Vasko Popa’s Poetry and the Endless Circle of Creation

Luna Gradinšćak discusses the work of Serbian poet Vasko Popa (1922-1991)


Blue and golden
Last brim of perception
Last apple of the sun

How far does your sight reach

Can you hear the night’s cavalry
La illaha illalah

Your brush trembles not
Your colors do not fear

The night’s cavalry approaches
La illaha illalah

What do you see in the depths of the night

Golden and blue
Souls’s last star
Eye’s last infinity

This is what poetry always does to us – it makes an earthquake in our souls and stirs up our minds. But sometimes a poem is more than a sensation. Sometimes, it is testimony of one epoch.

Manasija is a Serbian medieval monastery founded in 1418 by Despot Stefan Lazarevic. It is one of the biggest Manasija monasterymonuments in medieval Serbian culture. It the above poem, Vasko Popa revives a history by describing Zograph, a medieval painter of icons in the Manasija monastery, whose job was a vital one before the fall of the medieval Kingdom of Serbia (caused by the Turkish Empire). Zograph does his job as if there is no danger or distress, and that is why his work attained infinity. The eye’s infinity continues to shine today and it will continue to glow in the future. Popa also indicates that even if the history is misused for many reasons, poetry still speaks faithfully. This is the main cause and answer to why creativity is always important and necessary. The writer tries to illuminate the connection between the artist and his work, but also between the reader and the poem, much like the relation between Zograph and his icon. Similar things can be seen in another of Popa’s poems, also dedicated to a female medieval Serbian monastery built by the despot Stefan Lazarevic in the fifteenth century, named ‘Kalenic’:


Why my eyes
On your face
Angel brother?

Colours dawn
On the edge of oblivion

Unknown shadows
Won’t let me sheath
Your sword’s thunder

Colours ripen
On a light bough of time

Why your beautiful spite
In the corner of my lips
Angel brother?

Colours burn
In the youth of my blood.

If we look back to ‘Manasija’, we can see that, among the blue and gold color that connect Serbian culture to the Byzantine, and the symbolical meanings of brim, apple and sun, there are deeper layers to the poem. It is the importance of giving freedom to the soul. Freedom which goes with ‘indifference and serenity to all events’ as Foucault says, but which is not equal to nihilism or inaction caused by resignation. Our creative skills, even those that seem simple, elevate our souls and educate other souls where we least expect it to happen. Popa’s icon painter perhaps best describes the fact that taking care of ourselves is never solely and exclusively focused on ourselves. Even if it looks as if there is no exit, the importance of creativity doesn’t have an end.

Luna Gradinšćak is a PhD student of Serbian Literature & Language, and has published numerous articles in scholarly periodicals. She can be followed on Twitter here: @baobaobab


Image: Fortress and Monastery of Manasija, near Despotovac, Serbia, by Laslovarga, 2012; Wikimedia Commons.


  1. And also, you can see how monastery still keeps the tradition alive through great knight tournament

  2. Great post, thank you/
    In an earlier blog I put forward that Vasko Popa used the chiasmic structure for creating individual sequences of poems. See Vasko Popa’s Grand Design:

  3. Pingback: Vasko Popa’s Poetry and the Endless Circle of Creation | JCU // Creative Writing Workshop