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Vladislav Petković Dis

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Vladislav Petković Dis (Serbian Cyrillic: Владислав Петковић Дис; 1880–1917) was a Serbian poet, part of the impressionism movement in European poetry, known as Moderna/Symbolism in Serbia. He was born in 1880 in Zablaće, near Čačak in Serbia and died in 1917 on a boat on the Ionian Sea after being hit by a torpedo.

Vladislav Petkovic Dis was born in Zablaće, a village near the town of Čačak in Serbia, on the 12th of March 1880, and soon made his way to Čačak, graduating from the Gymnasium and Teacher's College in 1902. He was appointed temporary teacher at Prlita, a village near the town of Zaječar. He did not like teaching, and his small output of poetry brought him little income. In 1903 Dis moved to Belgrade, and became prominent in the literary life there, when his poems appeared in Idila, a literary magazine. Vladislav Petković chose his appellation "Dis" as a repetition of the middle syllable of his first name, but also as the name of the Roman god of the underworld. He was a frequent evening visitor to the Belgrade's kafanas in Skadarlija and elsewhere where he would drink and compose new verse at the same time. Also, he obtained an appointment as a customs official with the municipal government, giving him a good income and leisure time to write. He was named co-editor, with Sima Pandurović, of Literary Weekend (Književna nedelja). Both Petković-Dis and Pandurović were considered the enfants terribles of their literary world (both being under the influence of Charles Baudelaire and other French Symbolists, like Šantić, Dučić, Rakić, Ćorović, and even Skerlić before he abandoned the movement). After the demise of the magazine, he married a beautiful postal employee named Hristina-Tinka, with whom he had two children, Gordana and Mutimir.

He wrote Spomenik (Monument) in anticipation of the Great War:

And it still seems that,
as my soul dreams on,
the monument lives on,
ready for eternity,
reborn into new traditions,
tempering young ambitions
to erect the next monument.

It reminds one of Dis's 1911 collection "Drowned Souls" (Utopljene duše) which has an odd sense of foreboding as well.

During the outbreak of the First Balkan War he was conscripted by the military as a journalist. He was their war correspondent during parts of his few mature years, covering front-line battles with the Serbian Army in the First Balkan War (1912), Second Balkan War (1913), and the unfortunate Great War that followed immediately after. Attached to the First Army (Serbia), he witnessed the fierce fighting in 1914 and 1915 in which the Serbs repelled two Austrian invasions before Germany and Bulgaria intervened, forcing the Serbian royal army to retreat through treacherous mountains of Albania to the Greek island of Corfu. From Corfu Petković-Dis was sent to France to recuperate and write about the entire tragedy. On his way back, on the 29th of May 1917 he became a civilian war casualty after boarding an Italian ship, destined for Corfu. It was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine in the Ionian Sea. The manner in which Dis died earned him the reputation of a "cursed poet". Coincidentally enough, his first book of poems in 1911 – Drowned Souls (Utopljene duše) – alluded to such a tragedy.


His nickname "DIS" was derived from the three letters in the middle of his first name "Vla-DIS-lav". He introduced irrational and subconscious images into Serbian lyric poetry. One of his most famous poems are Možda spava (She May Be Sleeping) and Spomenik (Monument). In his poem Spomenik, Vladislav Petković Dis dreamed of a monument:

It has a long life,
Today it descends into new legends,
To prepare our descendents for the next monument.

Petković-Dis was writing in 1913, just after Serbia wrested Kosovo from the Ottoman Empire and installed an obelisk on the site of the famous medieval battle which Serbia was thought to have lost Kosovo.

Dis's poetry was not well received at the beginning by Jovan Skerlić, one of the most distinguished Serbian literary critics in Dis's time, who became outraged by the morbid and sinister tone of his poetry. But Dis's poems have survived Skerlić's criticism, and his reputation is secure as one of the few poets who expresses the pessimism and decadence characteristic of most west European verse of the early 1900s.