Poetry on the side of love

From an unknown Bosnian poet last week, I’ve taken on a poem by one of the great Sarajevo poets: Izet Sarajlić. He passed away in 2002 having lived through two great wars, and I’m mostly drawn to the pieces he wrote in the 90s towards the end of his life. There’s an interesting interview in English with him here from 1998, in which the sadness and pessimism of his last years comes through: https://articulosparapensar.wordpress.com/2014/01/25/izet-sarajlic-poetry-is-on-the-side-of-love/

Much of his poetry is about love and home. He spent most of his years with his wife and wrote about their love until the end of his life, which came a few years after the end of hers. She seems to appear in one delicate form or another in most of his poems, in this one she is just suggested by the “loving you” in one line, by the “we” in another.

In the poem I chose to translate, I can almost see the old man wandering through a Sarajevo in ruins, recalling the “city of his youth”, in search of a street which represents him, which might one day carry his name. It seems that although a petition was launched after his death in 2009 to make this happen, as of today I can’t find a street with his name in the city.

The poetry of Izet Sarajlić is the opposite of pompous. His words are simple. He doesn’t seek complexity in his portrayal of the human experience. A street is a street, not an avenue, or boulevard, or promenade; love is love; death is death. No metaphor, no euphemisms, no synonyms.



Šetam gradom naše mladosti
i tražim ulicu za svoje ime.

Velike, bučne ulice –
njih prepuštam velikanima istorije.

Šta sam radio dok je trajala istorija?
Prosto tebe volio.

Malu ulicu tražim, običnu, svakodnevnu,
kojom se, neopaženi od svijeta,
možemo i prošetati poslije smrti.

U početku ona ne mora imati mnogo zelenila,
čak ni svoje ptice.
Važno je da u njoj, bježeći pred hajkom,
uvijek mognu da se sklone i covjek i pas.

Bilo bi lijepo da bude popločana,
ali, na kraju, ni to nije ono najvažnije.

Najvažnije je to
da u ulici s mojim imenom
nikada nikog ne zadesi nesreća.


I walk through the city of our youth
searching for a street to bear my name.

The wide, noisy streets –
I leave to the titans of history.

What was I doing while history marched on?
Simply loving you.

I’m searching for a small, modest, everyday street,
through which, quite unseen,
we can wander after death.

At first it needn’t be too green,
nor even have its own birds.
What matters is that in it
every fleeing man or dog may find shelter.

It would be nice if it were paved,
but in the end, that’s not what matters most.

What matters is
that in the street that bears my name
no one ever comes to any harm.


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