Tin Ujević – the greatest poet in 20th-century Croatian literature
Maybe it is true that Croatian literature isn’t well-known worldwide, but throughout history, numerous names have left their mark in national as well as world literature and one of them is Augustin Tin Ujević known as Tin Ujević. According to the British poet Clive Wilmer – he was one of the last masters of European Symbolism. Enough to get acquainted with the life and work of one of the greatest Croatian writers of all time.
Let’s start with biography and his Bohemian life
Tin Ujević was born in Vrgorac (5 July 1981 – yes, today he would celebrate 129th birthday), a small town in the Dalmatian hinterland, and attended school in Imotski, Makarska, Split and Zagreb (all in Croatia). He was one of the five children in marriage between local teacher Ivan and a housewife Jerolima. In fact, many believe that his father Ivan as a teacher had a great influence on young Tin to go study Croatian literature. In Zagreb, he studied Croatian language and literature, classical Philology, Philosophy, and Aesthetics.
When Tin was 18 years old, he published his first sonnet ‘Za novim vidicima’ (Towards New Horizons) in the journal Mlada Hrvatska (Young Croatia). At an early age, he became active in the Nationalist youth movement and he was repeatedly imprisoned. In fact, this crucial period for his political and poetic consciousness was his move in Paris (1913-1919). In Paris, he spent time between the National Library, the student dormitory and the cult café Rotonda, a favorite place in Paris of Apollinaire, Ehrenburg, Trotsky, Picasso, Cocteau, Modigliani, Fujita, Anglada, and others. Let’s stay that in Paris he started living as a Bohemian.
In 1919, he returned in Zagreb where he wrote two autobiographical essays ‘Mrsko Ja’ (Hateful Me) and ‘Ispit savjesti’ (Examination of Conscience). It is considered to be one of the most moving confessional texts in Croatian literature, in which an author mercilessly examines their own past.
After Zagreb, he moved in Belgrade (1920-26), where he was a frequent guest at Hotel Moskva and Skandarlija street and confirmed once more that he is a true Bohemian. In Belgrade, he wrote his first anthology of poetry ‘Lelek sebra’ (Cry of a slave) and the poem ‘Visoki jablani’ (High Poplars). ‘Lelek sebra’ is considered the peak of modern Croatian lyrical poetry.
Next four years he will live on the relation between Belgrade, Zagreb, and Split. During the years 1930-37, the city of Sarajevo will be a home city of this Bohemian, from where he will return to Split (1937-40) and the last fifteen years of his life spent in Zagreb (1940-55).
During the Second World War, he didn’t publish a single book, earning his living as a journalist and translator. He translated numerous works of poetry, novels, and short stories into Croatian (Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, Benvenuto Cellini, Arthur Rimbaud, Andre Gide, Charles Baudelaire, and others.
Ujević held a post in the Independent State of Croatia (1941-45) as a translator and for this reason, he was forbidden by the Yugoslav government from continuing with his literary career for several years. In 1950 was published a selection of his works under the title ‘Rukovet’ (Handful). Tin Ujević died on 12 November 1955 in Zagreb and he is buried at Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb.
Trivia about Tin Ujević
* The Tin Ujević Award is the most prestigious poetry award in Croatia
* in 2003, the Jadrolinija ferry, MV Tin Ujević was named after him
* in 2005, Croatian Post issued a stamp on the 50th anniversary of his death
* there is a total of 122 streets in Croatia named after him, making him the ninth most common person whom streets were named
* he was born in two different towers – there are two plaques on two different towers in his home-town Vrgorac with the inscription ‘Tin Ujević was born in this tower’
Photos: Jure Divić, www.tportal.hr
Tonight, my forehead gleams and sweat drips in each eye; my thoughts blaze through dreams, tonight, of beauty I shall die.
The soul’s core is pure passion, deep in the pit of night, a blazing cone. Hush, weep in silence. Let us weep and let us die. We’ll die alone.