Tin’s haunting Departure echoes down through the years

Tin Ujević in Sarajevo, 1934Tin Ujević was a real character, a bohemian kind of chap, a storyteller who frequented cafés and bars in the first half of the 20th century. He was one of Croatia’s best-loved poets, still is in fact, though he died 60 years ago this year. His work lives on in common culture, and just about everyone can produce a quote from Tin’s poems, or even sing it!

One of my favourites is the poem Odlazak, set to music  by the incomparable Arsen Dedić. Both the lyrics and the melody are haunting, and I find myself singing the refrain for days after I’ve heard it. In this year of so much painful migration, the theme is particularly poignant.

Here are the words, and our translation into English


U slutnji, u čežnji daljine, daljine;
u srcu, u dahu planine, planine.

Malena mjesta srca moga,
spomenak Brača, Imotskoga.

I blijesak slavna šestopera,
i miris (miris) kalopera

Tamo, tamo da putujem,
tamo, tamo da tugujem;

da čujem one stare basne,
da mlijeko plave bajke sasnem;

da više ne znam sebe sama,
ni dima bola u maglama.


In foreboding, yearning distance, distance;
in heart, in breath mountains, mountains.

Small places in my heart,
memories of Brač, and Imotski.

The flash of glorious goldfinch,
and the scent (the scent) of tansy

There, there to journey,
there, there to mourn;

to listen to those old nursery stories,
to dream the milk of a blue fairy tale;

to no longer know myself,
nor smoke in the mists of pain.

Now, I have to say that there’s some serious problems in translating Tin’s very beautifully crafted and evocative poem. There’s so much in the rhythm and the combination of sounds that make the original so brilliant. So I’m going to suggest that after getting the gist of the meaning, that you listen to the musical version with the Croatian words. Sing along if you feel like it, I always do!

It’s not just the rythms that are tricky, some of the words are poeticized (if that’s a word?)  and can be quite obscure, especially if he’s using Dalmatian dialect. For example, “šestopera” translates literally as “six feather” – so what on earth is one of those? I see the explanation on the internet to help Croatian schoolkids says that this refers to a six-pointed mace. Really? This man reminiscing about his idyllic childhood on Brač and Imotski is thinking about a medieval weapon of war?!! Instead, we’ve chosen to go with the lesser-known, and seemingly local informal use of šestoperac to refer to a type of gardelin or goldfinch, a bird very common and much-loved around Dalmatia. Recalling the flash of a goldfinch in flight makes a lot more sense in this scenario!

Now let’s try for a more expert translation of another of Tin’s poems, to give you a better flavour. The award-winning British poet Richard Berengarten has published a book called  Tin Ujević: Twelve Poems, and he really brings out not just the meaning, but the poetry of the words. Here, with Richard’s kind permission, is one of the poems from his book.

Zvijezde u Visini

Ne ljubi manje koji mnogo ćuti
on mnogo traži, i on mnogo sluti,
i svoju ljubav (kao parče kruva
za gladne zube) on brižljivo čuva
za zvijezde u visini
za srca u daljini.

Ćutanje kaže: u tuđem svijetu
ja sanjam još o cvijetu i sonetu,
i o pitaru povrh trošne grede,
i o ljepoti naše svijetle bijede,
i u zar dana i u plavet noći
snim: ja ću doći, ja ću doći.

Stars on High

He loves no less who does not waste his words,
but asks and cares too much, though seeming dumb,
and his whole scope of loving (like a crumb
of bread to feed to hungry teeth), he hoards,
preserving it to give some star on high –
his soul, his heart, his distant destiny.

His silence says: in this world’s alien loneliness,
flowers and sonnets occupy my dreams,
with plant-pots perched on seasoned wooden beams –
our poverty’s pure, simple lines of loveliness.
beneath the veil of day and night’s clean blue,
I’m dreaming: I shall come, I’ll come for you.

I’ll leave you with a powerful visual interpretation of departure, just as haunting and eloquent as Tin’s. It’s by the French artist and sculptor Bruno Catalano, in the port of Marseilles part of his series called “Voyageurs” (Travellers). Definite echoes of Tin Ujević!

Voyageurs by Bruno Catalano

Voyageurs by Bruno Catalano

Find out more:

That ends today’s poetry lesson, but if you’re interested and want to know more, here are some handy links to explore…

GoHvar: Tin Ujević – the car ferry and the poet (includes our translation of  Bura na Braču)

Total Croatia News: Tin Ujević poetery recital on the eponymous ferry to Hvar

Wikipedia: Tin Ujević

International Literary Quarterly: Richard Berengarten bio

Shearsman Books: Tin Ujević – Twelve Poems, translated by Richard Berengarten and Daša Marić

Shearsman Books: Richard Berengarten publications

Mediterranean Poetry: Tin Ujević (words and translations of 6 poems)

SIC Journal: Some Nimble Footing on the Coals: Tin Ujevic Lyricist, Some English Perspectives (more technical paper on the difficulties of translating his works)

Bruno Catalono official website