Desanka Maksimović

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Desanka Maksimović
Desanka maksimovic.jpg
Born16 May 1898
Rabrovica, Valjevo, Kingdom of Serbia
Died11 February 1993(1993-02-11) (aged 94)
Belgrade, FR Yugoslavia
OccupationPoet • writer • translator
Alma mater University of Belgrade
University of Paris
SpouseSergej Slastikov (1933–1970)

Desanka Maksimović (Serbian Cyrillic : Десанка Максимовић, pronounced  [děsaːŋka maksǐmoʋitɕ, - mǎː-]; 16 May 1898 – 11 February 1993) was a Serbian poet, writer and translator. Her first works were published in the literary journal Misao in 1920, while she was studying at the University of Belgrade. Within a few years, her poems appeared in the Srpski knjizevni glasnik (Serbian Literary Herald), Belgrade's most influential literary publication. In 1925, Maksimović earned a French Government scholarship for a year's study at the University of Paris. Upon her return, she was appointed a professor at Belgrade's elite First High School for Girls, a position she would hold continuously until World War II.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the Cyrillic script for Serbo-Croatian, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two alphabets used to write standard modern Serbian, Bosnian and Montenegrin, the other being Latin. In Croatian, only the Latin alphabet is used.

Serbs Ethnic group

The Serbs are a nation and South Slavic ethnic group that formed in the Balkans. The majority of Serbs inhabit the nation state of Serbia, as well as the disputed territory of Kosovo, and the neighboring countries of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Montenegro. They form significant minorities in North Macedonia and Slovenia. There is a large Serb diaspora in Western Europe, and outside Europe there are significant communities in North America and Australia.

University of Belgrade university in Belgrade, Serbia

The University of Belgrade is a public university in Serbia. It is the oldest and largest university in Serbia, and one of the most important educational and research centers in Southeast Europe.


In 1933, Maksimović married Sergej Slastikov, a Russian émigré writer. After being dismissed from her post at the high school by the Germans in 1941, she was reduced to a state of poverty and forced to work odd jobs to survive the three-year occupation. She was only permitted to publish children's literature during this period, but secretly compiled a collection of patriotic poems, which were not published until after the war. Among these was Krvava bajka (A Bloody Fairy Tale), which is about the Wehrmacht's killing of schoolchildren in the Kragujevac massacre. It was recited extensively in post-war commemorative ceremonies and became one of the best known Serbian-language poems.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state that controlled nearly all aspects of life via the Gleichschaltung legal process. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

<i>Wehrmacht</i> unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

Kragujevac massacre World War II massacre by Nazi German forces in Serbia

The Kragujevac massacre was the mass murder of between 2,778 and 2,794 mostly Serb men and boys in Kragujevac by German soldiers on 21 October 1941. It occurred in the German-occupied territory of Serbia during World War II, and came in reprisal for insurgent attacks in the Gornji Milanovac district that resulted in the deaths of 10 German soldiers and the wounding of 26 others. The number of hostages to be shot was calculated as a ratio of 100 hostages executed for every German soldier killed and 50 hostages executed for every German soldier wounded, a formula devised by Adolf Hitler with the intent of suppressing anti-Nazi resistance in Eastern Europe.

To mark her 60th birthday, Maksimović was named the recipient of a string of honours and awards in 1958. In 1964, she published one of her most acclaimed works, a volume of reflective poetry entitled Tražim pomilovanje (I Seek Clemency). The work's veiled critique of the Tito government made it especially popular. The following year, she became a full-fledged member of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Following her husband's death in 1970, Maksimović's poetry increasingly began to revolve around the subject of human mortality. Maksimović travelled extensively in the 1970s and 1980s, and some of her visits abroad inspired several of her works. She became involved in efforts to combat government censorship in the early 1980s and was active until her death in 1993.

Josip Broz Tito Yugoslav revolutionary and statesman

Josip Broz, commonly known as Tito, was a Yugoslav communist revolutionary and statesman, serving in various roles from 1943 until his death in 1980. During World War II, he was the leader of the Partisans, often regarded as the most effective resistance movement in occupied Europe. While his presidency has been criticized as authoritarian and concerns about the repression of political opponents have been raised, most Yugoslavs considered him popular and a benevolent dictator. He was a popular public figure both in Yugoslavia and abroad. Viewed as a unifying symbol, his internal policies maintained the peaceful coexistence of the nations of the Yugoslav federation. He gained further international attention as the chief leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, alongside Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Sukarno of Indonesia, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana.

Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

The Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts is a national academy and the most prominent academic institution in Serbia, founded in 1841 as Society of Serbian Letters.

Maksimović was the first female Serbian poet to gain widespread acceptance within Yugoslav literary circles and among the general public. One literary scholar notes that she served as an example for other Serbian women wishing to take up the craft. Maksimović's reputation, which was such that most of her contemporaries referred to her simply by her first name, has led one author to describe her as "the most beloved Serbian poet of the twentieth century".



Maksimovic spent much of her childhood in Brankovina Znamenito mesto Brankovina 097.jpg
Maksimović spent much of her childhood in Brankovina

Desanka Maksimović was born in the village of Rabrovica, near Valjevo, on 16 May 1898. She was the oldest of her parent's seven children. Her father Mihailo was a schoolteacher and her mother Draginja ( née Petrović) was a housewife. Maksimović's ancestors had migrated to Serbia from Herzegovina in the late 18th century. Her maternal grandfather was an Eastern Orthodox priest. Within two months of her birth, her father was reassigned to the nearby village of Brankovina, and the family had to relocate. Maksimović spent much of her early childhood in Brankovina. She took an interest in reading at an early age, spending hours in her father's library. When she was 10, the family moved to Valjevo. Maksimović's family was devastated by World War I. In 1915, she lost her father to typhus while he was serving in the Royal Serbian Army. Her father's death thrust the family into difficult financial straights. In order to be able to take care of her mother and her siblings, Maksimović was forced to drop out of high school. In her free time, she learned French. She re-enrolled after the war and completed her secondary education in 1919. [1]

Valjevo City in Šumadija and Western Serbia, Serbia

Valjevo is a city and the administrative center of the Kolubara District in western Serbia. According to the 2011 census, the administrative area of Valjevo had 90,312 inhabitants, 59,073 of whom were urban dwellers.

Herzegovina Historical region

Herzegovina is the southern region of Bosnia and Herzegovina. While there is no official border distinguishing it from the Bosnian geographical region, it is sometimes asserted that the borders of the region are Dalmatia to the southwest, Montenegro to the east, Mount Maglić to the northeast, and Mount Ivan to the north. Measurements of the area range from 11,419 km2 (4,409 sq mi), or around 22% of the total area of the present-day country, to 12,276 km2 (4,740 sq mi), around 24% of the country.

Brankovina Place in Kolubara District, Serbia

Brankovina is a village in the municipality of Valjevo, Kolubara District in the north of Valjevo about 12 km. According to the census of 2002, there were 573 people.

Early career

Upon completing high school, Maksimović moved to Belgrade, the capital of the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. She enrolled in the University of Belgrade, and took courses in art history and comparative literature. By this time, Maksimović had been writing verse for a number of years. She gave some of her poems to one of her former professors, who in turn gave them to Velimir Masuka, the editor-in-chief of Misao (Thought), one of Serbia's leading artistic and literary publications. [2]

Kingdom of Yugoslavia Kingdom in southeast Europe between 1918 and 1943

The Kingdom of Yugoslavia was a state in Southeast Europe and Central Europe that existed from 1929 until 1941, during the interwar period and beginning of World War II.

Art history the academic study of objects of art in their historical development

Art history is the study of objects of art in their historical development and stylistic contexts; that is genre, design, format, and style. The study includes painting, sculpture, architecture, ceramics, furniture, and other decorative objects.

Comparative literature academic discipline comparing literature across cultures

Comparative literature is an academic field dealing with the study of literature and cultural expression across linguistic, national, and disciplinary boundaries. Comparative literature "performs a role similar to that of the study of international relations, but works with languages and artistic traditions, so as to understand cultures 'from the inside'". While most frequently practiced with works of different languages, comparative literature may also be performed on works of the same language if the works originate from different nations or cultures among which that language is spoken.

Maksimovic (front row, centre) at a meeting of Yugoslav writers in 1929 Zborovanje jugoslovanskega Pen - kluba v Ljubljani leta 1929.jpg
Maksimović (front row, centre) at a meeting of Yugoslav writers in 1929

Maksimović's poetry first appeared in Misao between 1920 and 1921. She received what was to be the first of many literary awards when one of her poems was voted to be the journal's best by its readers. Within a few years, the Srpski književni glasnik (Serbian Literary Herald), then Belgrade's most influential and respected literary journal, began printing her poems, and several of her works appeared in an anthology of Yugoslav lyric poetry. In 1924, Maksimović published her first poetry collection, simply entitled Pesme (Poems). The collection was met with positive reviews. Maksimović graduated from the University of Belgrade around this time and received a fellowship from the Government of France for a year's study at the University of Paris. She returned to Belgrade in 1925, and upon her return, received a Saint Sava medal from the government for her literary achievements and became a professor at the city's elite First High School for Girls. [2]

The Serbian Literary Herald was a Belgrade-based literary journal published in the first half of the 20th century. It was founded in February 1901, following the merger of the journals "Artwork" (Delo) and "Serbian Review". The Herald was the most influential Serbian literary journal of its time. Most influential Serbian writers had their works published in the journal, which also printed literary, theatrical and cinematic reviews. It went on hiatus for the duration of World War I, but resumed publishing once peace was restored. It continued publishing issues throughout the German occupation of Serbia during World War II. Once the occupation ended, the Herald – which had never been a propagator of left-wing views – came to be viewed with suspicion by Yugoslavia's new communist authorities. In 1945–46, all issues published by the Herald during the German occupation were destroyed by the communists.

Government of France body exerting the executive power in France

The Government of the French Republic exercises executive power in France. It is composed of the Prime Minister, who is the head of government, and both junior and senior ministers. Senior ministers are titled as Ministers, whereas junior ministers are titled as Secretaries of State.

University of Paris former university in Paris, France

The University of Paris, metonymically known as the Sorbonne, was a university in Paris, France, active 1150–1793, and 1806–1970.

By the late 1920s, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was mired by ethnic tensions. In 1929, King Alexander decreed that it be renamed Yugoslavia to mitigate growing nationalist resentment. Before long, the country's political disputes spilled over into literary discourse. Yugoslav writers could not agree on the political and artistic direction Yugoslav literature should take. Older writers favoured abiding by existing literary norms while younger ones promoted modernism as a means of explaining the contradictions of modern life and exploring the human subconscious. Maksimović's steadfast refusal to deviate from traditional literary forms and traditions prompted scathing critiques from many of her colleagues in the Yugoslav literary establishment. She would later note: "I would not have had as many friends as I have now if I had not been able to forget the biting jokes or critical remarks about my poetry or myself." [2] Yugoslavia had to endure difficult economic conditions during the Great Depression and the country's political landscape deteriorated further. During this time, Maksimović made poetry the main focus of her writing. [2] Many of her poems were first recited before her fellow writers in the home of Smilja Đaković, the publisher of Misao. In 1933, Maksimović married a Russian-born writer named Sergej Slastikov. [3]

Following the German-led Axis invasion and subsequent occupation of Yugoslavia, Maksimović was forcibly retired from her teaching position at the First High School for Girls at the behest of the occupational authorities. Impoverished, she resorted to giving private lessons, sowing children's clothes and selling dolls in the marketplace. In order to heat her apartment, Maksimović had to walk from downtown Belgrade to Mount Avala to collect firewood. She wrote patriotic poems in secret during this time but was only allowed to publish children's books. [3]

Later life

Maksimovic attending a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Ivo Andric's birth, October 1992 S.Kragujevic, otrivanje spomenika Andricu, povodom jednog veka od rodjenja.JPG
Maksimović attending a ceremony marking the 100th anniversary of Ivo Andrić's birth, October 1992

After the war, Yugoslavia became a socialist state under the leadership of Josip Broz Tito. [3] Maksimović was reinstated as a professor at the First High School for Girls. [2] In 1946, she published a collection of war poems titled Pesnik i zavičaj (The Poet and His Native Land). The collection contained one of her best known poems, Krvava bajka (A Bloody Fairy Tale), a requiem for the children killed in the Kragujevac massacre of October 1941. Although she was not a communist, her works received the approval of the Yugoslav government. [3] Maksimović was a fervent Russophile, and at times, her Russophilia was mistaken for covert Cominformism, a serious charge in the years following the Tito–Stalin Split, that if proven, could have landed a person in prison. [4] Maksimović retired from teaching in 1953. [2] In 1958, to mark her 60th birthday, Maksimović received a number of awards from the Yugoslav government and literary establishment. The following year, she received partial membership in the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU). [3]

In 1964, Maksimović published a volume of reflective poetry entitled Tražim pomilovanje (I Seek Clemency), which dealt with the 14th-century reign of Dušan the Mighty, the founder of the Serbian Empire. The collection was well received and quickly became a bestseller. Its veiled critique of Tito made it especially popular, especially among those frustrated with the Yugoslav government's increasing arbitrariness and corruption. Maksimović was the recipient of further honours over the next several years. In 1965, her colleagues voted to make her a full member of the SANU. By this time, Maksimović was not only well known and respected within Yugoslavia, but also abroad, with her works having been translated into dozens of languages. Among the translators of her works was the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. In 1967, Maksimović was awarded a medal by the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union. [3]

Maksimović's husband died in 1970. Following his death, her poems increasingly began to deal with the topic of human mortality. In 1975, she received a Vuk Karadžić Award for Lifetime Achievement from the SANU, becoming only the second writer to receive the honour, after Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić. The following year, Maksimović published Letopis Perunovih potomaka (A Chronicle of Perun's Descendants), a poetry collection dealing with medieval Balkan history. [5] She travelled widely in the 1970s and 1980s, visiting many European nations, including the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, but also Australia, Canada, the United States, and China. Her visits to Norway and Switzerland inspired the poetry collection Pesme iz Norveške (Poems from Norway; 1976) and a travel book titled Snimci iz Švajcarske (Snapshots from Switzerland; 1978). [6] In 1982, Maksimović became one of the founding members of the Committee for the Protection of Artistic Freedom, which sought an end to government censorship. [7] In 1988, she published a poetry collection titled Pamtiću sve (I Shall Remember Everything). She died in Belgrade on 11 February 1993, aged 94. [6]


Statue in Valjevo Desanka Maksimovic PhotoAdamRadosavljevic.jpg
Statue in Valjevo

"Maksimović ... marked a whole era with her lyrical poetry," the literary scholar Aida Vidan writes. [8] She was the first female Serbian poet to gain widespread acceptance from her predominantly male colleagues within the Yugoslav literary milieu, as well as the first Serbian female poet to attract a significant following among the general public. [9] She was Yugoslavia's leading female literary figure for seven decades, first acquiring this distinction during the interwar period and retaining it until her death. [10] The scholar Dubravka Juraga describes her as "the beloved doyenne of Yugoslav belles lettres". [11] Maksimović "offered women writers a model of achievement in the field of lyric poetry," the literary scholar Celia Hawkesworth writes. Hawkesworth compares Maksimović's contributions to Serbian literature to that of Elisaveta Bagriana in Bulgaria, Wisława Szymborska in Poland, and Nina Cassian in Romania. [12] The author Christopher Deliso describes Maksimović as "the most beloved Serbian poet of the twentieth century". [13] During her lifetime, her reputation was such that many of her contemporaries referred to her simply by her first name. [1] Her poem Krvava bajka is widely considered one of the best known pieces of Serbian-language verse. [11] She is also credited with popularizing love locks in the former Yugoslavia through one of her poems. By the early 2000s, the phenomenon had spread to other parts of the globe. [14]

A statue of Maksimović was unveiled in Valjevo on 27 October 1990, while the poetess was still alive. [15] In the 1990s, as part of the renaming of communist-era street names following the breakup of Yugoslavia, Đuro Salaj Street in Belgrade was renamed Desanka Maksimović Street. [16] In May 1996, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honour. [6] A bronze statue of Maksimović was erected in Belgrade's Tašmajdan Park on 23 August 2007. [15]


Source: Sljivic-Simsic (1995 , pp. 127–128)


  1. 1 2 Haag 2002, p. 120.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Haag 2002, p. 121.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Haag 2002, p. 122.
  4. Banac 1988, p. 207.
  5. Haag 2002, p. 123.
  6. 1 2 3 Haag 2002, p. 124.
  7. Miller 2007, pp. 250–251.
  8. Vidan 2016, p. 494.
  9. Hawkesworth 2000, p. 15.
  10. Hawkesworth 2000, p. 203.
  11. 1 2 Juraga 2002, p. 204.
  12. Hawkesworth 2015, p. 120.
  13. Deliso 2009, p. 110.
  14. Rubin 27 April 2014.
  15. 1 2 Lucić & 22 August 2007.
  16. Šuber & Karamanić 2012, pp. 327–328.

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