Have I squirreled this beloved poem away, hoarding it only for myself? I mention poetry and poems, especially favorites, so often but have seemingly never mentioned this one from Vesna Parun. And it should indeed be felt, read, experience, shared. I fell in love with it when I was wandering through one of the most awkward periods of my life – early university. Feeling invisible and out of place in a way I had not since I was maybe five years old, I was clinging to emotional, often overwrought, poetry that embodied what I can only call self-pitying lamentations. This certainly falls into that category, but its pitiful mourning is beautiful regardless of its tone of dejected retreat. It reminds me not to trivialize what I felt, what I currently feel and, most of all, what others feel.

First encountered in the translation (ugh – we know how I feel about that) in the pre-internet era, I searched for some time and finally found the original Croatian when I went to Croatia for the first time in the latter half of the 1990s. It has long been what I do in foreign cities: seek out poems in their original language(s) and/or purchase anthologies of local poetry. Perhaps it was this time, locating this long-loved poem, falling in love with the dual harshness and beauty of Zagreb, that felt most triumphant.

You Whose Hands Are More Innocent than Mine
-Vesna Parun
You whose hands are more innocent than mine
and you who are as wise as detachment.
You who can read his forehead
and know his solitudes better than I,
and you who remove the slow shadows
of indecision from his face
as the spring wind removes
the shadows of clouds floating above the hills.

If your embrace encourages his heart
and your thighs abate pain,
if your name eases
his thoughts, and your throat
shades his bedside,
and the night of your voice is the orchard
still untouched by storms.

Then stay beside him
and be more pious than those
who have loved him before you.
Fear the echo that encroaches
the harmless beds of love.
And be gentle to his dream
beneath the unseen mountain
on the rim of the sea that roars.

Stroll on his strand. Let the sad
dolphins come to meet you.
Roam in his forest. The friendly lizards
will not harm you
And the thirsty snakes that I tamed
will be humble before you.

Let the birds that I have warmed
during nights of sharp frost sing for you.
Let the boy that I protected
along deserted roads caress you.
Let the flowers that I watered
with my tears be fragrant for you.

I do not await the best years
of his manhood. His fecundity
I will never receive between my breasts
that have been ravaged by the glances
of herdsmen at fairs
and lecherous thieves.

I will never lead his children
by the hand. And the stories
I so long ago prepared for them,
perhaps I will tell them tearfully
to the poor little bears
left behind in the black forest.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine,
be gentle to his dream
that has remained so unaffected.
But allow me to see
his face, before the unknown years
descend on him.
And give me news of him now and again,
so that I will not have to ask strangers
who wonder at my boldness, and
neighbors who pity my persistence.

You whose hands are more innocent than mine
stay by his bedside
and be gentle to his dream.

Original version in Croatian
Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih
i koja si mudra kao bezbriznost.
Ti koja umijes s njegova cela citati
bolje od mene njegovu samocu,
i koja otklanjas spore sjenke
kolebanja s njegova lica
kao sto proljetni vjetar otklanja
sjene oblaka koje plove nad brijegom.

Ako tvoj zagrljaj hrabri srce
i tvoja bedra zaustavljaju bol,
ako je tvoje ime pocinak
njegovim mislima, i tvoje grlo
hladovina njegovu lezaju,
i noc tvojega glasa vocnjak
jos nedirnut olujama.

Onda ostani pokraj njega
i budi poboznija od sviju
koje su ga ljubile prije tebe.
Boj se jeka sto se priblizuju
neduznim posteljama ljubavi.
I blaga budi njegovu snu,
pod nevidljivom planinom
na rubu mora koje huci.

Seci njegovim zalom. Neka te susrecu
ozaloscene pliskavice.
Tumaraj njegovom sumom. Prijazni gusteri
nece ti uciniti zla.
I zedne zmije koje ja ukrotih
pred tobom ce biti ponizne.

Neka ti pjevaju ptice koje ja ogrijah
u nocima ostrih mrazova.
Neka te miluje djecak kojega zastitih
od uhoda na pustom drumu.
Neka ti mirise cvijece koje ja zalijevah
svojim suzama.

Ja ne docekah najljepse doba
njegove muskosti. Njegovu plodnost
ne primih u svoja njedra
koja su pustosili pogledi
gonica stoke na sajmovima
i pohlepnih razbojnika.

Ja necu nikada voditi za ruku
njegovu djecu. I price
koje za njih davno pripremih
mozda cu ispricati placuci
malim ubogim medvjedima
ostavljenim u crnoj sumi.

Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih,
budi blaga njegovu snu
koji je ostao bezazlen.
Ali mi dopusti da vidim
njegovo lice, dok na njega budu
silazile nepoznate godine.

I reci mi katkad nesto o njemu,
da ne moram pitati strance
koji mi se cude, i susjede
koji zale moju strpljivost.

Ti koja imas nevinije ruke od mojih,
ostani kraj njegova uzglavlja
i budi blaga njegovu snu!

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