Tin Ujević

Jul 5, 1891 - Nov 12, 1955(64)

Interview with the poet

I couldn't even publish an interview, no one would believe me. I only have this story...

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I open the door of the smoky cafe. The innkeeper greets me nonchalantly from the bar, too busy wiping his glass. I look around and look at the dirty tables of the Blato cafe in Donji. The ambiance perfectly matches the name. It is dark and sultry in the inn. Only a few flashes of lightning illuminate the rows of tables and chairs. My eyes fall on the only guest located in a remote corner. It takes my breath away. It's not possible.. "It's really here," I whispered in a low voice. A dark figure sits bent over at a dilapidated table in the corner. A middle-aged man with a dirty hat on his head, in a long, torn coat. I've heard too many anecdotes about him not to recognize him now. There is an empty jug on the table in front of him, and a little wine in the glass. The moment I approached him, he was putting out a cigarette in an ashtray full to the brim. His eyes are blurry. He stares fixedly at the almost empty glass. Without asking permission, I take off my wet hat and sit opposite him. He doesn't notice me, he's in his thoughts. I nervously tap my fingers on the table. Throwing my head back slightly, I look for the innkeeper and raise my hand in the air. He approached with a slow step. - The same can be done, but for both of us - I tell him. He winked and left. It's a strange time to be in a pub. Unusually empty. Quietly. As soon as I ordered, a scruffy figure looked up at me. She took a good look at me. At last she spoke. "It's about time," he said shortly. - And the few students, supposed writers, sit at home. And those drunken ghosts that keep bothering me: he sings this song, he talks about this, that. And they are somewhere else. - he said. I look nervously at the table and at that half-empty glass. The sound of rain breaks through the dark silence of the inn. My coat is wet, but it's too cold to undress. I sit and endure the unpleasant humidity. I realize that now it's my turn to speak. I finally look up and force myself to say, stammering a bit: - You know, I was sent here. I was assigned to write something about you. They are looking for a biography. Tin reached for the box, took out a rolled cigar and lit it. He leaned on the table and looked at me reproachfully. - And what are you, a journalist? - he asked me accusingly. I dozed off. I could not tell him the true nature of my work. It would be too farcical. - You could call it that - I said with a deep sigh. Seeing my reluctance, he seemed to cheer up. - I didn't know that the yellow press was also interested in me. - he said shortly. There was no more reproach in that statement. He seemed to be greatly amused by all this. Noticing that I had pleased him a little, I continued: - I'm not in these circles. My colleagues tell me that you are a great poet. They also say that you are a bohemian, a vagabond. But genius. They also say that you don't have much left. I mean time. And you see, I really need a good story. That press of ours has not been selling well in recent days. – My honesty seemed to satisfy him. The rain was falling harder and harder, and he, through the cigarette smoke, still decided to share some of his thoughts. - Today it is unfashionable to be a writer. So what can I do, I'm a bohemian. I learned it from Matoš. I saw his "tavern chat" go by. – - You could have been known as a distinguished writer - I spoke, realizing that I had just interrupted the one who will be known as the greatest Croatian poet. - Well, there were wars, politics. Her too much. But you have great talent, that's what everyone says. - I continued. - Talent... talent... - he seemed to hum. Mocking, of course. - I tried to be a politician, a revolutionary, better to say. I blamed them for that. I was also a translator, they even called me a writer, and they didn't care that I was more hungry than full. It didn't matter to me. I wanted to be to the point. Finally, perhaps out of hunger, material or spiritual, I decided to be completely formal - he said, leaning on the table with his hands and lighting a new cigar. – I stay here in this cold pit in my worn coat and order a bottle of wine here and there. All these bullies look at me like God. And students too. I sit with my audience. They come to me by themselves. If I were part of the academy, I would be boring to them - he explains resignedly to his fate as the sound of the rain becomes softer. The innkeeper put down a jug full of yellow liquid between us. He put a glass in front of me. A sweet, intoxicating smell reached my nostrils. - Like this, half-drunk in the dark of the tavern, they get carried away by what I tell them. In the morning, it escapes their minds. They remember my coat and hat. And a jug of wine. And whether it was black or white. And that I, as the only one still standing, brought them out of this hell. They don't remember that. - he said enthusiastically. - And the prizes? – - What about them? – - Well, you are a great poet, I guess you should have deserved some awards. Name some, that goes to my title. – hoping for interesting information, I encouraged him to talk. - I repeat, it's all form for me. I was disappointed by the weather, I was disappointed by all the supposed cosmopolitans. Cosmopolitans with a glass of plum wine. Both rightists and unitarians. It's all form. I refuse to say more about it. - he said firmly, and his good mood began to change. I realized that I wouldn't have anything for a title, so I hastily and somewhat carelessly started digging into the life of my interlocutor. - You also joined the Foreign Legion, I heard. That's interesting. - I said awkwardly. He just looked at me. - You lived in Paris for a long time. You loved Parisian pubs. Many famous people used to go there... - I tried to encourage the now reluctant interlocutor to cooperate. I leaned over, received a full goblet and served it. He just casually looked at the full glass. - I do not remember. I must have forgotten everything from hunger. - he gritted his teeth. – Gavrilo Princip. Rumor has it that you met him. What's more, it is rumored that you participated... - I questioned further, almost provoking. The old man looked at me motionless with an insolent look. He didn't even open his mouth to say anything. - And Lucille? – - What about her? – - Did you dedicate "Lelek sebre" and "Kolajna" to her? Rumor has it that it was an unhappy but great love... - already desperate for a story, I tried to grab onto the most painful thing I knew from the poet's biography. Then, the cloudiness of my interlocutor's eyes thinned a little. The impudence in them was replaced by some vague sadness. - Well OK. - he finally spoke. Quietly, almost sadly, he asked: - Why did you come to me? – A vague chill went through me. I was absorbed. Its source was neither my wet coat nor the November evening of the same month. Even though I was still a young "journalist", I felt that it was wrong when they start asking you questions. - Well, you are the name - I answered shortly. The motionless and rough face of the still seemingly vital and sober sixty-four-year-old man seemed to have broken. The eyes completely opened and a small ray of light appeared in their wetness, the forehead full of wrinkles frowned. He turned his head to the side. Not realizing what I had done wrong in my first real interview, seemingly complimentary and hoping to please my interlocutor, I continued. "Everyone knows about you," I said. - When I asked about you, they sent me straight to this bar. They told me: you will find him there with a glass of wine. And so it was. I came because our readers want to know more about you. – I explained, thinking that drawing the poet's attention to the fact that he is highly valued will help me find material for my story more easily. - I understand. he said. He did not continue. He was silent for a long time. The sad poet sat before me as silent as a tombstone. I slowly sipped my white wine and looked at him every few moments, hoping he would break the painful silence. He sat alone with his thoughts. About twenty, then forty minutes passed. The rain could no longer be heard. The darkness of the inn slowly dissipated. The colors were changing, and the faint light of the predawn began to reveal the outlines of things in the room. An hour has passed since the poet last spoke. I realized it was over. The story eluded me like the night before the morning. I decided to give it one last try. - They just want to meet you. I said. It was as if I had come to the right place. The poet looked at me significantly. - Me too. - He said. - I pray? - I asked confused. - I also want to meet - he added, getting up from the table. - So what will I give my readers? - I shouted in despair. - Songs. – answered Tin shortly, smiling. He took off his hat as a gesture of greeting. - Everything I was sent to say, I said in them. - he added. He reached for his umbrella, which was hanging somewhere by the table. Seeing that he didn't even touch the glass I poured for him, I said to him - Come on Augustine, at least make a toast with me. – Thunder broke again in the distance. The sun was already well in through the window. Reds and oranges flowed through the inn, although the atmosphere was such that the storm could soon begin again. Turning to the sounds of thunder, he nervously, putting his hat back on his head, spoke - I apologize for not being of particular use. You have my permission to convey to your readers that I slept in the park, guessed the type of wine blindfolded, or doused my hat with that same wine. That will be enough and I hope you will satisfy them. – Already a bit tipsy, I tried to get up. My head went blurry and I collapsed on the chair at the same time. - Don't worry, I consider it as if you greeted me - he replied. - And the hook... where are you going this early? - I barely got through my teeth. - I am currently translating Olof Ekström from Swedish. I haven't dealt with the language since the war, but recently I started learning it again. He has a nice novel, Plesala je eden summer... It talks about youth. I would like to finish at least one chapter today, so whatever... - he said cheerfully. He no longer seemed so sick and gloomy. Or maybe it was from the drink... I cannot describe to you how the poet elegantly walked out of the door of the inn because, to be honest, I don't remember. I must have fallen asleep at the table. When I raised my head, the sun was already shining brightly. The inn hummed with the murmur of the world. All the tables were full. My head was as heavy as a barrel and I felt as if it would explode at any moment. I sobered up when I remembered last night's event. - Story!!! - I moaned painfully. I promised the editor that I would take the biography to the printer early this morning. I would have written it in no time, but I overslept. - My debut... - I almost cried. Nevertheless, I was consoled by the fact that I had at least met a famous poet. Maybe I'll meet him a few more times, and he'll allow me to ask him some more questions, just out of acquaintance. So I contemplated leaning on the same table where I had drunk that damned wine with him only a few hours before. After regaining my composure, I picked up the newspaper for which it seems I will never write. When I read the news on the front page, I almost fell off my chair. Only then did I find the reason for so much noise in the inn. Half of the crowd was crying, and half was reading some kind of lyric. - I can't believe it... Impossible! I shouted. - Really awful - shouted a woman passing by. - To die like that alone, in the night. Abandoned by everyone... - she said with a red face, barely able to breathe from sadness and moaning. Rubbing my eyes, I looked at the paper again. On the front page it was written in large letters: FAMOUS POET DIED LAST NIGHT IN VINOGRAD HOSPITAL! - IMPOSSIBLE! I shouted. - I drank with him last night, right at this table. Here, his umbrella was hanging there. - I pointed with my hand to the iron hook on the wall. To my surprise, a long, black umbrella was still hanging on it. The lady glared at me. - You drunkard! Go outside! How dare you speak nonsense in such a sad hour! - she shouted. Still hungover, I left Blat swinging. The sun was shining, and the city asphalt was dry. There was no sign of last night's storm. In fact, it was unusually warm for the twelfth of November. After passing Gundulićeva, I turned onto Ilica. Confused by the unusual events, I realized that I would never be able to publish a biography. I did not learn anything new about Ujević. I couldn't even publish an interview, no one would believe me. I only have this story...

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