Vasko Popa


The Quartz Pebble

Translated by Anne Pennington

for Dušan Radić

Headless limbless
It appears
With the excitable pulse of chance
It moves
With the shameless march of time
It holds all
In its passionate
Internal embrace

A smooth white innocent torso
It smiles with the eyebrow of the moon


1. The Heart of the Quartz Pebble

They played with the pebble
The stone like any other stone
Played with them as if it had no heart

They got angry with the pebble
Smashed it in the grass
Puzzled they saw its heart

They opened the pebble’s heart
In the heart a snake
A sleeping coil without dreams

They roused the snake
The snake shot up into the heights
They ran off far away

They looked from afar
The snake coiled round the horizon
Swallowed it like an egg

They came back to the place of their game
No trace of snake or grass or bits of pebble
Nothing anywhere far around

They looked at each other they smiled
And they winked at each other


2. The Dream of the Quartz Pebble

A hand appeared out of the earth
Flung the pebble into the air

Where is the pebble
It hasn’t come back to earth
It hasn’t climbed up to heaven

What’s become of the pebble
Have the heights devoured it
Has it turned into a bird

Here is the pebble
Stubborn it has stayed in itself
Not in heaven nor in earth

It obeys itself
Amongst the worlds a world


3. The Love of the Quartz Pebble

He fell for a beautiful
A rounded blue-eyed
A frivolous endlessness

He is quite transformed
Into the white of her eye

Only she understands him
Only her embrace has
The shape of his desire
Dumb and boundless

All her shadows
He has captured in himself

He is blind in his love
And he sees
No other beauty
But her whom he loves
And who will cost him his head


4. The Adventures of the Quartz Pebble

He’s had enough of the circle
The perfect circle around him
He’s stopped short

His load is heavy
His own load inside him
He’s dropped it

His stone is hard
The stone he’s made of
He’s left it

He’s cramped in himself
In his own body
He’s come out

He’s hidden from himself
Hidden in his own shadow


5. The Secret of the Quartz Pebble

He’s filled himself with himself
Has he eaten too much of his own tough flesh
Does he feel ill

Ask him don’t be afraid
He’s not begging for bread

He’s petrified in a blissful convulsion
Is he pregnant perhaps
Will he give birth to a stone
Or a wild beast or a streak of lightning

Ask him as much as you like
Don’t expect an answer

Expect only a bump
Or a second nose or a third eye
Or who knows what


6. Two Quartz Pebbles

They look at each other dully
Two pebbles look at each other

Two sweets yesterday
On the tongue of eternity
Two stone tears today
On an eyelash of the unknown

Two flies of sand tomorrow
In the ears of deafness
Two merry dimples tomorrow
In the cheeks of day

Two victims of a little joke
A bad joke without a joker

They look at each other dully
With cold cruppers they look at each other
They talk without lips
They talk hot air

Notes on this poem

Author’s note: ‘Quartz appears in a colourless form in Yugoslavia and is found as water-worn pebbles in rivers by the sea.’

This translation was published in Vasko Popa’s Complete Poems 1953-87 (Anvil, 1997, 2011) and is updated from the version published in Modern Poetry in Translation No.1 to reflect the fact that Anne Pennington’s original translations were revised by Francis R. Jones. It is published here by permission of Carcanet Press.