Bagryana, Elisaveta (1893–1991)

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Bagryana, Elisaveta (1893–1991)

Bulgarian poet who became her nation's most popular female poet in the post World War I era. Name variations: Yelisaveta Bagryana, Elizaveta Bagriana; (real name) Elisaveta Lyubomirova Belcheva Likov. Born Elisaveta Lyubomirova Belcheva on April 16, 1893, in Sofia, Bulgaria; died on March 23, 1991; daughter of Maria and Lyubomir Belchev; educated at the University of Sofia; married Ivan Shapkarev, in 1919 (divorced 1925); married Aleksandur Likov, in 1944 (died 1954); children: (first marriage) son Lyubomir (b. 1919).

Selected works:

Vechnata i svyatata (The Eternal and the Sacred) (1927); Zvezda ne moryaka (The Mariner's Star) (1932); Pet zvezdi (Five Stars) (1953); Ot bryag do bryag (From Shore to Shore) (1963); Counterpoint (1970).

Bulgarian native Elisaveta Bagryana was a world traveler and romantic who claimed "a husband in every country." Renowned for her international affairs, she was in fact a woman whose greatest loves slipped away before they had had much time to mature. Projecting the image of an explorer, she was most praised in Bulgaria for her visions of her homeland, its traditions and its peasant life, and earned a place as one of Bulgaria's greatest poets.

Elisaveta was the firstborn of Maria and Lyubomir Belchev's seven children. The family moved among small villages following Lyubomir's work. Attending schools in Sliven and Veliko Turnovo, Elisaveta graduated from a Sofia high school in 1910. After one year teaching in the village of Autanè, she enrolled at the University of Sofia where she studied Slavonic philology. But Bagryana was filled with a passion for both reading and writing poetry, which had seen its beginnings in her adolescence.

Can you restrain me then—I'm self-willed, wandering, free—true sister of the wind, of the water, of the wine, lured on to boundless spaces, to what cannot yet be reached, dreaming always of those pathways ungained and still untried—can you restrain me now?

—Elisaveta Bagryana, Elements

Poet Yordan Yovkov, who first encouraged her to publish, guided two of her poems to press in 1915. A noted perfectionist, Bagryana did not enjoy seeing her work in print and withdrew again to high school teaching. Her working-class roots have been credited for helping her develop a keen eye for realistic, traditional life, a vision which would later win her a faithful Bulgarian readership. In 1919, Bagryana married army captain Ivan Shapkarev, the son of Bulgaria's famous folklorist Kuyman Shapkarev; that same year, their own son was born. She started writing regularly and, in October of 1922, first published under the pseudonym Elisaveta Bagryana. The marriage soon soured. By the time of her divorce in April of 1925, her work was coming to national and European attention.

While Bagryana's popularity rose, her productivity decreased as she dedicated herself to writer Boyan Penev, her former teacher and constant companion, who was already married. After a three-year, open relationship, Penev died suddenly in June 1927. Bagryana resumed writing and before year's end released her first volume of poetry The Eternal and the Sacred, one of the most celebrated collections in Bulgarian poetry.

Ostensibly promoting her work, she fled to France and Italy for two years. On her return to Bulgaria in 1929, she secured a lifetime arrangement with publisher Khemus which assured her a monthly stipend. Back to the rails, she crisscrossed the Continent for another decade before meeting and marrying publicist and critic Aleksandur Likov. During World War II, they were in their home in Sofia when a bomb demolished the house. Though both escaped, fire destroyed most of Bagryana's personal papers. After ten years of marriage, Likov died, and Bagryana once again took to traveling, roaming well into her 80s. She died at age 98 in 1973. Her work has been translated and published internationally.

suggested reading:

Bagryana, Elisaveta, and Peter Dinekov. Ten Poems. Sofia: Sofia Press, 1970.

Crista Martin , freelance writer, Boston, Massachusetts