“Ja sam bio kafanski i višeniči,
i bio pust i prezren – neželjenkogrobar.
Noćasbihhtiosebi – dječaku da ličim
i da mi opetkažukakosamdobar”.
(“I was a pub-goer and no more,
I was forlorn and loathed – unwelcome as a gravedigger.
But tonight, all I want is to be a boy
andhavesomeone tell mehow good I am once more.”)
A ‘pen’ adventurer who sets out to write about the famous Montenegrin artist Vito Nikolić takes on an inherent risk by doing so, knowing full well that he may never be able to crack the code on the enigma that is Vito’s life and work.
The aforementioned lyrics are more than just the product of lyrical clarity; they embody the very essence of a certain style of life known as “bohemian,” to which Nikolić, until his dying breath, belonged with every fibre of his being. Nikolić was traumatised by war and family tragedy at an early age, and he spent the rest of his life in pubsand writing poems. Vito Nikolić’s poetry oeuvre is little (just four collections of poems), but it seems to attest to the fact that the “last prince of the Montenegrin tavern” (MiloradBošković) lived solely to endure pain and suffering. Vito, cognizant of the harshness of life, finds solace and inspiration for his elegies to pain, loss, love, peace, and more in the smoke and brandy of local pubs. Tired and often in a drunken state, he understood how to implore his friends: “I’m drunk but that doesn’t matter/ let me be, my dear friends, I’m begging you/there are many burdens in this world that I can only shed while inebriated.”
There were indeed many wounds that Vito desperately wanted to mend. After losing his parents at the young age of nine, he was “a sad orphan without friend or kinfolk” (Njegoš). His mother Danica first, then his brother Branko, and eventually his father, who was executed by the Italian occupiers outside the front door of their home, all abandoned him. In many of his songs (like “My Peers”, “Boy”), he mourned the loss of loved ones who had passed away. From that point on, he was a vagrant in orphanages across the territory of former Yugoslavia and Hungary. For this reason, themes of mortality predominate in his songs. Vito Nikolić seems to have a premonition of his own death and disappearance, and he is scared and afraid of death in any form. In the verses“Where did we meet,/ in what life and when?/ Beautiful death, where,where did we meet?” he directly addresses death. Both murder and self-harm fill him with dread.He reveals his gloomy outlook in particular detailin the autumn, while on the road.
In the whirlwind of war, every school he attended was bombarded, thus he started the first grade of elementary school four times. He had a technical education equivalent to the eighth grade but was otherwise extremely well-educated, with extensive knowledge of history, geography, philosophy, and literature. As an adult, he’ll document his schooling in the song “A Letterto my Teacher.”
As if by some inexplicable alchemy of life, his destined connection to Nikšićbolstered Vito Nikolić’s impression as an unrivalled “Esenin of Montenegro”, as, in those years, the town under Trebjesawas teeming with important figures of the country at the time, with whom Vito befriended and travelled. Furthermore, he was convicted and sentenced to prison again and again for being a vocal opponent of the administration. The social reality was too much for him to take quietly, so he wrote in a poem: “You keep silent, you keep silent honourably, and yet in the end,/ you have to speak inevitably,/ after you get tired of suffering,/ and truths overwhelm you.”
Vito Nikolić’s bohemian inspiration led him to express his feelings to fairer sex through his poetry, as would befit a true romantic. The song “The First Snow” will become a timeless anthem for lovers of all ages thanks to his Sonja and the hidden affection beneath her garment. According to his biographers, he wrote a number of love songs that were never released. On the other hand, Vito admits that lying was one of his weapons in the game of seduction in the song “It Will Happen One Evening.” Vito’s song “Instead of a Prayer for a Faraway” is a reflective remembrance of a woman he loved in Belgrade, with whom he undoubtedly enjoyed many happy times. He also wrote a song called “High School Girls in the Snow” in which he portrays high school girls and tells them they deserve “a high five in life, beauty, and poetry.”
The legacy of Vitomir Vito Nikolić will endure in his writings. It also appears that Vito Nikolić’s poetry is an integral part of the process by which we, in the halcyon days of our youth, come to understand the world and our place in it. When we feel down in the dumps and cry out, “Sun, I’m Cold!” like Vito does, he’s here to cheer us up with his poetry. Vito is the most cherished poem in the kingdom of poetry, a monument to all bohemians,and he will always be remembered for a part that he would not have chosen for himself had he been given the option.