(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Miodrag Pavlović’s first volume of poetry, 87 pesama (87 poems), was one of those exceptional books that usher in a new era in literature. Together with Vasko Popa, Pavlović entered the scene at a crucial time in the history of contemporary Yugoslav literature—a time when World War II literature was decreasing in popularity and Yugoslav writers were once again becoming aware of the outside world. Of great significance is Pavlović’s emphasis on a distinctly Anglo-Saxon way of conceiving, writing, and appreciating poetry. He was one of the first to heed the call for regeneration and to lead Serbian poetry away from Romanticism or pragmatic utilitarianism and toward a more disciplined, analytical, and intellectual approach.

In his essays on literature, especially on poetry, Pavlović reveals his thoughts, tastes, and preferences. Explaining the principles of selection which underlie his anthology of Serbian poetry, Pavlović has said that he chose poems that “speak about the fundamental questions of individual and collective existence, poems that either convey a thought or lead through their content directly to cognition.” In the same book, he acknowledged that he had selected poems, not poets. This de-emphasis of personality is a reflection of T. S. Eliot’s view that literature should be as depersonalized and unemotional as possible. A longtime student of Eliot and other English and American poets, Pavlović found it natural to implement their views and ideas in his poetry, adding, to be sure, his own approach.

87 pesama

Pavlović’s significance as a poet is not, however, limited to the historical role that he has played. The purely artistic quality of his poetry, his many innovations, the influence he has exerted on younger poets—all of these add to his stature. The first poem in 87 pesama, “Whirlwind,” is almost a programmatic poem, fully indicative of Pavlović’s early stage:

I wake up
over the bed a storm
Ripe sour cherries fall
into the mud
In the boat
dishevelled women
The whirlwind
of wicked fingernails
chokes the dead
nothing will be known
about that

Many recurring elements of Pavlović’s poetry—elements which startled and even provoked some of his early readers—are present in “Whirlwind.” This poem reveals the poet’s anxiety and a certain revulsion against existence, undoubtedly caused in part by the horrors of the war. Similar images of anxiety, horror, despair can be found in other poems in this collection. Man is compared to an ant standing at the bottom of the cellar stairs, whose cry simply “does not reach.” When someone nearby dies, “the world becomes lighter by a human brain” (“Requiem”). Corpses swim under the ground, and “lost days and dissipated suns drown in a river like dead clouds” (“The Damned Forest”). The collection is dominated by images of darkness, night, death, destruction, chaos, apocalypse: a skull, a funeral, a headless hen hanging by the leg from a cloud. The overwhelmingly bleak atmosphere is relieved only by the last poem, “Hope Should Be Found Again.”

Stub sećanja

This despairing mood of 87 pesama is carried over to Pavlović’s second collection, Stub sećanja (a pillar of memory). Skulls and heads without faces or hair reappear; cries are heard again. Yet, one...

(The entire section is 1451 words.)