Ode to a Blue Sea Tomb

Vido is an island of the Ionian island group of Greece. It is a small island (less than kilometer in diameter) at the mouth of Corfu city port.

During the First World War, the Corfu island served as a island hospital and quarantine for the sick Serbian soldiers following the epic retreat of the Serbian army and part of the civilian population through Montenegro and Albania in 1915 following the Austro-German-Bulgarian invasion of Serbia. While the main camps of the recuperating army were on the Corfu itself (a contingent was sent to Bizerte as well, and many of the civilian refugees were accepted by France), the sick and near-dying, mostly soldiers were treated on Vido to prevent epidemics. In spite of Allied material help, the conditions of both the improvised medical facilities and many of the patients on the island resulted in high fatality rate. Due to small area of the island and it’s rocky soil it soon became a necessity to bury the dead in the sea (by binding rocks to the corpses to prevent flotation). More than 5000 people were buried at sea near the island of Vido.

The waters around Vido island are known by the Serbian people as the Ode to a Blue Sea Tomb (in Serbian, Plava Grobnica), after a poem written by Milutin Bojić during World War I.

Serbian WWI soldiers mausoleum
Serbian WWI soldiers mausoleum

Hail to you, imperial galleys! Restrain your mighty rudders!

Stroke your oars silently!

I’m proudly officiating a sublime Requiem in the chill 
of the night 

Upon these sacred waters.

Here at the bottom, where seashells tire in sleep

And upon the dead algae peat falls,

Stretch the graves of the brave, couched brother
beside brother,
 Prometheuses of Hope, Apostles of Pain.

Don’t you feel the wafting sea,

That it may not trouble their holy repose?

From the deep abyss peaceful slumber ebbs,

And in tiring flight the moonlight slowly passes.

This is a mysterious temple and a sad graveyard

With decaying carcasses, unfathomably real.

Silent like the night on the tip of the Ionian Sea 

Dark as a conscience, cold and despairing.

Don’t you feel from your most depressing moods

 That piety grows over this benediction

And the air fills with curious gentleness?

That great soul of the fallen roams

Hail to you, imperial galleys! Upon this tomb 
my dear kindred ones 

Veil the trumpets in mourning black.

Let your sentry, upright, chant the holy dirge 

Here, where waves come to an embrace!

For the centuries will pass as the white foam 

vanishes upon the sea without a trace,

And a new and great age will come in its place,

 To create a splendid home upon this grave.

But these waters, in which was shrouded

the terrible mystery of the Epic,

these waters will be a cradle in Time of legends revealed,

Where the soul will seek out its Destiny.

Buried are here once ancient garlands

And the passing joy of more than one generation,

That’s why this cemetery lies in the shadow of waves

Between the bosom of the sea and the vault celestial.

Hail to you, imperial galleys! Extinguish the torches,

Let the oars come to a blustering rest,
And when the Requiem prayers are said, steal away 
into the dark night

inaudibly and with reverential awe.

I wish for the eternal silence to rule

and for the glorious dead to hear the noise of Battles,

 And rejoice in our cries of victory, as we cast ourselves beneath 

the wings of Glory upon the fields vermillion with blood.

For, there far away, battles sway 

With the same blood that emanates from this resting-place:

Here above the eye of the resting lords,

There before the son’s history is made.

That’s why I seek peace, to officiate a Requiem

without words, without tears and quiet sighs,

Mingle with the odor of powder, the perfume of incense

 As we hear resound the far noise of the cannon.

Hail to you, imperial galleys! In the name 
of a conscientious fast
Glide lightly upon these sacred waters.

A Requiem I’m officiating, one that heavens

have yet to see upon these sacred waters!

Milutin Bojić

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