Tin Ujević – the car ferry and the poet

MF “Tin Ujević” is the car ferry that runs from Split to Stari Grad. It sails several times daily, more often in the summer months and less frequently throughout the rest of the year. The trip takes a couple of hours, I could wish it went faster, but it’s a time to have breakfast (or lunch) and catch up on phone calls or emails. The only time this ferry doesn’t sail is during a strong bura – that powerful blast of cold air that sweeps down off the mainland and can cause such havoc across the Adriatic.

Tin Ujević the car ferry

Tin Ujević the car ferry, docked in Stari Grad

So who is or was Tin Ujević, that he should have a boat named after him? Augustin Ujević was a poet, considered by many to be Croatia’s finest. He’s somewhat of a local boy, having been born in Vrgorac in the Dalmatian hinterland, way over the other side of Biokovo in 1891. His mother came from Milna on the neighbouring island of Brač, and he grew up in Makarska and Split. So he spent quite some time in this area.

Tin Ujević the poet

Tin Ujević was Croatia’s best-known poet

I didn’t know anything about Tin’s poetry until I came across the beautifully evokative Bura on Brač, describing the howling of the winter storms across the landscape. It’s a very lyrical poem,  using words  in a particularly rhythmic way. It reminds me a lot of Dylan Thomas’s work with its repetition and rhythms. I’m going to give it a go at translating it into English, but remember the original was written by a master wordscraftman, so any awkward phrasing in the translation is all mine!

Bura na Braču

U prozore i vratnice
lupa bura tmurnih ura;
dršću male dvokatnice.
Bura. Bura. Bura. Bura.
Kao misli zlopatnice,
kao duše sve patnice,
u pjesmi bez riječi
struje hladni žmarci
u kuće bez peći;
tresu male dvokatnice,
u prozore i vratnice.
Jauču šumarci.
Uz obalu stabla gura.
Vjetar gruva, grmi: hura!
Ko bi zvučna duša bila
razapeta povrh krova?
Odgonetah: ti si vila
Mosora i Biokova.
Ti se žičiš zvonkim staklom,
ti si jecaj tog konopca,
a nad morskim bijelim paklom
gordi polet divljeg kopca,
oblik lađareva ropca.
O te muke tvoga plača,
o te pjesme tvoga brača
izbodene povrh drača:
buro, ti si blokus Brača.
Bura on Brač

Into windows and doors
The bura pounds in gloomy hours;
small stone houses shudder.
Bura. Bura. Bura. Bura.
As witching thoughts,
as all the suffering souls,
in songs without words
the flowing cold jolts
in homes without heating
shaking the small houses,
in windows and doors.
Woodlands moan.
Along the coast tearing trees.
Wind thumps, thunders: roars!
Who is this noisy soul
ripping across the roof-tops?
I know you, you are the spirit
of Mosor and Biokovo.
You are the noise of thrumming glass
You are the cry of the rope
and above the white hell of the sea
the proud flight of the wild falcon,
the shape of the boatman’s sail.
O those suffering of your tears,
o the songs of your brothers
torn by the thorns:
bura, you are the scourge of Brač.
In that last verse, Ujević uses the same word with different meanings – so brača (small b) is brothers, while Brača (capital B) is Brač. It’s an effect he apparently used often in his works, and it doesn’t translate at all well. Hopefully you get the idea, though, and some sense of what these winter storms are like in an area where folks are more used to warm sunshine!
Here’s a wonderful version by the Concordia Discors choir, which really conjures up the powerful thrumming of the wind:

Tin Ujević signature

Read more about Tin Ujević on Wikipedia

Where is the MF Tin Ujević right now? Find out on Marine Traffic