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Miloš Crnjanski (in Serbian Cyrillic: Милош Црњански) (1893-1977) was a leading poet of the expressionist wing of Serbian modernism, author, and a diplomat. In 20th century Serbian literature, Miloš Crnjanski was one of authors who (as poet, narrator and publicist) spoke loudest, but he also remained silent for the longest time. In his work, he achieved various successes and results. From his beginnings as a journalist whose social-political stance was at one moment openly opposed to freedom and progress, he gradually arose to become a poet and romanticist. This not only made him an interesting figure, but was also a turning-point in Serbian literary history.
Crnjanski was born on October 26, 1893 in Csongrad, Hungary, to an impoverished family which moved in 1896 to Timişoara, where he grew up in a patriarchal-patriotic community with the implanted cult of Serbia and Serbian heritage in his soul as a precious relic. One of the deepest and longest lasting sensations of his childhood were those with national and religious content: church school, St. Sava icon, incense, the Serbian Orthodox cemetery with its burial ceremonies, evening stories and songs about Serbia, hajduks, and Ottoman Turkish oppression - all of it in a boy's emotions transferred into continual unrest, but also became an everlasting source of hope, joy, doubt, disappointment and rebelliousness.
At the beginning of World War I, Crnjanski was persecuted as part of the general anti-Serbian retribution of Austria to Princip's assassination in Sarajevo, but instead of being sent to jail, he was drafted to army and sent to Galician frontline to fight against the Russians. During most of these tragic war days, Crnjanski spent time alone in a war hospital, although just before the end of the war he was sent to the Italian front. In his memory, sights of the havoc of war were impressed unerasably. "...frontline, hospitals, then frontline again, and love, everywhere love, for bread and sugar, everything wet, everywhere rain and mud, fogs of dying" – these were the sights that surrounded young Crnjanski. After the war, he studied art history and philosophy in Vienna and graduated from the University of Belgrade.
Thirty million innocent young war dead found their place in the anti-war verses of this unfortunate young soldier, ideas which he brought from the war, then to Zagreb and to Belgrade, where he stayed for the longest time. From this point on, Crnjanski lived like Homer's unfortunate hero, who returns to his poem Ithaca after his long odyssey. Odysseus, this hero found a way to preserve the vital strength of life, unlike Crnjanski who (along with his generation) returned to their destroyed homeland with the feeling of tiredness and resignation. "In the great chaos of war," spoke the young poet, "I was unfaltering in my grief, muse and opaque feeling of loneliness." Both in his wartime and post-war verses, this tired poet wrote sincerely of his resignation and lost illusions.
From his ramble across bloody frontlines of Europe, Crnjanski returned to thoughts about the necessity of dispelling the false myths of the "eternal" values of civil ethics. Both in poetry and life, he lives as a sentimental anarchist and tired defeatist who remembered sorrowfully the relics of his youth, now in his eyes discarded, bloodied, and spat upon. At the time he considered himself a member of progressive social forces and argued for socialism, but his rebellion from those days was only perhaps a strong reaction to the horrors of the recent wars.
The literary work of Miloš Crnjanski from that period was a significant contribution to the effort of his generation to find a new language and expression for new themes and concepts. Speaking about the literary project of the poets of his generation, he wrote that it was "like a some kind of a religious cult, after a lot of time, while art was meant to be a pastime, we are bringing unrest and upheaval, in word--feeling, thought. Even if we haven't expressed it yet, we undoubtedly have it inside of us. From the mass, from the ground, from the time, it went to us. And it is not to be strangled... We stopped with tradition, for we were jumping towards the future... lyrics are becoming a passionate expression of a new faith." With completely new verse, and a lot of emotional bitterness, he expressed his discord, in those days, he spoke about futility of war, pugently negated Kosovo battle myths and sarcastically mocked what he saw as the delusion of a "golden century" for mankind.
Using the strength of the compelling poet's word, he may have done away with many civil values, but he wasn't able to see or start something new from the ruins. Both the verse and prose of Crnjanski was strong during post-war years, as long as war-fuelled revolt lived on in him. In time, however, those feelings dwindled, and, Crnjanski still wandered and staggered, gradually growing closer to the ideals of Serbian bourgeoisie, afraid of the approaching proletarian revolution.
After war, Crnjanski worked as a professor and journalist. In 1928 he had been appointed the cultural attaché to the embassy of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia in Berlin, Lisbon and Rome. When World War II began, he was in Rome. From there, he went to London, where he lived as an émigré and didn't return to Belgrade until 1965. In his quest to reach the shores of his life, he was happy to see Belgrade, which glistened in his nostalgia "like a human laughter through tears". In his verses dedicated to Belgrade, he emotionally expressed his feelings of a man who returned from long odyssey of life:
*There is no inanity and death in you...
He died in Belgrade on November 30, 1977.
Crnjanski published a large amount of works of various subjects and content; the following is a selection of notable works:
Migrations has been translated into English (Harvill 1994, ISBN 0002730049), but with the author's name transliterated as "Milos Tsernianski".
Crnjanski also founded a newspapers and a magazine ("Putevi", with Marko Ristić, in 1922 and "Ideje", a political paper, in 1934). He also published two books of eastern nations poetry anthology.