Не мерим више време на сате,
ни по сунчевом врелом ходу
дан ми је кад његове се очи врате
и ноћ кад поново од мене оду.
Не мерим срећу смехом, ни тиме
да ли је чежња моја од његове јача;
срећа је мени кад болно ћутим с њиме
и кад нам срца бију ритмом плача.
Није ми жао што ће живота воде
однети и моје гране зелене;
сад нека младост и све нека оде:
он је задивљен стао крај мене.
I no longer watch the hands turn,
Nor track the sun’s hot path;
Day is here when his eyes return,
And night again when they depart.
Happiness doesn’t just mean laughter,
Not even his yearning stronger than mine;
Happy moments, throbbing silent with him,
Our hearts beat to the rhythm of crying.
I don’t lament that life’s rivers
Will carry my green branches away;
Now let youth and everything go,
Amazed, he stood beside me.
Desanka Maksimović (1898-1993) was born in the village of Rabrovica, near Valjevo. She was a poet, professor of literature and a member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. She is the greatest Serbian writer of her time and author of numerous collections of poems, several novels and storybooks for children. She made a great contribution to developing the expressivity of the Serbian poetic language, enriching it with new subtle images, and managing to explore, like no one else, the inner world of the female soul. In 1998, UNESCO recognized Maksimovich as a “Personality of Culture of the 20th Century”.
She was born into the family of a rural teacher and the daughter of a priest. Her love for literature was instilled in her by her father and Sima Pandurovich, a high school teacher and a poet. While studying at the philological faculty of the University of Belgrade, she was strongly influenced by the literary critic and university teacher Bogdan Popovich, under whose guidance she wrote her thesis. It was on his recommendation that, after a year working as a teacher in Dubrovnik, the aspiring poet received a scholarship from the French government and majored in art history at the Sorbonne (1924–1925). Upon her return, she worked as a teacher in Belgrade, and after World War II, she worked in the country’s Ministry of Education, and as a writer.
Her first publication appeared in 1920 in the Belgrade magazine Misao (“Thought”), and her first poetry collection, Pesme (“Songs”), was published in 1924 and was favorably received by critics. The famous literary historian M. Kashanin called Maksimovich a gifted poet with an innate poetic gift and sense of style. In the interwar period her fame increased markedly after the publication of the poetry collections Zeleny Vitez (“The Green Knight”, 1930), Gozba in the Livadi (“Feast in the Meadow”, 1932), Nove Pesme (“New Poems”, 1936) and the collection of short stories Kako oni zhive (“How they live”, 1935). The poem Kryava Bajka(“Bloody Fairy Tale”)was a response to the mass execution of almost the entire male population of the city of Kraguyeyats in October 1941. “Zovina Spirala” is her last published work in 1992.
She did not join any of the literary movements of the time and scarcely participated in poetry circles. The exception was the Russian-Serbian circle “Steps” (1927), whose members (M. Kashanin, G. Krklets, M. Pogodin, E. Tauber and others) were mainly engaged in poetic translation. In those years she developed a deep interest in Russia and Russian literature, explainable by her personal circumstances: she became the wife of a Russian emigrant, the translator S. Slastikov.
The deepest emotions compelled the poetess to write from her heart. At times, joyous, energetic, and optimistic thoughts flowed from her pen, while at other times, verses laden with sadness, fear, and regret emerged. Desanka, with her ability to articulate feelings in a vivid and lifelike manner, became a great poet whose verses resonated not only with the most erudite but also with those less acquainted with literature. Her feelings manifested on paper like melodies. Drawing inspiration from tales of love, human experiences, suffering, and characteristics, the poetess transformed them into poignant verses that stirred readers’ thoughts. This gave rise to some of the most beautiful compositions touching on themes of children, unrequited love, and the profound connection to the motherland, homeland, and the immense losses suffered by its people. Her verses, though still filled with love, acquired a touch of seriousness and calmness. In the 1960s, she published the collection of poems “I’m Looking for Pardon,” engaging in a lyrical discussion with Dušan’s Code while presenting her views on people and the past of the Serbian people.
In the Balkans, everyone, whether a lover of poetry or not, at some point in their life has encountered her verses. During her seven-decade-long career, she published more than 50 collections of poems.
Themes of life and death permeate all of Desanka’s works. The poet perceived them as a natural sequence, stating, “We are the earth/all the rest are illusions.” Without drama or tragedy, she calmly described the circle of life. With such thoughts and valuable deeds, Desanka Maksimović peacefully passed away on February 11, 1993, aged 94.
“There wasn’t a day when she didn’t pick up a pen, sit down and write. She didn’t waste time even in moments when she was sad because of the death of her mother or husband, she didn’t relax, she picked up a pen and translated other poets,” her cousin recalls.
This poetess with a great and noble heart, dedicating her entire life to writing, left behind a rich legacy. Hundreds of songs, short stories, poems, and narratives will forever remind us of a woman unashamed of her flaws and fears, who penned pages with her heart, leaving us with sad, happy, loving, patriotic, and dignified verses—stories about everything that life encompasses.
On the memorable morning of November 30th, within the cozy confines of the GO train en route to the University of Guelph, fate led me to meet four enchanting Serbian women. They took a train to reach Appleby. Amidst our animated conversation, one gracious lady named Draga illuminated my world with tales of the esteemed Serbian poet, Desanka Maksimović. In the heart of Toronto, a city far removed from the landscapes of Serbia, I found myself touched by the profound admiration and love these women harbored for their cherished poet. It was a poignant reminder that art transcends borders, connecting kindred spirits across vast distances. To those wonderful Serbian ladies on that moving journey, I extend my deepest gratitude. In sharing the beauty of Serbian poetry, you gifted me not only with the essence of a distant culture but also with a profound appreciation for the universal language of love and art.
written by HeeSun
HeeSun is a poet and storybook writer who belongs to the University in the Community. She brings hope to people and brightens the world with beautiful poems, songs, and stories. She is a member of the Pen International.