Naim Frashëri: Architect of Albanian Renaissance and Poetic Patriotism

Naim Frasheri, born on May 25, 1846, in Frashër, Albania, and passing away on October 20, 1900, stands out as a key figure in the 19th-century Albanian National Awakening, often referred to as Rilindja Kombëtare. Recognized widely as the national poet of Albania, his impact on Albanian literature and culture is profound.

In the village of Frashër, Naim Frashëri spent his formative years, acquiring proficiency in Turkish, Persian, and Arabic. His educational journey led him to Janina (Ioannina), where he attended the Zosimaia secondary school, receiving a classical education with a Western orientation. Here, he delved into Ancient and Modern Greek, French, and Italian, supplementing his studies with private tutoring in oriental languages. This dual cultural exposure shaped him into a distinguished late 19th-century Ottoman intellectual comfortable in both Western and Oriental spheres.

Naim Frashëri authored a total of twenty-two works, showcasing his versatility in languages such as Turkish, Persian, Greek, and, significantly, Albanian. Engaged in the National Renaissance of Albania, he often had to resort to using initials in his writings due to the risks associated with his official Ottoman position. As the director of the board of censorship of the Turkish Ministry of Education, he occasionally bypassed the ban on Albanian-language publications imposed by the Sublime Porte. Consequently, many of his works had to be clandestinely smuggled into Albania.

Among his noteworthy works are the poetry collections published in Bucharest. “Bagëti e bujqësija” (Bucolics and Georgics), released in 1886, is a pastoral poem reminiscent of Vergil, celebrating the joys and challenges of rural life. “Luletë e verësë” (The Flowers of Spring), published in 1890, pays homage to the Albanian countryside in twenty-three sonorous poems. “Parajsa dhe fjala fluturake” (Paradise and Winged Words), released in 1894, reveals his affinity for historical heroes and the spiritual traditions of the Orient, particularly Persian mysticism. His magnum opus, “Istori’ e Skenderbeut” (History of Scanderbeg), an epic of 11,500 verses composed around 1895, showcases his mastery in historical storytelling.

Naim Frashëri’s influence on Albanian writers in the early 20th century was profound. His poems, set to music during his lifetime, became popular folk songs. Comparing the state of Albanian literature before and after Naim Frashëri highlights the transformative role he played in elevating Albanian to a language of substantial literary refinement.

“History of Scanderbeg” excerpt from Canto V

Krujë oh blessed citadel 
await, await for Scanderbeg!
Returning as a hued dove
to liberate our motherland.

To unshackle Albanians
from wicked Turkish yoke 
and restore your honor
oh crown of Albania.

Albanian braves follow him
fearless in the danger’s eye!
In his heart fire burns
he is wise, gallant and manful.

Welcome oh summer
that bring us prosperity
for many years more
may you adorn Albania.

You fair maiden of Albania
pensive in your lingering
undress mourning clothes
the blessed day is here!

Field whiten, mount lighten,
from valiant arms!
In eagerness neigh the steed
that king of Albania brings! 

Epical poem “History of Scanderbeg” is the masterpiece of Naim Frashëri and is regarded as his poetic legacy for the fact that through this opus he expressed with pathos his ideals regarding liberation of Albania and the way to progress. “History of Scanderbeg” is composed by 22 cantos in coherent timeline with the historical events. In the core of this poem is the portrayal of Scanderbeg. Naim has illustrated his portrait with romanticism, illuminated by European humanist principles and Albanian Renaissance ideals.

Translated by Oltion Zoto

Oh mountains of Albania (excerpt from Bucolics and Georgics)

Oh mountains of Albania and you, oh  mighty oaks,
Broad plains with all your flowers, day and night I contemplate you,
You highlands so exquisite, and you streams and rivers sparkling,
Oh peaks and promontories, and you slopes, cliffs, verdant forests,
Of the herds and flocks I’ll sing out which you hold and which you nourish.
Oh you blessed, sacred places, you inspire and delight me!
You, Albania, give me honor, and you name me as Albanian,
And my heart you have replenished both with ardour and desire.
Albania! Oh my mother! Though in exile I am longing,
My heart has ne’er forgotten all the love you’ve given to me.
When a lambkin from its flock strays and does hear its mother’s bleating,
Once or twice it will give answer and will flee in her direction,
Were others, twenty-thirty fold, to block its path and scare it,
Despite its fright it would return, pass through them like an arrow,
Thus my wretched heart in exile, here in foreign land awaiting,
Hastens back unto that country, swift advancing and in longing.
Where cold spring water bubbles and cool breezes blow in summer,
Where the foliage grows so fairly, where the flowers have such fragrance,
Where the shepherd plays his reed pipe to the grazing of the cattle,
Where the goats, their bells resounding, rest, yes ’tis the land I long for.

Bagëti e bujqësija, (Bucolics and Georgics) from which the above excerpt is taken, is a 450-line pastoral poem adorned with the imagery of poet’s mountainous homeland. In these verses Naim Frasheri conveys his nostalgic longing for Albania while he was in exile, using the theme of joys and toil of agriculture and rural life to cover in poetic subtlety his patriotic feelings. [excerpt from O Malet’ e Shqipërisë, from the volume Bagëti e bujqësija, Bucharest 1886. Translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie]

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