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Stevan Raičković

Photo of Stevan Raickovic
Stevan Raičković was a leading representative of intimate, lyric poetry in postwar Serbian literature. A prolific poet, Raickovic emerged on the Yugoslav literary scene in the early 1950s with work that challenged the socialist realism dogma dominating the immediate postwar years. Raickovic's rebellion against the prevalence of social and patriotic themes in vogue at the time assumed the form of lyric poetry focusing on the self and the sphere of personal, subjective emotions. In his formative years as a poet, Raickovic never succumbed to mainstream influence. In the turbulent 1950s, as socialist realism was banished from the literary scene and replaced by an innovative, highly cerebral poetry whose methods grew increasingly refined, Raickovic continued to be faithful to his own vision of poetry, its main features being unobtrusiveness, simplicity, and intimacy. Although Raickovic began writing at the same time as two fellow major poets, Vasko Popa and Miodrag Pavlovic, whose own work marked the advent of postwar modernism in Yugoslavia, throughout the next four decades he continued to be a supreme lyricist, his work consistently characterized by a melancholic tone, an enhanced subjectivity, and a strong devotion to nature.

Stevan Raickovic was born in Neresnica, Serbia, on 5 July 1928. In his youth he experienced the full hardships of life in a country torn apart by World War II. Raickovic's parents, both of whom were teachers, fled with their family from one town to another and eventually settled in Subotica. It was there that Raickovic resumed his schooling and, in 1947, graduated from secondary school. Subsequently, he pursued his studies of Yugoslav literature in the philosophy department at Belgrade University. Raickovic joined a leading Belgrade publishing house, Prosveta, as editor in 1959, retiring in 1980 after a twenty-year career. He has been a member of the Serbian Academy of Arts andSciences since 1972.

Raickovic began writing poetry during the war, and in 1945 he published his first poem, "Majka nad zavejanim uspomenama" (Mother amid Snowy Memories). Five more years were to elapse before his first volume of verse, Detinjstva (Childhoods), appeared in print in 1950. While he was studying in Belgrade, Raickovic's half-hearted attempts to have his poems published in the journal Mladost proved futile.

His work was rejected by the editors on the grounds that its tone was too somber and melancholy. Indeed, the elegiac quality of Raickovic's poetry was completely at odds with the enthusiasm and didactic optimism of socialist realism.

Detinjstva first saw the light of day as a result of a chance meeting between Raickovic and Oskar Davico, an already established and widely respected poet; Davico was also an editor at Novo pokolenje and was interested in introducing new, previously unpublished poets to the public. The manuscript was submitted to the publishers in 1948. However, partly because of technical problems involved in publishing the book and partly because of an understandable slowness on the publisher's part, the volume did not appear in print until two years later. To Raickovic's disappointment, several poems he had been particularly fond of were omitted because of their alleged decadence and pessimism. Raickovic's poetry continued to be greeted with a dose of suspicion for some time because of its introspective qualities and utter detachment from the political concerns of the day.

In the years that have since elapsed, Raickovic has maintained an uninterrupted presence on the Yugoslav literary scene.

He has published many volumes of poetry and stories for children and has written extensively about poets and poetry. His work has been translated into many languages, and Raickovic has devoted much time and energy to translating other poets. He collaborated with Zivojin Simic in translating William Shakespeare's sonnets (Simic translated the sonnets into Serbian, then Raickovic rendered them into verse); he also translated the sonnets of Petrarch. Both projects exerted a decisive influence on the poet's later predilection for the sonnet form in his own poetry.

In addition to his poems and stories for children, his essays, and translations, Raickovic's volumes of verse after Detinjstva include Pesma tisine (Song of Silence) in 1952; Balada o predvecerju (Ballad about Dusk) in 1955; Kasno leto (Late Summer) in 1958; Tisa (named after a river in Vojvodina that lingered in the poet's memories from childhood) in 1961; Kamena uspavanka (Stone Lullaby) and Pesme (Poems) in 1963; Stihovi (Verses) in 1964; Prolazi rekom ladja (A Boat Sails Down the River) in 1967; Varke (Illusions, 1968); Zapisi o crnom Vladimiru (A Testament to Black Vladimir) and Zapisi (Notes) in 1971; Slucajni memoari (Chance Memoirs, 1978); Tocak za mucenje (The Rack, 1981); and Suvisna pesma (Superfluous Song) in 1991.

Revised and augmented editions of these collections have been printed frequently over the years. In 1982 and 1983 two major Belgrade publishers published a collaborative ten-volume edition of Raickovic's poetry and prose works. Raickovic has received major literary awards for much of his work and through the years has commanded the attention of an ever-larger audience, enjoying wide popularity among readers and critics alike.

Raickovic's oeuvre is a cloistered poetry of the soul's innermost recesses. His poems reflect his devotion to solitude, isolation, and silence, and he finds the ideal setting for these themes in nature. His poetry is primarily one of images, with nature always in the foreground. Poem after poem and collections as a whole sing nature's praises (an appropriate example is the collection titled Tisa, named after a river from Raickovic's childhood). The elements of nature and landscapes--grass, trees, plants, stones, and rivers--are his basic motifs. They are symbols of a mood of unthreatened tranquillity that Raickovic longs to regain and successfully projects in his poems. Perhaps the most striking quality of his poems is their pervasive stillness, beneath which lies an agonized perturbation of mind...

Anita Lekic, State University of New York, Stony Brook. Stevan Raickovic from Dictionary of Literary Biography. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.