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Desanka Maksimovich

A Bloody Fairytale

It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company of schoolchildren
died a martyr's death
in one day.

They were all born
in the same year
their school days passed the same
taken together
to the same festivities,
vaccinated against the same diseases,
and all died on the same day.

It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company schoolchildren
died a martyr's death
in one day.

And fifty-five minutes
before the moment of death
the company of small ones
sat at its desk
and the same difficult assignments
they solved: how far can a
traveler go if he is on foot...
and so on.

Their thoughts were full
of the same numbers
and throughout their notebooks in school bags
lay an infinite number
of senseless A's and F's.
A pile of the same dreams
and the same secrets
patriotic and romantic
they clenched in the depths of their pockets.
and it seemed to everyone
that they will run
for a long time beneath the blue arch
until all the assignments in the world
are completed.

It was in a land of peasants
in the mountainous Balkans,
a company of small ones
died a martyr's death
in one day.

Whole rows of boys
took each other by the hand
and from their last class
went peacefully to slaughter
as if death was nothing.

Whole lines of friends
ascended at the same moment
to their eternal residence.


Translation from Serbian language:
© 1999 Sarah O'Keeffe
E-mail: <>

“We are Serbian children! Shoot!”

The dramatic framework of the poem “A Bloody Fairytale” is the element that makes it an exceptional poem. In this case, the event is the not the usual death by accident, ill health or old age. This poem memorializes the deaths of seven thousands (7,000) of schoolchildren, who were selected, with incomprehensible malice, especially because they were children and their deaths would punctuate more fully the German call to end resistance. The only allusion to something of a military nature in the poem is the use of the word “cheta”. This word is usually used to describe a group of soldiers. With her line “a company of small ones”, referring to the children, Maksimovic makes a particularly ironic statement: the innocent children are being punished in a manner so brutal it is not fit for even the soldiers of the enemy. She compares the children's death to that of a martyr and she respectfully refrains from mentioning those responsible for their death, as it would ruin the forlorn and grief-stricken tone of the poem with anger. Rage will not bring the little martyrs back. All that remains is to immortalize them with an appropriate lamentation.

From Sarah's work:
Poetry As Memory”, 1999.
More Sarah O'Keeffe:
URI: The Kragujevac Massacre and Stjepan Filipovich's Valiant Last Stand