Like any other country with a small language, Bulgaria has some fine writers and poets who remain virtually unknown to the world because their work has never been properly translated. (It is an entirely different issue why Bulgaria, unlike other countries with small languages, has done little if anything to sponsor the translation of its authors). People like Pencho Slaveykov, Geo Milev, Nikola Vaptsarov, Elin Pelin and Dimitar Dimov – all fine poets and writers with dramatic life stories, could have become international household names had they written in German, French or Spanish. Instead, they remain on the unknown periphery of European literature solely on the merit of the language they used.
Christopher Buxton, a retired English teacher and author of novels such as Far From the Danube, Prudence and the Red Baron, The Devil's Notebook and Surge, has taken upon himself to at least partially rectify this historical injustice. In 2018 his small pushing house in the UK, Oleander Press, published two collections of poems selected and translated by him.
One is entitled To Return to Your Father's House and presents a bunch of poems by Dimcho Debelyanov (1887-1916). These include "Smiling Waves," "The Town Sleeps," "Death" and "Tragedy" – all of them taught in Bulgarian schools and cherished by Bulgarians for several generations. Buxton compares Debelyanov, who was shot dead by a British sniper during the Great War, to English war-time poets such as Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg – only that he fought on the other side of the conflict.
The story of Peyo Yavorov, the author of Confidentially – the second book of Christopher Buxton's translations, was very different. Yavorov (1878-1914), a fervent champion for the independence of Macedonia and Armenia, was this country's foremost romantic poet. His personal life was imbued with tragedy. His first great love died of consumption, and then he had a disastrous and scandalous marriage with Lora Karavelova who shot herself. He attempted suicide which only left him partially blind. When he finally managed to kill himself he was a deeply unhappy man who lived amidst rumours that he had in fact murdered Lora. This unhappiness rarely shows in his work, however. He can be lively and optimistic, and his poems "It's Not Your Fault," "Testament" and "Two Souls" evoke French symbolism.
Monument of Peyo Yavorov in Pomorie, where the poet used to work as a post office clerk
Christopher Buxton, who lives part time in Colchester and part time in Burgas, has done a good job translating Debelyanov's and Yavorov's sometimes overwhelmingly complex verse. Their poems read well in English and emit at least some of the original atmosphere. For his work in making known Bulgarian literature in English Christopher Buxton was awarded the Culture Ministry annual prize in 2015.