Edvard Kocbek is considered to have been the most contemporary of Slovene pre-war poets. His early lyricism was expressionist in style, tinged with elements of symbolism, influenced by European greats such as Paul Claudel, Rainer Maria Rilke and Georg Trakl. He later explored other avenues of expression, with an increasing affection for modernism.
Better than any historical record, Kocbek’s poems bear witness to the human condition in a revolution-torn country. A writer of not only wit and clarity of style but also of considerable substance, he was concerned with metaphysical contemplations on the nature of compassion, suffering and hope. His poems, near-epic in form but softly lyrical in content, convey a sense of correspondence that, with the urgency of the great masters, inserts the most intimate of love relationships into the vastness of the social and spiritual perspective. “His poetry, however, is by no means overtly political. On the contrary, it is precisely in his subtle manipulation of symbols and delicate images, more often than not drawn from peasant culture and a rich tradition of folk songs, that the tragic social dynamics of his country come effortlessly to life”, points out Aleš Debeljak in his preface to the book.
Kocbek’s verse reveals profound spiritual undertones. Regardless of his lifelong allegiance to a highly individualized version of Roman Catholicism, one is compelled to conclude that a cosmological rather than religious longing runs through his poems, in a way calling to mind the mythological consciousness of the greatest modern Southern Slavic poet, the late Vasko Popa of Serbia.
His rebellious yet deeply intimate writings made Kocbek a poet of “extraordinary originality and vision who deserves a prominent place in the pantheon of modern literature”, as Pulitzer-prize winner and a distinguished American poet Charles Simic concludes in his preface to Na vratih zvečer (At the Door At Evening, 1990).
Edited by: Andrej Blatnik
Afterword: Aleš Debeljak
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