LETERSIA SHQIPTARE - Naim Frashëri (1846-1900)

Naim Frashëri (1846-1900)
| Saturday, 07.07.2007, 02:14 PM |  


Naim Frashëri
Naim Frashëri (1846-1900) is nowadays widely considered to be the national poet of Albania. He spent his childhood in the village of Frashër where he no doubt began learning Turkish, Persian and Arabic and where, at the Bektashi monastery, he was imbued with the spiritual traditions of the Orient. In Janina (Ioannina), Naim Frashëri attended the Zosimaia secondary school which provided him with the basics of a classical education along Western lines. Here he was to study Ancient and Modern Greek, French and Italian and, in addition, was to be tutored privately in oriental languages. As he grew in knowledge, so did his affinity for his pantheistic Bektashi religion, for the poets of classical Persia and for the Age of Enlightenment. His education in Janina made of him a prime example of a late nineteenth-century Ottoman intellectual equally at home in both cultures, the Western and the Oriental.

Naim Frashëri is the author of a total of twenty-two works: four in Turkish, one in Persian, two in Greek and fifteen in Albanian. In view of his sensitive position as director of the board of censorship of the Turkish Ministry of Education in which capacity he was occasionally able to circumvent the ban on Albanian-language books and publications imposed by the Sublime Porte, Naim Frashëri deemed it wise not to use his full name in many of his publications, and printed only a ‘by N.H.,’ ‘by N.H.F.’ or ‘by N.F.’

The poetry collections for which Naim Frashëri is primarily remembered were also published in Bucharest. Bagëti e bujqësija, Bucharest 1886 (Bucolics and Georgics), is a 450-line pastoral poem reminiscent of Vergil (70-19 B.C.) and laden with the imagery of his mountain homeland. It proved extremely popular among Frashëri’s compatriots and was smuggled into Albania in caravans. In it, the poet expresses his dissatisfaction with city life, no doubt from actual experience on the bustling banks of the Bosphorus, and idealizes the distant and longed-for Albanian countryside. It is a hymn to nature in the traditions of European romanticism and yet one of earthy substance in which, like Hesiod (8th cent. B.C.) in his ‘Work and Days,’ Vergil in his ‘Georgics’ or the great eighteenth-century Lithuanian poet Kristijonas Donelaitis (1714-1780) in his somewhat less idyllic ‘Seasons,’ Naim Frashëri sings of the herds and flocks, and of the joys and toil of agriculture and rural life. In the collection Luletë e verësë, Bucharest 1890 (The flowers of spring), he also paid tribute to the beauties of the Albanian countryside in twenty-three poems of rich sonority. Here the pantheistic philosophy of his Bektashi upbringing and the strong influence of the Persian classics are coupled harmoniously with patriotic idealism - literary creativity serving the goal of national identity. The verse collection Parajsa dhe fjala fluturake, Bucharest 1894 (Paradise and winged words), published together with the spiritual essays Mësime, Bucharest 1894 (Teachings), evinced his affinities for the heroes of the past and for the spiritual traditions of the Orient, in particular for the Persian mystics. Istori’ e Skenderbeut, Bucharest 1898 (History of Scanderbeg), is an historical epic of 11,500 verses which Frashëri must have written in about 1895 in his last creative years and one which the author himself regarded as his masterpiece. It also constituted the poet’s political legacy. Another work of similar proportions, published the same year as the ‘History of Scanderbeg,’ is Qerbelaja, Bucharest 1898 (Kerbela), a Shi’ite religious epic in twenty-five cantos, which deals with the Battle of Kerbela in Iraq in 680 A.D. in which Husein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed, was killed. In contrast to the ‘History of Scanderbeg,’ Qerbelaja is a narrative epic devoid of a hero or principal character. Many elements of Naim Frashëri’s religiosity are also present in Naim Frashëri’s Fletore e Bektashinjet, Bucharest 1896 (Bektashi notebook), which is of major significance for our knowledge of the pantheistic but secretive Bektashi sect of dervishes. Frashëri hoped that liberal Bektashi beliefs to which he had been attached since his childhood in Frashër would one day take hold as the new religion of all Albania. Since they had their roots both in the Muslim Koran and in the Christian Bible, they could promote unity among his religiously divided people. The Notebook contains an introductory profession of Bektashi faith and ten spiritual poems which provide a rare view into the beliefs of the sect which in the nineteenth century played an important role in the survival of Albanian culture, in particular by the illegal distribution of Albanian books.

The significance of Naim Frashëri as a Rilindja poet and indeed as a ‘national poet’ rests not so much upon his talents of literary expression nor on the artistic quality of his verse, but rather upon the sociopolitical, philosophical and religious messages it transmitted, which were aimed above all at national awareness and, in the Bektashi tradition, at overcoming religious barriers within the country. His influence upon Albanian writers at the beginning of the twentieth century was enormous. Many of his poems were set to music during his lifetime and were sung as folk songs. If one compares the state of Albanian literature before and after the arrival of Naim Frashëri, one becomes aware of the major role he played in transforming Albanian into a literary language of substantial refinement.


Oh mountains of Albania

Oh mountains of Albania and you, oh trees so lofty,
Broad plains with all your flowers, day and night I contemplate you,
You highlands so exquisite, and you streams and rivers sparkling,
Oh peaks and promontories, and you slopes, cliffs, verdant forests,
Of the herds and flocks I'll sing out which you hold and which you nourish.
Oh you blessed, sacred places, you inspire and delight me!
         You, Albania, give me honour, and you name me as Albanian,
And my heart you have replenished both with ardour and desire.
         Albania! Oh my mother! Though in exile I am longing,
My heart has ne'er forgotten all the love you've given to me.
         When a lambkin from its flock strays and does hear its mother's bleating,
Once or twice it will give answer and will flee in her direction,
Were others, twenty-thirty fold, to block its path and scare it,
Despite its fright it would return, pass through them like an arrow,
Thus my wretched heart in exile, here in foreign land awaiting,
Hastens back unto that country, swift advancing and in longing.
         Where cold spring water bubbles and cool breezes blow in summer,
Where the foliage grows so fairly, where the flowers have such fragrance,
Where the shepherd plays his reed pipe to the grazing of the cattle,
Where the goats, their bells resounding, rest, yes 'tis the land I long for.


[excerpt from O Malet' e Shqipërisë, from the volume Bagëti e bujqësija, Bucharest 1886. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

The Words of the Candle

Here among you have I risen,
And aflame am I now blazing,
Just a bit of light to give you,
That I change your night to daytime,
I'll combust and I will wither,
Be consumed and be extinguished,
Just to give you brightness, vision,
That you notice one another,
For you will I fade and tarnish,
Of me there will be no remnant,
I will burn, in tears lamenting,
My desire I cannot suffer.
Of the fire I am not fearful,
I will never be extinguished
If I burn of my desire,
Try to shine as best I'm able.
When you see that I have vanished,
Do not think that I have perished,
I'm alive, among the living,
In the rays of truth I'm standing,
In your souls do I take refuge,
Do not think I'm stranger to you,
Patience was bestowed upon me,
Thus I glow with steadfast courage,
Doing good is all I long for,
That you not remain in darkness.
Forward now and gather 'round me
Talk, smile, eat, drink and make merry,
Love within my soul is harboured,
Yes, for mankind am I burning,
Let me melt and let me smoulder,
To grow cold I do not wish for.
Let my wretched corpse be consumed
For our true God the Almighty,
May my lungs scorch, charred to ashes,
For mankind I'll melt and vanish,
With me all man's joys I'll carry,
Bear them to the Lord Almighty.
Humanity is what I long for,
Goodness, gentleness and wisdom,
If you'll with me be companions?
If you'll love me as I love you,
If you all love one another,
Work not for the Prince of Darkness.
Venture towards me, fleeting heart, do
Come, approach this fire a little!
Though the flame may singe your wings, it's
Sure to sanctify your spirit.
With the torch that here consumes me
I the eyes of men have opened,
Been of them a true companion.
I do know them, they do know me,
I've observed them all in passing,
Mothers, kith and kin, and fathers,
All of them are my concern still,
All who lived here on this planet,
Even now I see them 'mongst you,
For I recognize their spirits.
I, like you, have changed, transfigured,
Changed and altered my companions,
Many times have I turned into
Earth and wind and fire and water.
I'm a spark come from the heavens,
From the sun I'm glowing embers,
Through the skies I fly, a-soaring,
And live deep within the ocean,
Often in the soil I sleep or
Take my rest in fruits and honey,
I'm a suckling lamb or kid goat,
Flower, grass or leaves a-sprouting,
So much do I have to tell you,
Yet I fear my speech will fail me.
What's the point to put to paper
Words this flickering tongue's inspired?

[Fjalët' e qiririt, from the volume Vjersha për mësonjëtoret të para, Bucharest 1886. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

The Flute

Listen to the flute a-speaking,
Tell the tale of wretched exile,
Weeping for this world of sorrow
Using words of truth to spin it.

Since the day they seized and took me
From my friends and my companions,
Men and women have been weeping
At the echo of my sobbing.

I have rent my breast from beating,
Gaping holes have made within it,
How I've wept and have lamented,
Thousand sighs my heart has rendered.

I'm a friend and blithe companion
Both of this world's happy people
And of all folk sad, embittered,
With them do I make alliance.

Whate'er be the situation,
I can weep and mourn in longing,
At any time and any place will
My heart sigh and be a-moaning.

All the world does listen to me,
Sees though only my appearance,
Of my wishes they know nothing,
Nor the fire that burns within me.

People come and gather 'round me
When I weep and tell of longing,
Yet they do not know my secret,
Thus I find no consolation.

Those abandoned, hearts forsaken,
Of the flute become companions,
Some, its mellow scales a-hearing,
Lose their minds, their wits completely.

Human falsehood and illusion!
The flute's voice is not mere wind, it
Has the fire of love within it
When that lowly reed is fingered.

When it plays, the heavens brighten,
When it plays, do hearts take courage,
When it plays, the summer blossoms,
When it plays, the soul's ecstatic.

To the rose it lends its fragrance,
And to beauty adds an aura,
Gives the nightingale its music,
Charm bestows upon the cosmos.

Of that fire to the heavens
Rising, flickering and flaming,
Does it make the sun and stars which
God within his hands is holding.

From that fire, true God Almighty
All the firmament he fashioned,
Sent the spark of life, creating
Humankind after his likeness.

Fire, oh blessed fire a-blazing,
I with you have been united,
Thus am purified and blended.
Never leave me, my beloved!

[Fyelli, from the volume Luletë e verësë, Bucharest 1890. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]


I have great hope
In God
That he will not abandon
Albania thus,
         But that she will shine forth
         And break into blossom.

May the day dawn
That will bestow upon us
A great light,
Giving birth to:

And unity
And compassion
Are our salvation.
         Happy is he who will be present
         When this day comes.

When Albania
Will be radiant
And misfortune
Will be banished
         From her sight.

For Albania,
Joyous days
Are at hand.
The darkness is receding.
         Happy is he who will live
         To see her reign!

For the Albanian
And his language
Are at one
With Albania.
         Happy is he who will
         Behold her soon!

And progress,
And humanity
         Will arise,
         Never to stray.

[Shpreh, from the volume Luletë e verësë, Bucharest 1890, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 234-235]


We believe in the true God
Who is the universe itself,
Without him there is no place,
He is the beginning and the end.
Wherever we look,
We see his face,
He is everything in this life,
He is the true God!
The blossoming flowers
Betray his beauty,
He is the rose,
He is himself the nightingale,
And when the true God
Wanted to reveal himself to the world,
He then created man.

[excerpt from Qerbelaja, Bucharest 1898. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 238]

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