EASY ESSAYS
EASY ESSAYS
Syndic Literary Journal

Syndic No.52 ~ Visar Zhiti ~ At the Bars of My Cell

AT THE BARS OF MY CELL

Written by Visar Zhiti

Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie 

Narrated by Bill Wolak

Albania

How sweetly the nightingale sang

Through the iron bars of my window,

Transforming the very iron

into the verdant branches of a cherry tree.

 

The floor was covered in warbles

 

And I, on my knees,

Picked them up one by one

Like crumbs of bread,

           like crumbs of life.

 

 

(in a prison cell, 1980)

 

Visar Zhiti was one of the many to have suffered appalling persecution for no apparent reason under the oppressive communist regime in Albania. But Visar Zhiti survived – physically, intellectually and emotionally, and he is now among the most popular poets of present-day Albania. Born in Durrës (Albania) as the son of the stage actor and poet Hekuran Zhiti, he grew up in Lushnja (Internment City), where he finished school in 1970. After studies at a teacher training college in Shkodra, he embarked upon a teaching career in the northern mountain town of Kukës. Zhiti showed an early interest in verse and had published some poems in literary periodicals. In 1973, he was preparing the collection “Rapsodia e jetës së trëndafilave” (Rhapsody of the Life of Roses) for publication when the so-called Purge of the Liberals broke out in Tirana at the Fourth Plenary Session of the Communist Party. After years of uncertainty under the  Communist Party, Visar Zhiti was arrested on 8 November 1979 in Kukës where he was still teaching. To keep his sanity, he composed and memorized over a hundred poems. Sentenced at a mock trial in April 1980 to thirteen years in prison, he was taken to Tirana jail and, from there, transferred up to the isolated northern mountains to do the rounds in the infamous concentration camps similar to the Soviet gulags, among them, the living hell of the copper mines at Spaç and to the icy mountain prison of Qafë-Bari. Many of his fellow prisoners died of mistreatment and malnutrition, or went mad. Visar Zhiti was released on 28 January 1987. His first volume of verse “Kujtesa e ajrit” (The Memory of the Air) was published in Tirana in 1993. The second collection, “Hedh një kafkë te këmbët tuaja” (I Cast a Skull at Your Feet), published in Tirana in 1994, contains the full cycle of 110 prison poems composed between 1979 and 1987, verse which survived miraculously in the recesses of the poet’s memory. Zhiti’s books are published in other countries, and his poems have been translated into many languages as English, Italian, Romanian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian, German, French, Greek, Danish, Hebrew, and Chinese. He has also published translations into Albanian of Saint Mother Teresa’s prayers, poetry from Federico Garcia Lorca, Mario Luzi, Isikava Takuboku, Sebastiano Grasso, and Adonis        .

 

Robert Elsie (June 29, 1950 – October 2, 2017) was a Canadian-born German scholar who specialized in Albanian literature and folklore. Elsie was a writer, translator, interpreter, and specialist in Albanian studies, being the author of numerous books and articles that focused on various aspects of Albanian culture and affairs. He has translated The Condemned Apple : Selected Poetry of Visar Zhiti, Green Integer Press (2004).                    

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