Self-Portrait in Words

One of Bulgaria’s favourite poets of the 20th century is Evtim Evtimov, born in 1933 in the southern town of Petrich.

He is the author of many lyrics of Bulgarian songs. His love poems impress with their straightforwardness and flow. They sound almost not as poems but as natural, though poetic, speech – meaning that the words he uses are simple and the rhyme – impeccable, rhythmical and very easy on the eye and ear. (Bulgaria, to my delight, produces mainly rhymed verse. Blank verse is not held in high regard here.)

I have been a fan of Evtimov’s poems since I was a teenager. What has attracted me to him is his hypnotizing language and attitude – his style is manly, as opposed to overly gentle and whiny; and his words, though loving, are kind of menacing and reckless. This gives to his poems a very subtle, still quite noticeable, erotic quality, communicated more as an aura, rather than in explicit words. So – mesmerizing.

And it couldn’t be otherwise, considering his life story. Although married himself, he had a relationship with a married woman for almost three decades between the 1960s and the 1990s. This relationship resulted in his divorce but did not lead to a divorce for the woman, Petya Yordanova. Evtimov has always declared quite openly that his verses were composed with this woman and these circumstances in mind.

Talks of sin and responsibility to marriage aside, I admire such loyalty and tenacity and am not willing to be preachy in the least.  After all, it seems that this relationship has stood the test of time and, as poet Yana Yazova once said – “For something to get better, it must have been good to begin with.”

Having an extramarital affair can be banal and ugly – most are not good to begin with, so they either dissolve into nothingness or end badly. This one must have been different as it helped produced some of Bulgaria’s finest love verses of the 20th century and lasted a lifetime.

I have discovered the poem below (called Self-Portrait in Words or Автопортрет от думи) in my teenage years and have been in love with its intensity since. The translation I offer is mine. It moves fairly close to the original and I think it turned out not bad. Not being a native speaker, I hope I have not produced some awkward or absurd phrase though…

Виждала ли си небе пред буря,
над земята слязло ниско ниско,
сякаш отведнъж ще се изтури?
Облаците трупат се наблизко,
трупат тайни сили,
трупат хали,
трупат огън,
нещо ври, напира.

Не, не бива никой да го спира.

Трябва туй небе да се запали,
да избухне гневно над главите,
да изсипе всичко насъбрано,
да изхвърли всички болки скрити,
и отново чисто то да стане,
като вчера пак да се синее.

Не, не бива никой да го спира.

Дай му право всичко да излезе,
че от задушаване умира.

Have you seen a stormy sky
Hanging heavy, grey and leaden,
Trembling, anxious to pour out?
Clouds gather over heaven,
Gaining secret powers
And hails,
And fire.
Clouds turning into glowing pyre.

Something has been bubbling, frothing.
No one should its flow be stopping.

This sky is throbbing to explode in ire,
Burst open in torrential rain,
Let go of sorrow, of desire,
Let go of dirt, be clean again.

The weeping sky will soon be hushing,
The tears have stopped its pain from gushing.

No one should this flow be crushing.

Let every sorrow be uncovered,
Check it, and will be smothered.