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YeghishĂŠ Charents

Selected Poems Translated by samvel mkrtchyan

S&H Project 2014


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S&H Project 2014


Yeghishé Charents. Selected Poems. Translated by Samvel Mkrtchyan. A self-publishing edition. © 2012, 2014 by Samvel Mkrtchyan. Printed in Armenia by Antares Media Holding.


Contents Foreword: Hero and Victim 7 My Sweet Armenia’s Sun-flavored Word 11 To My Reader 12 Invisible Guests 13 Sister, It Could Be 14 Attila 15 The Poet 18 Words of Leaving 19 Insomnia 20 Soma 21 The Fool 24 The Feast 26 A Vision of Death 28 To Elegant Miss L. 30 Loveless Romance 32 The Wind 51 At the Crossroads of History 54 There’s So Much Spite in My Heart 57 For the New Year 58 Spain 59 Nausicaa 60 Here I Stand Again 67 Nightfall Mood 68 They Were Beheading Us 69 An Immeasurable Sonnet 70 My Morning Star 71 Black Gallows 72


Hero and victim Those lamps I set ablaze long ago inside, to keep terror at bay, today still provide a tiny ray of hope (a small glow of pride). —YeghishÊ Charents 1 [from Unpublished Fragments ]


It is considered that Yeghishé Charents2 (18971937) is notoriously difficult to translate although peers like Osip Mandelstam, Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, Arseny Tarkovsky, Valery Bryusov and Louis Aragon have translated his vibrant poetry which signifies the end of the classical Armenian poetry—to generate novel styles as opposed to old romantic sentiments and traditions. This “nuisance” might stem from the poet’s flawless mastery of the language as well as his inimitable style and unique imaginative manner. Charents’s personality is always present in his poems; everything matters in his case: the rank and file youthful soldier, the fervent supporter of Bolshevik revolution, the futurist, the modernist, the public activist sometimes acting like a ruffian, the “truly great man” (as pictured by William Saroyan in a Moscow hotel), the man committed—or rather addicted—to poetry, life, love, national recovery, novelty, his “sweet Armenia’s sun-flavored word,” modern literature—and morphine; the disillusioned and defiant victim of his own political blunders and the Great Purge of 1937 to become Armenia’s most powerful poetic voice and icon—something true (and fallible) martyrs are doomed to be. Charents’s poetry is predominantly metrical, experimental on occasion, with miscellaneous prosodic technique stretching from quantitative (syllabic) to stressed verse. He tried almost all the popular—and not very popular— meters, and his use of rhyme is amazingly diverse—from syllabic to oblique and slant rhyme. As a rule, not all translators (or literary critics, for that matter) favor metrical translation; fortunately, not all readers prefer free (virtually word-for-word) translation, or rendering, transpositioning, transforming, “moving over” (William Saroyan’s wording) poetry from one language into another. Charents was a man of contrasts. Like Hugh MacDiarmid, he was a communist prone to nationalism, which is unnatural. He, too, wrote hymns to Lenin but was “quite different” (I have my own straight claims, / But if you to put me in frames / It means you are to be / My mortal enemy.3), which was the 7


Yeghishé Charents

most unnatural thing at the time. A prodigy, he was the most creative Armenian poet; a dissenter, he did not mind regular debauchery. Like Walt Whitman, he could say about himself: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” Elsewhere, his stature has been associated with those of Pablo Neruda and Nazim Hikmet. From numerous analyses of the life, the times and the works of Charents written in English I recommend Eddie Arnavoudian’s all-embracing Yeghishé Charents: Poet of Life as Permanent Revolution in Armenian News Network/Groong, where, recalling Charents’s famous dictum (“If you want your song to be heard, you must become the breath of your times”), the author writes in his preface: “So he was: an artist of many voices directed by the storm of revolution to produce an enduring poetry of Whitman-like grandeur.”4 Or as D. Der Hovanessian writes in her Introduction to “Land of Fire,” “The Charents story deserves clarification just as his poetry deserves its rightful place in world literature.”5 To conclude with quoting Walt Whitman once again, “I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best” could equally illustrate Charents, whose poetry remains timeless and continues to defy categorisation. All his (our) controversies are in his poems. —Samvel Mkrtchyan

Translated by Diana Der Hovanessian. IPA: [јeġ i'∫е t∫a'rents] From “I’m Quite Different,” ending with When life is new and fresh, / I will never fail;/ I'm a mystery—for my flesh / There's no exile or jail. [Yegheshé Charents, One Last Word. Prepared by Anahit Charents, “Hayagitak”, Yerevan. 2007 (in Armenian)]. Translated by S.M. 4 http://groong.usc.edu/tcc/tcc-20050711.html. 5 Yeghishé Charents, Land of Fire: Selected Poems. Translated by Diana Der Hovanessian. Edited by Diana Der Hovanessian and Marzbed Margossian. Ardis Press, Ann Harbor 1986. 1

2 3

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YeghishĂŠ Charents

selected poems


selected poems

MY SWEET ARMENIA’S SUN-FLAVORED WORD My sweet Armenia’s sun-flavored word that always chimes and rings—I love; Our ancient lyre’s melody, its wretched weeping strings—I love; The fragrance of the blood-like flowers, the way the fiery roses smell; The graceful dance of Nayirian girls, their sweet angelic wings—I love. I love our heavens overcast, our waters pure, our lakes so bright; The summer sun, the dragon-voiced snowstorms in a wintry night; The black-walled huts lost in the dark, their unfriendly cheerless sight; The rock-hard stones of ancient cities, their mysterious pride—I love. Wherever I am I can’t forget our mournful tunes and melodies, Our steel-lettered sacred books turned into silent prayers and pleas; However sharp they pierce my heart, however deep my wounds may bleed, Even though orphaned and blood-bright, my sweet Armenia-bride—I love. There is no other pleasing tale or story for my longing heart; The haloed foreheads of Narek*, Kouchak**— there is no higher art; There is no summit as snow-white as that of lofty Ararat; Like a distant path to glory—that mount, my timeless guide—I love!

Grigor Narekatsi (951–1003), an Armenian monk, poet, mystical philosopher and canonized saint. His "Book of Lamentations" has played a significant role in the development of the Armenian literary language. ** Nahapet Kouchak, a 16th century Armenian bard. *

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TO MY READER I am sending you my book, O my reader, today; It's up to you to read Or throw it away. I have written in this book Such lines (as I know it) You can never find In another poet. So judge with your heart If they're bad or good: When your heart is the critic, I'm not misunderstood.

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selected poems

INVISIBLE GUESTS Invisible quests—they come in quietude, Wrapped up in silence and speechless again. They arrive to live and silently depart; We neither open nor shut a door to them. Well, they have no name, no shadow, no voice; Silently they come and silently they go, While we never learn in this doorless world The reason why they came, the reason why it’s so. It’s only when some ubiquitous sadness Spreads out its wings to open a door That we begin to feel with a longing heart Someone has just left—to come back no more.

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Yeghishé Charents

SISTER, IT COULD BE Sister, it could be We do not exist; Someone (who?) has dreamed us In a murky mist. It did seem we were Two—just you and me; Something has changed, We’ve become—three. Now we both, together, Are calling the third, Looking for a Home Like a wounded bird. No bridge—just troubled waters. We fumble in a smother; Looking for the third We’re looking for each other.

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selected poems

ATTILA* Stamp down their heaven, Attila! —V. Ivanov

1 Revived from the depth of ancient centuries Here am I riding the fields of my land, The horizon is burning, but firmly I stand, Recharged from the strength of ancient centuries. In a tomb of gold they'd buried me before, My hardhearted Huns—and never spread the word: No king ever knew where I was interred, No one ever could disturb me anymore. They had forgotten King Attila—poor men! They'd thought I was dead, and my dream was mocked. I can imagine how they will be shocked When they see me riding half the world again! See how my yellow blazes reach the skies Scorching the stars as they did before. —You will dare forget or mock me no more— Great King of the Huns, most daring and wise! Here again I start burning every home, Village or city—I will strike and smite! This time you will see how one crimson night, Proud, invinsible—I will enter Rome! Attila the Hun, remembered as the epitome of cruelty and rapacity, the most feared enemy of the Western and Eastern Roman Empires, the ruler of the Huns and the leader of the Hunnic Empire (434-453), which stretched from the Ural River to the Rhine River and from the Danube River to the Baltic Sea.

*

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I will devastate your temples and shrines With my iron fist—make my greatest feat! I will make the kings crawl before my feet Like maggots of the marsh with no bone and spine! O those flimsy clowns, pathetic and battered, Who laughed in the circus, feeling redeemed, When Theodosius hopelessly dreamed That Attila's swift arrow was shattered! Whom my sudden death had made deaf and blind; Who believed in vain they had peaceful life And began to dream of freedom from strife For themselves, as well for the human kind. How could they have thought they could kill the hero! I am immortal, cold-hearted and crude; I will sleep again to wake up renewed— I have countless names: Death, Destruction, Nero! 2 My slant eyes can see, like they saw before, How under the hooves of my restless mare Your mock crystal buildings dissolve in the air Like a memory from the days of yore. Hey! From East to West—I, who knows no ruth, Must burn and destroy everything and all. I'm your king, your god, destruction and fall, I am the naked brand and whip of truth. Let all the rulers of the world discern, Let them, one last time, accept my decree— 16


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I have been, I am, I will always be, I am not the one you can ever spurn. Let the human races consider at last That never again in their hymn and prayer Will grass ever sprout in the places where Attila's old mare has rapidly passed. Let them bear in mind again and again: My old aspiration, to set the world to fire, Will never diminish, will never expire— Attila the Hun can never be slain! 3 When I'm full as there's nothing left to burn, When my brave body is tired of playing the game, I'll sleep some more years, leaving as I came— To my gold coffin's warmth I will return, Followed by my dismal, fuming giants, who, Without any prayer, without a single word, Once again will have my carcass interred— And those who'll bury me, will be buried too, So that my body will never be found— None will ever know where Attila the Hun Is buried in this world—King Attila, the one Who leveled so bravely your honor to the ground; And when all the stars of the sky complain To the very stone of the earthly fire, Eternally loyal to his old desire, King Attila will arise yet again! 17


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THE POET What’s bad turns out to be so good, Routine becomes a magic dream— I am in love with all the hues, The distant star, the sunny beam. All the wanderer’s feckless songs, The town, the carriages, the street, Turn into abstract phantasies A poet’s heart has longed to meet. Each time I kiss a woman’s lips That to thousands have been lent, I do believe they’re undefiled— A virgin’s lips so innocent. Who can read a poet’s way? Who has fathomed him so far When his winged and cosmic heart Soars above the farthest star? Who can know the reason why A woman’s rotten lips he kisses, While he’s praying to the shadow Of a distant love he misses? Who will listen to his sadness, To his madness and his prayer When in deathbed he says smiling: Life! How wonderful you were!

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WORDS OF LEAVING So many flames have I extinguished in my eyes, Scores of stars have I extinguished in my heart. Don't curse my life—a memory will never rise; My life will pass, but my song will not depart. My life will pass like a fire in a bog— Dull and worthless, with no purpose, with no goal; While in my songs I'm almost vanished in a fog— Was it me singing the blue longing of my soul? Born to wander, I've been voiceless all along; No one knows what my life is, who I am. All they know is I have written several songs, Like I know one loves you like no other can. I've sung your soul, I've sung your smile so brilliant, The consecrated sorrow of your eyes and face, My life in mists, I've sung the deep commitment— My arms longing for your compassionate embrace. Sister! Here descends the murky dusk of strife; Oh what can I do to stop this heart from crying? Oh how can I accept the drained cup of my life With my fingers trembling and my days decrying? Will I ever be doubting myself, or disbelieving? Will I ever be thinking this longing was a lie? —Anyway, o sister, do not curse, while leaving, My arms that fail to reach you when they try.

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INSOMNIA They're trampling, they're trampling so ample and loose; Mad horses, they're stamping and stomping their shoes. They're thumping them darkling and pounding the ground— Unknown is the path and the night is unbound. Mad horses, they're rushing, they're crashing my ears, They're smashing and trashing their shoes far and near; They're thumping my temples, they're bumping my brain— Unknown is the world, yet the end is unfeigned.

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SOMA* (Excerpts)

1 Like the priest of the Ganges, Forever lovelorn and true, I've passed my life to your light, And am singing of you— In this changing red world For you are my praises; I'm acclaiming you, Soma! Sweet sister—so crazy! 2 For centuries on end, with flowers in my heart, And my flag unfurled, I was out to find you never to depart In this impious world. I thought that your fiery visage, O Soma, Nowhere could be found; And I knew whoever once loved you, now lies Deep in the ground. Surrendered at length to mortal desires For death did I ask. Suddenly I saw your face in the twilight That I thought was the last. O I saw your face in a place that was Personification of a sacred intoxicating drink used in Vedic rituals. Here: the spirit of the 1917 revolution.

*

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A sanctified altar; And I saw your face in a grueling world Full of fire and mortar. Intoxicated by you and your charms I joined the fire-dance; And ceding my life, I stretched out my arms To the burning lands. 3 I do know you are my heavenly sister, A sweet girl, O Soma! Who is delivering to our sacred flowers Venom, grief, aroma. O you fertilize flowers and plants With your vital dew. Sister! You subsist in our sacred herbs— Terrible and new. We absorb the drink distilled from those plants— Wine that is a fire! When we're drunk with this sacred beverage, It's you we desire! O Soma! You're flaming wine in blood vessels! In our veins you run! When we're drunk we wish hallowed be your name And your will be done! 4 Soma! O Soma! Sacred beverage, Sacred love on earth! 22


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O sweet spirit of sacred inspiration, Sacred night of birth! O you sacred womb of daybreak and light, Our soul's Milky Way; Who, before the Sun, paved the sky with gold, With her golden rays. O you sanctified bride of liberty— Its worth and merit! The last illusion of adorability, Joy of the spirit! You who simmer up in the hearts of men— A powerful flood. Boiling froth and foam until you're a spark, Until you're a blaze to inflame the blood! Soma! O Soma! Blessed be the instant When, in this red world full of sin and vice, You turned into fire, turned into Agni* In the hearts of ice!

a Hindu deity, the Vedic God of fire, one of the most important gods. Charents probably knew Agni was also the acceptor of sacrifices and his vehicle was the ram. *

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THE FOOL "And your soul like wine Will pour down in abundance Upon their dark blood-smelling floor." —The Feast, Ballad I.

Would you like me to sing For you, Right away? I can make you feel love, I can make you feel death— Any way. I sing to move your hearts, Delivering lucid songs For any one: even For the latest whore. Oh aren't you keen on This clumsy and bearish Softness anymore? I sing for singing's sake. Whatever I sing—love, Or even death— It is never fake. Listen to my songs— Here I go— Listen to them but Don't get drunk. Oh no! Just feel yourself at ease. It's no good, you know, 24


selected poems

When a limitless desire Becomes a sweet breeze. Don't you realize? It's regrettably sad! Just think To understand and care, too. You need to fly—but where to? You see, I want My incandescent Songs To seem like paper and ink. Don't you realize? Oh you must. Just think. Nothing else. No fake. Still singing to move your hearts. For singing's sake. Whether it's love or death, I am equally cool. You see, I'm the Fool.

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