Elisaveta (also Bagrjana; Pseudonym of Elisaveta Belcheva) Bagryana Essay - Critical Essays

Bagryana, Elisaveta (also Bagrjana; Pseudonym of Elisaveta Belcheva)


Bagryana, Elisaveta (also Bagrjana; Pseudonym of Elisaveta Belcheva) 1893–

Bagryana is a Bulgarian poet, editor, translator, and writer of books for children. She projects an exuberant love of life in her verse, expressing the joys and sorrows of freedom as an artist and as a woman. She has collaborated with Ioran Vasilev on biographical works and has translated her own work from Bulgarian into French.

Erika Knudsen

For many years Elisaveta Bagrjana was identified with the concepts of her first collection, Vechnata i svjatata (1927)—taken as categories of woman's love—but her later works have changed fundamentally the view of this great Bulgarian poet. Bagrjana was considered, and by some still is, the exponent of the emancipated woman, primarily because of her concept of love, and her poetry has, therefore, usually been interpreted simply as love lyrics. For this reason the main core of the poetic confessions of Bagrjana has been overlooked, the extreme tension between opposite attitudes and emotions, between the dreams and expectations of life on one hand, and, on the other, their accomplishment, or even more often, their non-accomplishment. (p. 353)

There is a definite trend from optimism to pessimism in Bagrjana's poetry … although her faith in the future and her enchantment with life are never completely crushed, and in her poems of recent years this faith appears to be reborn. Her new confidence is an acknowledgement of the human values compiled throughout life, as well as by the simple joys of everyday life; its opposite pole is the now constant presence of her own death.

In the early poetry of Bagrjana, the lyric self indulges in bold and ambitious dreams of her future, a passionate, dramatic surrender to man's love. Everything seems possible and attainable. Her strength and her will can cope with any demand, and can overcome any obstacle. (pp. 353-54)

The opposite extreme in Bagrjana's first book [Vechnata i svjatata] is represented by the complete despair of the "Requiem" (1927).

The up and down movements of Bagrjana's frame of mind are marked clearly by the choice of words and the structure of the sentences…. Uncertainty and doubt are revealed by the many questions, often initiated by "dali" (I wonder) or "nima" (could it be?). Dreams and yearning are emphasized by the use of the future tense,… and the optative clause with "da."

This means of expression, always pointing forward, gradually yields to terms which indicate a growing assurance and an immediate mental and physical activity….

Bagrjana meets the challenges of life with a defiant "neka" (let it be so). But then comes a sharp break from cheerfulness to despondency. The future perspective and the present satisfaction vanish and give way to the backward glance, to the return to memories. (p. 354)

The incongruity between her expectations of life and life as it actually unfolds … can be called the fundamental theme in almost all of Bagrjana's poetry. It determines the underlying tone of her verse, irrespective of its main themes which are love and individual freedom, the lust for life and for the whole world, the devotion to Mother Earth and above all to her own country…. Most, containing poems from the years 1937–44, indicates the establishment of a relation between opposite points, and could be interpreted as the comprehension and acceptance of the contradictions of human existence, a theme repeated once more in the latest book Kontrapunkti (1972).

Bagrjana's tribute to time and history, Pet zvezdi (1953), famous for the cycle "Suvetski khora," does not quite fit into the pattern of her total work. These poems, on a broad scale, reflect the struggle of man for a rich life full of meaning, that is, an interest which matches a fundamental stirring in the progressive mind of the poet, but the work seems inferior compared to the major part of Bagrjana's production. The reason may be a lack of real personal engagement, without which art remains sterile. Still, part of Pet zvezdi, especially the cycle "Sluntse nad poleto," has much in common with the later Bojana cycle, fascinating the reader by its ease and lyricism.

The tension between unreconcilable extremities, so significant in Elisaveta Bagrjana's poetry, is recognizable in all of the individual themes.

The love theme in Bagrjana's poetry is very complex, reflecting the never ending struggle for individual freedom and, at the same time, an unrestrained enjoyment of everything life can offer. (pp. 354-55)

Love as a spell, as a natural and inescapable instinct, harmonizes neither with the ethics nor with the free will of Bagrjana, the defender of free love and independence. (p. 355)

In poems like "Poslushnitsa" and "Ljubov" the involvements of the suffering Jesus and of the seductive Mephistopheles suggest that the loving woman is in conflict with her Christian belief….

These discrepancies exclude, it would seem, the interpretation of Bagrjana as a pioneer of free love and believer in the total emancipation of women. Her confessions are entirely personal, and the presentiment of the price she will have to pay for her unprecedented courage, in "Kukuvitsa" and "Potomka," for example, preclude the slightest note of propaganda. (p. 356)

The very consequence of her struggle for personal freedom, her full devotion to human love, excludes this very freedom…. These are the extremes of her love and her life: the necessity of being independent, and the dependency of the relations created by herself.

In Elisaveta Bagrjana's lyrics, love is a fascinating unity of purity and passion. (pp. 356-57)

Though dominant, love is only one...

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Edward MożEjko


In general, when reading Bagryana's poetry, one cannot withstand the impression that whatever she has written or accomplished bears the features of a well-prepared, systematic and well-disciplined esthetic activity….

Bagryana's first collection of poems, entitled Večnata i svjatata (The Eternal and the Sacred), appeared in 1927 and became a literary événement. Without going into detail, one could say that the novelty of this volume consisted in a clear rejection of the hitherto dominating streams in Bulgarian literature and an acceptance of the exceptionally rich traditions of national oral folklore as a source of artistic inspiration. What Bagryana inherited from this tradition was simplicity and directness of expression. The poetic world of Bagryana is built up of objects and phenomena which surround us. By its concrete character, the early poetry of Bagryana was a reaction against symbolism; by its personal tone, it contrasted with the revolutionary rhetoric of Khristo Botev … and the old-fashioned patriotism of Ivan Vazov…. If anything, Bulgarian poetry moved more easily in the world of politics, in the world of heroic actions, in the world of war and revolution than in the inward world of intimate confessions. The turnabout accomplished by Bagryana was twofold in its consequences: the intimate tone of her poetry has manifested itself not only in a turn toward the internal feelings of man, toward his spiritual "I"; this tone also dominates where the theme seems to befit a more pathetic and objective presentation. Irrespective, however, of whether Bagryana speaks of her fatherland (as is the case in her latest poems) or talks to God, she never exceeds the limits of her own personal experience and does not relate these themes to a "cause of higher order."

It is possible to delineate four major motifs in Bagryana's poetry: woman, love, traveling-space and life as a biological phenomenon. The degree of intensity with which these motifs appear in her poetry varies from one collection of poems to another, but it is impossible to discuss them in separation because they are constantly intertwined and constitute a homogeneous and typically Bagryanian whole. (p. 216)

Bagryana enters the scene of Bulgarian poetry as an advocate of women's emancipation. The word "emancipation," however, is far too faint to render the depth and perspicacity with which the whole problem is approached in her poetry. To say that woman revolts against existing social and moral conventions would be nothing but a shallow statement. The question does not concern woman historically conditioned by a definite cultural and social epoch. The title of the first volume does not leave any doubt: the words večnata i svjatata mean "the eternal and holy woman." To present woman in such dimensions, Bagryana refers to various archetypal images of women known from ancient, Christian and pagan mythology. (pp. 216-17)

The Bagryanian woman possesses two principal characteristics: revolt and love. All other desires and dreams are offshoots of these two passions. When we say "revolt," the question is: against what or whom? It is the revolt against women's submissiveness, humility and surrender. This revolt does not arise from social considerations or a growing awareness of women's position in society; it grows organically out of unfathomable layers of the past. The poet feels very close blood ties with her ethnic past, that is, with the heritage of her Thracian, Slavic and Turkish ancestors…. [We] can interpret her "revolt" as the call of the blood, as a constant recurrence of some atavistic necessity….

What Bagryana values most are the primitive and primordial elements in human nature. The return to the primary origins of our existence is combined with the biological joy of life, enabling woman to break prejudices about her situation, to free herself from seclusion and humiliation. In other words, these rebellious qualities reside within woman herself and burst the ossified crust of prejudice from inside…. In its impetuous revolt Bagryana's lyrical "I" does not hesitate to question such sacred institutions as marriage.

From the time Bagryana first began to write, to the latest poems in the sixties, her poetry resounds with a cry for love (note some typical titles of her poems: "Vik," or "Cry"; "Zov," or "Call"). Without this feeling our world would be poor, sad and gray. Moreover, the degree of woman's liberation, her real equality with man, can be measured in terms of love and by the relation of both sexes to love, which the poet calls "the conscience of earth" ("Kato slunce," or "Like the Sunshine"). Again, mythological analogy can be drawn upon: Bagryana's treatment of this motif reminds us of the love tale "Amor and Psyche" by Apuleius. (p. 217)

["Intérieur"] is typical of Bagryana's poetry for...

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