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"O reckless and foolish one! Wherefore art
thou ashamed to call thyself Bulgarian?...
Or did not the Bulgars possess a kingdom and
state? Be thou not deluded, Bulgarian, but
know thine own origin and tongue..."

        Paissy (1762)


A hundred and twenty years1 back... Deep shadow!

There, where the Mount of Athos narrows,

A refuge hidden from worldly deceit,

For prayer and rest a placid retreat,

Where only is heard the Aegean roaring,

The whispering gorse and the seabird soaring,

Or the solemn tolling of a vesper bell,

In a humbly furnished, slumbering sell

That a spluttering lamp was dimly lighting,

An obscure, pale-faced monk was writing.


What was he penning there, pensive, alone?

The Life of a saint, or a sacred tome

Commenced long ago, then long forsaken,

Again at this midnight hour undertaken?

Was he recording there tokens divine,

Or composing a eulogy, fair and fine,

To a miracle-worker in wonders abounding

Of Egypt, Greece, or the Holy Mountain?

Why was he taxing body and brain?

Was he a philosopher? Was he insane?

Was this the imbecile imposition

Of an abbot of rigorous disposition?

At last he relaxed and said: "That is the end:

A new life chronicle I have penned."

With glances of tenderest rapture he greeted

His labour of many long years, now completed,

The fruit of his vigil, his will-power's child,

Which half of his span upon earth had beguiled -

A glorious Life! While it was begotten,

All else, even Heaven, he had forgotten!

Never did mother so tenderly gaze

On her first-born son, nor hero raise

Fond eyes to the prize of his desiring!

Like a Bible prophet in ancient style,

Or the hermit severe of Patmos isle,

Who boldly unfolded the secret of darkness

And God's own will on the roll of parchment,

Pale and elated, a glance he hurled

To darkest chaos, to the starry world,

To the gleaming Aegean that softly slumbered,

And, raising the pages aloft, he thundered:

"Henceforth Bulgarians near and far

A history possess and a nation are!"


Let them discover from these my writings

That once they were great and again shall be mighty,

From glorious Budin to Athos Mount

Our law was esteemed of great account.

May all our brothers read here and remember

That Greeks are perfidious people and clever,

That we have repulsed them – and more than once -

That's why they can's stomach the likes of us;

That we, too, had kingdoms and capital cities,

And native-born patriarchs, saintly figures;

We, too, in this world have performed a good deed,

Given all Slav peoples the books they read;

When other folk shout: "You Bulgarian!" wildly,

Let brothers know this is a name to take pride in.

And know that great God, to whom praises are sing,

He, too, understands our Bulgarian tongue;

And shameful it is when a person goes running

To join with the Hellenes, his kith and kin shunning,

Spurning his God-given native speech

And his very own name, like a senseless beast.

Woe to you, fools, who like sheep are erring,

The poisonous potion of Greeks preferring,

Who fell of your very own brothers ashamed

And Hellene corruption greedily acclaim,

Who sinfully scoff at the bones of your fathers

And mock all our ways, as too simple and artless:

It's not your own kin, though, who sully your name,

You fools, it is you are the cause of their shame!


Read and discover upon these pages

The deeds of your forebears in long-gone ages:

How bravely with many a kingdom they fought,

And powerful kings to them tribute brought,

And the Bulgar state led a great existence;

How Boris the saint in Preslav was christened,

How churches there sprang up at Assen's will,

How the Tsar sent gifts; about Samuil,

Who lost his own soul in the depths of Hades,

Conquered Durazzo and Greece invaded;

Read here and know of Tsar Shishman as well

And how into bondage our kingdom fell;

And of Ivan Rilski, whose sacred relics

Show still their miracle-working merits;

Read how great Kroum beat Nicephorus, lined

His skull with silver and drank from in wine,

How Simeon drove out the Magyar raiders

And had from Byzantium humble obeisance.

A scholar was he, a philosopher wise,

His own native language he did not despise

And when there was no one for subjugation

He sat and wrote books as his relaxation.

Here read and now study what I have set down,

In many a legend and chronicle found,

Read, brothers, so men do not mock and ignore you,

Nor foreigners give themselves airs before you...

This book now receive! It is my bequest,

So may it be copied, made manifest,

And scattered through lowland and valley, go speeding

Wherever Bulgarians are dying, bleeding.

Find here revelation, the grace of God's truth,

To young – gift of wisdom, to old – gift of youth!

Whoever shall read it, shall never repent it,

Who masters it, he shall have knowledge in plenty."


Thus spake the man in the anchorite cell,

Who gazed at the past and the future as well,

Who, many a service and sacrament skipping,

Had never relinquished the pen he was gripping

And many a canon and fast had not kept,

But toiled without cease and at rest never slept.


Thus spake, a hundred and twenty years before us,

This hermit of Athos, in God's view not flawless,

Who secretly kindled, when all ways lay dark,

In people's awareness the very first spark.


Plovdiv, 1882



Translated by © Peter Tempest. All rights reserved!


1 The time interval between the writing of Paissy's History (1762) and Vazov's poem (1882).


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