A Tribute to Valeri Petrov

28.08.2014 § 1 Comment

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On August 27, 2014 we lost the poet Valeri Petrov. The writer, the translator, the humanist, the thinker, the example Valeri Petrov.

And oh! So gorgeous-starry was the night,
That our everyday plights,
Vain, summery,
Fleeting,
With their “Wonderful”s, “Hurrah”s and “Bravo”s,
Head over heels took off, retreating.

For I felt large under the starry dome
– and are we naught but atoms with no goal? –
And all around was peace and calm,
And beauty filled my soul.

             Valeri Petrov

With his poetry, he could make us laugh and cry within a single stanza, experience the chill of autumn or the breath of spring. In translating Shakespeare, he laid out the staggering beauty of Bulgarian verse before us and created something more: the stories and images of the Bard in our own melodious tongue. With the script for “Knight Without Armour” (YouTube link), he put his finger on our worst societal sores through the eyes of a carefree, as-yet-unburdened child. With “Five Tales”, he gave our children mountains, deer friends and the ocean floor to imagine and explore. He never grew up, and yet his genius never faltered, never waned, until the end.

In today’s Bulgaria, our venerable talents are slowly leaving us and their names are fading from our memory. One by one, artists, actors, writers, philosophers, thinkers, are passing away and leaving us bereft and lacking. With each new announcement, we as a society are a little less together, a little less complete. Yes, new talents may emerge, but they are be faced with derision, divisiveness and our collective indifference.

We lost Valeri Petrov when he passed away, but we had in fact lost him long before. We lost him when our schoolchildren stopped being able to read well enough to understand him and when their parents stopped bothering to do so. We lost him when we ceased to see the beauty and the promise in the world and became grey, dog-eat-dog, subsistence beings. We lost him when our long-awaited brand new city buses and trams needed stickers, whose pleas: “Be Europeans! Please do not vandalize city property” fell on deaf ears. We lost him when we turned our backs on our neighbours to look out for ourselves.

The trouble is, we need him. We need him so very badly: a spark of empathy, of beauty, of optimism. A spark of truth, of joy. We need to keep his work from fading, not from our book stalls and markets, but from our minds, because his work was not writing, or translation, or poetry. His work was laying out the instruments for our emotional transcendence and for our societal betterment. Valeri Petrov knew us, understood us, and he loved us.

We need him, and we need him unsullied. Unlike so many that we have dismantled, we need his image to remain bright and unperturbed by slander, envy or our national inferiority issues. He was a genius, a multifaceted talent whose spark was mercifully allowed to burn for almost a century. He was our literary Levski, and we goddamn need a literary Levski. We need to keep his image with us, not that of another faded old man, but of a vigorous, passionate defender of our souls.

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An August Night

This happened to me… well, in fact,
To be exact,
There was no real story at this
Hour by the sea – all was in the calm, the bliss
Emanating from the grass,
The stars,
And mainly from a multitude of crickets
Who with their cerrated legs,
Like saws so clamoured,
That they would
Destroy, before the day would come,
The bungalow, so still and dark behind me.
And oh! So gorgeous-starry was the night,
That our everyday plights,
Vain, summery,
Fleeting,
With their “Wonderful”s, “Hurrah”s and “Bravo”s,
Head over heels took off, retreating.
And not just vanity away had flown,
But with a haste to me unknown,
My well-known envies and my hatreds,
The petty lies, the gilded phrases
Were melting, fading, far away…
And the crickets, I turned to say
To them:
“My dear friends,
Continue, chirp with all your strength!
Fill our ears with sound,
May you drown out
Forever, not just for a minute
Our airs of atoms so conceited
So we may be wiser and perhaps
Better, too, though it is hard.”
I spoke in jest, but
Not to them,
For I felt large under the starry dome
– and are we naught but atoms with no goal? –
And all around was peace and calm,
And beauty filled my soul.

Valeri Petrov
(Translation mine)

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