Miroslav Krleža

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Miroslav Krleža in 1953

Miroslav Krleža (7 July 1893 – 29 December 1981) was a Yugoslav and Croatian writer who is widely considered to be the greatest Croatian writer of the 20th century. He wrote notable works in all the literary genres, including poetry (Ballads of Petrica Kerempuh, 1936), theater (Messrs. Glembay, 1929), short stories (Croatian God Mars, 1922), novels (The Return of Philip Latinowicz, 1932; On the Edge of Reason, 1938), and an intimate diary. His recurrent theme is bourgeois hypocrisy and conformism in Austria-Hungary and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Krleža wrote numerous essays on problems of art, history, politics, literature, philosophy, and military strategy, and was known as one of the great polemicists of the century. His style combines visionary poetic language and sarcasm.




  • When a scientific principle puts on the toga of social dignity, it turns itself into a bell or a parrot; such phantoms have always been the most dangerous enemies of reason.
    • Aristocrats of Spirit, in: Eseji IV, p.76 (Zora, 1963)
  • Between the Protestant North and the Counter-Reformation of Vienna, menaced by Venetian intrigue, under the Ottomans and under the bloody tyranny of their own native nobles, split into three churches and five states, the Croatian masses vegetated in passive resistance for centuries, invisibly resilient in their Proto-Slavic passivity, which had survived the lordships of Rome and Byzantium and already (in principle) was getting over Istanbul. (...)

    Born in the Schism between Rome and the Slavs, torn by the fatal dilemma of the East and West, Križanić is a typical victim of our geographic position. As the instigator of Russian imperialism on a conceptual level equalling Peter the Great, as a forerunner and prophet of Panslavism, of Slavophiles, as the linguist of a Cyrillic/Latin synthesis to be followed by Romantic Illyrians, Soloviev, Rački, Strossmayer, and all the way to our "realistic" contemporary Yugoslavian political movement (1898-1928), as a theoretical colonizer of the remote Slavic East, historian of Siberia and dreamer of China, as a desperate man with Biblical lamentations over the schism, this half-mad missionary was abused for years, later suffered as an interned monk and beggar, and eventually died under Turkish hooves. (...)

    Around Juraj Križanić, armies were marching under generals Isolani and Wallenstein, cannons were firing around Prague, Magdeburg and Lutzen. People were skinned alive, impaled on stakes, had their throats cut, drank human blood, massacred one another from Sisak to Koprivnica for a hundred years, and everywhere there was the wail of the wounded, the rattling of lepers, and the mumbling of cripples and beggars. Everything was bloody like a wound and stank like a beggar's putrid rag.

    • On Dominican Father Juraj Križanić, in: Eseji III, pp.50-69 (Zora, 1963)

Short stories

  • Clerks and constables, barracks and precincts, municipalities, documents, offices: all of this was seen by our heroes [mobilized Croatian peasants] as a machine that was invented by educated city folk for the sole purpose of letting the blood of paupers and counting the peasants' bags, pigs, and mares; however, this entire machinery of educated folk and doctors of the Triune Kingdom underestimated the great and indomitable life inside them, and when our heroes thought about themselves and their life, this is what it looked like, more or less: this is my hut; it has a slanted roof so that rain flows left and right instead of falling on my head. It's a good invention, not having the rain fall on one's head, and I inherited it from my grandfather, this sooty warm roof, and I will leave it to my son, because a roof is a smart thing. (Without a roof, man would be like a beast.) I sit under this mushroom of mine and watch the smoke go up, while the waters of heaven flow and soak the fields. This is good too. My wife sits at the loom like a spider, there is a potato rolling in my pot, and there should be a couple of fat smoked ribs on the attic. That is all. Honestly, I don't need more. Life is good! The man lights his pipe in the twilight as he watches yellow cat eyes shining like fireflies in the oxen steam in the stable. Life is good! (...)

    These people were shot by Hungarian gendarmes, all according to the Compromise of 1868, they had their wives and daughters raped by revolutionaries in 1848 and by deserters after Custozza and Solferino; when their women gave birth, they still cut the umbilical cord themselves, with a sickle, and went to work three days later; the dead were splashed with wine just like in the old pagan times. The fact that huge empires rose and fell on the shores of the European seas, that new lands were discovered, that life fundamentally changed, all of that didn't mean a thing to this life here. Or rather it did! Churches and prisons were built in the valleys: stone buildings with flags and Roman crosses, with lightning rods and church organs, with bars and articles of law; but all those prisons and offices and churches were not there yesterday, and it may come to pass that those churches and documents and articles will not be there tomorrow either, and the villages of Saint Elizabeth and Saint John will be Foxhole and Wolf Pit like before, and we're quits! God be praised!

    Since they considered things and measured events with this sublime and tried measure, it is quite natural that our heroes weren't too upset about this so-called war.

    • The Battle of Bistrica Lesna, in: Hrvatski bog Mars, pp.11-13 (Zora, 1963)
  • [Zagreb. The twilight of Austria-Hungary. At the celebration of a priest's First Mass, the youth discusses the problems of the state and the church. The older generation, on the other hand...]

    "Ask these respectable gentlemen, if you don't believe me, to explain to you that the Earth is round!", angrily said uncle Šimonić, the janitor of the observatory. He has some little authority in astronomy, after all. When great professors and astronomers go to the attic to look at the stars, they go through his kitchen! And he carries all the keys to the stars in his pocket. And this man before him, this member of the public who doesn't even know what is an eclipse, this dolt won't believe him that the Earth is round and spinning like a ball.

    "Round! So it is round! Fine, have it your way! It is round! Well then! Is this apple round? It is? So it is round like the Earth, as you say. And this crumb here is a man! Tell me now, how come the crumb falls from the apple when I turn the apple around? Well? Look how it falls right away! Did you ever hear that a single man fell off the Earth? You haven't? Would you be so kind and explain this to me?"

    That's true! Uncle Šimonić never thought that a man would fall off the Earth if it was really round. And it's as simple as a slap in the face, god damn it. And when those crazy professors up in the observatory explain things to him, it all seems so clear to him. But there you have it! Crumbs fall off the apple, and Šimonić, the royal janitor of the royal observatory, could fall off the Earth by the same principle. There's something fishy here after all!

    • The First Mass of Alojz Tiček, in: Novele, pp.175-6 (Zora, 1963)


  • A Person Unknown has brought Autumn
    in the North Room.
    Oh now,
    when all is color, harvest, and smell of wine,
    when one hears the song of Things and Beasts,
    when the longing dead yell in their graves,
    A Person Unknown has brought Autumn
    on a silver platter
    in the room:
    grapes and pears, apples and figs.

    And outside there are steaming pools of sun juice,
    as one hears through the window:
    in the silk of day
    a woman is singing.

    And the birds tweet on.

    • Jesenja pjesma (The Autumn Poem), in: Poezija, p.31 (Zora, 1963)
  • Ever more alone, ever madder, remoter, sadder alone,
    ever darker, ever baser, as it awfuls more and more.

    Ever colder, ever viler, ever icier,
    autumn's lonely void, as it autumns more and more.

    • Jesenja samoća (Autumn Loneliness), in: Poezija, p.343 (Zora, 1963)
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