Poet Profile: Penyo Penev

25.09.2012 § 2 Comments


Penyo Penev

Until recently, the name Penyo Penev brought to memory a thin book with faded red covers on my grandfather’s nightstand, and little more. I knew he was a fan, and I knew that they had been classmates in a Sevlievo high school.

I only had to make an effort, to get curious, to find beyond the faded red covers a truthful, unhappy poet’s hopes, ideals and disappointments, bared in stark rhyme.

Penyo Penev was born on May 7, 1930 in the village of Dobromirka, Sevlievo municipality. He began writing in grade 3, and upon graduating in 1947, he eagerly joined the first youth brigades. These were labourer brigades, formed with an idealistic gleam in the name of implementing the new Socialist ideal in massive construction and agricultural projects. From that moment on, Penev’s life was intrinsically linked to his work as a builder, through which he experienced the practical realization of his dream of creating a new, better world. His poems reflect the optimistic outlook of the first years of Communism in Bulgaria, the notion of sacrifice for the good of future generations. While working in the new city of Dimitrovgrad, he fell in love with its fresh, idealistic outlook. He married his wife there, he had his son there, and there he experienced his most fruitful and happiest years.

However, his optimism and faith in the future were soon crushed by libel, poverty, rudeness and a lack of opportunity. His young family’s life was characterized by abject hardship and scarcity. He was unrecognized, unemployed and downtrodden by the Communist party. His spark gradually dulled, to be replaced by apathy, depression and alcoholism. Following a long battle with the blows of fate, he lost everything, including his family.

Deeply disheartened with life and not quite 29 years old, on April 27, 1959 Penyo Penev swallowed a deadly dose of Veronal and penned his last rhymes, among them a bitter missive to his best friend:

My old and invaluable friend!
I’m tired of being homeless, unemployed, unloved…”


I dream
    not of glory
        and easy ways,

But a quilted jacket
    for winter days.

In glory eternal

Everything built
        by my hand!



People and sunsets shall grow dim and vanish,
And feelings, dreams and memories shall freeze:
Out in the yard acacia blooms shall perish,
The evening star shall whisper in the trees.

Life, that requires of us self-abnegation,
Shall like a water-spout ring loud and clear,
When in the course of time new generations,
Claiming their heritage, shall venture here.

People in song their hearts shall still unburden
And birds their twiggy nests still intertwine
And in the warmth of every mother’s bosom
A new-born star of gold serenely shine.

Still shall the violet bloom, the slender cornflower,
With eyes of palest blue still softly gaze –
But men shall then be of a different order
And on their threshold shall shine different days.

Will history, I wonder, tell the story,
Fresh in the mind, or will it silent be
About the hope we felt within us soaring,
The hope our tears watered abundantly…

Will it recall our road through storm and fire,
How simple courage carried all before,
How later, as the scaffolding rose higher,
Our happiness rose with it, floor by floor…

How at that time we were but five and twenty
And yet our hair was streaked with silver grey,
How not for trivial happiness we wended
Our way through dewdrops at the break of day…

In vain shall you of future generations
Rummage in books, for you will never quite
Grasp to the full, as we laid the foundations,
How we lived then, just what our life was like!

Ours was a fortune anyone might envy!
Hardship we had to face without respite!
We did not live our days, or live an era –
It was a fight we lived, a very fight!



I speak to you,
    who follow later,
For you,
    who my own lifetime span!
At the behest
    of a stern dictator - 
Whose proper name
    the heart of man!
Piece by piece
    from the hard day's battlement
Our happiness
    dig and crop;
Crumb by crumb
    our country gathers it
Drinks it sweetly
    drop by drop.
        they shall indeed
                   be happier,

Those who
    follow after us.
They shall acclaim our toil
    with rapture,
Sincere shall be
    their thankfulness!
      with our blood and tears
We build and fill
    huge reservoirs!
Because we are
    the pioneers
Of Communism's
    early hours!
We are
    the arduous, fresh
Of their full day!
Upon our shoulders
      are borne
The burdens
    of our century!
When has the Earth
    such valour
Who have
    so well
      their duty done? - 
We are
    a generation-bridge
To the shores of years to come!
To know
    the purpose
      of endeavour,
To realise
    a cherished dream, -
No, not for anything,
Would I exchange
    such joy supreme!


All poems above translated by Peter Tempest



A tiny kitchen in blue dusk half-begun
A white curtain the window spans
Behind it – tiny bottles of glass
and a penicillin prescription half-done
A little boy in the cradle gasps –
My feverish two-week old son…

The world is still unknown to him,
But in his first week already
This tiny, sickly little baby
Knew aches, and famine, and diseases grim
From the cradle, unsteady
his young life by prescription begins…

How sad and stormy is the world!
How terrible, at a crossroads curled
By prescription to be living your life!

Will it help him recover today
Suffer through, subdue the pain
Will the cradle tomorrow still sway
Will it…?

Translated by V.P.


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