in the flesh thirty and three nails,

blood bellows like a buffalo, like a mad dog it wails,

blood swears, throws up, frantically it tolls…

There is no lack of black in the blood,

not a bit, not at all, not even a whit,

the sleep in Spanish boots is cradle-deep…


Black-mantled, sweet-toothed, blood-licking double-crosser,

Court master of articles and paragraphs, engrosser,

cribber, fortune hunter, hellish intriguer,

officially empowered justice, doctor Huetstocker sir Johann,

Viennese man about town, neither fishy nor fleshy a one,

putting Spanish thumb-screws on, nails into nail-flesh,

three spoonfuls of pitch into the fretted ear-conch,

needle-sharp quills into frayed nostrils,

with cord, with axe, in sulphurous smoke

pickling the Stubica lads, skinning by the book…

Facing the Justice in Viennese slaughter-pens

the villein’s voice tapers off in the obscure dungeon:

judge bakes serf like bread-loaf in a bread-oven…


Doctors, gentlemen, wobbly-walkers, blood-lickers,

in right and justice legal double-dealers,

hangmen in velvet, holy anointed foxes,

what do they want from me, the crimson mask-bearers,

what do they sharpen their razors for, the masked reapers–?


Damned ball-cutters!  Carved up in blood,

in my dying shudders I swear by God:

I am no cheater, liar nor Pharisee,

I never worshipped idols, nor yet was heretic–

what do you want from me?

Where does that blood flow to?


That feverish, hot, curdled,

black with the blackness of darkness blood?

Why does it shriek,

moan, howl “there’s no sacrifice without blood,”

like a bell for conflagration the blood it bloodily tolls;

it booms, wails, rings out the alarum, thunders and rolls,

rends us, slivers, tears, bites, sucks and devours,

Bloody rood on a bloody road,

blood washes all our wounds in shame and flout,

Calvary blood, the only way out…


Sir Huetstocker, by God’s five wounds,

what do you want from me?

My blood has sprinkled truly and well

all the pettifogging corners of this hell–


Why did we rise?

For we knew not otherwise…

For otherwise we could not do!

What could we do?

Turn away, turn strangers, abscond abroad,

turn off, crawl away like dogs,

tail between legs,

try finding relief on alien roads,

as palmers, blind men, beggars,

rogues, botchers, rags and tatters?

The villein is chained like cattle to the baron’s land,

this hath not nor shall obviously ever have an end.


Like a ham in the pot I am being cured in blood

inside these Spanish socks…

All a-prick, purulent and bloody, muddy,

a carrion dog in slaughter-house stocks,

I bathe in the pickle of leeches, of bloody muddy breeches,

scorched and seared as dough in a moulding block.


Like a maimed caterpillar’s stinking sting

a hangman pricks my ears with sulphurous finger

to make me confess all, all dictate:

“rebellious traitor”!


What have I to confess?

Foxes and birds have their abodes,

but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head…


The blood won’t let me sleep…

Blood cannot sleep nor ever go to sleep,

as a bee it stings and burns.

As from a cistern bucket after bucket

the hangman draws vats of blood from our guts…

Blood flows like water, like a road,

like a mill it clatters, streams,

we follow it, we follow after our blood’s scream–

somebody waves a bloody sheet in the moon-beams,

somebody carries a lantern in distances dim…

Friars, judges, hangmen, mask-bearers–

blood burns, Holy Cross burns, Zabok burns, Celje smoulders,

like a bell for conflagration the blood it bloodily tolls:

jobbagy, pawer, bauer, rusticus, colon, villein,

from Mokrice, from Sanobor-ways,

lads from the badlands, pealing…


From Dobova to Windischland,

gunpowder, lead, flame and

up to Lublana and the bishop’s Capitol rises the serf’s band…

Blood drums up the Savinja, reaps Ptuy and Urmozh…

Friars, bandits, hooded cormorants,

gallows, bonfires, Szamszedvar on fire,

a bloody tulip-flower flowers in my hand…

Like horse-chestnuts the blood smoulders

on the muddy Stubica way,

thrashed within an inch the bitch is mum in a corner

under the stove, out of sight, out of harm’s way–

but for once like a flag it shall stream and sway

over the villein’s bloody vomit, over this black-and-yellow,

this bloody shame, clay of ours, this whole Calvarian frame…

What do they want, these bloody, black-mantled friars,

blood-loving blood-suckers, blood-gorging blood-lickers?


Like a woman in bloody flux I bleed here in front of them,

my entrails smoking like a rag in the chimney.

Seventyseventhousand bloods bay in me,

blood has been a-shedding very long,

and all is only blood and nothing but blood, bloody blood-money,

bloody waters, blasted bloody ravening ravens,

all a black, ravaging, bloody muddy way,

bloody heads, horses, birds and birds’ wings,

foot-rags, feathers, tatters, shirts and foot-gear,

bloody letter, gossip of mine, sit down and indite

to Szomszedvar,

where the whoremaster to end all whoremasters

catches the villeins’ blood in cloaks and platters–


Bloody tidings, shadows in the winds, moonlight overhead,

the Turk, Varazhdin, Kanyizha, killings, red, all red…

Pruning-hooks and axes, bloody Vienna, bloody Drava,

Lublana, Celje, the Sotla, the Danube, the Kupa, the Sava,

as viceregal flag there swims on the flood

a bloody villein’s head.


++/ The greatest peasant uprising in Croatia and Slovenia in C16 under Matija Gubec is recorded in this poem, which uses the actual records obtained by torture of two surviving peasant leaders. The center of the serfs’ or villeins’ revolt was in the region of Stubica, where it was sparked by the particularly obnoxious local feudal lord at Szomszedvar (Susedgrad). The other city and river names used delimit the domain of the Peasant War in an archaizing, dialectal diction.




Serenissimi Archiducis Caroli Generalquartiermeister Khevenhiller Raises by Villeinage the New Viceregal Fortress Carolostadium — A.D. l579


There never was a now

but it was somehow,

nor shall it happen now

without we’ll have somehow.


For because: if it were that it weren’t somehow

it were nohow, nor yet how it were.


For it was alway that it were somehow,

thus as it was, yet not that it were nohow.


So it will alway be that it will be somehow,

be that which will have been as it may have been.

For it never hath been that there hath been no thing,

thus it never may be that there were no thing.


‘Tis how ’tis, thus it ever was,

’twill be how ’twill be, yet somehow how ’twill be.


For there can’t be nor can it happen ever

that the villein shan’t have to do villeinage service.


It never hath yet been nor it may be ever

that the villein didn’t have to do retainer service.


Were anything anyhow yet it were ever thus,

how it was thus it is and it shall be thus.


As it ever was thus it must be always,

serfs have to go forth fortresses for to raise,


to bear mortar and dig ramparts and ditches,

running about with tail between legs like to bitches.


The villein doesn’t quite know how ’tis he doesn’t eat,

how ’tis he hath to go hungry, and field-marshals surfeit.


For we never had it anyhow but we had this to meet,

and the villein never will come to have enough to eat.


For this will never be in heavens or on earth,

finally the Turk will put us all under the earth.


Yet the villein doesn’t care where he kicks the bucket,

here, in the Zagreb cathedral, or in that thicket:


no other memorial his tomb shall grace

but a dog’s offal on a beggar’s grave.



+/ Petrica (Peterkin) Kerempuh is the Croatian folk counterpart of Tyll Ulenspiegel.  Krleža’s book of ballads in the kaikavian dialect from 1936 deals ostensibly with the bloody Medieval and Religious Wars’ period out of which that imaginary figure arose, and uses a quasi-Baroque black or gallows’ humour (Galgenhumor) tone.

(Translated April 1987)