Today is a public holiday in Slovenia, in celebration of the National Poet, France Prešeren. A public holiday in honour of a poet: how wonderful! I wanted to be the first to wish you ‘Happy Prešeren Day!’ and tell you a bit more about the poet’s life and works.
Prešeren was born in the town of Vrba, (now in Northern Slovenia, then part of the Habsburg Empire) in December of 1800. He was born into a relatively wealthy farming family, and his mother was passionate about the education of her children. He received a comprehensive education at the Ljubljana State Gymnasium, and later attended the University of Vienna where he studied law, but was already showing a huge talent for poetry.
He returned to Ljubljana where he worked as an assistant in a law firm, trying unsuccessfully to become an independent lawyer. He continued to write poetry and was renowned in the city’s literary circles. Here he met and fell in love with Julija Primic, daughter of a wealthy merchant. Prešeren’s love was unrequited, and Primic married another man. This unfulfilled love brought him much unhappiness, and although he started a family with another woman, Ana Jelovšek, on his deathbed he said that he had never forgotten Julija. He died in the town of Kranj (where he had eventually established his own law firm) on 8 February 1849, after an illness possibly brought on by years of alcoholism and depression.
Prešeren’s poetry and its significance to Slovenia
Prešeren wrote sonnets, ballads and epic poems on a literary par with the great Romantic Poets of his time. As such, he elevated literature in the Slovene language to an internationally-recognised level. He is revered in Slovenia as the father of modern Slovene literature, and, when Slovenia gained independence in 1991, his poem Zdravljica, ‘A Toast’ was adopted as the Slovene national anthem. Here is my translation of the first stanza:
When the taught vines have laboured
And brought forth, dear friends
Sweet wine to us
Which re-invigorates our veins
Our hearts enlightened
Our eyes brightened thus:
With cares outcast
And fears at rest
The fraught breast breathes new hope at last.
You can read a translation of the full poem on Prešeren.net.
Monuments to Prešeren
Just about every town in Slovenia has its own Prešerenov Trg, or ‘Prešeren Square.’ The most famous is of course to be found in Ljubljana. Here a statue of the poet gazes across the square towards his muse Julija, whose statue adorns one of the buildings opposite. The Slovenian €2 coin also features the poet’s portrait.
I hope you enjoyed finding out a little about Slovenia’s national poet, and I wish you once again Happy Prešeren Day!