Elisaveta (also Bagrjana; Pseudonym of Elisaveta Belcheva) Bagryana Erika Knudsen - Essay

Erika Knudsen

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 2239 words.)