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National Romanticism: The Formation of National Movements

Balázs Trencsényi
Michal Kopeček

Chapter V. National Heroism: Revolution and Counter-Revolution

Hadji Dimiter, The hanging of Vasil Levski

Hristo Botev
Traduction de Kevin Ireland

Texte intégral

1Title: Хаджи Димитър (Hadji Dimiter); Обесвание на Васил Левски (The hanging of Vasil Levski)

2Originally published: ‘Hadji Dimiter’ in Независмост, III, 47, (11 July 1873). ‘The Hanging of Vasil Levski’ in Календар за година 1876 (Calendar for the year 1876), published by Hristo Botev in Romania.

3Language: Bulgarian

4Edition used: Hristo Botev. Poems, translated by Kevin Ireland (Sofia: Sofia Press, 1982).

About the author

5Hristo Botev [1848, Kalofer (Balkan valley) – 1876, near Vratsa (north-western Bulgaria)]: poet, journalist and revolutionary leader. He was born into the family of the teacher Botio Petkov, one of the figures of the ‘National Revival.’ His birthplace, Kalofer, was one of the most vital centers of the Balkan valley, which occupies a central place in the political and cultural revival movement (see Ivan Vazov, Under the Yoke). After completing primary school in his hometown, Botev continued his education in Odessa. In 1865 he left school, and returning in 1867 to Kalofer he succeeded his father as teacher in the local school. However, because of his revolutionary activities he had to leave Bulgaria and settle in Romania (first in Bucharest, then in Brăila), where he took an active part in the affairs of the Bulgarian revolutionary émigré community. These centered around the Bulgarian Revolutionary Central Committee (BRCC), led by his close ally Liuben Karavelov, and the newspaper Zname (‘The Flag’), which Botev edited, became the main organ of the revolutionary party. After the uprising of April 1876, he organized a detachment of armed volunteers and crossed the Danube on the 16th of May. He was killed on the 20th of May, in the evening after the battle, while on sentry duty in the camp. His literary work was influenced by Byron, Pushkin and, especially, Lermontov. In his poems (of which he composed only twenty) he integrated motifs from Bulgarian folklore, and thus, according to his apologists, he created the quintessential expression of ‘Bulgarian cosmogony.’ He was politically on the left, his position bordering on communism and anarchism. His political journalism was extremely sharp, and highly literary, putting it on a level with canonized poems such as ‘Hadji Dimiter’ or ‘The hanging of Vasil Levski.’ In 1885 a committee was founded for the commemoration of the anniversary of the poet’s death. A monument to Botev was unveiled in 1890, in the presence of King Ferdinand, on the main square of Vratsa, where the first of such commemorations took place. Some of the most influential political leaders of the newly founded Bulgarian state, such as Zahari Stoyanov and Stefan Stambolov, significantly contributed to his mythification, and within a decade Botev became a central figure in the national pantheon of the independent Bulgarian state.

6Main works: Песни и стихотворения от Ботйова и Стамболова. Книжка първа [Songs and poems by Botev and Stambolov. Book I] (1875).


7Revolutionary poetry, one of the most influential and popular genres in the nineteenth century, stimulated the feeling of national belonging in the period of ‘national revivals’ in Southeast Europe. The genre of the revolutionary poem, emblematic for Bulgarian Romanticism, drew on the tradition of ‘heroic’ folksongs. The relationship between folksongs and poetry was double-sided. On the one hand, Bulgarian Romantic poets exploited folkloric material (on a thematic and rhetoric level, and on the level of versification as well), as a result of which the genre of revolutionary poetry was situated between high literature and popular culture. On the other hand, being addressed to the broadest possible public, the revolutionary poems themselves were very often transformed into quasi-folksongs. Thus, Dobri Chintulov’s revolutionary songs, for instance, were sung to folk tunes. Undoubtedly, they were the most popular Bulgarian ‘texts’ of the period before the creation of an independent Bulgarian state, mostly due to their oral form which made it possible for the majority of the population, which was illiterate, to come in contact with them. Similarly, poems by Liuben Karavelov, Botev and Stefan Stambolov were sung and together with Chintulov’s poems became informal anthems of the revolutionary movement and particularly of the ‘April Uprising’ in 1876. On the other hand, Romanticism formed the horizon of reception for folklore, not only as an artistic phenomenon but also as a national oeuvre (see Dimitar Marinov, Living antiquity).

8Revolutionary poetry had very clear and concrete political implications. It promoted the ideology of the radical revolutionary wing of the Bulgarian national movement, the center of which was in Romania, where the headquarters of the BRCC had also moved, following the destruction of the network of revolutionary committees created by Vasil Levski. It was also in Romania that the main newspapers of the revolutionary party were published (Karavelov’s ‘Svoboda’ and ‘Nezavisimost’ and Botev’s ‘Duma’ and ‘Zname’); whereas the newspapers of the moderate, ‘evolutionist’ and dualist circles were based in Constantinople (see Hristo Botev, The People).

9The poems ‘Hadji Dimiter’ and ‘The hanging of Vasil Levski’ have a similar structure, and portray the death of two of the principal heroes of the national movement. Vasil Levski, the incontestable and later ‘canonized’ leader of the revolutionary movement in Bulgaria, was arrested and hanged by the Turks in 1873; while Hadji Dimiter was, together with Stefan Karadja, leader of a revolutionary detachment (cheta) which crossed the Danube from Romania in the summer of 1868, the two leaders dying soon after. That was practically the end of the guerilla tactics of the émigré revolutionary circles. The poem, ‘Hadji Dimiter,’ became a legitimating myth of the Bulgarian national canon as the mythological aura of the hero of the poem was projected onto Botev himself.

10Both poems have a similar underlying arch-text, or arch-figure—the out-standing individual. They express the mythical archetype of the Romantic Hero. Such a hero, while opposed to the profane ‘mass’ of people, is at the same time the quintessential incarnation of the community. The inherent logic of the two poems is thus based on the following structural double bind: the immortality of the hero is guaranteed by the eternal admiration of the grateful people, but, on the other hand, the existence of community itself is secured by its transcendental guarantor, the national hero.


Hadji Dimiter

He lives, still he lives! In the mountain fast,
soaked in blood, he lies and groans,
a rebel, wounded in the chest,
a rebel, young and with a manly strength.

To one side he has thrown a gun,
to the other a sword in broken pieces,
his head rolls, his eyes are dulled,
his mouth describes the universe with curses.

The rebel lies, and in the sky
there burns a motionless and angry sun;
a harvester sings in fields near by,
and faster still his lifeblood runs.

It’s harvest now. Slave girls – chant
your songs of grief. And you, sun, shine
upon this land of slaves. My heart
be hushed. One rebel more will die.

He who falls while fighting to be free
can never die: for him the sky
and earth, the trees and beasts shall keen,
to him the minstrel’s song shall rise…

By day he’s shaded by an eagle,
a wolf licks gently at his wounds,
above, a falcon – bird of rebels –
tends to this rebel as a brother would.

The moon comes out and day grows dim,
on heaven’s vault the stars now throng,
the forest rustles, quiet stirs the wind,
the mountains sing an outlaw song.

Wood-sprites, in their white-hued dress,
fair and beautiful, take up the tune,
hushed their footfall in the grass,
as all about him then sit down.

One sprinkles coolness over him,
another binds his wound with herbs,
a third’s quick kisses touch his lips
and softly smiles as he looks up at her.

Where is Karadja? – sister, say.
Where is my faithful company?
Tell me, then bear my soul away –
sister, this is where I want to die.

Enraptured then they all embrace
and heavenwards fly, still singing on
they fly and sing till morning overtakes
their quest to find Karadja’s soul…

On the mountainside – as day has dawned –
the rebel lies, his lifeblood runs,
the wolf licks at his bitter wound
and the sun, again, now burns – and burns.

The Hanging of Vasil Levski

O mother mine, dear motherland,
Why do you weep so piteously?
And raven – you accursed bird –
Your grim croak sounds above whose grave?
O, I know, I know, you weep, my mother,
Because you are a wretched slave,
Because your sacred voice, my mother,
Is a voice alone in a desert waste.
Weep on. There – near the town of Sofia –
I saw a wretched gallows jut,
And one of your sons, Bulgaria,
Was hanging with a chilling force.
The raven croaks with evil omen,
Dogs and wolves howl in the fields,
The old men pray to God with fervour,
The children scream, the women wail.
The winter sings its baleful song,
Squalls chase thistles on the plain,
And cold and frost and hopeless tears
Overwhelm your heart with pain.

© Central European University Press, 2007

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