Born in Gornji Milanovac in 1894, Momcilo Nastasijevic became a high school professor and spent most of his life in that capacity in Belgrade, where he died in 1938. Nastasijevic is perhaps the most enigmatic of Serbian poets. From the very beginning he endeavored to create his own idiom, to which he remained faithful all his unfortunately brief, creative life.
In his poetry and short stories he drew from the rich folklore and from the distant past, both of which he interpreted in his own way, as well as from his mystical outlook on life. He also attempted to formulate through his works a national and religious philosophy whose roots, again, he found in the dark recesses of the soul of his nation. As a poet, Nastasijevic remained a loner, understood and admired only by his closest friends. Lately, however, his work has begun to exert a noticeable influence on younger Serbian poets.
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Momčilo Nastasijević (23 September 1894 – 13 February 1938) was a Serbian poet, novelist and dramatist born in Gornji Milanovac in Serbia, and whose work was issued during the literary epoch between the two world wars. He spent most of his adult life, however, teaching at a Belgrade Gymnasium. During his lifetime Momčilo Nastasijević was less well known than some of his contemporaries, such as Miloš Crnjanski and Rastko Petrović, but lately, however, his work has begun to be noticed again. His literary output was not large, and it gained immediate appreciation only in a narrow circle of intimate friends. Poetry with its close affinity to music brought about a successful team-effort between poet Momčilo Nastasijević and his brother Svetomir Nastasijević the music composer.
Nastasijević's poetry has often been described as hermetic, full of extremely private symbols inaccessible to ordinary readers. He focussed on sound (trying to approximate the effect of music) more than meaning. His poems are terse and compressed, but feature a stretched and attenuated syntax reminiscent of the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins; what Hopkins did with English, Nastasijević did with Serbian. He made it a point to apply lexical and syntactic elements from old Serbian (both from the old folk speech and from old literary texts). In his stories and dramas he is a most original writer, using a terse, lapidary style in which elliptical phases abound—a style that has, because of both its vocabulary and its word order, something strange and mysterious. Nastasijević is certainly the most enigmatic short story writer of that period who did almost everything in his stories that he did in his poems. The characteristic of the style of Nastasijević is a rich use of lexic archaisms and syntaxes which deviates from the standard sentence form.
Although he published poem's regularly in leading literary periodicals such as Misao (Thought) and Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian Literary Herald), he remained relatively unnoticed. He privately published his one volume of poetry, Pet lirskih krugova (Five Lyrical Cycles, 1932). One reason for this lack of recognition was that—with his individual views of poetry and literature and the problems of the development of the Serbian literary language—he was outside the trends of expressionism and surrealist Marxism dominant in Belgrade at the time. Another reason was that his compression of style and his individual imagery make him an extraordinarily difficult poet, especially for those who seek a paraphrasable meaning in poetry. For this reason, according to Vasa Mihajlović, Nastasijević has been accused of being hermeticby some critics. He also attempted to formulate through his works a national and religious philosophy whose roots, again, he found in the dark recesses of the soul of his nation.
The best example of an isolated attitude is Momčilo Nastasijević, understood and admired only by those closest to him, whose mystifying poems and stories have yet to be fully fathomed, mostly because of their obscure language.
He died in Belgrade in 1938.
The dramatic opus of Momčilo Nastasijević consists of three "lyrical dramas" Nedozvani (The Unevoked), Gospodar Mladenova čer (Master Mladen's Daughter), Kod 'Večite slavine' (At 'The Eternal Tap'), two musical dramas, Medjuluško blago (The Treasure of Medjulužje), Djuradj Branković, and a "ballet drama" Zivi ognaj (Live Fire). This small but varied repertoire reflects, in concentrated form, the Serbian offering to the new European turn-of-the-century Symbolist drama running parallel with, but forming a separate stream to, the mainstream Naturalist theatre. The "lyric drama" as theatre medium has its immediate antecedents in the "musical dramas" (Musikdramen), composed by Richard Wagner as libretti for his own innovative operas. The widespread popularity of the lyrical drama in the 20th-turn-of-the-century European theatre, and its close affinity to music, brought about successful team-efforts between poets and composers, such as Hugo von Hofmannsthal and Richard Strauss, Alexander Blok and Mikhail Kuzmin, Milutin Bojić and Miloje Milojević, Milorad M. Petrović Seljančica and Božidar Joksimović, and Momčilo Nastasijević and his brother Svetomir Nastasijević.
Edward Goy (Fall/Spring 1986/7), The Cycle Vdenja from the Pet Lirskih Krugova of Momcilo Nastasijevic, Serbian Studies, North American Society for Serbian Studies, Vol. 4, Numbers 1/2