Jovan Dučić Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Although Jovan Dučić was preoccupied with poetry, he wrote in several other genres. His travelogues, Gradovi i himere (1932; cities and chimeras), contain his impressions gathered during journeys to Switzerland, France, Italy, Greece, Egypt, and other countries. More testimonies to his erudition than reports of his actual experiences, they deal with the history and cultural background of those places rather than with the present. Gradovi i himere is the best book of its kind in Serbian literature. A number of historical-cultural essays are collected in the book Blago Cara Radovana (1932; the treasure of Czar Radovan). They offer Dučić’s views on happiness, love, women, friendship, youth, old age, poets, heroes, and prophets. Dučić also wrote numerous articles on Yugoslav writers, his predecessors as well as his contemporaries, in which he presented not only opinions on these writers but also glimpses of his own literary views and accomplishments. Toward the end of his life he wrote a book about a Serb who went to Russia and became an influential figure at the court of Peter the Great, Grof Sava Vladislavič (1942; Count Sava Vladislavič). It is an ambitious pseudohistorical study that reads more like a novel than history. Dučić also wrote numerous essays and articles about cultural, national, social, and political issues of the day.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Jovan Dučić appeared at a crucial point in the history of Serbian literature, at the turn of the century, when the epoch of Romantic and realist poetry was coming to a close and another, usually referred to as Moderna, was just beginning. By introducing new themes and sources of inspiration, Dučić was very instrumental in setting Serbian poetry on a new course. He was an aesthete, with a refined taste and an aristocratic spirit. In his poetry, he strove for formal excellence expressed through clarity, precision, elegance, musical quality, and picturesque images. His subject matter and unique style, reflecting the manner of French verse—Parnassian, Symbolist, décadent—brought a new spirit to Serbian verse. Unlike previous Serbian poets, who were either Romantically or realistically oriented, Dučić was attracted to esoteric, sophisticated, thought-provoking, and soul-searching themes, creating his own lonely world of imagination and reacting to it in a highly subjective manner. His poetry reveals a sensitive artist with a basically pessimistic outlook. He has sometimes been criticized for this, as well as for his inclination toward art for art’s sake. His supreme craftsmanship, however, no one denies. Dučić represents one of the highest achievements in Serbian and in all south Slavic literatures, a fame that increases as time goes on.

Patriotic and Historical Poems

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Dučić wrote poems on patriotic and historical themes, undoubtedly under the influence of folk poetry, the Serbian poets still writing in a Romantic vein, and the general patriotic enthusiasm of his countrymen. These early poems are rather bombastic, full of rhetoric, declamatory, though quite sincere. Later, he moved away from purely patriotic themes and turned to history. Only during the two world wars, especially during World War I, did he return to patriotic poetry, for obvious reasons. Inspired by the enormous suffering, valiant efforts, and glorious exploits of his people, he wrote several excellent poems, of which “Ave Serbia!” and “The Hymn of the Victors” are especially notable.

In somewhat intellectual fashion Dučić sings not of battles but of the suffering necessary for victory. Love for one’s country he calls “a drop of poisonous milk,” hinting at its opiumlike intoxication. Only that country is blessed “where children unearth a rusted sword” and “paths of greatness lead over fallen heroes.” “Glory, that is the terrible sun of the martyrs,” he exclaims in praise of the World War I victors. He would raise his voice once again during the second world cataclysm, this time more in anger and despair over the tragic fate of his people, whose end he did not live to see.

His historical poems are in a much lighter vein, devoid of the tragic aura of his patriotic poetry. In the cycle “Carski soneti” (the imperial sonnets) he returns to the glory of Serbian medieval empire, and in the cycle “Dubrovačke poeme” (the Dubrovnik poems) he extolls the virtues and the sunny ambience of the Ragusan Republic, which alone escaped several centuries of Turkish occupation. While the former cycle is unrestrained in its glorification of the pomp and strength of the old Serbian empire, the latter is amusing, humorous, at times irreverent, but above all lighthearted and warm. These poems are read today only out of curiosity and for amusement, although some of them show Dučić’s craftsmanship at its best.

Nature Poems

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Dučić’s poems about nature are both varied and limited in scope. While it is true that he touches upon many phenomena and objects in nature, his approach tends to be somewhat one-sided. This one-sidedness can be seen in his choice of motifs, which are repeated time and again, although in endless variations. Among such often-repeated motifs are the sea, the sun, morning, evening, night, and natural objects that are usually isolated in their surroundings—no doubt reflecting the poet’s own isolation and loneliness despite his appearance as a very happy and self-satisfied person. Even the titles of the cycles reveal the concentration on certain motifs: “Jutarnje pesme” (morning poems), “Večernje pesme” (evening poems), and “Sunčane pesme” (sun poems).

Dučić’s nature poems are not descriptive per se; rather, description is used primarily to evoke an atmosphere or to underscore the poet’s melancholy mood. In the poem “Sat” (“The Clock”), for example, the very first verse sets the desired tone: “A sick, murky day, the sky impenetrable.” The tolling of the tower clock contributes to general hopelessness: “Last roses are slowly dying . . . poplars are shedding their last leaves.” The entire scene is permeated with “a horrible foreboding and the panic of things.” In his treatment of nature Dučić emulates the Parnassians and the Symbolists, but he also endeavors to “spiritualize” nature, as Pero Slijepčevič, a literary historian of Serbian literature, remarks, to...

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Love Poetry

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Dučić has been accused of even greater affectation and artificiality in his love poetry, probably because the woman in his poems is seldom a being made of flesh and blood but rather only a vision of an unknown woman, an eternal creature without specific abode or age. She does not exist nor did she ever exist, Dučić admits. Instead of endowing his emotions with a concrete substance, he creates a woman cult, placing her at the altar of an unrealizable dream. She is “the principle that builds and destroys, the God’s spirit in every string and line . . . an inexhaustible well of pride and shame . . . an endless desert where the suns of despair rise and set” (“Poem to a Woman”). She is also a constant source of pain and unhappiness, mainly because she does not exist in her own right but only as the poet’s chimera: “You have shone in the sun of my heart: for, everything we love, we have created ourselves.” Seeing in woman a goddess, a cosmic principle, and destiny, it is not surprising that Dučič cannot find happiness and satisfaction in love. Even though he yearns for satisfaction, he is convinced beforehand of his failure. It is interesting that, as Slijepčevič remarks, Dučič never sings about the beginning or the duration of love but only about its end.

It is easy to see only affectation in attitudes such as these, but such an approach does not exhaust the complexity of Dučić’s love poetry. The fact is that he did not always...

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Poetry of Meditation

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Many of Dučić’s poems about nature and love show a distinct propensity for meditation, just as many of his purely meditative poems are related to nature and love. Dučić’s meditative bent derives not only from his nature but also from his firm belief that only the meditative element and intellectualism could pull Serbian literature out of the confines of narrow regionalism. His time in France and Switzerland, as well as in other parts of the world, only confirmed that belief. In order to achieve that goal, he sometimes strained too hard. On the other hand, some of his meditative poems are genuine artistic achievements.

Dučić never developed his own philosophy, nor was he systematic in expressing his thoughts in...

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Versification, Style, Imagery

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Dučić’s style has often been singled out as the most significant and accomplished aspect of his poetry, often at the expense of other qualities. He demanded of himself, as well as of other writers, rigorous attention to matters of style, considering himself to be a craftsman in a poetic workshop. He constantly revised his works, not hesitating to disown those he did not deem worthy. He remained a student of poetry even when others thought of him as a complete artist, and he had no patience with those who neglected style.

In matters of versification, Dučić shows a remarkable versatility. His most common form is a variation of the Alexandrine, which he used almost exclusively in his later periods (except in the last...

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(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Goy, Edward D. “The Poetry of Jovan Dučić.” In Gorski Vijenac: A Garland of Essays Offered to Professor Elizabeth Mary Hill. Cambridge, England: The Modern Humanities Research Association, 1970. An expertly written essay by a noted British Slavicist. Goy discusses Dučić’s poetry within the framework of European literature as well as his artistic virtuosity.

Mihailovich, Vasa D. “Jovan Dučić in America.” Serbian Studies 4, no. 4 (1988): 55-69. An essay about Dučić’s stay in America during 1941-1943, the last two years of his life. It covers his many activities among the Serbs of America. Even though he wrote relatively little poetry at this time, he penned political tracts in support...

(The entire section is 350 words.)