2018 marks the hundreth anniversary of the death of the greatest Slovenian writer Ivan Cankar.

His last published work - a short story collection Images from Dreams (1917) - is a literary masterpiece, written during the horrors of the first World War.

A new translation into English is forthcoming from Litteræ Slovenicæ editions, both in print and as an ebook.

Cankar's foreword to the stories - a grand call to creation amid ever uncertain historical circumstance - can be read below.

While I never found it easy to write, these days every sentence comes to me as a sensation of almost bodily pain. My weary hand is bound and my thoughts are pulled to the ground – and not only by external things. It is true, I guess, that my words would flow more smoothly and with greater joy, if ... if there came at least a drop of sun, if I could just once take a breath from a full and freed breast, if I could at least once look ahead without fear, with my eyes wholly open. And yet all this is not of the essence. In any case I am not the only one among us who has cause to complain and would do so were he not ashamed. It is something else entirely, something deeper, fully more painful, which causes my speech to resemble a shy, hardly comprehensible stutter and that my thoughts, instead of racing bright into the sky, flutter inconstantly, not knowing where to go, and cannot go anywhere.

A young person dreams up verses, he puts rhymes together; and it all flows nicely down the riverbed without trouble, all by itself, and at the end it comes out looking just like a poem. A sweet tingling is heard in his ear – from where? It feels like a memory of something beautiful, warm, which used to be – where, when? Words come on with a quiet, mysterious whisper, they rustle like leaves floating in the wind – but what do they mean? They do mean something, certainly; the eye turns moist, the heart grows soft by their sound. Love, yearning, sorrow ... there are thousands of them, numberless, growing sweeter and more beautiful; they are words, singing gently ... yet they are so strangely distant, as if they were sung somewhere far behind a mountain by a stranger with a hollow voice, an unknown man, who has perhaps already died long ago. To him, to this man behind the mountain, these words used to be living creatures with faces and bodies and hot blood flowing in their veins; but to others they are a voiceless, formless secret, even to this young hand which writes them down, trembling, on a golden hemmed sheet of paper. A formless, voiceless secret; a wall, covered with rhymes, separating him from life.

But one day there comes an hour – not in a flash, like a burst of light from heaven, but slowly, step by step, night by night, an opaque, mute premonition, crawling soundlessly into one's soul and lacking any shape until it stands right in front of one's face; and this young person sees the dead, white-washed wall in front of him and his own dead words upon it. Offended and ashamed he realizes he resembled a child playing with colored stones, borrowed words, trying to build a new house, or maybe even a temple. And when this bitter recognition casts a shadow upon him, then –

Then he usually shakes off this dark premonition, this cold recognition, and keeps on writing on the wall, more and with an even thicker stroke. It seems to him that the whole thing was only a moment of despair, only a timid episode of self-distrust, which sometimes catches you unawares, like a common cold or hay fever, before it disappears just as unawares. From the moment when he overcomes this common cold he is proud of his rhymes and sensitive about them, just as someone deeply aware of his guilt is rudely delicate about his appearance of innocence. He is then on the lookout for disbelief and ridicule with restless eyes, and he grabs a stranger on the road: “Trust me, or woe be to you!” He is a stumbling block to his fellow man, a nuisance to the wanderer, yet he is worthy of compassion, because he is a stumbling block and a nuisance mostly to himself.

Yet often in this hour of dark premonition and cold recognition there happens something softly beautiful and very moving: the person reads the heap of verses which he wrote, he laughs at them halfway in a loving manner, halfway in a bitter one, he binds them with a red ribbon and places them carefully between his notebooks and his love letters, so that he could someday, when the nights will be long and sleepless, take them out of the drawer with a trembling hand and in the company of yellowed paper, of gentle, round writing, set himself deep in thought of ... not the rhymes themselves, but of the dewy young man who wrote them. When he scrubs his name off the wall in this manner, he goes merrily and faithfully along the right path, the one set for him from the beginning: into this or that office, into this or that workshop, to the teaching post, or the pulpit, or merely into the local tavern, but always to the decent, confidently deserved measure of happiness and respect. And only sometimes, hardly even under the strongest wine, he reminds himself to listen to the rhymes, carried on the wings of butterflies in the calm evening hours with the winds of spring.

But chosen among all, marked among all, is the one who hears how from the depths of his heart reply words still different to these beautiful, distant, and foreign ones, purely new and purely his, responding dully, timidly, with a stutter, and then more and more openly and more and more distinct, brighter and louder; until in their sound and light all other lights and all other voices drown forever. And have a look then at this wondrous wonder: those distant, foreign, unintelligible words have flown to the paper all by themselves, one kindly joining the other as if they were already forever there on paper, in the air, in the ear; but the new words, the words he owns, are resisting the paper, they will not join the tongue, nor the pen. They are in his heart; clear inside it, ripe, they scream to see the light of day; yet they sprang roots deep in the ground and they must be ripped out by force, without mercy, even if they should cause blood. Because they must be ripped out, this was the order given to him, the irresistible order; it was given to him on the same hour when in his young, too early blossomed heart, a new word stirred for the first time; in that moment when he for the first time, still not fully awake, cried out from the depths. It was then that the verdict of his life and ending was delivered until the end of days, the verdict of incomparable suffering, equal only to the sweetness within him, the flame within the flame.

In the beginning these words were like young flowers, sprouting their thin, gentle roots into the loosened soil, all mindful of dew and the sun: it was easy to shake them free – there was not even a sigh, hardly a drop of blood, when the joyous hand plucked a flower and pinned it to the blouse of a girl. But deeper, ever deeper are now those roots, they have burrowed the soil, they have split the mighty rocks, they have took full bloom and entangled themselves within a living network right inside the core; where only humble flowers dreamed before, wide, skyward, dark trees of pine now stand in their place – cut them down, uproot them! A single blow of an axe will awaken pain and terror across those whole dark woods, the earth itself will cry out. The heart is anguished and in pain, it guards itself, it would prefer to remain silent; yet silence is forbidden – it has to speak of its suffering, for that was the verdict and the command.

Each room in the grand dwelling of a human heart has hidden doors leading into another room ... and that room has doors leading into another ... and further, farther, without end, from a chapel into chapel, from a jail cell into jail cell; each stairwell, even the darkest and most narrow, leads only to other stairwells, even darker and more narrow, from depths into depths, from dusk into dusk. A person often thinks he has already opened the doors to the last room, that he is at the top of the last stairwell, and that he is faced with the bottom itself, which has never before revealed itself to anyone; it is an insolent thought, and at the same time full of despair, a sign of tiredness, a shadow of that cold white hand which will one day mercifully caress his cheeks and deliver him from pain. There are moments, hardly noticeable, when in his despair he aches for this merciful hand. “Here is the end, I will rest!” he says – and look, there is another stairwell, another door, another mystery ... stand up, go, do not hesitate! “Here is the bottom,” you say, “now all will be revealed!” – but look there, look at another stairwell, get on your feet, descend into the depths, into the night! From the bottom, from the utmost bottom he would like to confess and call out loud to all the people that there are no words of deliverance, they have never been heard by anyone, they have never been spoken by anyone; it is all a delusion and a journey, an endless pilgrimage down the silent catacombs of the heart.

The life lived by this frail body outside under the loud sun is but a hazy reflection, merely an opaque metaphor for this other true life, locked inside me and inside you. It is an opaque metaphor, which obscures and distorts the true face of a man, instead of revealing it in truth. To the bone – it seems to you – you know your fellow man, you saw him at the wedding and the funeral; and then he bursts out a word unawares, fearful, in need, in overabundant joy – and suddenly there is someone else entirely in front of you, a stranger whom you have never before met, a man who is like you, like everybody, like no one. Only to the one who was fearless, who reached into his own depths in search of the final truth, only to him are all the metaphors unfolded, only to him are all the catacombs in the heart of his brother in reach.

The pilgrim travels restless down these mysterious rooms, down these twilight stairwells, descending into the abyss. He sees there treasures untold, unimagined, and even more unnamable terrors; he is so glad at times he could sing to the heaven, and is more often so sad he wants to weep on his knees. But when he returns from the long journey all filled with discovery and stands in front of people to tell them about all that he saw – his tongue is unmoving, his words will not go forth from his mouth. And what he finally, forcefully, with stutters and whispers manages to produce from his throat – for he cannot keep silent – is barely a symbol, barely a memory of the things he saw on his own.

He is not afraid, the pilgrim, of a straightforward confession – and why should he fear? He knows that in the time he wandered the spaces and stairwells of his own heart, he also walked with a bright light among the locked sanctuaries of his fellow men, of each and every one; where he went he did not have to knock, for to his gaze, burning with desire, the doors opened wide; and wherever he turned, he was at home. He knows that in those depths all people are brothers as nowhere else, not even in church. He knows that if they ever glimpsed each other from those depths the walls between them would crumble as if they were made from ash.

In front of the house there is a market; there are peddlers there, merchants, gypsies and thieves; from all sides and all over greed is gushing, and envy, and spits of hate; but when the market closes and the peddlers, merchants, gypsies and thieves lock themselves into their own homes, those real ones, a hundred feet below the marketplace, then – they are gone: there is only one man; and this man is elevated in his thoughts, noble, free of evil and hypocrisy in his emotion, pure, unselfish, endlessly devoted in his universal, each and every single godly thing embracing love. All this is known to the pilgrim, so he is not afraid to confess in his own name and in the name of his fellow man.

He is not afraid, but he is ashamed. A person is not ashamed of vile, slippery sins he picked up on the market; he is not ashamed of those, as if they are merely hanging on his coat and he could break them loose by a stroll down the street. But he is ashamed of the pure beauty he keeps locked deep inside him and which remained untarnished in the midst of debauchery in the market tavern, unpolluted by the puddles and the swamps, by curses and obscenities. He is ashamed of this beauty. He would rather unveil his sinful body than pry open to his brother the door into the room where a pure light burns, a light which he lit by himself in a lonely hour. He is careful to guard the knowledge of this chapel where he hides his most sacred pains, his most silent joys, the innocence of his youth, his most noble deed, maybe the single one in a long life ... He is ashamed of all these beautiful things, but foremost he is ashamed of love.

You, pilgrim, must not be ashamed! You, pilgrim, were commanded by heaven to look at what others leave unseen, to tell what others leave untold. You have no right to lock the doors, not even those you yourself have opened with a trembling hand. If light invites you from the endless depths you have to descend down to it without hesitation and without fear, to bring this light to the people. Many times your words are clumsy and heavy, they are hiding, afraid as a child is afraid of strange company; many times you withdraw your gaze, lower your eyes, because even you – you the most! –, the outspoken, are ashamed of love. But every word, concealed by shame, will forever burn your heart; and you, oh pilgrim, you know this pain! ... Think of your mother, of her, in her grave! Tell me, would you not go there on your bare knees and dig up the grave with your own hands to say to her what you would not say when she could hear? A single word perhaps, just one, concealed by your vain shame, by the cheapness of your heart? Think of all the others, how many are there, who cannot hear you anymore and will never hear you, who waited eagerly for your word, yet you have chosen to withhold it! Do not keep silent, so you do not find yourself complaining then to deaf graves and calling from the depths when the wind will blow your words into the forest and across the fields! ...

How heavy became my word suddenly, how full of tears, how painfully it is torn out of a frightened heart! ...

This night I saw a large grave, reaching from the mountains to the sea. A dead man lay inside it, so bright and beautiful that the heavenly stars stared at him in a trance. On his face a limitless suffering turned to stone, on the lips, those poor lips, a last resentment quivered: “Count me the hours, son, when you have looked upon me with benevolence, thought about me with pure love! Say the words you gave me kind and warm, from your heart, accompanied by a drop of living life! Show me the tears you shed for me, show me the blood you spilled in my name! Your hands are empty; lay next to me, there is more than enough room!” –

Oh God, it was just a dream, – there is still time, still time. –