Mila Kačič

Mila Kačič, acclaimed Sloven­ian actress and poet, was born on Octo­ber 5, 1912, the ille­git­i­mate child of an impov­er­ished teacher in Ljubl­jana, Ljud­mila Kačič, and a rich prop­erty owner, Her­bert Mahr. Mahr’s par­ents objected to this rela­tion­ship and arranged for the child, at only a few months old, to be put in fos­ter care with a poor fam­ily named Kovačič, where to all accounts Mila had an unhappy child­hood. After com­plet­ing pri­mary school­ing she was enrolled in a pri­vate civic school, earn­ing enough for her books and other school needs by work­ing dur­ing week­ends and school hol­i­days. She stud­ied singing and drama at the National Con­ser­va­tory in Ljubl­jana, and later at the The­atre Acad­emy. She made her first, ama­teur appear­ance on stage at six­teen, and a year later began work­ing in radio. She joined the Ljubl­jana opera in 1941 where in the four sea­sons before the Lib­er­a­tion (1945) she took part in forty-two per­for­mances. She sub­se­quently became renowned as an actress for stage, tele­vi­sion and film, per­form­ing over 120 roles as a mem­ber of the Ljubl­jana Drama The­atre ensem­ble between 1945 and 1970, and receiv­ing numer­ous awards for her film and tele­vi­sion work, includ­ing a Golden Arena award at the 1978 Pula Film Fes­ti­val, the pre­mier such fes­ti­val in the for­mer Yugoslavia, for her role in the 1977 film To so gadi (Real Pests). She pub­lished her first col­lec­tion of poetry, Neod­poslana pisma (Unsent Let­ters) in 1951, and four oth­ers over the next five decades: Letni časi (Sea­sons, 1960), Spomin (Mem­ory, 1973), Okus po grenkem (A Taste of Bit­ter­ness, 1987), and Minevanja (Pass­ings, 1997). Her great love, and one of her most con­sis­tent sub­jects, was the sculp­tor Jakob Sav­inšek (1922-1961). She was deeply affected by his early death, and later by the death, in 1990, of their son David. She died on March 3rd, 2000. It is felt by many that she was neglected by crit­ics, for the sim­plic­ity and direct­ness of her verse, and for her pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with desire and dis­ap­point­ment, love, moth­er­hood and death. The 2005 pub­li­ca­tion of her col­lected poems, Skoz pom­ladni dež bom šla (I Will Go Through the Spring Rain), how­ever, has gained her a wide and enthu­si­as­tic read­er­ship. Apart from one or two poems in iso­lated antholo­gies, these are the first of her poems to appear in Eng­lish lan­guage translation.

 

Faith­ful­ness

Two leaves
in the green bright­ness
at the first
breath of Spring dreams
pro­tect
a tiny blossom. 

Two leaves
in the vel­vet dark
in the midst of sun­burnt fields,
like two enam­oured knights,
enclose
their first fruit. 

Two leaves
in the golden glow
gone for an early dance with the wind
into the azure, silently
and devot­edly
falling.

 

The Hours

The hours
of sweet sur­ren­der
have van­ished in time
I sip
the late glow of a scar­let dawn
An echo some­where
but it’s my voice no more 

Love
that dove of pearl
no longer eats from my hand.
I sink
into the bot­tom of a sin­is­ter evening
A night heavy as lead
is cov­er­ing my heart.

 

You say noth­ing to me

You say noth­ing to me but I know
our arc has bro­ken asun­der.
Wher­ever you and I go
we don’t join hands any longer.
 
Why should we? Touch­ing dis­turbs you.
Why should I block your path
when I know so surely from which other
comes that scent that you nightly gather? 

There is noth­ing more you want from me
nor any­thing more you could expect.
The dawn chases you off each morn­ing.
Every evening you are stranger.

 

Alone

Never before this evening have
I felt such cold­ness from grey walls,
tear­ing into my flesh like a knife,
the dark door like an open grave. 

My stare fol­lows your steps through the win­dow
as they van­ish into a gale as cold as ice
cut­ting a nar­row line into the blan­ket of snow
where our star is gild­ing the universe. 

I wish that a tear like the one which just now
dropped onto the cold, white sheet 
would no longer so sear­ingly cloud my sight.  

I wish that my hot lips could find you
and like chords of music at last vibrate
as an echo only to your song.

 

 Spring­time

Night’s sil­ver
has already ban­ished the grey of dusk
and the moon’s ray
is kiss­ing the sur­face of the lake. 

The white birch
like a sweet, vir­gin bride
has silently leaned
into the arms of the rest­less elm. 

From the gen­tle lotus
to the poor, skele­tal net­tle
what­ever is able 
wraps itself in allur­ing dreams. 

To its mate, the tit­mouse
is warmer than ever before
See? on nights such as this
the mean­est heart can be at peace.

 

 Stone

The world can’t afford
stone enough
into which to chisel
all the yearn­ings
of human­ity.
And you have just two hands
and only one heart.

  

Res­ig­na­tion

Icy roses
on the pane of my lone­li­ness
are your greet­ing.
All that remain
of the promised flow­ers.
Aus­tere, in neat lines,
like unbrib­able swords
keep­ing guard between us.
I watch them from a dis­tance
lest they are dri­ven off
by my breath. 

Close your eyes, Spring,
when you walk by.
Under your stare
there will only be weep­ing
lost in silence. 

 

Trav­eller

In my thoughts, after you departed,
I sat the whole long night beside you.
Past the last of our cot­tages, the iron beast
rushed us into for­eign lands.

The spring morn­ing, wak­ing from night,
has hid­den the hori­zon in a woollen mist.
Far, far away beyond it is the sea
And, far­ther than the sea, the sun and you.

Now I seek you down unknown roads,
star­ing into strange, unkind faces
and feel wretched. When it’s worst
I find you buried in my dreams.

 

A note about the translators

Bert Pribac was born in the vil­lage of Ser­gaši near Koper in Slove­nia in 1933. As a boy he was caught in the tur­bu­lence of WWII and later in the trau­matic events of post war Yugoslavia. At fif­teen he was enrolled in an inten­sive course in jour­nal­ism and began writ­ing for local news­pa­pers. In 1955 he began uni­ver­sity stud­ies in Ljubl­jana and com­pleted them in 1959 before forced by polit­i­cally adverse cir­cum­stances to leave Slove­nia. He arrived in Aus­tralia in 1960 as a refugee, work­ing at first as a hos­pi­tal cleaner. In 1966 he began work as a library offi­cer at the National Library of Aus­tralia, and became sub­se­quently Chief Librar­ian for the Fed­eral Health depart­ment, trav­el­ling widely and leav­ing behind over 50 reports and arti­cles on library tech­ni­cal and man­age­ment issues. After early retire­ment in 1988 because of a major car acci­dent, he became more active in lit­er­ary work. He returned to Slove­nia in 2000. He has pub­lished sev­eral col­lec­tions of poetry, and trans­la­tions both of Aus­tralian poetry into Sloven­ian, and Sloven­ian into Eng­lish, most notably, with David Brooks, The Golden Boat, an exten­sive selec­tion of the poetry of Srečko Kosovel (Cam­bridge: Salt Pub­lish­ing, 2008).

David Brooks (b. Can­berra, 1953) spent much of his early child­hood in Greece and Yugoslavia where his father was an Aus­tralian immi­gra­tion attaché and later con­sul. Return­ing to Aus­tralia he spent a year in late high school on an exchange schol­ar­ship in the U.S.A., and after an hon­ours degree at the A.N.U. returned to North Amer­i­can for post­grad­u­ate stud­ies at the Uni­ver­sity of Toronto. Since then he has taught at sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties, most recently the Uni­ver­sity of Syd­ney (1991- ), edited numer­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals (most recently Southerly [1999- ]), and estab­lished a rep­u­ta­tion as a poet, essay­ist and writer of fic­tion. He lives in the Blue Moun­tains of New South Wales, and for a por­tion of each year in a vil­lage on the coast of Slove­nia. In 2011 the Uni­ver­sity of Queens­land Press pub­lished his The Sons of Clo­vis: Ern Mal­ley, Adoré Floupette, and a Secret His­tory of Aus­tralian Poetry, and in Novem­ber 2012 his fourth novel, The Con­ver­sa­tion.