The Poet of the People and the Mountains

Valentin Vodnik, the First Slovenian poet

Peaks of Julian Ačps (2017) by Nikola JurišičSlovenian Tourist Board

Every nation has individuals in its history who strongly influence the formation of its language and identity. 

Slovenians are probably the only nation that celebrates Culture Day as a national holiday and a country where the main city squares are mostly decorated with statues of poets, not military leaders, so it is no wonder that they are also called a nation of poets.  

Valentin Vodnik by Meta Wraber

The First (Real) Slovenian Poet

The earliest poems in Slovene were written down by Valentin Vodnik, born in 1758. He is considered to be the first Slovenian poet, but he was also a scholar, a teacher, a translator, a journalist, and a priest.

Cover of the first Slovenian newspaper "Lublanske novize" (Ljubljana News), 1797 (2021) by Ariela HerčekSlovenian Tourist Board

Not only was Vodnik the first Slovenian poet, but he also founded the first Slovenian newspaper “Lublanske novize” in 1797. When he wasn’t busy writing the newspaper, he dedicated his time to translation, teaching, and writing poetry.

Vodnik's "Kuharske bukve" cook book (2021) by Ariela HerčekSlovenian Tourist Board

"Kuharske bukve"

Vodnik wrote the first cookbook in Slovene – he translated it from German, but also added some traditional Slovenian recipes and made sure to use simple language to make it understandable for the common folk, too. His housewife, Eva Bučar, advised on Slovenian recipes.

Vodnik's pretzels (2019) by Matevž KostanjšekSlovenian Tourist Board

In the cookbook, Vodnik also included some dishes that Slovenes weren’t familiar with – he wanted to show the world that the Slovene language was capable of telling the same “stories” as other languages.

Steirisch dance (2017) by Adrie SustarSlovenian Tourist Board

The Poet

Vodnik’s poems often praise the simple life in Carniola, a region of Slovenia that also encompasses Alpine mountains and which’s folk music greatly influenced the metre in Vodnik’s poetry. 

Triglav ridge (2016) by Jošt GantarSlovenian Tourist Board

Vodnik loved the mountains and was quite busy with mountaineering, too. He led expeditions to the top of the highest Slovenian mountain Triglav and was, alongside Žiga Zois, one of the main supporters of Triglav as a national symbol.

Today, Triglav is part of the national crest of Slovenia’s flag. 

Mountain hut Vodnikov dom (1817 m) with the mountain Triglav in the background. (2013) by MyotisSISlovenian Tourist Board

In 1895, to honour the 100th anniversary of Vodnik’s Triglav ascent in 1795, a mountain hut was built and opened under the name “Vodnik’s Hut” at Velo Polje in the Julian Alps. 

An ibex and Vodnik's peak in the Triglav National Park (2016) by Jošt GantarSlovenian Tourist Board

Even a mountain is named after him! “Vodnikov vršac” is a peak where Vodnik once wrote one of his best poems on his way to see the Triglav Lakes. 

A hiking trail Juliana Trail, Vodnik's Lookout Point, Pokljuka (2019) by Iztok MedjaSlovenian Tourist Board

The mountains inspired Vodnik so much that there is even a lookout point named “Vodnikov razglednik” in the Bohinj valley – it inspired Vodnik to write the poem “Dramilo” (''Reveille'' or a ''Wake up''). 

A woman reading Valentin Vodnik's poems (2021) by Luka SveticSlovenian Tourist Board

“Dramilo” is a poem meant to unify the Slovenes – for the first time ever, Slovenes could feel a sort of national awareness. The poem is an address to the Slovenes, urging them to be honest and hardworking to achieve happiness and success. 

Vodnik's "Pesma na moje rojake" from his poetry collection "Pesem za pokušino", page 1 (1806) by Valentin VodnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Reveille

Hey, Slovene, hale and hearty’s your land,

And hard workers will find its lay grand. 
The field, the green vine,
Mountains, the sea,
Trade, ore from the mine,
All nurture thee.

Vodnik's "Pesma na moje rojake" from his poetry collection "Pesem za pokušino", page 2 (1806) by Valentin VodnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Your head's honed for every instruction, 
you're of fair and strapping construction.
Lady Luck’s calling,
You’ve got your mind,
If you stay awake,
Her you shall find.

Vodnik's "Pesma na moje rojake" from his poetry collection "Pesem za pokušino", page 2 (1806) by Valentin VodnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Behold, all’s endowed by creation,
Accept it with no hesitation!
The lazy await
Stitches times nine,
A beggar’s attire,
Cups with no wine.

Translated from Slovene to English by  Josh Rocchio

Vodnik's Homestead, interior (2021) by Ariela HerčekSlovenian Tourist Board

Vodnik’s patriotic poetry is what makes him so important even today, as he fervently advocated the use of Slovene. 

Under the Habsburg Empire, Slovenian language was banned and could not be used in schools.

Valentin Vodnik's monument at the Vodnik Square in Ljubljana (2021) by Jure ČesnikSlovenian Tourist Board

Because of Vodnik’s importance for the Slovenian national awareness, there was a statue of him erected in 1889 in front of a former Ljubljana Lyceum, where Vodnik worked as teacher and headmaster. 

Today here’s one of the main squares of Ljubljana, named Vodnik Square.

Vodnik House in Ljubljana (2021) by Jure ČesnikSlovenian Tourist Board

The house he was born in is now called “Vodnik’s Homestead” and has become a cultural venue, with many literary events taking place there every year.

Valentin Vodnik's gravestone in Navje, Ljubljana (2021) by Ariela HerčekSlovenian Tourist Board

Valentin Vodnik died in 1819, leaving behind the poem “Moj spomenik” (Memorial), the last verse of which is also inscribed on his tombstone:

"No daughter no son,
to come after me,
enough memory done,
my songs sing of me."

Soča River (2013) by Domen GröglSlovenian Tourist Board

No wonder that Vodnik was so inspired by nature. The view of Slovenia from Alps and hills to Adriatic sea is truly magnificent.

Credits: Story

📣 Special thanks to Vodnikova domačija and the National University Library
🎨 Valentin Vodnik design by Meta Wraber

🔎 Sources:
Valentin Vodnik
Slovenska biografija
Alpska poskočnica 
Pesme za pokušino 
Atlas Obscura 
Vodnikov dom na Velem Polju 
Primorskestene.com 
Vodnik's Homestead Šiška

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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