In memoriam Nikola Vaptsarov

‘Vaptsarov’ Category

  1. In memoriam Nikola Vaptsarov

    December 11, 2009 by Christopher Buxton

    Just returned from London and a recital inspired by the late Adrian Mitchell. Such a radical poet – I wonder if he’d known about his Bulgarian kindred spirit. Too late to find out now.

    Anyway to celebrate one hundred years since his birth, I’ve translated three of Vaptsarov’s poems – ones I like very much.

    Vaptsarov was born in Bansko, worked in a foundry, where he wrote the only work published in his lifetime – Engine Songs. His commitment to Communism in the thirties led him to be involved in wartime resistance to the government of Tsar Boris. He was arrested and shot in 1942. Boris canvased opinion among literary circles but was assured by the great and good that he was not ordering the death of a great Bulgarian poet.

    Inevitably Communist Bulgaria turned him into a hero. Fortunately his genius still burns in the postcommunist hangover.

    Spring in the Factory

    She wanted to clock on with the first shift

    But the engine swore


    “Oh no you don’t

    I’m in charge here

    Where will we end up without rules?

    ‘Ere – go ask the doorman!”

    But she was right cheeky

    And she didn’t ask the doorman. –

    Slipped in.

    Opened some window up high

    And hidden from the engine

    Stuck out her tongue.

    And straight off a machine sang out.

    But the workers

    Were all fingers and thumbs.

    Realising who was causing this

    The engine said:

    “I’ll chuck her out!”

    – Chuck her out really? Mockingly


    A good iron mixer.

    – Just try, whirled the chattering stirrer,

    We’ll come out on strike for her.

    The engine shut up. The wind carried

    From somewhere

    Warm breath of black earth

    A melody – broad and joyous –

    And steps

    Of cracked


    Those who sometime had


    The earth, snorted like horses,

    And the others, windows thrown open,

    Glowed before

    The blue


    The ticker tape machine shot out

    Something rude.

    A girl happily sang

    A boy shot her

    With a loving glance

    And she blushed.

    Just then the doorman came in quiet

    And demanded

    “Who’s snuck themselves in without my say-so?”

    But he soon caught on, smiled guiltily

    Combed his hair


    And then shut up.


    To my wife

    Sometime I’ll come into your dreams

    Like an unexpected, unwanted guest.

    Don’t leave me outside on the street –

    Don’t bolt the doors against me.

    I’ll enter on tip-toe. I’ll approach so gently

    I’ll narrow my eyes to see you in the dark

    And when gorged with gazing at you –

    I’ll kiss you and then be gone.


    In The Krup Factories grenades pour out

    Pack them up snugly! They’re made for us, mates,

    They’ll drink up our blood out in the meadows

    Pack them up snugly! Millions of us…

    At Bayer they’ve found some kind of gas

    From a new mix. And it’s just for us

    It’ll just eat up our sooty lungs

    It couldn’t be clearer…Don’t you want to puke?

    At Vickers, they’ve bored machine gun muzzles

    To shoot six hundred bullets a minute – for us.

    So they can bang it into our thick skulls

    Come on cheer up! Come on cheer up!

    Come on cheer up! Don’t think how

    The storm will catch us, the dark will smother us.

    Present arms to the front of our modern era

    But please…a bit of hush! But please…

    No grumbling