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Sad smo bezbrižni, laki i nežni.
Pomislimo: kako su tihi, snežni
vrhovi Urala.

Rastuži li nas kakav bledi lik,
što ga izgubismo jedno veče,
znamo da, negde, neki potok
mesto njega teče!

Po jedna ljubav, jutro, u tuđini,
dušu nam uvija, sve tešnje,
beskrajnim mirom plavih mora,
iz kojih crvene zrna korala,
kao, iz zavičaja, trešnje.

Probudimo se noću i smešimo, drago,
na Mesec sa zapetim lukom.
I milujemo daleka brda
i ledenegore, blago, rukom.

Beograd, 1920

Explanation of Sumatra

by Milos Crnjanski

I felt, one day, all the helplessness of our life, and the intricacy of our destiny. I saw that no one goes where they want, and I noticed connections unobserved before. That day, some people from Senegal, some Annamites, walked past me; I met an old friend of mine, coming back from the war. When I asked him where he was coming from, he replied: from Bukhara!

His mother had died and the neighbors buried her. Someone had stolen all his furniture, from his house. Not even a bed, he said, do I have now!

And when I asked him how he had traveled here, he told me: “Over Japan and England, where I got arrested.”
“What will you do now?” I asked him. “I don’t know. I’m all alone. You know I was engaged. She’s gone somewhere. Maybe she wasn’t receiving my letters. Who knows where life will throw her? I don’t know what to do, maybe get a job in a bank.”

All this happened at the station in Zagreb. Later I got on a train and traveled further. The train was crowded, mostly with soldiers, ragged women, and many confused people. There wasn't any light and shadows were all that I could see. Little kids were lying down, on the floor, around our feet. Exhausted, I couldn’t sleep at all. People all around me were talking, and I noticed that even the voices were somehow heavy and that human talk never sounded like that. Staring at the dark windows, I reminisced the friend of mine describing some snowy peaks of the Ural Mountains, where he had spent a year in a prison camp. He talked, lengthily, in tender voice, about that part of the Urals.

And I felt all that white, infinite silence, there in the distance. I smiled. Many are the places where that man has been! I remembered him telling me about a woman. From his description I only remembered her pale face. He repeated, a couple of times, how pale she was when he last saw her.

In my memory, anxiously, some women’s faces, that I had said farewell to, started whirling, some faces I had encountered on ships and trains. That made me gasp, so I went out, into the corridor. The train had just reached the summits of Frushka Gora. Some branches were knocking on the window pane, that was broken.

Through it, the humid, wet, cold scent of trees started entering the train, and I could hear the murmur of a creek. We stopped before a crumbled tunnel.

I wanted to see that creek, that kept gurgling in the darkness, and I had the impression that it was red, and cheerful. My eyes were weary from the lack of sleep, and some weakness, from the long journey, came over me. I thought: look, how there aren’t any connections in this world. My friend loved that woman, and she was left alone, in some snow-covered house, in Tobolsk. Nothing can be kept. Even me, so many are the places I’ve been to.

And yet, here, how cheerfully does this creek flow. It is red and it murmurs. I leaned my head onto the broken window pane. Some soldiers were walking, on the roof, from carriage to carriage. And all those pale faces, and all my sorrow disappeared in the gurgling of that creek in the dark. The train couldn’t move on. We had to climb the tunnel at Chortanovci and walk to the other side.

It was cold. I walked, among the crowd of unknown passengers. The grass was damp, so we were sliding slowly, and some were falling. When we finally climbed the hill, underneath we saw the Danube, gray, hazy. All the mist, behind which there was an inkling of a sky, was infinite, endless. Green hills, like islands above ground, were vanishing in the dawn. I was lagging behind.

And my thoughts, still, followed my friend on that journey of which he was telling me with some bitter humor. Blue seas, distant islands, unknown to me, scarlet plants and corals, which I remembered, probably, from geography, kept hurling into my thoughts.

Finally, the peace, the calmness of the dawn, slowly started filling my being. Everything my friend was telling me, and he himself, in his torn, army overcoat, remained inside my brain, forever. All of a sudden I remembered the cities, and the people, that I’d seen coming back from the war. For the first time, I felt some immense change in the world.

On the other side of the tunnel, another train was waiting for us. Even though it was dawning in the distance, in the train it was still completely dark. Weary, I sat in a gloomy corner, all alone. A couple of times I repeated to myself: S u m a t r a, S u m a t r a!

Everything is entangled. They have changed us. I remembered what life was like, before. And I bowed my head.

The train started off with a roar. I was lulled to sleep by the fact that everything was so strange, life, and the great distances within it. Think of all the places our anguish has reached, all the faces we caressed, tired, in foreign lands! Not only me, or him, but so many others as well! Thousands, millions!

I thought: how will my homeland greet me? The cherries must be ripe already, and the villages are full of joy. Look, how even the colours, all the way to the stars, are the same, on the cherries, and on the corals! How everything is connected, in the world. “Sumatra” – I said, again, mockingly, to myself.

Suddenly I trembled. Some unrest in me, that hadn’t even reached the consciousness, woke me up. I went out to the corridor. It was cold there. The train stood still in a forest. In one carriage, people were singing. Somewhere, a child was crying. But all those sounds were coming to me as if from a great distance. The morning chill came over my skin.
I also saw the Moon, glistening, and I smiled inadvertently. He is the same everywhere, because he is dead.

I felt all the helplessness of ours, all my sorrow. “Sumatra”, I whispered, with a strange air.

But, in my soul, deep inside, despite all the reluctance, I felt infinite love for those faraway hills, snowy mountains, all the way up to the frozen seas. For those distant islands where, maybe, all that we've ever done is now happening. I lost the fear of death. Connections with the world around me. Like in some insane hallucination, I was floating up into those endless, morning mists, to stretch my hand and caress the distant Ural, the seas of India, where all the blush from my face had gone. To caress the islands, the loves, the enamored, pale figures. All the intricacy turned into immense peace and endless consolation.


Later, in a hotel room, in Novi Sad, I put it all into a poem.

Belgrade, 1920.

Translated by Lazar Pašćanović


Now we are carefree, tender and airy.
Let us think: how quiet are, the snowy
peaks of the Urals.

If we get sad over a pale figure,
whom we have lost on some evening,
we know that, somewhere, a rivulet,
instead of it, all in red, is flowing!

One love, morning in foreign land,
envelops our soul, gets tighter,
in endless peace of blue seas,
from which the crimson corals glitter,
like, from my distant homeland, cherries.

We wake up at night, smiling dearly,
to the Moon with its bow bent,
caressing the distant hills, tenderly,
and icy mountains, with our hand.

Belgrade, 1920

(Translated by 
Lazar Pašćanović)


Now we are carefree, light and tender. 
We just think: how quiet are the snowy
peaks of the Urals. 

If a pale figure makes us sad,
the one we lost to an evening,
we also know that somewhere, instead of it a rivulet
flows and is all red. 

Each love, each morning in a foreign land
envelops our soul closer by its hand
in an endless tranquility of blue seas,
in which red corals glitter
like the cherries of my homeland. 

We wake at night and sweetly smile
at the Moon with its bent bow
and we caress those distant hills
and the icy mountains with our tender hand.

(Translated by Nina Zivancevic)


L'instant nous est léger, plein de tendre insouciance.
L'idée soudain nous vient des neiges, du silence
au sommet de l'Oural.

Que vienne nous peiner quelque visage blanc
Que nous avons perdu autrefois dans le soir,
nous savons qu'à sa place un torrent,
rougeoyant, ruisselle quelque part !

Un amour, un matin, dans un pays lointain,
enveloppe notre âme, accentuant son emprise,
de la paix infinie des mers bleues
où les grains de corail sont aussi merveilleux
comme, au pays natal, les cerises.

Nous éveillant la nuit, nous faisons, tendrement, un sourire
à la lune dont l'arc est tendu rayonnant.
Et puis nous caressons les lointaines montagnes
et les forêts glacées, de la main, doucement.

Belgrade, 1920
(Traductions en vers : Jean-Marc Bordier)


Maintenant nous sommes insouciants, légers et doux.
Nous pensons : comme enneigés, silencieux, sont
les cimes de l’Oural.

Si une blême figure parfois nous attriste,
qu’un soir nous aurions perdu de vue,
nous savons que, quelque part, un ruisseau,
nous savons que, quelque part, il s’écoule, rougeâtre.

Un amour, une aube, à l’étranger,
l’âme nous ceint, de plus en plus, intimement,
par l’infini quiétude des mers bleues,
d’où rougissent des grains de corail
pareils aux cerises du natal pays.

Nous nous éveillons la nuit et sourions, affables,
à la lune à l’arc tendu.
Et caressons les monts lointains
et les sommets glacés, doucement, de la main.

Belgrade, 1920

(Traduit par Boris Lazić)


Nous voici sans inquiétude, légers, attendris. 
Nous nous disons : Comme ils sont calmes, 
Les sommets neigeux de l'Oural ! 
Si la tristesse nous prend au souvenir 
D'un pâle visage que nous avons perdu un soir, 
Nous savons qu'à sa place, un ruisseau 
Coule, rose, pour nous, dans quelque pays. 
Un amour, une aube, en terre étrangère, 
Pénètrent toujours plus étroitement notre âme 
Du calme infini des mers azurées, 
Dans lesquelles rougeoient les récifs de corail, 
Comme les cerises dans nos vergers. 
Nous nous éveillons la nuit, et tendrement 
Nous sourions à la lune qui tend son arc. 
Puis, doucement, nous caressons de la main 
Les monts lointains et les forêts glacées. 

(Traduction de Miodrag Ibrovac, 1935)

In Anthologie de la poésie Yougoslave, Paris, Librairie Delagrave, 
1935, p. 312


Maintenant nous sommes insouciants, tendres et légers. 
Nous nous disons : qu'ils sont paisibles, sous la neige, 
les sommets de l'Oural. 
S'il nous prend un regret pour un pâle visage 
que nous perdîmes un beau soir, 
nous savons bien qu'il y a quelque part 
un ruisseau vermeil qui coule à sa place ! 
Un amour matinal, en terre étrangère, 
enserre notre âme de plus en plus fort, 
dans la paix sans fin des mers azurées, 
où rougeoient les grains du corail 
comme les cerises du pays natal. 
Nous éveillant, la nuit, nous faisons des sourires 
à la lune bandant son arc. 
Et nous caressons les monts lointains 
et les sommets glacés, tout doucement, avec la main. 

(Traduction de Jean Descat, 1995)1

Belgrade, 1920 
In Atlantique, n° 98, mars 1995. 


Maintenant, légers et tendres dans l'insouciance, 
pensons : comme sont couverts de neige et de silence 
les sommets de l'Oural. 
Si l'éclat d'un pâle visage, 
perdu, un soir, nous navre, 
nous savons: quelque part, à sa place, court 
un ruisseau qui s'empourpre ! 
A l'aube, un amour, en pays lointain, 
enveloppe notre âme et l'étreint, 
dans le calme et le bleu des mers sans fin, 
où rougeoie le corail abyssal, 
comme la cerise sur la terre natale. 
La nuit, nous nous éveillons en souriant 
à la Lune et son arc d'argent. 
Et tendrement, de la main, nous caressons 
les collines lointaines et les neiges des monts. 

(Trad. de Vladimir André Čejović et Anne Renoue, 1999)

Belgrade, rue des Frères Nedić 29, 1920. 
In Miloš Crnjanski, Ithaque / Poèmes et commentaires, traduit par V. 
A. Čejović et A. Renoue, Lausanne, L’Age d’Homme, 1999, p. 147.


Now we are carefree, tender and light.
We think: how peaceful, snow-white
Are the peaks of the Urals.

If we are saddened by a pale face,
That one night lost we,
We know that a stream someplace
Instead of it flowing may be!

A love, a morn, in a faraway land,
Wraps our soul, ever tighter, in
The infinite peace of the blue seas,
Which brim with coral seeds
Red as cherries our land from within.

We wake up at night and smile, softly,
At a crescent Moon so grand.
And we caress the distant hills
And icy peaks, gently, by a hand.

(Translation by: Ljiljana Parović)

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