Legacy of Ndre Mjeda: Exploring the Poetry and Life of an Albanian Literary Pioneer

Ndre Mjeda, born on 20 November 1866 in Shkodra, was among the Gheg writers, originating from northern Albania, who received education from the Jesuits. Sponsored by the Society of Jesus, Mjeda pursued studies abroad from 1880 to 1887. His educational journey included literature studies in Valencia, Spain, rhetoric, Latin, and Italian studies in Croatia, as well as courses at the Gregorian University in Rome and a college in Chieri, Italy.

During his studies, Mjeda started writing verses in his native language, producing the widely-read poem “Vaji i bylbylit” (The nightingale’s lament) in 1887, expressing his yearning for Albania. Another notable work from this period is the poem “Vorri i Skanderbegut” (Scanderbeg’s grave), reflecting the theme of exiled Albanians longing for their homeland under Ottoman rule, a common motif in Rilindja culture (Albanian Renaissance).

Following his studies, Mjeda taught music at the College of Marco Girolamo Vida in Cremona from 1887 to 1891, simultaneously engaging in the translation of religious literature. He furthered his education in theology at the Jesuit college in Kraków, Poland, and later taught philosophy and philology. Expelled in 1898 due to a conflict between Austria-Hungary and the Vatican, Mjeda joined the Literary Commission in Shkodra in 1916 under Austro-Hungarian administration.

During this time, he penned the poetic collection “Juvenilia” in 1917, known for its classical style and linguistic purity. Although Mjeda intended to dedicate a second poetry cycle to the ancient cities of Illyria, including Lezha, Shkodra, Durrës, and Pojan, only the first two parts materialized.

From 1920 to 1924, Mjeda served as a deputy in the National Assembly. Following the defeat of Fan Noli’s June Revolution and the establishment of the Zogu dictatorship in late 1924, he withdrew from politics. Mjeda then served as a parish priest in Kukël, a village between Shkodra and Shëngjin. Starting in 1930, he taught Albanian language and literature at the Jesuit college in Shkodra until his death on 1 August 1937.

To The Albanian eagle

High amongst the clouds, above the cliffs
Sparkling in perennial snow,
Like lightning, like an arrow,
Soars on sibilant wings
‘Midst the peaks and jagged rocks
The eagle in the first rays of dawn.

The azure sky above its head,
Companion of the stars, glows
Like jewels, like the shimmering
Gold of a bridal gown,
Or the radiant night in which
A god bestows wisdom and grace.

Your kingdom is silent,
Eagle, arbiter of freedom,
And in the empty wastes
The harmony of stars
And the rising moon give you comfort,
And the pensive Muse is heard.

But above the forlorn flatland
Where your children in lamentation lie,
Thunder resounds,
Lightning flashes,
And you above those peaks
Hear no echo of their lament.

Oh, descend to us, royal
Eagle, once more, as you did
When in battle, majestic
Castrioti the Great shone forth
And the whole world trembled
At the brandishing of his sword.

To A Modern Poet

Your road is good:
The Parcae are the ugliest faces
Of classical myths. You did not write of them,
But of stone slabs and of human brows
Covered in wrinkles, and of love.

Your verses are to be read in silence
And not before the microphone
Like those of other poets,

The heart
Though under seven layers of skin
Is ice,

Ice Though under seven layers of skin.

Mountain Feast

Blood was avenged today.
Two bullets felled a man.

Blood was avenged today.

Under the axe-head
The ox’s skull bursts by the stream.
(Today there will be great feasting!)

Blood was avenged today.
The wailing of men gone wild
Mingles with the smell of meat on the fires.
And the autumn foliage falls
Scorched on the white caps
At the tables, outside.

Night. At the graves on the hill
Fresh earth, new moon.

The wolves have descended from the mountains
And drink blood at the stream.

The Old Deer

The shepherds abandoned the alpine pastures
For the warmth of the lowland valleys,
Sauntering down the trails, talking loudly
About women and laughing
Beside the water of the stream bubbling forth
From well to well.

The old deer raised its head from the scorched earth
And observed the pale foliage. Then
It departed to join its sons,
They too with their minds on the does.

Broken, it too abandoned the alpine pastures and followed
The merry murmur of the stream below, a fiery arrow,
The wanderer in search of warmer pastures and winter grass
Which it will never touch!

When they slew it, the shepherds pried its eyes open
And saw in the pupils
The reflection of many deer drinking water from the stream.

Poems are translated from Albania by Robert Elsie

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