Dobrica – Shepherd’s Little Bag
Son of Gruža, of ”blue forests and meadows”, elevated his lyrical philosophy of the earth and skies. The metaphor of sunflowers. The world of farmers and warriors, spelling of a woman, the wonder of birth, ode to life, balms of goodness. The biggest assignment of man under the stars: to love. And through all that, he elevated his mother Serbia. He, a tall boy, an old man with an aura of butterflies and glowworms. It wasn’t his homeland that give birth to him, it was the other way round. In ”My Homeland” map, he didn’t draw the village cemetery in Donja Crnuća. Now his tombstone in that cemetery is an important place in the literary map of Serbia

By: Dragan Lakićević
Photo: Erić family archive

As soon as he plowed the first burrow of reddish vertisol of Gruža, as soon as the first bunch sprouted from the burrow, a poet was born in him. That is the magic of creating fruit from the earth. Flute and gusle… And more than anything – Serbian language.


His parents were peasants from Šumadija: Miloš, ”handsome as a mountain / at times gentle / at times horrifying” and Radmila, ”former fairy… who talks to flowers / about the house, about life”. His brother’s name was Dobrivoje, his was Dobrica. At baptizing, they were crowned with ”good” (”dobri” means good) names: Dobrivoje was intended to study and Dobrica to be a shepherd, farmer, winegrower. Dobrivoje – teacher, died early, at the age of only forty: ”He crossed the river / into reflections, into echoes // He dismissed his students / and went to the clouds // How does it dawn on him / in a house without windows?” Dobrica finished four years of elementary school and became a ”winegrower / of dreams, picker of stars, guardian of lilacs / and outlaw with a flute instead of a pistol”… The family was desperate and resisted his departure to poets, but the poet in him was stronger than anything. He felt that he was ”crowned” with the gift of poetry.
His childhood in endless, picturesque spaces of ”blue forests and meadows” (as he wrote in one of his poems); life in the fields, among old warriors and peasants, left a trace on his understanding of the earth and skies: they were connected with the fate and longing of man – for the skies to keep and water, for the earth to give birth and feed. That is where Erić’s ”Biography” begins, his lyrical philosophy of the earth – the main field of his poetry.
He illustrated his poems himself, just as Zmaj Jova did, although they were all in lyrical pictures. He draw a map of his homeland: the village of Donja Crnuća and its surroundings – from Rudnik to Vraćevšnica Monastery, with all the determinants of his poetry and prose: the Gruža river, Vilina Dolina, Kalipolje, Milivojčićev Lug, the old town of Borač; fields, orchards, roads. And in the skies: a sunflower.
He grew up with his eyes open: ”This is where I live, this is where I admire / the dandelion and the sunflower”. Admiration and interpretation of the dandelion and sunflower covers most of Erić’s poetry. Watching the wonders of divine beauty, he felt the need to explain them and poetically fathom their secrets and essence.
Singing in the country begins similar to folk singing – at a village gathering or in the kolo dance. Accompanied by the gusle or flute… However, a personal gift guides it all, tames it and forms it in its own way. The poet reduced the wonders of the skies and earth, human face, sorrow and joy, in the metaphor of the sunflower. Thus the title of his first collection of poems The World in a Sunflower, published by Matica Srpska, exactly 60 years ago. The world, life, colors, plants – young Dobrica reduced all that into a metaphor, in order to be able to visit those distances, to fathom them and sing about them all during his lifetime.


The first poems in the first book are entitled: ”Farmers”, ”Soil”, ”Border”, ”Bull”. Draught, heat, communal works and mowing are wonders of nature. The poet composes experiences and images into verses and quatrains, rhymes and metaphors. He saw his gift for creating early, as fate and objective ”to try thirteen hammers and chisels / until he finds the key to the dark wilayah.”
In his early poem ”Kalipolje”, a great drama of life takes place every day: everything is boiling with events in the house, in the field, in the river, plants and animals, mostly in the sensitive being of the poet. ”A soul full of old accordions” is filled with pictures of girls’ plaits. The turbulent experience of nature and its wonders forces the poem to ”scream” words of excitement and admiration: ”The air full of magic turned me into a bull / and the entire Europe will hear it roar.” The poet translates the roaring of senses and feelings into the language of a lyrical poem similar to melodies of nature. Everything happening in the field – from casting down seed to threshing – makes a dense poetry of the earth and sun. Everything in that poetry is lush and young, mostly girls and women – those from Crnuće, those who bring lunch, dinner, shepherdesses. The woman is the most beautiful and deepest gift of nature.
In the experiences of the village, nature, universe – in the glory of the meaning of life and absurdity of death, symbols and signals of deeper tradition, mainly epic and of Kosovo, have arrived from the poet’s memory and melody. The mowing of Kosovo from history and heritage is renewed every summer both in the field and in the soul. Dobrica expressed it in his own way: ”As soon as the dawn bathes in the dew / I cross myself and begin mowing”.


His following collections of poems were also published early: Winegrower, Old Farmers’ Calendar, Rainbow over the Church of the Haystack, Hip Flask, The Eternal Short-Lived. They were albums of lyrical images. A catalogue of a then publisher stated that Erić’s ”talent has burst in flames”. Feeling it, Dobrica began writing programmatically and systematically – lightly and playfully from the outside, complexly and deeply on the inside… His collections were memories, calendars, diaries and postcards – guides to existing Serbia… In them, he arranges his subjects and tames obsessions – creates cycles, builds mathematics of poetry. He began with the world of the front yard, village and field, then annual (church) holidays, and continued with projects ”Poem about a Farmer” and ”Spelling a Woman”…
The frame for all that was bright Serbia – ”land of orchards and fields”. Dobrica Erić built its ”glades and horizons” (it was also the name of a column in the Raskovnik magazine) into his poems.
At the time of discovering ”naïve painters”, ”poets from the villages” appeared. Both were corresponding to the social moment – political and economic atmosphere in the 1950s and 60s. Both created in the country, and then irrevocably moved to the cities… Dragiša Vitošević, PhD in literature, attentive literary historian, Erić’s countryman from Bare in Gruža, supported poets from villages. Dragiša and Dobrica gathered Serbian ”farmer poets” and presented them with a ”blossom” Orpheus among Plum Trees. It was a great wave, almost movement, but the best of them were immediately noticed: Milena Jovović, Srboljub Mitić, Dobrica Erić. Their books were soon printed by the most reputable publishers.
Erić went furthest among them. He was the only one who conquered all lyrical forms, became a virtuoso of verses, and surpassed even educated poets in creating verses and strophes… His poem is a poem in the true sense of the word – everything sings in it: words, images, rhymes, refrains.
Dobrica was also accepted by the radio and TV. The morning program of Radio Belgrade, ”Good Morning, Children”, began with the chirping of birds and his verses for waking up. He was a regular guest of the ”Znanje – Imanje” TV show on Sundays, broadcasted from culture homes of the biggest and most developed villages of Serbia. They presented successful agricultural producers, folk manufacture, customs and talents, there was singing and kolo dances – everything with regards to creativity. And in each show, tall and handsome as a poplar, poet Dobrica Erić held a ”toast” – to the village, its history, attractions, hardworking people…
His performances, the way of reciting, appearance, receptivity of his poems: chosen pearls of language, meter, rhythm and picturesqueness, were close to many people. The audience was overwhelmed … He knew almost all his poems by heart… In half a century, there was not a single school, library, cultural center, church yard, historical landmark, holiday or festival – where Dobrica wasn’t present… He had subjects for everyone: ”Cica from Grivac” for children, ”The Bather of Gruža” for adults, poems about the Farmer for the nostalgic ones.
Fascinated by the world surrounding him from the very beginning, perceived by a poet with Erić’s gift with a specific optics, initiated by the discovery and praise of creating in the country, our poet sings about that world – from his birth house, each flower and tree, all the way to house chores, fairs and heavenly bodies in the universe. He offers the world his vision of the earth and life close to the source of our ancestors, from the wonder of creating a flower and fruit, to the metaphysics of the being of man and earth.
One of the biggest wonders of Erić’s poetry was birth, and birth is a continuation of love, nature and man’s assignment in the world. Thus his religion of earth and woman, the emotional and linguistic energy he interprets them with and sings about them with dedication: he gilds and silvers poetic images, similar to icons, with an abundance of decorations made of words and their glow, sound and meaning. Folk weaving and embroideries, pearls of oral poetry – everything found their analogies in Erić’s lyrical embroideries and contemplative weavings.


That was the time when modernization of villages in Serbia and their abandoning began. Tractors, harvesters and transistors were arriving to villages, while farmers, harvestmen, shepherdesses were leaving towards the neon lights of cities and promises of a better life. Dobrica was watching it and anticipating – he increased his metaphorical and emotional approach to rural life: the field and the woman. He writes notes about the world that is passing – he will perhaps even preserve it in real poetry: he sings about tools and crafts, small and big rivers, days of the week, flowers in the field and garden, phenomena of sunflowers and vineyards, revealing the principles of existence, being born and dying, eternity and short-livedness in everything. In his lavishing and flamboyant verses, behind idyllic and lace curtains, many secrets of life and man were hiding, between weddings and funerals, from war to war – the pulse of Serbia.
The easiness of creating verses on the outside hid great experience, craft and proficiency in building poems. Gentleness and wittiness, elementary notions and approach to life oriented him towards creating for children as well. He became part of the anthology of contemporary Serbian poets very early – one of the most original names and works: Branko Ćopić, Dušan Radović, Milovan Danojlić, Dragan Lukić, Ljubivoje Ršumović. There were also classical Desanka and Dobrica’s brother in village – Momčilo Tešić from Glumač, Požega.
Ever since his poem Fair in Topola (1966) Dobrica continuously sang for children – thereby creating a lyrical encyclopedia of the children’s world and life. He sang about childhood in the country – until the first impulses of maturity. He stopped before the wonder of a glowworm as if before a cosmic glow, and wrote an entire collection of poems about glowworms… In his childhood, a girl named Zorica called him Dobrica – Čobanska Torbica (Shepherd’s Bag): ”I didn’t mind the joke / I really was a bag / into which she put / everything from butterflies to cows.” Love, therefore, placed the entire world in the big bag of our poet. With his magical bag-soul, the poet traveled and unselfishly shared his inexhaustible gifts.
Just as he dived into nature and life in the country – its landscapes, colors, rhythms, bright and dark days – he also dived into language: folk, old and new, lyrical and epic, yet always picturesque and fresh, closest to the folk blacksmiths of folk poems, stories and riddles. With his extraordinary hearing, he chose words and their shapes, opened old and misplaced hiding places. He used more sounding and more lavishing words and meanings. He looked for Serbian words wherever he could find them – sometimes even minting them himself from the living ore of language or pieces of old words, as if from pieces of old swords and crescents.
Thus an entire collection, actually a long poem, Poem about the Farmer – life, love, war and peace, birth and divisions… Then the poem Spelling of a Woman – a series of lyrical love studies – about love in the barn, grass, ears of grain, hundreds of experiences and forms of love, to the crown of sonets about love in later age in his masterpiece ”Crown of Late Flowers” to the ”Swan’s Song”. He built poetic and metaphysical dimensions into all his loves: ”processed” every love phenomenon. Discrete eroticism of early poems was all in the exuberance of woman and nature. Farmer and Woman were two great thematic fields and abundances. He wanted to describe the Farmer as a hero of life on earth and to fathom the Woman – into the secret and beauty, love and birth. At the same time, he anticipated that the plough is slipping away from the Farmer and that he is becoming more distant from earth, and that time and society has intended the Woman roles different from the original ones, when she was close to earth and family. Thus so much juices of nature, glows of heavenly bodies, fieriness of emotions and loftiness of manifestations of love.


He sang about the landmarks of Serbia – from the temple of his birth house to Visoki Dečani, Žiča and Gazimestan. And when the land which brought him up started disintegrating, he roared with a voice of pain and protest, reproach, satire and criticism. In the last decade of the XX century, this initiated the creation of the book Crucified Country – about Serbia and its misfortunes and troubles, martyrdom and errors. He stood up to defend the values of his country, crossed the Drina to give his people his recitations-magic, vow and oath… He wrote hymns: ”Morava”, ”Poem about the Plum”, prayers to ”Stefan of Dečani” and ”Treasury of Dečani”, ”Proud” and ”Defying Poem”, a series of crying poems: ”Self-taught with a pen, unskilled with a sword / I was determined only for crying. // Crying under linden trees and grafts / Like apostles, saints and sinners / Crying for the Country which no longer has / either real heroes or real poets.”
In his youth, he wrote texts for comic books from Serbian history. In the famous series ”Never a Slave”, as young boys, we admired the comic book Mysterious Dungeons with the Despotate as a subject. We learnt only later that the author of those words was Dobrica… That is why it was so difficult for him to accept the time of general breakdown of values and defeats in the late XX and early XXI century.
It was difficult for him to accept the political eclipse of Serbia and news about the most serious accusations stated in the world about that land-poem. What else could the tall boy, old man with an aura of butterflies, flowers, glowworms and sunshine, do but throw away his passport and turn his back to the deceptive and misused world.
He saw his world disappearing: there was nowhere to go to: those who knew and greeted him were dead, schools and school programs changed, the number of people reading was reduced… Many new library and school managers in Serbia have never even heard about Njegoš or Dobrica… In the first decade of the XXI century, in the verses of his Rosary from Gračanica, he presented bitter annals of Serbian endurance and tragedy. He used to say that this was the last stroke – soon afterwards he collapses, like a broken nettle.
His works were published in 20 books – half for children, half for adults. (Although in his case it cannot be precisely determined who is still a child and who is already a grownup.) From that enormous opus, a strict selection presents Dobrica Erić as a great Serbian poet, which he was already while his contemporaries were somewhat older: Desanka, Vasko Popa, Stevan Raičković. We made one such selection in the ”Kolo” edition of the old Serbian Literary Cooperative, where he published his last books. Being published in the blue edition was his bequest.
Dobrica Erić now rests at the village cemetery in Donja Crnuća, Gornja Gruža. The homeland that made Dobrica’s poems even more magical didn’t give birth to him. Dobrica gave birth to his homeland. There he is, ”in a little house without windows”, next to his brother and parents, but his world still lasts and will continue lasting as long as the sun travels and Serbian language repeats the verses:

The Sun is already climbing to the little oak –
Sincerely yours, Dobrica Erić.

In his map ”My Homeland”, Dobrica didn’t draw the village cemetery. His tombstone in that cemetery is now an important place in the literary map of Serbia.


Farmer’s Circle
Dobrica Erić was born on August 22, 1936 in Donja Crnuća. He completed four years of elementary school in the nearby village of Vraćevšnica. He is author of 23 collections of poems, more than 40 books for children, five books of lyrical prose, five theatrical plays, several novels… His first collection of poems, ”The World in a Sunflower” was published in 1959. He is winner of about twenty most reputable literary awards and recognitions, including fifteen awards only for his book ”Crucified Land” from 1999. The Board of the Literary Association of Serbia suggested him for corresponding member of the Serbian academy of Sciences and Arts on March 30, 2012.
He passed away on March 29, 2019 and was buried in his home village of Donja Crnuća.


He Sang About Everything
He also wrote a book about the human body: he jokingly described the head, hair, hands, heart in his poems. And the most difficult and mysterious: ”Now breathe quietly, we’re talking about the willy…” Refined, subtle, poetic, polite… He could sing about everything. He had an order to write the Ecological Spelling Book – poetic lessons about preserving endangered nature and healthy living. Ecological rules of nature were analogous to the purity of language and his poetry.


Dobrica presented his self-portrait in many places: ”I have never stepped on a ladybug / I comforted every sad plant / Every butterfly caressed me with his wing / and every little leaf smiled at me.” This lyrical confession includes his self-poetics.


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