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Goran’s “The Pit” – Poem of Resistance

“During the preparations for the Congress, I worked a lot on posters and illustrations for Vjesnik and Naprijed, and then I started printing Goran’s poem ‘The Pit’ in the lithography technique; Zlatko Prica and I did the illustrations. We tried to make a lithographic press from pieces of rails, beams and a stone taken from a well. We managed to get a poor lithographic stone from Zagreb, through our channels. After each printed sheet, we had to grind the stone again. I wrote Goran’s text with a quill, upside down, like in a mirror.”


Edo Murtić’s memory tells how much creativity and raw materiality is woven into the first wartime edition of “The Pit”. Its author, Ivan Goran Kovačić, born in 1913 in a Croatian village of Lukovdol, was a promising young poet, when he decided to flee the Ustaše-occupied Zagreb in 1942, together with Vladimir Nazor (1876-1949), one of the most popular Croatian writers at the time. They joined the Partisans not to save their lives, but to set an antifascist example. Goran was killed by Chetniks near Foča, BIH, in July 1943.


Goran wrote “The Pit” in January/early February 1943. It is a chilling depiction of the atrocities inflicted upon the Yugoslav populace under fascist occupation, told in the first person by the narrator who is himself the victim of one such crime. He sings of his own suffering and the suffering of his fellow victims who are being slaughtered and thrown into the titular pit, painting a scene that is often described as a modern Dante’s “Inferno”. The gruesome imagery is juxtaposed by the strict formal scheme which Goran employs: the six-line stanzas (sestinas) with their fixed rhyming schemes and eleven-syllable verse. The formal elements of the text are reflected in the rich illustrations, almost shocking in their sincere, brutal expressiveness.


The poem was read publicly on 10 February 1943 in Livno by the Zagreb actor Vjekoslav Afrić. The impression the poem left on its first audience – the wounded of the 1st Proletarian Division – must have been very strong and deep: the combination of the nightmarish content, and the harsh reality the listeners must have identified with, with the disciplined baroque form of the poem, was tremendously powerful.


Copies of the wartime edition were distributed to foreign military missions, so that, as Murtić noted, „the world becomes aware of the fact that Tito’s partisans pay special attention to culture and art.” One of them reached Picasso, who upon receiving the French translation after the war, made an illustration for the French edition. The poem has been translated to dozens of other languages, and its verses were carved into numerous monuments to the victims of fascism throughout Yugoslavia.


Lujo Parežanin and Sanja Horvatinčić


The original lyrics of “The pit” + translations into Italian and English:

Sources / Further reading

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