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Asdreni (1872-1947)
| Saturday, 07.07.2007, 02:30 PM |

BIOGRAPHY

Asdreni
Asdreni (1872-1947), pseudonym of Aleks Stavre Drenova, was born in the village of Drenova, about five kilometers from Korça in southeastern Albania. He attended a Greek-language elementary school in his native village and had just begun high school in Korça when his widowed father died, leaving the thirteen-year-old Aleks an orphan. In the autumn of 1885, the young Aleks arrived in Bucharest (Romania) to join his two elder brothers. It was here in the culturally active Albanian colony that he first came into contact with the ideas and ideals of the nationalist movement in exile. Asdreni worked initially as a coal-boy and an apprentice, and later continued his studies, both privately, and for a short time at the Faculty of Political Science of the University of Bucharest. In 1905, he taught at an Albanian school in the port city of Constanza and the following year became president of the new Bucharest chapter of the Dija (Knowledge) society , originally founded in Vienna. Inspired by the creation of an independent Albanian state, he set off for Durrës on the Adriatic in the spring of 1914 to welcome the country’s newly chosen head of state, Prince Wilhelm zu Wied (1876-1945) , from whom he hoped to obtain an appointment as archivist in the new royal administration. It soon became apparent, however, that there would be little to administer and no need for his services at all. After a short visit to Shkodra, Asdreni returned to Bucharest in July 1914 as Europe prepared for war. In the following years, Asdreni continued to take an active interest in the Albanian national movement. He chose nonetheless to remain in Romania, and served there as secretary at the Albanian consulate which opened in March 1922. He made another visit to Albania in November 1937 on the twenty-fifth anniversary of independence, hoping after many years of service to the Albanian state to receive a government pension, but to no avail. He died in poverty on 11 December 1947 at the age of seventy-five.

It was in the early years of the twentieth century that Asdreni had begun writing poetry and publishing articles in the local press. In 1904, he published his first collection of ninety-nine poems, Rézé djélli, Bucharest 1904 (Sunbeams), which he dedicated to the Albanian national hero Scanderbeg . Asdreni’s second volume Endra e lote, Bucharest 1912 (Dreams and tears), published eight years later, displayed much greater maturity. This collection of ninety-nine poems, like the previous one, was divided into the cycles: fatherland, nature, thought and beauty, and was dedicated to the English traveller and friend of Albania, Edith Durham (1863-1944). The improvement in form, style and technique and the broadening of the range of themes and ideas are even more evident in Asdreni’s third volume of verse, Psallme murgu, Bucharest 1930 (Psalms of a monk), which marks the zenith of his poetic creativity. Many consider the collection Psallme murgu with its classical refinement to be one of the best volumes of Albanian verse published in the 20th century.

POETRY

To the Adriatic

I have beheld you, Adriatic, I have beheld you,
A nymph from the twinkling heavens
Sparkling with pearls, your breasts
Heaving gracefully like a sylph's.

I knelt before you as before a goddess,
An apparition of untold beauty.
The rapture I felt, I could not endure,
And departed, tears streaming down my cheeks.

Like molten gold you shimmer,
A fabled palace full of magic,
You sway like maidens in the meadow.

Of youthful grace is your rise and fall,
Sweet memories, a world of wonder
Like a vision of divinity itself.

[Adriatikut, written in December 1912, published in the volume Psallme murgu, Bucharest 1930, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English by Robert Elsie in History of Albanian literature, New York 1995, vol. 1, p. 362-363]

Forgotten Memories

Where can I find you, oh companions of my youth,
That I might once more enjoy that beloved time,
Moments which filled us with such delight
When we played and frolicked in mirth sublime?

Not a drop of sorrow did we feel in our souls,
Our hearts were so fully transfixed by the spring,
Little did we know that our lives would be sad,
And lost youth would nevermore joy to us bring.

Like the autumn leaves which the wind doth chase
Like a fleeting moment of glee which escapes,
Or a summer night's dream that veils its trace,

You can sense, you can see how our elusive hopes
Brought surprising delights to us now and again,
Like the rays of the moon glowing on a parched plain!

[Kujtime të shkuara, from the volume Psallme Murgu, Bucharest 1930. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

The Oracle of Dodona

In the sombre woods of ancient Dodona
Was a Dorian temple by expert hand built,
No other in this world could compare to its beauty,
Surrounded by statues of silver and gilt.

Laden with gifts appeared kings from afar
To honour the priestess, her speech divining,
Like hermits they huddled in fasting and prayer
Awaiting their fate, outside they were pining.

But fate and the future have eyes unbound,
And lots when cast can quickly turn round,
A word is enough, if sent from the heavens...

How many thrones have been toppled and tossed,
And how many leaders' minds have been lost
For failing to heed that old woman's words.

[Fjala e Dodonës, from the volume Psallme Murgu, Bucharest 1930. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

The Flute

Oh flute, I worship you with faith and longing
For I was raised, the consort of your trill divine
        from the time I was a lad,
You poured dew into my soul,
At the height of my joy, my feelings merged
        in a tenderness rare.

With you I felt an unslaked sense
Of love for Albanian soil
        Which remains day after day in my dreams,
When your sounds, the treasures of the past,
Traverse my mind like a summer's breeze
        And with deep ecstasy.

When you speak to me and fill me,
Unending voices echo and swell
        In waves like a chorus of angels,
Companions of the peaks, streams and hills,
From your lips flit fairies
        As if from some majestic palace.

Like starlight and moonbeams in longing,
Sparkling on the surface of the lake,
        I quiver like a lover,
As your words, harbingers of a message
From the Earthly Beauty, with fair tones,
        offer us a breath of spring.

Like the season which begins to blossom,
Unfolding its wide wings within our bosom
        To give us strength and divine grace,
So do you lend the world a new face
        And create around us a joyous choir
When your notes traverse the scales.

With you does the shepherd climb to the mountain pastures
Moved by your magic melodies,
        Your every fire melts his heart,
With you do young lads take to the dance,
Thrilled by your sacred songs of love
        Welling anew within their breasts.

Like tender leaves quivering in the wind
Which in their rustling strike up a song
        In perfect harmony,
Whosoever hears your chant
Recalls forgotten memories
        Like a symphony from the heavens.

The farmer bent behind his plough
Or scything ripened sheaves of grain
        Knows not why he slaves,
Yet with you all his hardship dissolves
As his thirst abates when he scoops
And drinks the waters of mountain springs.

From ancient times our ancestors
Bore you in their belts, sabres brandished,
        Singing their fiery songs
And spreading courage in the thick of battle,
Always were they rewarded for their toil,
        As was the legendary Alexander.

With you did the goddess Minerva
While away the hours in delight,
        Up on flashing Olympia
And the nymphs around her like tiny stars
In the rhythmic pacing of the dance
        Teased jealous Bacchus.

Virgil, master and famed singer
Of ancient times, and Mozart -
        With you, they built their sacred altars,
With you do nations dream,
Nourished on lofty ideals
        From a healing source.

So many others have followed,
As new tokens of progress,
        Which no one on earth can oppose,
To you, poets will always weave hymns,
For with your strength and courage, magic flute,
        You soar above them all.

[Fyelli, from the volume Psallme Murgu, Bucharest 1930. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]