Blesok no. 61-62, July-October, 2008
Prince Marko's Strength is Broken – The Day After
(Interpreting the poem "The Breaking of the Strength" by Blaže Koneski)
The more I read and re-read, the more I understood I was swimming deeper and deeper, to the places in the ocean where it was impossible to touch the bottom. Many ideas were born in my head, numberless ways of approaching the text, but each idea gave birth to a new one, and the new one to an even newer one. I felt that I was becoming part of the story too. As if my strength, which had been given to me, was also breaking. I had to choose a single path that I was to follow and that was what I did.
At the very beginning when I said – I would sit down and write an essay about Blaže Koneski, I remembered Trajko Kitančev and his mystification “Prince Marko's Strength Is Broken” (Todorovski; 1993: 287). I recalled that Koneski has an intertext placed even before the very beginning of “The Breaking of the Strength” and I was sure that this quotation was referring precisely to this poem by Trajko Kitančev. When I opened the book to read the poem once again, I realized that I had been mistaken – Koneski is in fact quoting a folk story, not a poem. Nevertheless, I did not give up my intention, I knew that the first idea in my had was in fact the same angel that stood on David's shoulder when he was writing the psalms.
Although Koneski does not directly quote Kitančev, we can not easily ignore the fact that these two poems are mutually connected. If nothing else, we could assume with a great certainty that these two poems are connected by the same prototext, i.e. that Kitančev himself was inspired by the same folk story that inspired Koneski. If we think a while, this thesis sounds very logical.
Nevertheless, both authors have used their inspiration in a different way. Kitančev has fully used his prototext and only stylized it, i.e. he has replaced the prose discourse by verses; Koneski, on the other hand used his inspiration to build upon what has already been written. Thus, one can freely say that Koneski's poem “starts where the oral stories and Trajko Kitančev's poem end” (Vangelov: 1981: 143).
It is not by accident that I called this text “Prince Marko's Strength Is Broken – The Day After”. When I read Koneski's poem, this was the impression that I had: the subject woke up the morning after and realized what had happened to him. Here, the new story began. The rebellion began. If you want it said in a more picturesque way, the continuation of the film about Prince Marko started here, with a new modern actor. Two different lyrical subjects experienced the same fate. The old one was continued by the new, contemporary one – if you prefer, the more modern one.
Koneski himself in some of his explanations speaks about this poem and everything that had inspired him to write it. The most elaborate explanation is in his essay “An Experiment” where he writes about his discovery of the poems, denying their spotless originality. There, he speaks about actualization (a term that he borrows from the Prague school) and via everyday examples, in his style, he manages to come close to the reader. He actually manages to actualize the actualization itself, and bring freshness in a dull term.
He does the same with his poetry. He does the same in “The Breaking of the Strength”. The old mythological matrices are placed in a new code. He connects, as he himself says, the three sides of a triangle – the tradition, collective and author (Koneski; 1990: 255) – thus giving birth to a completely new poem. He gives birth to a new child, which carries inside itself the genetic marks of its parents.
One evening, while I was trying to fall asleep – as it is said, in the incubation phase – these questions came up: Who is in fact Koneski's lyrical subject? Is it Prince Marko at all? Is it the same Prince Marko as Kitančev's? Is it maybe a new Prince Marko who was also given something by God, who later changed his mind and took it away from him? I gave the answer to these questions the next day. I decided on the last one, precisely because of the actualization that Koneski himself spoke about.
Why do I say a new PRINCE MARKO? There might be more reasons, but one was crucial for me – the lyrical subject of Koneski is a hero. It is a subject with superhuman features. The subject that distances himself from the people because of these features and comes close to God. There are enough explicit proofs in the poem on this, and I shall elaborate them below.
Atanas Vangelov calls this poem a “protest monologue” (Vangelov; 1981: 138). A monologue – it sounds a bit hopeless, as if you are not certain that the one that you address will hear you. Still, Koneski's subject is pretty certain when he addresses, as if he had known his imaginary collocutor for a long time. His address sounds like the one of a son disappointed in his father, in the one to whom he looked up all of his life: I used to come to you in thought as to a father. The very address, the insolence and swaggering could implicitly imply the divine nature of the hero, because not everybody has the courage to communicate with God in such a way.
The conflict between the hero and God starts at the very beginning. As a mater of fact, this conflict was born even before the poem started – it just its continuation. At the beginning of this continuation – although maybe secret and concealed -- one can feel the love that our Prince Marko felt for his God. It is not by chance that he asks so many times: Why? As if he can not believe that the one who used to be his defender has suddenly turned into his opponent. It is not by chance that he says for couple of times: God. Not by chance! This all implies that the subject and his God used to be quite close before the conflict.
Here one can of course mention the well-known mythological matrices where God's favorites suddenly turn into their victims, precisely because they have started to overshadow their divinity and hurt their vanity. Georgi Stardelov mentions the Gilgamesh story here, as he also angered the gods who sent a man equal to him to calm down his strength and pride (Stardelov; 2000: 163).
Koneski's god is just like that. He is vain. He is imperfect. He is insecure. The fact that he gave the subject something and then changed his mind is his denial of himself. Correcting his mistake he admits that has already committed one, thus showing that he is not unmistakable. Since he is not unmistakable, he is not perfect and he can not ask for respect.
He also denies himself by not using his divine power to subdue our Prince Marko, but he comes down to Earth. God turns into a human. He replaces his Heaven with the Earth only to secure his power. Not only this, he also humiliates himself even more. He is not certain of his power, he feels an unthinking fear inside, and he has to use a trick. His external attributes are also not impressive. In our eyes he is a ragged flour-covered old man. And a beggar on top. He had really managed to conceal his nature.
Can you imagine Prince Marko's expression while he addresses his former idol? I can see only disappointment and resentment in this face. I cal also notice the mocking smile (bitter mockery) on his lips. He scolds, scolds, scolds… From the beginning to the end. As if he can not express what is in his soul, because it hurts the most when you are disappointed by those that you least expect to do so (I knew you as my defender, who would smile at me/ Pleased with the transparent whirlpool of my soul/ And I could not think of you differently –/ You, the Almighty/
Turned yourself to a beggar/ Making yourself blind/ So I should not see the cunning in your eyes –/). Prince Marko's contempt is best seen in the verse: I feel that in me which puts me above you. In the end he has completely given up on his God (Alone/ Through mists I must search out the path of my life) and decides to be his own god. He does not even expect an answer from the one he addresses and this is a proof of Atanas Vangelov's claim that this poem is a protest monologue.
In the “Protest monologue” part I mentioned that the swaggering of the lyrical subject, i.e. his impudence can also be understood as an implicit indicator of his heroic attributes. Now I say that it can also be understood as an explicit one, if it is related to its dendomorphic nature. It is these dendomorphic elements that are an “image or symbol of immortality” (Vangelov; 1981: 124). It is not in vain that the hero identified himself with an oak. The oak is muscular, tough and the most important of all – longevous. The oak is on the path between human and divine. Its roots, sunk deep in the ground testify of its chthonic nature, while its branches unstoppably reach for the skies, as our subject reaches for his defender.
The oak can also imply the striking, separateness. Here I would allow myself a larger digression to justify my image of the separateness of the oak. I shall for a moment depart to L. N. Tolstoy and I shall mention his character Andrej Nikolaevich Bolkonsky, who compared himself with a hundred year old oak. The oak that Bolkonsky compared himself with was just like that – it stood lonely, but proudly, separate from the others. That is why the very mentioning of the oak brings in my the image of the proud rising.
The subject expresses his separateness and supernatural nature in another way as well, by continuing to list his attributes. He has an unimaginable strength, he is marked among all, he is the first in a failing empire. Not only this, but this is all given to him by the one he calls my God. The possessive my (I already mentioned) implies the closeness between God and him, which is another indicator that he has something divine in himself.
The broken strength of the hero is shown by the stylistic syntagms: burnt wings, sinking ship, dry underground river. The water in itself associates of life, power, fertility; however, the water disappears here, as does the strength of the hero. Only the beating of waves remains to remind of the strength that he once possessed.
Besides the dendomorphic and hydromorphic attributes, the character still has attributes that testify of his human nature. Here the stress is on his childish naivety, his honesty when he approaches his God: To rampage in my innocence; I stepped into your house with a child’s pure faith/ Running in from play to take a crust from the larder/. (With what skill Koneski managed to show the innocence of a child! How picturesque! Man can only admire the lexical choice, the poetic image that he creates with the reader. It is simply impossible for a man to only read these verses without opening brackets and writing inside his admiration.)
In the end I want to ask myself another question: Does the subject lose his force or does he replace it with a new, even bigger one!? Since he is no longer a muscular oak, but a dried river and his wings are burnt, he ends as a moral winner. He is above his God. He does not depend on anyone. He is independent. I think, if the breaking of his strength is not only an initiation!? Maybe God, wanting to harm Marko did the opposite – he helped him understand that he needed nobody to find his way in his life. He only needed himself.
That is it. I too, like Koneski was inspired by what was written before me, since I can not ignore the literature that I have used. I can not praise myself and say that I wrote a completely new essay, an essay that is a fruit solely of my inner inspiration. No, I write what has been written many times, but I tried to insert there the voice of the angel that stood on my shoulder. Although at times a bit impudent and swaggering, in the end I shall nevertheless say that I have not created, but discovered this essay.
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