Petko Slaveikov

Flowers don’t grow singly

Flowers don’t grow singly in the meadow
And birds don’t chirp in Spring alone
The heart is heavy without a fellow
No hope in life, days weigh like stone.

And my bright flower beyond compare,
Death’s icy hand touched your leaf
Too soon dragged down, too soon flown where
And all my inheritance is grief.

Flowers don’t grow singly in the meadow
And birds don’t chirp in Spring alone
The heart is heavy without a fellow
No hope in life, days weigh like stone.

Petko Slaveikov

translation by Christopher Buxton


We’re not a nation, not a nation, but carrion,

people who refuse occupation.

Everything’s heavy, everything hurts us

“I don’t know! I can’t do it!” sung in one voice.

We don’t know and we can’t and we’ll not

work for ourselves in time’s allotment.

We only know and we can and we will

Eat each other to our spiteful fill.

Amongst ourselves we’re bad, rude, irascible

With others we’re docile, quiet, pliable.

They still walk over us, whoever comes

Because we’re inept, all fingers and thumbs.

Everyone shouts “Curses on our plight!”

And every ambition is  squashed flat.


We’re not a nation, not a nation, but carrion

Again I say it, and end my oration.

translation by Christopher Buxton


The Fountain of the Lilly White Legs

By Petko Slaveikov translated by Christopher Buxton


Between Ibincha and Harmanli by the road there’s a fountain, which is calledAk baldr çeşmesi”(Fountain of the Lilly White Legs), the following tale has been passed down by the people:


You see down there on the plain,

where a dozen willow trees

stand out, silhouetted?

That’s where Bissercha Village

was in olden times, where

Gergana, a mother’s darling,

was born and dwelling.


Gergana, bright feathered bird,

Gergana gentle lambkin,

amongst the girls she was

a pearl amid a string of beads;

her first love Nikola –

among all the village lads

a dark young ram from the flock!


Gergana forever and Nikola:

the pair like peas in a pod,

like two cowslip fronds

both young and green,

each born for each other,

both in love with each other,

love exceptional and true.


Nikola loved Gergana

loved her and sought her out:

morning and evening by the spring,

at the dances every Sunday

at musters every chance

at gatherings every night.


It was nearing midnight now.

The gathering dispersed –

and Nikola was walking her home,

his darling Gergana.

He asked for a posy.

Gergana spoke quietly:

“It’s too late, love, for a posy:

the moon is setting,

and the cocks haven’t crowed –

now time is baleful,

ugly, cheating midnight;

the stars blink over it,

spirits flit across it,

dragons, dragon ghosts

and night-time hags,

they’ll see us, be jealous –

a posy is a token of love

at dawn with the rising sun;

the dawn blooding the posy,

tomorrow your posy will be ready.

Rouse yourself early to rise,

so you come early to the fields,

look for me by the spring,

while you water the oxen,

I’ll come with white buckets

for fresh cold water,

I’ll give you a posy,

from my brow to your brow,

me to be yours…”


Poor pigeons, their honour’s blackened,

a black spirit listened in,

eavesdropped and envied them,

cast an evil eye at them,

encompassing their deaths.


Early, early Gergana

arose and washed her body,

crossed herself before the icons,

softly she prayed to God.

She picked a dew drenched posy,

and stuck it in hair.

She lifted the yoke to her shoulder

and off she went to the spring:

but she didn’t find Nikola there.

she found white parasols there.

A Vizier had arrived in the night,

and set up his army camp.


Gergana poured out the water,

she washed her lily white legs.

The Vizier sat before the parasol,

watched Gergana in wonder –

wonder how such a beauty,

could come out of a village.

The Vizier watched her, observed her,

and he craved her from his heart.

He sent a servant, called her.


The Vizier spoke to her:

“Bulgar, tender maiden,

why have you risen so early

for fresh water from the spring?”

“Aga, I’ve risen early

for fresh cold water,

the earlier to work…

My father is getting older,

hurries us out on the field.”

“Do you go, tender maid,

do you go to the field as well,

to burn your snow white face,

to mow with your tender hands?

You were not born for this,

you were born and destined

to be a fair bride,

to walk on balconies only…

Come hither, fair Bulgar,

let’s go to Stambul together,

instead of slaving for others,

let others slave for you.”

“I am all right, Aga, just here

with my old father and mother,

chores don’t weigh me down.

From the time of my birth,

I’ve always grown, been brought up,

when to the field, when to the vineyard,

to help my old dear father,

and when again  to clean the house,

to take my dear mother’s part.”


“You’ll come fair Bulgar,

you’ll come with me to Stambul,

you’ll come, it can’t be otherwise.”


“Good health to you, Aga, don’t push me!

How can I leave my father,

my mother, how can I desert her?”


“Is that all your mumbling worry?

Don’t you want to take them with us

to bring them back to our home?”


“My beloved meadows, Aga,

my beloved darling garden!”


“Ask me for meadows,

so you walk always on meadows,

whatever gardens you desire,

and every kind of flower…”


Gergana sighed in sorrow,

gently she spoke:

“You won’t find them in vases, Aga,

there are no walls like these,

winter overgrown with cranesbill,

summer with grey lilac;

there’s no snowdrops there,

no fragrant violets

amongst the curling bushes;

and fields of black eyed petunias;

at every early grazing,

crocuses fill the flat,

red peonies on the side…

In my small garden

it’s enough for me to have:

all colours of hollyhocks,

vibrant reds and yellows

tiny blackish basil,

blue iris, yellow nasturtiums

white iris, pure silver,

dewy pearl icicle flowers,

tender willow branches,

thick stemmed silky ozier,

birthwort reddening at sunset,

early ruffled bluebells,

winter and summer carnations,

nodding gillyflower

and velvet mauve foxtail.

These living flowers aren’t to be found

in your gardens, Aga!

There everything is forced

and where it grows, it withers…

Everything is beautiful in the village

thrusting, Ago, willing!”


“Beautiful young Bulgar girl!

Why are you so stupid!

Just agree to come,

let me bring you to Stambul:

to see how beautiful it is,

to see its luxury!

Soon as we come, I’ll order up

gardens to be built,

however you want wherever.

And I’ll create for you

a new palace in the gardens,

with twelve doors

and three hundred framed windows.

I’ll line them with sofas,

I’ll set them with bolsters,

I’ll scatter them with cushions,

so you’ll sit on them and look

wherever your eyes wander…”


“For me, Aga, Stambul is

here, where I was born,

and the most beautiful palace –

is my father’s house there.

Why do I need lots of doors

when I can leave from one

and walk here and there?

Why do I need three hundred windows,

when I can look at any time

from one single window

look at the sun by day

and the clear moon at night

with a million stars around!

What palace is brighter

than this heavenly vault?

What sofas are better

than this green lawn!”


“Young crazy girl,

you still know nothing!

Listen to me, believe me

so you strike lucky:

so you become a white bride,

wearing silk and gold,

to sit in the bright Harem,

threading golden sovereigns,

mixed with tiny pearls.”


“All very well, Aga,

but I’m a simple peasant girl,

I’m not meant for lovely Harems,

or silken garments;

I don’t want golden sovereigns,

I don’t want little pearls!

I’m happy with what I have!

This bead necklace

and this head garland…

Most fitting, Aga, you know?

If you don’t know, so you know:

I am promised, taken an oath

and my oath is true:

My first love Nikola

he first will be my man…”

“How simple you are, stupid!

What can your lover be

compared to me and my power?”


“Compared to you, Aga, he’s nothing,

but for me, you know he’s everything.

I want him, and only him.”


“You want him, only him!”

the Vizier answered in anger,

“But  you haven’t got free will

my will is above yours;

I am lord above you –

and I will be your master…”


Gergana thus she spoke:

“In life you are my lord,

but you’re not lord of my free will;

against my will you’ll be

owner of a cold dead heart…”


The Vizier was stunned by Gergana;

he honoured her truth and love

he let the girl go free

and rewarded her richly,

and then ordered the spring,

to be turned to a fountain as a memorial.


Hired workers built the fountain,

word spread round the village,

that they have walled up Gergana inside.

It was the truth, it happened:

Gergana the maiden withered

like an early frosted leaf,

she sickened, still she faded

like young basil in a drought.

Gergana faded on her feet

something like three months,

Gergana lay down in her clothes…

Nikola went hither, thither,

brought her healers, seers,

treated her with different herbs,

But nothing helped her.

She didn’t last the year.

She gave her soul to God…

The whole village mourned her death

and everyone gathered,

lit all kinds of candle…

The girls wove garlands for her…

The lads fashioned her coffin…

And how they lifted her from home

carried her in procession,

carried her to a dark grave,

carried her and left her there…


Nikola steadfast lover,

rose early on Tuesday,

to go to the grave,

wafted white incense over it,

poured out red wine

and lit a wax candle…

He came back from the grave, Nikola,

but he did not come back home;

and to this very day cannot be found…

You can hear from the depths

his dark flute only,

playing sad and rumbling,

when Gergana appears,

sitting there by the fountain,

when the full moon rises.