Old Masters

The Great Čiča of Serbian Poetry
He was a lyricist, one of the greatest of his time. His main subjects: love, being, monasteries, Kosovo. Serbia, with its highest values and Serbiandom as a whole. In his imagination, he listened to the pulses of the past. Committed to everything he did, polite and truthful, refined, he spread goodness and trust all around. He was still young when people called him Čiča (old man). Perhaps because of his beard, reliability, some because of Draža, some due to affection, yet, that’s how everyone called him. In poetry, there was only one Čiča. Rakitić

By: Dragan Lakićević
Photo: Family Archive

When one mentions Slobodan Rakitić (1940–2013), others immediately say: The world is not our home. It’s the title of one of his early books, his poetic motto.
He was born in Vlasovo near Raška. Based on his stories and his poems, it seems as if he had a view of Sopoćani from his hill of birth and his doorstep.
Each of us has a church close to the place we were born, so we consider the church our own – something that shines on us and marks us since our childhood… Rakitić’s Sopoćani, not far from the source of the Raška river, west from Novi Pazar, was raised by King Stefan Uroš I, son of Stefan the First-Crowned, father of kings Dragutin and Milutin, in mid-XIII century. Perhaps young boy Slobodan believed that the Dormition, fresco from the nave of the famous monastery, was painted in his home, and that the Shepherds were seen in his family estate, with goats and sheep in the pastures of Kopaonik, full of light and dew… Such spiritual material certainly shaped his poetic profile.
He wrote his poem ”Angel of Sopoćani” in 1964, and a later version in 1992. The lyrical fresco has never left him:

You, finally, gave wings to the wall,
to ascend from this darkness.
Unreally from the heights flamed
the future that used to be in the past.

Monasteries, frescoes, histories – filled many poems and books of this poet with their topography, architecture and colors.
He was a committed collector of old books: he purchased them, took to binderies, considered them invaluable [dragocenje (something invaluable) is a word made up by Dobrica Erić].


One of his early saved photos shows: young boy Slobodan wearing a fur cap and chetnik cockade. His view of the world hasn’t change during his entire life... Born in 1940, he could have been two or three in the photo – the war still hadn’t ended and the picture had to be hidden – stored in nine holes…
He liked to tell how his father brought him, a young student, several picture books from the city (Raška, Pazar, Kraljevo, Beograd – now we can’t ask him which one) about heroes from Serbian folk epic poems: Miloš and Marko, Strahinić, Bolani Dojčin, hayduks and uskoks. The boy spreads them on the table or his bed, one next to another, and watches them from afar and close up, enchanted by illustrations: Kosančić and Toplica are watching Kosovo – pictures and knightly heroes succeed one another: he imagines himself among them…
He was a lyricist, one of the greatest of his time – close and contemporary with Desanka, B. V. Radičević, Svetislav Mandić. His home was near Raičković’s: they walked down to Slavija from the Vračar hill together. ”Here come Rakitić and Raičković!”… Rakitić was also, at the beginning, enchanted by young Miljković… In the notes about the author, he always stated the year he came to Belgrade – for some reason it was important to him.
He wrote about Desimir Blagojević, Nastasijević, Miljković, and many others…
He attended elementary school in Raška and gymnasium in Novi Pazar. He first studied medicine and then graduated literature in Belgrade. He worked as editor of Kolarac’s Endowment literary cathedra. He was a young member of the famous sacked administration of Serbian Literary Cooperative (SKZ) and, for a few years, near the end of his life, president of this old institution, which he was very committed to… President of the Association of Serbian Writers (1994–2004) in the years it separated on the political realm, as well as Member of Parliament of the biggest opposition party (SPO) in the first multi-party Serbian National Assembly (1991–1992) and Federal Assembly of FR Yugoslavia (1993–1994), in the dusk of socialism and single-party communist era. He was a gentleman in politics, as he was in life, so, as such, he retreated from politics very early.


His first collections of poems Lights of Manuscript and Chanting from Raška announce a lavishing lyricist in following collections: The World Is not Our Home, Land on the Tongue, Poems about the Tree and about Fruit. Chosen language, refined shapes, sculpting form of verse and rhyme – decorate his contemplative poetry.
Tall and slim, he appeared early with a black beard and curly hair. Perhaps because of his beard, perhaps because of wisdom, reliability and seriousness, people called him Čiča (Old Man). Someone after Draža, someone due to affection, yet everyone called him that. In poetry, there was only one Čiča – Rakitić.
He committedly managed the literary cathedra in Kolarac: he carefully and responsibly selected writers, subjects and lecturers, relied on the best, offered opportunities to young artists. Furthermore, as operative editor of Savremenik (Contemporary), a reputable magazine, often under the watchful eye of the party – ”so that lambs wouldn’t lose their way…”, he was both copyreader and editor.
I started writing critiques – reviews of new books. I had just passed the Theory of Literature exam – fresh, young, pompous, being paid fees for everything… I wrote something, brought it to Čiča to Kolarac and he told me to come on Thursday and he’ll tell me what he thinks.
I once wrote a bit severe critique of a new book of our poet, praised by many that season; perhaps for that reason, a review on three pages seemed more negative than complimentary. When I came to Kolarac, Čiča asked me to come with him to the hallway, to the old elevator with cast iron doors, so that his associates wouldn’t hear what he was saying:
– You slashed him – he said, in a low voice and sadly, with his homeland accent. This accent appeared whenever he was excited… (When he was amazed by something, he’d say: let’s publish, with his Raška accent) He continued: – I don’t know if you need it. He’s your generation… But, as you wish! If you want, we’ll publish it, but I suggest we don’t… - again with the sentimental accent.
I immediately agreed. I’m still grateful for it. He was just a bit older, but much wiser and more experienced than me…
He was a servant of poetry and Serbian literature: he went wherever he was invited… It happened, even when he was no longer young, that he promised to come to a faraway city – an anniversary of a great poet is observed: they’ll send a car and driver to pick him up… One day before the trip, the Center of Culture calls him to say that they don’t have a car, so ”if he could, he should come by bus”. What could he do, he went by bus… Not going was not an option, because he was already announced: introduction by Slobodan Rakitić, writer.
The main subjects of his poetry were love, being, monasteries, Kosovo. And in each subject a scale of feelings, a diapason of contemplative and metaphysical meanings: trembling of spirit and mind. The contemplative was subtly interweaving with the emotional.


He included poems and essays in his first Selected Works in five books (1994) and, by the end of his life, he organized his Collected Poems in ten books – reread, checked, without a single error. He upgraded and perfected some verses. He added two afterwords to each book, written by two critics-contemporaries… Thus his collected poetry has twenty accompanying critical essays. He completed and published them in 2012, and passed away on January 1, 2013... He was an excellent essayist and interpreter of poetry, lyrical of course, as well as good editor and anthologist, historian of poetry (Anthology of Serbian Romanticism Poetry, SKZ, 2012 is much more than a selection of a versatile expert). However, more than and before all, he was a poet.
Contemplativeness and lyrical weaving were above thematic exclusivity in his case. Love was noticeable in the thematic realm – in different forms: woman, faith, land, soul. Serbia with its highest values: church, vow, picture, language… He revealed such values and articulated them in medieval symbols and meanings, toponyms and rhythm of history, memory and cognition. In all those areas, the being of a poet is vibrating, and the vibration is echoing both in language and expression. Thus such frequent preference for quatrain and sonnet, classical rhyme in non-classical experiences.
Frescoes and icons of lyricism represent Rakitić’s poems about nature and the rhythm of time, without thematic and historical determinations. Such is the poetic picture of his birth home, ”Chanting from Raška” from 1988 in a reminiscent frame:

Distant lights of my home
and early blossoms of dogwood and hawthorn.
Mother on the doorstep, on the throne,
bread and a bowl of milk on the table.
And primrose on the sunny side
and skies changing color.
And ice melting on the Ibar
and the intoxicating hellebore.
And oak breaking in the frost
and lamp – glittering in the dark.
And quail on the swath
and mother pouring water after me.
And the scent of a bouquet of basil
and the scent of a bouquet of basil.

In his imagination, he listened to the pulses of the past. Steps of prisons in Kalemegdan, echoing ”I don’t know from which century”, murmur of water from the fountain in Dečani, voice of a child as the voice of Transfiguration.


He was committed to everything he did – longest in Kolarac, where he was employed. In political life, a man of polite words, truthful and modest… Čiča, with a stylish chetnik pedigree, had serious and friendly private dialogues and fruitful discussions with Tanasije Mladenović and Dobrica Ćosić, communist elders among the most reputable writers of his time. According to Rakitić’s testimony, his conversationalists always aspired to understanding and trust… ”He advocates the wholeness of Serbiandom”, said Žarko Komanin, realizing that Čiča has an awareness of Serbs and Serbian values (and flaws) in all lands they live and come from…
The writer of this portrait remembers him longest at his big desk in the Serbian Literary Cooperative. He was both poet and host there. He spread goodness and trust all around. He supported both past and present Cooperative members… He mourned his passed away friends. He sometimes shed a tear of personal solitude. He took Raičković’s departure very hard.
It happened: a speaker at the ”Coffee in SKZ” forum cancels his participation one day before the promotion… I call Čiča, ask him if he can speak tomorrow at 11… He never refused. For him, it was his job. His friend (from Contemporary and life) Pavle Zorić was similar in that matter.
The last time, as Serbian Literary Cooperative, we traveled to Bar, our city at the sea, in the spring of 2012. We were welcomed by members of the ”Letter of Love” Serbian Cultural Association, with 50 new members of the old Cooperative among them. At the literary evening, observing the 120th anniversary of SKZ, Čiča spoke about the poetry of Serbian romanticism… We drank fine wine made by famous Mitar from Crmnica, with Ranko Jovović and Ilija Lakušić… On our way back, we passed Morača and Mileševa – visited Prophet Elijah and the White Angel… We watched, from the height, the depth and color of the river in Đurđevića Tara… He said: I’ve never had such a good time.
When, that year, after the funeral at the New Bežanija Cemetery, I framed Novica Tadić’s picture and hung it on the wall of the Cooperative’s hall, Čiča asked me:
– Will you do the same for me when I die?
I don’t remember what I said then.
But this here is my answer.


In the Spirit, on a Lyrical Map
Serbian monasteries as national and personal points of the poet’s lyrical map gather several feelings and contemplative understandings of the spirit of time and culture in their complexes, of lasting and belonging, which the poets expresses in an artistic manner: Sopoćani, Đurđevi Stupovi, Holy Archangels, Samodreža, Dečani, Gračanica – make the galaxy of Kosovo and Metohija. ”The Main Land” is Serbia; the ”The Southern Land” is southern Serbia – more in the spirit than in reality, more important and more crucial for the poet.


In ”Addressing St. Sava”, the poet asks the saint to be reborn and to ascend within us. The center of Rakitić’s poetry is Kosovo – ”a field like no other” (V. Popa). The main prayer in Rakitić’s religious poetry is addressed to Prince Lazar. Serbian Christ descends to the field of Kosovo and blesses his apostles… However, in the fluid matter of being and senses, listening to fate and recognizing tradition – levitating are: Maglič, the Ibar, Ras, Brvenik, Kopaonik, Kalemegdan.


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