Croatian writer Ivan Kozarac entered the literary scene in 1902 with his Slavjanstvo song published in Naša Sloga. During his short 8 years of active work (from 1902 to 1910) he produced sixty poems, 40 short stories and novellas, Đuka Begović novel and his autobiography. Only one book was published during his life time and that was Slavonska krv (Vinkovci, 1906). His other works including Pjesme, Izabrane pripovijetke and Đuka Begović were published posthumously in Split, Vinkovci and Zagreb respectively. The manuscript contained many unfinished texts: a diary, few dramas such as Pod noć, Sraz, Iz kobnih dana, Rane, fiction text Mrlje, outlines for future novels called Selo Korovci and Napori, several stories from the times he was a soldier and a few poems.
Since 1902, he began to publish his work in magazines using several pseudonyms such as: Ivan K. Kerepov, Vanja Kosan, Ivan Nikolajević Matski, Olgin, Novus…
He slowly entered Croatian literary scene, writing from province in extreme living and financial conditions, working as a notary since he was 13, being diagnosed with tuberculosis when he was 18 and serving as an ill man in the army for two and a half years. With all the hardships and tough living conditions, he managed in short, but very intensive time, to earn his place among Croatian’s greatest writers:
Đuka Begović novel was the height of his creative work, the best Croatian modernist novel and one of the best Croatian novels of all time;
His songs such as: Sagara Dan, Milovo sam, Da se povezemo, Iz davnih dana, Dođi, draga, Večer je, Ciganinu, Bujaju šumorne mutne vode, U mutež večernji, Umiranje III, were deemed anthological and five of them were adapted into songs;
Anthological novellas: U nagonu, Garavuša, Kukavac, Genka, Sudoperka, Gnjili…
His works were translated into Czech, Polish and Slovenian language.
Kozarac wrote poems from 1902 until he died in 1910, producing total of around 60 poems.
Život and Vesna, the two handwritten notebooks, written in Vinkovci in 1904 and 1905 respectively, contain poetical beginnings and trials of a young poet. The manuscripts are kept in Vinkovci City Library.
Ivan Kozarac was not a typical poet nor was he a part of dominant modernist Croatian poetic movement. He affirmed and legitimized himself as a poet of vitalism and decadency, a poet of passion, joy, euphoria but also a poet of exhaustion, dying and agony.
He is a true Slavonian poet with suggestive, kinesthetic plain landscapes, the poet of Slavonian street (sokak), the village intimacy and idyllic surroundings that bring tradition and Slavonia to life as a desired and appraised space of decadency. His most acclaimed love songs tell a story of young people, bećari, young pride, jogunluk, euphoria and hedonism, which makes him a poet of youth and young love.
Kozarac glorified life, joy and love, well aware of his inevitable demise due to his illness. He searched for cure in songs, kerenju i irošenju, and horse races. He found the path to everlasting freedom, freedom of movement, thought, feeling and perceiving in the dynamics and vitalism.
As a poet of decadency, exhaustion and dying he brings autumnal landscapes with grey fogs, muddy roads, foggy fields, murky waters and shows the decadent, sick, tired Slavonia and the agony of a poet who “dies seven years inch by inch.”
In me there is less and less me
I am dying, quietly, slowly
Poet of words, landscapes and life died on a rainy afternoon in the late fall. The day wept for the greatest poet and writer of Slavonia’s literary future.
SLAVONIAN ROMEO AND JULIETTE
Beautiful Marija Kozarac was a neighbor of Ivan’s from Krnjaš, the muse of his famous Milovo sam garave i plave song which was published in Savremenik on February 4th 1910 under the pseudonym Vanja Kosan.
Marija was born in Vinkovci on January 3rd 1886 by father Tomo Kozarac and mother Manda Kozarac nee Grgić. They lived in Krnjaš borough, house number 724.
The love between Ivan and Marija was forbidden because they were cousins twice removed. High school dropout, tuberculosis stricken, destitute poet/notary cousin was not a great match and the marriage was off the table. Marija married Franjo Guttman and gave birth to three daughters. She died on September 9th 1979 when she was 93 years old.
The poor poet could not afford to buy his love expensive jewels; instead he expressed his sincere and deep feelings of love by creating a poetic gem, making his love a part of one of a kind pleiad of adored women (Kantili’s Ljubica and Zuzorić’s Cvijeta) and everlasting muses of many Croatian poets.
His boyish, love or evening songs, songs of the night, of the street and the village were inspired by the customary love songs young Slavonian people sang. Songs were usually about love, they had a folk melody assimilated by bećarac (traditional song) and decasyllabic. This poetic gem was adapted by Ivo Tijardović for piano and solo singing.
Marija’s formal attire and the two glasses, a county fair gift from Ivan Kozarac, are kept as a permanent exhibit in the Ethnology department of the Vinkovci City Museum.
SLAVONIAN BLOOD NARRATIVE
In his short stories and novellas, Ivan Kozarac showed his enormous talent as both Slavonian writer and writer about Slavonia, as a temperamental storyteller, landscape impressionist, lyrical master in description, modernist in expression, narrative structurist and chain of thought hero, realist in perception and Slavonian village themes, psychologist in analysis of the human condition, critical in his observation of society, regionalist in his Slavic and original in his style, simplicity, naturalness and trueness which cannot be mimicked. He was true to himself – an author with identity.
The first storytelling experiences he ever acquired were connected to the stories told on social gatherings (divani) where boys and girls, men and women were retelling their own tales. His fiction works were a melting pot of novoštokavska ijekavica and staroštokavska ikavica (two types of Slavonian speech), but also his mother tongue, the word of “milk and cradle” as he liked to call it.
He immortalized early 20th Slavonian village and its people. He masterfully described plains, Sava landscapes, its people, their eroticism and moral, bad management of goods and wealth, struggle with new social and economic conditions after Military Border was gone and family communes disappeared, the nostalgia for the idyllic traditional life and the relationship with immigrants.
Ivan Kozarac is a great writer who writes about little people, traditional Slavonia, bećars, pusta’ija, rasulović and drunks who live their lives under their own terms and about girls and women with budding sexual desires who are using their feminine charms to gain emancipation. However, he does not judge them. Ina’s Tinka Živković, Mara Zvonar, Eva Rajtić, Genka, Kaja and Garavuša are the literary daughters of Josip Kozarac’s Tena Pavletić. He gave his protagonists strong personalities and thus confirmed the decadent Slavonia myth, the land of hedonism, corporal pleasures, wonderful songs and music, passionate singing and folk dances, kerenje and wild parties, the land of good time where people with noble dignity profligate their legacy and inheritance – tal and didovina.
ĐUKA BEGOVIĆ BEĆAR, GAZDA,
RASULOVIĆ I SPENDTHRIFT
Đuka Begović is the height of Kozarac’s work, the best novel of Croatian modernism and one of the best novels in Croatian history. It was published in Ilustrovani Obzor in 1909 and again as a whole book in 1911 in Zagreb.
Đuka Begović, bećar (a person, typically Slavonian, who likes alcohol, women and good times) is a unique character in Croatian literature. He was based on Đuka Grgić from rich Grgić family who lost all of his money and his house that was located on Grgić street (contemporary Ivan Gundulić street, number 40).
Tragic vitalism of the decadent Đuka makes him special, unique, a legendary character. He is the synthesis of all Slavonian bećars and generationally conditions vices, suppressed by military border forces and laws, a slap in the face of everything traditional and patriarchal and a legend. He is the hyperboles of living on one’s own terms, living grandiose and free.
Đuka is the stereotype of the decadent Slavonia.
Fatal bećar Đuka was a gazda (a rich and powerful man) who threw away his money on alcohol and fornication, had little regard for work or any kind of social responsibility. When we first meet him, he is strong, decisive and has great will power. However, later on he becomes powerless, desperate, suspicious, sad, angry and scared. He is in constant discrepancy between the world he has to live in and the world he wants to live in. He committed patricide, he is adulterer, spendthrift and the carrier of bad genes. He knows what he does not want, but he does not know what he wants, doing everything others would not dare to do. After life of debauchery he lost everything and became a homeless enigma.
You people who talk, talk just for the sake of talking
And me, I talk what I talk – I talk out of necessity, heart, life!
Ivan’s identity stronghold is in the “words of milk and cradle”, the archaic Slavonian speech, indigenous Croatian Catholic people’s speech, in Slavonian dialect as the oldest dialect belonging to the Štokavsko speech. Since this dialect treasures heritage of the past, we hold it in a special regard and feel the connection to the speech of our ancestors every time we hear it.
His language/speech sensibility and identity confirms that the best way to describe the traditional culture and life of Slavonia is by expressing it through indigenous, authentic, organic idiom so well known in Slavonian rurality. His work contains two Štokavski idioms in contact: standard idiom and organic/non-standard/colloquial idiom, novoštokavština and staroštokavština, the standard ijekavski speech and štokavski ikavski speech. Šokački speech is used in auto portraits and identification of Ivan’s protagonists. Identity is felt through divan cause divaniti means to be true to yourself – Slavonian in Slavonia, with Slavonian speech, speech right on the border of the East and the West, bastion of Croatian language, a fort of Slavonian word. His protagonists talk the way people from Sava valley talk. The dialect has a special melody, long, crooked fifth accent, Sava valley ace, the soul of Sava valley speech.
His relationship towards organic idiom legitimates Ivan as a modernist writer who puts special value on literature written in dialects. Ivan Kozarac is the father of the literary Slavonian dialect and štaroštokavska ikavica, just as Matoš is a father of kajkavski dialect and Nazor is the father of čakavski dialect.
Kozarac junior writes with words of milk and cradle thus ensuring their literary future now and forever.
Ivan Kozarac has been a part of Croatian literary criticism since 1906. Various criticisms referring to this work has about 200 bibliographic units.
"Poor man…Late Kozarac was a true border man and a true Slavonian. Beautiful as a Slavonian lady snaša, sick as Slavonia itself and with him died the best author of the future."
Antun Gustav Matoš
"Plebeian, commoner, whose gift was far superior to those aristocratic and excellent voice of Croatian literature such as Mažurani, Šenoa, Vojnivić, Miletić, Domjanić and Gjalski. Novak and Leskovar, elementary school teachers, sans-culottes Matoš and corporal Kozarac junior, each of them is worth more than all the others mentioned above."
"One needs to be a red-blooded man to live a grandiose life. That is exactly what Kozarac was. His whole being, his blood and his heart screamed against tepidity and darkness and as long as we have writers like these, we will have our literary future, turning points, novelty and progress. As long as we have such a resilient man, a wonderful orator, we will also have an honest, strong and free Croatia.
Ivan Kozarac’s writing can be honestly referred to as writing in blood, steaming from his sentences, breaking on every page, gushing from every shout, black, thick, hot as lava.
Character! The first word that comes to mind when talking about Ivan Kozarac."
Ivan Goran Kovačić
"In the rural Sava valley, in that endless plain – a light spirit of a young literary auto didactic came to these fundamental revelations by observing himself and his society: If one is led in life by brain, one only scrapes, if one is led by heart, one truly lives.
First class literature of a single class Ivan Kozarac is one of the biggest examples supporting the maxim that true artists can learn anything aside from feelings – a force conceived in almost anarchic freedom of human senses."
Diary by Ivan Kozarac, manuscript:
November 2nd, 1910.
I am lying in this bed for 25 weeks. So: 175 days! That is a lot. So much boredom, struggle and envy, especially to those healthy ones who walk, eat with appetite, sleep well. My whole day is sad and lonely and since the fall is in its full swing, the leaves also fall and deaden the road – It is almost unbearable to look through windows, to watch the muddy road, foggy fields, murky spring. But one has to do something, look at something. One cannot keep one’s eyes closed all the time. Death, I am not afraid to mention it, is lurking around my bed…
A sad time has come
Sun is smiling, and
I am laying in my bed
Between these four walls
Cannot laugh, cannot be, cannot get ahead
All around me, in valley and in vale
Life is budding and the sun is shining
And my bed is also, well, I guess the bed is also whining
Dawns are breaking – stunning as they are,
Each day better than before,
There’s no more me in my feeble body,
Meeting death is all I can hope for – – –
dr. sc. Anica Bilić