The Waste Land in Croatia


In former Yugoslavia, Eliot’s reception began in the 1950s thanks to Ivan Slamnig and Antun Šoljan, two budding poets who became central 20th century Croatian authors. Dean Slavić (University of Zagreb) offers a diachronic overview of the improvements (both semantic and poetic) that the poets strove to achieve in their joint translations and in Šoljan’s final 1991 translation. He highlights their difficulties with the most obscure passages of the poem (such as “the Shakespeherian Rag” line) as well as their success in producing a Croatian translation sonorous with rhythms and rhymes. Slavić also reports of the sometimes dismissive academic responses triggered by their translations, from the 1970s onwards while pointing out the limited space Eliot’s poetry can occupy in a formerly communist country. He finally describes how Eliot’s use of dialect and everyday phrasing influenced 20th century Croatian poets like Dubravko Hovatić or Christian poet Nikola Šop.

La réception de T. S. Eliot en ex-Yougoslavie a commencé dans les années 1950 grâce à Ivan Slamnig et Antun Šoljan, deux poètes amis appelés à prendre une place centrale parmi les auteurs croates du XXe siècle. Dean Slavić (université de Zagreb) propose un éclairage diachronique des améliorations à la fois sémantiques et poétiques que les poètes ont apporté à leurs traductions communes et à la toute dernière publiée par Antun Šoljan en 1991. Il souligne les difficultés qu’ils ont rencontrées dans les passages les plus obscurs du poème (comme le vers du « Shakespeherian Rag ») ainsi que les bonheurs des rythmes et rimes qu’ils ont su trouver pour leur traduction en croate. Slavić rend également compte des réactions mitigées que leurs traductions ont suscité dans le monde universitaire croate à partir des années 1970, tout en soulignant la place limitée que la poésie d’Eliot pouvait occuper dans un ex-pays communiste. Enfin, il décrit comment l’usage qu’a fait Eliot des dialectes et du langage courant a influencé les poètes croates du XXe siècle comme Dubravko Hovatić ou le poète chrétien Nikola Šop.




This paper sets out to verify the hypothesis that there has been a constant interest of Croatian philologists and writers in the TWL, starting from the 1950s. The methods of analysis and comparison will be deployed in researching the translations, academic reactions to translations, interpretation of the very poem TWL, and echoes in the poems written by Croatian poets in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Precise evidence can be produced when the literary texts have used TWL motifs and Eliot’s main literary techniques. On the other hand, the common Christian background is the reason for the similarity of the symbols in the poetry of T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop. The same could be said for the Croatian Creationists who show similarities in respecting and preserving Christian values. The concrete motifs of the dead will be discussed.

1. Translations

First Attempts and Developments

Ivan Slamnig and Antun Šoljan published an anthology entitled The American Lyric in 1952. A Game of Chess appeared in the book, and this is the first translation of a section of the poem into Croatian. Two years later the same translators published the complete poem in the journal Circles (Krugovi). The authors themselves later said that they were sometimes carried away by free transpositions (Šoljan 1972: 341). Some of their choices might seem odd or really faulty but most of the passages are correctly translated, and the music is at certain points congenial to the original. Considering the difficulties of the source text, some of which were properly explained only at the beginning of the 21st Century, and bearing in mind the translators worked behind the Iron Curtain, without the convenience of the Internet, the translation is quite successful.

Slamnig and Šoljan improved their work in T.S. Eliot: Selected Poems, published in Sarajevo in 1962. According to Doyle, the notion of fidelity is the moral and operative heart of the translation enterprise; and it encompasses both the source language and the target language (14). The Croatian language itself is also bettered in the fifth part: stali bi – stali bismo (we would stop). The translators chose the Croatian standard pokrivajući (covering) instead of the previously used vernacular pokrivajuć’ in The Burial of the Dead. However, some words and inflections that are not standard Croatian remained in the Sarajevo version: talas instead of val (deep sea swell); and vratiju instead of vrata in What the Thunder Said.

Antun Šoljan published the anthology The Golden Book of American Poetry in 1980. TWL appeared without Eliot’s notes. Šoljan’s final cut, if I may borrow the film expression, appeared in 1991. The 1980 translation differs only in two or three details from the 1991 version. Notable are verses from the end of The Fire Sermon O Lord thou pluckest me out. The version from The Golden Book goes O Bože ti me vadiš  (O Lord you are taking me out) in Croatian. The final Šoljan version says O Lord you are saving me ( O Bože ti me spašavaš).


In 1954 Ivan Slamnig was a 24-year-old student of Croatian language and literature and an unknown poet.  However, he built a prodigious career in his later years. He was a university professor in the Department of Comparative Literature, at Zagreb University. Slamnig was widely regarded as one of the best poets of the second part of the 20th century in Croatia. His poetry is full of light humour, sometimes in the vein of John Betjeman. Slamnig achieved the highest recognition when he became an academician, i.e. a full member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

Antun Šoljan was only 22 in 1954. He was then a student of English and German, but before long he also became famous. His poetry is today present in each and every Croatian anthology. His best poems show a fine mixture of tragic and relaxed motifs, which might have been influenced by Eliot. Šoljan was also an academician.

How to Render the Meaning Correctly?

I will compare five characteristic passages from the first (1954) and the latest (1991) translation, in order to show progress in delivering the source meaning.

1) Lines 20 – 21 (…) Son of man / You cannot say or guess (…)

The 1954 translation had it Sine čovječji / To nisi u stanju saznat. If we set the translation in English, it would be: Son of man / You are not in the state to find it. “Guess” is omitted in the 1954 translation. In 1991 Šoljan offered the following version: Sine čovječji / ne znaš, i ne naslućuješ. In English, it would be: Son of man / You do not know and do not guess. The verb „ne naslućuješ“ is close to do not guess. But, the problem is the fact that the verbs „do not“  and „cannot“ have different meanings.

2) Line 128 O O O O that Shakespeherian Rag

The line caused confusion in the first translation. It is amusing to hear the Croatian O O O O ta šekspirska kapa, which means O O O O that Shakespearian cap. In 1991 Šoljan improved it to O O O O taj šekspirski šlager, O O O O that Shakespearian hit. The distorted Shakespeherian is still not present, and the translated šlager is not just the same as Rag, because there is no reference to ragtime.

3) Line 233  One of the low on whom assurance sits / As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire

Šoljan and Slamnig tried to create a rhyme in 1954. So, the lines sound in Croatian: Jedan na kome osiguranja jašu / Ko skupi šešir na milijunašu. In English, this would be One on whom insurances ride / Like an expensive hat on a millionaire.

“Insurances” are not assurance, but even Ernst Robert Curtius chose the same word in his German translation when he used Versicherung (59). The German word is at least singular. Italian translators Roberto Sanesi and Alessandro Serpieri used la sicurezza (269) and la sicumera (105), respectively. Carmen Gallo also rendered it correctly using l’impudenza (55), which might be the best choice.

The 1991 version renders the small house agent’s clerk somehow differently from the 1954 text: drski prostak kom samouzdanje paše / ko svilen cilindar nad ratnim bogatašem. If we translate it back into English, this would sound like an insolent simpleton on whom self-confidence sits (“fits”) / like a silk hat on a war profiteer.

Insurance is now improved and replaced by self-confidence (samopouzdanje). Still, Eliot’s one of the low is not necessarily an insolent simpleton, and the phrase is not present in the original. The town of Bradford – which was the centre of the wool industry, and therefore the home of some war-profiting persons during the Great War – is not mentioned in the translation.

4) Line 115  I think we are in the rats’ alley

The first translation reads rats’ alley as the rats’ tree alley. The final version reads the rats’ blind alley, which is closer to the original meaning. Translators were probably not aware of the slang used by British soldiers on the Western Front during WWI. The rat’s alley was a trench filled with corpses and rats feeding on them.

5) Lines 420 – 422 are important regarding the ambiguity of the quest’s outcome. No happy end is achieved, but the future possibilities are also not utterly ruled out: The sea was calm, your heart would have responded / Gaily, when invited, beating obedient / To controlling hands.

The first chance was missed, which does not mean there will be no other opportunities. There is no secure claim telling that the quester will be given yet another chance. The English sentence brings a mixed conditional build of past unreal conditional (would have responded) and present unreal conditional (when invited). The 1954 translation has a Croatian future tense, expressing no condition at all: tvoje će se srce pokoriti / Dragovoljno, kad ga pozovu. If translated back into English, the thought would say: Your heart will obey / Willingly when they invite it.

The 1991 translation renders English past conditional with Croatian first conditional, which does not express past: i tvoje bi se srce pokorilo means and your heart would obey. The translator should have used the Croatian second conditional: tvoje bi se srce bilo pokorilo.

In the second part of the sentence, the translation uses the future, expressed in Croatian present tense: kad ga pozovuwhen they invite it. The use of the word pokoriti, to submit, is also dubious because Eliot has shown more respect by writing responded, which could be easily rendered in Croatian with bilo odgovorilo, would have responded.

Excellent Choices

I have already pointed up that the Šoljan and Slamnig translations offered some excellent choices. Amongst them is the translation of the famous lines 199 – 201, O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter / And on her daughter / They wash their feet in soda water. Šoljan and Slamnig showed the skill in preserving both the meaning and the music, by adding extra words:

O, sjajan mjesec nad gospođom Porter brodi
i njenoj kćeri godi
pa one peru noge u soda vodi

In English it would sound like this:

O the bright moon is sailing over Mrs. Porter
And pleases her daughter
So they wash their feet in soda water.

The verb brodi, is sailing, has been added to create a rhyme with godi, pleases. The additional meaning does not betray the original.

Lines 247 – 248 Bestows one final patronising kiss, / And gropes his way, finding the stairs unlit also show an understanding of the general meaning and music in the translation. The verses from the agent and the typist passage in Šoljan’s translation sound like this:

Naposljetku, pokroviteljski je ljubi
i po neosvijetljenim stubama se gubi…

In English, it would be:

At last, he patronisingly kisses her
And disappears down the unlit stairs.

The changes are not relevant: the adjective patronising was replaced by the adverb pokroviteljski. The rest is practically the same. One could miss the meaning of the verb to grope, but the change is not really important. The Croatian translation uses assonance and alliteration in repeating the syllable /po /: naposljetku, pokroviteljski, po neosvijetljenim. The music reminds us of the original sound repetition: final, patronising, finding; and also final, finding.

There are many other examples of the translator’s skills, and I would like to mention the lines from the very beginning of the poem. The Croatian language does not allow the usage of the gerund in the context posed by the original text, so Šoljan used presents.  The verbs rađa (bears) and miješa (mixes) are related by the assonant rhyme in Croatian.

Comparing the 1954 and the final 1991 versions, it is noteworthy to observe the obvious improvements in the Croatian language. The line Shall I at least set my lands in order was rendered O da li ću barem uredit svoje zemlje? in 1954. The latest version has it Hoću li barem urediti svoje zemlje? The first choice is typical of the Serbian language in using Da li, while uredit might be the Croatian dialect. Eliot used no dialect in the discussed verse. There are other examples, such as solicitor: advokat – odvjetnik; deep sea swell: duboki morski talas duboke morske valove; April: April – travanj.

Genzler claimed the pre-deconstruction translation theories depend upon some notion of equivalence, which could encompass the same aesthetic experience, linguistic structures, literary function, and formal correlation governed by social acceptability in the target culture (cf. 145). Bearing the definition in mind, we could conclude that Šoljan improved his work through the decades.

Jozo Mršić

Jozo Mršić published his Pusta zemlja, The Waste Land, in the weekly “Hrvatsko slovo,” “Croatian Letter” in 1996. The reader of this curious text should decide whether he or she will read it as a translation or as a new work of art. If the first perception is applied, then there are too many mistakes, and the translation is lower in quality than Šoljan’s work. The latter’s apprehension of the text could be regarded as a new genre, using four components: translation, free adaptation, parody, and maybe even self-parody. In this case, the work is interesting, but it cannot be enjoyed without a good knowledge of Eliot’s poem.

Here is an example with the lines from the pub scene, or to say properly from Albert and Lil’s home: Well, that Sunday Albert was home, they had a hot gammon, /And they asked me in to dinner, to get the beauty of it hot –

Jozo Mršić transmitted to get the beauty of it hot with uveličati besmislicu. In English, it would be And they asked me into lunch, to magnify the nonsense. The author made a pun using the double meaning of the word gammon. Or, he was seduced by the double meaning, because gammon could denote smoked ham, and it could also designate nonsense. Eliot was able to express both meanings in a word, but a Croatian translator must decide.

Eliot’s lines Ganga was sunken, and the limp leaves /Waited for rain, while the black clouds /Gathered far distant, over Himavant were also challenging. Here is the Mršić choice, rendered in English: The thundering voice was silenced, and the limping man is taking a rest / Waiting for rain, from the black clouds / Gathering from the distant, over Himavant.

The Jozo Mršić text could spark a discussion regarding the well-known intentional fallacy as described by Wimsatt and Beardsley (3, 21). It is worthwhile though to recall Hirsch’s claim: “Evaluation is constantly distinguishing between the author’s intention and accomplishment.” (12). The translated text could not be assessed without measuring it against the source text. Mršić’s text posed also the question of its own intention.  When regarded as a new work of art, the text gives the reader considerable pleasure if he or she bears in mind Eliot’s TWL. Otherwise, it will appear as seriously damaged work. Robert Douglas wrote on machine translations saying there was “something in our makeup, in the human spirit if you like, that demands freedom, imaginative alternatives, and the liberty to experiment with them in the real world.” (191). TWL is a text encouraging the versatility of translation, but it also poses many hidden boundaries. One has to study not only the poem and Eliot’s complete work but also the culture and the civilizational background.

A Short Comparative Insight

A short insight into the Italian world of TWL translations could show the scarcity of Croatian renderings. The first complete Italian translation by Mario Praz appeared in 1932 (Caretti: 119).[1] Italy celebrated the 100TH anniversary of the poem with the 2021 translation by Carmen Gallo.  The latest translation, by Sara Ventroni, appeared in September 2022. The Italian language produced some fifteen complete translations, while Croatian has three translators of the complete poem.

2. Criticism of Translations

Dunja Detoni Dujmić

Dunja Detoni Dujmić submitted a Ph.D. thesis to Zagreb University in 1976. The title was English and American 20TH Century Poetry in Croatian and Serbian Translations, with a Special Emphasis on T.S. Eliot. The title stressed Eliot’s importance, putting him ahead of Yeats. The text contains harsh criticism of the Slamnig and Šoljan translations of TWL. According to Detoni, the reasons for the unsuccessful translations were of a philological nature and were caused by the poor English grammar knowledge of the young poets. The author also mentioned our undeveloped language (285). She had in mind the Croatian language of the time, or maybe even the Serbian language. Detoni however claimed Eliot’s poetry suited our demands at the level of poetic sensibility. The phrase “poetic sensibility” is very handy, but it should be specified. I think it shared a civilization based on Christianity and old Greek literature and mythology. Still, the reader must be aware of the fact that Eliot’s Anglo-American world and Croatia are different now, and the differences were even greater in Eliot’s times. We could of course point up the same roots, but England was a dominant part of the mighty British Empire, and Croatia was almost a colony inside Austro-Hungary and later on in Yugoslavia. England enjoyed a relatively free democratic system, while Croatia was tortured by different types of oppression, including both fascism and communism. Eventually, the English language became the world language in the 20th century. The Croatian language was recognized as an independent language inside Croatia only after the fall of communism in 1990. The very notion of wasteland has been different in Croatia and in England. Henry Staten said the attempt to know the cultural other would either treat this other as an object, “stripping her of her subjectivity”, or “treat it as the mirror of our own.” (113). Márta Lesznyák and Mária Bakti defined the intercultural competence of translators and interpreters as the “combination of aptitudes, knowledge, and skills necessary for an effective and appropriate linguistic mediation between members of different cultures.” (366) The poets influenced by a foreign artist, as well as critics presenting a foreign writer, should possess similar skills.

Diana Maršić

The author wrote an MA thesis entitled On Croatian Translations of T.S. Eliot’s Poems The Waste Land and The Four Quartets (2001). Maršić claims Šoljan’s translations were improved over time (69), though she noticed the same “emotional resonance” even in the first version. The author insists on grammatical accuracy, and she rightly noted the absence of the word “perilously” in the early versions – which is related to the Grail legend and the perilous chapel. Maršić lampooned Mršić’s translation, listing serious differences with the original poem.

3. Important Croatian Critics Writing on TWL

Miroslav Beker

Miroslav Beker was an adviser to Dunja Detoni Dujmić’s Ph.D. thesis. He published the paper Fifty Years of Eliot’s The Waste Land in the journal “Forum”, in 1972. His text is succinct and clear, full of information, and useful in naming such critics as Edmund Wilson and F.R. Leavis. It is probably the best Croatian introductory essay to the poem. The author’s keen sense of perception is evident from the comment in the first passage of What the Thunder Said: “Already the short lines, sometimes built by a word only, and the broken syntax and incoherent sequence of pictures, tell of the panicked state of the frenzy caused by the heat with no water.” (981) Beker also noticed hallucinations and apocalypse that characterize the parts depicting the city bursting in the air and the falling towers. Miroslav Beker praised Eliot’s concise poetry and his slices of life, portraying persons in their own settings. He stressed the value of the poem, which shows human beings in a time of deep personal crisis – which is the crisis of civilization as well (976). The author has also written on the transtemporal and temporal aspects of TWL.

Živan Filippi

Živan Filippi published the study Seven Anthropological Structures in Contemporary Literature in 1985. The book was based on his thesis submitted to the University of Zagreb in 1981. Filippi interpreted chosen postmodern works of literature based on the thematic and spatial determinants from The Waste Land.  The author described the following substructures: a) the barren rock, b) the sunbeam, c) the polluted canal, d) the mute plain, e) the dark hut, and f) the impotent ruler. He also examined the Grail quest, the feast related to the pleasures of earth, water, fire, and air, identification with animals, the acts of positive and negative magic, and the ritual killing of the divine king. Filippi discusses the named substructures from TWL calling them self-contained pictures, reducing ego to nothingness (60). Among the interpreted works are Golding’s Pincher Martin (a), Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (b), Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam (c), Beckett’s Comment C’est (d), Fowles’ The Collector (e), and Barth’s Chimera (f). The Waste Land is a poem searching for its own order, and in Filippi’s study, influenced by Jung also, it becomes a work offering order and structure to the vast panorama of postmodern literature.

Sonja Bašić

The author wrote about T.S. Eliot on several occasions, and the data are present in the Works cited. English readers could be especially interested in Bašić’s presentation of Eliot’s reception in Croatia. Though Sonja Bašić does not use accurate pieces of evidence, her generalizations regarding how the Croatian poets received Eliot’s work sound very sober: “Eliot’s work meant a turn from fierce romanticism and its degeneration into sentimental superficiality and declarative utilitarianism. He offered one of the possible strategies against populist primitivism, parochial boundedness, and pretended indigenousness. For many young writers from the 50s, Eliot represented intelligence, the integrity of art, a window through which to look into the world beyond national boundaries, intellectual discipline, the way towards necessary, ironical distance, and eventually, the way towards modern urban expression.” (1991: 10). Although her metaphors might seem a bit exaggerated, the picture presenting the Croatian attitude towards three important poets is at least interesting: Eliot is a giant, to whom Pound is only a squire, while Williams is an anonymous backstage messenger.

T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop

A Ph.D. thesis entitled A Comparative Analysis of the Divine, Human, Animal, Vegetative, and Mineral Motifs in the Poetry of T.S. Eliot and Nikola Šop was submitted to Zagreb University in the year 2000, while the book was published in 2011. Nikola Šop (1904 – 1981) was a major Croatian and distinctively Christian poet. He was completely banned during the first 10 years of Communism (1945 – 1955). Šop was not present in Croatian school books until 1991, and the collapse of Communism. Although Šop was a Roman Catholic, in his art as well as in his life, his poetry was not well received in all Catholic circles at first. The reason was the fact that he portrayed Jesus as a man, without a single trace of vulgarity – but God was also present in the depth of his person. The thesis researches and compares biblical presence in Eliot and Šop, although the two poets had, in all probability, never read each other.

Regarding TWL, and Eliot’s poetry in general, the author stressed the importance of the number five. The uncertain and nervous Eliot of 1922 might have been unaware of the Christian symbolism present in the number five, so the five-part structure could have been at that time of lesser importance to him. The converted Eliot who wrote East Coker, and especially the wounded surgeon lyrics, certainly understood the meaning of the number. The five quintains of the poem allude to Christ’s five wounds on the cross, so the five parts of each movement in The Four Quartets are not an accident. The Hollow Men and Gerontion, according to John Crowe Ransom, also have five parts (138). Raymond Preston related the five-petalled rose to the five wounds, but he did not mention either the quintains in the Good Friday lyrics or the five-part structure of each movement in the Four Quartets and in TWL (35). According to the author of the thesis, the wounded surgeon lyric is the structural heart of the whole of Eliot’s poetry. The number five is the important link connecting Eliot’s major poetical works. The information could be corroborated by the fact Eliot highly praised Dante, whose Divine Comedy is marked by the presence of the number three, and its Christian meaning.

The author of the book also tried to explain the neglected meaning of the word nothing in TWL. The word occurred six times in the notable Tom and Viv conversation. The Elizabethan meaning of the phrase “an O thing”, similar to “nothing” is also important to the passage and to the poem in general. In a work imbued with eroticism, a private part of the female body, which was the old meaning of “an O thing” (Williams: 219) could be telling also – in addition, of course, to the philosophical and theological layers of meaning.

Tomislav Brlek

Tomislav Brlek is the best Eliot scholar in Croatia. He wrote the thesis T.S. Eliot in the Context of Contemporary Literary Theory in 2006. The part on The Waste Land bears the title Wasted. Tomislav Brlek researched how the poetic voice from the poem builds its own identity. The answer was that the identity was composed of many other voices. Brlek also highlighted the hidden meaning of the poem related to the hero who is a Poet seeking his expression. The awakening “has not yet begun, except as a premonition, mixing memory and desire. The voice of the poet comes into being through the working of both of these faculties. How this voice acquires identity and what the poet will have to say once he has found it, is what the poem may be said to be „about.“ (200) Brlek did not fail to understand the importance of pain in the process of acquiring an identity and the right voice (201). The identity in TWL was not found once and for all. The Poet will continue to search for his own identity throughout the whole of the poem: “The assured manner of the first seven lines will die out having only just begun. The pattern will be abandoned as soon as it starts to be recognised as a pattern. Rhythms, dictions, and accents will continue to shift, change, and mingle, reverberating, complementing, and contrasting one another for the rest of the poem.” (201). The true hero of TWL is, therefore, a Poet whose task is to express the inexpressible (204). Brlek has seen the reader as an accomplice of the poet. He is an unknown Other, but referred to as “one I knew.” The reader is at liberty to choose for himself any of the innumerable possible interpretations but is also constrained by his own self (210).

The author also pointed up the importance of the word ‘nothing’, explaining the philosophical and linguistic meanings of the word. “For it is one single word designating all that is outside the boundaries of language, itself remaining this side of the dividing line.” (212). The troublesome word “nothing” and the experience with nothingness is common to the reader and to the Poet or Author: “But the negative capability of facing Nothing should also infest the mind of the reader if the mystery is to be unravelled.” (213). Words, says Brlek, after such knowledge, are few indeed. The complete poem seems to be a proper answer imposed by the mighty word nothing, which faced both the identity and the way of speech. The problem is similar to Heidegger’s question related to being and nothing (Seiendes / Nichts; cf. Heidegger: 6 ff.)

Tomislav Brlek edited the book The Waste Land and Other Works (Pusta zemlja i druga djela, 2009). TWL is present in the title of the book, so the key importance of the poem in the context of the complete work of the poet is stressed. The essay pointed up the complex nature of the poem and its indeterminacy regarding the dominant thought and the major theme. Deconstruction of poetical, interpretative, and epistemological hypotheses is expressed straightforwardly and directly (447). The changes in versification are explained too, with the presence of the common everyday speech with four beats in the verse and unrhymed iambic pentameter (447). The author named the jazzy rhythms, biblical verse, and hexameter as well (447). There is no dominant metrical scheme in the poem, and the scenes are often not connected. The world of TWL is defined by the absence of any “essentialist centre.” (447)

4. TWL Echoes in Croatian Poems

It is impossible to list and comment on all of the traces and possible traces of TWL in Croatian poetry in the scope of the present paper. We can provide some basic information, and Dubravko Horvatić’s poem will be discussed more in detail because is paradigmatic in the use of Eliot’s motifs and techniques.

The symbols that are at least similar in TWL and in some Croatian poems could be divided into two major classes. The first stems from the sharing of the  Christian tradition and from the intimation of the impending downfall of the West, and indeed of a particular nation. The second is partly the same as the first but accompanied by the direct presence of TWL motifs and techniques.

Dunja Detoni Dujmić also published the paper titled T.S. Eliot Amongst Us in 1976. The paper explains the influences of Eliot on the Croatian poets Slamnig, Šoljan, Golob, and Ganza. The paper researched motifs and poetical procedures possibly introduced by Eliot. Dunja Detoni emphasized everyday phrasing, imperative constructions, and the use of dialect. It is possible that the listed traces entered Croatian poems due to Eliot’s influence and were not primarily the aftermaths of the Croatian tradition. Still, everyday phrasing was present in Croatia in the poetry of Šimić or Cesarić, way before Eliot’s translations. Boro Pavlović is also important in this respect, and he might have influenced Ivan Slamnig. The dialect has been a strong mark of Croatian poetry since the beginning of the 20th century. Imperative constructions probably hit the mark regarding the 20th-century situation, although the notable Šimić poem The Warning (Opomena) uses imperatives throughout the short text.

Dubravko Horvatić

The prose poem by Dubravko Horvatić, entitled The Iron Angel, is a part of the book of poetry The Fever, published in 1960, six years after the first complete translation of TWL. The rat, the canal, the bottles, the dead being, and the vegetation motifs are common to Eliot from The Fire Sermon and to Horvatić. The use of accumulation and naming of the motifs in absentia are also recognizable common features.

An iron angel lies close to the canal, the broken bottles, and rats, the peel of an orange, close to where old barrels are rotting, close to where snipped planks are rotting; there he lies after his last flight. His wings are semi-rotten and wrinkled, and tough plants sprout through his torn throat, through the cut on his cleaved bosom. No flies, no maggots, no dog barking, just the damp, and destructive vegetation. The iron angel just lies there, after he recognized the uselessness of every flight, the unworthiness of his own smile. Here he lies, after his very self.

The iron angel could represent a great variety of objects from what was a reality in the 60s. Communism seemed to be very much alive then but was rotten as a matter of fact. Horvatić was a poet of patriotic inspiration, and Croatia was almost dead when he wrote the poem, but resurrected some 30 years later, in 1990. The patriotic stance is not overtly present in TWL, but is a remarkable element in  Horvatić’s art.

The iron angel could connote Christ, caught in a protracted state between death and resurrection. The angel from the poem could also be a crashed airplane. Ambiguity, so mightily present in TWL, finds its expression in the interpreted poem also. TWL’s motifs and techniques produced an authentically Croatian poem, which means that Eliot’s writing is capable of inspiring new and genuine works of art.

T.P. Marović

TWL influenced several Croatian poets later on, and Tonči Petrasov Marović is among them. The common procedures in TWL and in the poem Hembra (1976 in the form of a book) were explained by Tomislav Brlek in his essay from the book with Marović’s selected poems. Fragmentation and vague but still visible order marked Marović’s poem. One of the poem’s narrators even mentioned Eliot, using distorted orthography and the dialect: Nisan štila elijota, štila san galijota ( I did not read Eliot, I read a galley slave).

The Creationist Poetry Group

Croatian Creationists published their early poetry books in the mid-70s and in the 80s. Croatia was not free, and Communism seemed to be strong at the time. The most prominent members of the group were Neven Jurica, Drago Štambuk, Ivan Tolj, and Božidar Petrač. They share with Eliot a respect for the tradition and the Christian heritage. Direct quotations from Eliot are not very prominent.

Neven Jurica wrote on “adoration of monuments of human culture in all fields because the content of that culture is always the human search for the Absolute in different forms.” (Jurica 1982: 12). It is not necessary to recall the importance of the tradition for Eliot, and his Christian stance is a dominant feature of his complete work.

Eliot used the motif of hooded hoards swarming over endless plains in the fifth part of TWL. The Communist revolution was at least a part of the reason for the troubled situation. The dead body planted in the garden is a well-known motif from the first part of the poem, and symbols of death and life mark an important question in the whole of the text.

Croatian Creationists wrote when Communism was still a living danger. It was impossible to write openly about the Communists’ crimes and to have the book published in those times in Croatia. Neven Jurica used the symbols of sad corpses flying above us in his poem The Autumn Feast (1983). Ivan Tolj wrote a poem on dead victims entitled Iskopnice (1983). The word is a neologism and is hard to translate into English, but the notion is related to what was dug out.

Božidar Petrač wrote: Let us stay here / together / close to the church of Saint Mark / the only light / in the blacked-out city / while the great Snake / wishing to devour/prepares for her jump (Ovdje ostanimo / zajedno / uz crkvu svetoga Marka / jedino svjetlo / u zamračenom Gradu / dok velika Zmija / žderanja željna / sprema se na skok). The church which is an isle of light and a shelter appears in TWL in Saint Magnus the Martyr. Eliot celebrated inexplicable splendour of Ionian white and gold. Petrač’s motif of the snake is closer to the Eliot of The Rock, than to that of TWL. The poem was entitled January 24, 1991, which means it depicts the pre-war time filled with danger. The situation is somehow similar to Horvatić’s because Jurica, Tolj, and Petrač bear in mind Croatian victims also; and the danger threatening to destroy the complete nation. Eliot stressed the importance of England in The Four Quartets when his adopted homeland was in jeopardy during WWII.


Croatia got the first translation of the most important English poem of the 20th Century in 1954. The translation was improved through decades by Antun Šoljan, which means the poem remained a permanent inspiration to him. The critical responses were also prominent, producing interesting scholarly interpretations of the post-modern prose by Živan Filippi, and a first-class introduction to the actual poem by Miroslav Beker. Tomislav Brlek proved an author does not have to live in an English-speaking land to be well-informed and to deliver a fine text discussing many responses to the poem. TWL motifs are present in Croatian poems written by translators, but the best response is probably produced by Dubravko Horvatić. Not only the motifs of death and decay but the very techniques, are obviously similar. Yet the Horvatić poem is a new and fine piece of art. His iron angel has several meanings and could compete with Eliot’s motifs in the field of ambiguity. The poem depicts the Croatian situation in the 60s in an excellent manner.

Christianity is a common background in Eliot’s poetry and in the poetry of Nikola Šop, probably the best Croatian poet of Christian inspiration of all time. It is a pity nobody introduced Eliot to the great Croatian man of letters.

The similarities between Eliot and Croatian Creationists show the land had set out on the way of freedom for Christians. Yet, their language had to remain very circumspect in depictions of the numerous victims of the Communist regime.

Eliot, especially in TWL remains a vivid inspiration for literary production even after the named Creationists group – which could be the subject of some different paper.


Works cited

Bašić, Sonja: Eliot jučer i danas, Književna smotra, br. 50, 1983.

Bašić, Sonja: Thomas Stearns Eliot 1888 – 1965., in Antun Šoljan: 100 pjesnika svijeta, Mladost, Zagreb 1984.

Bašić, Sonja: Pogovor, in Antun Šoljan: T.S. Eliot Izabrane pjesme, Grafički zavod Hrvatske, Zagreb 1991.

Beker, Miroslav: Pedeset godina Eliotove Puste zemlje, Forum, 12 / 1972.

Brlek, Tomislav: T.S. Eliot in the Context of Contemporary Literary Theory, Ph.D. thesis, unpublished, Zagreb 2006.

Brlek, Tomislav: Pogovor T.S. Eliot: Kritika poezije, in T.S. Eliot: Pusta zemlja i druga djela, biblioteka Vrhovi svjetske književnosti, Školska knjiga, Zagreb 2009.

Brlek, Tomislav: ProstoRazgovor, in Strah od slova: T.P. Marović izbor iz poezije, edited by Tomislav Brlek, Hrvatsko društvo književnika, Zagreb 2014.

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[1] I am very grateful to Stefano Maria Casella who sent me the Caretti text; he also provided additional information regarding TWL in Italy.


Dean Slavić is born in Rijeka, Croatia, in 1961. He is currently teaching at The University of Zagreb in the department for Croatian language and literature. His field of interest are relations between the Bible and literature, classical works of world literature and methodology of teaching literature. Dean Slavić obtained his PhD comparing T.S. Eliot and Croatian 20TH century poet Nikola Šop, and he recently prepared the new translation of The Waste Land in Croatian, along with exhaustive commentaries.

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