Eternal Returns & Departures: Translating Gëzim Hajdari


Image: The Adriatic Sea with the coast of Albania. Photograph by Kroll Markus. Wikimedia Commons.

Patrick Barron’s translation of Gëzim Hajdari’s “I am leaving you Europe” appears in the September 2016 issue: There Is No Map: The New Italian(s).

PAIRED POST: An Interview with Gëzim Hajdari by Cristina Viti

When translating a poem, I try to carry music and meaning from one text to another as “process not goal,” with the sense that the translation is volatile and always in relation to something else.[1] In the case of Gëzim Hajdari’s writing, that “something else” is not a single language, country, or people. The interplay and tension between the English “I am leaving you Europe, corrupt old whore” and the Italian “Vado via Europa, vecchia puttana viziata” are further complicated by the Albanian “Po iki Europë, rospi e vjetër me huqe.” Born in Albania in 1957 and forced into a state of exile in Italy in 1992 for political, moral, and artistic reasons, Hajdari has for many years practiced a bilingual poetry, composing in and translating between Italian and Albanian—in effect continuing a long tradition of various forms of bilingualism and diglossia in European letters.

Calling himself a “polygamous poet . . . in love with both languages,” he speaks of his dual attraction to the harmonious qualities of Italian, and the sour, tragic, dramatic sounds of Albanian. His work inhabits both the ancient and contemporary, the immediate and distant, the foreign and familiar, the epic and lyric. In over fifteen collections of poetry, two books of travel reportage, essays, and numerous translations, Hajdari’s voice, often at odds with literary trends, is unmistakable in its opposition to brutal dictatorships, articulating in graphic, agonizing detail the misery of those bereft of homeland, power, family, community, and language. His outspoken criticism of the criminal abuses of both the Hoxha regime and the postcommunist government led to repeated threats, forcing him to leave Albania and settle in Italy. The abiding pain from this upheaval and loss is a constant in his work. As he writes in a poem from Stigmate (Stigmata),

     Every day I create a new homeland
     in which to die and be reborn,
     a homeland with neither maps nor flags.[2]

The “Eternal returns and departures” referred to later in this poem are not merely imaginary but also physical. As Giorgio Linguaglossa writes, deprived of his homeland, Hajdari is “driven to roam from place to place, mixing his own idiom with those of other lands and languages.”[3] Along the path of this intense wandering is the strong, underlying sense that Hajdari has a low tolerance for what he deems false, accompanied by what he calls the “fear that I may fall in love with the chains of exile.”[4] In “I am leaving you Europe, corrupt old whore,” disgust and disillusionment with the false and impotent reach a head, and the speaker of the poem departs Italy for Africa, seeking “to set fire to the old worn out languages, / shake off identities, citizenships and motherlands.” Hajdari’s constant complicating of the meanings of exile, both in intensely private and public terms, raises pressing questions that concern us all. To whom and what are we dedicated? What is our homeland? What is of deep value to us and to others, and what of deep value has been destroyed or taken away?

What remains in the end is language, poetry and storytelling, so that the past can be remembered and the present be made clearer, increasing our awareness of—and perhaps also compassion for—those who are displaced and suffering. In the poem “I wrestle with the darkness and the cold” (“Lotto con il buio e il freddo”), from Maldiluna (Moonsickness), the speaker sees

     […] the burning horizon
     people in a line, searching for a welcoming land
     and hunters of the new century
     hunting immigrants hidden behind the trees.[5]

Hajdari forces us to locate ourselves within this “new century” where increasingly there is nowhere left to hide.

Read Cristina Viti’s interview with Gëzim Hajdari.


[1] Olson, Charles. The Special View of History. Ed. Ann Charters. Berkeley: Oyez, 1970. 49.
[2] Hajdari, Gëzim. Poesie Scelte: 1990-2015. Nardò: Controluce, 2016. 128.
[3] Linguaglossa, Giorgio. Prefazione.” Delta del tuo fiume. By Gëzim Hajdari. Rome: Ensemble, 2015. 7).
[4] Hajdari, Gëzim. Maldiluna / Dhimbjehëne. Nardò: BESA, 2005. 48.
[5] Maldiluna / Dhimbjehëne. 50.