Dimcho Debelyanov

The Town Sleeps

Old town sleeps in its silent shadows.
To the faithless night, a faithful son,
I wander – homeless and alone
As the rain – it drizzles, drizzles, drizzles…

Footsteps, one by trembling one
Measure the length of blackened walls
And behind me, invisible there falls
The piteous march of days long gone.

The image of the darling maid
Who once shed light upon my door
Loved and clear, haunts me once more.
Remorse – it grows and grows and grows…

She appeared – a girl – a glowing spark.
Although a flame played on her lip.
’Twas eternal beauty I yearned to sip.
I turned away her mortal gift.

Oh leave them be – days long gone by
Frozen by grief in a darkened place
But whence she sends her cry to me,
Her sad reproach: Oh why? Oh why?

Old town sleeps in its silent shadows.
To the faithless night, a faithful son
I wander – homeless and alone
As the rain – it drizzles, drizzles, drizzles…

Dimcho Debelyanov

Orphan Song

If I die in this war
regret will sting no-one.
I lost my mother; but I wedded
no wife; and I have no friends

But my heart does not grieve –
I live, an involuntary orphan,
and maybe Death waits for me
bringing comfort in victory.

I know my hapless path.
My wealth is stored within,
For I am rich in sorrows
and in joys unshared.

I shall depart this world
as I entered it – homeless,
tranquil as the song that
shores up needless memory

Dimcho Debelyanov

translation by Christopher Buxton

The Hero’s Dream

The enemy fell back, the roar died away.

The evening breeze dispersed the smoke

Tired eyes were netted by sweetest sleep

And the battlefield was quiet again.


And he nodded off at once and dreamt,

leaning his head on his rifle butt

and it seemed he heard his mother’s voice

whispering honeyed words in his ear:


My son, don’t fear the enemies

Although you be the first to fall

Heed your homeland’s vengeance call

for five centuries soaked in guiltless blood.


If you die, you die in honour,

if you return, know all the nation

heaps praise eternal on her faithful soldier,

who’s staked his life for her salvation.


Now she fell silent.  He stretched out his arm

to hold her close, but with open eye

sudden he beheld the growing dawn

spread its red beams across the sky.


Once more the bugles sounded alarm

and he stood up bold in the fearsome fight.

He fell like any brave hero might,

fell with a smile, untroubled, calm.


translated by Christopher Buxton


To Return to your father’s house

To return to your father’s house once more,

when evening starts to gently fade

and quiet night in quiet breast will store

ease for the sorrowful and the dismayed.

You’ve cast  black torpor’s heavy load,

which dismal days to you imparted

with your timid steps to wake in the yard

a timid joy for the guest awaited.


For the old one to meet you at the door

and to lay your forehead in her feeble shoulder,

wrapped in the warmth of her smile once more

long time repeating mother, mother.

To gently enter that well known room,

your very last shelter and mooring.

to whisper quiet words into the calm

with tired eyes on the old icon poring:

I came to wait the gentle end of day

as my sun had completed its journey


Oh secret cries of a sorrowful stray

in futile recall of mother and country.


translated by Christopher Buxton


Remember, remember the quiet yard…

Remember, remember the quiet yard

the quiet home in the white blossom cherries?

Ah, don’t shimmer through my dark prison bars,

calls from afar and bankrupt memories,

I’m a gaolbird in a dark prison place

appeals from afar and memories outcast,

my only guard is my own disgrace,

my sentence is served in days long past!


Remember, remember in the quiet yard

‘midst the blooming white cherries whispers and laughter? –

Ah don’t awaken the sacred choir

the angels’ choir of the past sought after –

I am the gaolbird in dark prison barred,

appeals from afar and bankrupt memories,

‘twas a dream, ‘twas a dream, the quiet yard

‘twas a dream the white blooming cherries.




How miserable were my childhood days!

O how many stifled tears I shed!

Here first the dark engulfed my gaze,

a relentless storm burst over my head.


Here first I heard the voice cry: halt

your hoping and striving – it is forbidden,

the fruit of love – in an evil vault

your dreams will lie in perpetual prison.


And today I roam this town’s sad whole,

The only home of my homeless grief.

I roam for comfort of my joyless soul –


as if abandoned in a mighty waste,

with such black thoughts to weigh me down

that I want all my memories erased.


One Dead


Now he’s an enemy no more.
The stormy wave has swept away
Those of our surviving foes
To pitch up on the opposite shore.

In the broken briars there
He lies pallid and at peace.
Watched over with measured grief
In a vault marked deep and clear.

And across this pale grey earth
Warmed by June’s caresses
Blood stained letters flutter
of no further worth.

Where’s he from and who is he
Whose call led him to us
On a day of wild success,
To die without a victory?

Did you stroke and smooth
In black misery’s depth
A wretched mother’s hand
With words of boundless love

In a time of savage thunder
Pity’s funny, pity’s silly
Hasn’t he given his life
To take the lives of others?

And did he in his hostile corps
Really plan to grant us mercy?
He picked the cards that he was dealt.
The Dead man is our foe no more.


The Old Camp


Some time since we were on the other side

on that peaceful sunny lea

where the Struma tired by its long trek

sends its first greeting to the sea.


There amid the fruitful green,

of meadows warmed by golden heat

only the cottages cleansed of folk

bore witness to war’s ruinous feat


And from early dawn to lights out

the stamping of the soldier hordes

was an unstoppable clang of

earth shaking mistimed chords.


Every turning like the back of the hand,

such burning love for every place

as though we each had found

his own lost world in this tiny space.


An unforeseen hour even in dreams

cut through our settled sleep.

Off we marched – the night still before us,

clear day – so pale and buried deep.


(I remember through that night down south

the moon foretold a strange sadness

and every groan and every sound

shattered the frightened stillness.)


And we are now on the other bank…

Other – bank or fate – they’re all the same…

Darkness seeps from the nearby valley

and the harrowing quiet rain


clatters the tents…I am still alone

and in mournful yearning I succumb

drawn to the old camp, deserted dumb

which in this heavy night becomes


a single heart … where have they gone –

The strong hands and iron breasts –

Weeds grow in the sweltering meadow

and nameless forgetting digests


the memory of that sunny spot

In time of so much blood and death

Where those thirsty for some quiet joy

drank peaceful sleep and peaceful grief…


Quiet Victory

By Dimcho Debelyanov translated by Christopher Buxton


The day is meant for labour,

night’s for pleasure and peaceful sleep,

but what is night and what is day

for us, the exiles from this earth?


A harsh adherence to duty

replaces life’s motley visage

welding together joy and grief

wedding the small with the mighty.


We march beneath the heavy wings

of a mighty tempest filled wave

and a thousand foreheads are marked

with black sacrificial crosses.


But there’s no frost can turn to ice

the germ thirsting for melting warmth,

nor will the vessel overwhelmed

blink in the eye of adversity.


Soul uncovers sacred secrets

and I have fallen for this road,

from which the very depths of earth

entreat so strongly and deceive.


“You are ours, your duty’s

tied to the crisp crop planted

in Mother Earth that you’re destined

to return to once again.”


She weaves in sunny valleys

wreathes of sunny flowers

and in patient reverie she waits

for her child to return to her.


“Return, but you must crown

your precious vanity with deeds,

and let your ending come to be

a dream quite wreathed in smiles.”


Night, so brightly reconciled,

I watch the starry dome

as silently it waters me

and nourishes love on earth.


The wide clear expanse opens out

and amidst it all the unloved stranger

finally after so much strife

finds his native country’s shore.


There native shadows, native speech

greet the brother and the son

and somewhere proud and faraway

victory flags are flapping.


Night by Salonika

(February 1916)

So again the longed for night returns

and motherly murmur and fresh caress

brings succour to exhausted soldiers

netting their cares in soothing darkness.


Udovo falls silent, where such a weight

of mighty steel did now resound,

the wordless snow darkens to the north

and dreams begin their starry round.


And in the ramshackle burnt out hut –

black sign of elemental war –

the two of us tried to hide again

Exhaustion earned from duty’s chore.


But by the fire there flared up once again

in us unquenchable desire

to restore with wine and darkness

what the day had wrenched aside


And our calloused hands never stopped

filling the glasses “Don’t stop! Mud in your eye!”

till the arrant thrill in our hearts

had stifled the last mournful sigh


Cherished secrets unravel from

tight woven talk where voices echo

and in each soul’s virgin breath there shines

a tear shed from shining sorrow.


He touched on his one-time love in Geneva,

me – my wild and wasteful fling

but then we wrote down… “think of me”

… “don’t dwell upon our long lost spring!”


While he dozed I went out to walk

on the hill above the guarded trenches

and listened to the Vardar whispering

to the ruthful midnight shadows


about the darkness of eternal night.

the day bursting on this place to be forgotten

and of the future bristling clash

…of two opposing whirlwinds hard by Solon


They’re thronging, returning

By Dimcho Debelyanov

Dis-moi, dis-moi guerrirai-je
De ce qui est dans mon coeur…

Francis Jammes.

They’re thronging, returning, they roar like tumultuous waves

of a sea stirred and drunk on its unstoppable force –

beneath their heavy steps it’s as though the exhausted earth rings,

here every day is a day with no rest, every night – sleepless.


Who are they? They’re nameless and you’re nameless amongst them,

you sink into their stifled complaints and their crude celebrations

and wait resigned for the fiesta of bloody laughter

when fate will blow darkness over your world.


And how strange it is amid the thunder of this evil whirlwind,

where we are all one and all nevertheless on our own

to recall and murmur some tearful verse

from the mellow elegies of Francis Jammes.


(1916 on the Thessaloniki front)



Neath the tender breeze of a scented evening

that’s veiled by a gentle amber dust.

with boundless spaces  peacefully fading,

a shining angel scatters sleep over us.


The spent day breathes its last lament

into the twilight of the noiseless wave…

Above  an unseen wing gives vent,

and a sweet voice calls me far away


Numberless stars play chase in the skies,

called by the night to festivity

and in drunken stillness my soul lies

in the golden lap of eternity




At daybreak  on the dusty meadow road

a swift horse shakes its ferocious mane –

a young lad’s going to his home again.

Ah where’s the nook where I was born?


In the meadow waste, ey far in the dark

a flickering fire – trav’lers settle for the night, –

‘mid laughter’s din they’re going home.

Ah where’s the nook where I was born?


It’s been three days, the rain doesn’t stop,

sullen autumn lowers over the earth –

pain and darkness squeeze my heart.

Ah where’s the nook where I was born?




Chasms of ages have split us asunder

I know that you are unreachably far

But like a ray piercing the dark of centuries

I await your coming…are you coming?

– nevermore!


Early awoken, in unlightening sorrow

I pour my eyes to the distant dark

and with oaths and sorrow doggedly twined

I await the sunrise…Will the sun rise?

– nevermore!


Black affliction fills my orchards

with snowdrifts. They doze afar,

but songs and laughter at cogging midnight

I await their quavering!… Will they quaver?

– nevermore!



Over my yearning early fatigue

spreads out its cheerless wings.

For the dawn long awaited I grieve

which dies so quickly away


I grieve for the dew, its freshness dried,

on sick and colour-drained leaves,

and for the first song to breath its last

on the dull tolling knell of the tongue.


Bright Memory

Your memory shines like a favourite book –

it’s open in front of me day and night

I’m forever in sunlight, forever in flowers,

blind to dark night  and malevolent  winter.


Every line wakes unrecognized dreams in me

the gold thrilling warmth of countless suns,

you appear above me like a sweet smelling breeze

And your heart to my heart’s a quivering dream.


And we live in lands of peace undisturbed

by worldly gossip or downcast grief:

our love is pure, an unclouded crystal

and eternity crowns us in wreathes of stars.


We fly there and bloom midst flowers – flowers;

exalted spirits never prone to terror.

Your memory shines like a favourite book,

it’s open in front of me day and night…



The sterile noisy day fell silent

The sterile noisy day fell silent.

I loitered lonely in the dark –

you were faded from me, distant,

sister mine unknown to me.


So many spring-times died away –

was not one flower left behind?

grant me faith and consolation,

sister mine desired by me!


For I freeze in senseless terror

in the first bite of vicious winter –

oh grant me flame to heat my blood,

sister mine, my most beloved!


Smiling waves

Smiling waves by colourful shores –

gold day steps up with a sweet embracing ring

– from the secret distance, a  tender voice calls me…

– What means this dream so strangely fogged?


No you’re not it, the sea of my days,

night-becalmed  after its stormy boiling,

and with words aflame towards futures bright,

aren’t you calling me, dream wrapped in love?


Won’t breasts be filled with the power of yore,

won’t the flowers of spring lift up their heads,

nourished through  dark, withered through night

‘neath the icy wings of lonely grief?


Should I believe?…waves by colourful shores,

gold day steps up with a sweet embracing ring.

– from the secret distance, a  tender voice calls me…

– What means this dream so strangely fogged?



By secret tracks I took you leading

to my sacred place, its hidden door –

I broke the hymen to my secrets’ store

and entrusted you with all my being


And I said – horde them away, fruit upon fruit

known to no-one, gathered for you –

‘neath the silenced vault of somber night

and the morning in smiles never ending


Come on, ignore the foggy smoking –

of the first wood kindling, let it be forgotten

and don’t let somber fear hold sway,


because we will never fall to mourning!

– Know this, an ember still glows golden,

when through the fire youth flies away .


Crossroads of the Future
Dimcho Debelyanov
Translated by Christopher Buxton

Through centuries’ unending strife,
at a sacred crossroads, so appointed,
two hostile destinies will meet.

Restless they’ll halt encamped,
two worlds there – Distant bugles
call out in the lurking dark

And one side will declare
“We claim limitless space –
license, and light are ours alone!”

Comes the reply: “Festering prison
is dear to us, with its horror and ice –
alongside comes reckless resistance!”

And the hour will be an hour of triumph,
long awaited after fruitless struggle,
hour of bright victory and death.

Under the chorus of warlike bugles
the world will catch fire in a clash of kings.
Oh, the final fight of hostile destinies,

Oh the distant sacred crossroads!

Dimcho Debelyanov
Translated by Christopher Buxton

Lonely pine on the ridge – forgotten sentry,
tortured by tempest, burnt with thirst,
I rejoiced to hear your muffled moan
at the hour when the storm was born –
and were I to return sometime to the dust
of the great city and stand alone in the hubbub,
your memory will light me in comfort
and will soothe every new wound.

That in my own proud pain, I’ll know
another pain, another muffled moan,
rising and falling away forever,
lonely pine on the ridge – forgotten sentry!