Reading Around the World
Hristo Botev: Poems from Bulgaria
Hristo Botev (1848-1876) is one of Bulgaria’s most respected revolutionaries and poets. Having grown up in Ottoman ruled Bulgaria where Bulgarians were severely oppressed, and having been influenced by Russian liberal poets of the time, he was one of the first revolutionaries who fought for Bulgarian independence from exile in Romania and spoke out against Ottoman authorities and the allegedly conspiring Bulgarian middle class.
He had a very unique perspective. History came alive for me; I got to see the human side of what history books list as simply nations created by the Treaty of Berlin and the Russo-Turkish War. Opting to take part in change in an obstinate world is personally very difficult for a revolutionary. The young revolutionaries that Botev describes are about our age and face huge obstacles. Some have to break away from their families, others are ostracized by their fellow Bulgarians for altering the status quo by fighting for greater human rights, and still others are mocked for overcoming huge personal and political barriers by semi informed people. To top it all, they were fighting for a concept that was unimaginable for many and had too significant insecurities. It set me thinking. Although one may personally disagree with certain ideology, one should at least be respectful enough to give a fair hearing to an idea about which someone is passionate and that has had a life changing impact on the person promoting it.
What’s interesting about Botev’s poems is the way in which he is able to communicate with various age groups in a very powerful manner. The first line almost always grabs one’s attention while Botev subtly and dexterously reshapes our world view without our noticing. He empathizes with the hopelessness that a young revolutionary in his 20s feels in “Stranger,” where the main character comes home to share a few, rare moments with his grandparents, finds his love married to another man, and hears of his father and brothers shot by Ottoman soldiers. He reassures the worried mother of a young revolutionary in an extremely poignant “On Parting 1868,” when hopes are down and there is really no assurance of her son returning alive. He reminisces with a grandfather about the time when Bulgarians lived free and with dignity in “A cloud of darkness has happened.” And he very strongly and powerfully rebukes a semi informed public that has little resolve to dedicate themselves to fighting for freedom in “In the Tavern.”
Hristo Botev’s “Poems” is quite a serious read, but a very interesting one.