Guardians of a European Dimension

Mihal Hanxhari
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Mihal Hanxhari
1930-1999

12 poems

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie and Janice Mathie-Heck

Mihal Hanxhari was born in Kentucky in the United States where his father had emigrated in 1907. In 1931, the family returned to Albania and settled in Tirana. Mihal began writing and publishing short stories at secondary school. He studied history and geography in Budapest and, after graduation in 1954, returned to Albania to teach secondary school in Korça and Tirana. In 1960, he was appointed director of the Library of the University of Tirana, a job which gave him rare access to the world of literature and literary culture. He was fired from this job for political reasons in 1975, being denounced as a liberal and a spreader of bourgeois culture, and was transferred to a modest post at a local library branch where he worked in 1990. In 1993-1995, he taught Albanian at the Ecole des Langues Orientales in Paris and died on 3 June 1999.

It is only since his death that Mihal Hanxhari has been discovered as a writer. His poetic world, now greatly admired, is unusual for Albanian literature. We find in him the reminiscence of Cavafy and poignant glimpses of nature not unlike Japanese haiku. He would seem to have been entirely uninfluenced by the heavy-handed doctrine of socialist realism which held sway in Albania until 1990. Hanxhari published nothing during his lifetime. Among his posthumous collections of verse are: Se sytë e mi kështu e shohin botën, Tirana 2000 (For Thus my Eyes See the World); Na ishte njëherë, Tirana 2000 (Once upon a Time); Ti vdekja ime mbushur me jetë, Tirana 2001 (You my Death Filled with Life); and Gdhend një statujë, Tirana 2005 (Carve a Statue).



The Storm


With the storm past, clouds gone, night calmed,
The scattered stars have reappeared,
And in the old plane tree,
Amidst its leafless branches,
The Big Dipper, flung by the wind,
Is stuck like a child's balloon.


[Stuhiu, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p.33]



This Branch


What can this autumn branch have in store for me,
More than the beginning of stillness.
The river no longer sees,
Summer's eyes are closed,
Summer's lids are drowned,
Why did they not latch onto stones,
Where will I find the words I left on the riverbank?
An island, not there before, stares at me from the water,
A bit of love extends its hand from the brink,
Oh autumn,

You have thrown your arms around my neck,
And I swallow a tear in silence.


[Kjo degë, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 34]



The Cypress Trees


Oh moon,
Distant sister, dead sister,
They are felling, are scything
The cypress trees.


[Qiparisat, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 36]



While on its Way


I thought of you while spring was on its way,
In every raindrop none but you I pondered,
In every budding leaf you came to mind,
I thought of you in every petal blooming,
I thought of you in every petal falling,

I thought of you upon those azure evenings
When air grew damp in undetected flowers,
When from behind the walls of old-time gardens
The numbing fragrance spread of ancient loves,
I thought of you on sleepless nights, eyes open,
When hands of trees poured stars into my window,
And wide awake, I thought of you 'til morning,
And so on a long night, you knew what I was thinking,

I thought of you while spring was on its way,
As clouds themselves on mountain crests do wonder,
As lilies open slowly in the nighttime.
My soul has now become a flow'ring lily,
And spring has entered it and found you there.


[Gjersa erdhi, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 40]



Without You


I long to be the liquid that your lips drink,
- you are the fragrance of every flower I love,
I long to be the slumber on your brow when you sleep,
- you draw near me in my dreams like a shadow at night,
Why such sorrow in your eyes?
- how can I die alone without you?


[Pa ty, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 43]



The Dream


I stood there as if I were a sleeping tree,
Felt the foliage budding on my body,
Felt the flowers shrouding me entirely,
Sensed that I had no eyes
Though I could see, yes
Could finally see
My dream.


[Ëndrra, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 45]



Farewell


Oh, how many bitter skies
Have I imbibed at night
And left behind for each of them
A farewell in the trees.


[Lamtumirë, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 176]



The Smell of Branches


The smell of branches lingers on my lips,
That bitter tree remains within my mouth,
I feel in my hands the hot coals of nails,
I see in the heavens the skeletons of forests,
And the snow in the mountains
Covers me in its silence.


[Shije dege, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 179]



Rapture


We did not drink that night,
But we bought so many carnations,
We flung them on our bed
And on the blossoms our immaculate bodies.

We did not forget that June night,
Oh, the memory of it rends my heart like a knife.


[Dehje, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 186]



Unquenchable Fire


Fall has come, the fog has fallen,
I walk the streets with an unseen pyre,
On my lips remain your kisses,
I pace the lanes with an unquenched fire.


[Zjarr që s'shuhet, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 187]



Lemon Blossoms


You once struck me with lemon blossoms,
And the moon bewitched me with their fragrance.

You once gave me your blood as a flower
And I wept over you.

You once left me alone, eyes closed,
And, blind now, I find you no more.


[Lule limoni, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 190]



Where Is


When the window was like a sun
And in that shady room, summer came in from the garden,
And you lounging, your blouse undone,
With nipples, terracotta-coloured,
And the clock counted the passing of our lives,
Where is that afternoon
That has lingered in my memory, lounging
Like an Etruscan terracotta?


[Ku është, from the volume Gdhend një statujë, Tirana: Toena, 2005, p. 195]




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