Mitrush Kuteli: A Literary Giant in Turbulent Times

Mitrush Kuteli, a pseudonym cloaking Dhimitër Pasko, was born in 1907, his cradle nestled by the shimmering waters of Lake Ohrid. His early years unfolded like a tale from his future collections, with journeys to Greece and Romania for education, culminating in economic studies in Bucharest.

Returning to Albania, Kuteli donned the journalist’s hat, but his true passion resided in weaving stories. His debut, “Albanian Nights,” painted a vibrant picture of his hometown, though its initial publication faced a fiery ordeal. Yet, the tales eventually reached their audience, and Kuteli became a champion for other Albanian writers, facilitating the publication of their works.

The Second World War painted the world in shades of darkness, but Kuteli’s creativity persevered. He churned out stories, poems, and even steered a literary journal, his pen drawing upon the rich tapestry of Albanian folklore. His tales, embellished with intricate language and laced with folksy humor, resonated deeply with readers, solidifying his position as a literary luminary.

However, the tides of fortune turned after the war. Kuteli’s dissent against political decisions landed him in the clutches of the regime, condemning him to a harsh reality in a labor camp. The horrors he witnessed left an indelible mark, even pushing him to the brink of despair. With a shift in the political landscape, he found freedom, but at a cost – forced work as a translator, his pen serving the dictates of ideology.

Despite the constraints, Kuteli’s spirit of translation remained unbowed. He rendered works by celebrated authors from various corners of the world, while keeping the flame of his love for Russian classics alive. He also played a pivotal role in safeguarding Albanian oral poetry and crafting stories for children, offering them a safe haven in the turbulent times.

In 1967, the curtain fell on Kuteli’s life. Though denied the recognition he rightfully deserved during his lifetime, his legacy as a pioneer of the Albanian short story genre and a champion of his nation’s literary heritage remains etched in the annals of Albanian culture. His life, a tapestry woven with fairytales, political turmoil, and unwavering creativity, serves as a testament to the enduring human spirit.

The Muddy Albanian Soil– Mitrush Kuteli

I love you, muddy Albanian soil,
I love you
Like a wolf loves the forest,
Like a wave loves a wave,
Like mud loves mud.

Up to my knees
I am into you,
For I was born
Like my Father,
Like my Grandfather,

I love you, muddy Albanian soil,
Up to my waist
And above it,
I am into you,
And I cannot stop
For I do not wish to.

For you bind me
And captivate me
With honey
And with wormwood.

For my Mother
And my Father
And my Ancestors
All perished

I love you, muddy Albanian soil,
And sweet,
Like death itself.

For I am deep here,
Deep into you,
Up to my knees,
Up to my waist,
And up to my neck.

And how I would love to get drunk
And relax
(Right now!)
Within you.

To hug you
To embrace you,
To be embraced,
That you absorb me
As you absorbed
My ancestors, absorbed
Oh, my noble-minded,

I love you, muddy Albanian soil,
Sweet as honey,
Bitter as wormwood,
I love you
Like a wolf loves the forest,
Like a wave loves a wave,
Like mud loves mud!

[Balta shqipëtare, from the volume Sulm e lotë, Tirana 1944, p. 55-57. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie.]

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