Miodrag Pavlović Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

0111225097-Pavlovic.jpg Miodrag Pavlović (Courtesy of Language Studies Centre, London School of Economics and Political Science) Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Miodrag Pavlović has published two books of short stories, Most bez obala (1956; a bridge without shores) and Bitni ljudi: Price sa Uskrsnjeg ostrva (1995; fundamental folk), and two books of short plays, Igre bezimenih (1963; the plays of the nameless), and Koraci u podzemlju: Scensko prikazanje u dva dela (1991; steps in the underworld). Although his stories and plays are not nearly as successful as his poetry, they illuminate his approach to other genres. More important are his essays on various aspects of literature in general and of Serbian and Yugoslav literature in particular; these are contained in Rokovi poezije (1958; the realm of poetry), Osam pesnika (1964; eight poets), and Poetika modernog (1978; modern poetry). Equally important is Pavlović’s work on several anthologies, one of which, Antologija srpskog pesništva, XIII-XX vek (1964; an anthology of Serbian poetry, eighteenth to twentieth centuries), has continued to provoke animated discussion. He has also edited anthologies of Serbian lyric folk poetry, modern English poetry, and the poetry of European Romanticism. Finally, he has translated extensively from classical and modern literatures, especially German, English, French, and Italian.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Miodrag Pavlović is a powerful and significant poetic figure. Together with Vasko Popa and other poets, he was instrumental in bringing about the revolution in Serbian poetry in the early 1950’s, when a more modernistic approach won over the more traditional and realistic one. He has written a great number of enduring poems; with his protest against the senselessness and injustice of existence, with his untiring quest for truth and for roots, with his elevation of Serbian poetry to a high level of technical excellence and spiritual richness, he has ploughed a deep furrow in Serbian, Yugoslav, and world poetry. Pavlović already has a large group of followers among younger poets, and he has been translated into many languages. In 1978 he was elected to the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. When he has written his last verse, there is no doubt that critics will rank him as one of the most significant Serbian poets of the twentieth century.

The 1960’s

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Pavlović’s poetry of the 1960’s established his international reputation and allowed him to travel widely. Visits to India and China allowed him to research the mythologies and oral traditions of Eastern cultures, which began to appear in his poems alongside his native South Slavic traditions in books such as Bekstva po Srbiji (1979; flights through Serbia) and Divnoćudo (1982; a divine miracle). The discovery in the 1970’s of a Mesolithic archaeological site, Lepenski vir, inspired him to further explore the origins of human creativity in Zavetine (spells), Links, and Nova pevanja na viru (new singing at the whirlpool).

The 1970’s and 1980’s

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His poetry throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s drew links between myth and poetry, tracing the unbroken connections from archaic life to the modern world. Beginning with Pesme o detinjstvu i ratovima (1992; poems about childhood and wars), Pavlović’s poems began to become more intimate and biographical. The childhood of the title is his own; the war is World War II, although it foreshadows the events in Serbia at the end of the twentieth century.

This marks a distinct change in approach for Pavlović, whose previous poetry had been marked by a strong intellectualism. As mentioned, Pavlović has sought from the beginning to rid Serbian poetry of excessive Romanticism. He agrees with T. S. Eliot’s view that poetry is not a turning loose of emotion but an escape from personality—provided one has a personality and emotions from which to escape. Though an intellectual and reflective poet, Pavlović is not devoid of emotion; he is an aloof but not an impassive observer, so that a certain cool passion emanates from his poems. If he were impassive, why would he raise his voice against the horrors of existence? Why would he search for explanations of life’s riddles? Because he is against Romantic emotionalism and in favor of an intellectual approach to poetry, he offers a rational solution: “The spark of reason,/ the most human of all humanities” (“A Cry Should Be Repeated”). Thus, in his efforts to depersonalize poetry, Pavlović keeps the individual in the background while interceding passionately on his behalf.

Universal Concerns

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Another feature of Pavlović’s poetry is the universal scope that governs his entire outlook. Even when he speaks of geographically limited areas, such as ancient Greece, the old Slavic territories, the West, or his city, he always speaks for all humankind. All people have a common origin, and they still strive “toward the home of brotherly unity where our cradles are swaying/ . . . we seek the melody of our common lament in the moonlight” (“Idyll”). Such universality has given Pavlović’s poetry a dimension which has greatly enhanced his appeal among poets and critics abroad.

Form and Style

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Pavlović’s poetry also demonstrates his technical mastery. The significance of his appearance in the early 1950’s derived not only from new themes but also from formal innovations. Above all, his œuvre is characterized by a great variety of form, ranging from the sketchy, concise, almost laconic early poems to longer forms, and from the inner monologue and confessional style of the early poems to the narrative, descriptive, and dramatic verse of his later period.

Pavlović’s language is rich, economical, precise, lapidary. He has a gift for striking metaphors, such as, “A skull/ the sword of nature/ the only raft on the black river” (“Variations on the Skull”) and “Pieces of meat lie on the window/ from which the sinews hang down to the ground” (“Funeral”). Many of his images defy conventional logic: “two knives play on the piano” (“On the Death of a Hen”); “a rain of blood falls from the earth to the sky” (“Lament of Hector’s Wife”). These predilections may reflect the influence of the prewar Surrealist poets, whom Pavlović knows well, although he is a strongly original poet who has assimilated all influences to his own purposes. Finally, Pavlović has enriched the language of Serbian poetry with many felicitous neologisms. It is his combination of thematic novelty, artistic boldness, and formal excellence that has made Miodrag Pavlović one of the most important and accomplished of contemporary Yugoslav poets.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Johnson, Bernard. Introduction and notes to The Slavs Beneath Parnassus: Selected Poems, by Miodrag Pavlović. St. Paul, Minn.: New Rivers Press, 1985. Johnson’s introduction and notes on his translations of Pavlović’s works offer rare biographical and critical information on the poet.

Mihailovich, Vasa D. “The Poetry of Miodrag Pavlović,” in Canadian Slavonic Papers 20 (1978): 358-368. A critical analysis of selected poems by Pavlović.