France Prešeren – a Poet of Imperishable Fame

France Prešeren was born on 3 December 1800 in Vrba in Gorenjska. Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

February 8 is cultural holiday in Slovenia or the Prešeren Day. It is when we remember the works of this great poet that marked Slovenian culture. Dr France Prešeren is also the author of Slovenian National Anthem – A Toast.

Dr France Prešeren has had the exceptional significance for the history of the Slovenian nation and the majority of Slovenes comprehend the deep substantive dimension of aspirations for personal and national freedom.

Prešeren’s work is a necessary, inevitable and eternal part of Slovenian cultural tradition.

France Prešeren – poet, writer, thinker – won a position in Slovenian society more reminiscent of a natural phenomenon than of a person of flesh and blood. It is impossible to remove him from the collective Slovenian spirit, since he is practically one with this spirit. The presence of his name and image everywhere – on squares, streets, awards, bank notes, the theatre – is only a superficial manifestation of the poet’s influence.

Prešeren's Toast as the anthem of independent Slovenia

Prešeren's manuscript of Zdravljica from 1844. Photo: Luka Fabčič /UKOM archive

A Toast, (Zdravljica) is the culmination of Prešeren's political poetry. It was written in 1844 during a period of tight political censorship in the former Austrian monarchy of which Slovenia was a part. Due to censorship, the poem could not be published in Prešeren's ‘Poems’, therefore it could only be published after the fall of Metternich's absolutism and the removal of censorship in 1848.

Even the former US president Bill Clinton emphasised, when visiting Slovenia, in his speech the prophetic and symbolic meaning of the words of the Slovenian anthem. He seemed to be sincerely impressed by the words: “God's blessing on all nations, who long and work for that bright day, when o'er earth's habitations, no war, no strife shall hold its sway…”

This poem was exceptionally important during the history of the formation of Slovenians as a contemporary European nation; the poem was particularly topical in the period of the national and liberation war during the occupation from 1941-45, and it was during Slovenian independence (1990-91) that the idea of Prešeren's Toast as the anthem of independent Slovenia arose. The idea was adopted by a great majority.

His thought was ahead of his time

Prešeren's birth house in Vrba. Photo: Darinka Mladenovič

France Prešeren was born on 3 December 1800 in Vrba in Gorenjska, into a quite well-off peasant family. There was a strong awareness of the importance of education in the family.

Prešeren's biography is from many perspectives a characteristic biography of a secular educated person of the time. Prešeren was a representative of the neglected peasant classes, that he was from a consciously Slovenian family, and that for his whole life he was accompanied by the numerous traumas he had been through in his youth. He went through a series of romantic disappointments, and was most affected by his unrequited love for Julija Primic, and strongly affected by the premature loss of a series of loyal friends. France Prešeren was certainly not a man corresponding to the narrow-minded closer and wider environment: he was too liberal and, as a poet, he deviated far too much from the established literary currents of the time both from the substantive and formal aspects.

In his time, France Prešeren actively participated in the cultural struggles, which were animating Slovenian educated people in the first half of the 19th century.

Prešeren as a national legend

It is impossible to note every important work of the poet in this short article, although we should mention that in his youth, Prešeren was influenced by folk poetry, and later he dedicated himself to ballads and romances, then passing on to higher artistic forms. The culmination of Prešeren's poetry is represented by A Wreath of Sonnets, the poem The Baptism at the Savica, A Toast and many of his other poems. The only book published in his lifetime was the collection ‘Poems,’ in 1846 (dated 1847).