The Reformation in the sixteenth century produced some poetry, mostly connected with the Church. Indeed, for many centuries, the clergy alone sustained Slovenian culture. It was not until 1689 that the first Slovenian secular poem, by Jozef Zizeneli, was recorded. It was only in the second half of the eighteenth century, under the enlightened absolutist rulers of Austria, that Slovenian literature began to develop. The poetry contained in three almanacs, the Pisanice (1779-1781), marked the first noteworthy attempt at genuine poetry in Slovenian. Although much of this poetry was highly derivative, it was written by Slovenes in their own language, which had been suppressed for centuries.
The first poet to write in the native tongue was Valentin Vodnik (1758-1819), usually considered to be the founder of Slovenian poetry. After unsure beginnings in Pisanice, he published two books of poetry, Pesmi za pokuino (1806; poetic attempts) and Pesmi za brambovce (1809; poems to the defenders). Vodnik discarded foreign models and took Slovenian folk poetry as the basis for his language, meter, and even subject matter. He greeted Napoleon’s creation of Illyria, in which the western Southern Slavs were united for the first time since their common arrival in the Balkans. Enthusiastic about the opportunities for education and liberation of his people promised at the beginning of the nineteenth century, he encouraged his mostly peasant nation to work and fight for its betterment. After Napoleon’s demise, Vodnik lost his position and soon died, but not before he had laid the foundations for Slovenian poetry, inspiring his followers to use the people’s language. He also was a forerunner of the Slovenian Romantic movement, which would have been unthinkable without his contribution.