Life, Novels

If We Care about Us
Our language and alphabet, culture and self-awareness, state and sovereignty, city and village, word and ethics, faith and will, are dramatically endangered. The crucial verticals of self and preconditions of survival. Our talents are turning into ill fate, signs of destruction are rushing. Antichrist is surging accompanied with legions of ”new normality”. He is scything. Plutocratic-totalitarian and corporative groups are bringing everything under their control, wickedly and recklessly. (...) As utopian as it may seem at the moment, only by relying on healthy foundations in our own tradition and culture, we can retrieve our self-respect and self-assuredness, preserve our being and individuality, survive

By: Branislav Matić
Photo: Dragan Bosnić and guest’s archive

People say that he has been approaching us for a long time, from a great depth. He is one of the greatest living Serbian poets, implanted into national myth and culture, art and faith. He traced important paths towards native primordial language, collected high harmonies. He penetrated the illusion of a circle and spiritual deception of the north, pointed his finger into the old snake ravaging again. He weaved the watermill with Rača threads, brought us the treasure of God and keys of his house down the Drina and the Danube. He sang about the landslides of the sun and all days of creating the world. His poetry collections, both those from the island of Vido or those in ”Kalopera Pera”, chase away darkness and oblivion. They block our entertaining advancement towards the abyss.
Psalms, kontakions, sticherons. Master of versemaking, he created new variants of classical Serbian meters and new meters in Serbian metrics. Just like an ancient alchemist, he penetrates the heart and essence of words. Thus, he initiates ancient memories and valuable anticipations within us.
Milosav Tešić (Lještansko near Bajina Bašta, 1947) in National Review.

Eighth generation. Starting with my father Teša, and then further to the past, we know seven generations of the Tešić clan. According to the oldest male member within one generation, these are my closest and further ancestors: Tešo, Dragoljub, Milosav (I was named after him), Marko, Miloš, Tešo and Stevan (I sang about him in my cycle of poems ”Birthmark of Stevan”). These male names: Vojislav, Obren, Radisav and Stojan, are also written in the family obituary, and read at the yearly memorial service. It is unknown whether they belong to our older generation or one of the mentioned ones. In my childhood, I heard from my grandfather Dragoljub and father Teša that our ancestor Marko, after the clan was left without a male heir, was brought to the Tešić family from the village of Zaovine in Tara, allegedly from one of the Đurić clan families. Furthermore, the information ethnographer Ljubomir Pavlović stated in his monograph Sokol Nahi (1930, page 415), that the Tešić family moved to Lještansko after 1878 ”from Godečevo from Blagojević” is not true. My great-grandmother Vujka, from the Biljić family, is from the village of Godečevo near Kosjerić, as well as my father’s mother Milka, from the Cvijić family.
Marko had four sons: Milosav, Borisav, Tihomir and Dragutin. (Tihomir was, by the way, grandfather of literary historian Gojko Tešić). All four of them participated in the liberation wars Serbia fought from 1912 to 1918. They crossed Albania and returned home alive. I keep the five-drachma banknote, the only thing my great-grandfather Milosav brought from Greece, framed on my bookshelf. While they were living in a community, the Tešić family had a mill and brickyard, both with a fine reputation.
My mother Milica was from the Marjanović family, from the nearby village of Jelovik. Her father’s name was Čedomir and mother’s Katarina, from the neighboring village of Jaklja. I heard somewhere, or perhaps read, that her family moved there from Nova Varoš. Be as it may, in the line of mentioned ancestors, I feel that I belong to the eighth generation of the Tešić clan.

Before the lake of the Drina fog. Lještansko as a settlement has been existing for centuries. There are old cemeteries and churchyards testifying about it. It was first mentioned in the Detailed Census of the Smederevo Sandzak from 1476. There were six houses at the time, and some of the residents’ names were: Bratko, Radavac, Prirad, Stojiša, Miliša, Prenka, Oliver, Lale (herald) (page 40). Perhaps the biggest village in Lještansko, today named Bratićevići (where my house of birth is), is named after the name Bratko, by appropriate linguistic derivation. This relativizes Pavlović’s statement in the mentioned work, saying: ”Bratićevići are an old clan. Their ancestor is Ćeklić from Montenegro” (page 414).
In order to depict to a certain extent the place I was born in, I will quote an excerpt from my book of lyrical and narrative prose From the Residence of Birch Tree Grandfathers:
”Lještansko, a village in Rača – more hilly than mountainous – stands before the white lake of the Drina fog, deep and so thick, that it seems it could be mixed with a shovel. Its highest peaks, Zvjezdica, Briza, Livanjica, Kik, Krstova Glavica and Lijepo Polje, have just been dressed into torn tangles of light by the weak early morning sun.
That settlement, raised above the Rogačica river, if observed from a convenient place, looks like an undercut, crumpled cauldron, which fell from heavenly chains, hung onto the crossroad of two beams: one leaning onto some of the peaks of mounts Tara and Povlen, and the other on some of the knolls of mount Gvoščanska and Ponikve. That distorted cauldron – broken, with sharp edges, scarred with fissures and cliffs, with rare plateaus – is crisscrossed with bouncy creeks. Between its wavy edge lines, springing high and suddenly plunging, a long, steep and wooded slope falls from the east to the west, from Lijepo Polje to Palučak. Over that stepped slope, or fractures of land in cascades, hanging and suspended, from both sides, are colorful pieces of land. In spring, at the time of ploughing, it becomes patched with dark brown and red fields and blooms in scattered villages, canvases of meadows around them become green and dresses of forests become dark” (pages 10-11).

People of Lještansko. They are peasants, who, working from dusk till dawn, have always lived from their hard work, mostly left to themselves, finding their way the best they can. Every household was a kind of an independent company: they cultivated land, bred cattle, brewed brandy, dried plums; wool and hemp clothing were homemade, everything from thread to pants and shirts. The mentality of my fellow countrymen was conditioned with their painstaking way of life, so everything not good in it should be taken with consideration. They are well-intentioned and attentive towards strangers. Most of them are hospitable, but cautiously. They can also be generous. They respect the church and visit it mostly on important holidays. Celebrating the saint day, slava, is very important to them. (The Tešić family celebrates St. Mark’s Day). They still preserve certain folk customs, although it is fading away.

Grafts and memories. While living there in my childhood and during summer holidays in my school years and later, I was almost entirely involved in country life and work. As a child, I used to take care of chicks and turkeys, and felt very sad when crows would grab some of them. I cried, yelled and cursed in such situations. (Even today I don’t like to see or hear crows.) I attended higher grades of elementary school in the neighboring village of Kostojevići, so I had to walk to school and back with other children about ten kilometers every day, mostly on a very steep road (kozolom or kozomor, as people there call it). I was also very fast in stringing tobacco: thirty three-meter poles per day, which is a 90 meters long string of tobacco leaves. I was an average reaper, digger and harvester, bad in collecting plums and picking raspberries, and very popular as thrower of pitchforks of hay... Later, when I stopped living in the country, I used to come to the village in autumn or spring with seedlings of different fruit trees and plant them. Many of them grew and still bear fruit. I also learned grafting from the book Fruit Trees and Fruit (SKZ, 1899) written by our pomologist Blagoje D. Todorović. I’m not a very good grafter, but some of my grafts are already bearing fruit. I’m good with apple, pear and medlar fruit, very bad with cherry. Besides new, that orchard also includes old types or sorts of apples and pears: ajvalija, gradinjača, đulabija, zelenika, kadumana (excellent!), kožara, kolačara, krstovača, pogačarka, preobraženjka, rebrača, samoniklica, sanabija, streknja, šumatovka; crnica (karamut, karamanka, lubeničarka, solunka, takiša.

In the neighborhood of fairies. The winter boredom in the village used to be healed with stories about fairies, vampires, witches (also called stokamenice – ”a hundred stones”), dragons, bogies, ghosts, bauks, bajuchas, skasas and stuvach, while the most popular stories, with many different versions, were about the legendary vampire, Sava Savanović from the nearby village of Zarožje. It meant, with shivers and chills, curiously and unblinkingly listening to mythical-fantastic legends all evening. I noted a story about fairies from my grandmother Milka, in which she described, without a bit of doubt, her personal encounter with a fairy:
”I was taking the cattle into the mountain with my grandmother and lost my sheep. My grandmother and I were looking for the sheep, looking – no sign of them. The night fell. We come to the hut – no water. Nothing to drink. We wanted to go to the spring to fetch water. As we were approaching the spring: something white, its hair, braids falling to the ground – white as snow. We watched. It was taking water from the well and washing its face, like this. We saw it (it was a fairy!) and ran back to the hut. We didn’t come out anymore. – Later fairy hair grew from that little spring.”
Certain subjects and motifs from that mythical world are visibly present in poetry. Man’s heritage world and their awareness about their origin are important elements for building and shaping their personality, sometimes even with a corrective function. The feeling of heritage is naturally built into the most general glossary of every individual, such as sky, earth, fire, air, food... No matter how hard one tries, for any reason, to erase presentations about their heritage and homeland in themselves and cut any relations with it, their original belonging to a certain area will be eventually revealed by something that seems like a trifle. Man and heritage, as inseparable parts of a whole, have common points which sometimes become synonyms.

Closing the sky to Belgrade. Sometimes praised, sometimes overpraised, the spirit of Belgrade, its life pulse and rhythm, its unimposing general atmosphere and communicative spontaneity were a fertile soil for all forms of artistic creativity. During the last decades, at the times of dramatic social alterations and so-called transition, it was irreversibly lost.
Present Belgrade is being built recklessly and without a plan, not according to the measure, needs and taste of its residents, but according to the profiteering interests of capital investors and powerful political circles supporting them, even bringing laws to widely open them the doors to build what they want and how they want it. While horizons are closing in it and the sky is being blocked, Belgrade is rapidly turning into a megalopolis which is emptying and swallowing the rest of Serbia, alienating itself from its residents.

Curse and shimmers. Part of the answer to your question what Serbia means to me and how I experience it is included in a short note preceding my latest book of poetry A View from Avala, which I would like to, with your permission, state here: ”In the poems that follow, intersecting in a unique way are the tragic fate of Serbian people, as if made under a cursed star, and its rare historical shimmers, with images depicting the valuableness of existence.”
Already for decades, our state (which we are practically not in the full meaning of the word) is being devastated and destroyed by more and more rapid extinction and disappearance of villages, former basis of our existence and survival. Wherever we go in present Serbia, we will see semi-empty or empty settlements, houses grown into weeds, among thick various bushes, often invisible, since they are hidden and overgrown by powerful trees; we will see plowland and meadows under large weeds and massive elderberries. Especially touching is when we see a house grown into weeds, whose eaves are still wrapped in vine, which, as if resisting final disaster, is still bearing fruit.
Our demographic catastrophe, which he persistently encouraged, began immediately after World War II, with the insufficiently reconsidered industrialization of the country, often ideologically motivated. It, of course, came at the expense of agricultural development, which Serbia is naturally determined for, thanks to abundant resources. Then, as far as I know, sons and daughters whose parents often had more than three children began reducing their offspring to two children. It was the same with Lještansko. According to the 1948 census, it had 930 residents, while today the number has dropped by more than two thirds.

Words are ceasing to exist. Contemporary Serbian language, both oral and written, is overflooded with numerous, unnecessary foreign words, mostly anglicisms, resulting in suppressing the use of our original vocabulary. It is elemental and reckless, while, on the other side, nothing serious is being undertaken to prevent or reduce it to a reasonable extent. (RTS used to have a Linguistic Commission, which is, apparently, canceled forever.) By the way things are, a part of our vocabulary fund will lose its use value and remain alive only on paper and in dictionaries. Perhaps it will be interesting for your readers to present them a certain number of words (for example starting with P and with the suffix -ica), which I had collected in Western Serbia for years, for creating the SANU Dictionary:
pobadalica/pobijalica – a person who is idle and goes around visiting others’ homes; polibica – hesitation, reluctance; pomrazica hatred, animosity; pomislica thought, idea; poodmaklicahigh time for doing a task;porozica a place where the terrain is steeper and unstable; posebica selfishness, egotism; posramica – shame, disgrace; potolica – flattened, even terrain between steep areas;potrzica tension, nervosity, stress; potrčica hurry, rush, chase; predašnjica previous social and political order; prekorebrica – a terrain under a meadow so steep that a reaper, while swinging the scythe over their ribs, bend their body while reaping; prekoredica – getting or achieving something by pulling strings; progalica – clearing of the skies, cheering up; proredica a place in the crops where the seeds did not sprout or rarely sprouted; prošarica – remains of snow on the ground. By the way, here are two verbs with Homerian expressiveness and picturesqueness: raspauniti se – to spread out like the peacock’s tail; rasplanindžati – to become furious, to get angry.

Interest in one’s own case. Serbian identity, both cultural and national, is today particularly endangered and seriously violated by the growingly expressive phenomenon of suppressing the Cyrillic alphabet – formerly one of the most resisting elements and one of the shiniest mirrors of our uniqueness. This basic and for centuries our only alphabet (created as an original version of Old-Slavonic alphabet) is disappearing day by day. It is high time to return the Cyrillic alphabet its importance and reputation. It is necessary for preserving our national tradition and culture, which possess indisputable values. The issue of revitalizing the Cyrillic alphabet cannot be observed separately, since it is closely linked with important factors for the preservation of a nation in the contemporary world, such as education, culture, media...
Only a foolish and irresponsible nation can bring into question the survival of its original and used for centuries alphabet and come to a situation to have both professionals and amateurs deal with the issue, just making it more and more watered down. People say that there is no political will for resolving that problem, whereas I think that the culturological and majority will of people is missing. To put it simple, we don’t care about it.

Waving Antichrist and the fate of culture. Accompanied and wholeheartedly supported by legions and carriers of ”new normality”, the creator of all evils and misfortunes, Antichrist is becoming more and more cheeky in our time. The globally and neoliberally directed world with its financial oligarchy, blinded by their greed for money and wealth, submits everything to its cruelly selfish and unhuman interests. Plutocratic-totalitarian and corporative groups are striving hard to put everything under their control. Supporters of such ideology, in their attempt to subdue and enslave mankind, cannot be brought to reason or wavered by the simple logics of life. Their method of working, hypocritically and perfidiously camouflaged by calling upon supposed democracy, humanism and human rights, has an essentially violently executive character, expressing the aspiration to depersonalize a human being and turn it into an anonymous and unfree subject, creating an illusion in them that they are happy and satisfied. Their inhumanness becomes most apparent when they punish an entire innocent nation, which cares about freedom and justice and does not comply to subjection, with brutal sanctions.
It is visible in every step that what is classically considered culture is rapidly being introduced into a widely branched system of entertainment industry, becoming a barren showbiz unit. That is why today we do not know what elite culture is, and whether it exists at all. If it does exist, it is hiding in a mousehole before the growingly faster and more versatile pressures of electronic information systems, as well as a myriad of media, finely designed to destroy it. Very often those systems and media, certainly for the purpose of profitability, are so skillfully andseductively formed that they imperceptibly move under their users’ skin and start managing them asthey want, creating a conviction in them, which is actually a false impression, that they are important factors in that virtual world, even creators in something which is a perfectly created beforehand as an intoxicating manipulative means for pulling out profit. (Of course, this shouldn’t be mixed with the high and highest achievements of new information and communication technologies, numerous electronic programs which make the work and life of contemporary man much easier.)
However utopian it might seem in this moment, only by leaning upon healthy roots in our own tradition, culture and entire national heritage (implying everything undoubtedly valuable in them) we could, along with returning self-respect and self-assurance, preserve our national being and uniqueness. We must do it if we care about ourselves at all. (Sometimes it seems to me that we don’t.)

Above the indifferent environment. There has been word about the marginalization of poetry since a long time ago, about its lost reputation and complete lack of interest for it, but, despite all that, it seems to me that books of poetry are not much less printed. On the other hand, by accepting the globalist-neoliberal concept of literature (implying that political correctness is obligatory), an important part of literary works, mostly prose, becomes a production-marketing activity. With the objective to massify the reading audience and program the readers’ consciousness, it is using all marketing propaganda and advertising means. This finally cancels the individuality and autonomy of literary art.
If a poet feels that they have support in the language, if they are obsessed with poetical emotions and images longing for audible publication, then they are ready to rise above the indifferent environment, which, even as such, can be very inspirative for a poet. Besides, it is entirely natural for a literary work to, without betraying the ideal of eternal beauty, also carry a mark of time it was created in. Modern poetry which searches for, let’s say, archetypal, mythological, cultic, historical and religious contents, penetrates deeper into such contents (let’s call them traditional) and it innovatively, in full creative freedom, reshapes and enriches them.

Searching for your voice. I believe that, subconsciously, I have been searching for my poetic expression in everything I have read, starting from our folk literature, priceless in every aspect, to various literary and non-literary readings, including dictionaries and encyclopedias, where particularly important for me are certain Old Testament and all New Testament texts. Although influences are implied, it is difficult to say who exactly influenced my shaping as a poet. A poet, just like any other author, is mostly formed by what is artistically individual in them, the creative energy which in one moment makes their expressive procedure recognizable and esthetically effective.

According to the poem’s orders. If in a fortunate moment, and I don’t know how and where that comes from, what I have anticipated indefinitely and foggily within a certain subject turns into word or expression, I find myself in the world of the poem and start executing its orders. I know how to, without disturbing others, fight for time and space in which I will contest the chaotic poetic material. Then I turn to myself and have much lest interest for the events in my immediate environment and in the world, of course if life is taking its regular course. Although it is not a rule, I feel most comfortable writing in the mornings, in any season. I am more relaxed then and more unburdened by the deposits of life from the previous few days. In all that, in my case, there is no ritual or mystification, or anything strikingly visible.

Starting late. I have struggled to find my individual tone in poetry for a long time. I have given up writing several times, with the intention to dedicate myself only to scientific and lexicographical work at the Institute of Serbian language. I once burned some manuscripts (I don’t know if I burned them all), and soon after continued writing. Luckily, I wasn’t blessed with publishers either: with common nicely put explanations, they refused to print my booklet of poems, but I have never fell into disappointment because of it. In time, my poetic expression was becoming more unique. Based on what I had published in the periodicals, Rajko Petrov Nogo, famous poet and editor in BIGZ, noticed it. He liked it and immediately informed me that he will print it. So it happened that Kupinovo, my first book of poetry, was published only at my age of 39! With smaller contestations, it was accepted with sympathy both by critics and the readers.


In Brief
Milosav Tešić (Lještansko near Bajina Bašta, 1947). Serbian poet, lexicographer, essayist. He graduated at the Faculty of Philology in Belgrade in 1970 and gained a master’s degree in 1974. Corresponding member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts since 2000, regular since 2006. He is editor of the SANU Dictionary at the Institute of Serbian Language in Belgrade.


Books and Poems
Milosav Tešić is author of twenty-odd books of poetry, starting from ”Kupinovo” (1986) to the collection ”A View from Avala” (2021). We will here mentioned only some: ”House Key” (1991), ”Prelest of the North, Circle of Rača, down the Danube” (1996), ”Seven” (1999), ”Gift and Fate” (2006), ”Mill Circle” (2010), ”Illusion of a Circle” (2019)... Many of his poems are anthological, such as ”Blue Tomb – Vido”, ”Kalopera Pera”, ”Gift of God”, ”Rosa canina”, ”Searching the House”, ”Szentendre, Iris Florentina”, ”There is a Universe”, ”Plum of Serbia”, ”Song of the Black Hawthorn”...


Besides the regular school excursions, my first travel was a reward. I was in the three-member team of the Užice Gymnasium that won first place in the ”What You Know about Vuk” quiz, where high schools from Užice competed. I answered all the questions I pulled out, which resulted in 24 points. It was noted in the annual Gymnasium report. The prize was three days in Divčibare.
I am not a passionate traveler. The neurasthenic tourists’ competing around the trendy and luxurious summer resorts are completely unfamiliar and repulsive to me. I love to travel as freely and independently as possible. Feeling the atmosphere and spirit of life in a place, experiencing its atmosphere deeper, seeing important sites, it sufficiently satisfies my not so expressive need for traveling.

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