Naim Frashëri: A Bridge Between Cultures, a Champion for Progress

Naim Frasheri was born on May 25, 1846, in Frashër, Përmet. Frashër is widely regarded as the ‘Mecca’ of Albania and is known for the disproportionate number of prominent intellectuals it has produced – especially in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Naim Frashëri was one of them. As a humanist, a distinguished poet, author, publicist, translator, student of many foreign languages, he was one of the most prominent writers and initiators of the revival of the Albanian language and literature. He finished elementary school in his hometown, where he learned old Persian language in the Bektash school. He graduated in the Greek high school “Zosimea” in 1865 in Ioannina, where he moved with his family. He was very proficient in classical, Greek and Roman literature, culture and philosophy. He was familiar with the ideas of the French Enlightenment and the French Bourgeois Revolution. He learned many foreign languages such as Turkish, Arabic, Persian, Greek and French.
As an official and intellectual of the Ottoman Empire, with high position in the Ottoman administration, he was the first to receive permission for the establishment of the First Albanian School and for the grammar of Constantin Christoforidi. He participated in the events of the Albanian League in Prizren, at the meeting of the southern branches of the Albanian League in Frasher (1878). He is the author of twenty-two works: four in the Ottoman language, two in Persian, two in Greek and fifteen in Albanian. He was the first translator of the Qur’an into the Albanian language. His works are very rich in phraseology and vocabulary of the pure vernacular language. He paid special attention to the human consciousness, the moral elevation and the spiritual happiness. His works promote the faith and the love for God, the love for country, the people and the humanity, the industrial and intellectual development, the emancipation of women, the democratic governance, the peace and friendship with other countries. He respected and admired the progressive qualities and culture of other nations. He also raised the values of Albanians and national traditions: faith (besa), courage and generosity.
Naim Frasheri died on 20 October 1900 in Istanbul at the age of 54, saddened by nostalgia for the homeland that he could not see free. His remains were brought to Albania in the honour of the 25th anniversary of independence, on June 2, 1937.
In recognition of his activity, many schools and institutions in Albania and abroad bear his name. The Iranian state also honored him for his contribution to the Persian language and literature, issuing postage stamps with his image.

The Words of the Candle

Here among you have I risen,
And aflame am I now blazing,
Just a bit of light to give you,
That I change your night to daytime,
I’ll combust and I will wither,
Be consumed and be extinguished,
Just to give you brightness, vision,
That you notice one another,
For you will I fade and tarnish,
Of me there will be no remnant,
I will burn, in tears lamenting,
My desire I cannot suffer.
Of the fire I am not fearful,
I will never be extinguished
If I burn of my desire,
Try to shine as best I’m able.
When you see that I have vanished,
Do not think that I have perished,
I’m alive, among the living,
In the rays of truth I’m standing,
In your souls do I take refuge,
Do not think I’m stranger to you,
Patience was bestowed upon me,
Thus I glow with steadfast courage,
Doing good is all I long for,
That you not remain in darkness.
Forward now and gather ’round me
Talk, smile, eat, drink and make merry,
Love within my soul is harboured,
Yes, for mankind am I burning,
Let me melt and let me smoulder,
To grow cold I do not wish for.
Let my wretched corpse be consumed
For our true God the Almighty,
May my lungs scorch, charred to ashes,
For mankind I’ll melt and vanish,
With me all man’s joys I’ll carry,
Bear them to the Lord Almighty.
Humanity is what I long for,
Goodness, gentleness and wisdom,
If you’ll with me be companions?
If you’ll love me as I love you,
If you all love one another,
Work not for the Prince of Darkness.
Venture towards me, fleeting heart, do
Come, approach this fire a little!
Though the flame may singe your wings, it’s
Sure to sanctify your spirit.
With the torch that here consumes me
I the eyes of men have opened,
Been of them a true companion.
I do know them, they do know me,
I’ve observed them all in passing,
Mothers, kith and kin, and fathers,
All of them are my concern still,
All who lived here on this planet,
Even now I see them ‘mongst you,
For I recognize their spirits.
I, like you, have changed, transfigured,
Changed and altered my companions,
Many times have I turned into
Earth and wind and fire and water.
I’m a spark come from the heavens,
From the sun I’m glowing embers,
Through the skies I fly, a-soaring,
And live deep within the ocean,
Often in the soil I sleep or
Take my rest in fruits and honey,
I’m a suckling lamb or kid goat,
Flower, grass or leaves a-sprouting,
So much do I have to tell you,
Yet I fear my speech will fail me.
What’s the point to put to paper
Words this flickering tongue’s inspired?

[Fjalët’ e qiririt, from the volume Vjersha për mësonjëtoret të para, Bucharest 1886. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

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