A book of fourteen sonnets, Pain deals with a historical event from August 1941, when the entire Serbian population of the ethnically mixed village of Miostrah in Bosnia were massacred by their Muslim neighbors in a large genocidal campaign aimed at the complete extermination of the Serbs from the Nazi Independent State of Croatia that at the time included the territory of present-day Bosnia-Herzegovina. Among more than 180 slaughtered women and children were all the members of Miroslav Maksimović’s mother’s immediate family. Thirteen years of age and the oldest child, Maksimović’s mother miraculously survived and soon joined the anti-fascist partisan forces.
Using her tragedy as a paradigm for a national trauma, Maksimović created a work that contributes significantly to the Serbian culture of remembrance. But Pain oversteps the relatively narrow boundaries of memorial literature as soon as it outlines them. Maksimović’s decision to juxtapose the poems with the factual, historical account of the massacre provided in the Appendix features the complicated relationship between poetry and history and emphasizes the poet’s belief that historical facts must transcend their facticity in order to become poetry and “hover above the reality of life.” That is why Pain stands as a work that, despite the horrors it depicts, celebrates the triumph of creative effort over senseless destruction—the triumph of poetry over historical evil.