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The Long Coming of the Fire


The fire is here, beneath these mad waters,
beneath this limestone and self-sowing evil.

Beneath these waters heavy and ripened
three black boundaries blackly divide them.

Beneath this wreath from sunheads wrought,
beneath this wave choking on rocks.

Beneath this thunder, sworn oaths and malice,
and this tree on the bank with its age-old menace.

The fire is here, underneath this hide,
beneath these three boundaries, these three knives.

Always and everywhere all-powerful and weary,
a star in the heart, and in the root, darkness.

dig it up.


From headspring to delta,
from fist to cross.

From underground to frozen ground,
from brother to brute.

From glow to gallows,
from word to sword.

dig it up.


Here you will never dig it up.
See how it’s fused to the ancient beech tree.

It rocks in a cradle between three trees.
In every poppy a red wind blows.

It’s the warrior in an icon in an old church.
It’s a long-vanished speech in search of itself.

See how it kneels like a beggar enraptured
as it gouges its word in the carving for an altar.

Dig into yourself, beneath your own hide,
beneath the three scars, beneath the three knives.


dig it up.

From villages to cinders,
from breast to bone.

From god to hawthorn,
from harvest to curse.

From mark to lament,
from scabbard to revolt.

dig it up.


Never will you dig it up, not with wild thieving.
The dead are not dead and the living not living.

For them the cross was light, but not light the ashes.
The dead will only die the day their song passes.

For the dead who lie there, the grave is not heavy.
But the songs that they sing weigh hard on the living.

Here, long though you live, you won’t dig up the fire.
It is that saint who bursts from the icon.

It is that stone where the dead make their pillow,
that starry feast, that health and that illness.

It is that magic, that wonder-working blood,
which repairs your wounds and severs your head.

Dig beneath your scars, beneath the knife that serves you;
in your eyes the fire blazes with the roses’ insurgence.


dig it up.

The rivers will utter their final vow
and then run dry and cease to flow.

The heavens will come crashing down.
The mountains will tumble. Deserts will reign.

Stars will mix with beasts, toxins with tillage,
and none will know who is dead and who is living.

dig it up.


As you dig beneath you, it will appear above you
and place a death’s head upon your shoulder.

The fire will carry you blinded through secret realms,
and where or who or what you are, you will not ask yourself.

It is here, in this root, in this silence which shines,
and yet its own light it never will sense.

It hangs with every dead body on every tree.
This is us, this is you, this is me.

And if it seems in such form like a voice fading out,
it will call to you again from a distant height.


Dig into yourself, beneath your own hide,
beneath the black sun of the three knives.

The fire is here, beneath these waters gone mad,
in this hungry womb which bears a hungry word.

But it also can tame the wild beast in his den,
it can rend and crush and kill and join.

With it beauty is added to the beauty of the flower;
without it the world is an entire world poorer.

For us the cross is light, but the ashes—no light thing.
The dead will die with us and with the song we sing.

Ацо Шопов, Гледач во пепелта, 1970
Translated by Rawley Grau and Christina Kramer, 2022

Šopov first presented the poem “The Long Coming of the Fire” on October 10, 1967, at the inauguration of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Earlier that year he and thirteen others had been elected as the first full members of the newly established academy. The poem was published first in the literary journal Modernity [Sovremenost] in March 1968, and then in the collection The Golden Circle of Time [Zlaten krug na vremeto] (1969). Although the other three Fire poems—“The Fire’s Night,” “The Fire’s Retreat,” and “The Fire’s Love”—also appeared in this collection, they were not yet grouped together. It was only in 1970, with the publication of Reader of the Ashes [Gledač vo pepelta], that they appeared as a cycle. Later that year, in an interview for a newspaper, Šopov said of “The Long Coming of the Fire”: “In it all my experience has, in a way, reached its highest achievement” (“Zagovornik na ljubovta, zemjata i strasta,” interviewed by Cvetan Stanoevski, Nova Makedonija, November 28–29, 1970).

Ацо Шопов: „Долго доаѓање на огнот” автограф стр 1

manuscript p. 1

Ацо Шопов: „Долго доаѓање на огнот” автограф стр 2

manuscript p. 2

Ацо Шопов: „Долго доаѓање на огнот” автограф стр 3

manuscript p. 3

Ацо Шопов: „Долго доаѓање на огнот” автограф стр 4

manuscript p. 4

Ацо Шопов: „Долго доаѓање на огнот” автограф стр 5

manuscript p. 5

Listen to the poem in Macedonian

“The Long Coming of the Fire”, translated in Serbo-Croatian by Dragiša Ćirić, published in 4 Jul, 22.12.1973, p. 20.