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VAHAN DERIAN AND THREE KINDRED SPIRITS Armenian News Network / Groong By Eddie Arnavoudian January 14, 2008 Reading a particular poet is always an exciting adventure, sometimes demanding and painful, in places disappointing even. But it is always rewarding, invigorating and enchanting. As thrilling however are detours that are inspired by images, phrases and even whole lines that appear to be almost identical to ones we have come across in other poets. A case in point is Vahan Derian whose imagery and turns of phrase takes us to Bedros Tourian, Missak Medzarents and Hovanness Toumanian. Here there is no question of plagiarism, even when lines or phrases are repeated almost word for word. The duplicated features remain essential to the natural flow and the development of either poem. They fit seamlessly into what are utterly different creations and though occupying a significant place, they do not define the character of the particular poems. I. VAHAN DERIAN AND BEDROS TOURIAN In `Line' written by Vahan Derian in 1907 we read that during his lifetime: `Not a single dawn has welcomed me.' One immediately remembers here Bedros Tourian's more famous exclamation from an 1871 poem `What Do They Say': `Not a single dawn has crossed my heart'. Vahan Derian's piece is about disappointment, loneliness and regret at the end of a life that was lived without enduring achievement, without the realisation of ambition, without attaining any of the `shining/bright desires' that when he was young drove him to pick up the `wanderer's staff'. As he journeyed through distant lands the poet was `uselessly worn down'. He is reduced to less than he had been. Now he is `blind', `grim' and `loveless', `quietly forgotten', `unremembered'. An irrevocable sense of collapse and isolation is underlined in his description of himself as `a lost falling-star.' Life has unhinged the poet, torn him from his roots, from his community and family. He has no home and no prospect of better days. He is wrenched from his natural orbit, like `a falling lost star in infinity'. Life has not been generous with its light, its warmth, its hope and joy that are associated with the image of dawn. The poet has ended life travelling a lone path to extinction. It is this feeling and emotion that is then condensed in the expression `not a single dawn has welcomed me.' One detects in this poem not bitterness but a quiet resignation by one who feels burnt out and powerless. But it is not a poem of despair. It summons rather an image of the destruction to the human spirit by life without and outside the solidarity of family and community.Â It speaks of loneliness in a world that is alien, a world in which one has no roots. This sense of rootless alienation also, incidentally, recalls Yeghishe Charents's `Personal Song'. He too, having bid farewell to his family home, that was `built of rough stone on a riverbank', on `passing through the streets of foreign cities' witnesses the world as a lonely place, one where no one `asks who are you or what have you achieved?' Bedros Tourian's `not a single dawn has crossed my heart' from his poem `What Do They Say' is of an altogether different quality. It also expresses existential suffering and acute loneliness: but at the beginning, not the end of life. Tourian's is the sigh of a `smouldering soul' at the dawn of life confronting the inevitability of early, untimely death. He too has ambition, his `bright dreams' that burn bright. But he knows his `time has come', even before he has had the chance to reach out for them. In contrast to Vahan Derian, Bedros Tourian suffers even as he remains within his community.Â There, none feel for his plight. They are uncomprehending, even hostile. 'They ask why the `silence', why the `unending sadness',why `the lack of fire'? `Many reject' him, perhaps because he is not rich and healthy. `He has but a lyre' they say. Others whisper that `he trembles and has no colour'. And others still that `he is about to die.' But no one asks `why do you smoulder?' No one bothers to look into `this sad heart' in which `there is fire, not a book.' How could he be otherwise? For: `not a single dawn has crossed my heart' Though he acknowledges inevitability, Tourian differs from Derian again in his refusal to resign to fate. That which life denied him - `roses, fluttering, flight and stars' he hopes to grasp in `the folds of his dark grave'. II. VAHAN DERIAN AND MISSAK MEDZARENTS In two other poems, one again by Derian and the other this time by Missak Medzarents, images of light and dawn serve an entirely different purpose being offered as celebrations of vitality, vigour and hope. Vahan Derian's entitled `It is now cold outside' ends: `Let me throw to your heart A light-giving fire So that you remain powerful In the face of life and death' Missak Medzarents in `The Morning', from a series entitled `Oh That I Were', desires reincarnation as a sun-drenched morning: `To give even one spark from my golden fire To the dimming candles of darkened spirits' In both pieces the offer of fire and light expresses a powerful sense of human generosity, an essential social solidarity without which life threatens to be harsh and hostile. But these are manifested in different forms, one as a private act, the other as a social one. In Derian's poem a `little sister' is buffeted by`wicked storms'; she is `enveloped by darkness'. She is `tired and lonely', her `spirit in turmoil'. We know little of who she is or about the world she inhabits except that the world is `outside', and that in it she is`lost'. Perhaps she is sister only in the sense of sharing with the poet a common humanity. This lack of definition however generates an ambiguity compounded by the fact that Derian for `lost' uses the word `molorvadz' that can signify having lost one's way, as in a forest, or having deviated from the correct moral path. Irrespective of meaning, the poet offers solidarity, love and comfort. The second verse of the poem takes one somewhat aback. The offer of love appears not to be made as an unambiguously disinterested act of human solidarity. The poet expects that his `shining speech' working like a `sweet miracle' will `seduce' or `entice' his `little sister's heart'. The intent of what seems an inappropriate romantic suggestion is not clear and can be construed as verging on the exploitative. Why the wish to `entice her heart' when she needs only support and succour? Is it not demeaning furthermore to suggest that a man `enticing' a woman's heart is apropriate comfort and protection for her in a moment of need in a hostile world? Worse still is the hint that with `shining speech' the poet may be exploiting a woman's vulnerabilityfor his own personal end. This stain however vanishes in the last verse. There is now distance put between the poet and the `lost sister'. He has to `throw' her his `light giving fire' that is clearly offered with nothing expected in return. It is intended to make her independent, to enable her to be `powerful in the face of life and death.' This image not only salvages the poem, it gives it force and effect. While Vahan Derian, a dedicated communist, and for a period even an emissary of the Bolshevik government, evokes a private moment of individual generosity the apolitical Missak Medzarent puts his entire being to the service of a beautifully defined social solidarity. `The Morning' offers itself to all who live in `bare and darkened hovels' and to all `grieving souls' and `suffering spirits'. The morning is at once warmth, colour and vitality. It is as the light of hope for all whose lives are blighted, in any way. Medzarents's imagery is exhilarating capturing something of the human experience of light and dawn across the ages. It evokes morning as an almost divine omnipotence that unfolds and spreads to dispense and enhance material and spiritual ease. As the morning `flows into the homes of the poor', its promise to lighten the dark is a symbolism for the overcoming of social deprivation, an offer social welfare. As it `lights smiling candles'at `the table' of grieving souls' the morning, the sunrise, the dawn, is power that soothes and heals wounded emotion; and as`rose-garmented' and `flowing with golden hair' it resuscitates and reinvigorates the dimming spirits of suffering beings. Had he had the opportunity, Medzarents would surely have risen as dawn for Derian who never experienced it just as surely he would have become the sunrise that never crossed Tourian's heart. III. VAHAN DERIAN AND HOVANNESS TOUMANIAN A third couple of poems bring together a dispirited but still hopeful Vahan Derian and the ever energetic, optimistic and gregarious Toumanian who is now in mediation upon death. Binding both poems are images of fantastic flowers that have about them something human, something of a living, communicating spirit. Derian's untitled poem, the first line of which reads `when I am tired take me to my distant Ganzan' ends: And if you come some day to visit my grave The rosebush growing out from my heart will smile at you. The flowers `that lie scattered' around Toumanian's graveside in `When Some Day, are also `not common flowers'. They are the words of love I left Unuttered when I died' On his death Derian asks to be returned to his home that is `far away'. At the end of a wearying life in emigration he perceives his tomb back in his home as `the return of the days that have irreversibly passed'. Resting now within his community his dreams promise to be`eternally charmed'. Death will not be a termination, an irreversible annihilation of a transient person. It is but a `deep and heavy' slumber in which the poet will recover that which he has lost during his wandering days. Now among his own and resting `besides his mother' he feels closeness with his community and is confident that he will `always hear' 'its ever-melancholic lullaby'. The metaphor of a smiling rosebush that buds from the poet's heart communicates a great deal: ease with the prospect of death, a feeling of immortality with the dead in continued relation with the world of the living. The rose that grows from out of poet's heart also suggests a unity of human and natural beauty, a oneness of all things, a unity of life and nature in a vast universal cycle. But one cannot escape an overwhelming sensation of sadness in the face of the `rose's silent smile' that confesses contentment on release from a harsh existence. In this respect the poem is less a reflection on death than on alienated life. Toumanian's flowers are altogether more joyful. He enjoyed life, delighted in its pleasures and in the company of his fellow men and women. Out of every moment he squeezed out every last drop of goodness, joy and the pleasure that he could. The younger Vahan Derian was so charmed that he wrote: `Whoever has not sat down to feast In Toumanian's palace Has not seen pleasure and delight, Has not seen the world.' Toumanian experienced a multitude of dawns in life, albeit he was only 54 when he died. For him death is neither a tragic end nor happy escape. It is not as in the poems cited from Derian and Tourian another form of being where one can at least hope that life's wrongs can be righted. It is simply a stage in nature's cycle, a stage where we all will all one day join him. But this stage will always remain is a mystery for those still theworld of the living. It is a `world unknown': The path to which before you lies, Blocked by the tomb alone! The flowers that are `scattered all around' Toumanian's grave are the metaphors of unrealised potentials, of immense reservoirs of love that the poet was unable to pour out during his life. They are his `songs unsung', they are his `words of love unuttered' when still with us: They are my ardent kiss, dear sent from that world unknown' Toumanian's flowers are affirmations of endless human creativity stretching far beyond the capability of bodies that are so rapidly exhausted. The flower and grave are also of course a comment on the mystery of death, on the impossibility of grasping a condition beyond consciousness. Different as they are these poems can be appreciated singly or together. They are all a reflection upon one human being, on the tragedy of withered lives, on that immense generosity of spirit that is of the best in us, on the richness of human potential, but also on the mysteries of time and death. And each reading by each and every individual or group will yield in consideration and discussion something new that can be shared and shared again. -- Eddie Arnavoudian holds degrees in history and politics from Manchester, England, and is Groong's commentator-in-residence on Armenian literature. His works on literary and political issues have also appeared in Harach in Paris, Nairi in Beirut and Open Letter in Los Angeles. ******************************************************************* Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from Groong's Administrator. The Critical Corner Homepage: http://www.groong.org/tcc/ The Literary Groong Homepage: http://www.groong.org/tlg/ Review & Outlook Homepage: http://www.groong.org/ro/ World News Homepage: http://www.groong.org/world/ © Copyright 2008 Armenian News Network/Groong. 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