Poems by Ivan Theofilov

in English translation by Zdravka Mihaylova



I love this integrate ordeal
of love eternal.

     Ivan Bunin

Upwards on grassy limestone
with curiosity that parches our breath.
Always the same idolatry,
always the same mystery of ascent
and innermost faithfulness to spirit.
And so – towards the Propylae, the Erechteion
and the Lodge of Caryatides ... What
huge and spontaneous light,
saturated with vibrant air ... The hill
an endless series of vistas –
relief and sharp, endless vigil.
It is ablaze with wind literally shining
between the brownish columns ...
And even if gods were not fortified here,
I am certain this is the threshold,
the echo of divinity by which
the galaxy dawned on us ...
Dream or supremacy –
the Acropolis holds it and passes it on
from you to me, from me to you, oh human being,
to rapture the mind with miracles,
to close the splendid chain,
telling the story of this integrate ordeal
of love eternal


In Alexandria

          In memory of C. Cavafy

With the dazzling sea promenade around,
the asphalt flies by in sparkling serpentines
and stops by a square of yellow clay
with coffee shops under bluish plane trees.
In the violet twilight the sacred face
of the old fellaheen shines like a mummy's,
his varnished lanky arms
engaged in amber doze.
Steaming cup of coffee on silver tray,
a servant child with Alexander's profile,
but dark-complexioned, strides across a wooden bridge
and, Mephistopheles-faced, enters a back street
(more a dark passage
           pouring light on a shattered owl's mansard),
swings his lean, fez-crowned silhouette
and with rock-steady hand safeguards the tray.
Stale breath of colonial goods
in the motley outbursts of a market,
and in the corners of the dead quarter
I alternately appear and disappear.
Really, it's very strange: How come that from this row
of dark merchants' shops
the poet-civil servant made his way
towards the Ithaca we yearned for.



          Oh how I love the joyful sunset
          that comes like an antique vendor
          of shawls and coral bracelets,
of music, wood carvings and colored dusk!

He arrives as if by miracle, unveiling
his triumph with a spell of magic.
          The earth turns into an oriental beauty
and into pure gold – the darkest tree!

          I smile. And at the same moment I hear:
          – Come, buy from me the most precious thing!
I open my hands and I buy
the world – green, golden and purple.


Ortamezar *

        To Vassil Urumov

The neighborhood
with its shady provincial courtyards
next to the hot watermelon fields,
the draw wells with circulating horses,
with drowsy shabby streets and
                                      its enchanted
The neighborhood with Turkish customs and a
Wonderful Palestine of the Jews
with small shops
                  that sell:
                          chewing gum,
                                  baked chickpea,
                                                   crunchy caramels.
The neighborhood with fear and suffering,
where stars were shining in broad daylight
(as in the lives of saints)
on the coats of poor Jews;
with the crow extermination project,
with the air raids and the bomb shelters,
with the big eyes of my childhood ...
They shot, on our tiled roof, Sami,
uncle Jacob's son, brother of Becca and Esther,
the red-haired twins. Later we heard
that he called himself Angel ...
And this blood-stained and meek angel
perched on the roof of our house. My grandmother
made the sign
of the cross. And I saw the crows that had survived the
cleansing operation.
The sunset was glorious! My father whispered:
– What a pity! In the Jacobs'
window a Hannukah with seven
versicolored candles was burning.
                      It was Passover.

* Ortamezar is the old Jewish and Turkish neighborhood in the town of Plovdiv.


The Old Town of Plovdiv

Your ancient floors float among the stars.
Blue donkeys graze the silence around.
The Roman road leads down along matrimonial
A cry out of woman's flesh calls in the clock.
Violet-colored philistines go to bed in the deep
they hear the pig, the hens, the train, the mouse.
The darkness dawns with quick sensual pupils.
The bridal veil flies away with the chimney's breath.
Blue donkeys run on the moonlit roofs.
Saints take off in a cloud from whitewashed churches,
with blood-soaked lambs they welcome the bridal veil.
Leopards gaze with amber eyes from the doorsteps.
Among box trees bacchantes with satin bands
pour fragrant myrrh out of bronze rhytons ...


The Fish Market in Athens

In the cheerful narrow backstreets
with shops of advertisingly confessive mood
along the motley swarming crowds
where oriental customs reign,
here they are – a commercial cathedral
with atavistic resounding hall, cheered up
by the faience counters
that sparkle with slippery or unmoving
                and transparent white
bizarre creatures in idle captivity;
with gills and tentacles, with eyes and jaws,
created for a completely different, less committed
and more sincere world! Now they look like
a postdiluvian scene
(a moment of unfathomable marine innocence).
But all this is a most common
market place – illusive diamond,
dazzling with the reflections from its facets, letting
its arabesques of light play
on the majolica dome. And any
intrusion of allegory here is pointless.


Reminiscence of Academ

Standing on the light limestone
of the hill that perches to the northwest
of Athens near the locust trees
that spread Bengal lights,
making their eyes blink, I exclaim:
How simple this
mythical hill looks where selfless young
Academ was buried!
But this ingenuous proclamation of mine
suddenly puzzles me:
by what virtue did this 4th-century boy
move and encourage Plato
to name the congregations of philosophers
on the limestone terraces ... Academy?
Was it just legend that he showed
the Dioscures the place where the abductor
Theseus hid Helen of Troy,
their disgraced
sister, queen of bereaved Sparta,
and with them rushed
to defend her honor with the sword ...
                        Yes, by virtue of myth!
In those days of sincerity, it seems,
moral standards were a more valid measure.
Much more than the scales of mind. To this
rule Plato also bowed ...



"Ionia ... The mythical age of Androcles ..."
Thought prompted by this absurd spectacle –
indignation of a broken theater,
frozen grimace and decimated gesture
                         with the backdrop
of the wild countryside of Asia Minor,
living by the instinct of the ancient world
                         that turned
its giant loneliness into everyday mode ...
The bustling street with
its primitive gloss shudders
at the memory of chariots.
The interrupted staircase protrudes
from the splendid architectural skeletons.
Carved marble portal
nonchalant interior of shrubs gone wild
and many holes that
in the confusing discovery
of a public latrine –
                             THE WHOLE
REALITY of concrete intentions:
                                 by fate ...


Biographical note

Ivan Theofilov was born in Plovdiv in 1931. He graduated from the Theatre Academy in Sofia. He has worked as a dramatist and director of the theaters in Burgas and Russe as well as the Puppet Theatre in Sofia.
He is president of the Association of Bulgarian Writers and editor of the literary magazine Sezon.

He has published the following collections of poems:
The Sky and All the Stars (1963), Amphitheater (1968), Town Above the Town (1981), Shared Life (1984), The Wealth of Time (1981), Yes (1994), Geometry of the Spirit (1996). His plays The House of Shadows, The End of the Day, The Poet and the Mountain, The Watchmaker, etc. have been successfully staged.

His poetry and plays have been translated into 16 languages. He was awarded the State Prize for Poetry P. Yavorov. He has also received an award by the Ministry of Culture of Bulgaria for his overall contribution to Bulgarian culture and letters. He is an honorary citizen of Plovdiv.

The poems translated here are from Geometry of the Spirit, published by Free Poetic Society, Sofia, 1996.

Copyright of English translation by Zdravka Mihaylova 2000.

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