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.
in the green brightness
at the first
breath of Spring dreams
a tiny blossom.
in the velvet dark
in the midst of sunburnt fields,
like two enamoured knights,
their first fruit.
in the golden glow
gone for an early dance with the wind
into the azure, silently
of sweet surrender
have vanished in time
the late glow of a scarlet dawn
An echo somewhere
but it’s my voice no more
that dove of pearl
no longer eats from my hand.
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.
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.
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.
The world can’t afford
into which to chisel
all the yearnings
And you have just two hands
and only one heart.
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.
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.