VLADIMIR LEVCHEV Poetry in English

Video from Griffis Art Center, New London, CT:

Books, published in the USA:
The Refugee, 2011
The Rainbow Mason, 2005
Heavenly Balkans, 2002
Black Book of the Endangered Species, 2000 
(electronic version : the present edition is published by permission of Word Works' Board of Directors. LiterNet is grateful to Karren Alenier, President of The Word Works of Washington, DC. Most of the poems in this book were translated from Bulgarian by Henry Taylor with the author.)
Leaves from the Dry Tree, 1996 ( out of print)

Here are some poems from my latest Bulgarian poetry book "Любов на площада" (Scalino publ., 2014)
 It is a collection of  44 love and political poems, which I have written in the past 35 years. You can read 22 of them in English.



translated from the Bulgarian  
by the author, Henry Taylor, Alicia Ostriker and Carolyne Forche


When I was young
I had a dream of walking on the street and realizing
I’m naked from the waist down:
shoot at me glances
and I die of shame…
or it suddenly dawns on me
I am late for school
a whole day… a year… many years
and I won’t be able to graduate…
or Evil chases me
in the square
and my legs soften,
tied up like my tongue …

The good dream also has happened to me:
I am naked in the public square
but I wave the shame away —
the weight falls off my heart —
I shovel the air and swim —
sweet and slow —
I rise
above all passers-by and flower beds —
I love them! —
I fly in the May air
naked and free
like a seagull —
naked and free
like the soul after death.


translated by the author


                                For T.


I am alone
in the empty room of my heart
waiting for the last train
at midnight.


You are alone
in your family home.
The sheets are folded neatly
in the white dresser.
Every day, every hour
has its drawer.
it smells of pine trees and waterfalls,
harbors under the sunset
and April storms.

It is silent and while in your room.


We meet in the station waiting room.
We are naked
under the clock and the stars.
We make love.

We meet in the station waiting room.
you go home
and I am at home.


translated by the author

                    For Athinula

An unhappy man
cannot be a poet
                 Branko Miljkovic

The storm is near.
I can see white continents drifting
through the dark sky — oceans 
opening to engulf
            moon mountains.
I can see the thoughts 
floating on your face — 
            they smile
and watch me intently.
I can see the wonders of the world

The world is a map
of Spiritus Mundi:
it constantly changes.

The serpent of the universe twitches
with its lustrous lunar body  
it opens its mouth like a rose 
in you
to bite in me
           its swelling tail.

A lightning flashes through our bodies
           and the ancient flood is gushing:

so the circle must be closed —
we are one.


translated by the author

                In memory of Tsvetana Athinula Panitsidou

We swam naked out of the pond,
and the pond flew into our senses.
We climbed up the afternoon slope
and the chill inflamed our bodies.

Down the road I saw us walking.
But the road was leading inside me.
That bonfire was not only smoke:
the stars still singe me as I fall asleep.

On a damp sheet on an old bed
I entered your dream that evening.
But now it pulses on my forehead,
making love to my naked soul.

The desk and the lamp –a circle of light
in a churning creek, in the mountains. . . .
A scent of pine and snow and menace
and, down below, a blue dusk prowling.

The withered summer breathеs from the grass.
The grass smells sweetest when freshly mown.
After we looked into the dark space
the blue sky seemed warmer and closer.

The moon is mute and red, resembling
a widening wound in the dark.
Life is open, it bleeds and drains.
Only the death of the world is eternal.


translated by the author with Henry Taylor


You are beautiful
like a sea in the warm fall:
the ripe quince of the sun,
the horizon swimming with haze.
Your movements are shadows
on the flaming sand. . .
You are beautiful.
And a swift smile passes:
the shadow of a gull on the water.

You take possession of me
like the solitude of white dunes
under the thorns, the wind, the sunset.
You take possession of me
like the calm instant before sleep:
like a ride in a stroller
under the golden poplar trees of the first year.
You are untouchable, like yesterday.
(Now that dreams rush on and startle me:
a swelling sea in the cold night.)
You are untouchable like the past
of the man without a future.

Nothing else is left for me,
but to imagine we are together
and kiss you in the cold
under the solitude of stars.

I love you,
because you do not exist.


translated by the author with Henry Taylor 

                    For M.

Like a drowning man
I embrace you.
I turn to you in the dark
аs a sunflower
тurns toward a lighted match.
I am speaking to you
as the lone tree in a long night
speaks to the wind.
It is cold
And you are only a dream…
The One I love
is not here.
I embrace you,
because you are
His shadow in everything:
You are the great absence
in the world.

translated by the author with Henry Taylor


Is a flower quite insidious and rare.
It fails in the hands of biologists
who pick
or plant it.
Hypnotic, the wind brings it from nowhere
and sows it in the corn.
Watchful farmers weed it out,
disturbed by their premonitions.

But the careless ones pay no attention.
It grows and ravages their fields;
steals forth, lays siege to the houses
and they fall; it slips into dreams,
suffocates the dreamers  – debases them –
and so they laugh,
insisting they're happy.

It can even crack open their skulls
and blossom fire into the sky.

It's an insidious creature:
subtle as everything so tender and fugitive.
It wakens quietly and multiplies in Death's bones and brain
and lungs – it spurts metastases
so incurably alive.

And it is contagious:
latent as sadness in the eyes
of a yearning woman,
in the eyes of a lonely man,
or in their bodies:
hidden like sorrow, gathering, abiding,
until such time as its victims writhe
with fever and laughter.
It is desperate, ravenous:
feeding on everything, transfiguring
what it eats, consuming foul slums
and turning them into new worlds.
It swallows banks and factories,
converting them to children's laughter.
It swallows loneliness  –
which becomes the voice of God.
It swallows sick bodies
and turns them into stellar music.
It consumes minds
and they become nights lit up by crickets.
It engulfs all anguish
and engenders a galaxy of love
violently opening in the dark ...
And in the end the Flower
will be the end of the earth.
It will open its sweet maw of fire
and swallow the unwell world
to become its meaning.


 translated by Carolyn Forche

                            In memory of Danila Stoyanova (1962-1984)

In the hurricane, amidst the stubble
the bright bluebell, nothing’s eye,
is too small for the lightning to strike.
The sycamores, red-hot, hiss in the rain,
a bolt strikes the field, rocks are scalded. . . .
Unable to take cover, the flower stands watch
and at last becomes the blue sky.

Sky – short-lived and fragile flower,
brightened by magnetic storms,
breathing in the darkness, blue atop green,
it flickers, blooms, fades,
beholds the death of stars.
In the horror of the dark cosmos
who blew in the seed of the sky?

Who loves all fleeting things –
a ray of sun, each conception,
the history of the earth itself?
He could be as small as the tear
that brims in your eye
in the storms of constant parting:
a flashing beacon in the sea of death.


translated by the author with Henry Taylor


There are three ways to make poetry:
with your mouth
            when you kiss an icon,
with your hand
           when you stretch it to the fallen in the mud,
or with that
            which unites two lovers in the bed.

"Poetry is made in bed like love,"
              says Andre Breton.

Those who make
art for the sake of art
kiss themselves,
shake their own hand for goodnight,
and go to bed alone
in the cold bed.

I pity them!
My icon, my world and my bed
are in your room.


translated by the author


The postmodern is old-fashioned and boring. The modern, with its slogan L’art pour l’art, although not so boring, is also old-fashioned.

Art must have a mission. It must announce: the way Gabriel announced the good news to Mary.

Art must annunciate, not just enunciate. It must display, not just say. It must conspire and  inspire. It must defy and smile, even in front of the firing squad. It must hug and kiss, and make love to the people in the square.

Art is not a merchandise, and it is not just a game. It is not a game of hide and sick, but a ritual: A message from the other world.

translated by the author

I N  T H E    S Q U A R E


A southern sea and trees
white with cement dust.
Sweating concrete buildings
turned green.
Novorosiysk is proud
of its ugly monument to the perished heroes
of a senseless troop landing.

The city resembles
that young wrinkled widow
in torn stockings,
a dressing gown and slippers,
who walks the boulevard and stares at the tourists.

She knows
it is no good to be pitied.
And she does not want to be pitied.
But she hopes to embarrass.

Novorosiysk, USSR, 1989

translated by the author with Alicia Ostriker


                            For Ismail Kadare

For millennia we have quarreled,
for millennia we have built and demolished
the Balkan bridge
(over the Drina,
over the Danube,
over  the Ujana e Keqe
in Albania) . . .

For millennia we have asked ourselves:
Where is the Golden City –– East
or West?
Where is the real Prophet?
And what will be our profit
from that bridge
between the Sunrise and the Sunset?

With knifes in our teeth,
we have asked ourselves:
Is it true that living people,
our people,
have been immured
to make the bridge stronger?

For millennia we have quarreled, and fought,
died and killed,
built and demolished . . . 

the airlines were invented. 
Today no traveler can see
our ancient bridge.


translated by the author with Alicia Ostriker


We are the soldiers of king Samuil
blinded by Basil,
the emperor of Constantinople.
We are fifteen thousand men.
One in every ten of us
has one eye to lead us.
We hold hands, walk and trip,
like a ring dance
from horizon to horizon
under the light of the sunset.
We were returning home
to our king Samuil.
The king saw us
and died of a heart attack.
But we didn't see him.
So we continue our dance
barefooted in wild forests,
on the embers of camp fires,
sliding on frozen lakes
under the cold sharp constellations . . .
We are dancing towards a new millennium
and all we can see
in our future
is our past.


translated by the author with Henry Taylor


“No man is an island entire of itself. . .”
We all live in Manhattan. . .
At 8:45 in the morning
I was walking downtown.
The streets went murky, the towers stood bright,
the House was deserted, the wind slammed a door. . .
A radio kept singing: “Downtown, downtown. . .”
Then I saw the tower of the world,
the sunny double tower.
And I saw the airplane hijacked by a dream,
I saw the swift shadow of the Unconscious,
I saw the archangel of Death
sink in the mirror,
sink in the sunny high tower
downtown. . .
Then the blast of bad dreams. . .
Then the late summer snow
of a million silenced letters and pictures,
the delicate snow of memories
pouring over the world. . .

“Flood-tide below me! I see you  face to face!
Clouds of the West – sun there half an hour high – I see you also     face to face. . .
Stand up, tall masts of Mannahatta! stand up, beautiful hills of       Brooklyn!”
. . . a snow of letters, pictures and shoes
falling, falling on Mannahatta.

Then I saw the black wall,
the hundred and ten storied wall of depression
approaching on the narrow streets,
midnight approaching at noon
I met the midnight of global madness. . .
“. . . if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me. . .”
Then the night passed away and I saw
Durer’s St. Anne with swollen big eyes
in a nurse’s green dress
walking through the rubble,
through dusty asbestos ambulances and wind. . .
I saw the faces of the dead and the faces of the living
walking together downtown.
I saw the faces of the world.
I saw your faces.
“And death shall have no Dominion.” 


written in English

                       For Raina

It's been like in those dreams:
you are at the beach,
in August, in high school,
green airy waves and laughter
of girls and seagulls.
And the snow begins to fall:
slow letters and shirts
from a heavenly explosion.
And the smiling faces
of teachers and kids
morph into monsters.
Later black kites and ravens
fly by low
over the leaden ocean.
And you realize
that your dream has come true:
you have grown up.
And you can't wake up anymore
in that warm
other country.

Washington, DC,  9/11/2006  
written in English  


When a poor man begs at the door
it is a shame.
When the rich man’s company begs on the phone
it is commercial strategy.

If a poor man sends someone
to kill his neighbor,
this is a terrible crime.
If the President sends his troops
to kill some of the neighbors,
this is patriotism.

The rich man can buy himself a senator.
A poor man can buy himself
the newspaper of the rich man
and read about the senator.

Yes, the rich kid goes to law school.
Yes, the poor kid
sells drugs in the alley.
Justice for all.

Washington, DC,  2006  

translated by the author with Alicia Ostriker                        


The dark blood of the late sun
slips in under the bars
of your kitchen window.
The backyard smells of pot and rat.
You hear gunshots.
You are free!
You are free to buy a gun,
and even shoot yourself.
You are free to watch television the whole day
and drink warm Bud
waiting for the eviction notice.
Yes, you are free
to buy that million dollar home on the screen
with the surreal blue sky
and the green lawn with the kids.
Or at least you are free to dream.
You are free
to apply for all the great jobs on earth
that you will never get,
because of bad color or bad karma.

Yes, you are free, brother!
You are free to dream the boldest dreams
alone, under the stars, or under the rain.

Washington, DC,  2006     
translated by the author with Alicia Ostriker


In the moonless night
above the meadows
the wind scatters
empty plastic bags.
They appear like ghost.
But they are soulless organic bodies.
They never rot. 

Is this a prophet dream
of the immortality of human kind?

Bulgaria, 2008

translated by the author


…What?! The dead are resurrected? We are the witnesses:
The eternal rulers move to new excavations.
The Blachernae palace stands alive again in Istanbul
five centuries after the fall of the Byzantine Empire.
Dark princesses wander in rotten galleries…
Naked like his ancestors, in shoes of ancient dust,
one sleeps on oakum in the celestial hall,
adorned in ruby leprosy …
Empires grow, bloom and fall like people.
Only the kings of universal fatigue are immortal.

The kings of fatigue are always born the same –
they rush to affluent empires and make lame
the brain clogged with projects… Hectic prophets:
They observe with a smile the new Sheraton Hotel – 
this concrete bastion is also doomed,
with its darkened windows shining in the dusk…
Like music, the mobs rush diminished by hunger  — 
delirious light in the perplexed brain of a genius.
(Among them is father Gandhi – undressed like a beggar.)
Oh, beggars, you are the allies of the prophets!

Heraldic termites, dream of the rotten planet,
if anyone’s, let the poet be yours!
In your eyes of sunset this world burns…
Locked in your miserable black flesh 
the Sky is waiting for its stardom.
No one in this world can conquer you:
you store no treasures on earth 
“where moths and rust corrupt.”
Dictators and tycoons anxiously watch you…
You are the rulers of hope on earth!

Istanbul,  1987

translated by Yuliyana Todorova with the author


           Mother, should I trust the government? 
                                             Pink Floyd

We asked  the wall:
How is it possible for socialists and ethnic Turks to be in coalition with neo-Nazis who hate minorities?
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
How is it possible for Bulgarian patriots to wish that Bulgaria exits the European Union and enters Russian Eurasia?
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why those who were supposed to save Bulgaria from corruption and the mafia tried to give away National security to an oligarch who owns the media? 
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why those who were supposed to save Bulgaria from corruption and the mafia go on appointing to government positions people investigated for corruption and ties with the mafia? 
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why the socialists, who claim that they defend the poor, didn’t do anything for the poor, while in power during two thirds of the last 25 years?
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why the Socialist Party which claims it is not Communist anymore, never condemned the concentration camps, the murders, and all the crimes of Communism?
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why the National Assembly is being guarded from the nation with armored vehicles and heavily armed police?
It did not respond.

We asked the wall:
Why don’t you ever respond when we ask you questions?
It did not respond.

The wall can’t talk.
(Although some, like the Berlin wall, could shoot.)
The wall responds only
when people ask it with hammers.

*On August 31, 2013, while the protests against the government of Oresharsky were going on for months, during his concert in Sofia, Roger Waters wrote with Bulgarian letters on the wall: Resign!



The Devil is the difference between us.
The Devil is the secret
everyone knows about himself.

God is something we have in common.
God is what we don’t know.

translated by the author


This street towards the sunset
shines like a string in the grass.
The next one is in the shadow
of a concrete building —
windows lit up…
If you take the right street
in twenty years you will be the granddad
of two kids.
If you take the left one —
a tipper truck will run you over in a minute.

And if you continue, 
among how many dirty intersections
you will have to chose —
eyes closed,
at the spring wind in January?

The most reliable GPS is your intuition.
But you don’t really know
where you are going…

The street is slippery, the cold is bitter,
your fingers bleeding on the string…
Sleet, solitude and litter…
Not one perfect thing!…

Then what is left for you,
but to believe that in Paradise
all strings sound together…

Do you sometimes here
forgotten music coming from a window
against the sunset?
Do you sometimes hear 
the divine music?


 translated by the author


God is something very small
and transient.
It trembles inside us.
Outside is death.

*      *       *

But if a man sings out
when stood against the wall,
is he not greater than death?

For is not man
stood against the wall?

Let him sing!


translated by the author with Henry Taylor

Here is the whole book Любов на площада (Love in the Square, Amore in Piazza) in Italian translation:


Here is the book in Macedonian translation:

And here are some of the poems translated in German:

                *                        *                          *

Here are two poems from Painless Poetryа poetry textbook edited by Mary Elizabeth, and published  by Barron’s in the USА ( the second edition came out in 2011). The first poem, Hen and Egg is my own, translated into English by the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Henry Taylor, and the second one is my translation into English of  “Mirror”, a poem by the famous Bulgarian poet Atanas Dalchev. I am publishing here both the English and the Bulgarian version of the two poems.

Vladimir Levchev


The hen has hatched
She leads her chicks
down by the river.
Suddenly they jump in
and they swim.
The hen flutters and clucks
in terror by the river.

At night you walk on water,
or sink in a bog,
or jump from the 15th floor
sweating, terrified by your own self.

What you are in your dream
is not yours.
It jumps in the river and swims away
talking in an unknown language.

Владимир Левчев


Кокошката е измътила
гъши яйца.
Води своите пиленца
покрай реката.
Изведнъж те скачат вътре
и плуват.
Кокошката пърха и кудкудяка
в ужас наоколо. . .

Ти ходиш нощем по водата,
или затъваш в блато,
или се хвърляш от петнайстия етаж  –
потен, ужасен от себе си.

Това което си в съня си
не ти пртинадлежи.
То скача в реката и отплува,
бърборейки на чужд език.

Atanas Dalchev


You've been expecting it for many years,
but the miracle is here every hour.
Look at the mover passing by your house
with a heavy mirror!
As he walks, the streets, the buildings,
and the fences zoom,
people come up from the shining bottom,
cars fly out in rage like birds from a cage.
Town squares and trees begin to sway,
roofs and balconies fall down,
blue skies flash. . .
You don't need to wonder why the mover
stoops and makes so slowly every step:
He is holding in his human hands
a new and amazing world.


Атанас Далчев

Ти го чакаш от години цяли -
чудото дохожда всеки час.
Виж хамалина пред нас,
който носи огледало.
Той върви. И в огледалото израстват
улици, къщя, стобори,
а от дъното му светло идат хора
и като от клетка птици автомобили изхвръкват бясно.
В миг разлюшкват се площади:
стрехи и балкони падат.
Блясват сини небеса.
Ти не се учудвай, че хамалинът
е приведен и върви едва!
Носи той в ръцете си човешки цял един
нов и дивен свят.

1937 г.

         My poem has been published in two of my American books, Black Book of the Endangered Species (1999) and The Refugee (2011).


   From the back cover of the book:

“Vladimir Levchev’s work has been for several decades an important poetic bridge between Bulgaria and the US. This book will surely strengthen that reach.”
                                                           —Elizabeth Kostova,  
bestselling author of "The Historian"&"The Swan Thieves"

“These spare, beautiful poems—so imaginatively rich and expertly distilled—vibrate with a restless brilliance, reminding us, as Levchev writes in The Refugee, that ‘every minute/ has its secret corridors/ leading to dark rooms.’ Reading them, I felt as if I could hear the silences from which they are made now begin to gather themselves into these true and necessary words.”
                         —Richard McCann,
 author of “Mother of Sorrows”

“Vladimir Levchev’s poetry: An original voice, wise beyond its years. A dark vision, but beautiful all the same.”
—The late William Meredith,
Poet Laureate of the United States
“His poetry is a place you’ll never want to leave. We are in the presence of a large spirit who writes in the greatest tradition of European masters. The world of literature is lucky to have him.”
                                                                                                                                                          —Grace Cavalieri,                                     Prooducer/Host "The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress”



Every minute
has its countless cities
and skies,
briefly illuminated clouds,
windows lit by the sunset. . . .
Every minute
has its secret corridors
leading to dark rooms.

Who lives there?
What would we have said to each other?
How would we have lived there?
I don’t know.

Every minute I pass
endless doors
to eternal life. . . .


My soul,
we have guilty knowledge
of our loneliness, of the end.
And our guilt keeps us
from Paradise.
The clock is that cherub
with  two swards 
which guards
the paths of minutes
we might have traveled
to Eternity.



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