Split, 1910 – Zagreb, 2000
Olinko Delorko was a student of Slavic studies and Philosophy, he was a professor, a writer of poems and prose, and from his youth onwards, he was engaged in translation, particularly from Italian, translating even Dante. Therefore his poetry, in which he introduced himself as an impressionist and a subtle poet-observer, came from the European Mediterranean tradition. This was the defining characteristic of his later folkloristic work at the Institute of Folk Art (what is today the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Research).
Olinko Delorko was a member of the first generation of associates at the Institute who approached the research of folklore as experts from other disciplines – predominately from literature and philology. When he arrived at the Institute in 1950, Delorko started to work exclusively on Croatian oral poetry. He was often heard saying that his work on folk poetry started almost by accident prior to his arrival at the Institute: Spanish romances reminded him of some of the Croatian folk poems, which was why (whilst he was translating a Spanish romance about Virgil) he happened to be in need of octosyllabic verses. He started to re-read the annotations of folk poems and quickly noticed their artistic value. Many other works by other Croatian contemporary poets have been inspired and made possible as a result of Delorko’s comparative insights. This is how Delorko’s methodical note taking and folklore work started at the Institute, enthused (and furthermore was always accompanied) by his highly poetic standards.
In Delorko’s interpretations, oral (most often lyrical) poetry is viewed first and foremost as a literary text, but it also worth pointing out his feeling for the stratification of, and his awareness of the historical connections to, folklore processes. Delorko showed this stratification and these changes in his research, by emphasising the different versions that a poem can have, which is the foundation of Delorko’s comparative research on oral poetry in Croatia. These most frequently come from Dalmatia, which he placed into the context of other European, Mediterranean and South Slavic oral, as well as written, poetry.
Olinko Delorko, himself a poet, was also an editor of many anthologies of oral poetry. In his anthologies, he most often chose those texts where the poetic qualities are expressed. With the great learnedness, the refined literary taste and sensitivity of a modern poet, he showed us the highlights of, and the most successful, poems of Croatian oral poetry. The most beautiful of these are Dalmatian poems. which as a result of different circumstances, were neither widely circulated nor widely known. By collecting and publishing these fragments into valuable collections, Delorko managed to defend the argument of the cultural and poetic value of Croatian oral poetry. With his work, and especially with his anthologies which were received amongst the literary world on the same level as artistic (written) literature, Delorko showed that because of the shadow of the centuries-long artificial (political) myth about unified Serbian Croatian (south Slavic) epics being the dominant literature in south east Europe, this high quality poetry was unfairly neglected.
We read Delorko’s anthologies of oral poetry today as being the most successful of anthologies. There we can find exemplary and precise transcriptions of performed texts but also a beauty of verse. Delorko’s collections have made a great breakthrough in folklore studies, and are particularly valued in the literary world. All of them, but in particular, the first two collections Hrvatske narodne balade i romance (1951), and Zlatna jabuka (1956), were received on the same level as artistic (written) literature. Also, we should mention his anthology, Ljuba Ivanova (1969), composed from his own transcriptions of oral poems from Dalmatia, during the fifties and sixties, when he wrote down 2365 poems from the Island of Premuda in the north, to Molunat in Konavle in the south.
In the introductions of his collections (which were by character autobiographical folklore studies), Delorko presents us with information about the journey, the amount of the collected materials, and about the lives of the people and their wide range of problems: in addition to the descriptions of informants and their repertoire, there we can also find information about the places, surnames, reflections about the fate of the people and the Croatian nation, and their life in the Dalmatian area.
We read these introductions as being Delorko’s sketches of his journeys, as narratives about ‘one period of time’, as well as being texts that put the poems into context. In Delorko’s introductions to these collections, he talks extensively about the informants as producers and carriers of refined poetry. In these introductions, Delorko gives information about the way in which the poems were performed, about the connection between the poems and customs and rituals of life or calendar cycles, gives information about the style of learning and transmission of these poems, shows us the different versions, and compares his own transcriptions with the transcriptions from earlier classical, manuscript and printed collections. Through doing this, he connects oral poetry to the Croatian literary tradition.
Although these poems are undoubtedly genuine traditional poems, although for the most part they come from pastoral-peasant areas, they can be transferred into an urban attire. The images given here are inspired by the feudal world, by chivalrous traditions, by courteous behaviour and the apparatus of a well-formed civilisation, by traces of the Renaissance and chivalrous poetry, as well as by Mediterranean cultivated high society; but they are also mixed with images of the peasant family atmosphere.Delorko would say “Exactly these two elements, i.e. the renaissance-chivalrous element that has been cultivated in harmony with the shadows of the stone architecture of Dalmatia’s cities and towns, and the ancient element which has developed around the arid and bare stone slabs, gives a special charm to traditional works of poetry in Dalmatia” (Delorko 1969: 21).
Delorko’s intention is to portray oral poetry of the last centuries as evidence of everyday life, without the idealistic veil of the last century. We experience this poetry as poetry that has reached its highest level. The world that it describes has neither great events nor heroic undertakings, it has not got the presence of bandits, nor epic heroism, overcome with love, and hints and understatements; the world that is Delorko’s is self abnegating, but is first and foremost a creative one.
Delorko, in the twenty years of his research fieldwork, during his work at the Institute and amongst informants in their authentic life situations, gathered a valuable collection of oral literary poetic works. For the most part, these were from Dalmatia and in particular those that came from the islands were performed mainly by females. When choosing their poems for his anthologies, Delorko successfully wove their creations into the corpus of Croatian oral poetry, and in this way has fought for the artistic status of these poems. Alongside him many talented female informants have fought for that status by keeping these oral poems alive. Most of these songs are justifiably some of the most beautiful achievements in Croatian oral literature. Through the books Hrvatske narodne balade i romance (1951.), Zlatna jabuka (1956.), Istarske narodne pjesme (1960.), Narodne lirske pjesme (1963.), Narodne epske pjesme (1964.), Ljuba Ivanova (1969.), Narodne pjesme (1971.) and Narodne pjesme otoka Hvara (1976.) and Delorko’s expert intervention, oral poetry has found its way to a contemporary readership.
For his literary and folklore work Olinko Delorko was awarded the “S. S. Kranjcevic” award (1941) for the collection of poems Razigrani vodoskoci, the Matica Hrvatska award (1970) for the anthology Ljuba Ivanova, the “Vladimir Nazor” award (1979) for the book Zanemareno blago (1979) and an award for his life work (1990).