Introduction by Vasa D. Mihailovich
Petar II Petrovich Njegosh
Petar Petrovich Njegosh was a great poet, a prince by inheritance, and the Bishop of Montenegro in the first half of the nineteenth century. In fulfilling successfully these roles imposed on him by circumstances, he not only built for himself a pedestal among the immortals but also set his beloved Montenegro on the road toward full self-realization. Today he is revered as Montenegro's most illustrious son and the greatest poet in Serbian literature.
Born November 1, 1813, in the village of Njegushi in Montenegro, Njegosh was a member of a leading family which had produced state leaders for several generations in that small mountainous country. He grew up among illiterate peasants and shepherds, whose main duty was to fight incessant battles with the invading Turks and to till their infertile land. He left home when he was eleven and entered the Cetinje monastery, at that time the only place of any culture and education in Montenegro. His schooling was meager and unconventional; first in the monastery, then as tutored by the self-educated and eccentric poet Sima Milutinovich Sarajlija. Milutinovich taught the young Njegosh a few basic disciplines and instilled in him an appreciation for heroic folk poems, through which he called forth Njegosh 's own poetic inspirations. Njegosh was sent by his uncle, the state and spiritual leader of Montenegro, to a school near Herceg-Novi, on the Adriatic coast, just beyond the Montenegrin border. His brief stay there was highly beneficial to him because for the first time he was able to live in a more civilized environment. It was at this time that he began to write poems in imitation of folk poetry, which was then the only kind of literature of which the people of Montenegro were aware.
Though he had meager theological training, at the age of seventeen, in October 1830, Njegosh inherited his uncle's title as the head of both the state and the church. He remained in that capacity until his death. During his rule Njegosh spent most of his energy in leading Montenegro out of the Middle Ages, while nonetheless finding time to write. He had to bring order among the Montenegrin tribes, which resisted his attempts to eradicate common crime and often conducted bloody wars against one another. He tried to convince his countrymen that they ought to pay taxes so that the country could be modernized. He also fought to establish the borders of Montenegro and played diplomatic games with the great powers — Turkey, Austria, and Russia — in order to achieve formal recognition of Montenegro as a sovereign state, while at the same time organizing military campaigns against the Turks and their Montenegrin converts. He built schools and roads, very few of which had existed before him; organized a small governing body called the Senate; created the first organized police force in Montenegro to combat crime, collect taxes, and prevent tribal wars; imported a printing press and started publishing books; and sent gifted youths abroad to provide for an enlightened future leadership for the country. All the while he was dreaming of the liberation of all Slavs from the Turks, placing his greatest hope in Russia as the protector of the Slavs. In 1833 he went to Russia, where he was officially ordained Bishop of Montenegro. While on his journey to Russia, in Vienna, he twice met Vuk Karadzich, the great reformer of the Serbian written language and collector of Serbian folk literature. Njegosh gave Vuk some of his writings to be published and, in turn, was encouraged by Vuk to write more. From Russia Njegosh brought many books, which represented his first real encounter with world literature. His second trip to Russia, in 1837. contributed even further to the recognition of Montenegro as a sovereign state and to the security of its borders. He remained a loyal admirer of Russia all his life, even when Russia had to make peace with his arch-enemy, Turkey.
The next ten years were a period of lively literary activity in Njegosh's life, during which he wrote his greatest works — The Ray of Microcosm and The Mountain Wreath, while continuing his struggle for a strong and secure Montenegro. The revolutions of 1848 in Europe strengthened his hopes that all Slavs, especially the South Slavs, would completely free themselves from foreign domination, and that his beloved Montenegro would finally be left in peace. When the revolutions failed, Njegosh was bitterly disappointed. In addition, strenuous work under unsavory conditions and the constant fighting which surrounded him undermined his health. He fell ill of tuberculosis and after several trips to Italy and Austria in search of a cure, died on October 19, 1851, at his capital Cetinje, in his thirty-eighth year, too young to finish his two main missions — as a statesman and as a poet. He is buried at Lovcen, a mountain peak he had chosen himself. His mausoleum is now a shrine for his whole nation.
Njegosh began to write poetry at a very early age, when he was only sixteen. His four books of poetry The Voice of Mountaineers (1833), The Cure for Turkish Fury (1834), The Song of Freedom (1835, published 1854), and The Serbian Mirror (1845) — attest to the fact that poetry was foremost on his mind and in his heart, even when he was preoccupied with other concerns. His early poems imitate the folk poetry with which he grew up and whose influence stayed with him his entire life. As he matured, imitation gave way to his own renditions of the overriding theme of Serbian folk epic poetry — the struggle against the Turkish occupation or the threat thereof, and the eventual liberation from it. The freeing of all Serbs from the Turkish yoke was Njegosh lifelong dream, both as a statesman and as a poet. In poems like “A New Montenegrin Poem about the War between the Russians and the Turks” (1828) and “A Montenegrin Captured by a Fairy” (1834), Njegosh glorifies the bravery of the Serbs in that struggle as epitomized by Karageorge, the leader of the First Serbian Uprising against the Turks in 1804. Yet, even though these poems are imbued with the heroic spirit of folk poetry and follow its formalistic features, they also reveal the authenticity and potential power of Njegosh's own poetic talent, which would be manifested in his later works.
Njegosh's first important work, and one of the greatest achievements in Serbian literature, is the epic poem The Ray of Microcosm, (1845, in English, 1952 and 1957). Written in the decasyllabic meter of Serbian folk poetry, it deviates from the spirit of folk poetry in that it deals with the poet's philosophical and religious views on man, his origin, his relationship with God, and his ultimate fate on earth. The six cantos of this epic present, through the eyes of a poet who is given the opportunity to visit the cosmos in its pre-existence, Njegosh's own interpretation of the origin of the world and man's role in it. As in Christian tradition, Njegosh sees the world as God's creation after the titanic struggle of Light and Darkness, but Njegosh's man is created by God before the creation of the earth and is condemned to eternal suffering on earth after he has joined Satan in the rebellion against God. Thus, Njegosh's religious outlook is basically in agreement with the Christian view although it differs in details. The poem is written in an exalted tone as befits the subject matter, and the depth of his views and thoughts resembles that of Dante's Divine Comedy and Milton's Paradise Lost, to which it is often compared. While it is true that Njegosh was familiar with both of these works, his epic is the result of his own thinking and poetic power.
Njegosh published his magnum opus, The Mountain Wreath, in 1847, the banner year in Serbian literature. In the same year Vuk Karadzich published his own translation of the New Testament into a language that every Serb could understand, and Branko Radicevich published his Poems, the first collection of Serbian lyric poetry in the language of the people. To be sure, The Mountain Wreath goes beyond the significance of the year. It is a modern epic written in verse as a play, thus combining three of the major modes of literary expression.
The Mountain Wreath represents a synthesis in another sense as well. It is based on historical facts, thus it can be called a historical play. It epitomizes the spirit of the Serbian people kept alive for centuries; indeed, there is no other literary work with which the Serbs identify more. it gave Njegosh an opportunity to formulate his own philosophical views, views which also reflect and further inspire those of his nation. Finally, in this work the author reaches artistic heights seen neither before nor since in Serbian literature. These are the main reasons for the universal reverence for and high estimation of The Mountain Wreath the highest achievement in all of Serbian literature.
The play is based on a historical event in Montenegro that took place toward the end of the seventeenth century, known as “the exterminations of the Turkish converts”. Although the historical facts about this event are somewhat uncertain, it is known that at approximately that time Montenegrins attempted to solve radically the problem of many of their brethren who, having succumbed to the lure of Turkish power, had agreed to being converted to Islam, mainly to improve their increasingly harsh lives. The fact that Njegosh used this event only as a general framework, however, without bothering about the exact historical data, underscores his concern with an issue that had preoccupied him throughout his entire life: the struggle for freedom from foreign oppression. He subjects the entire plot and all characters to this central idea.
The themes presented in The Mountain Wreath lend the work dimensions that go far beyond its local limitations. The basic theme is the struggle for freedom, justice, and dignity. The characters are fighting to correct a local flaw in their society — the presence of turncoats whose allegiance is to a foreign power bent on conquest — but they are at the same time involved in a struggle between good and evil, which is found everywhere in nature. Thus, while depicting the local problem Njegosh points at the ideals that should concern all mankind. He expresses a firm belief in man and in his basic goodness and integrity. He also shows that man must forever fight for his rights and for whatever he attains, for nothing comes by chance. Apart from these universal concerns, Njegosh presents the centuries-old struggle of his people for the ideals just mentioned. Perhaps no people on earth has been forced by historical circumstances to pay for every speck of land and every piece of bread with blood and sweat as have the Montenegrins. In elevating their struggle to a universal level Njegosh seems to find both justification and reward for their efforts. It should also be pointed out that much of the action and many characters in The Mountain Wreath point at similarities with Njegosh and his own time. By connecting the past with the present he gave vent to his own frustrations which were caused by the often insurmountable difficulties he had to endure in his attempts to create a better life for his people. It is safe to assume that many of the thoughts and words of Bishop Danilo and Abbot Stephen reflect Njegosh's own, and that the main plot of the play — the extermination of the converts — illuminates the one overriding ambition of his life -to free his people and enable them to live in peace and dignity.
The Mountain Wreath is not a drama in the usual sense of the word. Divided into four scenes of unequal length, it has many subscenes which tend to weaken the unity of action. There is little direct action, moreover, most of it is related by characters, sometimes at great length. It is more of a Lesedrama and it is not performed often: even when it is, it is done with revisions. It cannot be said, however, that the play is totally devoid of dramatic quality: at times it is highly dramatic, even in the speeches relating the action. There is also a healthy dose of humour which enlivens an otherwise sombre and often tragic atmosphere.
One of the most important merits of The Mountain Wreath is its high artistic quality. Employing a decasyllabic meter borrowed from folk poetry, the play is written in the pure language of folk poetry, a language that never ceases to astound the reader and listener. There are many powerful metaphors and striking images. When numerous profound thoughts are added, frequently expressed in the laconic manner of proverbs (indeed, many of them have become proverbs), the picture of The Mountain Wreath as a masterful work of art is complete.
Njegosh wrote his second play — and his last major work — Stephen the Small, the Pretender (1847), soon after The Mountain Wreath. Yet, despite some similarities (both plays are based on history and are written in the decasyllabic meter, for example), the two plays could not be more different. Njegosh collected the material for this play in the archives at home and in Venice, as well as in the rich folklore about the main character and his exploits. Stephen the Small was published in 1851, the last of his books which he would see in print.
The historical background of the play covers one of the most fascinating and bizarre events in Montenegrin history. A man appeared in Montenegro in 1767 claiming that he was the Russian Tsar Peter III, who had disappeared in Russia under mysterious circumstances and was believed to have been murdered. Most Montenegrins believed Stephen and installed him as their ruler. His rule lasted only until 1774, however, because some Montenegrin leaders doubted his story; a Russian envoy, Dolgorukov, arrived to claim his extradition; and the Turks demanded that he be handed over to them. The Turks even attacked Montenegro for that purpose, but were defeated. During the brief war Stephen behaved in a cowardly manner, thus losing respect among Montenegrins. But because he did some good during his short reign — he brought unity among the feuding tribes, effected reforms, and defeated the Turks — his shortcomings were forgiven, even after he finally admitted that he had come from Dalmatia as an adventurer. Stephen was murdered by a Greek in Turkish service, who cut his throat while shaving him.
Such an adventure tale could have served Njegosh well had he been a more skillful playwright. But instead of concentrating on the plot, dramatic as it was, he used the dramatic form mainly to put forth his views on Montenegrin history, on the never-ending war against the Turks, and on the Montenegrin character in general. The play is much less exalted and much more down to earth than The Mountain Wreath. It is also much more of a traditional play than The Mountain Wreath. Even though it does not always adhere to the unities of time and place and the scenery sometimes changes in the midst of an act, it is clearly divided into five acts, with eleven scenes on an average in each act. Still, the fact of the matter is that Stephen the Small is also more of a Lesedrama than a play to be acted (it is indeed seldom performed). The actors spend most of their time talking rather than acting, and the author seems to be carried away by their incessant talk.
The lack of a truly dramatic quality in Stephen the Small reveals that Njegosh was more preoccupied with his own views about this brief and strange episode in Montenegrin history than with its dramatic potential. It is also conceivable that, having experienced similar difficulties in dealing with his own people and with the Turks, he wanted to point out the basic differences between his approach through strength of mind, will, and character, and Stephen's through deceit and adventurism. At the same time Njegosh could not ignore the fact that, despite his shortcomings Stephen did have some success in dealing with the Montenegrins and the Turks in the area in which Njegosh had a lifelong ambition to succeed — in dealing with the Montenegrins and the Turks.
Stephen the Small is, therefore, less successful as a traditional play than it is in offering a fascinating picture of the conditions in Montenegro in the second half of the eighteenth century, of some, often humorous, traits of the Montenegrin character, and of Montenegro's relationship with Russia. Perhaps the greatest significance of this play lies in showing the organic development of the author, as Vido Latkovich sees it, from an idealist in The Ray of Microcosm, and romanticist in The Mountain Wreath to a realist in Stephen the Small, the Pretender.
The importance of Njegosh's contribution to Serbian, as well as world, literature can be seen both from a local and a universal point of view. Locally, his appearance at the time when Serbian literature was making its first unsure steps after centuries of dormancy lent this reawakening a strong impetus. Coming in the midst of the struggle for the use of the people's language in literature, Njegosh's use of the vernacular, which he patterned after folk poetry, assured the success of this all-important linguistic reform. His poetic power, depth of thought, and ability to express himself in artistic form, moreover, an ability not seen before or after in Serbian literature, enabled this literature to rejoin the rest of the world during the period of Romanticism. From the universal standpoint, Njegosh's preoccupation with some of the most basic themes of human existence — man's origin and the meaning of his life, the constant struggle between good and evil, man's yearning for freedom — makes him a poet of universal significance and appeal. For these reasons he is considered to be the greatest Serbian and South Slavic writer. Although a lack of adequate translations has precluded him so far from reaching a wider audience, he is still well-known abroad, as attested by his frequent comparison with such great writers as Pushkin, Milton, Dante, Mickiewicz, and others.
Printing of The Mountain Wreath
Most of The Mountain Wreath was written in 1846 in Cetinje, the capital of Montenegro. In October 1846 Njegosh took along the manuscript on his visit to Vienna, where it was published the following year by the printers in the Armenian Mechitarist monastery. The first edition was prepared by Njegosh himself and he was supposed to have overseen the printing of the book. He either did not have time or was in no mood to pay attention to every detail, however, because he had come to Vienna on an important mission: to ask the Russian government to help his country stricken by drought and threatened by famine and the Turks. Since the Russians were hesitant in allowing him to come to Russia for fear of angering the Turks, with whom they were on good terms at that time, Njegosh was in no mood to devote much time to the printing of his magnum opus. It is, therefore, possible that some minor changes were made by someone else during the printing. The comparison of the only preserved manuscript (verses 1-1528) with the first edition shows differences whose authorship is difficult to ascertain.
Since the first publication in 1847, there have been almost a hundred new editions, all of which adhere to the first. Njegosh did not see another publication of The Mountain Wreath for he died four years later. It is difficult to imagine that he would have made significant changes, however, had he lived longer. To be sure, there are changes in subsequent editions, mainly to correct obvious misprints or grammatical inconsistencies, or to conform to new orthographic rules. Thus, even though there is no official standard version of The Mountain Wreath, the edition of 1847 suits that definition as far as the meaning of the text is concerned, minor changes notwithstanding. This fact speaks for the unerring creative power of Njegosh, who was able to write his major work in one sitting, so to speak.
The Mountain Wreath has been translated into most modern languages, in some cases more than once (in German, Russian, Czech, and now English). The changes mentioned above and other references that are difficult to illuminate fully have led to constant interpretations of The Mountain Wreath by various scholars. The main interpreters are Milan Reshetar, Vido Latkovich, Risto Dragichevich, and Nikola Banashevich. There are many other, less ambitious interpretations of individual passages or lines. It is safe to say that the definitive interpretation of The Mountain Wreath is far from being complete and that this greatest work in Serbian and South Slav literatures will keep inspiring research forever.
On translating The Mountain Wreath into English
The first translation of The Mountain Wreath into English, by James W. Wiles, was published in 1930. Wiles was a great friend of the Serbs, well acquainted with their culture having spent many years among them. He first read The Mountain Wreath in 1913, translated it for many years, and finally consented to demands for its publication. It was until now the only English translation of this work.
Wiles's translation remains a gallant effort. Only those readers who are familiar with the drama, its aphoristic thoughts, at times oblique references, and the strange beauty of The Mountain Wreath in the original can comprehend the difficulties of translating it into another language.
Yet, his motives and gallant efforts notwithstanding, the end result of Wiles's labour was not an unmitigated success. His entire approach to the task reveals several inadequacies and fallacies, which prevented his translation from doing justice to Njegosh's masterpiece. Some of these inadequacies were inherent in the circumstances under which he had to work and over which he had little or no control at all: the inevitable, at times profound differences between the Serbian and English languages; the inability of a non-native to grasp the fine literary and linguistic nuances of the original; and most certainly, some peculiarities of The Mountain Wreath which are often difficult to master even for a native (witness several interpretations by Yugoslav scholars, some of which are still unreconciled).
Over other problems Wiles had better control but failed to, or chose not to, exercise it. His decision to abandon the decasyllabic meter of Njegosh's verse was, no doubt, dictated by the extreme difficulty of following it strictly in English. Yet, the translator often went too far in his freedom. His verses not only fail to reproduce the ten-syllable meter of The Mountain Wreath, but they often show great unevenness in the number of feet per line. Sometimes one verse of Njegosh is split into two.
The greatest fallacy of Wiles's approach was his belief that The Mountain Wreath must have sounded extremely exalted and archaic even at the time of publication in 1847. As a consequence, the translator strove consciously to recreate the elevated tone of Njegosh's epic by deliberately choosing expressions that are no longer in common use: ye, dot/i, thou, thee, tliy, hast, shouldst, wilt, and so on, not to speak of expressions which may be pardonable in a poetic style but are still quite outlandish: reconipense, maw, mischance, puissant, thereto, spake, ambuscade, methinks, and so on. Such an approach leads not only to a high degree of unusualness, unbefitting a work patterned after folk poetry whose beauty lies primarily in its noble simplicity, but also to a highly stilted language and even stammering speech. One of the best illustrations of this can be found in the verse
That thus thou dost delay to us to come.
To be sure, just as Shakespeare sounds somewhat archaic to the present-day English reader, The Mountain Wreath does at times sound somewhat antiquated to a modern ear. When it was written, however, it sounded quite natural to a contemporary reader. When such a work is translated into a modern language, for a modern reader, there is no reason why it should be translated in a language belonging to a different era. It is here that the greatest weakness of Wiles's translation lies. It is primarily this strange sounding language used by Wiles, coupled with other inadequacies, that encouraged me to undertake a new translation.
While working on the translation of The Mountain Wreath into English, I was faced with many of the same or similar problems and dilemmas which beset my predecessor. At the same time, there were problems which my predecessor was not aware of or, more likely, chose to ignore. It is in this area that my translation differs substantially from that of Wiles.
First of all, strenuous efforts were made to be as faithful to the original as possible, without making the translation sound like one. My overwhelming awe before Njegosh stifled any temptation to change his work. Such temptation has ruined many a translation, revealing in actuality a frustrated writer in the translator himself. Changes that were made are of a minor nature, dictated only by the impossibility of expressing some word phrase, or idea of Njegosh's exactly the same way in English.
The second important element of my approach deals with the question of how contemporary the translation of The Mountain Wreath should be. As mentioned, it makes no sense to render this work in a version of a foreign language that is at least one to two hundred years old. On the contrary, the language of the translation should be just as contemporary as it was to the first reader. There is no reason, therefore, to deny to a modern reader in English the beauty, clarity, and freshness of the original.
The question of form was probably the most difficult to solve. Apart from a few passages in prose, most of which are stage instructions, one brief passage in the nine-syllable meter (verses 1855-73), and the lament of Batrich's sister, which is in the twelve-syllable meter (verses 1913-63), the entire work is in the decasyllabic meter (deseterac). Strenuous attempts were made to adhere strictly to the meter of the original. Blank verse, consisting of unrhymed iambic pentameter, would have offered a natural solution. Unfortunately, the meter of The Mountain Wreath is not iambic but, most often, trochaic, which is not indigenous to English verse. Both the iamb and the trochee, therefore, had to be abandoned. The decasyllabic meter, however, has still been preserved in all but a very few verses. At the same time, the caesura, which occurs in The Mountain Wreath regularly after the fourth syllable, has been kept in almost all verses. The only concessions were a few “untruet” caesuras and sporadic “filler” phrases such as “indeed”, “pray tellt”, “surely”, and so on, in order to complete the decasyllabic line: in no case was the meaning of the original compromised.
In order to preserve the flavour of Njegosh's masterpiece, instead of explaining or interpreting unusual metaphors, they were kept whenever possible. For example, the frequent use of the metaphor “gray falcon” for a young brave man is so beautiful that any attempt to find a similar metaphor in English would be a pale reflection of it. Similarly, the use of “doe” for a beautiful girl, as in verse 1843, is best left unchanged unless one wants to correct Njegosh at his craft. Another metaphor, “the evil wind put out the holy lamp”, is a good example of the author's way of expressing his religious preference in a poetic fashion; for this reason, it is best to preserve the metaphor in the form Njegosh meant it.
In selecting words, I have often refrained from long or “intellectual” words; instead, simpler, one-to-two syllable words, the so-called Celtic words, were used, not only because they are more direct and more powerful poetically, but also because they correspond more closely to Njegosh's folk-imitating speech. Thus, for example, the Serbian word “Podjosmo” [Pođosmo] — (verse 2607) is translated as “set out” rather than “departed” or “journeyed”; and “pochine” [počine] (verse 1873) is rendered as “rests” rather than “reposes” or “reclines”.
Many more short sentences were used in translation than one finds in Njegosh. It is quite common in a Serbian text to find two or more independent clauses in the same sentence, separated by a comma; such practice is not tolerated in English. For this reason punctuation frequently had to be changed. Fortunately, these and other changes in punctuation did not alter the meaning of the original at all.
At times an inversion of phrases or clauses within a verse or of verses themselves was necessary in order to produce a smoother reading in English. The inversion of entire verses was mostly of adjacent ones (for example, verses 487-88, 597-98, 827-28, 1153-54, 2150-51, and so on). At times it was necessary to invert verses separated by two and even more lines (verses 668-72, 927-29, 2212-14, 2601-03, and so on). On some occasions enjambment was used (verses 772-73, 971-72, 1476-77, 2294-95, and so on), although it seldom occurs in The Mountain Wreath. The tense sequence was kept uniform within passages. In Serbian the switching from one tense to another, usually from the past to the present, is done with abandon, often in the same paragraph; no such switching is possible in English. The best examples of this are found in verses 998-1005 and 1299-1304. Finally, there is little rhyming in The Mountain Wreath except in the Dedication poem and in a few other verses. Rhyming was completely abandoned in the translation simply because it would have necessitated many deviations from the original.
As for the many difficult passages, phrases, and references in The Mountain Wreath, I have relied for the most part on the interpretations of Professor Nikola Banasevich in his commentaries for its latest edition (Belgrade: Srpska knjizhevna zadruga, 1973). He has, in turn, made a compendium of all previous commentaries. When an interpretation was still in doubt, I have tended to side with Professor Banashevich.
All these problems and their attempted solutions have undoubtedly resulted in a certain loss of poetic quality in this translation of The Mountain Wreath. This is inevitable in any translation that strives to be faithful to the author and his work, especially if that work is a poetic one. In addition to this general circumstance, there is something in the nature of Serbian sounds and the way in which syllables are formed that causes a loss of poetic quality in translation. Serbian sounds, especially those of vowels, are both shorter and clearer than in English. Syllables are usually made through regular interchange of vowels and consonants, producing a much greater musical effect than in English.
It is therefore not surprising that neither James W. Wiles nor myself have completely succeeded in reproducing the artistic and musical quality of Njegosh's work, as is evidenced by the translation of the above verses. What we have accomplished, I believe, are decent renderings of this beautiful but difficult work.
It is not my intention to pass judgment on the merits of the two translations — the reader should be the judge. Nor do I wish to denigrate Wiles's translation, which, as stated at the beginning, still deserves our respect and gratitude. I myself have used it for comparison and have borrowed a few lines that cannot be improved upon. There are, however, only a few identical lines.
A literary work of the magnitude of The Mountain Wreath deserves to be translated in, by, and for every generation. It is my hope that this is the translation for the second half of the twentieth century.
I would like to express my gratitude to the University of North Carolina Research Council and to Bonnie Carey for their generous assistance as well as to Professor Vujadin Milanovich from the University of Belgrade for his suggestions for better English rendering of quite a number of lines in this edition and for making this bilingual edition splendid as it is.
Vasa D. Mihailovich
Introduction to The Mountain Wreath, 1997.
Foreword by Publisher
In our desire to take part in the celebration of the 150th anniversary of our greatest poetic work, we have decided to publish it with a parallel English translation, the first of the kind in our country.(*)
The first edition of The Mountain Wreath in English was published in 1930, in the translation by the first English lector in the newly founded Department of English at the University of Belgrade, James W. Wiles, who had learnt Serbian quite well. But, as any translation of a great poem into another language, Wiles could not quite adequately render into English all intricate lines and phrases of Njegosh's linguistic and stylistic features. All students of this work, especially the translators of poetry, know that it is impossible to satisfy all the requirements of a perfect translation. It was observed a long time ago that translations are like women: if they are beautiful, they are not faithful, if faithful — they are not beautiful.
Apart from the desire to improve on the previous translation, it is necessary for every new generation to attempt a new translation of a great poem in order to refresh it with new features and qualities of the language into which it is translated.
The translation by Mr. Vasa D. Mihailovich, a naturalized American and an outstanding Slavic scholar at the University of North Carolina, (Chapel Hill, USA), appeared in the USA more than half a century after the first English translation, for both reasons just mentioned. This jubilee is an additional reason for this translation to appear in the poet's native country, as a new and revised edition. It was recommended to us by some English Slavicists as well as by some of our local Njegosh scholars.
In Introduction to his translation, also republished here, Professor Mihailovich presents not only his interesting observations on Njegosh and his works, particularly those on Njegosh's contribution to world literature, but he also enlarges on his approach to rendering The Mountain Wreath into English different from the one chosen by James W. Wiles and still more clearly justifies his call for a new translation of this epic. That is why we have decided to publish his introduction also, both in English and in Serbian.
Our English scholars and British Slavicists are, naturally, most competent to judge Mihailovich's translation, but it will be done with due justice if his translation is compared with Serbian translations of Shakespeare. Shakespeare's works have been translated into Serbian since 1860 and we are still not satisfied with those achievements. To be sure, neither are other European nations that began that work long before us and whose languages are far more similar to English than the Serbian language is.
We are obliged to Professor Vasa D. Mihailovich for his contribution to the appreciation of English speaking readers of the best South Slavic epic; and for enabling us to join the celebration of this anniversary with this new and unusual edition.
*) The first such edition of The Mountain Wreath, in Vasa D. Mihailovich's translation, appeared in the USA in 1986. Three years later its reprint edition appeared in Belgrade, and this is its first Serbian edition with a parallel English verse translation thoroughly revised by the translator so that it is almost a new version.