Poet Profile: Penyo Penev
25.09.2012 § 2 Comments
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…”
ONE OF THE PEOPLE AM I
I dream not of glory and easy ways, But a quilted jacket for winter days. In glory eternal forever stand Everything built here by my hand!
WHEN THE FOUNDATIONS WERE LAID
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!
WE OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
I speak to you, who follow later, For you, who my own lifetime span! At the behest of a stern dictator - Whose proper name is the heart of man! Piece by piece from the hard day's battlement Our happiness we dig and crop; Crumb by crumb our country gathers it Drinks it sweetly drop by drop. Tomorrow they shall indeed be happier, Those who follow after us. They shall acclaim our toil with rapture, Sincere shall be their thankfulness! Because now 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 dawn Of their full day! Ungrudgingly Upon our shoulders now are borne The burdens of our century! When has the Earth such valour witnessed? 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, anyone, ever Would I exchange such joy supreme!
All poems above translated by Peter Tempest
A TINY KITCHEN IN BLUE DUSK HALF-BEGUN…
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
Translated by V.P.