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Across the River

On the Poetry of Mak Dizdar

Rusmir Mahmutcehajic

Publication Year: 2011

The work of Mehmedalija MakDizdar (1917-71) is the cornerstone of modern Bosnian literature. During the Second World War he was a member of the anti-fascist Partisans. After the war, he became prominent in Bosnian cultural life and eventually President of the Writers' Union of Bosnia and Herzegovina. His work blends influences from Bosnian Christian culture, Islamic mysticism, and the cultural remains of medieval Bosnia, especially its stone tombstones.This book falls into two parts. The first is an essay on Dizdar's major poetry book Stone Sleeper. It argues that in his poetry Dizdar turns to spiritual regions and resources that had been suppressed during the time of communism. From the very outset, Stone Sleeper was recognized as a liberatrion from the ideological disciplines of communism, nationalism, and scientism. Few, however, were able fully to understand the traditional content of its post-traditional form. In this part, Rusmir Mahmutcehajic introduces readers to the traditional substance of Stone Sleeper, in the context of what he calls perennial philosophy.From that perspective, prophecy, being the source of perennial wisdom, is set above poetry. In some poetry, however, prophetic wisdom and poetic pronouncement exist inseparably. Stone Sleeper is an example of that mutual co-existence.In the second part, the author traces, in a discussion of Dizdar's mystically influenced poem Blue River,the perennial questions of how we are to discover or realize the human self in relation to God as Creator.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

This is a work in two parts. The first is ‘‘The Text beyond the Text: Stone Sleeper (Kameni spavacˇ) in the Light of the Perennial Philosophy,’’ and the second is ‘‘Across Water: A Message on Realization. ’’...

I. The Text beyond the Text

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pp. 3-6

Man is will, love, and knowledge, but always in a unique, albeit constantly changing self. Though will, love, and knowledge in the self are defined by the things of the outside world, it is in the self that they have their initial source and ultimate end. That...

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1. The Poet

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pp. 7-14

Mehmed Alija ‘‘Mak’’ Dizdar, the most famous Bosnian poet of his age, was born in 1917 in Stolac, a town in the heart of Hum, the southern province of Bosnia....

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2. Roads

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pp. 15-20

The eternal Unity of Truth has been revealed at different times through different prophets. The heavens, the earth, and all that lies between them are Its stage. The incalculable multitude of Its facets and possibilities has been revealed throughout...

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3. The Word

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pp. 21-28

If our center is uncreated and inviolable and has its own ‘‘road map,’’ what then is the nature of the sacred science contained in the beliefs of the krstjani and in Dizdar’s work?...

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4. Man

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pp. 29-34

Viewed formally, Mak Dizdar’s poetry is post-traditional, but as an artistic revelation it is imbued with perennial wisdom as spoken within the enduring Bosnian tradition. This is why the newly awakened sleepers’ voices cannot be...

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5. Heaven

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pp. 35-42

Man is like a barrier between two seas, the supraindividual world of the archetypes and the world of phenomena, or a bridge between them, and so himself has two sides. The first is not contingent on individuality or on language, while the second takes...

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6. Earth

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pp. 43-49

The yearning to return, the longing for realization in the primal potential of the human self that can be heard in the Sleeper’s speech, is denoted by the gate to the City of Knowledge. Our presence on the earthly level is manifested by the City, which...

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7. The City

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pp. 50-56

To discover the mystery of the Bosnian Sleeper and reveal it in a discourse that transcends forgetfulness and confusion, the Sleeper reminds us of the House of Peace. Every house in this world is merely a sign of the House of Peace, toward...

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8. The Praised

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pp. 57-64

The phenomena on the outer horizons and in the self are only signs of the One, refracted through Intellect, or the Pillar of the Sun. Bearing witness to this enables the witnesser to turn to the strait gate of which the Anointed...

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9. The House

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pp. 65-71

In his Word on earth, the Sleeper speaks of Mile´, that Bosnian place whose name may mean milost (mercy) or mir (peace). Whenever we find ourselves facing beauty, it appears to us first as peace and mercy. In this encounter, we first relax and then tense in an impulse toward what has appeared in beauty and mercy. Both...

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10. Judgment

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pp. 72-78

Every human self spans the uttermost depths and the sublimest heights, and as long as the self is aware of itself, this split persists. No self can end up in the uttermost depths, for the uttermost depths are simply nothing....

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11. I and You

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pp. 79-85

The Stone Sleeper’s poetic discourse begins by delineating the relationship between ‘‘I’’ and ‘‘you’’ in which the former corresponds to interiority and defence, and the latter to exteriority and attack. The ‘‘I’’ resists this exterior, threatening...

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12. Incompleteness

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pp. 86-93

Kameni spavač was already in print when the poet wrote another, separate poem entitled ‘‘Modra rijeka’’ (Blue River), and it met with much the same reception. Indeed, many people felt that it belonged with Kameni spavač and suggested that it...

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13. Message

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pp. 94-100

All stećci known and unknown, individually and collectively throughout the land of Bosnia, those with images and epitaphs and those without— are all signs of the Stone Sleeper. In Dizdar’s poetic...

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pp. 101-104

The invisible and higher appears through the earth, the heavens, and all that is in them as the visible and lower. So it is with man, whose entire inner self is split into an invisible and a visible side. Existence as a whole is our external image, while...

II. Across Water: A Message on Realization

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pp. 107-111

It is important for people in this day and age to know how they differ from their ancestors. To most of us, the principal difference is that we now have access to machines and computers, to travel and communications, and to skills and building techniques...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 112-116

In 1969 Mak Dizdar1 was named Golden Laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings, the internationally acclaimed poetry festival held annually in Struga, in Macedonia, for his ‘‘Modra rijeka’’ (Blue River).2 This poem lent its title to a volume of poetry...

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2. Nobody Knows

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pp. 117-121

Absolute obscurity is such that it cannot even be known to itself—for if it were, it would not be absolute. But if it is absolute, can it be what it is without disclosing itself to itself? The absolute invariably demands both obscurity and disclosure, dissimilarity and...

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3. Beyond the Hills

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pp. 122-127

All that exists, both as a whole and in all its individual diversity, comes into being in a great movement out of nonexistence—a movement brought about by God’s will. And since God is Truth, all that exists is with Truth. Everything...

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4. From Noon to Night

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pp. 128-133

Our ascent begins at the lowest level, the level to which the fall reduced humankind when we lost the sublime height on which we were created. As a result, we experienced separation and severance as suffering and death, pain and bitterness. We...

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5. Across the Haws

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pp. 134-139

How is the human self shaped in which so little is known? Jesus, the Anointed, Son of Mary, said: ‘‘Thou knowest it, knowing what is within my self, and I know not what is within Thy Self.’’1 In so saying, he was acknowledging that he knew...

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6. Beyond All Mind

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pp. 140-145

We cannot be in a state of certainty on our return journey to our primal perfection, the path of discovery of our undivided selves, now hidden from us by the fall. Our every state is contingent. The covenant with God is the relationship between...

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7. Down There Below

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pp. 146-151

The signs in the outer realms speak of God; they are the gates of heaven. When we reject them, heaven closes against us: ‘‘Those that cry lies to Our signs and wax proud against them the gates of heaven shall not be opened to...

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8. From Depth to Depth

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pp. 152-157

Our view of things is a view from the earth. No matter how high we climb to breach the vault of the heavens, all that remains to us is the mountain heights. It is only along their steep slopes that we can leave the valley behind and ascend to the...

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9. To Where The Cock-Crow I s Not Heard

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pp. 158-163

No matter how deeply we penetrate into them or ascend the ladder of their meanings through the levels of existence, neither form nor sign can satisfy us. We may see an angel in every cock crow, for as the Messenger said: ‘‘When you hear...

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10. From Good to Bad

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pp. 164-170

There is a tradition that the Messenger said: ‘‘God first created Intellect.’’1 Another is that he said: ‘‘The first thing God created was the Pen. Then He said, ‘Write what will be until the Day of Resurrection.’’’2...

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11. Wide and Deep

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pp. 171-176

Speech, too, is foam on the River of Essence; to talk of It is to confirm of Its ineffability. Essence confirms and discloses God as the One and Only. ‘‘God warns you that you beware...

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12. A Hundred Winters

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pp. 177-182

We are situated in time. The blade of existence that never evades the hour is revealed in that ‘‘being’’ in time. Our reality is in that eternal moment at which existence, ever in flux, flows in as incessant manifestation and simultaneously flows out...

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13. About Its Length

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pp. 183-188

If we want to travel up the river, we must pray: ‘‘Guide us in the upward path, the path of those whom Thou has blessed, not of those against whom Thou art wrathful, nor of those who are...

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14. A Dark Blue River

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pp. 189-193

God is; and He is in every present instant, in the direction of all who pray, and in every opinion of Him. But we change from one instant to the next. This is why qalb, the Arabic word for the heart, the deepest or highest center of humanity, derives...

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15. We Need to Cross

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pp. 194-199

The six directions from the human heart—up and down, right and left, front and back, proper to all of us in the departure toward infinity and the return to Unity or absolute nearness—correspond to this incomplete poetic narrative of twelve...

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Epilogue: The Perfect Man

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pp. 200-204

Absolute Essence is Unity, which is plurality in Its manifestation. It cannot be compared with anything and is like all created things. Its complete manifestation is the Perfect Man in whom is the sum of all the Divine Names. Just as God is perfect...


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A. The Poet

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pp. 207-211

Although prophecy may resemble poetry and the Prophet be accused of being a poet,1 the similarity is accompanied by an essential difference. Poets may speak in their own language while yet being in a relationship with God, or the Holy...

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B. Coagulation

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pp. 212-216

God discloses Himself in creation. All that is arrayed in the totality of His creation in six days and the seven heavens is summed up in humanity. Those of us who know the world in which we live know ourselves; and those who know...


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pp. 217-240


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pp. 241-246


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pp. 247-254

Abrahamic Dialogues

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pp. 255-256

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247417
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823231683
Print-ISBN-10: 0823231682

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2011

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dizdar, Mak -- Criticism and interpretation.
  • Religion in literature.
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