Elisaveta (also Bagrjana; Pseudonym of Elisaveta Belcheva) Bagryana Edward MożEjko - Essay

Edward MożEjko

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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...

(The entire section is 2026 words.)