Ventseslav Konstantinov

      The Bulgarian people affectionally call Petko Rachev Slaveikov Dyado (Grandad) Slaveykov, because in their consciousness his image comes to life as a symbol of that old creative power which the spirit harboured for centuries on end, and which broke loose during that fateful hour in Bulgarian history to prepare for the growth and the triumph of our national self-awareness. This poet vividly expressed the people's yearnings to be saved from five centuries of Ottoman bondage. And it was the Bulgarians' firm conviction that Russia and no other would finally bring Bulgaria her freedom and national independence which they had been awaiting so long. Petko Slaveykov was the most popular figure in our country in the eighties of the last century and was one of the most impassioned fighters for a free state system. He became an idol of the people. When he appeared on the rostrum of the National Subraniye, his rich and vivid language cracked merrily like a sound whip over the social weaknesses, finding a response deep in the spirits of the taught and the untaught.

      What was this universally gifted man like, the man who laid the foundations of modern Bulgarian literature? In what fields had he not tried his abilities? As a child and in his youth he led a life of wandering. He settled down for only a little while to raise a family in the small mountain town of Tryavna, which was his home town. In a short time Slaveykov had shown himself to be indefatigable in the cultural revival cause. He had become familiar with all aspects of the life of his compatriots. He proved to be a gifted teacher, folklorist, poet, translator, publicist and journalist. He published Gaida (Bagpipe), the first Bulgarian satirical newspaper, in Constantinople. He became a national representative in the struggle for the independence of the Bulgarian Church, and after the Liberation of Bulgaria from Ottoman bondage found himself in the centre of the young Bulgarian state's public life. He took an active part in drafting the democratic Turnovo Constitution, became a minister, and what else besides! Protesting against the social lack of rights after the Liberation of Bulgaria (1878) the poet was again persecuted, by the rulers and the Prince, but he remained undaunted and capable of enduring the severest of moral trials, because struggle was his element! That is how he created lyrical poetry of great civic ardour and historical optimism; that is how he enriched our poetry with new themes taken from the life of the people. His influence on the literary Bulgarian language was tremendous. The colossus of our modern literature, Ivan Vazov, was to say of him: "With his skilled hammer he was the first to hew from the rough rock of the Bulgarian language sculptures of exquisite lines and forms." A bright and happy nature with a fresh view of the world and history, Dyado Slaveykov breathed life into our revived cultural life, leaving an ineffaceable trace behind him.

      The fighting temperament of Petko Slaveykov seemed to have been poured into and grown greater in the outlook of Pencho Slaveykov, his son. With all his leanings towards quiet contemplation and romantic moods, the latter was also to possess the passion to defend his social ideals. Those gloomy states of mind, and the moments of wavering and despair which found inspired expression in his early collection of poems, A Maiden's Tears, very soon made way for the inborn energy and sound self-confidence, for courageous resolution, and the cherished image of a poet as a priest and a warrior. He trained his creative spirit under the impact of his father's democratic spirit of the National Revival period and our folk art. But along with this he drew his ideas from European artistic thought, living with the great images of world literature and following the example of Homer's Iliad, Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz, and thought out his impressive poem Song of the Blood, in which he recreated the tragedy and heroism of the Bulgarians during the April Uprising of 1876. It was not by chance that the Danish poet Jensen proposed Pencho Slaveykov for a Nobel Prize for this poem.

      Nurtured in the ideals of popular life, young Slaveykov became, like his father, one of the bulwarks of cultural life in Bulgaria. He wrote for Missal (Thought), the well-known periodical for literature and criticism, published an anthology On the Island of the Blessed and translated a volume of German Poets, through which he acquainted the Bulgarian reading public with German poetry. A personality with many gifts, Pencho Slaveykov did not remain an armchair poet, but put his energy into the social conflicts of his time - his critical attitude to monarchism brought him in close touch with the democratic forces among whom at the end of the past century his celebrated father had also waged war on corruption in the government and the personal regime of the monarch.

      Through his varied work, which became a model of artistic perfection and linguistic richness, and through his aesthetic ideas and his great personality, Pencho Slaveykov created a new, modern epoch in our literature. Thus, these two Tryavna poets, combining in their spirit inner concentration and dreaminess with active public principles, became a lasting symbol of those great heights of creativity which present-day Bulgarian poetry also aspires to reach.

Ventseslav Konstantinov, Two Poets of the Cultural Revival Period
- In: "Resorts in Bulgaria", Sofia, No. 2, 1978.

© Ventseslav Konstantinov, 1978

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