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Jovan Dučić (Serbian Cyrillic: Јован Дучић) (1871-1943) was a famous Bosnian Serb poet, writer and diplomat. The exact date of Dučić's date of birth is still undetermined; it is variously said to have been on February 17 (or February 5 according to the Julian calendar) of 1871, 1872, or 1874, with the latter date most often given. He died on April 7, 1943.
He was born in Trebinje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he attended primary school. He moved on to a high school in Mostar and trained to become a teacher in Sombor. He worked as a teacher in several towns before returning to Mostar, where he founded (with Aleksa Šantić) a literary magazine Zora ("Dawn").
Dučić's openly expressed Serbian patriotism caused difficulties with the authorities - at that time Bosnia-Herzegovina was de facto incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire - and he moved abroad to pursue higher studies, mostly in Geneva and Paris. He was awarded a law degree by the University of Geneva and, following his return from abroad, entered the Serbian diplomatic service in 1907. Although he had previously expressed opposition to the idea of creating Yugoslavia, he became the new country's first ambassador to Romania (in 1937). He had a distinguished diplomatic career in this capacity, serving in Istanbul, Sofia, Rome, Athens, Cairo, Madrid and Lisbon. Dučić spoke several foreign languages and he is remembered as a distinguished diplomat. His Acta Diplomatica (Diplomatic Letters) was published posthumously in the United States (in 1952) and in former Yugoslavia (in 1991).
It was, however, as a poet that Dučić gained his greatest distinctions. He published his first book of poetry in Mostar in 1901 and his second in Belgrade, 1912. He wrote prose as well: several essays and studies about writers, Blago cara Radovana (Tsar Radovan's treasure) and poetry letters from Switzerland, Greece, Spain and other countries.
Like Šantić, Dučić's work was initially heavily influenced by that of Vojislav Ilić, the leading Serbian poet of the late 19th century. His travels abroad helped him to develop his own individual style, in which the Symbolist movement was perhaps the greatest single influence. In his poetry he explored quite new territory that was previously unknown in Serbian poetry. He restricted himself to only two verse styles, the symmetrical dodecasyllable (the Alexandrine) and hendecasyllable - both French in origin - in order to focus on the symbolic meaning of his work. He expressed a double fear, of vulgarity of thought, and vulgarity of expression. He saw the poet as an "office worker and educated craftsman in the hard work of rhyme and rhythm".
Dučić went into exile in the United States in 1941 following the German invasion and occupation of Yugoslavia, where he joined his relative Mihajlo (Michael) in Gary, Indiana. From then until his death two years later, he led the Serbian National Defense Council of America, an Illinois-based organization (founded by Mihailo Pupin in 1914) which represented the Serbian diaspora in the US. During these two years, he wrote many poems, historical books and newspaper articles espousing Serbian nationalist causes and protesting the mass murder of Serbs by the pro-Nazi Ustaše regime of Croatia. During this time he attracted some criticism from other Yugoslav exiles for his espousal of Greater Serbian ideas, a position which also attracted the attention of the US Government's Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA).
He died on April 7, 1943 and was buried in the Serbian Orthodox monastery of Saint Sava in Libertyville, Illinois. He expressed a wish in his will to be buried in his home town of Trebinje, a goal which was finally realized when he was reburied there on October 22, 2000 in the newly built Gračanica church.
Aleksa Šantić and Milan Rakić. Coming under the influence of Pushkin and nurtured on his native Serbian folk poetry in Bosnia and Herzegovina, he was at first inclined toward western Romantic motifs: the baroque style, Catholicism, Romaniticism, and particularly toward the society of "the beautiful souls" of the Renaissance. Reminiscent of the ancient poets of Dalmatia, his motifs belong to the Dalmatian aristocratic milieu. Like other Neo-Romantics, Dučić sings of the "far-away princess" (the princesse lointaine of Rostand), who is dying of mortal wounds, far away from her lover. His poetry, which possesses serene beauty, is devoid of any personal note and is, in fact, pure fiction. He walks in the footsteps of Heine and Heredia, evoking "the deep melancholy of the past" and "the scent of things old and vanished."
Whereas all these things become integral in the Western, Catholic and French lyric poets, in Dučić they strike us as a kind of literary exercise and as a heresy against the poet's Serbian Orthodox faith. Consequently Dučić has often been accused of snobbery and mannerism, and his poetry shows influences of Rodenbach, Maeterlinck,Baudelaire, Verlaine, Albert Samain traces of the Parnassian, Symbolist and Decadent elements, all alien to Serbian traditional poetry. Dučić has shared the illusions of the western poet-princes in the cult of beauty.
Until 1914 Dučić was almost unknown as a poet, although he had already distinguished himself as a courageous political champion of the people of Herzegovina, as co-editor of a Mostar literary review, when he left in 1896 for Geneva to study law.
Dučić's first book of poems was published in Mostar in 1901, while he was still a law student in Geneva. Since that time his complete works in eight volumes have been published in Belgrade many times over. Before we turn to a study of his poetry, brief mention must be made of his poems in prose, Plave legende (Blue Legends), and the travel letters, Gradovi i himere (Cities and Chimeras), whose stylistic superioritry in Serbian prose was recognized by Jovan Skerlić, the eminent Serbian literary critic, shortly before his untimely death in 1914. In the case of Dučić, who is a very sensitive artist with words and an essentially lyric poet, there is no fundamental difference between verse and prose. While his prose poems, Plave legende, for instance, are a logical transition from versification to the lilt of his rhythmic prose, the letters from Geneva, Rome, Madrid, Athens, etc., reveal the sensitive poet for whom a word is the symbol of an inner experience.
As to themes, Dučić is typical of the Moderns and is impressionistic in tone. His experiences are never overwhelming, This fact has already been observed by Skerlić who admits that Dučić's poems possess much elegance, rhythm and finesse, but that this suppression of feelings, the transfiguration of his nature, the wish to be different from other poets, the fear of sincerity and directness, the search for symbols at all costs, the eternal seeking for effects which he achieves with combinations of words and sounds -- all these give one an impression of cultivated affectation, of strait-laced elegance, and frequently almost pass into mannerism.
One does not necessarily have to agree with Skerlić, however, this play with his feelings is one of the distinguishing marks of Dučić's poetic nature. Like all the devotees of beauty for beauty's sake, Dučić is also convinced of the great importance of having a measure for beauty. His poetry attempts above all to be disinterested, and consequently it never overcomes the poet.
Dučić has remained faithful to this criterion, and it is for this reason that his inner creative personality is still shrouded in mystery. This is exactly what Skerlić refers to when he speaks of the "suppression of feelings," a quality which has given the remarkable poetry of Dučić its sheen of marble and "the coolness of its shade." Like most symbolists, Dučić is imbued with a particular kind of liturgic expression; he does not come to us with the gestures of a convincing speaker but with the fine figure of a priest.
During Dučić's few final years in the United States were published a monograph, Grof Sava Vladislavić (1942), and Federalizam i Centralizam (1943; Federalism and Centralism), a book of political controversy in which he wanted to draw the West's attention to their continued errors of their ways, especially in foreign policy towards the people of the Balkans.