Toumanian (Born 1869)
By Prof. Levon Hakhverdian,
Doctor of Philological
Toumanian, one of the greatest Armenian poets, is a writer of universal
appeal. His works with their classic simplicity and depth are intelligible
to people of every age, nationality and time.
There are writers, and famous ones
at that, who are not a man's lifelong companions, but only accompany him
along a certain stretch of life's road, be it childhood, youth or maturity.
But there are also writers that belong to all ages, from early childhood
to venerable old age.
Hovhannes Toumanian is one of these.
The Armenian reader finds it as difficult
to recollect his first meeting with Toumanian, as his early infancy. He
first heard him on him mother's knee, then as soon as he had learned his
ABC, read him himself and gradually entered Toumanian's poetic world.
The poet wants the infant emerging
into daylight to see life as bright and cloudless as joy itself. He approaches
the child as a kindly spirit, to tell him about birds and foxes, dogs and
cats, trees and flowers, to lead him along the wonderful paths of early
"Spring cam merry, the birds returned,
The sun rose warm, waters gurgled,
Days of plowing and sowing came.
I turned ravens into a team,
And harnessed geese as a spare one,
I hired sparrows to watch the herd,
And partridges to bake the bread,
I had a plot. I plowed and tilled,
I sowed barley and rye and wheat."
(The Little Landtiller)
Then he gets a little older, the
junior member of society learns from the poet that the affairs of this
world are not so cloudless, after all, that there are good and evil forces
the world, and a constant struggle goes on between them, and that in their
eternal strife good does not always triumph. The juvenile reader now takes
up "A Drop of Honey," a legend (based on a medieval Armenian fable) telling
how a destructive war breaks out all because of a drop of honey, and how
at the end of it the survivors -
"Asked each other terror-stricken,
Where the world-wide great disaster
Took its origin, its sources."
The youth also reads "My Friend Nesso,"
a story about how the best and handsomest boy in the village turns into
a bad, dishonest man, dragged to the bottom by life's deprivations.
The youthful reader will probably
derive the greatest benefit from Toumanian's masterpieces "In the Armenian
Mountains," "Armenian Grief" and "With My Fatherland," poems which set
the course for future Armenian patriotic poetry. Then come the stories
"The Bet", "The Construction of the Railway" and "The Deer." Next follow
the great poetic canvases: "David of Sassoun", a brilliant rendition of
the superb epic of the Armenian nation; "Parvana," depicting the eternal
yearnings of unquenchable love; "The Poet and the Muse," on the subject
of the contradiction between the lofty ideals of poetry and harsh reality;
"Sako from Lori" showing the destructive force of prejudice; "The Capture
of Fort Temuk" which traces the criminal path leading from ambition to
treason, and, finally, "Anoush" rightly considered Toumanian's masterpiece.
In this poem the author expresses
his philosophy of life, his personal ideas about man's existence, environment
and the world of the human passions. The poet's nostalgia and his irrepressible
love for his native land is revealed here:
"My longing for that wondrous land
Again and again it calls me back,
And my soul on wings outspread
Flies straight home where before
In my native hearth they are all
Waiting anxiously for me…."
This poem, like every romance, has
a tragic ending, and the poet, turning to Anoush, roaming in solitude and
despair at the loss of her lover, addresses her with words on the eternity
of life and infinite renewal.
"O fair lady, why do you cry
So distraught and lonely?
Why do you cry and wander
In these valleys every day?
If you desire fragrant roses,
Wait for a while and May will come;
But if you long for your lover,
Know, he is gone, lost forever….
Neither crying nor wailing
Will return your beloved;
Why then in vain extinguish
The youthful fire of your eyes?
Pour cold water from fountain
On his lone and sorrowful tomb;
Go and begin another love,
That is the way of the world."
Toumanian's works are a living phenomenon
in constant motion, a whole world, swarming with countless heroes and buzzing
with the sound of human voices. There is something we must know about Toumanian
if we want to understand that world. Everything he wrote, prose and poetry,
fairytales and realistic stories, even his journalistic writings and correspondence,
has an inner unity, embraced as they are by the coherent world outlook
of this great individual. Hence the extraordinary unity of his art, for
all its great variety and wealth of tones and shades, a unity that is peculiar
only to great artists.
Hovhannes Toumanian was born on the
19th February, 1869, in the town of Dsegh of the Lori Province, in the
very spiritual family of Holy father, Ter-Tadevos. Lori, or as Ancient
Armenians called it, the land of Gougars, was described by renowned Armenian
poet Avetik Isahakian as a county of tales and legends, every corner of
it a testament, each stone a witness to the heroic past. The poet spent
his childhood in Lori, and that Homeric land left its indelible imprint
on all his works.
Toumanian went to primary school
in his native village. He was then a pupil at the Nersessian School in
Tiflis, which he left early, leaving his future education and development
to his own efforts according to his tastes and preferences. That is why
the famous Russian poet Valeri Bryssov could describe Toumanian as "largely
self-educated, and an extremely well-read man if not systematically so,"
"in whom genius, are astonishingly synthesized."
The rest of Toumanian's life, until
his death in 1923, was passed in Tiflis, which up to the revolution was
the administrative centre of Transcaucasia, and a great centre of Armenian
He did not travel far, as did his
younger friend Avetik Isahakian. His trips were rare and only made when
unavoidable. He once made a journey to St. Petersburg and Moscow, but that
was a trip in a prison carriage in 1908, taking the poet to trial in court,
accused of anti-tsarist activities. Towards the end of his life, in 1921,
he traveled again; this time to Constantinople in connection with the work
of the Armenian Relief Committee and returned with his health undermined.
Lastly, towards the end of 1922, Toumanian, already seriously ill, was
taken to Moscow for medical treatment, and after a number of unsuccessful
operations and attempt to try to cure his ever growing ailment, the great
Armenian poet, Hovhannes Toumanian passed away in one of the cold Moscow
hospitals. His remains were moved to Tiflis.
Despite the absence of salient events
in Toumanian's own biography, he nevertheless lived a highly intense life,
more so than any other Armenian poet, at least during that turbulent period,
the reason must be sought in the environment in which he lived. Toumanian
lived at a turbulent period in Armenian history. No other period in the
long chronicle of the Armenian nation is so dramatic, condenses so many
splendid hopes and illusions and so much shattering disillusionment and
tragedy as the end of the Nineteenth and the first two decades of the twentieth
centuries brought upon the Armenian nation.
Toumanian was an eyewitness and participant
of all these cataclysms. He devoted his life to a country that had many
enemies and few friends.
Toumanian engaged in numerous public
activities. In the autumn of 1912 he sponsored the Caucasian Society of
Armenian Writers in Tiflis and was chairman of the society up to the fading
of his health in 1921. The society organised weekly literary readings and
public lectures devoted to Armenian, Georgian and other literatures.
In the three hundred odd publicistic
articles he wrote, Toumanian showed himself to be an accomplished critic
and historian of literature and expressed many interesting ides on literature,
art, language and Armenian culture.
In 1917 - 1918 Toumanian sponsored
a number of societies, Union of Countrymen's Associations, Society for
Help to War Victims, Society for Help to Orphans and Refugees. His humanitarian
activities consumed most of his time, efforts and energy during this period.
Toumanian saw the supreme goal of
art to be the bringing together of men, peoples and nations. He considered
Shakespeare to have succeeded best in this and wrote of him: "H brings
all peoples closer together, both to the English nation and to one another.
And herein, indeed, lies the magic power of poetry and art in general;
safeguarding the fragrance and charm of each in uniting them all, and from
the many create a harmonious whole."