Yugoslavia – Tesla and Zmaj – The Scientist and the Poet

This post is dedicated to Zuska, a brilliant mind and champion of children’s literature, April 24, 2018

Nikola Tesla, the great scientist, detail from front of Yugoslavian 1992 series banknote.

The brilliant scientist, Nikola Tesla, featured on the banknote below, visited his homeland just once following his emigration to America. The renowned literary light, Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj, featured on the other banknote below, is said to have read his own poetry just once in public, and that upon Nikola Tesla’s homeland visit. As reported by another, “Dazed by the warm words of his literary idol, the young genius, apparently shaken, cried and kissed Dragon (translation of “Zmaj”) in his hand. Officials cried with him. If there is something noble and sacred in the experience of national identity and closeness that deletes geographical distance, then it happened in Serbia at that moment….”

1993 Yugoslavia series banknote featuring Jovan Jovanocich Zmaj

It was 1892 when they met. Jovan Jovanovich’s literary career had begun four decades earlier and compassed many genres; but what had most endeared him to his nation were his poems and stories for children. By 1892, his stature was national, his stories beloved, and his rhymes sung by parents to children throughout the land. Now 60 years old, Zmaj had been summoned by the King to join with many dignitaries in welcoming home a renowned son of Serbia. He had outlived his beloved wife and all five of their children. He wrote a poem for the occasion.

1992 series Yugoslavia banknote featuring Nikola Tesla

It was early July, 1892, when Nikola Tesla’s train arrived in Belgrade. He was 35 years old. It was a year of triumph. He was to be granted 40 patents in America, that year, for his inventions of all of the technologies surrounding the utilization AC power which would power the world ever since. What was known as “the War of the Currents”, concluded with the triumph of Tesla’s inventions over those of Edison. But it was a triumph reached through much pain. Having arrived in America a decade earlier with 4 cents in his pocket and a book of Zmaj’s poems, he went to work for his idol, Thomas Edison. After substantial successful work, Edison reneged on his agreement to pay; and Tesla was left in poverty. For awhile Telsa was reduced to digging the ditches for Edison’s DC current cables. It was a dark and difficult period for Nikola Tesla.

One can imagine Zmaj, walking to the podium, grey headed and worn, but stately and beloved; and Tesla watching nearby, famous in that assembly, but filled with the recent battle-scars which none could see. Carefully, Zmaj unfolded a sheet of paper before the rapt audience, and then began reading a poem he had specially created for the occasion.

1992 series banknote of Yugoslavia, back

He began, fittingly, by lauding the mysterious powers of electricity, which until Tesla, had been unreachable for humankind. And as he traveled in his poem through the pride of Serbia in their now renowned son, and then to the appropriateness of Tesla’s necessary return to America, tears began to fill Nikola’s eyes. He continued to listen to the words of this man, whose rhymes had painted his distant childhood with happiness, and whose verses had brightened his darkest hours in America; and his feelings began to overmaster his countenance. Tears streamed unwiped down his cheeks.

Tesla coil

And as the Master wove his tale towards its conclusion, poetically illustrating that Other Power, (which he knew so well), and which he declared now bound Tesla, “the Electrician”, forever to the bosom of his homeland over distances infinite, “without wires and without cables”, Nikola was sobbing. The Poet finished, and no one spoke. And to the sounds of sobbing Nikola, the entire assemblage of the nations’ dignitaries descended into tears, crying, melting into oneness in that magical moment. And with the old poet’s words lingering in the air, and the room filled with not a word but the sounds of many crying, the great scientist stood and approached the poet. Reaching for his outstretched hand, he grasped it and kissed it through his tears, and said, (in a poor translation of his Serbian), when I was a hardest in America and when I was of all rejected and misunderstood, with bitter tears I read Your poetry, and I promise to You now Your verses translated into English and in Amer go to publish “

It was a promise kept.

Below are five poems. Below the poems are two references regarding the meeting described above.



The following five poems are by Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj and translated by Nikola Tesla with Robert Underwood Johnson, editor of The Century Magazine. The poems and associate images are selected from a large collection on a wonderful website here and, more specifically, here . From the About page: “This site is dedicated to poetry written in the Serbo-Croatian language. It aims to bring the poets and their works to a wider audience through a collaborative effort to translate the poems into other languages and by consolidating them in one place. One is easily impressed by the beauty and wealth of culture embedded in this poetry. It is remarkable how little of this artistic output can be found on the Internet, particularly from the 19th and 20th centuries. This site hopes to change that! “

I urge you to visit that website and read the poems. They are quite beautiful!

The Gipsy Praises His Horse

You’re admiring my horse, sir, I see.
He’s so light that you ‘d think it ‘s a bird
Say a swallow. Ah me!
He’s a prize!
It’s absurd
To suppose you can take him all in as he passes
With the best pair of eyes,
Or the powerful aid
Of your best pair of glasses :
Take ’em off, and let’s trade. What! “Is Selim as good as he seems?”
Never fear,
Uncle dear,
He’s as good as the best of your dreams,
And as sound as your sleep.
It’s only that kind that a gipsy would keep.
The emperor’s stables can’t furnish his mate.
But his grit and his gait,
And his wind and his ways,
A gipsy like me doesn’t know how to praise.
But (if truth must be told)
Although you should cover him over with gold
He’d be worth one more sovereign still.” Is he old?”
Oh, don’t look at his teeth, my dear sir!
I never have seen ’em myself.
Age has nothing to do with an elf;
So it’s fair to infer
My fairy can never grow old.
Oh, don’t look (Here, my friend,
Will you do me the kindness to hold
For a moment these reins while I ‘tend
To that fly on his shanks?) …
As I said (Ah now thanks!)
The longer you drive
The better he’11 thrive.
He’11 never be laid on the shelf!
The older that colt is, the younger he’11 grow.
I’ve tried him for years, and I know.” Eat? Eat?” do you say?
Oh, that nag isn’t nice
About eating! Whatever you have will suffice.
He takes everything raw
Some oats or some hay,
Or a small wisp of straw,
If you have it. If not, never mind
Selim won’t even neigh.
What kind of a feeder is he? That’s the kind!” Is he clever at jumping a fence?”
What a question to ask! He’s immense
At a leap!
How absurd!
Why, the trouble’s to keep
Such a Pegasus down to the ground.
He takes every fence at a bound
With the grace of a bird;
And so great is his strength,
And so keen is his sense,
He goes over a fence
Not across, but the way of its length!” Under saddle?” No saddle for Selim!
Why, you’ve only to mount him, and feel him
Fly level and steady, to see
What disgrace that would be.
No, you couldn’t more deeply insult him, unless
You attempted to guess
And pry into his pedigree.
Now why should you speak of his eyes?
Does he seem like a horse that would need
An eye-glass to add to his speed
Or, perchance, to look wise?
No indeed.
Why, not only’s the night to that steed
Just the same as the day,
But he knows all that passes
Both before and behind, either way.
Oh, he doesn’t need glasses!” Has he any defect?” What a question, my friend!
That is why, my dear sir, I am willing to sell.
You know very well
It is only the horse that you give or you lend
That has glanders, or springhalt, or something to mend:
‘T is because not a breath
Of defect or of death
Can be found on my Selim that he’s at your pleasure.
Alas! not for gipsies the care of such treasure. And now about speed. “Is he fast?” I should say!
Just listen I’11 tell you.
One equinox day,
Coming home from Erdout in the usual way,
A terrible storm overtook us. ‘T was plain
There was nothing to do but to run for it. Rain,
Like the blackness of night, gave us chase. But that nag,
Though he’d had a hard day, didn’t tremble or sag.
Then the lightning would flash,
And the thunder would crash
With a terrible din.
They were eager to catch him; but he would just neigh,
Squint back to make sure, and then gallop away.
Well, this made the storm the more furious yet,
And we raced and we raced, but he was n’t upset,
And he wouldn’t give in!
At last when we got to the foot of the hill
At the end of the trail,
By the stream where our white gipsy castle was set,
And the boys from the camp came a-waving their caps,
At a word he stood still,
To be hugged by the girls and be praised by the chaps.
We had beaten the gale,
And Selim was dry as a bone well, perhaps,
Just a little bit damp on the tip of his tail.*

[Tesla’s note: * Readers will be reminded by this conclusion of Mark Twain’s story of the fast horse as told to him by Oudinot, of the Sandwich Islands, and recorded in ” The Galaxy ” for April, 1871. In that veracious narrative it is related that not a single drop fell on the driver, but the dog was swimming behind the wagon all the way.]

I Begged a Kiss of a Little Maid

I begged a kiss of a little maid;
Shyly, sweetly, she consented;
Then of a sudden, all afraid,
After she gave it, she repented;
And now as penance for that one kiss
She asks a poem I’ll give her this.
But how can my song be my very best
When she, with a voice as soft as Circe’s,
Has charmed the heart from my lonely breast –
The heart, the fountain of all true verses?
Why, oh, why should a maid do this?
No I must give her back her kiss.

A Fairy From The Sun-Shower

[When the Servians see the sun-rays of a summer shower they
say it is the fairies combing their hair.]

OVER the meadow a shower is roaming ;
Just beyond is the summer sun ;
Fair is the hair that the fays are combing
Myth come true ! here ‘s my dainty one
Tripping the path in the wind’s soft blowing ;
Her slender form through her gown is showing,
Her foot scarce whispers the way she ‘s going.
” Come, my bright one, come, my soul,
Let my kisses be your goal.” But the path has heard my sighing,
Turns aside, and leads my fay
Into the forest, love defying.
Path, accursed be ! but stay !
Lost to love each moment gliding,
What if in the woodland hiding
Still for me my fay be biding ! . . .
” Wait, my bright one, wait, my soul,
Your sweet kisses are my goal.”

Why The Army Became Quiet

Some said they did but play at war,—
How that may be, ah! who can tell?
I know the gallant army corps
Upon their fleeing foemen fell,
And sacked their camp, and took their town,
And won both victory and renown. Now home returning, wild with song,
They come, the colors flying free.
But as within the door they throng,
Why does the army suddenly
Hush the fierce din, and silence keep?—
Why, little brother is asleep.

The Monster

” IN place of the heart, a serpent ;
Rage for the mind’s command ;
An eye aflame with wildness ;
A weapon in the hand ;” A brow with midnight clouded ;
On the lips a cynic smile
That tells of a curse unmatchable
Born of a sin most vile.” Of longing, or hope, or virtue,
No vestige may there be ;
You, even in vice inhuman
What can you want of me ?” You in its maddest moment
The Deepest Pit designed,
Let loose to sow confusion
In the order of mankind ;” Here Hatred found you crawling
Like vermin, groveling, prone,
Filled you with blood of others
And poisoned all your own.” Your very thoughts are fiendish
Smoke of the fires of Hell.
Weird as you are, how is it
I seem to know you well ?” Why with your wild delirium
Do you infect my sleep ?
Why with my daily footstep
An equal measure keep ? “The monster mutely beckons me
Back with his ghostly hand,
And dreading his fearful answer
I heed the grim command.” Nay, softly,” he says ; ” I pray thee,
Silence thy frightened moan,
And wipe the sweat from thy forehead
My kinsman thou, my own!” Look at me well, good cousin ;
Such wert thou fashioned of !
Thou, too, wouldst me resemble
Without that magic Love!”


some referenced materials regarding the meeting between Nikola Tesla and Jovan Jovanovich Zmaj:

Nikola Tesla and Jovan Jovanovic Zmaj met when only Tesla’s visit to Belgrade, 2. July 1892. year, when the train, via Novi Sad, come to Serbia, and in Belgrade was organized a festive new year’s Eve. Words of welcome, and with great enthusiasm Tesla is welcomed Serbian King, many famous people of the time, many citizens who have come to greet the famous genius, and one of the speakers at the ceremony he was none other than Tesla’s favorite poet, Jovan Jovanović Zmaj.

He is the scientist welcomed lyrics, which is the only time that Dragon publicly reads his poems. Tesla, sincerely moved by this encounter, approached by a poet and he kissed my hand and said: when I was a hardest in America and when I was of all rejected and misunderstood, with bitter tears I read Your poetry, and I promise to You now Your verses translated into English and in Amer go to publish “.

Upon his return to America, Tesla with passion to translate The songs and started writing about Serbian history. So he arose and Tesla’s essay from 1897. years of bitter fate of the Serbian people, in which Tesla uses and Dragons lyrics and thoughts together with their interpretations of the Kosovo and pokosovske the tragedy of the Serb people.

from Avant Art Magazin 10/07/14.

The following is taken from the website listed below.

“His annotated literary thoughts, both literature and writers, speak of being proud of his Serbian origin and birth, and that his patriotism could be brought into line with the universalist view of the world, which was derived from the desire to do all that he does – to the benefit of the whole mankind.

The awareness that everyone can be good with you, but that no one can love you as your neighbor, radiates from a string of Tesla records, and came to the fore when it came to Belgrade in 1892 when it came to a delightful welcome compatriots. Hence, from a feeling of closeness, and his enthusiasm with Belgrade, the dragonship of the Dragon and his later translation effort.

During the Tesla and Dragon meetings, more than a hundred names, the Dragon wanted to underscore this moment by not only writing the song in honor of Tesla’s arrival, but also for the first time publicly reading his verses.”

(The following welcome poem is a poor computer generated translation, alas, taken from the website’s original, below. But the eager mind, nevertheless, will glimpse the truths therein. I have been searching for an adequate English translation and would be very grateful should any reader point me in that right direction.)

Hello Nikola Tesla when he arrived in Belgrade

I do not know what it is, it’s essence
The only thing that does is misunderstand
As soon as we hear you come to us,
You immediately electrified us
What the rope wire
Electricity is jury wide,
The jet will be a compound
(After maybe an ethereal).
Stoji a tree, says Srpstvo,
Mother every leaf – son;
His biggest list blinked
So go away in the distance.
Thou didst Tesla, thou exclaimed,
He went far stronger
In far Colombia,
To have you tumble collapsed.
And you, Tesla, where you are
Inspired minds of the guard,
You will return to the neodymium,
To kiss your tree.
He loves a tree, his lungs,
Inside breast, son’s spine;
Every branch of the Serbian tree
Tesla tep, Tesla.
Today, Belgrade is happy
Handling with Serbian dikom
And he reveals his heart
Before the Serbs.
But you have to go back again
The meeting lasts for a while
Al ‘toplotu is carried by itself
Bratimski hugs
Realized j ‘yours
Mis’o divna i golema:
There will be links between us,
And there is no distance, no.
He understands the list again
Every tree’s shaft,
The electrician will connect us
(Electricity of Our Hearts)
And without wire and without cables.

“Dazed by the warm words of his literary idol, the young genius, apparently shaken, cried and kissed Dragon in his hand. Officials cried with him. If there is something noble and sacred in the experience of national identity and closeness that deletes geographical distance, then it happened in Serbia at that moment.”

from this online magazine.

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