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Armenian Poetry

Hovhannes Shiraz (1915-1984)

Some of the information in the following biography is translated and summarized by Shant Norashkharian from SHIRAZ: SELECTED WORKS, edited by Hovhannes Hannesian, and published in Beirut, 1985 by Shirag Publishers. The poems are from the same book.

Biography

he deportation and massacres of Western Armenians had widowed many thousands of mothers and children who became orphaned and helpless.

The city of Alexandropol, (formerly Leninagan, now Gyumri), had turned to an enormous orphanage. In those tragic days, on April 27, 1915, only three days after the terrible massacre of Armenian writers and other intellectuals, was born Hovhaness Onnig Garabedian. He passed his childhood during the most tragic times of Armenian history, starving, thirsty and barefoot.

In 1935, he attracted attention by publishing his first work, "BEGINNING OF SPRING". His fame spread everywhere. Novelist Adrbed named the talented poet "Shiraz", because "this youth's poems have the fragrance of roses, fresh and covered with dew, like the roses of Shiraz." In 1937 he entered the Armenian Literature Department of Yerevan's State University, where he studied until 1941. Until his death on March 14, 1984, Shiraz published many books, mostly poetry, but also quartets, parables and translations, and enjoyed the love and recognition of Armenians everywhere as one of the greatest Armenian poets of this century.

He is immortalized by such lines as:

"Let all nations reach the moon,
But Armenians to Massis."

"As long as you never have a hut in the fatherland,
You are just a forgotten orphan under foreign moon."

Shiraz, like his contemporary Baruyr Sevag, was an anti-establishment poet who was very popular with the people of Soviet Armenia but despised and fought against its corrupt leadership all his life. He also had a unique way of expressing his feelings. One night, after having a few drinks which he often did, he stood at the statue of Lenin in the central square of Yerevan and publicly urinated on it. By doing so, he showed more courage by urinating than many of his "literary" colleagues showed with their books.

English translation by Shant Norashkharian

Will

My son, what shall I will you, what shall I will you, my dear,
That you may remember me in coming sorrow or cheer?
I've no treasures, what treasure, treasure's the light of my eyes,
Only you are my treasure, you treasure of my treasures.
I want to will such treasure for you as your father that
In any other country to will a father cannot;
I am willing that to you which in our great century
Small men have imprisoned and also chained in the clouds;
I will you our mountain so that you take it from black cloud
And bring it home carrying it with our spotless justice,
So that you may throw my dear, even with your poor small paw,
To our side our mountain that's your justice's sea of strength,
And when you bring it, my dear, take my heart out of my tomb,
And toward the free above rise and take with you my heart, 
And bury my heart under the snows of Mount Ararat,
So that in my tomb as well it won't be cold from the fire of longing for centuries.

I will you Mount Ararat, that you may keep for ever,
As our language and also as your father's home's pillar.

To Arayig Shiraz

My dear, as much joy as you are feeling,
As much you flower, as much as you sing,
So much roses of oblivion you pour 
On the memories of my sad childhood... 

Laugh, so my homeless memories may cry,
As I entered life and home I was yet a homeless orphan,
Although I have lost now my poor childhood,
But I have found now thousand gold childhoods.

*
Among roses, my dear one, you may forget me,
But when the thorns bite you then, call me, I shall come.

Under the sun, in the light, you may forget me,
But when your way is dark then, call me, I shall come.

Wherever I'm in a war or under the earth,
Whenever you fall in pain, call me, I shall come...

*
Thousand hearts under my chest get ruined,
When your foot touches a stone suddenly...

I have placed my head upon your fortune,
And no matter how many temptation rivers corrupt you,
On all the roads of your life I have placed 
My head as a bridge over all of them.

My heart has turned to mother's heart for you,
My heart spreads like field under your feet,
My heart, my dear one, brought you to the world,
I'm the reason for your joy and sorrow...

If any one of your life's roses stings
A thorn into your finger like a tear,
Let that thorn my eye then suddenly sting,
Let my eye's flame then burn all of your thorns...

And him whom my death has brought to the world
That dearest bud life will not sacrifice,
Damned is he who won't hold like a mother
That dearest one like holding earth's future.

*
My son, be good and always remain good,
Always knead the good in this evil world,
Even in a sea of wickedness one will not become poor
If only a drop of goodness he brings.

Always do goodness, like a pure fountain,
Though the passing flood is cursed but behold,
Yet even the beast will silently bow
Like a thirsty man over the fountain.

*
The children are calling for me,
The children have not been patient,
The children brought to the city
Flowers of joy from the mountain and the valley.

But how would my dearest ones know
That it's not their pretty flowers,
But they themselves are the spring's life,
They themselves bring for us our spring...
 

.
.
. Without flower
It's cold winter inside and out,
Without dear ones, my heart is cold
Under the snows of my own hair.

 Translation Copyright 1996 by Shant Norashkharian

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