(Dan jedan praznih očiju i zamagljena čela.)
Toga je jutra crna ptica pjevala u srcu mom:
bila je – bila! Tvoja mladost
i sve je prošlo s njom;
ne pohodi nas dvaput radost:
Crvljivo voće brzo zre;
a sužanj ne zna sunca ni neba
već brzo stari i brzo mre. –
Toga je jutra zlatna žica prepukla u srcu mom.
Ivo Andrić was one of Yugoslavia’s most famed writers and a Nobel Prize winner best known for his novel “The bridge on the Drina”; he also wrote poetry throughout his life. Born in 1892, Andrić spent most of WWI in prison or under house-arrest, which was when he drafted this particular poem. It’s odd to think that he was only 23 when he wrote it, in that he talks about a past youth; perhaps it was more a feeling of losing out on his youth during formative period in his life and in his country’s history.
His strong emotions are described as physical presences in his chest – the black bird singing and golden wire snapping in his heart. He also uses two images to compare to this sense of bygone youth and happiness. Firstly, by saying that worm-filled fruit ripens fast, and I’m not sure I follow this: is it that once the worm has had his share, there’s not much left of the fruit (as if happiness and youth could be used up the same way)? Is he suggesting that an eventful youth makes one grow up faster, grow wiser like a ripened fruit? Is the worm a symbol of the external forces which ate away at his youthful innocence?
Secondly, he says that a prisoner with no access to the outside quickly grows old and dies. This seems more straight-forward and is clearly an undisguised comparison with his own situation. There is something of a lack of subtlety in this poem, although the last line about a golden wire snapping in his heart is more ambiguous and suggestive. In any case, this is just a first, brief introduction to his early writing.
The first scene-setting line, which appears in parenthesis, seems to be a suggestion of his gloomy state of mind when writing the lines that follow.
In the poem, the black bird (not a blackbird) sings “bila je – bila!” (literally, “it was, it was!”) in reference to the poet’s youth. I had to find a word or two that worked in English (“once! / bygone! / passed!” etc.) and settled on “gone!” which comes across as slightly onomatopoeic, it somehow reminds me of Poe’s Raven squawking “Nevermore!”.
If we ignore the first line in parenthesis, then the poem has an ABABCDCA rhyme scheme. It helps that in Serbo-Croat, “youth” rhymes with “happiness” (“mladost/radost”) – not so in English… I tried out a rhymed translation but came up with pretty overused, unsatisfying rhymes (sky/die, youth/truth, heart/part). I preferred the freedom of the second, non-rhymed version (on the right).
Here I altered the punctuation and inverted the line about worms and ripe fruits so that from “Worm-filled fruits ripen fast” it becomes “As ripened fruits are home to worms”. Since, as mentioned above, I’m a little unsure as to the idea behind this line, it’s possible that this inversion goes a bit too far in altering the intended meaning of the image.
And what about that golden wire (thread/chain?) snapping in his heart? Why is it gold? In the Serbo-Croat there’s a nice balance between the repetition of sounds in “crna ptica pjevala” (“the black bird sang”) and “zlatna žica prepukla” (“golden wire snapped”). The first and last lines echo each other both in their structure and in this mirroring of sounds and rhythm. It leads me to imagine the black bird perched on the imaginary golden wire in his chest.
I couldn’t imitate this effect exactly in the English version, but a similar effect is created through the repetition of ‘b’s, ‘w’s and ‘s’s in “the black bird’s song rang in my soul”, and later, “golden wire…snapped within my soul”.
(A day of empty eyes and blurry mind.)That morn a black bird sang inside my heart:
gone – gone! – your youth
and with all else you must part;
we are happy only once, ‘tis truth:
Worm-filled fruits ripen fast;
and captives know no sun nor sky
so fast grow old and quickly die.
That morn the golden wire snapped inside my heart.
(A day of empty eyes and blurred mind.)
At break of day the black bird’s song rang in my soul:
The golden wire that morning snapped within my soul.