The Slavs beneath Parnassus

Miodrag Pavlović, the senior figure in Serbian poetry today, is less well known to the English-speaking world than his compatriots Vasko Popa and Ivan V. Lalić, although he has been widely translated into other European languages. This volume, containing fifty-seven poems, is the first substantial selection of his work in English. Pavlović’s poetry is rooted in Serbian historical mythology, which treats the tragic fate of the young Christian Serbian kingdom at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 as a grand sacrifice that saved medieval Christendom from the Ottoman yoke. The poems in this selection were written before events of the late 1990s demonstrated to the outside world how very much alive medieval events and the Kosovo issue still are in the Balkans.

Pavlović’s first collection 87 Poems, published in the last year of Stalin’s life, caused a political and literary furore, playing a major part in the launching of the modernist movement in Yugoslavia with an effect that might be compared in English terms to the first impact of the poets of the Great War and The Waste Land combined. In his next collections, he went on to link Serbian historical mythology with his own time, and the present volume selects from this major body of work as well as 87 Poems.

Pavlović’s interpretation of history and myth is in line with the major impetuses of international modernism, and he finds inspiration in T. S. Eliot, Yeats and Valéry in giving a sharply contemporary treatment and a broad European context not only to the mythologised heroic moment of Balkan history but also to the tradition of Ancient Greece, still keenly felt in the Balkans, and to themes from the New Testament and early Christianity.

The translations in this volume were prepared in close association with the poet.

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‘In Miodrag Pavlović’s poems the remote past exists as immediately and as intensely as modern Belgrade. Yet his voice and technique are wholly modern and original. And that seems both natural and inevitable. It takes a black, dislocating sensibility like his to cope with a surreal inheritance in which violence and discontinuity are the only certainties.’ – A. Alvarez in his Foreword

‘In The Slavs beneath Parnassus, translated with an admirably helpful and lucid introduction by Bernard Johnson, the poet gives a synoptic view of his own people’s history, at once conquered and conquering, Christian and pagan … always close to folk tale and song, simple, moving and brilliant, a reminder of what our own culture no longer possesses.’ – Martin Dodsworth, Guardian

‘The appearance in English translation of so important a contemporary Serbian poet as Miodrag Pavlović is particularly welcome … Bernard Johnson has lent his versions an iambic flavour which adequately reflects the trochaic ambience of the original more or less free verse, preserving its individual qualities and atmosphere. One can hardly ask more from any translation … Pavlović’s poetry will surely convince English readers that Serbian poetry has much to say to the world.’ – E. D. Goy, Scottish Slavonic Review