Monday, 4 November 2013

Hristo Botev and his 20 poems

Bulgarian poet and revolutionary Hristo Botev (1848-1876), approximately one year before his death. Image (c) Wikimedia Commons.

Now, what to write about this poet? His authority in literature - and history - is almost universally unquestioned by the Bulgarians. He is the subject of many studies, books and artworks. He has been so scrutinised that I would probably be unable to say anything exhaustive or new about him.

The person in question is the legendary Hristo Botev. He died when he was 28 years old, leaving behind only 20 poems, plus some opinion pieces and letters - but the short, intense lifespan and the strength of his writings were enough to prove that he was exceptional in Bulgaria, both as a poet and as a political leader.

Today perhaps every Bulgarian city and town has a street named after Botev (along with those named after Vasil Levski, Stefan Karadzha and other revolutionaries). At noon on 2 June every year everything stops and loud sirens commemorate for about a minute the death of Botev back in 1876, during the fight against the Ottomans in Vratsa mountains. He is that important.

As a 19th century author, Botev is a romanticist. His poems are dramatic, expressive, visual, philosophical - all at the same time. Popular topics include homeland; death; a beloved girl; mother, father & other members of the family; freedom fighters (e.g. there are two poems about the death of Vasil Levski and Hadzhi Dimitar); patriotism; solidarity; the struggle for independence. A couple of poems (Patriot and In The Tavern) are sarcastic, questioning the morals of certain people.        

Many Bulgarians will volunteer to inform you that a verse by Botev is engraved in gold at the Sorbonne in Paris among other verses by the world's greatest poets:

“The moon comes out and day grows dim, 
on heaven’s vault the stars now throng,
the forest rustles, quiet stirs the wind,
the mountains sing song of fighters.”

(from Hadzhi Dimitar, 1873)

It should not take you more than half of a day to get acquainted with Botev's poems. If you are at least a little interested in Bulgaria & its history, reading them is a must. You can easily find the texts of all 20 poems on the internet, for example, here

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